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.
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?