Rattling the Cages

“We researched it,” said Nick Harper, a senior at Lakeland, Fla.’s White Haven High School, “and found out he was pretty good.”

I don’t know Harper, but clearly he’s a master of understatement.

Harper and classmate Jordan Powell are fighting the good fight on behalf of White Haven dean Ken Riley, better known to Bengals fans as The Rattler. From 1969 through 1983, the one-time college QB roamed the secondary, piling up team records that still stand today: 65 interceptions (1), 596 total return yards (1), 141 return yards in a single season, 141 in 1976 (3), five interception returns for TDs (1), 2 pick returns for scores in a season in 1983 (tied for 1), and nine interceptions in one season (2). Riley played the most career games (207) of any Bengal in history, and only QB Ken Anderson played more seasons.

Yeah. He was pretty good. And like most of Bengaldom, Harper and Powell believe Riley belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame. So they’re rattling the cages of Hall voters, apparently with some success.

They have collected more than 1,000 signatures and have contacted some of the Hall of Fame voters, including local voter Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune. They’re trying to get everyone to remember the achievements of the Bartow native Riley, who last played in 1983.

It may be working. Kaufman said last month that he has received some of the letters and talked with some committee members while at the owners’ meeting in California in March.

“He’s legitimate,” Kaufman said of the Union Academy graduate Riley. “I brought up his name to some of the voters and got a very positive response. It’s a wonder why someone with the numbers he has hasn’t really seriously been considered.”

The answer, Ira, is that memories are short, and the Bengals haven’t been good for a long time. And Riley himself was never a “me” guy.

Said Arthur Hightower, director of player development for the San Diego Chargers:

“He’s the kind of classy guy you want to see in the Hall of Fame, what it stands for. The Sixties was a turbulent time, and he was a college quarterback who changed positions and never questioned it. Ken Riley has never been a ‘me’ person; he’s always been a guy who just gets the job done.”

It’s funny how all you read, and all you hear about on sports radio and ESPN is how the game needs more “team” guys and fewer clowns like Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens, and more good character guys and fewer thugs like…well, we all know the names, right? Cincinnati got served yet another helping of criticism just a couple weekends ago, when it took alleged character issues Andre Smith, Rey Maualuga and Michael Johnson (not to mention Bernard Scott).

Yet at the same time, when many of the same people mark their Hall of Fame ballots, do they put their money where their mouths are? Of course not. The clowns get the votes, and the nice guys finish last.

“It makes me feel good,” Riley said of the students’ determination. “It’s very heartwarming to me. I’m embarrassed more than anything. But like I told them, if I don’t make it, I’ll be in their hall of fame.”

And mine, and every other Bengals fans’ as well. But The Rattler deserves to be in the real one, too — and if Hall voters had the courage of their convictions, he’d be there already. So I’ll add my voice to Powell’s and Harper’s: it’s time for the nice guys to start finishing first.

Topics: Cincinnati Bengals, Ken Riley, The Rattler

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  • Eddie

    When bengals.com had their hall of fame poll a couple months ago I listed Riley as my number 1 choice.

    Of course he came in fifth among the voters with only 65%. It might be hard to get in the HOF if one-third of Bengals supporters don’t know good he was.

  • david

    Well, I’ll do my best to get them educated!

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