Voting for the 10 finalists for the 2011 class of the Bengals.com Hall of Fame concluded April 20 as fans began the process to choose three members that will join the inaugural class of five selected in online balloting.
The biggest addition to the list of candidates is the prolific and controversial Corey Dillon, the team's all-time leading rusher who broke in Paul Brown Stadium by breaking Walter Payton's NFL record with 278 yards against the Broncos in the Bengals' first-ever win at PBS on Oct. 22, 2000.
Players must be retired from the NFL for five seasons and must have spent at least one season as a Bengal to be eligible for the ballot that includes multiple Pro Bowlers, career record-holders, and at-large candidates. Coaches are eligible at any time, but must no longer be with the club. Quarterback Jeff Blake, who went from the waiver wire to the Pro Bowl with a ball that was as long as the odds of a sixth-rounder, made this year's ballot as an at-large candidate.
Bengals founder Paul Brown and left tackle Anthony Muñoz were named the first two Hall members because of their election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Added to that inaugural class by voting on Bengals.com were Super Bowl quarterbacks Ken Anderson (named on 71.6 of the ballots) and Boomer Esiason (47 percent), as well as wide receiver Isaac Curtis (41.6).
Dillon and Blake are on the list of 31 candidates that gets cut to 10 in voting that runs through April 20. The class of three comes out of the final 10 in balloting to be held later in the spring. The favorites are career interception leader Ken Riley, three-time Pro Bowl receiver Cris Collinsworth, and two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Tim Krumrie.
Riley, whose 65 picks are the fifth-most in NFL history, just missed out on the inaugural class when he appeared on 39 percent of the ballots. Collinsworth and Krumrie netted 30.9 and 27.8 percent, respectively, before the votes fell off dramatically. Sam Wyche, the only man on the ballot to be both a Bengals player and coach, finished seventh with 13.9, followed by running back James Brooks (11.2) safety David Fulcher (9.1) and cornerback Lemar Parrish (7.1). Guard Max Montoya, one of three Bengals to start in both Super Bowls, finished just 54 votes out of the final 10 and all-time scorer Jim Breech finished 100 votes shy.
The trend of the last voting veered to the most recent vintage. Of the 14 players receiving 15 percent of the vote or less, 10 had Bengals careers that started in the '60s or '70s. And only four of the final 10 played before the '80s.
Dillon's appearance could take more votes away from the older generation, but his candidacy is intriguing. The numbers say he's a lock with a Bengals-record 8,061 yards carved out on some of the worst teams in franchise history on an angry 4.3 yards per carry that battered defenders.
But his chip-on-the-shoulder intensity bubbled off the field and it's fascinating to see how the fans respond to him in the voting booth. The 278-yard game, in which he ripped off touchdown runs of 65 and 41 yards in the fourth quarter, and his NFL rookie-record 246 yards almost got as much ink as his tirades.
Jilted by the NFL for his juvenile record, he began his Bengals career staying in his room for a few days after he fell to the second round in the 1997 draft. He ended it throwing his equipment into the PBS stands before walking off the field of the year's final game, a 22-14 loss to the Browns that cost the Bengals a playoff spot. He got his wish (not to mention a Super Bowl ring) a few months later in a Draft Day trade that sent him to New England for a second-round pick that became safety Madieu Williams. Dillon went off for a career-high 1,635 yards and his fourth Pro Bowl, and when he retired following the 2006 season, he finished with 11,241 yards, 17th most all-time.
He once said he'd rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals. He once threatened not to wear his Bengals helmet in a Pro Bowl. All the while he was brilliant. For a time he had two of the seven biggest rushing games in history. And the game he passed Payton by three yards was a pure classic.
The single-game rushing record has been broken twice since and it will be broken again. But no one will do it how Dillon did it. He had just 22 carries, 10 were for a yard or less, and the Bengals completed just two passes.
Blake won just 25 of his 66 starts in Cincinnati in the '90s, but he injected life back into a sagging franchise with one of the club's great rags-to-riches stories. A sixth-round pick of the Jets in 1992, Blake arrived in Cincinnati on the 1994 cutdown waiver wire as the No. 3 quarterback.
When injuries forced him into the lineup he started the last nine games and led the Bengals to their three wins with 14 touchdown passes. That came after they had 16 TD passes in all of 1992 and 11 in all of 1993. After three seasons of just 11 wins, Blake got the Bengals to 7-9 and 8-8 in 1995 (his Pro Bowl season) and 1996 with moon balls that stunned secondaries with their length and height. Then his play fell off as mysteriously as his emergence and he was gone after the 1999 season.
Blake came back to beat the Bengals three times as the quarterback for the Cardinals and Ravens before he retired following the 2005 season as the backup in Chicago. In his 100 NFL starts, he threw 134 touchdown passes, 93 of them in Cincinnati.
Riley figures to break through even though he began his career in the second year of the franchise (1969) and ended it in the final year of head coach Forrest Gregg's tenure (1983). Numbers don't lie even though he wore unlucky No. 13. His 207 games are the most played in team history and his 65 picks are three ahead of Dick LeBeau, his last position coach with the Bengals and 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, on the all-time list.
Riley belongs in Canton, too. The four players in front of him on the all-time interception list (Paul Krause with 81, Emlen Tunnell with 78, Rod Woodson with 71, Dick "Night Train" Lane with 68) are all in the Hall. Riley, LeBeau (Detroit), and Emmitt Thomas (Kansas City) are the only top 10 interceptors to get them all with the same team.