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Mike Kenn Is Hall of Fame Worthy

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Mike Kenn has been snubbed for far too long.

Mike Kenn
Mike Kenn

Greetings, Falcoholic friends! It’s time for my semi-annual Falcoholic post, and it is something that is near and dear to my heart. Once again, our beloved Mike Kenn is up for Hall of Fame consideration, and once again, we’re going to make his case.

Every time Hall of Fame things come up, I start trumpeting how I feel about the NFL Hall of Fame. Nothing has changed, which is disappointing, but perhaps one day things will improve and people of all teams and eras will receive their fair opportunity.

I won’t rehash that whole post again, but if you’re new to Falcons fanhood or not familiar with our team’s history, Mike Kenn was an offensive tackle who played for us from when we drafted him in 1978 all the way until 1994. Kenn started all 251 of the games he played. He started 14 or more games in every season he played except for three, one of which was strike shortened (He went 9-for-9 that year.)

Unfortunately, proving an older player’s case - especially an offensive lineman’s - can be rather difficult. Sometimes anecdotal evidence is the best thing we can get, which unfortunately won’t always carry the weight it deserves. Offensive lineman’s statistics are largely negative. How many sacks did they allow? How many penalties were they called for?

Do they get credit based on how good their running backs were? What about their quarterbacks? I fear this, plus that dreaded bias against Atlanta teams, makes this hill very tough to climb.

That doesn’t take away from my feeling that Kenn is a Hall of Fame worthy player, and we’re going to make his case while using stats and information that we do know.

(Side note: Mike Kenn’s Wikipedia page has some nice stats about Kenn’s career, including multiple times when he was called for one or fewer penalties throughout an entire season. However, this information comes from old Falcons media guides, and since I can’t see those stats with my own eyes, I will refrain from referencing them below. You should definitely check out the page, though. I think it only further cements my case, but I’m going to try and push forward without it)

What We Do Know

First and foremost, Mike Kenn was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and a 5-time All-Pro selection, three First Team and two Second Team. I consider Second Team All-Pro an accomplishment. Since there are two tackles on the field, I think being in the top 4 (or whatever number they used back in that day) of OTs is a worthy accomplishment.

Mike Kenn started 251 out of 251 games that he played. The 251 starts is tied for 9th all time with Lomas Brown, a journeyman OL, and Charles Woodson, a surefire Hall of Fame member.

Kenn’s 251 starts are so impressive, all but one player (Jim Marshall, 270) who has more starts than him is or will be a Hall of Famer. The list:

  • QB Brett Favre (298)
  • OL Bruce Matthews (293)
  • WR Jerry Rice (284)
  • DL Bruce Smith (267)
  • QB Peyton Manning (265)
  • DB Darrell Green (258)
  • TE Tony Gonzalez (254)

While starts are not a single indicator of career success, Kenn’s company should suggest that, at minimum, he should be strongly considered for the Hall of Fame, and he is! We’ve got to take this a step further, though. Just being good for a long time clearly isn’t enough, as Jim Marshall played forever and is not in.

Mike Kenn’s All-Pro nominations are very important to note here, since we (and most likely, everyone outside of the NFL) does not have access to the all-important film. Kenn’s nominations were in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1991.

If you believe in “The Falcons don’t get respect”, here’s a case for it. The Falcons records from 1980-1983 were as follows:

  • 1980: 12-4
  • 1981: 7-9
  • 1982: 5-4 (1982 strike year)
  • 1983: 7-9

A good year (with a horrific ending), two average years, and a promising half-year. Not bad, right?

...now, let’s look at the team’s records from 1984-1990.

  • 1984: 4-12
  • 1985: 4-12
  • 1986: 7-8-1
  • 1987: 3-12
  • 1988: 5-11
  • 1989: 3-13
  • 1990: 5-11

One average year sandwiched by a whole bunch of suck. Also of note, the Falcons had four different head coaches during that stretch.

Then, the Falcons went 10-6 in 1991, and not only did they set the team record for fewest sacks allowed in a season, Kenn was voted First Team All-Pro.

What gives? Did Kenn have a resurgent year toward the end of his career? Perhaps, as the whole OL had to have been pretty good, but...

(Side note #2, this is where the media guide info from the Wiki page really hammers home my next point)

It stands to reason that perhaps Kenn didn’t just have a resurgent year, but a combination of the team sucking and not doing anything noteworthy meant he didn’t get the attention he deserved.

Just based on the W/L record above, no one can deny that Kenn’s years of being noticed were the team’s best years. Is it possible the two are related? I say no, and I’ll reference Joe Thomas’s incredible run of Pro Bowls and All-Pro nominations despite being on a terrible Browns team.

Pointing that out, however, does provide a minor hole in my own argument. If he was so good when the team was not, people would notice...right? Did they notice Nobis? Van Note? No, they didn’t. The fact remains that football did not have the same coverage and #DraftTwitter in the 80’s and 90’s that it does today. You don’t need any stats to believe that statement.

That, combined with the fact that there were many years where Atlanta was a lowly team, means Kenn absolutely did not get the recognition he deserved during an era where he was much better individually than the team. This is only further reinforced IF the Wikipedia page information is accurate.

Additionally, Mike Kenn was the second-longest tenured NFLPA president (1989-1996). That’s not really a huge deal in terms of Hall of Fame worthiness, but we’re laying every brick we can here. It’s impressive. Kevin Mawae (HoF semifinalist this year) was also an NFLPA president. If one gets in, so must the other, so sayeth Caleb Rutherford.

If you believe in Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value, Kenn’s weighted value is 95, good for 173rd overall. There are 295 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you assume 23 of those are players AND don’t account for the fact that some of the best players of all time have come and gone in the past decade, how is someone in the top 200 players ever to have played the game not in the Hall of Fame?

What Hurts Kenn’s Chances

The lack of film is a real sucker for Kenn’s chances, as we can’t truly assess how good he was. This comes in part because Anthony Munoz tore the league a new one from 1981-1991, winning an All-Pro nomination every single year in that time period.

Gary Zimmermann came into the NFL in 1986, but was so good, he was on both the 1980 AND 1990 All-Decade teams. Kenn had the misfortune of playing with two of the better OL ever to play, which only took the spotlight away from him.

An interesting inclusion in the 1980s All Decade team was Jim Covert, who had fewer 1980s Pro Bowls than Kenn and only one more All-Pro nomination (1984-1987) same number of first-team nominations), so what’s the deal?

Jim Covert played for the Chicago Bears, whose record happened to greatly improve and remain good through 1983-1988. Look at Jim Covert’s years he won All-Pro, then look at his team’s records in that same time span:

  • 1984: 10-6
  • 1985: 15-1 (Won SB)
  • 1986: 14-2
  • 1987: 11-4

Now, look at Kenn’s All-Pro years, and look at the Falcons records I referenced above. See a pattern here? The Bears were not great the four years prior to 1984. No better than the Falcons, certainly.

Jim Covert’s number isn’t even retired by the Bears, yet he’s on the 1980s All-Decade team. He’s never been considered for the Hall of Fame, either.

Same deal for Joe Jacoby. Fewer Pro Bowls, “Same number” of All-Pro nominations (Wiki has the AP and NEA as separate entities but they both nominated him in 1983 First Team, so he has five total “wins”), “four” first team, one second team.

What’s the difference? Jacoby started 103 fewer games than Kenn. Jacoby has been a finalist, Kenn has not. Could it be the 3 Super Bowls the Redskins won? As far as Kenn’s chances go, that is concerning. One would assume Jacoby (up for HoF this year) would get the nod over Kenn due to the precedent set, even though I personally think Kenn is the superior choice. Jacoby’s weighted career AV is lower, and he didn’t play nearly as many years as Kenn. Kenn had 15 or more starts in as many years as Jacoby played.

Jim Covert, in my humble opinion, should not have been selected to the 1980 All Decade team over Kenn. Also Falcon OG Bill Fralic was on the 1980s All Decade Team despite entering the league in 1985. Where is Kenn’s respect, for crying out loud?!

Another thing that could hurt Kenn’s candidacy is the sheer amount of research it would take to compare him to OL of not just his era, but other eras. How does Kenn compare to people like Kevin Mawae, who has the benefit of more film access? How many sacks did Anthony Munoz or Gary Zimmermann allow in their careers? How many penalties were they called for? Is that kind of information out there anywhere?

I would be willing to bet that information is out there, but it would be quite a research project. You could probably make a Master’s thesis out of it.

Conclusion

At this stage of the game, Mike Kenn is only one of 26 players to be considered. I believe this post lays the groundwork for Kenn to be considered a finalist for the Hall of Fame, in which case we can double down on our efforts and make his case against any other finalist.

It stands to reason that, based on the evidence provided and due to the time period in which Kenn played, he was overlooked due to poor overall team play, which was out of his control.

What he can control is he’s tied for 9th overall in number of starts, which is up there with multiple Hall of Famers. His weighted AV is respectable (some HoFers had numbers not much higher than his), and he had All-Pro nominations far enough apart to suggest that he could have been good all along but not received the attention.

Is Mike Kenn Hall of Fame Worthy? Absolutely, but this step is just another one in the long road to Kenn’s Hall of Fame enshrinement. He faces some stiff competition this year, but if we can get him into the finals, we can get him into the Hall of Fame. I truly believe it.

Side Note #3: If anyone has any 80’s/’90s Falcons media guides (Wikipedia mentions 1980, 1981, 1983, 1987, and 1989, though I’d love any of them from 1978-1994) and could e-mail me a picture of any part that mentions Kenn’s accomplishments, please send that picture to caleb.rutherford@gmail.com - I don’t need the physical thing, a picture will be fine.