(Photos courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Gale Sayers or Abner Haynes?
I’m serious. If you’re stocking a football team and have a choice of running backs, whom do you choose first? And, no, this is not a trick question.
OK, so it’s Sayers, and you don’t have to explain. The guy was more versatile, more explosive, more electrifying and more productive in his career than Haynes was in his.
Except he wasn’t. Not entirely.
He didn’t have as many touchdowns as Haynes. He didn’t have as many all-purpose yards as Haynes. And he never went to a league championship game. Haynes did. What’s more, he won it. Granted, Gale Sayers was one of the best football players ever made, but so was Abner Haynes.
He could run. He could catch. He could return kicks. He could score from anywhere. In short, he was a complete player, just like Gale Sayers. Except one is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the other is not.
Abner Haynes, come on down.
Yet the former Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs’ star has Hall-of-Fame credentials. He still holds 10 Chiefs’ records, including most points (30) in a game, most touchdowns (5) in a game and most combined yards (8,442) in a season. He was an AFL Rookie of the Year. He was a league MVP. He was a league Comeback Player of the Year. And he was the AFL’s career leader in rushing touchdowns with 46.
“He was,” said former coach Hank Stram, “a franchise player before they talked about franchise players.”
Abner Haynes was a four-time All-Pro who dazzled, usually as a running back but sometimes as a receiver and sometimes as a punt and kick returner. There was no better running back in the AFL the first half of the 1960s, and, frankly, therein lies the problem. His career was brief, and he played it entirely in a young AFL — two land mines for prospective Hall-of-Fame candidates.
Though his career spanned eight seasons, Abner Haynes was outstanding for barely half that time … and, OK, so it happens. But it doesn’t usually happen to Hall-of-Famers not named Gale Sayers. In fact, it’s the knock that keeps former stars like Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley out of Canton. Yes, they were among the best that played the game, but, no, their careers weren’t long – and that can be a no can-do with Hall-of-Fame selectors.
Haynes was so productive he set the AFL record for most combined yards (12,066), a mark that includes 3,900 yards in returns. But it was as an all-purpose back that he excelled. He averaged 4.5 yards a carry and three times produced 100 or more yards on 14 or fewer carries. He also scored 20 times on catches, averaging 12.5 yards per reception. And he could beat you from any distance, with touchdown runs of 67, 59, 71, 46, 80, 47 and 65 yards and six scoring catches of 52 or more yards.
In short, he was a game-breaker.
But Haynes was a game-breaker for a relatively short period of time. Though he was the AFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1964, he never was better than the first three years of his career (1960-62). In that time, he scored 44 times, took the Chiefs to a league championship and was the platinum bar against which other AFL backs were measured.
But that’s where Abner Haynes’ Hall-of-Fame candidacy stalls. After 1962, he had only one season where he ran for more than 352 yards and, after 1964, he never scored more than six times in a year.
Terrell Davis had a three-year window of greatness, too, and look where it’s gotten him. He was a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, a 2,000-yard running back, a two-time Super Bowl champion and an all-decade choice. Plus, unlike Haynes, he didn’t play in an AFL critics considered inferior – especially in its infancy. He played in the NFL in the 1990s. Yet the doors to Canton remain closed to him, too, because he didn’t have the longevity selectors like.
OK, neither did Sayers, but he’s the exception. He was so brilliant when he played that voters couldn’t ignore him. But they’ve stayed away from guys like Terrell Davis and Abner Haynes, proving that it can take more than rare ability, all-star designations and prodigious numbers to make it to Canton.
It can take the time they never had.