Football justice was served on Super Bowl weekend when Ray Guy, the greatest punter in history and one of the most versatile athletes Mississippi has seen, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now, we’ve got other Magnolia State fish to fry where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is concerned:
Charlie Conerly, Kent Hull and Jimmie Giles.
All three are deserving because all three were among the elite at their positions when they played in the NFL.
Conerly was the toast of Gotham, one of the great quarterbacks of the 1950s when the NFL was struggling to hit the big-time. In fact, Conerly starred in the game most experts credit with putting the NFL front and center in the eyes and conciousness of the American sports fan.
The 1958 NFL Championship Game is famously known as The Greatest Game Ever Played. Conerly’s Giants lost 23-17 in overtime to John Unitas and the Baltimore Colts despite Chunkin’ Charlie’s heroics. Conerly, a former NFL Rookie of the Year, had already been voted the game’s MVP before Unitas drove the Colts to a game-tying score late in the fourth quarter. And when Unitas also drove the Colts to the game-winning touchdown in overtime, he, instead of Conerly, was named the game’s MVP. (In retrospect, Conerly would be a Hall of Famer, without question, had the Giants won that one.)
As it was, Conerly was three times an All-Pro quarterback, once the MVP (1959) and eventually had his jersey number retired by the Giants. He did guide the Giants to an NFL championship and meets all the criteria for Hall of Fame induction. He just hasn’t gotten the votes, and it’s a shame.
Hull was the center on four Buffalo Bills AFC Championship teams. He was, his Bills teammates, say not only a remarkable player (three-time Pro Bowler) but the unquestioned leader of the Bills. Said Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, “Kent was the guy who made us go. Kent was the glue.”
Giles was voted the NFL’s tight end of the 1980s. He was a precursor to today’s tight ends who combine a lineman’s size and blocking ability with a wide receiver’s speed and receiving ability. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, the first offensive player in Tampa Bay Buccaneer history to be chosen for the team’s Ring of Honor.
Their chances? Conerly has been a finalist for the Hall before. Hull and Giles have not. All deserve the honor, and with Guy’s impending induction, better far late than never, there’s still hope.
It is difficult to fathom why Guy, a seven-time Pro Bowler and who became the punter by whom all other punters are measured, had to wait 27 years beyond his retirement for Hall of Fame induction.
But now he’s in, as he should be. Brett Favre, another Southern Miss alum, will surely follow in 2016 when he becomes eligible. But the arguments for Mississippians Conerly, Hull and Giles need to be argued.
As was the case with Guy, it’s never too late.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.