The NFL and Cornerbacks
We asked Power Poll NFL.
Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes went to a combined 14 Pro Bowls and 85 interceptions. They both were named to the 1980s NFL all-decade team and Haynes has a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Haynes was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and Hayes the Defensive Player of the Year in 1980.
So it was little wonder why they were voted the best cornerback tandem in NFL history in this week’s NFL Power Poll. Hayes and Haynes received 99 of the 171 votes cast by our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters. The Raiders’ tandem of the 1980s easily outdistance Detroit’s 1960s tandem of Dick “Night Train” Lane and Dick LeBeau, who received a runnerup 42 votes.
There was single-digit support for the other six tandems on the ballot. Chris Harris and Aqib Talib of the 2010s Denver Broncos received 8 votes, followed by Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain of the 2000s Miami Dolphins and Lemar Parrish and Ken Riley of the 1970s Cincinnati Bengals with 7 apiece, Willie Brown and Dave Grayson of the 1960s Oakland Raiders 4, Albert Lewis and Kevin Ross of the 1980s Kansas City Chiefs 3 and Eric Barnes and Dick Lynch of the 1960s New York Giants with 1.
Two Hall of Fame wide receivers weighed in – and they weighed in for Hayes and Haynes.
“Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes played well off each other,” said Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys. “Lester’s man coverage ability usually got caught up in the sick-um discussion but trust me – the man really had coverage skills. Haynes’ size allowed him to get leverage on wide receivers, making it very difficult to shake him in man coverage.”
Added James Lofton, a former Raider himself: “It’s not easy to pick from the great tandems but Hayes and Haynes were the gold standard of guys I played and practiced against.”
The 1980s may have been the gold standard of NFL cornerback play with Haynes and Haynes, Lewis and Ross and also the Cleveland tandem of Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield. Hall of Famer Mel Blount and Minnifield joined Hayes and Haynes on the all-decade team.
“I would have liked to have seen Dixon and Minnifield on the ballot even though I wouldn’t have voted for them,” added Tim Graham, the Buffalo correspondent for The Athletic.
The only tandem on the ballot with a pair of Hall of Famers was Lane and LeBeau. Lane holds the record for most career interceptions by a cornerback with 68 and LeBeau chipped in 62.
“Lane and LeBeau had few peers as ballhawking corners,” said Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com. “From 1960-66, the two Hall of Famers combined for 49 interceptions before Lane’s retirement. The Lions were never worse than fifth out of 14 teams in scoring defense during that six-year span. The problem? Milt Plum wasn’t a very good quarterback.”
In our second question, we asked our panel who was the best cornerback in the senior pool not in the Hall of Fame. The senior pool consists of players whose 25-year windows of modern era eligibility have been used up. We offered up nine options, including a few who appeared in the first question – Barnes, Grayson, Lewis and Parrish. Also on the ballot were Eric Allen (Eagles), Bobby Boyd (Colts), Dave Brown (Seahawks), Everson Walls (Cowboys) and Louis Wright (Broncos).
Walls, the only cornerback ever to lead the NFL in interceptions three times, was the runaway winner with 60 votes, Lewis was next with 38, followed by Allen with 34, Parrish with 15, Wright with 10, Boyd with 5, Barnes and Brown with four apiece and Grayson 1. Boyd and Wright were named to NFL all-decade teams, Parrish went to eight Pro Bowls and Brown intercepted 62 career passes. A footnote on Allen – he’s still four years away from the senior pool.
“Albert Lewis and Everson Walls both are worthy of the Hall of Fame and I hope both receive their due in the coming years,” said Charean Williams a Hall of Fame voter with NBCSports.com.
Boyd is one of the great mysteries. He played 10 seasons with the Baltimore Colts from 1960-69 and intercepted 57 passes. He was a three-time first team all-pro, led the NFL in interceptions in 1965, won an NFL championship in 1968 and was voted to the NFL all-decade team. Yet he has never once been discussed as a Hall of Fame finalist.
“Boyd has been lost in history and it’s a shame,” said Matt Verderame of Sports Illustrated. “Finished at 31 years old as a first-team all-pro and had seven seasons of at least six interceptions. Just a phenomenal player.”
Parrish with his eight Pro Bowls is another mystery absence from Canton.
“I find it mystifying that Ken Riley will be inducted into the Hall of Fame (Class of 2023) before Lemar Parrish,” said Chris Tomasson of the Denver Gazette. “While Riley had more career interceptions (65) than Parrish (47) he had no Pro Bowls and one first-team all-pro nod. Parrish had eight Pro Bowls and a first-team all-pro nod. The Bengals obviously pushed Riley more for Hall-of-Fame consideration since he played h is entire career with them while Parrish got into a contract dispute and was traded to Washington. But Parrish was clearly the better player of the two.”
About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.