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Different kind of 'Hall' recognizes some of game's greats

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By Kevin Fishbain

Former Bengals CB Ken Riley said he always has been a very modest person, which might make it somewhat easier that despite ranking fifth all-time with 65 interceptions, Riley is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

With 28 years having passed since his retirement, Riley got a call from a different Hall, the Hall of Very Good. While the name might conjure up a made-up organization created to settle arguments, this "Hall," established in 2003 by the Pro Football Researchers Association (PFRA), "seeks to honor outstanding players and coaches who are not in the Hall of Fame and are not likely to ever make it."

"I'm in a Hall of Fame, just not the big one. It's a great honor to be associated with some of the people already in there," Riley said.

On June 13, the PFRA announced the finalists for the Hall of Very Good Class of 2011. Like the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Seniors Committee, a player must be retired for at least 25 years to be eligible for the Hall of Very Good. Bengals QB Ken Anderson, who twice has been a Hall of Fame finalist, headlines this year's group of 20 finalists.

Each PFRA member submits five names to the nine-person voting committee, which whittles that list down to the 20 finalists announced this month before they vote on who to enshrine. More than 60 percent of the vote is needed for induction, with a minimum class size of seven and a maximum of 10. The deadline to receive votes is October 1, with the 2011 class being announced before the end of October.

"Our former executive director, Bob Carroll, came up with (the Hall of Very Good). He wanted to take some time to honor players who had very good careers, but may or may not make it into the Hall of Fame one day," said Ken Crippen, executive director of the PFRA and a member of the voting committee.

Carl Eller, Benny Friedman, Gene Hickerson, Bob Hayes, Chris Hanburger and Floyd Little have eventually gone from the Hall of Very Good to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, something Crippen takes pride in.

"That shows me that we're doing a pretty good job of coming up with quality candidates for our list. It kind of reinforces what we're doing," he said.

The fact that the PFRA, which was founded in 1979, puts in the time to research what older players and coaches have accomplished on the field in order to give them the recognition they deserve is not lost on the inductees.

"They do the research," Riley said. "My numbers speak for myself. I never did a whole lot of talking — it was the way I was raised, to let your actions speak for themselves. I didn't get the publicity I guess I deserved, but I played in over 200 games and got all those interceptions.

"I'm very pleased the PFRA (members) have done what they did. This is a great honor and I'm happy to have this opportunity."

"We look at people we feel are deserving of recognition — people that have had excellent careers and have stood above their peers," Crippen explained. "Some prefer stats, championships or All-Pro nominations. I'm a big stats fan. What makes this player special? What sets him apart? Analyzing game film helps out, as well, to see why this player was special and why he deserves recognition."

The Hall of Very Good's first class, arguably the top players, according to the PFRA, who haven't made the Hall of Fame and had been retired for 25 years in 2003, included three players who have made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Eller, Friedman and Hickerson — as well as Packers OG Jerry Kramer, one of the most well-known players not enshrined in Canton. Boston Patriots WR-PK Gino Cappelletti, now a color commentator for the New England Patriots, was also a member of the first class of the Hall of Very Good.

When PFW called Cappelletti, he had not heard of the Hall of Very Good or about his induction in ’03, which is not a surprise as Crippen began letting inductees know about the honor starting with last year's class.

"It's a compliment of sorts and very much appreciated," Cappelletti said. "If somebody is going to be recognized after their playing days, I think that's something you can feel good about and feel proud about that someone remembers it."

Starting last year, Crippen interviewed living members of the 2010 class and plans to send the nominees certificates and copies of the PFRA magazine, The Coffin Corner. "That's how we're starting to give things back to the players we are honoring," he said.

But what does it mean to a retired player or coach who might have just missed out on the Pro Football Hall of Fame to hear that he got inducted to the Hall of Very Good?

"I've gotten mixed reactions," Crippen said. "A lot of them are happy they are being recognized for their careers."

Crippen added that when the honorees learn about what the PFRA is and how the historians go back through the years to study the game, they are happy and pleased that their accomplishments are being recognized and are not "fading into history."

"I've never had a negative reaction. Some of them haven't heard of the PFRA so they questioned the legitimacy of it. Once I get a chance to talk to them and send them the magazine, they know it's legitimate and open right up," Crippen said.

Riley was one of those who didn't know about the PFRA until recently.

"I didn't really know much about it, but I saw Bob Hayes had gone in. I looked at some of the other guys in the (Hall of Very Good) and I thought there were some pretty good athletes in there," he said.

Cappelletti finished his career with 1,130 points and made five Pro Bowls, but spent his entire career in the AFL. He is also in the Patriots' Hall of Fame and the Italian Sports Hall of Fame.

"It makes you feel like you did enough, put up enough numbers and the way you played the game and character you had playing the game are meaningful," Cappelletti said of his honors.

In the Hall of Very Good, the PFRA makes it clear that it does not promote any of its electees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, nor does it view its honor as a "springboard."

"We simply recognize that there are many players and coaches who had great careers who deserve to be recognized," the organization states.

"We are very close with the Hall of Fame," said Crippen, who noted that Joe Horrigan, a vice president at the Hall of Fame, was a co-founder of the PFRA. "The last thing we want to do is take something away from the Hall of Fame or try to criticize them. We just want to say that these players are worthy of recognition."

And those players seem to always appreciate the recognition, even if it is not coming from Canton.

"I think I deserve (to be in the Hall of Fame), but we don't make that call," Riley said. "It doesn't bother me until someone asks why I'm not there and then you look at the stats and start questioning yourself — what have I done to not be there?

"(The Hall of Very Good) is a great honor. I really appreciate them approving me to be a part of this. I'm really happy about this. It's recognition I'm really pleased about."

Added Cappelletti, "At the time you are playing, you can't say you're thinking about the Hall of Fame. You play the game the best you know how and the results are what they are. Certainly I have the numbers but I don't stay awake nights at all thinking about that. Your style of play, which contributed to team play, was something that could be identified, and to have that happen with (the Hall of Very Good) is very much appreciated."

Whenever people argue a player's or coach's merits to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a common argument might be, "Well, he would be in the Hall of Very Good, but not the Hall of Fame." Crippen said the PFRA used that kind of concept to choose its name.

"It seemed like a natural choice to make that the name for it. The fact that no one has officially organized anything for it shows our work," he said. "This is what we do. We study these players, the game films and the old teams. We felt (the name) was a natural fit. People kept talking about it, why not publish a list of players that deserve recognition?"

Here are the 20 finalists (in alphabetical order) for the 2011 class of the Hall of Very Good:

QB Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals 1971-86
LB Bill Bergey, Cincinnati Bengals 1969-73, Philadelphia Eagles 1974-80
WR Cliff Branch, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders 1972-85
OG Ray Bray, Chicago Bears 1939-42, 1946-51, Green Bay Packers 1952
C-HB-FB Charley Brock, Green Bay Packers 1939-47
DB Bobby Dillon, Green Bay Packers 1952-59
OG Ken Gray, Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals 1958-69, Houston Oilers 1970
FS Cliff Harris, Dallas Cowboys 1970-79
WR Harold Jackson, Los Angeles Rams 1968, Philadelphia Eagles 1969-72, Rams 1973-77, New England Patriots 1978-81, Minnesota Vikings 1982, Seattle Seahawks 1983
OT George Kunz, Atlanta Falcons 1969-74, Baltimore Colts 1975-78, 1980
HB Paul Lowe, Los Angeles Chargers 1960, San Diego Chargers 1961-68, Kansas City Chiefs 1968-69
DE Harvey Martin, Dallas Cowboys 1973-83
DB Eddie Meador, Los Angeles Rams 1959-70
RB Lydell Mitchell, Baltimore Colts 1972-77, San Diego Chargers 1978-79, Los Angeles Rams 1980
OT-C-head coach Ted Nesser, Columbus Panhandles 1920-21
LB Andy Russell, Pittsburgh Steelers 1963-76
Coach Lou Saban, Boston Patriots 1960-61, Buffalo Bills 1962-65, Denver Broncos 1967-71, Bills 1972-76
DT Tom Sestak, Buffalo Bills 1962-68
TE Jerry Smith, Washington Redskins 1965-77
HB-FB-DB Buddy Young, New York Yankees 1947-49, New York Yanks 1950-51, Dallas Texans 1952, Baltimore Colts 1953-55

Previous Hall of Very Good inductees (*Voted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame after induction into the Hall of Very Good):

Class of 2010
LB Robert Brazile, OG Ed Budde, head coach Don Coryell, C-OG-LB Ox Emerson, RB Chuck Foreman, OT-MG-E Bob Gain, OG-LB Riley Matheson, DB Jimmy Patton, WR Drew Pearson, CB Ken Riley

Class of 2009
OG Bruno Banducci, WR Harold Carmichael, assistant coach/head coach Blanton Collier, WR Boyd Dowler, DE Claude Humphrey, E Ken Kavanaugh, HB Verne Lewellen, OG Walt Sweeney

Class of 2008
OG Dick Barwegen, LB Randy Gradishar, HB Bob Hoernschmeyer, TB Cecil Isbell, coach Buddy Parker, TB Spec Sanders, OG Jim Ray Smith, WR Billy Wilson

Class of 2007
QB Frankie Albert, DT Roger Brown, RB Timmy Brown, B Marshall Goldberg, E Jim Lee Howell, B Glenn Presnell, OT Dick Schafrath, DB Jake Scott, DE Ed Sprinkle, HB-FB Tank Younger

Class of 2006
QB Charley Conerly, QB John Hadl, LB Chuck Howley, DT Alex Karras, DT Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, E-HB Kyle Rote, OG Dick Stanfel, WR Otis Taylor, OG Fuzzy Thurston, FB "Deacon" Dan Towler

Class of 2005
LB Maxie Baughan, E Jim Benton, E Lavie Dilweg, FB Pat Harder, RB Floyd Little*, LB Tommy Nobis, HB-E Pete Retzlaff, QB Tobin Rote, OT Lou Rymkus, E Del Shofner

Class of 2004
DE Gene Brito, QB John Brodie, DB Jack Butler, LB Chris Hanburger*, SE-WR Bob Hayes*, E Billy Howton, DE Jim Marshall, OG Al Nesser, LB Dave Robinson, OT Duke Slater

Class of 2003
E-PK Gino Cappelletti, DE Carl Eller*, DB Pat Fischer, TB Benny Friedman*, OG Gene Hickerson*, OG Jerry Kramer, DB Johnny Robinson, E Mac Speedie, C Mick Tingelhoff, OT Al Wistert

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