September 28, 2022

Howley, Klecko, Riley finalists for Pro Football HOF

Super Bowl MVP Chuck Howley and All-Pro defensemen Joe Klecko and Ken Riley are finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.

Defenders who played in the 1960s, 70s and 80s have been announced as the three senior candidates for next year’s Hall of Fame class from a shortlist of 12 semi-finalists. They will enter the room if they are supported by at least 80% of voters next January.

Howley began his career with the Chicago Bears in 1958-59, then played his final 13 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, his biggest claim being the only player from a losing team ever selected as Super Bowl MVP.

Howley won MVP after intercepting two passes in Super Bowl V when Dallas lost to Baltimore 16-13. He found himself on the winning side the following season when he had an interception and recovered a fumble in a 24-3 win over Miami. His three career interceptions are tied for the most in Super Bowl history with Rod Martin and Larry Brown.

Howley was a five-time All-Pro in his 15 seasons with 25 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries in 180 games.

Klecko was a mainstay of the Jets’ famous ‘New York Sack Exchange’, earning Pro Bowl honors on nose, defensive tackle and defensive end during a 12-year career that ended with one season with the Indianapolis Colts.

Klecko was a two-time All-Pro, including in 1981 when he unofficially led the NFL with 20 1/2 sacks and finished second to Lawrence Taylor in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Sacks did not become an official statistic until the following season.

“You made my day; for sure,” Klecko, 68, said Tuesday after hearing the news during a congratulatory phone call from Hall of Fame President Jim Porter.

“I’ve had too many ‘no’ phone calls, and getting this one with a ‘yes’ is absolutely thrilling. … It’s a great time in the Klecko household.

Riley played his entire 15-year career from 1969 to 1983 as a cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals. A quarterback at Florida A&M, Riley excelled in the pros after the position change.

He had four interceptions as a rookie, a career-high nine in 1976 and eight in his final season when he earned his only first-team All-Pro selection.

Riley’s 65 career interceptions rank fifth in NFL history and second only to Dick “Night Train” Lane’s 68 for players who were exclusively cornerbacks. His nine seasons with at least four interceptions are tied for second most in the Super Bowl era.

Riley died aged 72 in 2020.

The other nine players discussed on Tuesday were Ken Anderson, Maxie Baughan, Randy Gradishar, Cecil Isbell, Bob Kuechenberg, Eddie Meador, Tommy Nobis, Sterling Sharpe and Everson Walls. Gradishar, Kuechenberg and Sharpe went through an initial vote of reducing 12 candidates to six before the final vote.

The Hall of Fame board approved a change earlier this year to increase the number of finalists in the Seniors category from one to three in each of the next three Hall of Fame classes.

A committee will meet next week to determine which coach or contributor will become a finalist from a group consisting of Roone Arledge, Don Coryell, Mike Holmgren, Frank Kilroy, Robert Kraft, Art Modell, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, Art Rooney Jr ., Mike Shanahan, Clark Shaughnessy and John Wooten.

The selection committee could also vote for up to five modern-era nominees from a yet-to-be-determined group.

The class of 2023 will be officially dedicated next summer in Canton, Ohio.

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