Offensive linemen, vital to victory at any level, remain football’s unsung heroes. They work as hard or harder than others. They hit and absorb hits on every play. Usually, the only time they are noticed is when a man in a striped shirt throws a flag for holding and calls out the offending lineman’s number for all God’s children to hear.
The late Kent Hull, of Greenwood, Mississippi State and the Buffalo Bills, was the exception. Hull, a splendid center, was so smart, so honest and so glib, sports writers and sportscasters sought him regularly. Everyone wanted to know what Kent had to say.
Hull, who died at the age of 50 in October of 2011, didn’t seek attention; it sought him. But he loved the role of an offensive lineman. He knew they got little credit for important work. And that’s why he surely would appreciate the idea that the most outstanding college offensive lineman in Mississippi each autumn will receive the Kent Hull Trophy.
Hull embodied all we respect in an offensive lineman: strength, quickness, toughness, intelligence, work ethic and humility. As a citizen, he opened his pockets and gave and gave, mostly to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.
The Hull Trophy annually will go to the Mississippi college offensive lineman who most displays those traits that enabled Hull to play in three Pro Bowls, four Super Bowls and become one of the most respected linemen and leaders in the NFL.
The trophy – a bronzed replica of Hull at work – will be presented each year at the C Spire Conerly Trophy Banquet. Money to fund and perpetuate the award is being raised at A Tribute to Kent Hull Banquet on Sept. 24.
The idea came from a group of Hull’s friends. And this will tell you much about how many friends Hull had: Originally scheduled to be held at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the banquet already has exceeded the 250-seat capacity and has been moved to the Jackson Hilton. (Tickets are available by calling 601-982-8264 or by visiting msfame.com.)
It took Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly a split second to say “Yes” when asked if he would speak at the appreciation banquet. Kelly and Hull were close friends.
“Kent was the heartbeat of the Buffalo Bills,” Kelly said at the time of Hull’s death. “He was the leader of the Buffalo Bills. People talk about Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly, but if you were looking for the glue to it all you looked no further than number 67.”
Hull is one of 126 nominees for next year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Final voting is set for Feb. 1.
Marv Levy, the Hall of Fame coach of those great Bills teams, says unequivocally Hull belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It was a privilege to coach Kent Hull,” said Levy. “He was a great leader, he was our leader.”
A personal note: I was proud to call Kent Hull a friend. His first year at Mississippi State coincided with my first season of covering State football at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. He was supposed to red-shirt that season but injuries forced him into a starting role as a 200-pound center.
But Hull battled and Emory Bellard, his coach, loved him. “As tough as a two-bit steak,” Bellard would say of Hull in that Texas drawl of his. “You watch, that boy is going to be a great player.”
I watched Bellard’s words come true. Eventually, I covered Kent in four Super Bowls, where he reminded everyone he was just a good ol’ boy from Greenwood. He would say that he and Kelly came into Buffalo the same year.
Kelly, said Hull, came to town in a limousine. Said Kent, laughing, “I followed him on a wagonload of pumpkins.”
That was Kent.
Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@ msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.