Ken Riley Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

There are several teams that have their best talents go unrecognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The prevailing theme that has emerged are the lack of members from franchises that haven’t won a Super Bowl or an NFL championship in their existence. Even those that compiled impressive numbers during their careers. Enter Ken Riley of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in their last year of the American Football League in 1969. He teamed with fellow CB Lemar Parrish and FS Tommy Casanova to form one of the best secondaries of the 1970’s. Over a 15 year career ending in 1983, Riley intercepted 65 enemy passes. Good enough for 4th all time at the time of his retirement, and still ranks 5th just behind Rod Woodson.

A quiet player drafted out of Florida A & M, his career was overshadowed by other teammates and playing in a small market in Cincinnati. There were only so many Pro Bowl votes to go around. Many of those went to teammate Parrish with 8 who was also one of the league’s best punt returners… we’ll get back to this.

From 1974-1978 the Bengal defense ranked 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 3rd against the pass. The “Soul Patrol” Raider secondary of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson never yielded less yards than this group. The Steelers only outranked them once in ’74, when they were ranked #1. Keep in mind in ’75 & ’76 the Steel Curtain had two of our greatest ever defenses and Cincy was better against the pass.

As for Pro Bowl voting during this time, Parrish who deserves Hall of Fame consideration in his own right, was a mainstay. However Riley was the better pass thief. Riley pirated 22 enemy passes to Parrish’s 6 during the time ’74-77. In fact you’d have to combine all their years together dating back to 1970 to get Parrish in the race with 23 interceptions. However Riley’s number balloons to 36 when you do that.

The biggest Pro Bowl snub came in 1976 when teammate Parrish made it to LA and Riley stayed home. Riley was 2nd in the league with 9 ints which were returned for 141 yards and a touchdown. Parrish and fellow AFC Pro Bowl CB Emmitt Thomas only had 2 respectively. Are you serious?? How does this happen?? Let’s take a look back…first at Riley, then his exploits in one of the finest secondaries in NFL history.

They were the best secondary of the 1970’s. Maybe it was going against Bill Walsh and what would become the “west coast offense” everyday in practice. Walsh was Cincinnati’s Offensive Coordinator at the time and had 2 time passing champion Ken Anderson at quarterback.

kenriley2What The Chancellor of Football remembers most about Riley was his flawless backpedal. He was a tactician that used the sideline as his friend and was never out of position.

Once Parrish was dealt away to the Redskins and Tommy Casanova retired to attend medical school in 1978, Riley played on in the Bengal secondary. He played through 1983 when in his 15th and final season, was 2nd in the league with 8 interceptions. Most players would have dwindling stats that late in their careers. Riley had a combined 18 interceptions in his final 3 years alone.

Did you know Riley never made the Pro Bowl during his career?? However he was voted All Pro in 1975, 1976, 1981, and his final season in 1983. Something has to be said about that type of sustained excellence. Of the top ten interceptors in NFL history, only he and Hall of Famer Dick Lebeau did so for the same team throughout their career. He’s the only corner to have 7 seasons with 5 or more interceptions totaling 65 over 15 years.

Keep in mind it took Darrell Green 20 years to garner 53 interceptions. Hall of Famer Deion Sanders needed 14 years to net 53 picks and Lester Hayes needed 10 years to snatch 39. None of these guys came close to matching the 18 Riley had in his final 3 seasons during their careers.

Just like there is little footage of the Cincinnati Bengals of that era, there just isn’t a lot out there on Ken Riley. He was a great cornerback that played in an era before they expanded Pro Bowl voting to include more players. Yet you can’t take away his numbers. Aside from Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane no cornerback intercepted more passes.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Ken Riley.

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SUPER BOWL XXIII RUNNER UP 1988 CINCINNATI BENGALS

Welcome to the second greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL…well next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Again…the question has to be asked: Can a team change its stripes?? From 4-11 in 1987 to 12-4 and :34 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl…wow!! You have to realize this is before free agency where a star could be bought and brought in.

bengals headerThis team was led by a genius named Sam Wyche, easily one of my favorite coaches ever. And right before you scoff “He didn’t win a Super Bowl”. Don’t forget he was quarterback coach with a glistening Super Bowl XVI ring for coaching Joe Montana, ironically against the Cincinnati Bengals some 6 yrs earlier. So Sam Wyche is/was Bill Walsh the 2nd and I’ll explain.

Paul Brown owned and coached the Cincinnati Bengals and had Bill Walsh as his Offensive Coordinator, and Wyche was the heady backup quarterback. When Brown failed to make Walsh his successor he lost Wyche who joined Walsh in San Francisco and ironically they beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. Having been burned by not hiring his protégé’ and losing to him taught him a lesson. The next time Brown needed a coach he tapped into the Bengals past and brought back Sam Wyche, who had a keen offensive mind and unconventional ideas. So what turnaround am I speaking of?

Let’s take you back to 1987, where the Bengals had failed to live up to unfulfilled promise since Super Bowl XVI. They came close to making the playoffs in 1984 and 1986 yet failed to win on tie breakers in the last game of the season. Especially in 1986 when they drubbed the playoff bound Jets 52-21 in the finale. The Bengals went into ’87 with serious optimism yet kept being plagued with bizarre losses where the mistakes were blamed on their unconventional coach.

The most notable was in week 2, when beating the 49ers and Bill Walsh of all people, elected to run a play on 4th down rather than risk a punt block with 6 seconds left. Kevin Fagan (from the U) charged in and stopped James Brooks with 2 seconds to go. Montana hit Rice for a touchdown on the last play of the game. The 27-26 loss to San Francisco in Cincinnati cast a pall on the entire (4-11) 1987 season. Many losses when the unconventional coach had plays backfire in the 4th quarter earned the Bengals coach a nickname –“Wicky Wacky” Wyche and the team was the laughingstock of the league with reports that Wyche would be fired. He held on barely…

bengal sideEnter 1988, the mantra coined by Sam Wyche was ‘finish everything’, alluding to the 4th quarter collapses that doomed 6 Bengal games the year before. The draft brought a very important player…the talented and infectious Elbert “Ickey” Woods who teamed with James Brooks to help push the Bengals to the #1 offense in the NFL. More than anything, his touchdown dance “The Ickey Shuffle” and his personality changed the team chemistry from the doldrums of the year before.

Woods rushed for 1000 yards and 15 TDs. “Boomer” Esiason went on to be league MVP and his receivers Eddie Brown (The U) Tim McGhee and Cris Collinsworth were as effective as any trio in the league. Operating out of their “sugar huddle” and keeping opposing teams defensive specialists off the field, Cincinnati exploited mismatches to pile up points. They were the first team to play with a “no huddle” attack. On defense DT Tim Krumrie, OLB Reggie Williams, and SS David Fulcher were the undisputed leaders of an opportunistic defense. Throw in CB Eric Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl in ’88 and the late Lewis Billups made up a superior secondary along with FS and present NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots.

The team went from being a laughingstock to a 6-0 start and the league was reluctant to let go of the pigeonholed way they viewed both Coach Wyche and the team. Everyone was waiting for the Cleveland Browns and the Dawg Defense to overcome the injury to Bernie Kosar and catch them…yet no one could. The Bengals blew no 4th quarter leads and by the time they got to the playoffs they still weren’t respected.

Coach Wyche and his team that was laughed at the year before had become the scourge of the league. So much so that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle before Super Bowl XXIII ruled they weren’t allowed to run their “sugar huddle”. Why? Well because other measures were tried during the playoffs by Seattle faking injuries to get defensive replacements on the field. The Bengals still won 21-7 before besting Buffalo 21-10 in the AFC Championship.

Super Bowl XXIII, what a game? Would it have been a game had the Bengals not lost Stanley Wilson to a cocaine episode the night before the game? Would it have been a game if they could use their Sugar Huddle? Before you jump up and say no…don’t forget the ’88 49ers had a 6-5 record late in the season and only finished at 10-6 (worst record ever for a Super Bowl champion by the way) before getting hot in the playoffs. They were being held by a Bengal defense without a touchdown going into the 4th quarter.

bengals logoThat also includes losing Tim Krumrie to a severe broken leg in the 1st quarter. League against them, Niners against them…Stanford Jennings took back a kick 93 yards at the end of the 3rd quarter to give Cincy a 13-6 lead and they looked like they were going to be Super Bowl champs. Alas a Lewis Billups dropped interception on the following touchdown drive led to the 49ers scoring on the next play and eventually the game winning drive with :34 seconds left to play.

For the rest of my days I’ll forever believe Pete Rozelle cheated the Bengals and altered how the game would have been disallowing the “sugar huddle” in the Super Bowl.

They were 34 seconds away….from erasing a history that they didn’t deserve. Yet they did win the 1988 AFC Championship and I applaud them for an olympian effort to force the league to give them a respect that was earned.

SUPER BOWL XVI RUNNER UP 1981 CINCINNATI BENGALS (Bengals Freezer Bowl Edition

The NFL and the media leave some of the greatest stories in NFL history on the cutting room floor.  It gets old that the only stories recounted are those centered on the 49ers, Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers. The league is too vast to just talk of a few glamour teams when others deserve their due and have stories just as rich.

sbxviRemember when the Dallas Cowboys went from 1-15 to 7-9 in 1990 and CBS, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, etc. acted like Moses had just parted the Red Sea?  This turnaround was NOTHING, I repeat nothing compared to what the 1981 Cincinnati Bengals pulled off.  Imagine a perennial loser winning 6 more games than the season before, then 2 playoff games and coming within 5 points of winning the Super Bowl after having a losing season the year before.

Can a team really change its stripes??  Actually in 1981 the Cincinnati Bengals did.  Gone were the drab orange helmets with the dull “Bengals” written across it being replaced by simulated tiger stripes on the helmets, jerseys, and pants.  Back then teams rarely changed their uniforms at all…there wasn’t NFL Properties and Pro Shops back…huh?  *whispers off stage*…  We’re not talking actual stripes?  Oh about how a team plays…got it…Where were we?

sbxvi2The 1981 Cincinnati Bengals had one of the three greatest turnarounds in the history of the NFL.  From a 6-10 season to 12-4 AFC Champions,  and having lost in one of the most competitive Super Bowls of the first 16 games.  Don’t forget this is before ALL of free agency as we know it today which includes the defunct “Plan B” free agency of the late 80’s.  How did they do it?

Having been a member of the 1960’s Green Bay Packers, Head Coach Forrest Gregg infused Lombardi-esque work ethic and toughness into Cincinnati. This team’s belief in itself actually began in 1980 when they stood up to perennial division and league champion Steelers sweeping them in both games. THIS SWEEP ended the Steelers dynasty and allowed the Cleveland Browns to win the division.

Cleveland finished 11-5 to the Steelers 9-7 and since they split their games, Browns winning by 1 and Steelers winning the other by 3 points.. In the event of a tie breaker with the same record, Pittsburgh would have won the division. With new-found confidence they battled the Browns to the bitter end in the season finale, losing 27-24 in a great game where the lead changed hands 6 times.  Yet the seeds for the next year had been planted.

The 1981 team was bouyed by a youthful enthusiasm stemming from several good young players who didn’t have that Bengal loser baggage of the previous decade.  WR Cris Collinsworth was a rookie sensation with a 1,000 yd season. OT Anthony Munoz, building his Hall of Fame resume’ was in his 2nd year. Throw in DB Louis Breeden, rookie DBs the late Bobby Kemp, and Robert Jackson.  Rookie WR David Verser and this team was younger at many key positions.

sbxvi3Of course there were some old pros on hand too: Under the radar QB Ken Anderson became league MVP throwing for 29TD passes, and there was ageless CB Ken Riley (should be in the Hall of Fame). The late Dan Ross was a good TE. As with the WRs of this team they faced older CBs in the division who had a hard time chasing the Bengal kids on astro turf in 3 of the 4 stadiums within the division. A very hard time…

So they went into 1981 ready to go.  After a so-so beginning to the season they finished winning 7 of their last 8 games including a second straight sweep of the Steelers to nail the coffin shut on that dynasty forever which gave them 5 wins in the last 6 games against them.  The Bengals were headed to the playoffs…Who? The Bengals…

I’m still upset over the AFC Divisional Playoff game where leading MY Buffalo Bills 28-21 and frantically driving to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.   When on 4th down Joe Ferguson hit Lou Piccone who slid over the 1st down mat (when they drop the chains) on the sideline and the refs ruled the catch short of a first down. Horrible spot…one of the worst in history yet I digress…**remember what the dr. said…count to 10…and…sigh**

cc16On to the game this team is most remembered for, winning the 1981 AFC Championship game in -59* wind chill over the Chargers 27-7. Yikes!! The poor Chargers had to play in a temperature difference of 140 degrees just 1 week after the “Epic in Miami” which they stood NO chance of winning. There were heated buses outside Riverfront Stadium in case fans needed to heat up. Temperature difference withstanding, the divisional game against Miami went into 6 quarters in high humidity, so the Chargers were exhausted.

Well win more games and get home field advantage next time.

Since they weren’t used to the cold, the Chargers were dismissed easily by the Bengals. Then of course SuperBowl XVI against the San Francisco 49ers in the Silverdome. Where they came within a goal line stand of producing the greatest turnaround in Super Bowl history.  They were down 20-0 at the half and were held off 26-21 after a furious second half rally.

Boys and girls that is a turnaround!!  Here is the bauble for the achievement of becoming the 1981 AFC Champions.  Fall short of their goal?? I doubt they began the season thinking they’d seriously win the Super Bowl…

What do you think???

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Has Marvin Lewis Become the New Tony Dungy??

At the beginning of the season, Taylor Blitz Times had the Cincinnati Bengals picked to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. The season before they were picked to make it to their first Super Bowl since 1988. The prevailing theme is they would come of age where their temperament would match their talent and win a few signature games.

Has Marvin Lewis become the new Tony Dungy??

Has Marvin Lewis become the new Tony Dungy??

The type of wins that would send the message to other teams in the conference and the NFL they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. How long have we been waiting for Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals to come through with that signature win??

A few short weeks ago, this team was 3-0 and faced the staggering 2-2 New England Patriots. Tom Brady and co. had just come off the business end of a 41-14 thrashing from the Kansas City Chiefs. After traveling on a Monday night no less. The Bengals were ripe to gain that landmark win, yet were thoroughly outclassed 43-17.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. The Bengals know the Colts will figure prominently in the AFC playoffs. Where they had a chance to redeem themselves and send a message, they were blanked 27-0. Are you serious?? In a month they have gone from the last unbeaten team to an 0-2-1 record in that time. Before anyone can point to injuries take a look at the 5-1 Arizona Cardinals and all the players lost to injury.

Andy Dalton is linked to Coach Marvin Lewis. Like it or not, their chance to change their legacy could be in jeopardy.

Andy Dalton is linked to Coach Marvin Lewis. Like it or not, their chance to change their legacy could be in jeopardy.

We can’t make excuses and the biggest problem is we have seen this before. Whether we’re talking about Marvin Lewis or QB Andy Dalton. The question has been “What are you going to do in January??” With one of the NFL’s most talented teams, The Chancellor has to raise the question “Has Marvin Lewis taken this team as far as he could??”

This is starting to look eerily similar to the plight of the Tampa Buccaneers of 1998-2001. Head Coach Tony Dungy had built the league’s best defense and had acquired a few offensive pieces, yet couldn’t get over the hump. After multiple playoff flame outs, management turned to Jon Gruden and the team went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. A change of leadership with a new motivation strategy was the ticket then, is that what the Cincinnati Bengals need now??

Super Bowl caliber teams don’t go a month without a win nor do they get embarrassed by teams they figure to face come playoff time. For the record, The Chancellor of Football is a fan of Marvin Lewis, and has been so since his 2000 champion Ravens defense. However the question needs to be raised. Its de ja vu all over again.

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2014 AFC Pedictions

Under normal circumstances Taylor Blitz Times would have these published before the season starts. However this has been a different off-season where more focus was on historical articles. Although we’re 1 week into the new season, we still haven’t seen a sample size large enough to alter The Chancellor of Football’s picks.

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

AFC North Champs: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots

AFC South Champs: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West Champs: Denver Broncos

Wildcards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

The representative to make it to Glendale, AZ and Super Bowl XLIX will be the Denver Broncos. They will narrowly defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game they should win at home.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Lets face facts, not many trust Bengals QB Andy Dalton but he will take a big step up this year and win his first playoff game. He won’t have the moxie to take on not only Peyton Manning but what should be one of the AFC’s best defenses. The signing of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib give the Broncos a defensive swagger they haven’t had before.

More importantly none of these players have won a championship which only adds to the overall hunger of the team. The Broncos won’t score anywhere near last year’s 606 point performance. They won’t have to as they will become more balanced.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

Right behind these two teams will be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Was there anyone more impressive than Andrew Luck in week 1 of the NFL season?? The fight he brought the Colts back with was infectious. He made his entire team believe they could come back and they were playing without DE/LB Robert Mathis. The Colts gained more from that 31-24 loss in Denver than teams that won in the first week.

The Patriots will bounce back from week 1 but will they feel the effects of trading away G Logan Mankins the rest of the season?? Brady and the offense was under attack in their 2nd half loss to the Dolphins. They gained less than 100 yards as Miami pulled away. Bill Belichick will right the ship and they should win the AFC East with at least 11 wins.

The Bengals and Colts look like the two that will play in the 2015 AFC Championship Game however we have to get through 2014 first. The Broncos will look to take a more battle hardened team to Glendale than the one they took to New York last year. Will Denver win Super Bowl XLIX??

 

Legends Of the Fall: James Brooks

From time to time you’ll find NFL teams trying to recreate what they once had and totally undervalue a current player on their roster. Never was this more evident than when the San Diego Chargers overreached for a big back to replace the aging Chuck Muncie. At first they signed late Ricky Bell who couldn’t stay healthy. Then they made one of the worst trades in NFL history, trading the multifaceted James Brooks to Cincinnati for FB Pete Johnson.

James Brooks burst onto the NFL scene in 1981 out of Auburn.

James Brooks burst onto the NFL scene in 1981 out of Auburn.

How lopsided was that trade in 1984?? Pete Johnson only played 3 games with the Chargers before being released. Brooks went on to play 8 seasons for Cincinnati gaining 9,459 combined yards and 64 touchdowns. During that time he ran for 1,000 yards on 3 occasions while compiling 5 seasons with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage. Not only did he make the Pro Bowl 4 times, he broke Johnson’s all time team rushing record and helped the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII.

Although they brought in another Auburn tailback in Lionel James, this was the end of the Air Coryell reign. Age and injuries derailed their effectiveness where Brooks played on with the Bengals through the 1991 season. Why would you trade a proven commodity that led the league in all purpose yards in his first two years?? One could speculate how Chargers ownership under Gene Klein was dreading impending contract demands. Don’t forget this was only 3 years removed from trading away WR John Jefferson and DE Fred Dean for the same thing.

JamesBrooks2Brooks was one of the toughest and most durable runners at 180 lbs in NFL history. His game was a speed game but he broke tackles when he ran inside traps. He took on linebackers and safeties. His best run ever was a 56 yard TD run against the Patriots in 1986 in which he broke several tackles and drug SS Roland James into the endzone.

James Brooks was a great performer whose numbers will fall just short of Hall of Fame consideration. His trade stands as a cautionary tale to GMs everywhere. He was one of a long line of Auburn running backs that came into the NFL starting with Joe Cribbs, himself, Lionel James, and Bo Jackson during the 1980’s. Yet it was Brooks who out rushed them all.

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