Seniors offer Hall hope for Riley and Bengals


Ken Riley

Posted: 8:30 a.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With one of Bengals cornerback Ken Riley's mentors now safely tucked into Canton, his 65 interceptions are drawing the attention of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's senior committee and at least two members think it is reasonable to expect he'll get a Dick LeBeau-like shot at some point.

The senior committee is also expected at some point to reopen the curious case of Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, facing his last year of modern eligibility in 2011 even though he is the only man to win at least three NFL passing titles not in the Hall.

During his 15th and last season in 1983, Riley had a good-natured rivalry with his secondary coach, a former NFL corner himself in Charles Richard LeBeau, elected to the Hall here Saturday.

When he passed LeBeau on the NFL's all-time interception list with his 63rd pick and then got two more in his final game to finish with 65 and move into LeBeau's third spot of all time, Riley remembers his coach telling him that he was happy for him.

On Saturday when LeBeau made the Pro Football Hall of Fame 37 years after his last snap, Riley returned the sentiment.

"I feel the same way he did. He deserves to be in and he shouldn't have had to wait this long," said Riley from his native Bartow, Fla. "The statistics show that he was a great corner. I'm happy for him."

Riley, 62, will be happy to hear that two of the members of the Hall's 44-member selection committee, Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News and Ron Borges of The Boston Herald, believe the time to at least have his case heard is close. Gosselin and Borges are part of the Hall's nine-member senior committee that paved the way for LeBeau's election.

Players whose careers ended more than 25 years ago are no longer eligible under the modern era rules, but two of them are nominated each year by the senior committee that meets annually in Canton with the help of two Hall of Famers to pare down an extensive list.

"Ken Riley is in the cue," Gosselin said. "We're getting some things cleaned up. We've got Dick LeBeau in and Emmitt Thomas in. We're getting in some of those top interceptors. I'm not saying he'll get in, but if you have 65 interceptions you deserve to get five minutes in that room to be discussed. It probably should have happened before now."

Why it hasn't is anyone's guess, but the same tired reasons are there that have been there ever since '83.

"If you play in a small market and you're on teams that didn't win, it's tough for you to get in," Borges said. "Even if you're on teams that won but didn't win the Super Bowl it's hard. But I've heard Ken Riley's name from quite a few people that think he's deserving to be considered. And I think he will now with the push to get defensive players in."

The lack of defensive players in the Hall became a main part of Gosselin's formal presentation for LeBeau on Saturday in front of the board.

"We have almost twice as many offensive guys," Gosselin said. "It's 51 percent compared to 30 percent defense and 18 percent coaches and contributors. I'd love to have a guy like Ken Riley come around once."

It will be Riley's first time. He never got a sniff of being one of the 15 finalists that have their cases presented to the board during his 25 years of eligibility. His last shot came in 2008. Another thing that has probably hurt Riley is that he played with Lemar Parrish, who went to six of his eight Pro Bowls with the Bengals while Riley went to none. Parrish's last year of eligibility was 2007 and what hurts him is that he only had 47 career picks.

What hurts Riley is the zip Pro Bowls. But he has supporters who agree with what he said Saturday: "The Pro Bowl is a popularity contest. Look at the game the other night. That's all it is."

Borges said what makes it difficult for seniors is the large pool that keeps growing annually.

"The list of guys we're still getting to on the senior committee is amazing," Gosselin said. "We've got 20 all-decade defenders from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s who have never even been discussed.

"Riley isn't an all-decade performer but he's got a lot of interceptions. Ken Riley is the classic case like Dick LeBeau and Emmitt Thomas. They aren't in because they didn't win enough."

Riley doesn't get that, either, because he was a member of four playoff teams, an AFC championship team, and another team that won 10 games and didn't make the playoffs.

"I don't understand it. I'm in every Hall of Fame but the big one. I just went into the Tampa area," said Riley, an administrator at Winter Haven High School. "You have to be doing something right to get 65 interceptions."

And he says one of the reasons is the arrival of LeBeau as secondary coach in 1980. By that time Riley had put in 11 solid seasons, but he ended up with 21 interceptions under LeBeau in those final four seasons, including eight in that final year topped off by the two in Minnesota.

"He helped me a lot and I think he probably extended my career," Riley said. "Not that I was backsliding, but I had gotten into some bad habits. I think we were the same kind of player. We were both smart and relied on technique. Dick brought some techniques that helped me out."

On Saturday night three hours after he got the call to Canton, LeBeau said he hoped to one day be joined by Riley. He laughed when told that Riley remembered what he said after that final game in Minnesota.

"I had to tell him that I was happy for him," LeBeau said. "I was telling him for years that he could never catch me. So when he did, I had to congratulate him. He's a fine man and a fine player and it would be great to be with him."

But the former Bengal with the biggest Hall ax to grind is probably Anderson. He won four NFL passing titles and is the only man to win them in back-to-back seasons in two different decades. And his record for season-high completion percentage (70.5) in 1982 held up until the Saints' Drew Brees broke it this year.

"That's going to help Anderson because guys are looking to see whose record Brees broke," Borges said. "I would put him in that category with LeBeau and Riley. Those are guys that are good enough to get their cases heard."

Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer, the selector from the Cincinnati market, thinks that Riley, Parrish and wide receiver Isaac Curtis are ahead of Anderson in the senior mix simply because of chronology. Curtis, whose career average of 17.1 yards per catch is higher than Steeler Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, became eligible for the senior committee this year. Anderson won't go into the senior category until 2011.

"The senior committee is going to help these guys," Reedy said. "I think the committee is going to take a good long look at them. It's a great process. And it helps that of the nine guys on the committee, they rotate the five guys every year that pick the final two senior candidates. So it's not always the same guys looking at the same players."

PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST 60 CAREER INTERCEPTIONS (Hall of Famers bold)

» Paul Krause 81; 1964-79
» Emlen Tunnell 79; 1948-61
» Rod Woodson 71; 1987-2003
» Night Train Lane 68; 1952-65
» Ken Riley 65; 1969-83
*
» Ronnie Lott  63 1981-94

*» Dick LeBeau 62; 1959-73 *
*
» **ave Brown 62; 1975-89

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