Bengals Legend Ken Riley Dead at 72


Tom Pidgeon/Allsport

Former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Ken Riley, who is tied for fifth in NFL history with 65 interceptions, died Sunday morning at the age of 72.

Riley was drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round of the 1969 NFL draft (#135 overall) and played his entire career in Cincinnati.

Though Riley played quarterback for four years at Florida A&M University, he switched to defensive back when he got to the NFL—a prudent decision, as the Bengals drafted QB Greg Cook in the first round in 1969, one pick after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Mean Joe Greene. The position change paid dividends right away, as Riley intercepted four passes during his rookie season.

When Riley retired in 1983, he was fourth all-time in interceptions in NFL history, accumulating his 65 INTs in 207 career games, including a then-team record nine in 1976 and eight in his last season. He also recovered 18 fumbles during the course of his career, during which he was named All-Pro three times.

Riley served as the Bengals’ defensive captain for eight years, from 1976-83, and he played in some of the most famous games in NFL history, including “The Freezer Bowl” AFC Championship game in 1981 and Super Bowl XVI against the San Francisco 49ers.

Riley Not Yet a Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Yet despite his considerable NFL accomplishments, Riley is not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This in spite of the fact that all the players above him on the all-time interceptions list—including Paul Krause, Rod Woodson, and Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane—have long-since been enshrined. Meanwhile, Charles Woodson, who also retired with 65 interceptions, is expected to be inducted as soon as he becomes eligible.

“When he came here, Kenny and Lemar Parrish had never played cornerback, and they’re the two best we’ve ever had. And we’ve had a lot of good ones. We put him over there for a decade and a half and we didn’t have to worry about it,” said Bengals President Mike Brown in a statement. “I’m going to miss him. He was a good guy and a solid man. We send our condolences to his family,” Brown added.

Ken Riley’s Coaching Career

After he retired from the NFL as a player, Riley spent two years as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers. Then in 1986 he was named head coach at his alma mater, where he coached for eight seasons, delivering 48 wins and two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championships. He was also named MEAC Coach of Year twice.

Riley was inducted into the Florida A&M Athletics Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

He served as Athletic Director at Florida A&M between 1983 and 2004, and also created the Ken Riley Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides economic support to financially challenged students pursuing college or technical school. The foundation holds an annual celebrity golf tournament that typically includes many former Bengals’ and Steelers’ players, as well as former players from many other NFL and NBA teams.