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Sacco Sez: Delayed but deserved recognition for AFL stars

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Recently I was talking with veteran sportswriter, commentator and Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Clark Judge about a topic dear to my heart, the American Football League.

Clark said he felt that the AFL is not as well represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as it should be, and we noted how many great players there were in the first 10 years of Denver Broncos history, which was how long the AFL played before joining the National Football League.

It turns out that Clark and a small group of influential writers have come up with a master list of AFL stars, which will be whittled down to a list of 20 finalists before a final vote of the top 10, and he has asked that I be part of that group as a longtime team PR director.

I am honored to be part of a panel of 15 voters, which includes five Hall of Fame voters, five NFL historians, two PR veterans, one NFL Network analyst and two significant NFL administrators/coaches. You can find the full list of voters on the Talk of Fame Network's website.

The all-time All-AFL team has first and second stringers at each position, so including kickers and punters there are 48 players on that list. 

Just fourteen of those members are in the Hall of Fame, so at the very least this gives us a chance to go back a few decades and heap honor on great players from the 1960s, and you never know how it could wind up. Perhaps that number could grow.

If I had my way — with no disrespect whatsoever to the hard-working voters and administrators of the Hall — I would named a group of experts to study overlooked AFL greats and make a 40-man AFL roster (the AFL had a 40-player roster from 1966-69, the longest period with one roster size, which was also its largest) that would then be elected to the Hall of Fame to represent the history of the AFL. My list, of course, would exclude players already in the Hall of Fame.

Gallup polls have had pro football listed as America's favorite sport since at least 1972, and the AFL was at the forefront of that growth in terms of the development of the passing game, to name just one of the biggest contributions made by the AFL.

In any case, I am honored to be a part of this determination of the greatest non-Hall of Famers in AFL history.

We have been given a preliminary list of 52 AFL candidates, not including anyone who is already in the Hall of Fame.

The preliminary list is as follows:

OFFENSE (31)

QB: John Hadl (San Diego, 1962-72; L.A. Rams, 1973-74; Green Bay, 1974-75; Houston 1976-77), Jack Kemp (Pittsburgh, 1957; L.A./San Diego, 1960-62; Buffalo, 1962-69), Daryle Lamonica (Buffalo, 1963-66; Oakland, 1967-74)

RB: Clem Daniels (Dallas, 1960; Oakland, 1961-67; San Francisco, 1968), Mike Garrett (Kansas City, 1966-70; San Diego, 1970-73), Cookie Gilchrist (Buffalo, 1962-64; Denver, 1965, 1967; Miami, 1966), Abner Haynes (Dallas/Kansas City, 1960-64; Denver, 1965-66; Miami, 1967; N.Y. Jets, 1967), Keith Lincoln (San Diego, 1961-66, 1968; Buffalo, 1967-68), Paul Lowe (L.A./San Diego, 1960-68; Kansas City, 1968-69); Jim Nance (Boston/New England, 1965-71; N.Y. Jets, 1973), Matt Snell (N.Y. Jets, 1964-72)

WR: Chris Burford (Dallas/Kansas City, 1960-67), Gino Cappelletti (Boston, 1960-70), Elbert Dubenion (Cleveland, 1959; Buffalo, 1960-68), Gary Garrison (San Diego, 1966-76; Houston, 1977), Charlie Hennigan (Houston, 1960-66), Art Powell (Philadelphia, 1959; New York Titans, 1960-62; Oakland, 1963-66; Buffalo, 1967; Minnesota, 1968), George Sauer Jr. (N.Y. Jets, 1965-70), Lionel Taylor (Chicago, 1959; Denver, 1960-66; Houston, 1967-68), Otis Taylor (Kansas City, 1965-75), Warren Wells (Detroit, 1964; Oakland, 1967-70)

TE: Fred Arbanas (Dallas/Kansas City, 1962-70), Billy Cannon (Houston, 1960-63; Oakland, 1964-69; Kansas City, 1970); Dave Kocourek (L.A./San Diego, 1960-65; Miami, 1966; Oakland, 1967-68)

T: Jim Tyrer (Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-73; Washington, 1974), Ernie Wright (L.A./San Diego Chargers, 1960-67; Cincinnati, 1968-71; San Diego, 1972)

G: Ed Budde (Kansas City, 1963-76), Wayne Hawkins (Oakland, 1960-69), Walt Sweeney (San Diego, 1963-73; Washington, 1974-75), Bob Talamini (Houston, 1960-67; N.Y. Jets, 1968)

C: Jon Morris (Boston/New England, 1964-74; Detroit, 1975-77; Chicago, 1978)

DEFENSE (19)

DT: Houston Antwine (Boston/New England, 1961-71; Philadelphia, 1972), Tom Keating (Buffalo, 1964-65; Oakland, 1966-67, 1969-72; Pittsburgh, 1973; Kansas City, 1974-75), Ernie Ladd (San Diego, 1961-65; Houston, 1966-67; Kansas City, 1967-68), Tom Sestak (Buffalo, 1962-68)

DE: Earl Faison (San Diego, 1961-66; Miami, 1966), Rich Jackson (Oakland, 1966; Denver, 1967-72; Cleveland, 1972), Ike Lassiter (Denver, 1962-64; Oakland, 1965-69; Boston/New England, 1970-71), Jerry Mays (Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-70), Gerry Philbin (N.Y. Jets, 1964-72; Philadelphia, 1973)

LB: Dan Conners (Oakland, 1964-74), Larry Grantham (N.Y. Titans/Jets, 1960-72), E.J. Holub (Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-70), Mike Stratton (Buffalo, 1962-72; San Diego, 1973), George Webster (Houston, 1967-72, Pittsburgh, 1972-73; New England, 1974-76)

CB: Butch Byrd (Buffalo, 1964-70; Denver, 1971), Dave Grayson (Dallas Cowboys, 1961; Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1961-64; Oakland, 1965-70)

S: Goose Gonsoulin (Denver, 1960-66; San Francisco, 1967), Jim Kearney (Detroit, 1965-66; Kansas City, 1967-75; New Orleans, 1976), George Saimes (Buffalo, 1963-69; Denver, 1970-72)

SPECIAL TEAMS (2)

P: Jerrel Wilson (Kansas City, 1963-77; New England, 1978)

K: Jim Turner (N.Y. Jets, 1964-70; Denver, 1971-79)

I have been going over this time after time, and it is very difficult to pare the list down to 20. After doing so, I promise to share the updated voting results with our readers. 

Of course, I have no idea how my vote will stack up with the other illustrious members of this group, but by adding the numbers, I know we will have a superb list, which then will be pared down to the 10 winners of this particular American Football League all-star group.

The AFL is the most significant "second league" in American pro sports history, and it is the only one which, upon the merger, placed all 10 of its franchises (which at that time included the expansion Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals franchises) in the established National Football League.

The AFL also was a rarity in that it played for exactly 10 full seasons, and no franchises dropped out.

The above list is a great one and includes former Broncos Lionel Taylor, Cookie Gilchrist, Goose Gonsoulin and Jim Turner. All but Gilchrist are in the Broncos' Ring of Fame. There are also a handful of others who had brief stints in Denver.

Those who played or coached in it, worked in it or followed it as fans are passionate about the American Football League, and this is a fitting tribute to many of its greatest players.

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