A Hall of Fame Comparison – CHARLIE HENNIGAN

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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 1965 topps charlie hennigan

#078 – Charlie Hennigan

Today’s comparison is between Charlie Hennigan of the Houston Oilers and two HoF receivers, Raymond Berry and Bob Hayes.

Charles Taylor “Charlie” Hennigan – An original Oiler, was George Blanda’s favorite target 1960-1966…  Two-time AFL champion, four times All-AFL, five times AFL All-Star…  1,746 receiving yards in 1961 was league record for 34 years…  Twice led AFL in receiving yardage and yards-per-game…  Averaged 16.6 yards-per-reception over his career…  Retired with 410 receptions for 6,823 yards and 51 touchdowns…  AFL All-Time Second Team member

Raymond Emmett Berry Formed 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 .

Robert Lee “Bob” Hayes – Selected as a future pick by Cowboys, seventh round, 1964 NFL Draft. . .Also drafted as future choice by Denver (AFL). . .Won a pair of gold medals in the 1964 Olympic Games earning him the title “World’s Fastest Human”. . .Four times was named first- or second-team All-NFL. . .Three times led the Cowboys in receptions. . . Career stats include 7,414 receiving yards and 71 TDs.

Like another early AFL receiver, Lionel Taylor, Charlie Hennigan’s HoF chances are automatically dulled by voters because he played in the early days of the AFL, and HoF voters seem to discount accomplishments during these seasons based on a belief that AFL defenses were inferior competition.  Regardless, Hennigan competed at levels well-above most other AFL receivers.  In fact, he was among the elite receivers of the early AFL, which in my estimation includes Hennigan, Lionel Taylor, Don Maynard and Art Powell.   In fairness, Hennigan’s career was relatively short, having played just seven seasons, but HoF inductees who played fewer than 10 seasons are not unheard of.  League champion, league leader, all-league player, record-holder…  Thoughts?

Todd Tobias (775 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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8 Responses to A Hall of Fame Comparison – CHARLIE HENNIGAN

  1. Jeff says:

    You left out Elbert (Golden Wheels) Dubenion of the Bills and Lance Alworth of your Chargers

  2. 1967 says:

    Did the NFL and do HOF voters same look down upon those early days AFL, while not acknowledging the expansion Dallas Cowboys & the Minnesota Vikings likewise being ‘easy marks’ defense, terms stats garnered against?

    Of course not – “We’re the ‘NFL’ – let every knee bow!”; pass the vomit bag.

    While exhibiting impartiality in effect might lend credence to the argument against the early AFL – should follow vs NFL expansion teams of same period – would perhaps serve to end the silliness. Specifically, that by virtue a human being who played the same game/came via the same proving grounds college, yet is somehow ‘more’ than another player & league by mere virtue having an ‘N’ in front of their FL rather than an ‘A’.

    Different venue, same principle: comes to mind the civil rights struggle the 60’s, one color being considered better than another. What’s next – the priest’s collar makes virtuous, police officer’s badge honest? The cost arbitrary caprice is high: segregation from the Hall of Fame, based upon a biased subjective.

    Nod Pete Seeger’s, ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ (and some Mr. Spock too), “remember the players of the AFL – may their memory live long, and prosper”.

  3. Tom says:

    In the middle to the end of the 1950’s a variety of players that just missed in the US, left for a second chance in Canada, and in the 1960’s came home. The CFL in the 1950’s was a place to continue to do what they loved, get paid and keep the dream alive, Hennigan in the late 1950’s took a chance, like Jack Kemp, Art Powell 1958, Sam Deluca, Milt Campbell, Tobin Rote 1961, Jim Colclough, Gerry McDougall, Cookie, Dalva Allen, sam Etcheverry, Ernie Warlick, Wray Carlton, Max Boydston, Johnny Green, Joe Kapp 1967, Babe Parilli, Dave Kocourek, Frank Tripucka, Al Darow, Carver Shannon, CR Roberts, and Ronnie Knox, with coaches like Frank Filchock, Jim Finks, Jack Jacobs, Bud Grant, Pop Ivy, Steve Owen, and Hamp Pool left the US for Canada, In 1958 Charlie Hennigan was a member of the Edmonton Eskimos, It’s unknown if he caught a single pass, what is known is that the Eskimos in 1958 featured CFL HOF running backs Johnny Bright and Normie Kwong.

    In 1959 Charlie was back in Louisiana teaching school and a year later he and former NW Louisiana collge teammate Charlie Tolar packed their bags and rode together to join the Houston Oilers and the rest is history,

    George Blanda old the story of the difficulty PFHOF Willie Brown had in the 1963 Oilers training camp, covering Charlie and was dealt to Denver. If George Blanda felt Hennigan belongs in the HOF who could argue, as what does some guy who played in 340 games in four decades and scored 2002 points know, compared to a guy that sits behind a typewriter?

  4. Kevin Carroll says:

    A great thing about the AFL was that it gave a lot of good football players a chance, and in some cases, a second or third chance. Charlie Hennigan is a classic case. After being cut as a running back by the Edmonton Eskimos in 1958, Hennigan went to work making himself into a receiver. While teaching high school biology in Jonesboro, Louisiana, he drove 20 miles to Ruston several times a week where he worked with former Cleveland Brown great Dub Jones catching passes and running patterns. Several Oiler teammates testify that when Hennigan reported to the Oilers’ camp in 1960 his hands were questionable at best. All the Oiler coaches wanted to cut him except for receiver coach Mac Speedie, who loved Hennigan’s blazing speed and great work ethic. Winning an argument with head coach Lou Rymkus, Speedie took Hennigan under his wing and the rest is history.

    Whenever the heat, humidity, and aches and pains of training camp began to wear on Hennigan, he’d remove his helmet and look at a monthly pay receipt he had taped inside for teaching at Jonesboro High School – $270.62. With that, he went back to running patterns.

    Assistant Oiler coach Walt Schlinkman said of Hennigan, “Charlie’s greatest asset was his tremendous physical endurance. He ran like a gazelle and could do it all day. By the fourth quarter the defenders trying to cover him were just dragging.”

    In a 1961 game against Boston he caught 13 passes for 232 yards, a new single game reception yardage record. That same season he would set a new single season reception yardage record of 1,541 yards in 12 games, breaking the previous record set by “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. In 1964 he would catch 101 passes.

    Hennigan is certainly worthy of HOF membership.

    • Tom says:

      In 1957 “The Sugarland Express” Ken Hall was in Edmonton with the Eskimos, and was gone the following year Hennigan made the trek northward. Together in 1960 they, with Cannon and Blanda were in Houston. Add Ken Hall to the list of those born in 1935.

  5. As I’ve commented before, it was a huge deal when Art Monk caught his 100th pass in 1984, against the St. Louis Cardinals at the old RFK. We gave Art a standing ovation for that. Monk finished the season with 106 catches, breaking Hennigan’s 1964 record of 101.

    Here’s something else I recall. A columnist asked the question: “What was Hennigan even doing in the record book to begin with?” I think the column was in The Washington Post, but I’m not positive. The writer said something along the lines of the AFL being considered a minor league by most people in the 1960’s. The column, of course, was written in December 1984, 20 years after Hennigan’s record, and 15 years after the final AFL season.

    I thought then, as I do now, that Hennigan’s record was legitimate. There was a void in the pro football market in the 1950’s–enough of a void for Lamar Hunt to ask: “Why wouldn’t it be possible to form a second league?” There was a great deal of untapped talent out there. The AFL proved that. The AFL proved that it was possible to form a second league and transform the game of professional football.

  6. Steve Hennigan says:

    Hey guys. Thank you so much for the kind words about my dad. Because he only played 7 seasons, his career stats don’t reflect the greatness of his play as a receiver. I have taken “per game” average stats and compared them to HOF receivers. In these numbers he ranks 3rd or 4th on virtually all of these, even when comparing his entire 84 game career to the very best consecutive 84 games the Hall of Famers played. His one of only a few with 3 200+ yard games.
    Regards
    Steve Hennigan, MD

  7. Sol Wisenberg says:

    Charlie Hennigan unquestionably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. All of the above accolades about Hennigan are well-deserved. But in addition to Hennigan’s outstanding statistical achievments, let’s not forget the intangibles. He was an incredibly fun player to watch. When George Blanda launched one of his patented bombs downfield at old Jeppesen Stadium and Hennigan raced to get it, an anticipatory joy spread through the crowd. And when Charlie caught the ball the place went wild. As far as live, in-person pro football goes, nothing for me has ever matched the excitement of a Blanda to Hennigan bomb.

    On a personal note, I was a student back then at Longfellow Elementary. Charlie Hennigan was there for a short while as a student teacher, unfortunately not in my class. All of the students were instructed never to ask “Mr. Hennigan” for his autograph. This was tough to do at a time when he was the most popular sports figure in Houston.

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