State Your Case: Kent Hull

Blocked for Hershel Walker in USFL and Jim Kelly in the NFL

(Published January 2015)

History serves as the gatekeeper for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Win and you’re in.

The Green Bay Packers won five NFL championships in the 1960s. They have 11 players enshrined. The Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. They have nine players enshrined. The 1950s Browns that went to six consecutive NFL title games and won two of them also have nine players in Canton.

“Unfortunately, you realize when you don’t win a Super Bowl you don’t get the notoriety that you (as a team) probably should,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.

Kelly played on a Buffalo team that went to consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-93 but didn’t win any of them. Players with statistics can often overcome the absence of championship rings, as Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, wide receiver Andre Reed and pass rusher Bruce Smith have done in Buffalo.

But when a team doesn’t win, the roster isn’t combed for greatness by the Hall of Fame selection committee as those with a championship pedigree. So a player like center Kent Hull slips through the cracks.

And that’s sad. Had the Bills won a Super Bowl or two, Hull might already be enshrined in Canton. Without a Super Bowl ring, though, Hull has never even been discussed as a finalist. He’s never even reached the list of 25 semifinalists.

The Bills changed how the NFL views offense with their up-tempo, no-huddle K-Gun in the early 1990s, and the guy snapping the ball was a key element.

“We absolutely could not have been effective with it if it were not for the talent and input of our young, undrafted center from Mississippi State,” said Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy. “Kent Hull played against the best and almost always came out on top.”

There was a reason Hull went undrafted. He signed out of college with the USFL New Jersey Generals and spent his first three seasons as a professional playing in relative anonymity in the spring league. But the coaches and players in the USFL knew of him.

Hull started all three of his seasons with the Generals and keyed the blocking front that allowed Herschel Walker to set a professional football rushing record with 2,411 yards in 1985. Hull was selected second-team center on the all-time USFL team after the league folded.

Levy spent a season coaching in the USFL so he was knowledgeable of the talent in that league. When Levy moved on to the Bills, he brought Hull along with him.

Hull was a walk-in starter and remained in the lineup for 11 seasons. He went to three Pro Bowls and was twice voted the best center in the game, earning first-team All-Pro acclaim in both 1990 and 1991. In Buffalo’s no-huddle K-Gun, Kelly called the plays in the shotgun and Hull called out the blocking fronts at the line of scrimmage. They worked in tandem.

“His impact was huge,” Kelly said. “He put guys in the right places. He was so smart in how he did things and set up his blocks. Thurman got used to seeing his blocks, reading his blocks and also how Kent engineered the running game.”

The Bills led the NFL in rushing in both 1991 and ’92. They also led the NFL in scoring in 1990 and in offense in 1991. Buffalo earned eight playoff berths, four AFC championships and those four Super Bowl appearances with Hull snapping the ball.

Hull spent his final seven seasons as an offensive captain and was named to the Bills’ 50th anniversary team. He also was enshrined in the club’s hall of fame, the Wall of Honor, in 2002. He passed away in 2011 from gastrointestinal bleeding.

The Bills have not forgotten Kent Hull, and neither should the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His case deserves to be discussed. He’s the type of player and person who belongs in Canton.

“If you went into a dark alley, he’s the guy you wanted beside you,” Kelly said. “He’d fight to the death for you.”


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