When teams look for linebackers today they start with their physical attributes; they want a guy who is around 6’3 and 240 pounds. They they want to know how he performs on the field; can he stuff the run? Can he drop back and cover the pass? This just described Bobby Bell, who was all of this….in the 1960s. Bobby Bell is one of the all time great players but has inexplicably been lost in time as one of the forgotten NFL legends.
Bobby Bell played for the University of Minnesota so it made perfect sense that the Vikings would draft him in the second round of the 1963 NFL draft. Bell was also drafted by the Chiefs in the seventh round of the 1963 AFL draft. Choosing the NFL over the AFL seemed like an easy choice but the Vikings seemed very unsure of Bell. The Vikings were lukewarm at best and refused to give him a guaranteed contract. The Chiefs, however, welcomed Bell with opened arms and gave him the guaranteed contract he wanted.
Bell’s impact in the league was felt almost immediately. From 1964 to 1969 he was an AFL All-Star. Then, when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, Bell was a Pro Bowler from 1970 to 1972 and was an All-Pro in 1970. In his Chiefs career he had 40 sacks. That number is believed to have been bigger had he been allowed to rush more but at his position he was required to drop back into coverage on the majority of snaps. Bell was a nightmare in coverage for opposing quarterbacks. He finished his career with 26 interceptions and he returned six of them for touchdowns which is still a record for linebackers today. One of his most improbable plays was during on onside kick recovery in which, instead of falling down and recovering the ball, Bell picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown.
Bell put his dominance on display during the 1969 playoffs. In the divisional game, against the defending champion Jets, Bell won the game for the Chiefs. The Jets had the ball on the Chiefs one yard line but were stuffed on two consecutive runs. On third down the Jets executed a perfect play action roll out. The entire defense was fooled…except Bell. Joe Namath rolled out and was looking to throw to his running back but Bell, who didn’t fall for the fake, was in shutdown coverage. Namath was sacked and the Chiefs won the game.
Super Bowl IV was a sort of poetic justice for Bell. The Chiefs were facing the team that was unsure of Bell in 1963. That decision would haunt the Vikings as the Chiefs went on to beat them 23-7.
Bobby Bell Off the Field
Most professional athletes, especially in Bell’s era, are very business oriented. They are told to be professionals and not stray from that. Bell was the complete opposite. He was constantly joking with teammates and, to put it simply, knew how to enjoy himself and have fun.
After his retirement Bell opened up “Bobby Bell’s Bar-B-Que”. He was a quintessential role model in Kansas City and opening his own restaurant was just another way for him to be involved in the community and continue to be with the people.
Forgotten NFL Legend
Bell’s resume includes Super Bowl champion, NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, AFL All-Time Team, number 69 on the NFL’s Top 100 Players of All Time, his number being retired by the Chiefs, and the very first Kansas City Chief to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
So why is Bobby Bell a Forgotten NFL Legend? Playing 60 years ago is a big reason he has slipped people’s minds. Bell spent the majority of his career playing in the AFL which lowered his stardom, an issue guys like Dick Butkus and Jack Ham never had. Bobby Bell played like a top five linebacker in NFL history and should not be forgotten and lost in time.
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