The Speaker of the House at Paul Brown Stadium, Dave Lapham, like all good Massachusetts polls, has been anticipating the votes.
Monthlong balloting for the 2011 Bengals.com Hall of Fame class begins Monday with the top three finishers from a field of 10 finalists earning induction. Lapham endorses the fans' close-as-this finish in the preliminaries that yielded Tim Krumrie, Cris Collinsworth and Ken Riley at the top of the list.
"All are worthy as Hall of Famers for the Bengals and the fans have it right," Lapham said. "But you can make arguments for everyone on the list. A lot of good football players have come through here over the past 45 years. This franchise has some history now. It's no longer a young expansion team like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers where they don't have many great players yet."
Krumrie, the Paul Bunyan-like figure who went to two Pro Bowls and anchored the Super Bowl XXIII defense at nose tackle with a legendary motor and toughness, led the way by appearing on 73.9 percent of the ballots. Collinsworth, the silky-smooth wideout who retired as the Bengals all-time leading receiver, barely edged Riley, the fifth-leading interceptor in NFL history, 69.3-68.2. Running back James Brooks (67.5) and his head coach who exploited Brooks's ability to play wide receiver in his cutting edge no-huddle offense, Sam Wyche (66.0), weren't far behind.
Also on the ballot are six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lemar Parrish as well as career rushing leader Corey Dillon and scoring leader Jim Breech. Safety David Fulcher and guard Max Montoya, multiple Pro Bowlers from the '80s, round out the finalists ballot.
Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst, is uniquely qualified to break down a list vying to join the inaugural class of Paul Brown, Anthony Muñoz, Ken Anderson, Isaac Curtis and Boomer Esiason. Lapham, who played every position on the Bengals offensive line from 1974-83, played with Krumrie during his rookie season that turned out to be the last of Riley's 15 seasons. Lapham also played with Collinsworth in Super Bowl XVI before both dwarfed their playing careers with long and lasting contributions on air.
"All three guys proved it year in and year out, but I must say a word about Lemar Parrish," Lapham said. "I think he's being undervalued here. Before there was (Darrelle) Revis Island, there was Leaping Lemar Island. This guy was an honest-to-God superstar. I remember coming in as a rookie just in awe after one of his big games. He returned a punt for a touchdown and went a long way with a pick and I'm thinking, 'He won this freaking game by himself.' Talk to (Bengals safety) Tommy Casanova who played with him back there and I know he thinks belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
But Lapham also thinks Riley should be in there, too. Riley, Parrish's partner in crime, had 13 of his 65 interceptions in his final two seasons. His 207 games are the most in Bengals history.
"Rattler's thing was consistency; game after game, year after year," Lapham said. "Very smart player. Rattler was a quarterback at Florida A&M and I think that helped him play corner in the NFL because he saw the position from the quarterback's perspective."
Lapham was an eyewitness to Krumrie's Charley Hustle rookie training camp at Wilmington College. Best known for how Krumrie, a 10th-round pick, tortured first-round pick Dave Rimington, a center from Nebraska, the camp displayed Krumrie's tenacity and elite wrestling moves.
"He told Rimington, 'I'm going to make every day for you hell.' And he did," Lapham said. "He'd go 100 miles an hour all the time. I was a veteran and I told him, 'Hey, this is a half-speed drill,' and he'd say, 'There's no such thing as half speed.' So I'd say, 'Why don't you go over there and take a rest on the sidelines for this one?'
"He was as tough physically and as tough minded as any player I ever saw. And he'd go above and beyond. He wouldn't just consume two linemen so the linebacker could make the tackle, he'd consume two guys and still make the tackle. And he he had tremendous balance. You could see that his wrestling paid off. He never would get his head over his feet."
Lapham says Krumrie and Collinsworth are more than fan favorites that played on the most popular Bengals team of all-time, the 1988 AFC champs.
"Krumrie was a dominating player and Cris had one of the biggest impacts of his generation of receivers," Lapham said. "Right away he became a threat as a rookie and made us a much more explosive team. He really helped out Isaac because they couldn't double-team him anymore deep and if they double-teamed him and Cris, then Danny Ross at tight end could hurt you. Imagine Kenny Anderson sitting back there at quarterback with all those weapons. Cris was the missing piece for us. When he came in 1981, he put us over the top."
But Lapham isn't going to slight Brooks and Wyche even though he never played with Brooks or played under Wyche. He still remembers Esiason raving about Brooks, pound for pound the best player on that '88 club along with Muñoz.
"Boomer said JB ran routes as good as a receiver," Lapham said. "You could line him up anywhere. You could split him out at the widest spot. And there's no question that Sam is one of the brightest coaches who ever lived."
Even for Mr. Speaker.
"I guess," Lapham said with parliamentary diplomacy, "some guys are going to have to wait their turn. But they belong."