Former Washington Redskins safety Ken Houston has been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, a splendid cap to a career that included 49 interceptions and appearances in 12 Pro Bowls.
Fran Tarkenton, Paul Hornung, Doak Walker and Willie Lanier also were named and will be inducted with him in Canton, Ohio, in July, the Hall announced yesterday.
"I always thought the Hall of Fame was for other people because I never put myself in that class as a player. Now I feel different," said Houston, who spent six seasons with the Houston Oilers and his final eight seasons as a player with the Redskins, beginning in 1973.
Quarterback Len Dawson, the Super Bowl IV most valuable player for the Kansas City Chiefs, and New York Jets receiver Don Maynard, third on the all-time list with 633 receptions, failed to receive enough votes after being part of a group of seven finalists.
In all, 29 football writers, one from each National Football League city plus one at-large member, cast ballots on the eve of Super Bowl XX. Ground rules call for election of between four and seven to the Hall each year. To be elected, a player must be named on at least 82 percent of the ballots.
Individual vote totals were not announced.
Houston set league records for interceptions returned for touchdowns (nine), seasons having returned an interception for a score (four) and touchdowns on interception returns in one game (two).
He spent the last four years as a defensive backfield coach for the Oilers, but lost his job after Coach Hugh Campbell was fired in December.
Houston said of his election to the Hall, "It's something you don't really think about really, because you always think it will be something that will happen after you are dead."
Hornung will be the 10th member of the 1961 Green Bay Packers championship team to be inducted. Hornung had strong credentials: after winning the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Notre Dame, he was a two-time NFL most valuable player who as a halfback and kicker led the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons (1959-61), and set a record with 176 points in 1960.
That Hornung had not been selected until this week had been controversial. Many believe that Hornung's career was tarnished when he was suspended from the league for the entire 1963 season by Commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling.
As a result, Hornung said he had wondered if "the ultimate honor would ever be mine."
"This has to be the greatest day of my life," he told United Press International from his New Orleans hotel room. "I always had hope I'd get in some day, but I learned a long time ago never to look back.
"I don't see this as Paul Hornung being vindicated. I never considered myself a villain, but obviously some people did."
Tarkenton played 246 games for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. He led the Vikings to three Super Bowls, although they lost all three and he said yesterday he feels "badly still about not winning a Super Bowl."
Tarkenton was renowned as a scrambler and played 18 seasons, amassing NFL record totals with 6,467 passes, 3,686 completions for 47,003 yards and 342 touchdowns.
Walker played six seasons as a halfback with the Detroit Lions in the 1950s and made the initial list of candidates as a nominee of the Old-Timers Committee. Walker won the Heisman Trophy at Southern Methodist and accumulated 1,520 yards rushing and 2,539 yards receiving in his professional career.
Linebacker Lanier became the second of the Kansas City Chiefs to be named to the Hall, following linebacker Bobby Bell. In 11 seasons with the Chiefs, Lanier intercepted 27 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns. He was a starter from the fourth game of his rookie season in 1967 to the last three weeks of his career, in 1977.
"My mother passed away a couple of years ago," Lanier said, "and it would have been great if she were here to share in this."