Monthly: November 2016


Hall Of Fame Hopeful: Ken Riley

Topps 1972, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984

At Florida A&M, Ken Riley was a quarterback who was not just a gifted athlete, but an exceptional student, earning his team’s scholastic award and a Rhodes Scholar Candidacy.  After being drafted in 1969 by the one-year old Cincinnati Bengals, coach Paul Brown had Riley switch to cornerback during his first training camp.  Riley became a fixture as the starting cornerback for the next 15 years.

He had a busy rookie year starting at right cornerback, returning kickoffs and even caught two passes on offense.  Nicknamed “the rattler,” Riley quickly became one of the best corners in the NFL but there was someone getting more attention than him – his teammate Lemar Parrish, who played at the left cornerback position. Though Riley was named to various All-Pro teams between 1975 and 1983, to my surprise (and horror) Riley never played in the Pro Bowl.  From 1970 though 1977, Parrish made the Pro Bowl six times though Riley out performed him by a wide margin based on interceptions (36 to 25).  The most glaring Pro Bowl emission was 1976 where Riley led the AFC with nine interceptions while Parrish only had two.  It’s usually a given that the Conference interception leader is named to the Pro Bowl but the AFC sent Parrish over Riley.  Parrish was a fine corner and excellent punt returner and was deserving of Pro Bowl recognition but sending two corners from the same team in the era of the 70s almost never happened.
This Pro Bowl issue seems to be the sticking point with the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee.  Let’s face it, Cincinnati doesn’t get much respect. Bengal quarterback Ken Anderson faces the same problem.
Rick “Goose,” Gossellin of the Dallas Morning News, who is on the committee of Hall of Fame committee, has made an excellent case for Riley’s inclusion in the Hall (read that article here).  He quotes Riley, “Lemar and I were like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron,” Riley said. “Willie Mays was the flashy one. That was Lemar. But I was the one getting all the interceptions.” 
Samuel G. Freedman’s New York Times article from August, 2013 quotes the Steelers John Stallworth as in support of Riley’s value and worthiness.  Chris Collinsworth is even a bigger advocate of Riley, who taught Collinsworth more than anyone he ever played against.
In 1983 at the age of 36, Riley intercepted eight passes – two for touchdowns – and was named Sporting News  1st Team All-Pro.  But still no Pro Bowl.  He retired with 65 career interceptions, 4th on the all-time list and is the second place cornerback behind Dick “Night Train” Lane.  There is still time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee to get it right while Mr. Riley is still with us.  I hope they do.

The Playoff Bowl: A Post Season Exhibition

Topps, philadelphia gum cards, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings

If coming in second place makes you the first place loser, what moniker would be given to the team that finishes in third? Well, for ten seasons of NFL football from 1960 to 1969, that moniker was called “the winner of the Playoff Bowl.”

Officially named the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl after a league commissioner who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1959, the Playoff Bowl was played the week after the NFL Championship game (except for the 1969 game, which took place the day before) at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The participants were the second-place teams of the NFL’s Eastern and Western conferences.
The Playoff Bowl gave the fans another dose of playoff action and raised over a million dollars for the Bert Bell players’ pension fund.  Another motive for holding this game was to compete for television ratings against the new American Football League.  Having another dose of NFL players on television during playoff time generated revenue and gave a gentle reminder to all football fans that the NFL had established stars with established teams.  The Playoff Bowl, given its meaninglessness, drew several critics.  The most vocal critic was Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, who referred to it as “the Shit Bowl” and called it “a losers’ bowl for losers.” Lombardi went on to say the Playoff Bowl was “a hinky-dink football game, held in a hinky-dink town, played by hinky-dink players. That’s all second place is – hinky dink.”  Lombardi forgot to refer to himself as the hinky-dink coach who won the Playoff Bowl over the Browns after the 1963 season.  Lombardi lost the game after the 1964 season giving his Packers sole possession of fourth place. 
Even those who came out on the winning side had their complaints. Roger Brown, who won all five Playoff Bowls he played in, called his participation “pitiful.”   Other players appreciated the opportunity to compete against another solid team and the extra money earned from playing in the game always was welcomed.
In 1970, when the merger with the AFL was complete, the league decided to discontinue the Playoff Bowl. Further distancing itself from the “losers’ bowl for losers” (and also the pensions of retired players), the NFL only recognizes the Playoff Bowl as an exhibition game—making the official title of third place nothing more than “best case scenario” for the New York Jets.
All-Pro quarterback Frank Ryan of the Browns was asked if teammates reminisce about it when they get together.  “It never comes up,” said Ryan.

1968 Packers: Lombardi’s Last Hurrah

Topps football cards, custom cards that never were Green Bay Packers Super Bowl II

The Super Bowl victory agains the Raiders in January 1968 marked Vince Lombardi’s final game coaching the Packers.  Though he maintain his General Manager role in 1968, he wouldn’t coach again until the 1969 season with the Redskins when he took the head coach and GM role.  But that only lasted one season as anaplastic carcinoma became terminal and he died a year later.  Packer fans hold that final Lombardi year close to their hearts.

The 1968 Topps design gave the 1967 Super Bowl participants their own horizontal design with illustrated artwork as the background.  1968 was the first year that the NFL and AFL players were combined in the same Topps set and split 219 between 26 teams.  That left very few players per team and consequently, many popular players didn’t make the cut in this set.

RetroCards fills in many Packer gaps with this 22-card set featuring Hall Of Famers Willie Wood, Henry Jordan, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Dave Robinson, coach Vince Lombardi.  Other overlooked players are Travis Williams, Tom Brown, Ron Kostelnik, Bob Long, Jerry Kramer, Don Horn, Fuzzy Thurston, Don Chandler, Lee Roy Caffey, Bucky Pope, Chuck Mercein, Bob Skoronski, Lionel Aldridge, plus three post season cards featuring the 1967 Packer playoff appearances. Get yours here.