State Your Case: Former OT George Kunz deserves a HOF look

The Baltimore Colts won three consecutive AFC East titles with Kunz as their right tackle before a back injury limited him to one game in 1978 and kept him sidelined in 1979. With Kunz absent, the winning stopped. The Colts finished 5-11 both seasons.

George Kunz stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the great offensive tackles of his era in the 1970s -- Bob Brown, Dan Dierdorf, Art Shell, Rayfield Wright and Ron Yary.

But Kunz stands behind them in their post-football careers. Well behind them, in fact.

Brown, Dierdorf, Shell, Wright and Yary have all been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their blocking prowess. But Kunz has never even been discussed as a finalist. His candidacy has inexplicably fallen through the cracks, and he now finds himself in the abyss that is the senior pool.

Kunz was their equal as a player. He went to eight Pro Bowls. That’s as many as Shell and more than Brown (6), Dierdorf (6), Wright (6) or Yary (7). Until suffering a back injury in his 10th season, Kunz was arguably the best right tackle in the game.

“He was special,” said the late Ted Marchibroda, Kunz’s coach with the Baltimore Colts. “You didn’t have to worry about him. He did the job in pass protection. He made your running game better. He was big and strong.

"He was a right tackle in an era when the Deacons Joneses were at that (left) defensive end. I don’t know how many offensive tackles there are in the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to rate those guys 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. But I’ll tell you what – George Kunz is among the top seven. He was that good.

“But somehow he’s fallen through the cracks.”

How good was Kunz? Certainly as talented as many -- if not most -- of the 29 offensive tackles already enshrined in Canton. He was an All-America at Notre Dame. He was the second overall choice of the 1969 draft. Only four tackles in NFL draft history were selected higher. He became a walk-in starter for the Atlanta Falcons and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He was that good.

A knee injury cost him five games in 1970 – and also his spot in the Pro Bowl. Healthy again in 1971, Kunz returned to the Pro Bowl – the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls before suffering that back injury in 1978.

And Kunz was voted to the Pro Bowl in both conferences. The Falcons traded him to the Baltimore Colts along with a swap of first-round picks in 1975, giving Atlanta the No. 1 overall choice and the right to select quarterback Steve Bartkowski. So Kunz went to the Pro Bowl as an NFC tackle in 1974 and then as an AFC tackle in 1975.

And Kunz was an impact player for Baltimore.

“When he came to the Colts, he was the only guy we added from our 2-12 team (in 1974),” Marchibroda said, “and we went 10-4 (in 1975).”

The Colts won three consecutive AFC East titles with Kunz as their right tackle before that back injury limited him to one game in 1978 and kept him sidelined in 1979. With Kunz absent, the winning stopped. The Colts finished 5-11 both seasons. Kunz attempted a comeback in 1980 but lasted only six starts before reinjuring his back, forcing him to retire. The Colts were 4-2 with Kunz that final season, then stumbled home 3-7 without him.

The Colts missed something even more important than his blocking.

“As a lineman, he’s the best offensive leader I’ve ever been around,” Marchibroda said. “His teammates followed him. George Kunz made other players better.”

Everywhere, in fact, he has played.

Kunz was a captain at Notre Dame. In his second NFL season, he became a captain of the Falcons. Then he became a captain of the Colts in his first season in Baltimore. In his first year as an AFC Pro Bowler in 1975, he was voted as a captain of the AFC team.

“That’s an indication of what others thought of him,” Marchibroda said. “He made as many Pro Bowls as the Yarys, Shells and Browns. I would rather have him than those guys. I had Bob Brown in L.A. Bob may have been a better athlete, but you can’t compare them as leaders. His leadership sets him apart.”

Also his smarts. Not only was Kunz an All-America on the field at Notre Dame, he was an academic All-America off it as well. He was awarded one of the 18 National Football Foundation scholarships to the NCAA’s top student-athletes that year. Later in life, he returned to school and earned a law degree from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and is now a practicing attorney in Las Vegas.

But that shouldn't close the book on his football career. There is one more honor George Kunz deserves from his playing days – a bust in Canton.

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