Kenny Houston on why longevity “should apply” to HOF candidates

Photo courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Talk of Fame Network

The last Hall-of-Fame safety to play in the NFL– and were talking pure safeties – was Kenny Houston, and he retired after the 1980 season. That means there hasn’t been one in almost 37 years.

But there could be this weekend when three – senior choice Kenny Easley and modern-era candidates John Lynch and Brian Dawkins – are among a group of 18 competing for eight possible positions. There are 15 modern-era choices, two contributor candidates and Easley, and, in all likelihood, there will be the first pure safety elected since 1998 (Paul Krause) and the first to play since Houston.

So which one do you like? For an answer, we found the last one to play – former Houston and Washington standout Kenny Houston – for his take on this year’s class of safeties.

“I watched all three of those safeties,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I think early in their careers, Kenny Easley probably made the biggest impact for the amount of years that he played. Brian Dawkins had the longevity, he was a name and he was all-(decade). And John Lynch, in my opinion, was the hitter. I don’t think anybody in the league could hit as hard as John Lynch.

“So they all brought something to the game … brought something to that position … that was really needed. When you look at the group, any one of them … and all of them … were deserving.”

The question with Easley, of course, is longevity, and Houston said he believes it should matter. Easley played seven seasons before his career was cut short by injuries and illness. Yet in the time he played he was named to five Pro Bowl teams, three All-Pro units, an all-decade team and was named a Defensive Player of the Year (1984).

But while his career was outstanding it also was relatively short.

EasleyKenny“I think it has to apply,” Houston said of longevity concerns. “If I were to ask you right now, ‘Who was probably the most popular guy in football, in the NFL … and he played a short career in his time … but he was as popular as anybody up there, but he’s not in the Hall of Fame,’ who would you tell me?”

Bo Jackson was the answer.

“Bo Jackson. Absolutely,” said Houston. “So when you hear of guys who didn’t play the length of time that is the norm, I guess, for Hall of Famers, you have to think: What if you open up that can of worms? Gale Sayers went in on short numbers. Barry Sanders went in on short numbers. Both of them are great, great players. But you have players that played 14 (years) … Jim Marshall played 20 … and stuff like that.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Listen, how long do you to have to play the game? Can I go in and have five great years?’ They have a great defensive end down here in Houston (J.J. Watt), and he’s been all-league three years in a row, and he has back surgery now. So the question will come up: Is he a Hall of Famer? You could say, ‘Well, he should be a Hall of Famer, but he only played three years.’ Then you have guys who played 15, 17 or 20 years, and they’re waiting … and some of these guys are waiting 25 or 30 years to get in.

“I always say this: If I ask you, ‘Who is the fastest man in the world?’ What would you tell me?”

Answer: Usain Bolt.

“Now, why would you tell me Usain Bolt? Houston asked.

Easy. He has the times, and he has the gold.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” said Houston. “You’ve got to have the numbers. It’s not who you think; it’s not you think ought to be in there. It’s the guy who has the numbers.”

(Kenny Easley photos courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
(Kenny Houston photo courtesy of Washington Redskins)
Previous Kurt Warner: Why I'm happy my career took the path it did
Next State Your Case: John Lynch


  1. bachslunch
    January 30, 2017

    A couple thoughts here. The fact is, there is precedent for electing short career players to the HoF, from Sayers to Stephenson to Brown to Butkus to a whole host of pre-60s players. And with more recent players retiring fairly early (Willis, C. Johnson, maybe Watt), we could see more of this again. Reducing the short career point down towards absurdity (Bo Jackson) is silly — no one is in the HoF with a career that short. And by the same token, there is minimal precedent for players like Jim Marshall in the HoF with hugely long careers and almost no honors (Richard Dent, Alex Wojciechowicz, and Dick LeBeau are pretty much it best I can see, and the last of these has a big coaching boost added).

  2. TheJJWattExperience
    January 31, 2017

    Does Ken Houston really think JJ Watt “only played three years.” Um, Ken, Watt played five consecutive years of playing in 16 games each season. He won NFL Defensive Player of the Year three of those years. Something you were never good enough to do one time. Watt got hurt early in his sixth season.

    I agree that a great player like Bob Sanders didn’t play long enough to garner any serious Hall of Fame thought. However, some players who played 6-7 years were legitimately dominant. If you take the best 7 years of the career of Ken Houston and compare them to the careers of Kenny Easley and JJ Watt… he pales in comparison. It’s not even close.

    Am I saying Houston isn’t a HOFer? No. He needed the longevity factor. Some players were so unbelievably dominant that they don’t need the 10 year career, imo.

    • Jeff
      February 1, 2017

      I see your point, but I think you’re underrating Houston. Best safety of his era and probably one of the two or three best of all time. That said, I think Easley is a Hall of Famer and I hope he makes it.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.