Cincinnatians will argue with you all day long about the exclusion of native son Pete Rose not being in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet another Cincinnati athlete, one who also dominated his sport during the 1970s has also been excluded by his sport's Hall of Fame and without the off-field baggage that has kept Rose from induction.
As a new class of NFL Hall of Famers is announced today, Ken Riley's name will once again not be on the list. "The Rattler" played 15 seasons, all in Cincinnati, before retiring in 1983. Riley accumulated 65 interceptions during that time, good for fifth all time on the NFL list.
All four players above Riley on that list, Paul Krause, Emlen Tunnel, Rod Woodson, and Dick "Night Train" Lane have been inducted into the Hall. Lane had only three more picks during his career than Riley. Behind Riley on the list are Ronnie Lott, Dick Lebeau, Emmitt Thomas, Mel Blount, and Lem Barney, all who have been enshrined. Darren Sharper, who has two fewer interceptions than Riley and retired last season is expected to be inducted as well.
To give some perspective on Riley's omission, Ed Reed, who is considered by most to be the greatest safety of this era and by some to be the best ever, still trails Riley by eight interceptions on the all-time list. It's questionable whether Reed will play long enough to catch Riley, but no one doubts that Reed will be added to the Hall on the first ballot.
What's holding Riley back? At this point, it's the fact that he's been gone from the NFL for almost 30 years. As for the interim lack of support, it was consistent with the lack of respect he got during his career.
Riley was never voted into a Pro Bowl during his career, despite being voted All-Pro four times. Even when Riley led the league in interceptions in 1976, he failed to get a berth to the Pro Bowl. His teammate, Lemar Parrish, who only had two interceptions and missed half the season with an injury, was named to the Pro Bowl that year.
ESPN's Sal Paolantonio sees that as a major injustice:
"He definitely deserves to go into the Hall of Fame," Paolantonio said. "I don't know what else he could have done. Of the 27 players with 50 or more interceptions, he is the only one never selected to a Pro Bowl."
Riley finally got to a Super Bowl in the twilight of his career when the Bengals faced the 49ers after the 1981 season. In that season, he had five interceptions and a fumble recovery. Riley didn't limp toward the finish of his career either. In his final year, 1983, Riley had eight picks, two fumble recoveries, and scored a pair of touchdowns.
Perhaps Riley's lack of flamboyance during his career has hurt him. He never preened or celebrated after big hits (he was known as "The Rattler" for more than coming from Florida A&M) or picks.
Like several Bengals of that era, Riley suffered from playing "second fiddle" to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Riley is the defensive equivalent to Ken Anderson, who also should have been inducted into the Hall a long time ago based on his career performance. Because the Steelers so dominated the AFC North during that time, the Bengals often toiled in obscurity.
If writers like long-time Bengals beat writer Chick Ludwig, who is on the Hall of Fame selection committee, have their way, Riley's name will continue to be put before the Hall for enshrinement and one day, justice will prevail.
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