(Don Doll photos courtesy of the Detroit Lions)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
Only 22 players in NFL history have intercepted 11 or more passes in a single season, including five Hall of Famers.
Only Don Doll has done it twice.
Only 67 players in NFL history have intercepted 10 or more passes in a single season, including 10 Hall of Famers.
Only Don Doll has done it three times.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognizes special players and special achievements. Doll accomplished feats on the football field in the 1950s no other defensive player before or since has been able to accomplish. He was special. Yet Doll is not among those with busts in Canton. Sadly, he’s never even been in the Hall-of-Fame discussion.
Doll has been victimized over the years by two sets of numbers.
First, his number of seasons. He played only six. That wasn’t an uncommonly short career back then. Doak Walker, Doll’s teammate on the Detroit Lions, also played just six seasons but that didn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Another Lion, quarterback Dutch Clark, played seven seasons in the 1930s but still wound up with a bust in Canton.
The other set of numbers is the Hall of Famers from that same Detroit defensive backfield — two. Doll, Yale Lary and Jack Christensen served as the defensive backbone for a Detroit team that won the NFL championship in 1952, shutting down Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin of the Rams and Otto Graham of the Browns in the playoffs.
The Lions traded Doll to the Washington Redskins in 1953 for a pair of high draft picks, and both Christensen and Lary went on to win two more championships with the Lions. Christensen and Lary both have busts in Canton.
Doll became a ninth-round pick of the Lions in 1949 out of Southern Cal and a walk-in starter at cornerback — also a walk-in star. He intercepted 11 passes that season and returned them a league-leading 301 yards with a touchdown. He also led the NFL in kickoff return yardage that season with 536, averaging 25.5 yards a runback.
He was voted first-team All-Pro.
In 1950, Doll intercepted 12 passes with a touchdown and averaged 14.2 yards returning punts for the Lions. Again he was voted first-team All-Pro. The NFL created the “Pro Bowl” that season, and Doll was voted to the team — his first of four consecutive Pro Bowls.
“He’s the kind of player who can break up a ball game at any time,” said legendary Rams’ coach Clark Shaughnessy.
After Doll intercepted just one pass in 1951, the Lions plugged their third-round pick Lary in at cornerback in 1952 and moved their Pro Bowl corner to safety, where Doll intercepted two passes. In 1953 the Lions moved Lary to safety and traded Doll to the Redskins. He again hit double figures in interceptions with 10 and was voted to his final Pro Bowl.
In 1953, the Redskins traded Doll back home to southern California in a multi-player, three-team deal that sent Hall of Fame cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane from the Rams to the Chicago Cardinals.
Doll intercepted his final five passes with the Rams, then retired after the 1954 season to go into coaching, joining the staff of the University of Washington. He would spend the next 34 years of his life as a coach, including NFL stints with all three of his old teams — the Lions, Rams and Redskins – plus the Packers, Colts, Dolphins and 49ers. Doll retired from coaching in 1988 at the age of 62. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 84.
When Doll retired after that 1954 season, he sat atop the NFL’s all-time interception list with 41. His four interceptions against the Chicago Cardinals in 1949 remain an NFL feat that has never been topped. Doll was one of only 12 players voted to each of the first four Pro Bowls but one of only two from that dozen not enshrined in Canton, along with Washington tackle Paul Lipscomb.
Doll intercepted a pass in an NFL-record 58 percent of his 71 career games and, despite playing just those four seasons in Detroit, was named to the Lions’ 75th anniversary team. Detroit certainly appreciated his skills. So should Canton.