For the second straight year Bengals greats Ken Anderson and Ken Riley made it into the bruising finals of senior committee voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and again didn't emerge with the nomination.
Former Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch got the nod in Tuesday's Zoom meeting, where the five committee members also selected Dick Vermeil as a finalist out of the coaching category.
Branch and Vermeil are now on the final ballot when the 49-member Hall selection committee (of which Bengals.com is a member) meets early next year to elect the 2022 class and they need 80 percent of the vote to make it.
It was another rather stunning blow for a Bengals fan base that has seen only one player elected to the shrine in Canton since the team was formed in 1968. After years of being told their senior Bengals have to patiently wait in the backlog of the jammed chronological que, Branch won the vote a year after Riley was the runner-up to former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson, later elected to the 2021 class.
There is no more vicious battle on the field than what takes place in this annual meeting. With at least a dozen candidates that are Canton worthy, one rises off a floor strewn with would-be Gold Jackets and busts. This time the five committeemen opted for another wide receiver from one of the power teams from the 1970s and early 1980s. Branch could become the 12th Raider from that era to make it. Anderson and Riley were leaders of the Bengals' first Super Bowl team in 1981, a year after the Raiders won their only Super Bowl appearance in the lifetime of the Bengals to that point.
But Branch also started on two more Raiders teams that would win it in the '80s.
Anderson and Riley are two of the guys with steel-belted resumes and they were elected as finalists by the full senior committee of nine voters. Only one man has more interceptions than Riley since he retired in 1983 with 65 in 15 seasons and Anderson is the only quarterback with four NFL passing titles not in the Hall. But the Tuesday's five voters were apparently influenced by Branch's work in the postseason. When he retired he had the most playoff receiving yardage in history with 1,289, now the fourth most.
Voters aren't allowed to divulge contents of the meeting, but Hall selector Clark Judge who is not a member of the senior committee and is an anchor of the tallkoffame.com web site who predicted last week that Riley and Branch were the favorites, expressed surprise Tuesday.
He looked at last year's selection of Packers cornerback/safety Charles Woodson with his 65 interceptions amassed in 18 seasons and wonders what it takes for a guy like Riley. When Riley retired, he was fourth on the all-time interceptions list. He's fallen just a notch in those 38 years, passed only by Rod Woodson's 71. All four players ahead of Riley on the all-time list are in the Hall, as are the three behind him.
"Cliff Branch is worthy. But what happened to Ken Riley in the last year that caused him to lose ground?" Judge asked. "We talk about production. We talk about putting in the best players. We just got done putting in a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (Woodson) with 65 interceptions and we can put in the guy that tied him? I think Bengals fans have a right to be angry."
Bengals fans get to induct Anderson and Riley in their own Hall of Fame next month when they join Bengals founder Paul Brown and Anthony Munoz, the team's lone Hall-of-Famer, in the inaugural Ring of Honor ceremony during the Sept. 30 Thursday night game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Riley, who died suddenly at 72 last year, is to be represented that night by wife Barbara and his three children. The waves of support that washed over them after the vote Tuesday emboldened Ken Riley II for the next round.
"Like my dad said, he can't catch another ball or make another play. He stood on his career," Riley II said. "I don't know what else can be done. We'll keep fighting. It's going to happen eventually. The support from Bengals fans that I've received today has been great. That really means something to me. These were his fans, the people he played for."