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Sacco Sez: Jim Saccomano's top 10 AFL players who aren't yet in the Hall of Fame


It is an honor to be among the 15 voters to help select the 10 greatest American Football League players not yet enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the final group is taking shape.

While the final 10 have not yet been announced, I thought readers would like to see the 10 for whom I voted.

The AFL went 2-2 against supposedly superior National Football League teams in the Super Bowl prior to the merger into the NFL, but the Hall never warmed up to the AFL as it should have, in my opinion.

The AFL All-Time Team (the AFL played as a separate league from 1960-69 before merging with the NFL) has 14 of its members in the Hall of Fame (first- and second-team players, including punters and kickers); meanwhile, there are 28 players — exactly twice as many — from the NFL's 1960s all-decade team from the same era.

Last year when the Hall formed a committee to elect a Centennial Class of 10 seniors, only one AFL player was among the 20 finalists, that being former New York Jets tackle Winston Hill, who was elected.

It was Clark Judge at the "Talk of Fame Network" who decided to give worthwhile recognition to AFL stars with this process.

You never know; perhaps talking about them with a list of the top 10 will prove to be a first step to further discussions, and just maybe the Hall's Senior Committee will take up the case of someone in this group.

As I have said and written before, personally I would put an AFL wall display into the Hall featuring certainly everyone on this list, and many more deserving players. Just because someone is not in the Hall of Fame does not mean he was not a Hall of Fame player.

So here is my list of 10:

Wide receiver Lionel Taylor, one of the greatest receivers in the history of pro football. Taylor was an "original Bronco" in 1960 and played in Denver through 1966. He finished his seven-year Broncos career as Denver's all-time leader in receptions (543) and yards (6,872), records he held for nearly 40 years. Taylor also set a Broncos record for career touchdown receptions with 44, now still fifth in team history.

In 1961, he became the first player to catch 100 passes in a season (1961) and later he was the first to reach 500 in a career. The 100-catch total (in a 14-game season) stood as the Broncos' single-season reception record until 2000.

Regarded by many as the possessor of the best hands in football, Taylor led the AFL in receptions for five of the first six years of the league's existence.

He never caught fewer than 76 passes in a season in those six years and averaged 84.7 catches from 1960-65 for the highest six-year total in pro football at that time.

Quarterback John Hadl, who played for the San Diego Chargers in the AFL and was John Elway's first quarterbacks coach when Elway joined the Broncos.

Wide receiver Art Powell, who had 81 career touchdown receptions and gained his greatest fame with the Oakland Raiders.

Guard Ed Budde, who was part of the greatest offensive line in the AFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Another Bronco, fullback Cookie Gilchrist, who had his greatest AFL years with the Buffalo Bills from 1962-64 and in the Canadian Football League before that. Gilchrist has been called one of the greatest 250 players in pro football history by many football historians.

Gilchrist was the first 1,000-yard rusher in the AFL and was an All-AFL player for the Broncos in 1965, even though he was nearing the end of his fabled career by that time.

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Tom Sestak was on consecutive AFL championship teams with the Bills.

Jerry Mays, who was a seven-time AFL All-Star for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Larry Grantham, linebacker for the New York Titans/Jets. I find that most pro football fans away from the East Coast do not recognize the name. That's a pity, as in the 10 years of the AFL, Grantham was first- or second-team All-AFL for all 10 years.

Cornerback Dave Grayson was a star for both the Dallas/Kansas City franchise and the Oakland Raiders. Grayson was a truly great cover corner.

And punter Jerrel Wilson of the Kansas City Chiefs, by far the best punter I have ever seen — yes, I know Ray Guy is in the Hall of Fame, but Wilson was better than Guy. Interestingly, both Wilson and Guy played college football at Southern Mississippi.

So that is my own list, but I anxiously await the final tally to see what the other voters thought.

Regardless, this is some long overdue exposure for 10 of the greatest pro football players of all time, and here's hoping some Pro Football Hall of Fame senior committee members pick up the ball for someone and carry it across the goal line.

Certainly, these 10 are in the Hall of Fame conversation now to a far greater degree than they were before this process began.

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