It’s only been three decades, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton has finally decided that yes, late Cincinnati Bengals legend Ken Riley was HOF material.
The Hall of Fame has announced its class of 2023 inductees during the NFL awards ceremony on Feb. 9, just three days before Super Bowl LVII. Riley was selected by a committee of seniors who selected players whose careers ended during or before the 1996 NFL season. The senior finalists required 80% approval from the committee during the January vote.
Riley will be enshrined in the Hall during the Aug. 5 induction ceremony in Canton, becoming the second longtime Bengal to receive the honor.
Riley, considered by many to be one of the sport’s greatest quarterbacks, died at the age of 70 in 2020, and his son Ken Riley II received a call to the Hall of Fame on his father’s behalf. Former Bengals offensive lineman Anthony Munoz, who is already in the Hall and whose tenure with the team coincided with Riley’s, called Junior with the news.
“I’m calling you to congratulate you,” Munoz told Riley Jr. during the call in conjunction with the Hall of Fame. “Your dad is a 2023 Pro Football Hall of Famer.”
“Wow,” Riley’s son said, clearly moved. “I’ve been praying for this call. It’s kind of surreal. I thank you for your support and I appreciate you.”
“It’s an honor to call you and I’m so happy and excited to be able to do it,” said Munoz, who has expressed support for Riley’s induction for years.
Riley’s son campaigned for decades to have his father elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the honor finally came in Riley’s 35th year of eligibility. Riley’s grandson — an athlete like his father and grandfather — also spoke about the cornerback’s inclusion.
Via Bengals social media channels, team owner Mike Brown noticed the selection of Riley.
“Ken Riley was a wonderful man. Everyone at all levels of the team respected him. Ken cared about others. He was known as someone who would help,” Brown said. “Had he survived, Ken would have been delighted to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Now the extended Bengals family will have to do it for him. We miss him and honor him.”
Owner Mike Brown on Ken Riley being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/STcHLx43nk
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) February 10, 2023
Including Riley, in total nine players and coaches were selected for the Class of 2023. Riley was joined by:
- Cornerback/safety Rondé Barber
- coach Don Cornell
- quarterback Chuck Hawley
- defensive end/defensive tackle/tackle Joe Kletzko
- cornerback Darrelle Revis
- forward Joe Thomas
- quarterback Zach Thomas
- linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware
In August Riley was announced as a senior finalist to be introduced to the competition, along with Gawli and Kletsko. The admissions committee had whittled the list down from 25 semi-finalists to 12 finalists before choosing a trio to move forward. At one point, according to Hall’s press release, the selection committee considered 127 former players.
Riley spent his entire career with the Bengals between 1969 and 1983 and is considered one of the team’s all-time greats with 65 interceptions, fifth most in NFL history. Nicknamed “The Rattler,” Riley played 207 games and spent 15 seasons with the Bengals in both the AFL and NFL. With Riley, the team made the playoffs five times and made its first appearance in the Super Bowl in 1982. Riley later became the head coach and athletic director at Florida A&M, his alma mater, where he was the starting quarterback, was selected as a Rhodes Scholar Candidacy, and would later coach his son, Ken Riley II.
Riley was left out of the NFL’s ‘In Memoriam’ segment during the 2021 Super Bowl, just a few months after his death. The snub angered fans and fueled calls for him to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After the Bengals tweeted about the waiver, Ken Riley II responded: “Thank you @Bengals for the support, it was really disappointing! My father Ken Riley Sr. is part of NFL history. He is #5 on the all-time Interception list , but he was an even better Man!!! It’s truly a crime that he never got the recognition he deserved.”
When the selection committee called Riley’s son in August to tell him his father had finally made it to the finals, the son said, “Oh, wow! Really? It’s wonderful. I said (to my father), ‘One day you’ll ‘do it.’
Former Bengals quarterback Willie Anderson was a finalist on the 2023 modern era ballot in his 10th year of eligibility, but was not selected to be enshrined. Anderson spent 12 seasons with the Bengals before finishing his career with the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati selected Anderson in the first round of the 1996 draft and played 116 consecutive games from 1999 to 2007.
Former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson was considered senior but did not make it to the final committee vote. Anderson played for the Bengals throughout his 16-season career. Along with Riley, he led the team to its first Super Bowl in 1982 and was named Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year. He is one of five players to earn four transition titles.
Anderson remained involved with the Bengals even after his playing days were over, serving as a quarterbacks coach and broadcaster. His absence from the Hall of Fame is still considered an egregious slur among sports pundits.
Both Riley and Anderson were drafted by the Bengals the first class of the Ring of Honor in 2021. Anderson joined them in 2022.
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