State Your Case: Ken Riley

Ken Riley photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals


(Photos courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Ken Riley will be enshrined in the Black College Hall of Fame at the end of this month.

He’s already in the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Florida A&M Hall of Fame, the Polk County Hall of Fame, the cities of Bartow and Tallahassee Halls of Fame and the public-school Hall of Fame. In addition, Florida named him one of the best 33 high-school football players in state history.

“I’m in every Hall of Fame but the big one,” Riley said.

And that’s puzzling.

Riley played 15 seasons at cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals. His 65 interceptions rank second among pure cornerbacks in NFL history. Only Hall-of-Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane has more. He also ranks fifth on the all-time list behind four Hall of Famers: Paul Krause, Emlen Tunnell, Rod Woodson and Lane.

Yet Riley has never been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So his candidacy has never been discussed by the full 46-member selection committee.

Why? Apparently, for one glaring reason — 15 seasons in the NFL, no Pro Bowls.

“I’m not going to cry about it,” Riley said. “That’s not me. I’ve always felt your actions speak louder than words. But that’s not true, because I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. And to not let me in because I didn’t play in a Pro Bowl…that’s something out of my control. That’s a popularity contest.”

Riley played in one of the NFL’s finest defensive backfields of his era. Riley and Lemar Parrish lined up at cornerback with Tommy Casanova and Bernard Jackson at safety. Parrish went to six Pro Bowls from 1970-77. He intercepted 25 passes during that stretch. Riley intercepted 36 passes during that same stretch with no Pro Bowls to show for it.

In 1974, Parrish didn’t intercept any passes. Riley intercepted five. Parrish was voted to the Pro Bowl. In 1975, Parrish missed three games with an injury and intercepted one pass. Riley intercepted six. Parrish was voted to the Pro Bowl. In 1976, Parrish intercepted two passes. Riley led the AFC with nine interceptions. Again, Parrish was voted to the Pro Bowl.

“Lemar and I were like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron,” Riley said. “Willie Mays was the flashy one. That was Lemar. But I was the one getting all the interceptions.”

In 1983, at the age of 36, Riley led the AFC in interceptions a final time with eight. Again, no Pro Bowl. Then he retired. He became the coach of his alma mater, Florida A&M, and posted a 48-29-2 record, with two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships and two coach-of-the-year designations. Then he spent nine more years as the athletic director at the school before retiring in 2004.

Riley played quarterback at Florida A&M and was a Rhodes Scholar candidate. He would later earn a master’s degree from the University of North Florida. But first he had a football career to pursue.

The Bengals drafted him in the sixth round in 1969 and Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown immediately moved him to cornerback, where he became a starter and intercepted four passes as a rookie. He wound up starting 193 career games. Only eight pure cornerbacks in NFL history started more.

Riley had three PBUs in his only AFC title game against Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers in 1981, then made three tackles and broke up a Joe Montana pass in his only Super Bowl.

Ken Riley, nicknamed “The Rattler,” was durable and productive. He maximized his abilities and became one of the best defensive players of his era. But the Pro Bowl voters didn’t recognize it then nor are the Hall of Fame voters recognizing it now.

“It mystifies me,” Riley said. “I’ve done everything I was supposed to do as a player.”

Has anyone at all been paying attention?

Follow Rick Gosselin on Twitter at @RickGosselinDMN

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  1. Ken Riley II
    February 10, 2015

    Great article. Hoepfully One day!
    Thanks Again.

  2. Miami Jay
    February 10, 2015

    This popularity thing has to stop, Ken Riley was a pure corner back in the NFL and should of already been in Canton, Ohio years ago.

  3. IMO
    February 11, 2015

    It’s a joke that he’s been overlooked. Everyone knows the prow owl is a popularity contest and should count very little when considering enshrinement. It’s sad that a clown like Peter king, who used to cover the bengals and who surely knows of ken Riley, doesn’t mention him in voting at all. Where are the men who competed against him like stallworth and swann? I’m sure they would speak very highly of him. Riley has the stats, durability, and longevity. He was one of the greatest cb’s of his era. It’s criminal he has been ignored all of these years.

  4. Anonymous
    February 21, 2015

    As someone told me accolade are nice but the mark you leave on this word will always be greatest accomplishment you can ever give of your self. You cant measure the athletes that Coach Riley have save for going in the wrong direction. the athletes that he have help to become model citizens. I feel he should have already been in the NFL hall of fame….but better yet you will always be in the Beauford family Hall of Fame.

    • Rick Gosselin
      February 22, 2015

      The fact that Ken Riley has never been discussed as a Hall of Fame finalist mystifies me.

  5. IMO
    February 26, 2015

    He is overlooked because he was a man who went about his business and did his job everyday. He never made grandiose remarks or dropped his pants to get attention he let his play do the talking. It sets a terrible example of how a legend gets remembered by being of such high character and doesn’t not only get a sniff for the hof but 0 pro bowls? It’s ashame that we have such short sighted voters who like to play god with who gets their legacy sealed in The hall of fame.

  6. ggate
    August 8, 2015

    I can not understand the omission. There are many omissions for the HOF but the the Ken Riley snub is something I can not accept. NFL football is my favorite but I ignore the HOF events they have no credibility with me. My one man boycott 😀

  7. bachslunch
    March 16, 2016

    Ken Riley unfortunately does not belong in the HoF. His postseason honors are practically non-existant at 1/0/none. He has a lot of lifetime interceptions because he played forever and likely because QBs preferred to take their chances against him rather than teammate Lemar Parrish. Parrish is the one who is severely overlooked here and truly belongs in the HoF; he has an excellent profile of 3/8/none and was a top-flight kick returner (Riley didn’t return kicks).

    • Jmo
      March 18, 2016

      Ok bachslunch answer this, how do you lead the league in int’s and not get voted to the pro bowl? Also, how does one get named all-pro and not to the pro bowl? I don’t put a lick of integrity into who votes for the pro bowl, nor do I believe you can so easily dismiss a man who not only played a very long time, but never missed a game. Especially in a time when the game was as rough as it was. Lamar was flashy and was a great returner but ken was a lunch pail type who went about his business everyday. Now tell me he wasn’t at least as good a player as roger wherli?

  8. bachslunch
    March 20, 2016

    Jmo: Ken Riley never once led the league in interceptions. And while it’s not common, other players have been named 1st team all pro by some organization without making a pro bowl — Ray Nitschke did so twice. If we start electing players with practically no postseason honors and a long career, the HoF will fill up in a hurry with folks like Riley, Jim Marshall, Trey Junkin, Ray Brown, David Binn, Eugene Robinson, Blair Bush, Patrick Mannelly, Ricky Proehl, Ray Donaldson, and Bill Romanowski. You think they all belong in? I don’t. And if you’re dismissing Roger Wehrli, this shows you don’t know much about DBs — his postseason honors are every bit as good as most HoF DBs at 5/7/70s, and he was considered one of the best cover corners in the game (Dr. Z who was very knowledgeable about film study wrote an article several years ago mentioning the 5 best cover corners he had seen, and the names he mentioned were Wehrli, Jim Johnson, Deion Sanders, Mike Haynes, and Albert Lewis). Folks who think Wehrli doesn’t belong don’t know squat. Also, how do you know Lemar Parrish’s considerable honors advantage of 3 first team all pro selections and 8 pro bowls came about because of empty flash and not superior ability? That’s not just a small edge — it’s a gulf.

    • Jmo
      March 20, 2016

      Again you continue with this post season honors crap. The pro bowl has been shown that many players get in on reputation rather than ability. Ok Riley was 2nd in int’s when he had 9. And stop it with roger wehrli and his posts season awards which you put way too much bank in. Yeah Ray nitschke made all pro and no pro bowl but he is in the hall. Look at ur fact Riley never missed a game, also had 3 ints in the playoffs in 5 games too. For you to go even compare Riley with the likes of junk in, Blair bush and romo is just insulting. And go back and look at he film there chief, Riley for the most part was covering Stallworth while Parrish was in swann. Not to mention, Riley played in many more post season games and a Super Bowl which Parrish did not. Wherli never played in the big game. Finally, we bith k ie that neither of hose guys can touch Riley’s longevity as he had 8 ints in his final season while wherli and Parrish limped to their respective ends.

  9. bachslunch
    March 20, 2016

    Jmo: Yes I will continue with the postseason honors “crap,” as you put it. The reason you pooh-pooh it is that it hurts your argument supporting Riley. People who back Jim Marshall for the HoF do the same thing. And if you want to talk reputation and the pro bowl, I’ve heard the observation several times that people sometimes miss in their first year or two they’re deserving and make one or two pro bowls on reputation at the end — and if that’s true, it balances out and is a non-factor. I’d also like to see your argument against all pro teams, which are more stringent. And no, I won’t “stop it” about Roger Wehrli. Dr. Z didn’t mention Riley and did mention Wehrli, plus he’s got the honors you desperately wish were irrelevant while Riley doesn’t. And if “not missing a game” mattered, that means Jeff Feagles is a no-brainier. Note also that your example of Swann/Stallworth hurts your case further, as Swann was considered the tougher cover assignment of the two. Also, if “limping to your end” automatically disqualified you from the HoF, you’d have to throw out Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, and a host of other players — playing solid HotVG ball from start to finish is still a HotVG career. And you were the one who brought up playing a long time as being HoF worthy, not me (which it isn’t by itself), so it’s perfectly fair to bring up examples like Junkin. And if you think I’m going to take your word on it that you’re some kind of film study expert on faith, you can think again.

  10. bachslunch
    March 20, 2016

    And one more thing. Number of postseason games doesn’t matter in HoF cases. Otherwise, every workday player and bench warmer on the 70s Steelers teams would be in the HoF.

  11. ProfPoobah
    August 7, 2016

    bachslunch, you mean every bench warmer for the 70s Steelers isn’t already in the HOF? Man, sure seemed that way to me there for a few years, but I’m a hater since they beat my Boys in two of those 70s Super Bowls. 🙂

    But seriously, you say postseason games don’t matter and then make the joke, but there are players whose strongest cases for being in the HOF come from playing in a number of postseason games and showing up quite well in a couple of them. Lynn Swann being the one case specifically from the team you mentioned that comes to mind…

  12. bachslunch
    November 27, 2016

    Historically, postseason performance has only mattered in the HoF case of QBs, giving a boost to players like Terry Bradshaw, Bobby Layne, and Bob Griese (arguably Joe Namath and Ken Stabler as well). It’s otherwise an outlier, with Swann pretty much the only major example (maybe Charles Haley to an extent).

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