State Your Case: Why E.J. Holub and some AFL greats deserve consideration

E.J. Holub photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

Lamar Hunt was going to bring professional football to Texas and build a team with Texans for Texans.

Hunt tried and failed for years to land an NFL franchise so he decided to start his own league and set up a team in his adopted hometown of Dallas, the Texans. The NFL set up its own franchise in Dallas to compete with the AFL Texans, the Cowboys.

When the two franchises participated in their respective college drafts in 1961, the Cowboys took TCU defensive lineman Bob Lilly and the Texans took Texas Tech linebacker E.J. Holub with their first-round selections. They would be the showcase elements of fledgling teams courting a Texas crowd.

Lilly became every bit the player the Cowboys had hoped he’d be. He played 14 seasons, went to 11 Pro Bowls, helping his team reach a Super Bowl in 1971 and win a Super Bowl in 1972. Holub became every bit the player the Texans had hoped he’d be. He played 10 seasons, went to five AFL all-star games and helped his team reach a Super Bowl in 1967 and win a Super Bowl in 1970.

Lilly has since been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Holub’s career, however, has never been discussed by the Hall’s selection committee. Both players are, however, in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Holub persevered through a series of knee injuries and surgeries that eventually forced him into retirement in 1971. Knee injuries ended his seasons prematurely in both 1964 and 1967. Holub underwent six surgeries on his left knee and five more on his right during his career.

Holub started at three different positions for the Texans, who would move to Kansas City in 1963 and become the Chiefs. Holub started at left outside linebacker as a rookie, then moved to the right side in 1964. He moved over to offense to play center in 1968 and started there for two seasons before his creaky knees reduced him to a deep snapper in his final season in 1970.

Holub remains the only player to start on both offense and defense in Super Bowl history. He played right outside linebacker in Super Bowl I and had a team-leading eight tackles in that 35-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Then he played center in Super Bowl IV when the Chiefs rushed for 151 yards against the Purple People Eaters and shocked the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.

Holub started 113 games in the 1960s as the Chiefs became the dominant team of the AFL era. The Chiefs won more games (87) and more championships (three) than any other team and played in two of the first four Super Bowls. But when he was 32, team doctors told Holub he had the knees of an 80-year-old. He has since had two post-career knee surgeries, pushing his lifetime count to 13 and now, at 80, he remains in pain.

Holub was a two-time All-America at Texas Tech and the first player in school history to have his jersey (55) retired. Holub was enshrined in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1976 and was declared a Big 12 “legend” by the conference in 2012. But that’s where his honors came to an end.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee never warmed to the AFL players of the 1960s like it has the NFL players. Twenty-one of the NFL’s 22 first-team all-decade position players have been enshrined in Canton. Only nine of the 22 position players on the AFL’s all-time team have been enshrined. So great AFL players like Holub, Ed Budde, Tom Sestak and George Saimes remain on the outside looking in.

Are all of them Hall of Famers? Are any of them Hall of Famers? We’ll never know until their candidacies are finally discussed.

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  1. Robert ewing
    July 17, 2018

    budde holub and sestak deserve consideration in my opinion saimes im not too sure about

  2. bachslunch
    July 17, 2018

    Rick, fine reading as always. Agreed, the AFL HoF possibilities got hosed by the selection committee back when, with the deserving Johnny Robinson (a six time unsuccessful finalist) the poster boy for this problem. I remember reading a Dr. Z article mentioning this bias, which was broken only when half the committee dug in their heels against inducting Fran Tarkenton until Joe Namath’s continued snubbing was stopped.

    But there’s no question players like Tom Sestak (4/4/all AFL), Houston Antwine (4/6/allAFL), Jerry Mays (3/7/allAFL), George Saimes (5/5/allAFL), Earl Faison (4/5/none), Ed Budde (3/7/allAFL), Walt Sweeney (4/9/allAFL), Larry Grantham (5/5/allAFL), Mike Stratton (4/6/allAFL) and skill position players like Art Powell and Lionel Taylor deserve their chance in the room someday. E. J. Holub (2/5/none) was no slouch, either, and is a name worth bringing up as well.

    • Anonymous
      July 17, 2018

      It’s probably too late to fix all the AFL oversights. Put Charlie Hennigan on your list as well.

  3. Maggie Brown
    July 17, 2018

    EJ Holub definitely deserves consideration for the HOF!

  4. Robert
    July 17, 2018

    Johnny Robinson for 2019 Senior Candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

    Kansas City Chiefs All Pro Safety Johnny Robinson for the 2019 Senior Candidate. Now that Jerry Kramer made it Johnny Robinson is the only player on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Combined Team of the Decade 1960s not inducted. He was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s AFL All-Time Team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s First All Pro Team. He was 7x All AFL / All Pro, 7x Pro Bowls, 3x AFL Championships, 8x Division Championships, and played in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl IV. He was a member of Super Bowl IV Championship team having played that entire game with three broken ribs he sustained from the AFL Championship game the week before against the Oakland Raiders. He made a fumble recovery and an interception to stop any chance of a Vikings’ comeback. He retired as the interception leader of all active players and the all-time interception leader of the Chiefs with 57. He was five times the interception leader of the Chiefs. Two-time Interception Leader of the AFL /NFL. Only player to ever lead two leagues in interceptions. The Chiefs were an amazing 35-1-1 when Robinson made an interception proving he was a real impact player. He had a total of 18 career touchdowns. One of only twenty original players to have played the entire existence of the AFL and two years beyond.
    He was the NFL Interception Leader for 1970 the first year of the merger proving his talent. All-Time Super Bowl Team Nominee and a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame, Chiefs All-Time Team, LSU Sports Hall of Fame, LSU Team of the Century, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. LSU National Championship Team and All-SEC First Team. He is credited as redefining the role of safety in modern professional football. Pro Football Hall of Fame members and All-Time Team members like Lance Alworth, Don Maynard, Bobby Bell, Clem Daniels and Coaches Tom Flores and Hank Stram stated that Johnny Robinson was the best safety and should have been in the Hall of Fame many years ago. HIs contemporaries thought he was the best. Many state that he redefined the position of safety in pro football. He played from 1960-1972. Let’s please induct this great player and complete the greatest Pro Football Hall of Fame Team of the Decade ever named. These were legends of the game.

  5. Sammy
    July 17, 2018

    Johnny Robinson- Safety, Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs (1960-1972)

    The Pro Football Hall of Fame is exactly that, the “Professional Football Hall of Fame”, not the “NFL Hall of Fame”. The problem has been not judging the players according to their proven abilities, but to subject them to an established biased that at this point is ridiculous. The AFL was the other side of the same coin. It was loaded with great talent and proven athletes that could compete in any league.

    There is one player that is perhaps the most recognized AFL star that has been snubbed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and that is Johnny Robinson. Robinson proved himself as an NFL player his first year of the merger by dominating the position of safety and leading the NFL in interceptions in 1970. He is one of the elite players of the game that saw him excel all the way through his career with no let down of his play. He remained excellent until his career ending injury during a playoff game on Christmas Day 1971.

    Johnny Robinson is one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game in any era, perhaps the best. Although Robinson was a seven-time First Team All Pro, two-time Second Team, selected to seven Pro Bowls and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame AFL All-Time Team, as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame 1960s Combined Team of the Decade, he is somehow not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    Robinson twice led the league in interceptions and racked up 57 for his career in only ten years as safety. He also had a remarkable 18 career touchdowns. Robinson was a converted running back, and it showed in his dynamic play. When Johnny Robinson intercepted a pass, his teams were 35-1-1.

    He led the Chiefs to three AFL championships and one Super Bowl. In one of Robinson’s most legendary performances, he played in Super Bowl IV with three broken ribs. Always a clutch performer, Robinson had a key fumble recovery and an interception in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

    Due to the redefining role Robinson had on the position of safety in modern professional football, it’s absolutely insane that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Not to mention, Robinson also saw the field as a receiver, running back, and kick returner at the start of his career.

    One possible explanation is that Robinson played in the AFL for most of his career. Unfortunately, there has always been a voting bias against the AFL amongst the NFL-oriented selectors, and there is a surprisingly low amount of AFL players in the Hall of Fame.

  6. Charlie
    July 17, 2018

    E. J. Holub was one tough guy and a fierce competitor. Sestak was no doubt a great player, but until Johnny Robinson is enshrined it will never feel right. Johnny Robinson began his career in 1960 as an original AFL player and he played the entire existence of the AFL and then played in the NFL. He proved himself in two leagues. He was one of only twenty players to play all the years of the AFL’s existence. He is what someone above described as the “Poster Boy” of AFL snubs by the Pro Football Hall of Fame having been a Finalist six times during a time very well known for the old AFL / NFL bias arguments. That should be settled with Robinson. He was known for his play throughout his professional career and was recognized in the NFL for his superior play. As mentioned in a number of places both here and else where, Johnny Robinson was one of the greatest safeties, if not the best to ever play the game. Maybe with Johnny Robinson being inducted the pathway to Canton will be opened in the future for other AFL stars.

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