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Gold Jacket Spotlight: Ken Houston Part of Lopsided 5-For-1 Trade

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Ken Houston Part of Lopsided 5-For-1 Trade

12/12/2021
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Lineman Jim Snowden, tight end Mack Alston, wide receiver Clifton McNeil, defensive end Mike Fanucci and defensive back Jeff Severson played a combined 38 seasons in the National Football League.

Simply making a pro football roster put them in select company. They are among the fewer than 30,000 players to appear in an NFL game in the league’s 102-season history.

But their names also are connected to one of the most lopsided trades ever executed – a one-sided deal that sent Hall of Fame safety Ken Houston from Houston to Washington.

That front office thievery is recalled this week as Ken, a member of the Class of 1986, steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Ken broke into pro football as a ninth-round pick (No. 214 overall) of the Oilers in the combined AFL-NFL Draft in 1967. He became an immediate contributor for a team that posted a 9-4-1 record and reached the AFL Championship Game before falling to the Oakland Raiders for the league’s spot in Super Bowl II.

He played in every game as a rookie. He intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns.

There was no sophomore slump for Ken, whose success continued in Year 2 with five more interceptions. He again returned two for defensive touchdowns. At season’s end, he was named to the Pro Bowl, something that would become an annual occurrence for 12 consecutive seasons.

The Oilers’ overall performance didn’t match Ken’s however, as the team slipped to a .500 record (7-7 and 6-6-2) each of the next two seasons, then to a combined 8-32-2 from 1970 to 1972.

Ken was among the few bright spots on the 1971 team. He intercepted nine passes, second-best in the league, and returned four of them for scores. Only two other players in NFL history have amassed four “pick-sixes” in a single season.

Following the dismal 1972 campaign (a 1-13 record), Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman became the Oilers’ general manager and began a complete overhaul of the roster in hopes of reversing the slide. He unloaded six players, including Ken, and received 19 in return.

In Washington, Hall of Fame coach George Allen – also the team’s general manager – was thrilled with his acquisition.

“When you get a chance to get an All‐Pro like Ken Houston, who I think is the best strong safety in pro football, you have to give up a lot,” Allen told the media at the time of the trade. “I'm just tickled that we could get this guy and not disturb our starting team.”

Ken’s impact in Washington came as immediately as it had in Houston. He picked off six passes and helped the team reach the playoffs with a 10-4 record.

Washington remained competitive in the rugged NFC East until Ken’s last season, 1980. He retired after 14 years. His career statistics included 49 interceptions, nine interception returns for touchdowns and 21 fumble recoveries.

Ken was named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team, the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team, the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s and selected as one of “Football’s Greatest 100 Players” by The Sporting News (No. 61).

“How many times do you have a chance to watch the best there ever was at a position? Many towns are never blessed like that. You only read about the great ones or see them once in a while,” Allen said. “But Washington fans have had eight years to study and appreciate Kenny.”

Eight years after one of the sport’s great trades.

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