Gentle giant Hull was rock-solid
Solid. That’s the one word to best describe Kent Hull. He was solid. Solid as a football player. Solid as a teammate. Solid as a person. Solid as a friend. Solid. Solid as granite.
There was no pretense, nothing phony, about Kent Hull.
Hull, whom I covered when he was a skinny, 18-year-old freshman at Mississippi State, became one of the greatest centers in NFL history. He died Tuesday from gastrointestinal bleeding at 50, far, far too young.
Kent was a good friend, so this is going to be personal.
He was in his first month at State, and I was in my first month at The Clarion-Ledger when we met in September of 1979. He was tall and long-limbed, the son of former Mississippi State basketball star Charlie Hull. Kent looked more basketball player than football player at that point, and the truth is, first-year State coach Emory Bellard probably wanted to redshirt him and bring him along slowly.
Injuries changed all that. Early on, Kent was starting, usually outweighed by 70 pounds or so by the guys whom he was assigned to block.
Orley Hood, then the sports editor of the old Jackson Daily News, interviewed Kent a couple days after his first start against Florida when a senior nose tackle thoroughly abused Hull.
“How was it?” Hood asked.
“I thought I was going to get killed,” Hull answered.
“You mean hurt?” Hood asked.
“No, killed. I thought the guy was going to kill me.”
That was Kent. He was a great interview, so honest, from Day One.
Another time, Orley and I followed Mississippi State to Maryland. There, Kent was to face an All-America noseguard who was five years older and 80 pounds heavier. I was sitting by the late Senator, John C. Stennis, in the press box. He was scanning the lineup and came across Kent’s name and saw he was from Greenwood.
“That must be ol’ Charlie Hull’s boy,” Stennis said in that syrupy drawl of his.
I told him Kent was indeed.
Minutes later, that Maryland noseguard bowled over Hull with a vicious forearm to the chin.
Said the Senator, “I don’t believe I’ll mention that play to ol’ Charlie.”
Go-to guy at MSU
Bellard and I were talking about Kent one day and I was telling Coach what a really nice, thoughtful guy Hull was off the field.
“Yeah, Podnuh,” said Bellard, “but he’s tough as a two-bit steak on it.”
He was, too.
Even so, Hull was still an undersized center in a Wishbone offense when he finished at State. Pro scouts were not impressed. He was not drafted but signed on with the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived USFL. He played three years there, got bigger and stronger and then signed with the Buffalo Bills at the same time as quarterback Jim Kelly.
Kelly, said Hull, came to town in a limousine. “I followed him on a wagonload of pumpkins,” Kent said, laughing.
But Hull became a star, a three-time Pro Bowler who played in four Super Bowls. I covered them all. The Bills lost all four.
I particularly remember one Super Bowl Media Day in Minneapolis. Kent was on one of the main interview stages, surrounded by reporters and TV cameramen from ESPN and the networks. Reporters were shouting their questions, often interrupting one another when Hull, seemingly amused by all the fuss, spotted me at the back.
“Hey Rick, how you doin’ buddy?” Hull asked. “Whatcha need?”
Hull reached over the network cameras to shake my hand. That was Kent.
Media threw party
He was the first-best interview.
And Hull was very much the key to Buffalo’s ability to run that fast-paced no-huddle offense. Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas were the stars. Hull made it go. Ask any of those old Bills. They’ll tell you.
“Kent was a man among boys. He just had a calming effect on everyone,” Darryl Talley said. “He was a very old soul.”
A couple years ago, I ran into former Bills coach Marv Levy at the Super Bowl. Naturally, we talked about Kent Hull.
“Kent ought to be in the Hall of Fame,” Levy said. “If there’s any justice he will be.”
Hull is a finalist this year.
Jerry Sullivan, who has the same job in Buffalo I have here, and I were sharing Kent Hull stories Wednesday.
“He was my go-to guy,” I said.
“He was everybody’s go-to guy,” Sully said. “Up here, we let him know how much we thought of him.”
When Hull announced his retirement, the Buffalo media arranged for a private room at popular Italian restaurant and threw Hull a retirement party. Folks, you don’t see that often.
“When Kent walked in, he got a standing ovation,” Sullivan said.
“When it came time for Kent to talk, he started crying,” Sully continued. “Pretty soon, all of us were crying.”
Many people in Buffalo – and in Mississippi – have shed tears the past two days. The thing is, when you think of Kent Hull, you cannot help but smile through the tears.