A Hall of Fame Comparison – ART POWELL

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There is a feeling among AFL fans that the American Football League players are consistently overlooked for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  In truth there are many players, the bulk of whose careers were spent in the AFL, that deserve serious consideration, if not outright induction.  In an effort to spark some discussion regarding their hall of fame worthiness, I will occasionally compare AFL players to their NFL (and Hall of Fame) counterparts. The short biographies on the NFL players have been taken directly from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.

autographed 1961 topps art powell

#151 – Art Powell

Today’s comparison is between Art Powell of the New York Titans/Oakland Raiders/Buffalo Bills, and two HoF wide receivers, Raymond Berry and Tommy McDonald.

Arthur Louis “Art” Powell – Played defensive back in the NFL before switching to receiver with the Titans…  Four-time AFL All-Star and AFL All-Time Second Team member…Caught 479 passes for 8,046 yards, 81 touchdowns…  Career ratio of touchdowns to receptions 1 to 5.9…  16.8 yards-per-reception average…  Third-most prolific pass receiver in AFL behind Lionel Taylor & Don Maynard.

Raymond Emmett BerryFormed exceptional pass-catch team with Johnny Unitas. . .Caught then-record 631 passes for 9,275 yards, 68 touchdowns. . .All-NFL in 1958, 1959, 1960. . .Elected to six Pro Bowl games. . .Set NFL title game mark with 12 catches for 178 yards in 1958 overtime game. . .Colts’ 20th-round future choice in 1954.

Thomas Franklin “Tommy” McDonaldEagles’ third-round draft pick, 1957. . . Career statistics: 495 receptions, 8,410 yards, 84 touchdowns. . . Selected to six Pro Bowls. . .Scored 56 touchdowns in 63 games, 1958-1962. . .Career ratio of touchdowns to receptions 1 to 5.9. . .Led NFL in reception yardage and touchdowns, 1961. . .Ranked sixth all-time in receptions, fourth in yards receiving and second in touchdown catches at time of retirement.

Art Powell seem to me to be one of the more blatant oversights in regards to hall of fame recognition.  Powell had a reputation for being surly, which has possibly factored against him with sportswriters.  Additionally, he was a strong-willed and outspoken African-American man at a time when being so was not readily accepted.  However, Powell’s (and teammates) boycott of games in segregated Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans helped break down racial barriers in the South.  Perhaps that factored against him in his early years of eligibility, but surely should work in his favor?  Thoughts?

Todd Tobias (781 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

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13 Responses to A Hall of Fame Comparison – ART POWELL

  1. Dave Steidel says:

    Art Powell was depicted by the press as being surly but I say he was a man of strong conviction. The circumstances of him coming to the AFL tell the story of how the Eagles released him because he made a stand against the black athletes on the team were not permitted to stay in the hotel the Eagles were staying at in the south for an exhibition game. He thought he had the support of the others on his team but it turned out that they folded, while he did not. Of course the press and Eagles painted the picture of Powell being a problem because of his stand for what was right. I applaud him for that. Much like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, standing up for what is right sometimes paints you into a picture that looks bad to the public while it is happening – but as time moves forward we realize that what they did was courageous and the right thing to do. Perhaps Powell did have a somewhat moody side, but a walk in his shoes may explain why. Powell was a big play receiver, unlike Berry who was more of a possession man, like the difference between Don Maynard and George Sauer. McDonald was a more emotional type who always seemed to be running for his life. Powell, and later Homer Jones and Otis Taylor was a power receiver who never looked fast because of his size, did not have flashy moves but always came down with the ball and most times knocked over tacklers who tried to stop him. I’m not sure he is a HOF’er, but he was a strong character who should be remembered as one of the best.

  2. ricck smith says:

    From greatest athletic family in San Diego history, edging the Ritchey family…Charlie, Ellsworth, and Art from San Diego high, Jerry from Lincoln. Art was all-Souther Cal first team in football and basketball, set scoring records in hoops at San Diego JC. His grandson, Alex Williams, was member of San Diego State’s last two championship basket squads.

  3. chris burford says:

    Art may have been a bit surly, but he sure as hell was one great wide receiver….Defineitely one of those Afl players “left out in the cold”, as has been Johnny robinson, Jerry Mays, Fred Arbanas, Ed Budde, Abner Haynes, by the the NFL old time “elite”….those guys could play!

  4. Tom says:

    In 1957 at age 20 Art played in the CfL with the Argos and the Alous, famous for the Ralph Toohy incident. By today’s CFL by laws a collegiate player that has not exhausted his eligibility is not eligible to play in the CFL. The lone exception is if they have been ruled academically ineligible, or if you will, flunked out of school.Dreidel mentions Tommie Smith and John Carlos who like Art attended San Jose State. It is not always or many plays made by players 40 + years later but like Lem Barneys picks for Tds against Bart Starr his rookie season and a catch I remember Art making. It was in the mid 1960’s he with the Raiders ran a simple 8 to 10 yard out, the ball was thrown way behind him and without breaking stride he reached back and caught with one hand as effortlessly as if he was catching a baseball with a glove. There have been many a great receiver to have played and none better than Art Powell.

  5. 1967 says:

    In the 1960s the party line among NFL types (the league itself as well sports scribes) was that the difference between the NFL & AFL was the talent level/ quality of play defensive backs. Hence, the gaudy stats ran up by the AFL’s receivers (like Art Powell among others) were to be taken with a grain of salt, according the NFL.

    That ‘good’ DBs don’t grow on trees was perhaps affirmed not only by the stats put up by AFL WRs, but by the scarcity of good DBs in general, terms stocking teams. Too, the fact the wide-open AFL threw the ball more than the ground & pound NFL tended to skew opinions, naturally.

    While there was some merit the NFL’s argument at one time (the NFL had more players & also more good players numbers wise), by the middle of the 1960s the deficit was no longer as pronounced (and yes as a Chiefs fan, I haven’t forgotten about Superbowl 1 and Willie Mitchell’s & Fred Williamson’s tribulations : )

    The AFL already had some fine DBs: Johnny Robinson (no one better in the NFL, apologies HOFr Larry Wilson) was joined by ex-NFL’r Johnny Sample. DEN and later Raiders HOF’r Willie Brown was already starring & Bernie Parrish (just two years removed All Star & World Champion stature NFL in CLEV), came over to play for AFL HOU. But the pool ‘was’ scarce: my KC Chiefs of 1966 even coaxed former NFL star Jimmy Hill out of retirement for 3 games due to a run of injury to Hank Stram’s DBs; Hill was already 38 years old at the time.

    My point is that deserving players – HOF types – are not a product of their league much as of their own skill, effort & teamwork. My guess is had Art Powell played in the NFL during his heydey, even with lesser stats he’d have made an name for himself.

    I can’t speak as a former player as to what Hall of Fame enshrinement means, but as an fan I can say this: the only Hall of Fame that really matters to me is not the one in Canton, but rather the one resides in my heart & memory, still. Indeed, long live the AFL.

  6. Tom says:


    Art Powell in the NFL as an Eagles rookie returned kickoff 95 yards and a punt for a touchdown with three picks and two fumble recoveries in 12 games playing safety. It’s written that Art playing both ways in the CFL in 1957 was criticised for his lack of intensity on defense opting to lay back and wait to get the ball back and make spectacular plays on offense. In 1959 the Eagles recievers were Tommy McDonald, Bobby Walston, Pete Retzlaff, & Dick Bielski. All had decent NFL careers McDonald and illustriuos one, and unlike Powell none intercepted a pass or ran a kick off back 95 yards. Powell also had a punt return for a td with the Eagles something Tommy McDonald did as well, his one and only in six seasons returning punts.
    In 1959 the only other player to return a kick off as far as Art was Abe Woodson 105, that means in 1959 Bobby Mitchell didn’t, Willie Galimore didn’t, Lenny Moore didn’t, Ollie Matson and Jon Arnett didn’t either.

  7. Tom says:

    In 1954 at San Diego HS Art was named first Team all CIF SS the other end was Lee Sampson, Art was 6″2′ 170, Lee was 6’2 190 and teamed with Charlie McNeil and Paul Lowe at Compton Centennial. As good as the three were none were considered as good as Lee, Lee was a man against boys and to support his family got a job out of high school and left what he thought was football behind for good. Then after sitting out almost four years decided to try football again but was not quite the same, the boys had caught up to the man, Lee lost a step or two and played at Compton CC, then one year 1961 at New Mexico State and then the CFL with the Argos. The great Sampson like the one of lore, was never the same player after he cut cut short his career, but will always be remebered that year in 1954.

  8. Bob Hubba Jubba Moss says:

    Surely Art Powell is one of the greatest athletes to come out of San Diego … ever!!! But wait a second, his older brother Charlie Powell was just as awesome as Art. Charles went directly from a San Diego High School June graduation to a starting defensive lineman roll for the San Francisco 49ers the following September. Art Powell was 3 years ahead of me in high school, and I was able to admire and respect him during his parade of fabulous athletic feats from San Diego High School, to San Diego City College, to San Jose State College to the AFL and NFL. Everyone in San Diego, who knew him during these times, admired his “surely” ways, and thrived on shadowing his playing talents and personal demeanor. It must be mentioned that Art was a team mate of Floyd Robinson, who was quite a San Diego High School legend in his own right. Floyd played quarterback and threw many big passes to Art during their high school days. Floyd also played baseball and went from the San Diego High outfield to play centerfield for the San Diego Padres, then of the AAA Pacific Coast League. He played many season with the Chicago White Sox, but like Art, due to his “surely” ways, was often times snubbed by MLB mnagement. Both Charley, Art and Floyd were men playing against mere children in their high school days and late career endeavors. Art and Floyd continue to reap the benefits of their very successfull business pursuits. The NFL HofF needs to clear space for the induction of Art Powell into it’s shrine of fame as soon as possible!

    • Dave Steidel says:

      Art Powell may fall into the same category as baseball great Richie “Dick” Allen. All of their greatness is sweep aside because the media felt they were trouble makers, perhaps because they called them as they saw them. Ted Williams, I sure, would agree!

  9. Kevin R. says:

    Thanks for this HOF comparison for Art Powell. There are so many factors that come into play when determining a Hall of Fame player. As other posts have stated, the talent level in the early years of the AFL was not on par with the NFL in its early days although by 1963 there seems to be some debate about how the Chargers would have fared against the Bears in a championship game. In addition to the level of competition,other considerations include the statistics of the player in question and was that player considered to be one of the top players at his position, was that player’s team a championship caliber team, did the player have a lengthy career, and other intangibles that might not show up on the stat sheet such as first hand accounts of the player’s ability.

    If you look at Art Powell’s Hall of Fame credentials, his statistics compare favorably with other Hall of Famers from that era, he played under difficult circumstances with the cash strapped Titans but helped turn around an ailing Raiders franchise, he had six years of prime production, and we have the recollection of those who saw him play who have stated that he was one of the top receivers of the era.

    An important factor for me is that Powell seems to be a man who, as the old saying goes, did not suffer fools lightly! He appeared to have little tolerance for unequal treatment and responded with pride and dignity when he was forced to confront racism and prejudice. With the Eagles, the Titans, and Raiders, he exhibited his leadership by refusing to be treated like a second class citizen and, as a result of this, he was labeled a troublemaker, a tag that has ruined more than one professional sports career. I read a recent interview with him where he talked about the 1965 player boycott of the AFL all-star game in New Orleans. Having been in similar situations before where he took a stand and was not backed up by his teammates, Powell was very reluctant to get involved in another action. In the end, he was not one of the organizers of the boycott but, because of his reputation, he was identified as one of the leaders by some in the media which add further to his “malcontent” status. One final note on this issue: Powell was not the only fine player of his era who confronted these situations: Abner Haynes, Cookie Gilchrist, Earl Faison and many others have recalled similar stories.

    Overall, my feeling is that Art Powell was one of the great pioneering players of the old AFL who should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame for his play and his efforts to be treated equally both on and off the field.

  10. Howard says:

    The AFL started to gain traction in its first three years. Here is a list of top AFL players who signed with the league. Several were top NFL draft picks as well.

    TOP AFL Players of 1960

    Jim Otto
    Johnny Robinson
    Ron Mix
    Larry Grantham
    Billy Cannon
    Jim Norton
    Bob Talamini
    Jim Hunt
    Abner Haynes
    Goose Gonsoulin
    Sherrill Headrick
    Wayne Hawkins
    Don Floyd
    Chris Burford

    TOP AFL Players of 1961

    Jim Tyrer
    Billy Shaw
    Jerry Mays
    Dave Grayson
    Ron McDole
    Houston Antwine
    Fred Arbanas
    Ben Davidson
    Larry Eisenhauer
    Earl Faison
    E.J. Holub
    Keith Lincoln
    Ernie Ladd

    TOP AFL Players of 1962

    Nick Buoniconti
    Lance Alworth
    John Hadl
    Mike Stratton
    Fred Arbanas
    Tom Sestak
    Garland Boyette
    Ike Lassiter
    Curtis McClinton
    Walt Suggs
    Cookie Gilchrist
    Bobby Hunt

  11. Howard says:

    Because of these signings referenced above and see below, the NFL instituted so-called babysitters in 1964. They stayed with top draft picks in order to prevent them from signing with the AFL. It did work as the 1964 NFL signed picks were far better than the AFL signed. However, by this point the AFL had signed a large contract with NBC. This meant that a merger would have to happen , or a circular firing squad would commence. The rest is history!

    TOP AFL Players of 1963

    Willie Brown
    Bobby Bell
    Buck Buchanan
    Ed Budde
    Daryle Lamonica
    Walt Sweeney
    George Saimes
    Winston Hill
    Jim Dunaway
    Dave Hill
    Hewritt Dixon
    Bill Baird

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