State Your Case: Why E.J. Holub and some AFL greats deserve consideration

Rick Gosselin

Lamar Hunt was going to bring professional football to Texas and build a team with Texans for Texans.

Hunt tried and failed for years to land an NFL franchise so he decided to start his own league and set up a team in his adopted hometown of Dallas, the Texans. The NFL set up its own franchise in Dallas to compete with the AFL Texans, the Cowboys.

When the two franchises participated in their respective college drafts in 1961, the Cowboys took TCU defensive lineman Bob Lilly and the Texans took Texas Tech linebacker E.J. Holub with their first-round selections. They would be the showcase elements of fledgling teams courting a Texas crowd.

Lilly became every bit the player the Cowboys had hoped he’d be. He played 14 seasons, went to 11 Pro Bowls, helping his team reach a Super Bowl in 1971 and win a Super Bowl in 1972. Holub became every bit the player the Texans had hoped he’d be. He played 10 seasons, went to five AFL all-star games and helped his team reach a Super Bowl in 1967 and win a Super Bowl in 1970.

Lilly has since been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Holub’s career, however, has never been discussed by the Hall’s selection committee. Both players are, however, in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Holub persevered through a series of knee injuries and surgeries that eventually forced him into retirement in 1971. Knee injuries ended his seasons prematurely in both 1964 and 1967. Holub underwent six surgeries on his left knee and five more on his right during his career.

Holub started at three different positions for the Texans, who would move to Kansas City in 1963 and become the Chiefs. Holub started at left outside linebacker as a rookie, then moved to the right side in 1964. He moved over to offense to play center in 1968 and started there for two seasons before his creaky knees reduced him to a deep snapper in his final season in 1970.

Holub remains the only player to start on both offense and defense in Super Bowl history. He played right outside linebacker in Super Bowl I and had a team-leading eight tackles in that 35-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Then he played center in Super Bowl IV when the Chiefs rushed for 151 yards against the Purple People Eaters and shocked the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.

Holub started 113 games in the 1960s as the Chiefs became the dominant team of the AFL era. The Chiefs won more games (87) and more championships (three) than any other team and played in two of the first four Super Bowls. But when he was 32, team doctors told Holub he had the knees of an 80-year-old. He has since had two post-career knee surgeries, pushing his lifetime count to 13 and now, at 80, he remains in pain.

Holub was a two-time All-America at Texas Tech and the first player in school history to have his jersey (55) retired. Holub was enshrined in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1976 and was declared a Big 12 “legend” by the conference in 2012. But that’s where his honors came to an end.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee never warmed to the AFL players of the 1960s like it has the NFL players. Twenty-one of the NFL’s 22 first-team all-decade position players have been enshrined in Canton. Only nine of the 22 position players on the AFL's all-time team have been enshrined. So great AFL players like Holub, Ed Budde, Tom Sestak and George Saimes remain on the outside looking in.

Are all of them Hall of Famers? Are any of them Hall of Famers? We’ll never know until their candidacies are finally discussed.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

As a Chiefs fan, I say E.J. should be a no brainer. Your list regarding him, his team's, & most significantly his role for those tremendous team's says it all! Many early AFL guys were not overlooked, they were blackballed by petty elitist scumbags! This was because they had the temerity to dare to forsake the NFL. They went to the AFL for higher pay & bled for owners who applied for entry into the NFL, but were not old money enough for these piggish blue blood NFL owners.

Anyone know who Gale Sayers was drafted by in the AFL? Those Chiefs! He was one of the few who probably felt that the money was great, but what happens next year or later. He was one of the few top talents who stuck with the safety of the NFL. The entire NFL landscape may have went on it's ear if he had chosen differently.

But neither the NFL owners nor players cared for the AFL! It went well beyond the 60’s & they have been marginalized for decades! These guys are responsible for today's NFL every bit as much as any who played in the NFL then & maybe more. Player value to teams & their pay went up because of the men that spurned the old guard! Expansion since the merger has been done several times. It only happened before then to try to choke out the AFL, aside from team failure and bankruptcy. Hell one team formed never even played a game, but these guys aren't good enough?! The folks in Dallas today won't like hearing this, but Dallas Cowboys were formed to run one of the men most responsible for nearly every AFC teams existence, the great Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. He founded the AFL & even helped to keep his competition from folding. How many guys who own a team today would even think of that? No matter what the league circumstances, not a one would.

I lived a lot of this & it still pisses me off that these icons of so many teams didn't live to see their induction. A part of me hates every team and owner who had designs of punishing the owners & players who had the balls to say, ”Oh, I can't have a team, or oh, I think I want more money & control of my life.” If it's not time for the veterans committee to finally admit that these daring men ended up making it better for us all & were titans of the game, then when? After the arrogant jerks are all dead it will be too late! For all of them!

I love these players! We all should because the best of today's NFL is very much their doing! The AFL was fun & exciting! It revolutionized the game beyond just run, run, maybe pass or run, then punt! The AFL was competitive & daring in-game planning & offense. They had innovative ideas about the game. Many team's threw the ball all over the place. It's hard for folks that never saw of know little about it to really understand what these guys mean to the game, then & now. It was the original start-up as apposed to upstarts as they were called. They forced the NFL to become inclusive across the board! They are the NFL! I'm not a great writer, but I have an undeniable passion for the AFL and it's players! Even the old Raiders, Broncos & Chargers. My team's eventual mortal enemies! I've loved and watched football at every opportunity since I could walk. I'll watch till I die. But as for your question: IT'S TIME! IT'S WELL PAST TIME!

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