For 11 seasons, Tony Richardson did the dirty work for the Chiefs. He was a special-teams demon. He was an unselfish, devastating blocker. In a pinch, he could find the end zone as a runner or as a dependable receiver out of the backfield.
And on Saturday night, Richardson, the man known as T-Rich at Arrowhead Stadium and as a philanthropic pillar in the community, was introduced by Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt as the 46th member of the club’s Hall of Fame during the annual 101 Awards banquet at the Westin Crown Center Hotel.
“Well first of all, it’s Tony’s first year of eligibility for our Hall of Fame, and he was somebody who, both as a player and as a human being, represented everything the organization could ever want in one of our players,” team chairman Clark Hunt said. “He’s just a first-class guy, and we’re so honored to have him in our hall.”
Richardson, 44, joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free-agent running back plucked from the Dallas Cowboys practice squad in 1995 and developed into a Pro Bowl fullback blocking for Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson while earning a spot on the NFL 2000s all-decade second team.
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“It hasn’t set in yet,” Richardson said of his name going on the Ring of Honor at Arrowhead. “ … It seems like your whole life flashes in front of you … having to go to Dallas and fighting and scrapping and being on a practice squad and coming to Kansas City and being around all of those players whose names are up there now.
“You look at guys like Will Shields and the late Derrick Thomas … I was with Mr. (Len) Dawson at the Super Bowl, and I tell people all the time, you don’t play fullback to make the Hall of Fame. That’s not a position you think would get that kind of honor. But it’s truly a blessing to be in a class with those names and be a part of Kansas City history forever.”
Richardson joined Curtis McClinton as the only fullbacks in the Chiefs Hall of Fame. It’s not a glamorous position and receives little recognition in today’s football. But a dependable fullback was essential to the success of the Chiefs in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
“That’s been the story of my life,” said Richardson, born in Germany as the child of a military family that moved to the United States when he was 8. “My parents made the ultimate sacrifice, my dad being a military man. We traveled around the country, moving the kids around, my mom making the sacrifices of not being in one place.
“I look back at my career, and I put my body on the line whether it was making a tackle on special teams or blocking for Marcus or Priest or Larry or doing anything I had to do to protect the quarterback. Making the Hall of Fame doesn’t cross your mind. You go about doing your work and at the end of your career, everything stacked up, and it worked out.”
Richardson, who spent 1995-2005 with the Chiefs, played for three head coaches and in three different offenses.
He joined the Chiefs during Marty Schottenheimer’s reign during the mid-to-late 1990s, and Richardson served as a special-teams captain and blocking back in the West Coast offense. That was followed by 1999-2000 under Gunther Cunningham, when Richardson led the Chiefs in rushing in 2000 with 697 yards and a 4.7-yard average as a featured back in a power offense. Then came five glorious years as the ferocious fullback for Dick Vermeil’s record-setting offense.
“Tony was the epitome of a team player,” former Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson said. “It was always about the team, never about Tony. He was a tremendous blocker for some pretty good running backs, and all of them would say whatever success they had, they owed a great deal of it to Tony, because he paved the way.
“He’s also a caring guy, always concerned about his teammates. I don’t know if I know any player or coach who did not like Tony Richardson.”
With Richardson providing the escort, Holmes rushed for 1,000 yards in three seasons and Johnson reached 1,000 yards once. Holmes led the NFL in rushing with 1,555 yards in 2001, ran for a club-record 1,615 yards in 2002 and 1,420 yards in 2003, including a then-league record 27 rushing touchdowns. Johnson led the AFC in rushing with 1,750 yards in 2005.
In all, Richardson appeared in 163 games with 96 starts for the Chiefs. He finished his Kansas City career with 1,576 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns and 177 receptions for 1,298 yards and nine touchdowns.
“The Chiefs had no idea I could be a blocker,” Richardson said. “They took a chance on an undrafted rookie from Auburn. The way for me to make the team was special teams and blocking. Kimble Anders was the starting fullback, so I didn’t come into the game until we got to the goal line.”
Allen, who played both fullback and tailback in his career with the Raiders before joining the Chiefs in 1993, had a major impact on Richardson’s development.
“I look at all the things Marcus taught me as a young fullback,” Richardson said. “He emphasized you have to be smarter or as smart as everyone in the offense. You need to know everything about the fullback position, everything about the tailback position.
“It’s a selfless position, and you have to be borderline crazy to play fullback. You don’t really think, ‘Man, I want to carry the ball, too.’ Or, ‘Why aren’t I getting five or six catches?’ You’re just trying to do whatever you can do to help the football team win.”
Richardson’s favorite block was clearing the way for Allen’s memorable plunge in the snow for his 100th career touchdown in a 1995 win at Denver.
“I look at that picture of the play, how he trusted his fullback,” Richardson said. “He went up in the air, and he knew I was going to make my block. The fact he realized his fullback isn’t going to fall down … that says a lot about the faith and trust he had in me.
“Working with Priest, because he studied the game so much, and he was such a professional, it made my job so easy because we were always on the same page. There’s not one block that sticks out with Priest, because there were a number of situations, because of film study and rehearsing things so many times on the practice field … it was like second nature. An average run that might be 5 yards would go 55 because we saw the exact same thing.”
Richardson, who received his MBA degree from Webster University in Kansas City in 2004 and served as a sales and marketing intern with the Chiefs and then-Kansas City Wizards soccer team during the 2000 offseason, had a standing offer for a job in the Chiefs front office upon his retirement.
But in 2006 he became a free agent, and the Chiefs, thinking the 34-year-old Richardson’s best years were behind him, were outbid for his services by the Minnesota Vikings.
“I was hoping he was going to retire,” Peterson said. “We made him an offer, but like a lot of guys, he wanted to look around, which he did, and he found a better offer. I thought he’d be a terrific director of player development. But he wasn’t ready (to retire) and he played another five years.”
Richardson played two seasons with Minnesota, earning another Pro Bowl berth for helping Adrian Peterson rush for an NFC-leading 1,341 yards in 2007. Richardson spent three seasons with the New York Jets, blocking for Thomas Jones’ AFC-leading 1,312 yards in 2008 and providing leadership to a team that went to consecutive AFC championship games.
As the second-oldest position player in the NFL at 39 in 2010, Richardson played with the same passion as he did as a special-teamer with the Chiefs.
“When I think of Tony Richardson, I think of work ethic and professionalism that was high as I’ve seen in the league,” said Dave Szott, a teammate with the Chiefs and a front-office employee with the Jets since his retirement in 2004. “He continually was first in the building, last to leave, diligent in meetings.
“He wasn’t a guy who was going to have any mental mistakes. We all get beat physically, but he was never going to have a mistake caused mentally because Tony Richardson is a 100 percent guy. He gives you 100 percent of what he has, whether he’s on the field, off the field or in the community. That’s what you respect about him.”
Richardson made as much of an impact in the Kansas City community through his Rich in Spirit Foundation as he did on the football field. His foundation benefited the Special Olympics, Athletes in Action, City Union Mission, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City and other organizations.
He received the 2005 Distinguished Citizen Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice, an organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and racism in America, and was selected Pro Football Weekly’s Humanitarian of the Year award winner in 2003.
“That was probably more important than the stuff on the field,” Richardson said. “You see the impact that you make and want to get more involved. It was cool when we came out on the field at Arrowhead, and you saw all the guys’ banners for their foundations and what guys were doing.
“It was pretty neat to see how many guys on the team were giving back to the community and how they were helping out.”
Richardson now makes his home in New York City, where he does some TV work and serves the NFL office in a program that assists retiring players making the transition from football as well as active players plan for careers after football.
Though Richardson spent the last five years of his career with the Vikings and Jets, his heart remained in Kansas City with the Chiefs.
“Early in my career, my first or second year in Kansas City, and I’m trying to find my way, and Mr. (Lamar) Hunt would come over to my locker, and say, ‘How you doing, how are your parents, I know your sister is in the military …’
“I’m like, here’s the owner of a football team who knows so much about not only me, but my personal growth, but asking about my family … the Chiefs really gave me an opportunity from being a snot-nosed kid from Auburn University to coming into my own in Kansas City.”
Randy Covitz: @randycovitz