Over the weekend, the 2020 and 2021 classes of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were enshrined during a multi-day celebration in Canton, Ohio. The athletes honored were among the best the spot had seen. But there are many other deserving players still waiting for this distinction.
It shouldn’t take a campaign for a HOF career to be recognized by HOF voters, and it shouldn’t be a political process. The Hall of Fame trustees, executive director and voters should put the interests of former NFL players and the Hall of Fame — and integrity in the selection process — above all other concerns.
Former Baltimore Colts Bobby Boyd, Raymond Chester, Mike Curtis and George Kunz had NFL careers that football experts deem worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another former NFL player — my former defensive coordinator Maxie Baughan — has credentials that are equal to or even surpass those of others already in the Hall.
- In his nine-year NFL career, Bobby Boyd was a First-Team All-Pro three times and named to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team. I’ll spare you the rest of his accomplishments, except for this accolade from his Colts’ teammates: Bobby Boyd was the best cornerback the Colts ever had.
- Mike Curtis, perhaps best known for tackling a drunken fan who ran onto the football field during a game, was an outstanding linebacker. Curtis made the Pro Bowl four times and was the only NFL player named to the Pro Bowl at middle linebacker and outside linebacker. He was a first-team All-Pro twice and AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1970.
- Raymond Chester earned Rookie of the Year honors from the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1970 before earning Pro Bowl honors with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Colts four times. Colts’ General Manager Joe Thomas called him “possibly the best tight end in all of football” when he traded for Chester in 1973. Raymond was an integral part of the Colts’ division championships in 1975, 1976 and 1977, and the Raiders’ Super Bowl XV victory in 1981.
- Eight-time Pro Bowl veteran George Kunz, a stalwart on the Baltimore Colts’ offensive line, earned first or second team All-Pro honors five times and All-Conference honors four times. In 1976 and 1977, he received the Seagram’s Crown of Seven Sports Best NFL Offensive Lineman, selected by the NFL’s offensive line coaches.
- As a rookie in 1960, Maxie Baughan was a starter — and earned Pro Bowl honors — with the NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles. He made the Pro Bowl nine times and gained All-Pro honors seven times in 11 seasons with the Eagles, Rams and the Washington NFL team. In a 2019 poll, the HOF senior selection committee members named Maxie as one of the top two choices — Duke Slater being the other — to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the “senior” category. Yet he was not selected by the so-called “blue-ribbon panel” hand-picked by HOF President David Baker to choose the expanded 2020 Hall class, or by the 2021 selection committee.
Despite their accomplishments, these former players face an uphill battle. The Pro Football Hall of Fame includes in its “senior” category any player who has been retired for at least 25 years. To put that into perspective, players who were eligible for consideration in 2021 had retired as late as 1996 — well into the era of 24/7 sports coverage. Yet Hall of Fame voters aren’t required to watch game films, read newspaper articles or talk to coaches, teammates and opponents of players before selecting senior inductees.
And despite the growing backlog of senior players who are eligible and deserve to be inducted, trustees of the Hall of Fame — including the owners of several NFL teams — limited the number of senior inductees to one or two in alternate years. Given those limits — and the refusal of the Hall of Fame to expand the category — the majority of those in the senior category will never reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Consider this: neither Bobby Boyd, who died in 2017 at age 79, or Mike Curtis, who died in 2020 at age 77, lived to wear the gold jacket. And Maxie Baughan celebrated his 83rd birthday recently. As Matt Kunz said of his father, offensive lineman George Kunz, “I’d prefer that my father give his [eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame] acceptance speech rather than me.”
It is simply unacceptable for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to ignore these men and so many other NFL pioneers.
I urge the National Football League and the Pro Football Hall of Fame to improve the process for those left out of the Hall, to significantly expand the senior class every year, to expand the pool of voters and to ensure that voters are fully informed — through game films, interviews with teammates and opponents, and consultation with NFL experts — about each senior candidate.
It’s time for Maxie Baughan, Bobby Boyd, Raymond Chester, Mike Curtis, George Kunz — and many other “senior” players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame — to be inducted.
Bruce Laird (Twitter: @BaltimoreColt40) played for the Baltimore Colts from 1972-1981 and the San Diego Chargers from 1982-1983. He is co-founder of the Fourth & Goal Foundation.