State Your Case: Why the Hall should hear about former Giants' great Ward Cuff

Ward Cuff was the best kicker of his era, but few persons know about him. And that's a shame. Because he was special.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has long been blind toward kickers, and you can look it up. Since opening in 1963, the Hall has enshrined exactly two – Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen – with Adam Vinatieri expected to join them when he retires.

But that’s it. Two … or one every 30 or so years, and there’s something wrong with this picture.

Simply put, you can’t tell me there aren’t more than two or three kickers out there who live up to Hall-of-Fame standards. Because there are. And former New York Giants’ star Ward Cuff is one them.

Never heard of him? Get in line. Cuff played 11 seasons, from 1937 through 1947, and he played with the Giants, Cardinals and Packers, with all but two years spent in New York. The guy was durable, versatile and invaluable – capable of playing a variety of positions.

On offense, he served mostly as a wingback in coach Steve Owen’s “A-formation” offense, which was a variation of the single wing, Cuff was called on to run, catch and, of course, kick … and the results speak for themselves. Playing in over 100 games, he averaged 5.4 yards a carry for his career, once carried 80 times in a season and produced 3,410 yards from scrimmage.

Oh, yeah, he twice led the Giants in pass receptions, too.

But why stop there? A former heavyweight boxing champion at Marquette University where he was the school’s record-holder in the javelin, Cuff’s considerable athletic abilities allowed him to play almost anywhere.

And everywhere.

So Owen lined him up as a defensive back, and Cuff responded by setting a Giants’ record in 1938 with a 96-yard interception return. Then, three years later, he led the NFL in interception return yards. The guy was so adroit that when former Giants’ owner Wellington Mara in 1976 picked his all-time Giants; team, Cuff was one of his four defensive backs.

“Ward was outstanding as a runner, a receiver and a defensive back,” said Owen. “Above all, he was an Iron Man who could play with so many injuries that he often seemed to be taped from head to toe before he put on his uniform.”

But it was special teams where he excelled, with Cuff returning kicks (he averaged 12 yards per punt return) as well as converting them. The guy was a multi-skilled handyman, but the truth is: He was more … much more … than that.

Pure and simple, he was the premier placekicker of his era, leading or sharing the NFL in field goals four times and finishing in the top five eight times. He set a Giants’ career scoring record, was named All-Pro five times (including three first-team selections) and had his number 14 jersey retired by the Giants (it was later given to Y.A., then re-retired after he left the game).

Decades later, league historian and Pro Football Journal's Chris Willis, head of the Research Library at NFL Films, named Cuff the first-team kicker on his list of pre-World War II all-stars.

Willis admits that Cuff is a borderline Hall of Famer, and I’d agree. The guy was an indispensable piece of a Giants team that won the 1938 NFL championship and four times was a division king. Yet his value lay in his versatility, not his productivity, with Cuff able to play so many positions that when the Giants lost leading rusher and scorer Bill Paschal for the 1944 league championship game, Cuff moved from wingback to running back to replace him.

Result: He carried 12 times for 76 yards and a score in a 14-7 Giants’ loss.

Cuff played in four league championship games with New York, winning one (1938), and while his versatility was remarkable it was his contributions as a kicker that gains your attention. Because if, as Willis contends, Ward Cuff was the best of the pre-World War II era, he deserves to have his candidacy heard by Hall-of-Fame voters.

No, I don’t think it happens … not even with the Hall expected to endorse 10 seniors for the Centennial Class of 2020. And you already know why: The Hall is … and has been … blind to kickers. So it almost certainly will be blind to Ward Cuff, too.

“I have a lot of fond memories of him,” Wellington Mara once said.

Too bad voters don’t.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

Comments (2)
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Rick Goss
Rick Goss

Art deserves to be in the HOF as much if not more than most of the other owners in the HOF. The article touched on his accomplishments and he moved a team much like Al Davis but he did not sue the NFL as Davis did. Lets place the blame where it goes for all that happened to Browns leaving town adn that goes to the NFL fans who put up with teams leaving and as long as it was not their tema they did not care. if the fans objected more and more each time it happened then the NFL would try harder to prevent teams from moving. Then there is Paul Tagliabue who went back on Pete Rozelle's word, as Rozelle promised Baltimore a team in the next expansion. Baltimore sat around 10 years waitign patiently for their new NFL team. Then at the time the only city to ever have 2 management teams from the same city vying for the city's team. Then guess what Tagliabue pulled his fast one and ditched Baltimore. A city who went 10 years without a team and who had an NFL team they hated forced down their throats each week and there were not many optoins to watch football as now so Baltimore was forced to watch a team they hated or nothing. They did this for 10 years for nothing. Also in that team other owners shopped their teams to Baltimore but the fan base did not want anther cities team and put another city through what they were going through. Polls in the local papers over that awful time overwelmingly showed fans did not want another cities team. And of course we were promised a team. Finally when the chance to get a team presented itself after all Baltimore went through, Baltimore took it and no one who truly knows what Baltimore went through would have blamed them.

  • Baltimore had to pay for their own stadium - not get a sweet heart deal as Cleveland did.
  • Baltimore once they had the Browns again overwhelmingly the fan base voted over and over again to give Cleveland their name and colors THOUGH BALTIMORE STILL DOES NOT HAVE THE BAME AND COLORS THEY INVENTED AND MADE FAMOUS. Art could of changed the name to Ravens kept the name and colors, much like Titans and made money for years to come from the name and Browns fans.
  • Then of course not to mention Cleveland went 3 years without a team not more than a decade OR never having a team as many cities in the country who have lost a team have to endure. In closing they say the players accomplishments on the field are all they are suppose to count when voting for players to get in the HOF, let's apply that to owners and look at their work for the league and not running their business OR at least applying it fairly and evenly as we see has not been with other owners.
Clark Judge
Clark Judge

Editor

Don't disagree with anything you said. But that room is not ready for Art. Was in there for the 2012 debate, and it was passionate and divisive. Like it or not, Art is a polarizing figure, and there are too many opposing votes for him to make it. Going to take a change of selectors before he gets in.