Nearly 40 years after he retired, former Browns’ receiver Gary Collins continues to await the long-overdue call from Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ed. Note: On the threshold of another NFL Hall of Fame induction weekend, Press Pros presents a requested re-run from former friend and columnist Dale Meggas. For years prior to his death last year Meggas was an advocate for former Browns receiver Gary Collins as an overlooked Canton enshrinee. In Dale’s own words, “the numbers simply don’t lie.” Here’s his case on the perennial all-pro from the 60’s…one of his best columns ever…as requested by one of his faithful readers.
By Dale Meggas
It’s been nearly five years since I wrote of the Pro Football Hall of Fame qualifications of former Cleveland Browns wide receiver/punter Gary Collins.
The Browns’ first round pick nearly 50 years ago out of the University of Maryland has seen a number of his Cleveland teammates honored with the most recent being offensive lineman Gene Hickerson back in 2007.
Hickerson was not able to fully appreciate his Hall of Fame honor, suffering from a long illness that led to his death in 2008, just 14 months after his Hall of Fame induction.
But Collins, now living in retirement in Pennsylvania, who must be the wrong guy at the wrong time, still awaits a call that would put him in one of those Century 21 gold jackets given to each Hall of Fame inductee on his big day in Canton.
While the Hall of Fame is for the very best of the best, there must be room for others like Collins. By all standards, Collins can be included among the very best of the best, but seemingly has fallen through the cracks of the Hall of Fame floor that has forgotten the players who played much of their careers before the start of the Super Bowl.
The Hall of Fame isn’t for everybody but you can’t tell me there isn’t a spot for Gary Collins, who was drafted in 1962 and soon after replaced Ray Renfro in the Browns starting lineup.
A Hall of Fame voter once told me that each NFL team has a player or two that they champion as a possible candidate. A few might be sentimental favorites of some voters who might fall short of qualification if looked at objectively.
But that still brings up to a pretty good list of those who should share in the benefits of concluding their incredible careers with induction on a summer day on the turf of Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.
All football fans have their favorite that has been left waiting without promise of ever getting in to the Hall of Fame. Mine continues to be Collins. In the past I have analyzed the stat sheets that accompanies the accomplishments of the former Browns wide receiver, who also doubled as an all-NFL punter.
They are worth repeating.
When you conclude your career fifth in the NFL with 70 touchdown catches on just 331 receptions, you had to be doing something right in a sport that had 50 of years behind it at the time. Today, he has fallen well down that list but only because the game has changed. Those that played with and against Collins were unable to match his number of touchdown catches.
Those 70 touchdown catches include 13 in 1963, one of FOUR seasons Collins caught at least 10 touchdown passes.
And when you’re selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s, you’re among the very best. Toss in being one of the best punters of your time and having led the league in 1965, and you should rise to the top of the list of those considered for the Hall of Fame.
A solid punter for most of his career, Collins’ 46.7 yard average on 65 punts in 1965 was not matched again in an NFL season again until 1992 when Greg Montgomery of the Houston Oilers had a 46.9 yard average on 54 punts for a team now called the Tennessee Titans.
Add to that Collins played for a team that played in four NFL championship games in his 10 years in Cleveland. The Browns won it all in 1964 with a 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts behind Collins’ record three touchdown catches on passes from quarterback Frank Ryan.
Browns fans are reminded of that date annually when another year passes and no Cleveland professional team wins a league title. For those short on math skills, the count is now 47 and nearing 48 unless the Browns win this season’s Super Bowl. Cleveland Indians fans have waited since 1948 and Cavaliers fans have never tasted a championship season since the team was formed in 1970.
The Browns went back to the NFL title game in 1965, losing on a muddy Lambeau Field to the Green Bay Packers. Collins was also part of two more Browns teams that reached what was still the NFL title game. Cleveland lost to the Baltimore Colts in 1968 and the Minnesota Vikings in 1969 where the winner advanced to early Super Bowl games. Ironically, both the Colts and Vikings came up short in those Super Bowls, giving respect to the upstart AFL.
But that was long ago and Collins’ playing career has now been over for almost 40 years. And with that, his accomplishments have either faded from the consciousness of Hall of Fame voters who are old enough to remember Collins or unfamiliar to other voters who may be too young to have ever heard of Collins.
Like Hickerson’s selection, Collins’ Hall of Fame fate sits with the Senior Selection Committee, made up of nine members of the 40-man selection committee. That smaller group each year submits two candidates to be included for nomination for the following induction class. Those two names will be joined by 15 younger nominees.
As it is now, 40 sports writers and broadcasters can hide behind the fact that Collins is not on their selection sheet. I recognize the names of at least a dozen voters in charge of correcting past omissions.
They should know as much or more about what Collins contributed to the game and at least give him his day. Many of the rest wouldn’t know Gary Collins if he wore his Browns jersey No. 86 right into the room in Canton occupied by the voting committee.
When the day comes that this hallowed group of 40 keepers of the keys at the Pro Football Hall of Fame decide to allow Collins to become an inductee, I will consider it mission accomplished.
Collins, who is said to have grown tired of talking of the 1964 championship game since most fail to recognize his other great days in a Browns uniform, would then rejoin former teammates Jim Browns, Leroy Kelly, Gene Hickerson, Paul Warfield, Lou Groza and Mike McCormick, who are all members of the Hall of Fame.
All but McCormick owns a championship ring from that 1964 NFL title game that should have the capper to what many others feel was a Hall of Fame career for Collins.
Life isn’t fair. Especially when you are counting on 40 people who for the most part think the world of pro football began on Jan. 15, 1967 when the Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Coliseum in what was the first Super Bowl. And you can also bet there are some voters who might not have been born to watch that first Super Bowl.
But the fight goes on. While the Cleveland representative seems to have more interest in keeping Art Modell out of the Hall of Fame, the fight should be to get qualified representatives inducted. So my fight for Gary Collins to be recognized as a Hall of Famer in Canton, Ohio.
If you want to join in, go to the NFL’s web site at profootballhallof.com, check the list of Hall of Fame voters and let them know you know of a solid candidate who would be a good fit for a yellow jacket.