Charlie Hennigan 6'1" 187 Wide Receiver Houston Oilers 1960-1966 7 seasons 410 Receptions 6,723 Receiving Yards 51 Touchdowns 5 Pro Bowls AFL All-Time Team First With 101 Receptions In A Season
Charles Taylor Hennigan joined the expansion Houston Oilers as an undrafted 25-year old in the fledgling American Football League in 1960. He had previously been a high school teacher at a high school, where he earned $4,000 annually. He kept a monthly pay stub of $270.72 in his helmet for inspiration on the gridiron.
He had initially went to college at LSU on a track scholarship, where the coaches of the school had designs for him to compete in the Olympic games. The Tigers were the SCC mile-relay champions in his freshman year, an event Hennigan specialized in.
Football became Hennigan's primary interest soon after his high school sweetheart passed away from cancer. LSU did not want him switching sports, so Hennigan transferred to Northwestern State University and played running back for three years.
After college, he was invited to try out for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. He was cut after a week, so he had a stint in the United States Army before returning to Louisiana to teach biology and gym class while also coaching both football and track.
Hennigan used his time as a track coach to run and stay in shape, along with using isometrics. Red Cochran was a former NFL player who later became a scout. He happened to live nearby Hennigan, so Cochran got him to try out for the newly founded Oilers. Cochran's career would last 52 years in the NFL, ending up in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
Having no real experience as a wide receiver, Hennigan asked Cleveland Browns legend Dub Jones for some help. Jones, whose son Bert would later become a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Baltimore Colts, was a former Pro Bowl receiver who happened to live close by Hennigan as well.
Jones, who still shares the NFL record for six touchdowns scored in one game, drilled Hennigan on how to fake the defender and not the area. NFL defenses employed man-to-man coverage in those days, as opposed to the zone coverage most teams use in the game today.
Hennigan went into a Oilers camp that had a few stars trying out for the team. The team cut future stars like Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown and Pro Bowl wide receiver Homer Jones. Jones, who still holds the NFL record for yards per catch in a career, is known best for inventing the football spike after a score.
A big reason Brown didn't make the Oilers is because he had difficulty covering Hennigan in practice. The two would butt heads many times over the years, often complimenting each other as the toughest opponent either had faced in their careers.
There was a few hundred men trying out for the Oilers and Hennigan began to hear rumors he was about to be cut as well. Yet he made the team and had Browns great Mac Speedie, a former teammate of Dub Jones, as his wide receivers coach.
He and Oilers teammate Charley "The Human Bowling Ball" Tolar are the first persons at Northwestern State to play professional football. The school would later produce such greats like Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith, Pro Bowl players like quarterback Bobby Hebert, cornerback Terrence McGee, wide receiver Mark Duper, running backs Tolar, John Stephens and Joe Delaney. They are amongst the 44 players from that school to play professional football.
The five Pro Bowls Hennigan accrued is tied with Smith as the most ever by a Northwestern State Demon. Also a track star, he has been named one of the 100 greatest football players in school history.
He soon won a starting job in camp and developed an amazing repertoire with Hall of Fame quarterback George Blanda. Hennigan scored the first touchdown in Oilers history, which happened in the first game in franchise history against the Oakland Raiders.
Separating his shoulder in the first half of that game, Hennigan then sat out for three games as he healed from the injury. He returned to be second on the team in receiving yards and touchdown catches as the Oilers eventually reached the first ever AFL title game.
Playing against the Los Angeles Chargers, Houston came back from an early deficit to capture the championship with a 24-16 victory. Hennigan's four receptions for 71 yards were both the second best totals on the team.
The 1961 season started out strange for the Oilers. After stumbling out to a 1-3-1, they replaced head coach Lou Rymkus with Wally Lemm. This awoke the Oilers roster, as they would then explode upon the AFL with 10 straight wins on their way to winning the second, and so far last, title in franchise history.
The offense was ranked first in the league in offense, total yards and passing yards. They also finished second in rushing yards, points and total yards allowed. It was also the finest season of Hennigan's career.
He had to share receptions with Pro Bowlers like Tolar, Billy Cannon, Willard Dewveall, Bob McLoud and Bill Groman. Groman led the AFL with 17 touchdowns off of 50 receptions for 1,175 yards that year, as well as leading the league in yards per catch.
Hennigan racked up 82 catches at an impressive 21.3 yards per reception average that was second best in the AFL. He led the league with a career best 1,746 receiving yards, breaking an 11-year old record previously set by Hall of Famer Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch.
He had started out the season charting out a way to break Hirsch's record. Hennigan once calculated the number of receptions and receiving yards he needed to break the record by writing on a bathroom mirror with soap as he shaved.
Not only did he set a career best mark by leading the AFL with 124.7 receiving yards gained per game, he also caught a career high 12 touchdowns. The 124.7 yards mark stood as a record until 1982, when Wes Chandler surpassed it in a strike-shortened season that lasted nine games that year. Hennigan appeared in 14 games 21 years earlier and his average still ranks second best in pro football history.
Yet he also piled up more records. He still owns the record for three games of which Hennigan had over 200 yards receiving. He also owns the record for seven straight games of at least 100 yards receiving, which is how he started out the 1961 season. Hennigan was also the first player ever to have 10 games in a season with over 100 receiving yards.
Hennigan had 11 total games that year of at least 100 yards receiving. It, as well as his streak of seven games, was tied in 1995 by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. Irvin needed 16 games to tie the record.
His streak of seven games ended after getting 232 yards and two scores against the Buffalo Bills. After missing his eighth straight game by 22 yards the next week in a game Houston won 55-14 over the Denver Broncos, he did not catch a pass the following game.
While the Oilers beat the San Diego Chargers for the 1961 AFL Championship, they did a good job limiting Hennigan to 43 yards on five catches. The reason was because they concentrated on him after he had burned them for 214 yards and three scores just three weeks earlier.
Not only did his 1,746 total yards lead the AFL on 1961, Hennigan began a streak of five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. The record of 1,746 receiving yards stood as a record until 1995, when Isaac Bruce and record holder Jerry Rice surpassed it. Yet Hennigan's total still ranks and the third most ever.
The difference between Hennigan's record setting seasons to those who tied or surpassed him is the fact he passed Hirsch's record in 12 games, the same number of games Hirsch had played in 1951. Rice and Bruce needed 16 games, two more than Hennigan played in 1961, to surpass him.
Another difference is that only Irvin was on a championship team like Hennigan was during these record-setting years. Rice, a Hall of Famer, and Bruce would win titles in different seasons.
Hennigan, who was named First Team All-Pro in 1961 and 1962, then continued his excellence after his incredible year. He grabbed 115 balls for 1,918 yards and 18 touchdowns over the next two seasons. The 1962 Houston team reached the AFL title game for a third straight season, but lost in overtime.
Some say Hennigan's 1964 season was his best, while Hennigan prefers to think his 1961 season was. Though he was good friends with Denver Broncos legend Lionel Taylor, he set out to break Taylor's 1961 record of 100 receptions.
He broke the record by grabbing 101 passes that year. This mark stood 20 years until Hall of Famer Art Monk had 106 in 1984, a record would stand for. Hennigan also had 1,546 receiving yards, which also led the AFL and still ranks as the 21st most in pro football history.
The 110.4 yards gained per game receiving average he has in 1964 also still ranks as the eighth best ever in pro football history. Hennigan is the first pro player ever to have two seasons of over 1,500 yards receiving, and he is also the first to have four games of 200 or more receiving yards.
Concussions began to catch up to Hennigan by 1965, as well as the fact he was running around on an injured knee. He gutted it out over the next two years, catching 68 passes for 891 yards and seven touchdowns over that time.
One game against the Chargers saw San Diego cornerback Claude Gibson hit Hennigan with a rabbit punch, knocking the Oilers star out cold. Hennigan woke up in the locker room, but was dazed. He was put back out on the field, but didn't know where he was most of the time because of the concussion he suffered.
It turned out to be a mistake by Gibson, a great punt returner who led the AFL in punt return yardage and average twice. Player in those days took care of their own teammates.
Unbeknownst to Hennigan, two of his teammates set up Gibson during a preseason game a few years later. He was hit in the knees, which ended Gibson's career. Hennigan was told this story at a 50th anniversary reunion by his teammates.
Concussions went untreated back then, and medical technology was not good enough to do a good job repairing knees either. Houston traded Hennigan to the Raiders for a future draft pick, but he failed the physical and decided to retire.
Not only was Hennigan on the gridiron for the love of the game, but he was able to pursue his doctorate in education with an increase in salary compared to what he earned as a teacher.
He once asked Oilers owner Bud Adams for a raise after his monster 1961 season, but was refused. Instead, Adams cut him a check for $10,000 and sent Hennigan out of his offices.
When Hennigan retired after the 1966 season, he basically owned every receiving record there was for the Oilers and AFL. He still has the most touchdown receptions in franchise history, as well as the fourth most receiving yards and sixth most receptions in team history.
He owns the Oilers record of most catches and receiving yards in a game, when he went for 276 yards on 13 receptions in 1961. His 26 games of at least 100 yards receiving is also a franchise record.
His 71.8 receiving yards per game is not only the best in team history, it is still the 12th best ever in pro football history. Four of the players ahead of him on this list are still active, so Hennigan could move back up the list as the years go on.
The 16.8 yards per reception average is excellent for any era of football, especially one that dealt with the 10-yard chuck rule. Not only does it rank 39th best ever in yards per touch in pro football history, it is the second best in Oilers/ Titans history behind Oilers great Ken Burrough.
I do not know what disgusts me most. Hennigan's exclusion from the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the fact Adams has seemingly spit on his teams earlier history.
Blanda and Jim Norton are the only early Oilers in the franchises Hall of Fame. Ken Houston and Elvin Bethea, two more Hall of Fame players, are the only other AFL Oilers inducted into the teams Hall of Fame.
Hennigan should have been inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Oilers/ Titans Hall of Fame by now. Not only is he the greatest wide receiver in that franchises history, he is one of the very best in AFL history. Hennigan is a member of the AFL All-Time Team.
There are the obvious signs of the continued AFL disrespect by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the reasons to why Hennigan has not yet been inducted. Even though the building in Canton does not say NFL Hall of Fame, it has become just that.
The NFL's anger of being forced to merge with the successful AFL still seems to burn brightly. The voters obviously cower and heed this anger by inducting modern inferior players instead.
Not only did Hennigan have to deal with the 10-yard chuck rule, which is a lot harder to have success in compared to the modern five-yard rule, he dealt with playing fields that were nowhere as near as pristine as they have been the past few decades.
Football used to be a game for men in Hennigan's era. Players had to actually earn their accolades then, as opposed to the rule changes that guarantee successes like now. Yet the numbers he put up easily match or exceed many players today that are deemed as stars.
Some detractors will point at he fact he lasted just seven seasons, but the Hall of Fame is filled with men who had careers of that length or less. Men who put up inferior production as well.
While Hirsch is in the Hall of Fame, he went to two less Pro Bowls and had one less First Team All-Pro honor than Hennigan. Though a great wide receiver, Hirsch had two excellent seasons and several decent ones.
Lynn Swann, another Hall of Famer, lasted nine years but many of his number pale in comparison to Hennigan. Swann was finalist 13 times before induction, while Hennigan hasn't even been named a semi-finalist once. Hennigan also has more receptions than Hall of Fame receiver Bob Hayes, let alone the fact he either owns or shares several other records with some of the best receivers to ever play the game.
Blanda, who was later a teammate of Brown's, often lamented the exclusion of Hennigan from the Hall of Fame up until his death. Hennigan set his receptions record after catching nine passes against Brown, who also agrees with Blanda that the Oilers legend deserves a bust in Canton.
Not only did Hennigan's 101 reception season stand as a record for 20 years, his 1,746 yards gained stood as a record for 34 seasons. He is the only player ever to have three games of 200-yards receiving in a season.
Voters should look at the travails Hennigan had to persevere through compared to the game now. Not only the rules to empower the modern offense that he did not have to help him nor the shoddy fields he played on often. How the hash marks placement greatly differed then and the goal posts used to be placed hazardously on the goal line in his day.
How the defenses of his day actually were allowed to play defense and even extend it further to the realm of crossing the lines of fair play. Even with medical care that didn't have as much expertise as now, Hennigan went out there and performed at a Hall of Fame level no matter how hurt he was.
There is no doubt that Hennigan belongs in Canton. The seniors committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is afforded just two nominees each year, which is unfair to the tremendous backlog they have to sift through annually. Yet Hennigan should never have reached the seniors pool, because it is obvious he should have been inducted long ago.
While he is in that deep seniors pool now, Hennigan easily rises to the top of the best wide receivers not yet inducted. Yet too much times has passed in his omission, so the voters must get it together now and put him in so Hennigan can enjoy his long overdue induction.
It is easy to see Charlie Hennigan is the greatest wide receiver not yet put into the hallowed halls within Canton. He belonged long ago, but now is the time to right the wrongs made by past voters. Contact all of the voters and tell them that Hennigan deserves his rightful place inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame.