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Canton Pilgrimage For Family Of Bengals Hall of Famer Ken Riley Hits Home

Ken Riley II and wife Tiffany in front of the banner.
Ken Riley II and wife Tiffany in front of the banner.

Ken Riley II vowed he wouldn't visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame until his late father belonged and it was there on the doorstep where it finally hit him that the family's decades-long quest had ended.

Earlier this week, Riley and wife Tiffany felt so many cascading emotions whenever they saw the banner in front of the Canton, Ohio, shrine listing the class of 2023 that the couple decided to get a photo standing in front of it.

"Tiffany said the same thing. That's when it hit me. 'Man, he's here.' No matter how many times we saw it when we rolled by it, I got that same feeling," Riley says.

It's the first of many on-site surges of sentiment the family has to negotiate from now until the Aug. 5 Induction Day highlighted by the noon ceremony at Tom Benson Stadium.

This week's introduction to the place where Kenneth Jerome Riley resides forever with the rest of pro football's greatest players came with a glimpse of induction weekend's dizzying itinerary that is not only a three-day 21-gun salute of Riley's life and career, but a sprawling celebration of Bengaldom savoring the team's first Hall election since Anthony Munoz 25 years ago. With Paycor Stadium a scant 230 miles from Canton, it promises to be a tickets-are-going-fast orange-and-black festival.

The Hall's entrance leads to another poignant reminder as Riley's No. 13 Cincinnati jersey hangs with tackle Joe Thomas' No. 73 Cleveland jersey, the first time players from both of Paul Brown's teams are enshrined together.

"It's a little bit overwhelming. There's a lot going into this already," Riley says. "It's like planning a wedding. Maybe bigger."

The Hall reserves the first two weekends in March for the nine inductees and their families to visit and get a feel for the place. The Rileys' intro to Canton began when every employee came through a line to introduce themselves and included a visit to the gallery holding the 362 busts of the members already enshrined. They said hello to dad's Super Bowl teammate, Munoz, and the man who drafted him out of Florida A&M, Bengals founder Paul Brown.

"We were all over that building," Riley says. "I saw their busts. We took the pictures. Hopefully it won't be 25 years until the next Bengal. I always try to plug that."

The Hall told him his speech on Aug. 5 accepting the bust for his father is to be a brief benediction of three minutes. Not so short for Ken Riley II, like his father, a man of few words. He likes the sounds of brief.

If he has trouble looking for words, he'll get help from one of the Bengals busts. When the younger Riley graduated from Florida A&M High School in 1990, Paul Brown gifted him a dictionary. Riley then went to play for his father at A&M, where he had a nice career as a rambunctious, heady cornerback; a four-year starter good enough to be invited to the 1995 NFL scouting combine and to the ensuing Bengals rookie minicamp.

So during his first Canton sojourn when a fan mistook him for his dad's 2023 classmate Darrelle Revis, a first-ballot inductee, they had it half right. Both are combine cornerbacks.

When the tour took them to the sacred catacombs of the Hall basement, where about 95 percent of the archives are stored, they saw Revis' cleats from his Super Bowl win, courtesy of fellow Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.

"The confetti is still stuck in the cleats," Tiffany says.

They also got a look at the 1969 Bengals media guide previewing Ken Riley's first of 15 seasons, as well as what looked to be a press release from that training camp with Bengals head coach Paul Brown extolling the rookie's athleticism and a prescient prediction of possibilities at cornerback, a position he had never played.

Which is yet another reminder just how much the Rileys have to do between now and August. The Hall is collecting archives for each new Hall-of-Famer's locker and this week Riley II dropped off a refurbished Bengals helmet like one his dad wore because he's not giving up the original.

The tour got him thinking about what else besides some of the footballs among his dad's 65 interceptions he's going to send from his Houston home. It looks like Ken Riley II is headed to what amounts to an archeological dig at his parents' place in Bartow, Fla., with mother Barbara leading the way.

"I need to go home and see what I can find," Ken Riley II says.

"I would really like some of his cleats and gloves that he had. I've seen them, I just don't know where they are. They have so much stuff. I don't know where to go to find it. They've got an attic and two sheds."

Throw in work and Ken Riley III's high school graduation and if they don't know the clock is ticking, they just have to go to, the Hall's web site. At the moment, it says 146 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes and 17, 16, 15 seconds to enshrinement weekend.

The nice thing is, Kenneth Jerome Riley is also on the website and everywhere else in Canton.

"He's here," says his son.

And so is he.

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