No Justice in Atlanta

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Great players make for great teams. The 1960s Green Bay Packers are proof of that with 11 Hall of Fame players to show for their five championship teams.

But what about the great players on bad teams? They miss out on championships -- and too often they miss out on Canton.

The Atlanta Falcons were a bad team for a long time -- and it has cost offensive tackles George Kunz and Mike Kenn Hall of Fame consideration.

It took the Falcons 13 years to manage their first winning season, 15 years to win a division title and 26 years to win a playoff game. A lot of bad football was played along the way. But not necessarily by bad players.

Kunz went to five Pro Bowls in a span of six years (1969-74) as a right offensive tackle for the Falcons. Then Kenn went to five consecutive Pro Bowls (1980-84) as a left tackle for the Falcons. But neither has ever been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kunz moved on to the Baltimore Colts in his eighth season and went to three more Pro Bowls. That’s eight total Pro Bowls -- as many as Art Shell and more than Ron Yary, Dan Dierdorf, Bob Brown and Rayfield Wright from his era. Yet those five tackles are all in the Hall of Fame and Kunz has never even been discussed.

That puzzles Ted Marchibroda, who coached Kunz at Baltimore.

“When he came to the Colts, he was the only guy we added from our 2-12 team and we went 10-4,” Marchibroda said. “At Atlanta, he was a Pro Bowler on the NFC side. When he came to us, he became a Pro Bowler on the AFC side -- and was voted team captain of the AFC team that first year. That’s an indication of what others thought of him.”

Kunz was a team captain in college at Notre Dame and at both Atlanta and Baltimore in the NFL.

“As a lineman, he’s the best offensive leader I’ve ever been around,” Marchibroda said. “His teammates followed him. He made as many Pro Bowls as the Yarys, Shells and Browns. I would rather have him than those guys. I had Bob Brown in L.A. Bob may have been a better athlete but you can’t compare them as leaders. His leadership sets him apart. He was special.”

Kenn also had dynamic leadership skills, serving on the executive committee of the NFL Players Association for 17 years, including a stint as president. On the field he started 251 games for the Falcons. The only offensive lineman in NFL history to start more was Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews at 293 games.

Kenn saw -- and blocked -- most of the great pass rushers in NFL history on that left side: Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Richard Dent, Fred Dean, Chris Doleman, Howie Long, Dan Hampton, Lee Roy Selmon, Ted Hendricks and Elvin Bethea.

Despite that level of competition, Kenn was voted to the All-NFC team six times and had his jersey number 78 retired by Falcons.

Jim Hanifan was one of the game’s great offensive line coaches. He coached Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf and Hall of Fame candidate Orlando Pace in addition to Kenn. He said he’d “put Kenn right up there with those two players” and added if the Falcons had won a Super Bowl, Kenn would already be in the Hall of Fame by now.

But the Falcons didn’t and Kenn is not. Neither is Kunz. They can’t even get into the room as finalists to be discussed. Their combined record of 144-214-4 with the Falcons is standing in the way.

And that’s a shame. Not all of the NFL’s great players played on great teams. But no one seems to notice those who don’t.


Mike Kenn, Courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons