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"pro football" hall of fame

The "pro football" hall of fame in Canton, Ohio, supposedly represents all of professional football.  Yet, of its two hundred and twenty-five members, only ONE was never in the NFL.  That one, Buffalo's Billy Shaw, played his entire career in the AMERICAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE.  Yet, at his induction, he wore a yellow coat emblazoned with the NFL logo.

Great players like Tom Sestak, Lionel Taylor, Johnny Robinson, Abner Haynes, and numerous other American Football League stars are ignored by the "pro football" hall of fame, because they played in the wrong league.

An often-cited reason for such oversights is the claim that the American Football League and its players were inferior. There were other, deeper reasons.  The "pro football" hall of fame was formed as a Canton, Ohio community effort and needed the support of the NFL to prosper and grow.  Sensitivity to that support fed (and continues to feed) the hall’s bias towards NFL players and history, to the detriment of players from other leagues like the American Football League.  When the hall was formed, the selection board was comprised of fourteen selectors from newspapers of cities with NFL franchises, and the selectors were specifically associated with NFL teams.  Several of these selectors had once been on the NFL payroll as officials or executives.  Although there were eight American Football League cities at the time of formation of the hall, no AFL teams were represented.  The New York selector represented the NFL's Giants, not the AFL's Jets.

Even after American Football League writers were added to the hall’s selectors (only after the leagues merged), the majority of selectors were from NFL cities.  Since selectors essentially serve for life, their "NFL bias", whether intentional or subconscious, in some cases remains until the present.  Those selectors are slowly being replaced with perhaps more liberal, but younger, voters without direct knowledge of American Football League players.  AFL players are now relegated to the "senior candidate" category.  The older selectors from American Football League cities have mostly retired, and their replacements, though from former AFL cities, do not "remember the AFL".

For example:

Larry Wilson played for the NFL's Cardinals from 1960 through 1972, a total of 169 games. He made the NFL Pro Bowl 8 times. He had 52 career interceptions and 44 career points. In 1966, he had 10 interceptions. He did a minor amount of punt/kickoff returning, rushing, or receiving. He played in one post-season game, the laughable NFL "Runner-up Bowl", in 1964. He was inducted to the "pro football" hall of fame in 1978, six years after he retired, one year after he was eligible.

Johnny Robinson played for the AFL's Texans/Chiefs from 1960 through 1971, a total of 164 games. He was an AFL All-star six times and made the Pro Bowl once, after the leagues merged. He had 57 career interceptions and 108 career points. In 1966, like Wilson, he also had 10 interceptions. He averaged over 13 yards on 24 punt/kickoff returns, had over 600 yards receiving in each of his first two years, and a 4.4 yard rushing average on 150 carries. Unlike Wilson, Robinson saw meaningful post-season action.  He played in three league championship games, his team winning all three. He played in two super bowls, his team going 1 - 1. In Super Bowl IV, playing with three broken ribs, he had an interception, helping the Chiefs defense hold that year's version of "the greatest team in history" to seven points. He was eligible for the hall of fame in 1976.  The NFL-oriented selectors overlooked his accomplishments because he played in the AFL.  Now, Robinson's a "senior candidate" and although the former selectors may have been replaced, their replacements are too young to remember Johnny.   There are several other AFL stars who have "fallen between the cracks" in the same way.

Further evidence that the pro football hall of fame selection process is flawed is the fact that its selectors did not induct Hank Stram until he was too old and infirm to give his acceptance speech, although they enshrined the man whose team he defeated in Super Bowl IV, NFL coach Bud Grant, NINE YEARS EARLIER!

The AFL was NOT a "Mickey Mouse League".  It gave pro football the two-point conversion, TV and gate revenue-sharing, and the official scoreboard clock (not to mention fabulous uniforms); and most important of all, exciting, skilled performances by gifted athletes.   To quote the "pro football" hall of fame's own website: "Almost every element that makes pro football the world's most popular sport that it is today can be traced to the American Football League and the huge changes its presence eventually brought to the sport."

In spite of this, the "pro football" hall of fame makes claims like "Tom Flores was the first Hispanic-American quarterback in the NFL."  Flores never played in the NFL! And when the hall celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2003, it invited all its past inductees to the reunion.  It called the reunion "NFL Homecoming", heedless of the fact that among the players invited were AFL stars George Blanda, Lance Alworth, Don Maynard, Joe Namath, Billy Shaw, Willie Lanier and several other AFL greats who somehow managed to be inducted despite the anti-AFL bias.

Paul Brown PFRA

Tex Maule

CBS-TV 89th US


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