Skip to main content

A Peek At Ken Riley's Pro Football Hall Of Fame Exhibit

Ken Riley, Hall of Fame Class of 2023, holds the ball up and is congratulated by teammate Rick Razzano on Sunday, Jan. 3, 1981 in Cincinnati, OH. (AP Photo)
Ken Riley, Hall of Fame Class of 2023, holds the ball up and is congratulated by teammate Rick Razzano on Sunday, Jan. 3, 1981 in Cincinnati, OH. (AP Photo)

Ever since Bengals cornerback Ken Riley was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January, Ken Riley II has been a whirlwind.

Part sculptor. (He thinks the latest drafts of his dad's bust have captured "The Rattler," complete with the Fu Manchu mustache carved from the '70s.)

Part toastmaster. (He's preparing a three-minute speech for the Aug. 5 induction.)

Part wedding planner. (He's hosting a post-induction party for family and friends.)

Part archeologist. (He's made a pilgrimage or two to his parents' home in Bartow, Fla., to dig out some gems from that 207-game career with the Bengals for his dad's exhibit in the Canton, Ohio shrine.)

And he's been all son in honoring the father who passed three years ago at 72.

"Busy. But Fun. And very exciting," says Riley, who has been at the apex of the celebration with his wife, mother, and two sisters.

The exhibits for the nine inductees are expected to be unveiled in the middle of this month and are the first thing fans see when they enter the Hall. Some of the items they'll see in Riley's display case:

_One of the footballs he intercepted during his 15 seasons in Cincinnati, symbolic of the 65 he picked off from 1969-83 for the fifth most of all-time. Plus, a plaque detailing all 65 with the quarterback and date and a trophy from one of the three seasons he led the AFC in interceptions.

_The son reached into the attic and pulled out a 1981 training camp playbook and Super Bowl itinerary complete with head coach Forrest Gregg's suggested offseason workouts that include the number of sprints.

A hallmark of Riley's career is he played cornerback as if he were a quarterback, which he was at Florida A&M before Bengals head coach Paul Brown told him to play a position he had never played before that first NFL training camp.

Riley, the future coach, kept notebooks of every receiver he faced, and the son searched the attic high and low for them. He'll keep looking, but a piece of the preparation can be seen in that camp playbook, where you can glimpse his handwritten notes dancing around the coverages.

_ There' the torch he carried through Tallahassee, Fla., as a member of the relay for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and reflects his immense presence glowing in the city of Florida A&M. It's where he quarterbacked the Rattlers to the 1967 black college national championship game during the last gasps of segregation before returning as head coach and later athletic director.

_A framed letter from Dick LeBeau, his secondary coach during Riley's last four seasons with the Bengals telling him he was hopeful he would be in the Hall of Fame.

Riley II says it appears to be written after the 1984 season. LeBeau, then the Bengals defensive coordinator, congratulated Riley on his first year in coaching as the secondary boss for the Packers.

Riley often credited LeBeau with reviving his career at the age of 31. He racked up 21 interceptions and twice led the AFC in that stretch with LeBeau brandishing 62 career interceptions of his own and challenging Riley all the way to pass him on the list.

Riley did with three games to go in the 1983 season at, of all places, Pittsburgh, where LeBeau would have some of his best days as one of the game's great defensive coordinators. Then in his last game in Minnesota, Riley picked off two more. LeBeau, who in the past had talked Riley out of retirement by dangling the 62, had no shot on this plane ride home.

Now both are in the Hall nearly 40 years after LeBeau sent the letter.

_Riley's traveling bag from his last season with his No. 13 stamped on the side. His son thinks he gave his shoes and gloves away, but the shoulder pads and thigh pads are there.

Now Riley II says he'll start focusing on the speech. He won't see the bust until the unveiling.

"It looks good. It looks good," Riley says. "He had less hair when he started (playing). But it's more like the '70s. It's pretty accurate."

So is the exhibit the son has put together. It's a case of matter that matters.

"I was just trying to gather things we had," Riley says. "I thought things like the shoulder pads and the playbook, that's history."

Related Content