March 24, 2023 12:00pm

The NFL and the AFL

The AFL has been shortchanged by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

The AFL has been shortchanged by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Hall has enshrined 21 of the 22 position players from the 1960s NFL all-decade team. But the AFL, which won the last two Super Bowls of the decade, has only 10 of its 22 position players with busts from its 1960s all-decade team.

So we focused on the AFL in this week’s NFL Power Poll. In our first question to our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters, we asked them to identify the best player from the AFL era not in the Hall of Fame. We offered up six options – all first-team AFL all-decade selections. Our second question pertained to AFL wide receivers.

The Kansas City Chiefs won more games (87) and more championships (3) than any team in AFL history . They do have eight players enshrined in Canton -- but our panel believes there should be more.

Of the 146 votes this week, former Chiefs finished 1-2 in the balloting – guard Ed Budde with 34 votes and offensive tackle Jim Tyrer with 31. Defensive end Gerry Philbin (Jets) was next with 29 votes, followed by defensive tackle Tom Sestak (Bills) with 19, cornerback Dave Grayson (Raiders) 19 and defensive end Houston Antwine (Patriots) 15.

Budde was joined by Billy Shaw at guard on the all-time AFL team – and Shaw was enshrined in Canton as a senior candidate in 1999. Budde was the fourth overall pick of the 1963 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles but opted to sign with the Chiefs. He was voted to eight all-star games – six in the AFL and two more in the NFL. But Budde has been waiting 47 years now and has never even been a finalist for discussion. Tyer went to nine all-star games and has been a Hall of Fame finalist just once.

“It’s interesting that AFC players are still underrated,” said football historian Vito Stellino, a long-time Hall of Fame voter. “I wonder if Tyrerhas beens overlooked because of the tragic way his life ended. And was Klecko, who just got in, better than Philbin, who both played for the Jets? The majority of payers on these two lists should be in.”

Bob Grotz of the Delaware County Times called Sestak “the complete defensive tackle,” and Ira Kaufman of called Antwine “Curley Culp before Curley Culp – a former wrestling star who proved to be an unmovable force as an interior lineman.”

Our second question pertained to wide receivers. The AFL was a passing league in the 1960s and the NFL was a running league. But the Hall of Fame has enshrined twice as many wide receivers from the NFL (6) of the 1960s as the AFL (3). So we asked our panel to identify the best AFL wide receiver without a bust in Canton and offered up five options – Gino Cappelletti (Patriots), Charley Hennigan (Oilers), Art Powell (Raiders), Lionel Taylor (Broncos) and Otis Taylor (Chiefs).

Again, a Chief was the choice. Otis Taylor ran away from the field with 88 votes. Lionel Taylor was next with 18 followed by Powell with 15, Cappelletti 13 and Hennigan 12. None of the five has ever been a finalist to have his career discussed and debated by the Hall’s selection committee.

“As a kid growing up in New Hampshire, I had an Otis Taylor poster in my bedroom,” said Jim Colony of KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh.

Otis Taylor led the AFL with an average of 22.4 yards per catch in 1966 (58 catches for 1,297” yards) and then led the league with 11 touchdown receptions in 1967. His 46-yard touchdown on a pass from Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson was the signature play in Kansas City’s upset of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The two leagues merged in 1970 and in 1971, Taylor was the only receiver in the 26-team league with a 1,000-yard receiving season, catching 57 passes for 1,110 yards.

“Otis Taylor not in the Hall of Fame is the Hall’s biggest omission,” said Mitch Holthus, the radio voice of the Chiefs. “Just watch the video. He was ahead of his time – speed, route running, yards after the catch... And, of course, the deciding play of Super Bowl IV.”

Bud Geracie, the sports editor of Bay Area News Group, took it a step further.

“Otis Taylor not in the Hall of Fame – that’s criminal,” he said.

Cappelletti was the AFL’s all-time leading scorer and Hennigan was the first receiver in either the AFL or NFL to have a 100-catch season. Lionel Taylor led the AFL in receiving five times in his first six seasons and Powell registered five 1,000-yard seasons and five times scored in double-figures in touchdowns.

“Lionel Taylor averaged 85 catches for 1,071 yards in his first six seasons,” Kaufman said. “Those are extraordinary numbers for a 14-game schedule. And his quarterbacks during that span were Frank Tripucka, Mickey Slaughter, Jacky Lee and Josh McCormick. Enough said.”

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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.

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