ATLANTA - Ken Riley, the man who has played the most games in Bengals history, draws another assignment here tonight during an enshrinement ceremony at the College Football Hall of Fame. As a member of the Black College Hall of Fame's sixth class, Riley is one of the first 48 players selected and the first Bengal who played his entire career in Cincinnati. Grambling wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who plays four seasons with the Bengals in the early '70s, also beats Riley to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where they still wait for Riley's 65 NFL interceptions. But of the 21 Pro Football Hall-of-Famers who are with Riley in Atlanta, none of them do what Riley does. He goes from Florida A&M's swashbuckling quarterback who scrambles the Rattlers to the brink of a black college national title to an All-Pro cornerback on the other side of the ball.
It is the kind of transition that Pete Brown says is virtually impossible now. Brown, the Bengals senior vice president of player personnel, scouts Riley at A&M says, "We liked him because he could run very fast and he had tremendous agility. If my memory serves, as the quarterback he would extend plays for seconds. A tremendous athlete. Looking at the game, always the best athlete on the field … The transition to cornerback from offense would be much harder today. Back then, we had six pre-season games and had a longer time in training camp." It is another era. Another time. "Back then," says Louis Breeden, a former Bengals cornerback who says Riley taught him the position, "a great athlete and quarterback like Kenny Riley was either going to be a cornerback or that was it. He wasn't going to play in the NFL." At 67, Riley still has the confidence of the rookie Bengals secondary coach Tom Bass dubs "The Rattler," because it is A&M's nickname. He knows he could have been an NFL quarterback. He could throw, he could run, he called his own plays. He says to check out Russell Wilson. Riley wore No. 3 for the Rattlers. "Back then, it didn't exist," Riley says. "I don't have any regrets. I got a good education. I was a Rhodes Scholar nominee. I did well. I got an opportunity. I'm just thankful for the opportunity. I'm thankful the Bengals gave me the opportunity."
There figures to be another discussion tonight like there is at last year's induction, when former Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth goes in. Stallworth's Pittsburgh teammate, cornerback Mel Blount, a 2012 inductee, joins in a discussion with them about why Riley isn't in the Pro Hall. None of them know why. And Stallworth and Blount are in Canton. "He's certainly one of the best I played against," Stallworth says. "From a talent standpoint, he's worthy of being in there … I don't remember him being all that physical, but I do remember he was hard to get away from. He was quick. He was intelligent. It was always a challenge to prepare for him. It was never a walk in the park." Riley doesn't mind walking in this park. "Deacon Jones, Buck Buchanan," Riley says. "The list goes on and on … It's not the big one, but it's quite an honor."