Ken Hall's life seemed all too perfect on a recent evening as he walked out the front door of his San Marino, Calif. home with his wife, Gloria—his high school sweetheart, of course—at his side. The soft music from the stereo in the family room followed them, and a breeze gently stirred the leaves of elm trees. Indeed, the combination of Southern California weather, this neighborhood, those cars in the drive and the elegance inside can do a lot to smooth life's rough edges. The entire scene was a quintessential testimonial to the fulfillment of the American dream, which is why it seemed incongruous to hear Hall musing, "Failure teaches you one thing. It teaches you you don't want to fail again."
Hall, 46, the upwardly mobile executive vice-president for Sweetener Products Company, a Los Angeles firm that distributes sucrose, relates more to failure than success. All at once, his is a story that is too sweet and too bitter.
Ken Hall, you see, is the best high school football player ever. Period. Nobody else is even close. Billy Sims, Doak Walker, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Earl Campbell...all you guys sit down and shut up. Today, 29 years-after he finished his career at Sugar Land (Texas) High School, Ken Hall still holds 12 national records.
Playing tailback in the single wing, he rushed for a career 11,232 yards. Second, with a paltry 7,738 yards, is ex-Oklahoma star Sims, now with the Detroit Lions, who amazed everyone as the ultimate back while playing for Hooks (Texas) High. In most yards rushing in a single season. Hall is first with 4,045 in 1953. He is also second with 3,458 in 1952. In his four-year career, Hall scored 899 points; second is Mike Atkinson of Princeton, N.C., who, between 1977 and 1980, scored 672—227 fewer than Hall. That's almost 38 touchdowns. In total career offense, Hall accounted for 14,558 yards, 3,107 more than No. 2, Ron Cuccia, who played quarterback at L.A.'s Wilson High in 1975, 76 and '77.
In addition, according to the Kansas City-based National Federation of State High School Associations, Hall holds national records for most points in a season (395), most touchdowns in a season (57) and in a career (127), total offense in a season (5,146 yards), most 100-yard games in a career (38), most consecutive 100-yard games (21), most average-yards-rushing per game in a season (337.1) and most total offense per game for a season (428.8). Says Hall, 'it was the winning that was fun, not the statistics."
What makes Hall's records even more remarkable is the fact that he generally played little or not at all in the second half of a game, humiliation not usually being a yardstick of prep sportsmanship. Against Houston Lutheran in 1953, Hall set the national single-game rushing record of 520 yards on only 11 carries, a 47.3 yard average. He played only a few minutes in the second half. That mark was broken in 1974 by John Bunch of Elkins, Ark., who ran for 608 yards. But he carried the ball 38 times and played the entire game. Says Bunch, now a law student at the University of Arkansas, "Hall must have been pretty good."
He was the Sugar Land Dandy, the Sugar Land Express, the sugarcoated halfback, one sweet talent. He was junior class president, graduated third in his class of 24, and was voted Most Handsome at Sugar Land High in 1953; Gloria was football sweetheart and valedictorian. On their first date in 1952, they drove to Rosenberg to see the film Golden Girl. They shared a soda (vanilla) at White's Café. "Everything he did was always so right," says Gloria. Hall's coach at Sugar Land, L.V. (Dugan) Hightower, says, "He wouldn't say——if he stepped in it." He sang in the church choir, of course. Can you stand it? Gloria has a sign on her kitchen windowsill in San Marino that says BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED. Kenneth Hall bloomed in Sugar Land.
Then he went off to college at Texas A&M. And he failed. He was a spectacular failure, a lights-out failure, a flameout.
He quit midway through his sophomore year, then begged and cried his way back onto the team for his junior season, but then quit again. He never started a game for the Aggies and didn't letter. The coach didn't like the way Hall didn't block and the way he didn't play defense and, truth be told, the way Hall didn't think the moon was hung on football. Hall wasn't amused by the coach's colorful language and abusive manner.
The coach was Bear Bryant, who when asked the other day what went wrong with Ken Hall, responded, "I don't think anything went wrong with him. It was me. I was stupid. You're a fool to think, as I did as a young coach, that you can treat them all alike. He should have been an All-America for me. With him, we'd have won the National Championship in 1957. Without him, we lost it."
Hall ultimately wandered off to play pro football in Canada with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1957 and then returned for brief stints with the NFL and the AFL and the NFL again.
By 1962, Ken Hall was back home in Sugar Land, working as a tour guide for the Imperial Sugar Company, which owned a lot of the town, not to mention the hearts and souls of its inhabitants. Says Hall, "It was a good job."
Wrong. It was a lousy job. But Ken Hall doesn't complain about anything. Almost three decades after his glory days, Hall's attitude toward that period is perfect: He simply doesn't think about it. He doesn't talk about it with friends. He can't recall the games, much less specific plays. He has nary a single picture or trophy on display in his home to document his high school prowess. "All that was 30 years ago," he says. "I've found that people who live in the past are unhappy with the present. I love the present." Says Gloria, "The best days of our lives are these days." Unlike so many, Hall has been busy through the years proving that there is life—yes, even a meaningful life—after football.
And he isn't the least bit miffed to be a legend largely forgotten. Standing alongside the Georgia practice field the other day, Herschel Walker—who rushed for 3,167 yards in 1979 as a high schooler in Wrightsville, Ga. to become No. 4 on the alltime single-season rushing list (remember, Hall is first and second) and who had 32 100-yard games in his high school career, second on the national list (remember, Hall is first)—was asked if he knew of Ken Hall. "What did he do?" Herschel said.
What did he do?
Sugar Land used to be the textbook example of an idyllic little town where high school football was king, men were men and women were women—and all knew their place. Now, sadly, Houston is just about to overrun Sugar Land. Already, the surrounding developments are called Sugar Lakes and Quail Valley, and the men eat quiche. Because folks in Sugar Land always knew what God intended, women weren't allowed in the local high school quarterback club. Five years ago, the doors were opened to women. "That ruined it for most of us," says T.C. Rozelle, who years ago worked with Hall at the sugar company.
Nothing much ever happened in Sugar Land, except Ken Hall. Runner-up was the flood of 1913, followed by the flood of 1929. Nobody famous, except Ken Hall, ever came out of Sugar Land. Maybe the name of the town always made it hard to take seriously. Whatever, high school football was its alpha and omega.
Kempner Stadium, the field that Hall made sacrosanct, is still there. Dugan Hightower stood on the 50-yard line a few weeks ago and said, "This field still shakes. Lord, I'd give anything to see him out here one more time." His eyes glazed at the prospect. It's the classic high school field—the light poles block the vision of fans, are hazards to the players and produce inferior illumination.
As Hightower recalled one incredible Hall feat after another, he kept pointing here and there, showing his visitor where it had all happened. Like the game against Orchard High when Hall took the first snap and went 80 yards on a sweep right for a touchdown. Oops. Sugar Land's Gators were offsides. So Hall immediately called the same play, only as a sweep left, and went 85 yards for a touchdown. "Just as soon as he scored," Hightower said, "I noticed somebody calling time out. Nobody was hurt and so I asked the official, 'What's the time-out for?' And he said, 'I called it for me, dammit. That No. 31 of yours is running me to death.' "
Ah, yes, 31 in your program (he picked the number because it was the reverse of 13, the day he was born in December 1935 in Madisonville, Texas) and first in your heart. "Kenneth would be standing still," Hightower said. "First step he was full speed. I mean, he would take off on that sweep like a deer buck that you surprise in the woods. He could hunt that open field better than anybody. And when he passed by those linebackers and raised up, he was flyin'. He might could leave them all a standin' there."
In that game against Houston Lutheran, Hall also scored 49 points to beat by one the national single-game record set by Dick Todd of Crowell, Texas in 1934. Todd, who went on to play halfback for the Washington Redskins and is now a farmer and rancher near Crowell, says, "I think people are always proud of the person who breaks their record. I was. Besides, the point wasn't the records. It was to play the game and see who was best." Typically, Hall doesn't recall anything about the Houston Lutheran game. He scored seven touchdowns, seven extra points (he's fifth on the national records list for extra points with 137), returned a kickoff 64 yards, ran back a pass interception 21 yards, returned a punt for 82—and wound up with 520 yards rushing. And he doesn't have the foggiest about it. "There were a lot of games I only played a quarter," says Hall. "I remember one game where I never got tackled. I carried the ball, let's see, maybe seven plays altogether. Or did I dream that?"
His question is legitimate. With legends, the line between fact and fiction is thin. Dugan, for example, swears that in the Lutheran game. Hall was told to kick the extra point that would give him the record at 49. Instead, says Hightower, Hall ran it in and came off the field explaining that he ran because he wanted to be sure. "No, no, no," counters Hall. "Whatever the coaches told me to do, I did." Hall's version rings true because he was the rare athletic bird who listened, said yessir and did it. Hightower also swears that Hall didn't even come out for football his freshman year (1950) until after Sugar Land had lost five straight and the school superintendent made an urgent appeal. With Hall on the scene, Hightower says, the Gators won the last four games by a combined score of 131-7 and Ken scored 58 points. Hall's recollection is that he was on the team the whole year, but it wasn't until the sixth game of the year, against league-rival Santa Fe, that the Gators finally won, 53-0. Previously, Hall recalls shakily, he mostly passed, but "Nobody was open so I started running, and I thought, 'Hey, this ain't so bad. Why not do it more?' " And sitting there in San Marino, with a Bud and a cigarette and the glasses he now wears for the fine print, the 240-pound Hall, 35 pounds over his playing weight but still looking fit, allows himself a tiny little smile.
The legend is that Ken Hall led his team to a 37-1-1 record (the one loss being a game he missed with a neck injury) and three straight regional championships, then the ultimate honor for B-level football in Texas. The truth seems to be that Hall led his team to a 37-6-1 record and three regional championships in four years. Either way, pretty good. It's the same for all legends—20-yard runs in 1953 become 30-yard runs in 1963 and 50-yard runs in 1973, and today are vividly recalled as 82-yard power sweeps in the rain and wind, in which every defender was juked down and Hall was the only one with goat-sure footing in the game played in a hurricane.
In Hall's last high school game, the Gators beat Magnolia 13-6 for the 7B regional championship. Hall scored both touchdowns, kicked an extra point, rushed for 143 yards and returned an interception for 46 yards. Statistically, it was, by far, his worst high school performance.
What did he do?
Kenneth Hall, son of the Sugar Land constable (who died five years ago), grew up on Brooks Street, fishing for anything dumb enough to get on his hook in Oyster Creek. Again, the legend is Hall burning to play football after his dad put a football in his crib; the truth is he was just as happy riding his bike and playing trumpet in the band. Former Sugar Land High Band Director James D. Gary recalls Ken as an "excellent high school musician." That's how legends should be recalled. The truth is, Ken played the trumpet to please his mother and, like all kids, failed to practice nearly enough.
That was painfully clear when Hall was called upon to play Stardust at his junior/senior prom. He did, complete with his face turning "red, green and blue from effort and embarrassment."
So how well did you do?
"I don't know. I don't remember."
But I bet everyone said you were great?
"I don't remember anybody saying that."
Ken's mother, Imogene, says her son was "just average. He always wanted to be around home, and especially when it was roostin' time, he wanted to be home in his bed. Football was never talked about in our house. He felt if he played good, that was great, and if he didn't, he didn't. I enjoyed it when we won and hated it when we lost. That's about it. Kenneth was no more special to me because he picked up a football. Should he have been?"
Sugar Land never really thought he was special, either. Which is just the way Ken liked it. Former teammate Ernest Trevino, 48, who played wingback and still lives in Sugar Land, is asked if Hall ever gave him any advice. Says Trevino, "I was good enough to know what I was doing without him telling me."
Hall was so good, the people in Sugar Land got the blahs over him; he was supposed to do what he did. Against East Chambers his junior year, Hall produced a 21-0 lead the first three times he touched the ball. He ran back the kickoff for a score. He returned East Chambers' first punt for a score. He ran for a touchdown on Sugar Land's first play from scrimmage. Says Hightower, "It was no big deal to Sugar Land fans. It was natural. They expected it." "Actually," says Imogene, "the games got kind of boring with Kenneth scoring and scoring. But don't forget there had to be 10 other little boys who played with him. See, somebody had to fix it so he could go around the end."
But they didn't have to fix it a lot. Bobby Williams, now an assistant coach at Rice, played for rival Missouri City against Sugar Land. He says of Hall, "He could run, pass, catch, punt and kick. What he was was a big Doak Walker with 9.7 speed." How he got so good and so fast, nobody knows. His father, Curtis, could "run like a sage hen," says Imogene, so some of it may have been in the genes. Hall had an upright running style, and he'd roll his shoulders—a trick good running backs use to be more elusive. "Plus," says Hall, "I could maneuver a little."
Naturally, there are those who say the competition was inferior, and at times it was. But the facts are, hundreds of thousands of other players have encountered similar opposition over the years and not come close to Hall's achievements. Ken Hall was no fluke. "I hope all my records are broken," he says. "The point is, when you live in a small town with only about 100 kids in school, you really don't stop to consider that others might be interested in what you're doing."
In addition to his football heroics, Hall was a starter for the Gator basketball team and twice led Sugar Land to the state Class B track and field championship, scoring 38 points in the state meet in his sophomore year (a national high school record until it was broken in 1976 by Frank Pollard, now a Pittsburgh Steeler running back) and 36 in his junior year. He ran the 100 in 9.7, the 220 in 21.4, the 440 in 49 flat; he long-jumped 23 feet and put the shot 53'7"; he ran the anchor leg on the 440-yard relay; and occasionally he threw the discus and competed in the high jump.
In Hall's senior year, W.E. White, the superintendent of Sugar Land's schools, was convinced that with the proper training Hall could compete in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. "It was an idea that really fascinated me," Hall admits. "The only events I'd not done were the pole vault and the javelin and I felt I could learn them. Mr. White and I talked about it a great deal, and I was excited about the possibility."
A hamstring injury suffered in the spring of his senior year not only put the decathlon dream on the back burner, but also cost Sugar Land a third straight state track and field title.
"He pulled the muscle at the Bay City Relays and was on crutches for a while," says Hightower, "but he got well enough toward the end of the season to qualify for the state meet again. When we got to Austin, we wrapped the leg good and thought he'd be O.K. I remember before he was to run the 100, I told him to go over and take one of his throws in the shotput while he was still fresh. It wound up being the only throw he took, and it stood up for second place. In the 100, he was leading by almost 10 yards when he pulled the muscle again and wasn't able to finish. That was it for him."
When Hall's records are recited, High-tower points out, one of the most impressive is always overlooked. "In four years, he scored 83 points in the state track meet. I don't think you're going to be able to find anyone who has ever come close to that."
Around Sugar Land in Hall's playing days, football was definitely Topic A when the men would gather at the Sugar Land Pharmacy and the barbershop next door. High-tower recalls that when he arrived in town to be an assistant to the head coach, the late Chuzzy Jenkins, he went to his first quarterback club meeting and found the initial order of business was chartering buses for the playoffs. That seemed a bit premature to Hightower because not a single game had been played. "You are all crazy," he said. To which a club member stood up and said, "At the end of the season, you and Chuzzy are gonna be on a bus one way or the other." They were, winning their third straight regional in 1953, Hall's senior year.
Rozelle and Herb Shelton, another longtime fan, were sitting around High-tower's kitchen table recently, laughing, drinking coffee and telling lies, and Shelton said, "We knew way back then we were really enjoying ourselves but we also know Kenneth's greatness grows over the years."
Truth be told, Hall is being forgotten rapidly. In 1959 Sugar Land High was closed by that breed of wrong-thinkers who infest the country and who think taking a little high school away from a proud little town and making one big high school for a lot of towns improves education. The current coach at the consolidated high, John Foster Dulles H.S. in Stafford, is Ronnie Bell. "I just can't understand how good Hall must have been," he says. "But there are probably not a lot of people who even remember now."
Correct. Further, there is almost nothing around Sugar Land to perpetuate the memory of the finest high school player ever to buckle a chin strap. The newspaper office burned down, destroying many of the accounts and records. The current local sports editor has never heard of Ken Hall. The trophies are, well, who knows. There are none at the high school. High-tower thinks he has a few but can't put his hands on them. Gloria says there may be some out in the garage, but she would have no idea where to look. There are only a few photographs, a couple of films, no plaques.
The new football stadium at Dulles High is named after Edward Mercer, a former school superintendent. Leslie A. Wheeler Jr. Fieldhouse is named for a former school board president. There is a John Frankie Field, named after a former football player and head basketball coach at Rice. The airport is Don Hull Airport, for the man who built it. Around old Sugar Land High, now Lakeview Elementary School, with its glorious oak and pecan trees, there is a tree dedicated to M.R. Wood, a former school board president. There is a PTA tree dedicated to G.D. Ulrich. There is no Kenneth Hall tree. In 1980, it was proposed to the city council that a new street be named Ken Hall Thoroughfare. Ultimately, the city fathers named it Jess R. Pirtle Boulevard, in honor of a local civil engineer, who, Hightower says, "did lots of things for the town."
What did Ken Hall do?
Naturally, every college that pumped up a football wanted him. He chose Texas A&M because, among other reasons, it was close. That, as it turned out, was the only good thing about A&M for Ken Hall.
"When he showed up in College Station." says Jack Pardee, the former NFL All-Pro and head coach who was an All-America fullback and linebacker at Texas A&M when Hall went there, "I looked at a guy that big [6'1", 205 pounds], with that speed and those motor skills, and I figured I had just been demoted to second string. He was the prototype back." A classmate of Hall's was Halfback John David Crow, who would win the Heisman trophy in 1957. "Lord knows I love Coach Bryant to death," Crow says, "but I'll say this, if Kenneth Hall had gone to play under someone like Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, the world would never have heard much about John David Crow." Says Bryant of his ill-fated relationship with Hall, "I guess I should have hugged him."
Pardee, now a vice-president in marketing for the Runnels Mud Company, an oil drilling business in Midland, Texas, suggests that Hall's world-class failure at A&M was "because Coach Bryant believed that you played defense first and then found a position in the offense. So Ken Hall had his skills reversed." Almost inexplicably, Bryant shuffled Hall, always a tailback, to fullback. Never mind that Hall had never been taught how to block. Bryant was irate when Hall couldn't block. Then Bryant made Hall a linebacker (they played both ways in those days), though he had always played defensive back in high school. Then Bryant got mad when Hall got married to Gloria in his sophomore year. For some reason he didn't care so much that John David also was married. Says Pardee, "Hall wasn't quite mean enough for Coach Bryant."
That's correct, and perhaps a byproduct of growing up in Sugar Land, where, Hightower admits, 'it was no big deal if one of the boys on the team did something wrong, ran the wrong way or something. We'd just say, 'That's O.K. Let's make it right.' " And it was no big deal during high school that Hall left football practice early every Wednesday to work as a doorman at the Palms Theatre. But Hightower says, "When it all happened at A&M, I blamed Bear. Now I've changed my mind. It was just two personalities that didn't congeal. I think the both of them were just as much to blame."
Imogene isn't quite so charitable. "Kenneth isn't a quitter," she says. "But Bear Bryant just wasn't real nice to him. Here Kenneth was after four years of being treated great and suddenly he's being run down, shoved around and talked ugly to. It does something to a fellow." Recently, Bryant sent Hall a letter saying how wrong he had been and Hall wrote back saying, "Don't worry, it's O.K." In the view of Shelton, Bryant "didn't have sense enough to know how to handle him. But it's not sad. Just disappointing." Pause. "No, it's sad."
When the A&M freshmen opened their season, Hall was at fullback and Crow and Loyd Taylor were at halfback. The first time Hall carried the ball as a collegian, he ran for a touchdown. By season's end, he was the Southwest Conference's leading freshman scorer with 30 points—five touchdowns in five games. He had gained 206 yards on 26 carries, an average of 7.9 yards per rush.
Though not happy with the role of fullback, Hall felt he had performed well in his first year. As an added bonus, he received a medal for being the Outstanding Freshman Marching Cadet; he also was successful as a member of the freshman track team. But the A&M football coaches cared about only one thing: that Ken Hall couldn't play linebacker worth a damn.
Midway through his sophomore year, Hall became disenchanted. "I worked hard," Hall says, "but I was sitting on the bench. After our seventh game I decided I couldn't stand the situation anymore and went home to Sugar Land and got married."
Fearing later that he had reacted too emotionally in quitting the team, Hall approached Bryant about returning for spring training that year. The Bear accepted him back, and Hall immediately set about to challenge Pardee, who would be a senior, for the starting fullback job.
His junior season, however, was more of the same. Hall grew weary of the practice-session criticism he received and the spot duty he was dealt on game days, and again became discouraged. Still, he worked, hoping to convince Bryant and his assistants that he could contribute.
"Before we were to play Baylor midway through the season," Hall recalls, "I was told I was going to start. Jack Pardee was injured and I was eager to get my chance. But just before the kickoff, Bryant told me he had decided to start Jack. As I remember it, I played some, gaining pretty good yardage every time I carried the ball, but just as soon as I felt I was really getting into the flow of the game, they would take me out. Before the game was over I found myself standing on the sidelines, wondering if I really wanted to play anymore.
"After the game I told Coach Bryant I was leaving. That was it. No discussion or anything. Maybe he just didn't think I could play. I don't know to this day. For some guys he was a father figure, but it was different for me. Things just didn't work out.
"I don't blame anyone. It was just one of those things in life you have to learn to deal with. Looking back, I'd have to say I learned something from the experience."
The heart of the matter would seem to be that Bryant only had eyes for John David Crow. That he might have somebody better than Crow on hand was a thought he wouldn't consider. Today, Bryant admits he should have put Crow at fullback and Hall at halfback. By asking Hall to do a lot of things he didn't know how to do—such as assume a three-point stance for the first time in his career—Bryant hopelessly confused him.
At the same time, Hall probably didn't burn enough in his gut. Halfback Ed Dudley, who was his roommate at A&M, says of his friend, "Kenneth was one of those easygoing kids who was never going to buck the system. Even when he was down and upset, I don't think it ever occurred to him to confront Bryant. If John David or I had had the same kind of problems he had, we'd have probably been kicking Coach Bryant's door in and demanding some kind of explanation, then maybe taken a punch at him. But that wasn't Kenneth's style. He would walk away from the situation before he ever did anything like that.
"I knew it wasn't going to work for him there at A&M and even went so far as to suggest he think about transferring to another school where he could get a chance to be the kind of football player I knew he was. That, or forget football and concentrate on the decathlon. There's no question in my mind that he could have made the Olympic team if he'd worked at it. He was that kind of athlete.
"I'm as great an admirer of Bear Bryant as any man who ever played for him," Dudley insists, "but he made a big mistake with Kenneth. In the first place, he should have never had him playing at fullback. He should have put John David at fullback and Hall at the halfback. That would have solved the defensive problem. In Bryant's scheme of things, the fullback automatically played linebacker, while the halfbacks played in the secondary. And John David could have done a good job at linebacker. But Bryant had his rules.
"It was a tragedy, really. Kenneth was such a gifted athlete. I saw him run a 9.9 100 in a pair of football shoes one afternoon. The problem was that he wasn't the kind of aggressive football player Bryant liked. Kenneth was never one who liked to hit someone for the sheer pleasure of hitting him. He realized it was a physical game, but I don't think he ever enjoyed that part of it."
But Pardee says, "You sure need to keep a player like Ken Hall on the team and not run him off. He was just too good a talent." Bryant agrees on both points. So Hall left A&M forever, a college bust.
What did Hall do?
"After my experience at A&M," says Hall, "I knew it was time to back up and regroup. But when you back up, the important thing is that you don't back up too far." So in 1957, armed with a $7,000 contract plus $700 for expenses to get there, Hall skipped what would have been his senior year at A&M and went to Canada to play for the Edmonton Eskimos. For the season, he rushed 48 times for 376 yards, for an average of 7.8 yards; caught nine passes for 292 more yards; punted 22 times for a 41.2-yard average; and scored four touchdowns, one on a 73-yard punt return. But it was only Canada.
In 1958 the Baltimore Colts drafted Hall in the 14th round. It was the Unitas era, and Hall seemed to have won a spot on the roster until the Giants' Sam Huff crunched him.
"It was a freak thing, really," Hall says. "We were playing an exhibition in Louisville. I was going up the middle on a simple dive play and tripped over the guard. I went to one knee and was trying to get up when Huff hit me on the back of the neck. It bent me over and drove my head between my knees. The sixth vertebra in my neck just collapsed. It was cracked in five places."
That ended the '58 season. "After that, I really never had all my coordination," Hall says. In a three-team trade before the 1959 season. Hall was dealt to Pittsburgh and then on to the old Chicago Cardinals. The Cardinals cut him during the 1960 preseason. Hall moved on to Houston and helped the Oilers win the first AFL title in 1960. He is in the Houston record book twice, for the highest kickoff-return average for a season—31.2 yards—and also the longest return, a 104-yarder against the old New York Titans; the current Oiler media guide says Hall accomplished the latter feat "vs. The N.Y. Times." The one football memento Hall displays is his Oiler championship ring. After he suffered a broken shoulder in the '61 preseason, Houston dumped him. He did play that season as a flanker for the St. Louis Cardinals (for $16,000), catching three passes for 38 yards. "Enough is enough," Hall recalls thinking. "I proved I could play."
To himself, at least. Still, Ken Hall is one of the two greatest tragedies in football; Joe Don Looney is the other. Joe Don was entirely different, an absolutely undisciplined running back who was booted off the Oklahoma team by the normally mild-mannered Wilkinson in 1963, and had an undistinguished and controversial five-year career as a pro. Football people often get misty when they talk of Joe Don as most likely the finest football player ever to put on a suit. He blew it and wandered off to oblivion.
Hall has done just the opposite, moving ahead, doing well and believing deeply that yesterdays are gone. Says Gloria, "We don't talk about regrets."
What did Ken Hall do?
Mostly, Ken Hall is a case study in how you go about playing the cards you're dealt. He is, make no mistake, a happy guy who gets special pleasure in evening walks through San Marino with Gloria. He loves football; he thinks the young players are bigger, faster, stronger, better; he'd love sometime to shake hands with Sims, Walker, Dorsett.
Ken Hall is still quiet, and you can see in him a lot of the 16-year-old Sugar Land star who would jam his hands in his jeans at pep rallies and mumble, "If trying hard will win, we'll win." The other students would go berserk as he'd slouch on off. But he's at ease with himself. Hall makes it a point not to criticize Bryant and, in fact, expresses great admiration for him. Hall's attitude is: "Bryant says I'm his biggest mistake. There's honor in that."
And there's honor in Kenneth Hall. "So much has happened since high school that is so much more important," he says. "Like those two kids up there." He takes a long look at the photo on the living room wall of Chuck, now 24 and working in the city recreation department in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Mike, 21, attending Cuesta, a junior college in San Luis Obispo. Both were decent high school players at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., near San Francisco, but that was it. Which doesn't bother Ken. He knows, better than anyone, that life isn't fair, but it does go on.
Which is why it was a proper but difficult step for him in 1970 to leave Imperial Sugar in Sugar Land for a better opportunity with another sugar company, McKeany-Flavell Company, Inc. in San Francisco. Says Hall of leaving Sugar Land, "We got in the car, picked Chuck up off the Little League field, and all of us cried all the way to Austin."
Last November he took still another new job with Sweetener Products in Vernon, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. On Hall's office wall there is this sign: MAN CANNOT DISCOVER NEW OCEANS UNLESS HE HAS THE COURAGE TO LOSE SIGHT OF THE SHORE.
Reflecting back on it all, Hall says now, "Maybe all this football stuff wasn't supposed to have happened perfectly for me. But there's a lot of positive in any negative situation. Negatives can be a wonderful thing. Really, there are no negatives."
And so you needn't ask, What did Kenneth Hall do?
Ken and Gloria have no regrets about the way their wheel of fortune turned
Sons Chuck (left) and Mike played high school football, and if they follow in dad's footsteps, they should rise to the top in the business world.
Hightower, Rozelle, Shelton (from left, above) know Hall could have been great at A&M; Bryant said so in the letter Hall's mother is holding.
Light lowers still osbscure the view of the field where Hall ran wild, but fans are few now that the home team is Dulles High's frosh squad (in red).
Hall was a doorman at the Palms Theatre in high school, and when his football career ended he came home to work for Imperial Sugar.
No. 31 led Sugar land to a 37-6-1 record and three regional championships in his four-year career.
The football hero was voted Most Handsome in his class and played the trumpet in the school band.
Hall got plenty of fan mail but never lettered at Texas A&M, where Crow (44) won the Heisman.
In Hall's best pro year, he set kickoff-return records with the 1960 AFL Oilers.