There are too many offensive linemen waiting on the steps of Canton, with five of them finalists left out of this year’s class. But there are even more that have been waiting for decades in Atlanta, and that’s not just a shame.
It’s a disgrace.
Former tackle Mike Kenn is among them, and he’s a three-time Hall-of-Fame semifinalist. But he’s not alone. Former Falcons’ linemen George Kunz, Jeff Van Note and Bill Fralic — all Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates — are on the outside looking in, t00.
And, like Kenn, they’ve never been finalists.
That’s as mystifying as it is wrong, but those players aren’t my concern today. Mike Kenn is. The guy was one of the best offensive tackles of the 1980s and ’90s, named to five All-Pro teams, five Pro Bowls, playing all but nine games in his 17-year career with the Falcons and so good that the team retired his number 78.
That’s the good news. The bad? He played in the 1980s and ’90s, which means he’s all but forgotten in an era where people either reside … or act … “in the moment,” and where history doesn’t extend beyond the last 30 minutes. Yet those who do remember Mike Kenn know him as one of the most dominant and durable tackles of his time … and that alone should qualify him for an audition as a finalist.
And it should qualify him as a finalist … now more than ever. Reason: Mike Kenn is the Everson Walls of 2019, with 2019 the last year of Kenn’s modern-era eligibility.
Walls went 19 years without making it as a semifinalist or a finalist but broke through to the final 15 three weeks ago, only to be discarded when the class was cut from 15 to 10. Now, of course, he joins former tackle Joe Jacoby — also a finalist — in what former Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman once termed “the senior swamp,” where the pool is so deep, dark and dense that most candidates never get out.
Like Jacoby, Walls and Roger Craig (who also joined the senior ranks this year), Kenn deserves better … and Kenn was only too willing to argue his case when we contacted him in December, 2016.
“There’s only one other player who played against every right defensive end or outside linebacker who’s currently in the Hall of Fame, ” he said on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “One other tackle … and that would be Anthony Munoz. We’re the only two.”
Munoz, of course, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, he was a first-ballot choice in 1998. But Kenn? He last was a semifinalist in 2017. Now he’s on the verge of disappearing from the modern-era ranks altogether, and we can’t let that happen — not without giving the guy a chance to be heard as a finalist.
Look, I get the picture. The odds of him jumping the queue … especially with four offensive linemen who were top-10 choices this year ahead of him … are improbable. Kenn wasn’t an all-decade choice. They were. But at the very least his case deserves to be aired, and, yeah, I know he played for some bad Atlanta clubs — with the Falcons going to the playoffs three times in his 17-year career.
But so what? The guy was outstanding on a team that was not. In fact, Pro Scout, Inc. — a professional scouting firm that grades players yearly — ranked Kenn with nine blue, or All-Pro, seasons in his career … or as many as Munoz. Hall-of-Famer Jackie Slater had six-and-a-half.
But that’s not all. Kenn once had a penalty-free streak of 26 games and went on a run of 94 consecutive starts. So there was considerable ability … and there was considerable durability, and that should count for something, too.
“I started every game,” he said. “I never did not start a game. In fact, I started the very first preseason game as a rookie. So all of my 251 games are 251 starts. Not to be boastful, but if you exclude the kickers on ‘games played’ or ‘games started,’ there are only (eight) players in the NFL who started more games than I did. So that’s pretty significant.”
Agreed. But more significant is that next year is his last as a modern-era candidate. If he fails to reach the room then, he probably fails to reach the room, period. And Mike Kenn deserves more than that.
“The question,” former defensive end Clyde Simmons once said, “is: What’s the standard for the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame? In my opinion, whatever standard there is to be Hall of Famer, Mike Kenn has met.”