GARLAND, Texas — I endured my most difficult day as a member of the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame senior committee last week.
I attended the funeral of Bobby Boyd on Friday and left the church with the feeling that, as a committee, we let down yet another deserving football player and his family.
Boyd passed away at the age of 89, 49 years after playing his final NFL game with the Baltimore Colts – that shocking Super Bowl III loss to the New York Jets. I would hate to think that history has held the result of that game against the likes of Boyd and Mike Curtis, another Hall-of-Fame-worthy candidate from that Baltimore defense. But there must be a reason they have been overlooked in the Hall of Fame selection process.
It certainly wasn’t anything Bobby Boyd did on the field.
Boyd was a gifted high-school running back in Garland, a suburb of Dallas. His legs carried Garland to the Texas state championship game in 1955 and, 32 years later, he was enshrined in the inaugural class of the Garland Sports Hall of Fame.
Boyd moved to quarterback at Oklahoma and steered the Sooners to a 27-5 record in his three seasons as a starter, winning a pair of Big Seven championships and finishing in the Top 5 in the polls in both 1956 and 1957 with identical 10-1 records.
Boyd became a 10th-round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1960 and again changed positions, moving to cornerback. He proved to be a quick learner, intercepting seven passes in the 11 games he played as a rookie. He would go on to play nine NFL seasons, intercepting 57 passes and recovering 12 fumbles. He still ranks 13th on the all-time interception list and fifth among pure cornerbacks.
Boyd intercepted nine passes in 1964 and nine more in 1965, leading the league. He returned four of his career interceptions for touchdowns and also scooped up a Green Bay fumble in 1963 and returned it 34 yards for another score. Boyd was voted first-team All-Pro four times and went to two Pro Bowls. The Colts led the NFL in pass defense in 1961 and scoring defense in both 1964 and 1968. Baltimore won 69 percent of its games during Boyd’s career.
Boyd was one of four cornerbacks selected to the 1960s’ NFL all-decade team, along with Willie Brown, Herb Adderley and Lem Barney. Brown became a first ballot Hall of Famer, Adderley went in on the second ballot and Barney the third. Boyd had more interceptions than all of them but has never even been a Hall-of-Fame finalist, so his candidacy has never been discussed.
When a player is selected as one of the best of his era, as that all-decade designation has stamped Boyd, he deserves to have his career discussed in context with the great players of all eras at his position. Better than 72 percent of all the all-decade position players in the history of the game have been enshrined in Canton. But Boyd has been denied that discussion. And that’s wrong.
Boyd left the game with gas in his tank. He intercepted eight passes in 1968 and added a ninth in the playoffs, earning his fourth All-Pro designation and second Pro Bowl trip. But at the age of 31, he made a financial decision and retired. The Colts offered him more money to coach in 1969 than to play, so he took it. Boyd was on the staff that delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl championship in 1972.
If Boyd had played two or three more years and intercepted a dozen more passes, maybe he’d have a bust in Canton by now. But it was a different time then, a different era. Players in the 1960s didn’t sign contracts that would financially set them up for a lifetime. Boyd had a wife and a family to support. So he walked away from his playing career.
Still, 57 interceptions and 69 takeaways in 121 career games should have been enough to send Boyd into the room as a Hall-of-Fame finalist. But his wait is now at 45 years and counting. The selection process has failed him. The senior committee has failed him … and others. Boyd is one of 50 all-decade position players in the senior pool who have never been discussed as Hall-of-Fame finalists.
His career deserved better.
RIP, Bobby Boyd.