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Who Is The All-Time Best Redskins Safety?

Posted by Matt Terl on June 9, 2011 – 10:20 am


In an effort to fill this eerily quiet offseason, the folks over at Hogs Haven have been doing polls on the all-time greatest Redskins players at various positions. Most of these have gone as you’d expect, and haven’t really inspired me to weigh in either way. But today, the question is about the safety position, and I’m finding the answer a little bit … surprising.

Maybe “surprising” isn’t the right word, because I completely understand WHY the late Sean Taylor is leading this poll. I don’t have any details on Hogs Haven’s demographic reach, but I’m guessing their readership includes a lot more folks from the age bracket that remembers Sean Taylor than the bracket that remembers Kenny Houston.

It’s also true that Taylor’s abilities can’t be argued. He was an atheltic marvel, capable of insane, game-changing plays. Had he lived, he might very well have been the obvious, no-brainer answer to this question.

And it isn’t just fans who believe that Taylor is the best ever. When I somewhat skeptically posted about the poll on Twitter, former Redskins safety and current National Football Post writer Matt Bowen weighed in. My question: Sean Taylor is winning this poll in a runaway. Should he be?

Bowen’s blunt answer: Yes.

He elaborated a bit after a follow-up question:

I can’t argue with anything there, and Bowen obviously has a MUCH more informed perspective on this … but I think, when you’re voting for the best of all time, that “would have been” is a crucial note.

Because we’ll never know what Taylor “would have been,” and it’s not realistic to judge his “would have been” against what Ken Houston was.

And what Ken Houston actually was was … well, it was an awful lot like what we all believe Taylor would have been. Check out this excerpt from the summary on Houston’s Hall Of Fame page:

He won all-league acclaim with the Oilers in 1969 and 1971, and then was either All-Pro or All-NFC with the Redskins every year from 1973 to 1979.

He was selected for either the AFL All-Star game or the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl 12 straight seasons from 1968 through 1979. With a long, fluid stride, he had excellent speed and quickness. His 6-3, 197-pound frame made him an ideal pass defender. Yet his lean, muscular body helped him to become a punishing tackler.

Once he got his hands on the ball, he was a talented runner. Even before he finished his tenure with the Oilers, Houston had assured himself of a spot in the NFL record book by returning nine interceptions for touchdowns. He also tied two other records with four TDs on steals in one season and two interception touchdowns in a single game. Altogether, he stole 49 passes and returned them 898 yards. He also recovered 21 fumbles and scored 12 touchdowns, nine on interceptions and one each on a punt return, a fumble return, and a blocked field goal return.

Sounds like Taylor, frankly. And whenever we talk about those might-have-beens with Taylor, what I think we’re all hoping and believing is that he would’ve finished with a bunch of All-Pros, a dozen Pro Bowl appearances, and a berth in the Hall of Fame. Houston actually DID that.

I want to be very clear: this is in no way a knock on Taylor’s abilities. He performed terrifically in the time he had, but that time was tragically cut short. But arguing that Taylor was the greatest Redskins safety ever despite not being to reach his full potential is a lot like trying to argue that the late Len Bias was an NBA great. He might’ve been — probably would’ve been, in fact — but we were all sadly deprived of the ability to find out for sure.

Kenny Houston was fortunate enough to play a long, full NFL career, and he made the most of it. I suspect that if people were more familiar with Houston’s career — or if the readership at Hogs Haven skewed a bit older — the voting would at least be a little bit closer.

And saying that shouldn’t be seen to diminish Taylor’s legacy at all. In the end, I’ll go back to Bowen’s tweets to give him the final word on this, after a discussion with me, @Rich_Tandler of CSNWashington and @Fatpickled of Hogs Haven:

That point, I don’t think anyone would argue with.

Up top is an excerpt on Ken Houston from the Redskins Broadcast Network’s 2009 documentary.

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