George Kunz was chatting recently about his Pro Football Hall of Fame chances when it was brought up that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was looking forward to returning to Oakland-Alameda County Stadium, now that the skin part of the baseball infield is covered by a sod toupee.
No more skinned elbows and suffocating clouds of dust.
“We never put the grass in, even after baseball season,” the longtime Las Vegan (38 years) said about playing offensive tackle for the old Colts on chilly windswept Sunday afternoons at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
That should be worth at least a couple of votes from the committee.
Eight Pro Bowl berths in 10 NFL seasons — he was injured during the other two — should be worth many more.
But so far, they haven’t been enough to get the big and humble man into Canton’s holy grail.
It has been written that Kunz stood shoulder pad to shoulder pad with the other great offensive tackles of the 1970s — Bob Brown, Dan Dierdorf, Art Shell, Rayfield Wright, Ron Yary.
All five have been fitted for the yellow sports jacket.
George Kunz still is wearing sweater vests and golf shirts.
“He was a great player with the wrong teams at the wrong time,” said fellow Las Vegan Tom Mack, an 11-time Pro Bowl guard for the Los Angeles Rams who received the Canton call in 1999.
The Falcons did not go to the playoffs during Kunz’s six seasons in Atlanta. The Colts were better, advancing to the postseason three times when he was their right tackle, losing twice to the Steelers and once to the Raiders, in double overtime.
If Ken Stabler overthrows Dave Casper and the Colts go on to win the Super Bowl, perhaps Kunz would have a massive jewel-encrusted ring and a size 50 XL (more like 56 XL when he played) yellow sports jacket by now.
But there’s still hope.
Superclass of 2020
In 2020, the Hall of Fame will expand by 20 members instead of the usual eight to celebrate the NFL’s 100th anniversary. Ten spots in this superclass will be reserved for players who have been retired for at least 25 years. Kunz is on the list, although O-linemen such as Joe Jacoby and Jimbo Covert are receiving more notice.
Laura Herlovich, former public relations director for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, and local businessman Tom Humm, brother of former NFL quarterback David Humm of Las Vegas, have organized a campaign on Kunz’s behalf. Rick Gosselin, a member of the Hall’s senior committee, is another advocate — he’s the one who compared Big George’s credentials to those voted in with lesser accolades.
Tom Mack is beating the drum, too.
“It’s a very difficult road to hoe,” Mack said after serving as honorary Michigan captain at Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, for which Kunz starred before becoming the second player selected in the 1969 draft behind O.J. Simpson. “You’ve got to have championships along the way. It took the Falcons most of 30 years before they even got anybody in the Hall of Fame.
“The closest statistic you can apply (to an offensive lineman) — and it really applies to guys on teams that aren’t any good — is how often they got to play in the Pro Bowl. And George played in a bunch of ‘em. I think the world of him. He played well against Deacon (Jones); he played well against everybody we had.”
Tall Man speaks
The meeting over coffee wasn’t the first time I had spoken with Kunz about the Canton snub. In 2013, he said he didn’t lose sleep over it because he had other things to occupy his time. He owned eight local McDonald’s franchises and became an attorney (personal injury, family law, estate planning) after selling them.
He still doesn’t lose sleep over it. But if you twist his arm — not advised, because at 72 he looks like he still could open a gaping hole for Joe Washington or Roosevelt Leaks to run through — he’ll admit that swapping his sweater vest for a yellow jacket would be an honor.
The ultimate honor.
“There’s a great movie called ‘The Tall Men’ … and Robert Ryan’s quote about Clark Gable was real simple: ‘He’s what every boy thinks he’s going to be when he grows up, and wishes he’d been when he’s an old man,’ ” George Kunz said about what the Hall of Fame means to him now.
“That’s about as good as you could put it.”
George Kunz profile
— Born: July 5, 1947 (age 72), Fort Sheridan, Illinois
— High school: Loyola (Los Angeles)
— College: Notre Dame
— NFL Draft: 1969, round 1, pick 2
— Position: Offensive tackle
— Atlanta Falcons (1969–1974)
— Baltimore Colts (1975–1980)
Highlights and awards
— NCAA All-America (1968)
— Eight-time Pro Bowl (1969, 1971–1977)
— AP first-team All-Pro (1975)