Mike Kenn is a Falcons legend. He was dominant on the field, and he worked tirelessly for the good of his fellow players off of it. But a spot in the Hall of Fame has eluded him despite the fact that he clearly deserves to be in.
Kenn’s accomplishments on the field speak for themselves. He spent his entire career with the Falcons after being drafted by Atlanta with the No. 13 pick in the 1978 draft out of Michigan. He started every one of the 251 games he played in over his career. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, back when it was less of a name recognition thing and more of a true acknowledgment of a player’s impact. He was named a first-team All Pro three times, and landed on the second team twice.
But the obstacles for offensive linemen when it comes to Hall consideration are myriad. The offensive line is not a sexy position group. They’re not making breathtaking plays like Julio Jones, who’s out there on a daily basis just crushing opponents’ spirit with circus catches no human should be able to make.
We all know on an intellectual level that a team cannot have a successful offense unless the big uglies are effective at keeping the passer upright and moving some bodies for the run game. But that doesn’t translate into a nice and tidy stat sheet to compare against other linemen.
Another factor is that offensive lines, more than any other position group, function as sums of their parts. Cohesion and chemistry between all five players is fundamental to success. These factors limit opportunities for one guy to stand out. Factor in recency bias and the fact that Kenn played so long ago that his impact will have faded from voters’ memories, and it’s a tall task to secure his legacy in the Hall.
My very first real interview as a fledgling Falcons beat writer for The Falcoholic was with Kenn. We met at an Outback Steakhouse, and I do laugh thinking about it now, because I was nervous as hell. But his story is so fascinating, and the impact he had on the field for Atlanta so great, that I came away from it with even more respect for Kenn. I was also left even more confused that his legacy remains unrecognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That’s in part because Kenn was much more than just a player. He served as an NFLPA rep — first as an alternate rep, then a player rep, and he weathered the player strikes as an executive committee member. He became the president at a time when the NFLPA decided — at Kenn’s suggestion — that they needed to decertify as a union to be able to sue the NFL in antitrust court. At the time, NFL players weren’t even allowed by the league to have access to their own medical records. Thanks in part to Kenn’s leadership, that changed.
What mattered to him about his work with the NFLPA was standing up for other players.
“Met a lot of great guys--a lot of very compassionate guys, and passionate guys, because they cared. They not only wanted to protect themselves, but they wanted to protect their teammates,” Kenn said. “Basically our job was to represent players for wages, hours and working conditions. Simple union representation. Wages, hours and working conditions.”
Kenn shared with me why the idea of being enshrined in Canton matters to him.
“Well, it’s, for the individual, it’s the ultimate recognition of an effort well played,” Kenn said. “You can’t get a higher peer recognition than being one of the select few to get into the Hall of Fame. That’s what it would mean to me personally, but there are a lot of friends and relatives who have lived vicariously through my career.
“I come from a middle-class, blue collar socioeconomic environment, and all my friends from grade school and high school grew up in a similar manner, and they were always very proud to say that, “That’s my buddy, Mike Kenn.” So I would get great satisfaction out of it. I know that my family would. But I also know a lot of my friends would, too, so it would be very gratifying to them. So that’s meaningful to me.”
It would be meaningful to Falcons fans, too, to see a player who was such a steady force on the field and one who fought so hard for the best interests of players off of it be recognized by the Hall for his accomplishments.
2019 will be the last year of Kenn’s modern era Hall of Fame eligibility, and I hope the voters do the right thing. Mike Kenn deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and it’s a travesty that he isn’t.