You win football games in the trenches. Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl center Kent Hull exemplified this mentality during his stellar 11-year career in Western New York.
Ironically, Hull never wanted to become a football player. His dream was to play in the National Basketball Association.
However, fate had other plans for this 6’5″, 278-lb. behemoth.
Hull was the pillar of a Bills offensive line that helped the team make it to the Super Bowl from 1990 to 1993.
With Hull opening up holes for running back Thurman Thomas and protecting quarterback Jim Kelly, the Bills became a fearsome juggernaut during that era.
Hull’s exemplary work ethic and leadership helped Marv Levy and his coaching staff execute their famous no-huddle offense to perfection in the early 1990s.
Sadly, Kent Hull passed away at the age of 50 in 2011. He will live on in the hearts of Bills Mafia as one of the greatest centers in franchise history.
James Kent Hull was born in Pontotoc, MS on January 13, 1961.
His father Charles managed the family farm in Greenwood, MS.
Charles Hull was also the director of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service for Mississippi during the tenures of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, per Sports Illustrated’s Chad Millman.
Kent and his younger brother Maury were tasked with rounding up the stray cattle on the farm.
“We’d spend all day getting worn out chasing those cows,” Hull told Millman during his tenth season with the Buffalo Bills in 1995.
Hull purchased his first cows after he received a $3,500 loan from the Farmers Home Administration as a high school freshman.
It marked the beginning of a career outside of football that Hull embraced wholeheartedly.
After Hull’s parents separated, he helped his mother support the family. Hull bagged groceries, worked at a tire store, and managed the Army Corps of Engineers’ local flood levee, per The Buffalo News‘ Vic Carucci.
Kent Hull attended Greenwood High School.
Thoughts and prayers to Greenwood's Kent Hull. Former MSU Bulldog and Buffalo Bill died at age 50.
— Delta Sports (@TheDeltaSports) October 19, 2011
According to various media reports, basketball was Hull’s first love growing up in Mississippi.
He also played other sports including track and baseball during his formative years.
Hull eventually excelled in basketball and football for the Greenwood Bulldogs.
Ironically, he would also suit up for an in-state college football team nicknamed the “Bulldogs” several years later.
Hull wasn’t a slouch on the hardwood: LSU Tigers head basketball coach Dale Brown offered him a scholarship during his senior year at Greenwood High, per The Buffalo News‘ Bucky Gleason.
However, as Hull grew bigger, football became more of his calling.
“I grew up thinking I was going to be in the NBA,” Hull told Carucci in 1990. “Then the game got so tall and I got so slow.”
Hull tried to find his niche on the gridiron during his high school football career.
He was a quarterback and inside linebacker as a freshman. He then played tight end for the next two seasons before settling at center as a senior.
Kent Hull would thrive and make a name for himself playing the center position for the rest of his stellar gridiron career.
College Days With The Mississippi State Bulldogs
Kent Hull majored in business administration at Mississippi State University.
He suited up for the Mississippi State Bulldogs from 1979 to 1982.
Hull was an All-SEC starting center for a Bulldogs squad that averaged six wins per year during that span.
Arguably his most memorable moment in college football was the 6-3 win over the No.1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in 1980.
The Bulldogs went 9-3 in head football coach Emory Bellard’s second year at the helm.
Unfortunately, Mississippi State lost to the eighth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 1980 Sun Bowl, 31-17.
Hull was playing pickup basketball at the MSU campus when he received a phone call from New Jersey Generals head coach Chuck Fairbanks.
Hull had no idea who Fairbanks was.
Fairbanks dropped the bombshell on Hull: the Generals just drafted him in the United States Football (USFL) draft.
Hull didn’t know it was a professional football team that selected him. He insisted to Fairbanks he was a much better basketball player.
Fairbanks would have none of it. He ordered Hull to attend Generals training camp in Orlando, FL, per Gleason.
Hull, who initially wanted to go home and tend to his cattle on their family farm in Mississippi, eventually relented.
Kent Hull’s professional football career was now officially in full swing.
Pro Football Career
The New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League selected Kent Hull in the seventh round of the 1983 USFL Draft.
The Generals paid him a $5 a day while he attended training camp in Florida, per The Buffalo News,
Shortly after Hull signed a contract with the Generals that paid him $40,000 annually, he bought seventeen cows, seventeen calves, and one bull for $7,500.
Twelve years later, that investment grew to a $500,000 business boasting of 220 cows, 220 calves, and four bulls.
“It doesn’t provide the same living as I make playing football,” Hull told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1995. “But it’s a very liquid business.”
Hull was fleeced just once in his cattle business. He told Millman several people took his money when he invested in a lean-meat processing plant.
Not a single animal set foot on the plant when his money disappeared.
Hull was just as passionate about selling cars as he was about raising cattle.
Kent Hull both played for the New Jersey Generals and I was a fan then and will be a fan now pic.twitter.com/d5rLwJpTEx
— Jamie (@H8RSKPH8N) January 27, 2022
Hull had difficulty stretching his $40,000 annual salary in New Jersey. He and his wife Kay had to shell out a monthly payment of $1,200 for their one-bedroom apartment, among other things.
Hull tried to supplement his income by selling cars in Greenwood, MS during the offseason.
To his astonishment, he performed well enough. He continued selling cars the following offseason while trying to complete his undergraduate degree in business administration, per Carucci.
While Hull was flourishing as an entrepreneur, he also witnessed the proliferation of steroids in USFL locker rooms back in the day.
“You can find steroids in every pro locker room,” Hull told Millman. “It gets to a point where some guys, especially at the pro level, think they have to do it to make it.”
Despite the rampant steroid use in the upstart football league, Hull played well enough to earn All-USFL honors in 1985.
Hull also stopped selling automobiles several months later. He eventually became an investor in a car dealership in Arkansas.
The dealership in Mississippi where he began selling cars during his rookie year with the Generals went up for sale in 1986.
Hull eventually convinced his fellow investors to purchase that dealership and make him a majority owner.
Hull admitted to The Buffalo News in 1990 that managing a car dealership isn’t easy.
When he surrounded himself with the right people, the business eventually flourished. Traveling from one dealership to the next was also a grind he did during the offseason.
The man who grew up on his family’s farm in rural Mississippi learned how to wear a coat and tie once he became a full-fledged car entrepreneur.
He told Carucci he wore a tie daily which came as a bit of a culture shock at first.
However, it got to a point he felt something was off whenever he didn’t wear one for his business endeavors. He even compared it to taking the field without wearing his shoulder pads.
Hull also attributed his newfound fashion sense to building a crucial trust factor with customers: none of them would’ve bought a car from him had they seen him wearing jeans and sneakers inside the showroom.
Hull revealed to The Buffalo News he inherited his business savvy from both of his grandfathers: his paternal one was a farmer while the one from the maternal side was an appliance store owner.
Kent Hull signed with the Buffalo Bills on the same day as iconic quarterback Jim Kelly in August 1986.
Their welcome to Buffalo couldn’t have been more different: the Bills paraded Kelly around the city on a motorcade while Hull witnessed the festivities from the back of an equipment truck, per Gleason.
Kelly’s and Hull’s lockers were located next to each other in the Bills locker room. They formed an inseparable bond during their time together in frigid Buffalo.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Kelly told The Buffalo News in the fall of 2002.
The Bills signed Hull after the USFL folded and center Tim Vogler sustained an injury.
According to The Greenwood Commonwealth’s Bill Burrus, who forged a close friendship with Hull, the Bills expected Hull to play with them for just six weeks or so.
However, Hull exceeded expectations and went on to don Bills Blue, Red, and White for the next eleven seasons.
Hull’s arrival in Western New York also coincided with the hiring of legendary Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy that year.
Prior to the trio’s arrival, the Bills were the perennial cellar-dwellers in the National Football League.
Buffalo averaged just four wins per season from 1982 to 1995. The Bills won just two games in each of the two years before Levy took over.
Hull, Kelly, and Levy were about to turn a desperate franchise around.
For his part, Levy took the unconventional route when preparing his players: instead of putting in endless hours of practice, he focused on accomplishing more in less time.
“Before Marv came, I used to get here at 7:30 a.m. and not leave until six,” Hull told Sports Illustrated’s Rick Telander in the fall of 1994. “Now it’s nine to 3:30, and we accomplish even more.”
Hull also lauded Levy for his diplomacy – he was the type of coach who didn’t embarrass his players in front of everyone. If Levy needed to straighten somebody out, he’d summon him to his office and fine him.
Hull told Telander that Levy could discipline somebody like Bruce Smith without humiliating him.
Hull’s Buffalo Bills teammates nicknamed him “Country” because of his rural upbringing in Mississippi, per Millman.
This was one country boy who helped the Bills rise from the ashes.
With Hull snapping the pigskin to Kelly and anchoring the offensive line, the Bills won seven games in 1987.
Hull entered his sixth pro football season in 1988. He took rookie running back Thurman Thomas, a future Hall of Famer, under his wing that year.
Thomas told The Associated Press (via ESPN) in October 2011 Hull looked after him whenever he talked smack after a big play on the field.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Thomas in 2007. Kent Hull helped him achieve that gaudy milestone.
“I owe a lot of that stitching on my Hall of Fame jacket to Kent Hull,” Thomas told The Associated Press (via ESPN).
Buffalo continued its ascent when it won a franchise-record-tying twelve games the year Hull acted as Thomas’ mentor.
It was the most games the Bills had won in twenty-four years since they won the American Football League (AFL) title in1964.
Buffalo had run a traditional offense until 1989 when they won the second of their back-to-back division titles.
As for Hull, he began a string of three straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1988 to 1990.
He also earned First-Team All-Pro berths in 1990 and 1991.
Levy and the Bills embraced the no-huddle offense at the turn of the decade.
It was a massive paradigm shift for Hull – he had to cope with the offense’s physical demands, read defenses accurately, and adjust to various situations accordingly.
Fortunately, Kent Hull was up to the daunting task.
Kelly also told The Buffalo News in 2002 that Hull called the plays on the offensive line. The latter sometimes had to tell the legendary quarterback to get out of a play.
Not only did he emerge as a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro selection, but he also helped the Buffalo Bills play in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993.
Happy Birthday Kent Hull Buffalo Bills Center 1986-1996. The anchor of those Super Bowl teams. Born on this date in 1950 pic.twitter.com/F5ELjqwOFB
— ThisDateInBuffaloSportsHistory (@BuffSportsHstry) January 14, 2018
During that memorable stretch, the Bills’ offensive line opened up holes for Thomas and other running backs like no other squad.
Buffalo became a juggernaut in its ground attack: the Bills led the NFL in rushing yards in 1991 and 1992.
They also finished in the league’s top six in all-purpose yards from 1989 to 1993. per The Greenwood Commonwealth.
The Bills gave up a disappointing 41 sacks in the 1994 NFL season.
They promptly acquired Ruben Brown and Jerry Ostroski to shore up their offensive line in 1995.
Hull, who was in his 13th season of pro football that year, witnessed the O-line give up just 16 sacks – a startling difference of 25 from 1994.
The Bills remained competitive during Hull’s last three years with the team from 1994 to 1996.
Buffalo averaged nine wins per year during that stretch.
Unfortunately, the Bills never made it past the NFC Divisional Round during that three-year time frame.
— ThisDateInBuffaloSportsHistory (@BuffSportsHstry) December 30, 2021
Kent Hull retired from professional football following the 1996 NFL season. He was thirty-five years old when he hung up his cleats.
Hull was a stonewall in every sense of the word: he started 169 of the 170 gamers he suited up for the Bills from 1986 to 1996.
He also had seven fumble recoveries for good measure.
During the course of the 6’5″, 278-lb. Hull’s 14-year pro football career, he earned the respect of opposing defensive linemen for his strength and tenacity anchoring the Bills’ offensive line.
Hull was so strong, the Bills didn’t need to double-team the nose tackle.
“He may be the only center in the league strong enough to handle any nose tackle one on one,” Indianapolis Colts left tackle Will Wolford told Millman.
Kent Hull was a gentle giant in every sense of the word: coaches, teammates, friends, and fans alike admired him for his honesty and sincerity.
Even the press tipped its hat off to Hull. Members of the media gave him a standing ovation during his retirement press conference on December 29, 1996, per Burrus.
Marv Levy, Hull’s head coach with the Buffalo Bills, also paid tribute to him.
Levy told Gleason in the fall of 2002 Hull was known for his intelligence, character, and work ethic. He also admired Hull’s leadership and consistency.
Levy stressed there wasn’t anything phony about Kent Hull. He had been a genuine person from the moment he first met him in 1986.
Hull grew enamored with the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres during his eleven-year stay in Buffalo.
He and Bills teammate Will Wolford refused to watch the game from the suites. They sat with the masses to cheer for the Sabres, per Carucci.
Post-Football Life And Death
Kent Hull and his wife Kay have a son Drew and a daughter Ellen.
According to Gleason, Hull had chewed tobacco since he was nine years old. It took him twenty-eight years to finally kick the habit.
Hull worked extensively on his cattle ranch in Mississippi when he retired from the National Football League.
He also did plenty of charity work for the United Negro College Fund and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The Buffalo Bills inducted Hull into their Wall of Fame in 2002. He’s also a member of their 50th Anniversary Team.
Hull was a devout Christian.
“He was very serious about his Christianity,” Hull’s pastor, Dr. Rusty Douglas of First Presbyterian Church of Greenwood, MS, told Burrus in the fall of 2011.
Kent Hull died on October 18, 2011. A coroner from Leflore County, MS confirmed to The Buffalo News‘ Jerry Sullivan several days later Hull succumbed to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Hull told Sullivan he needed a liver transplant nine months earlier.
Many of Hull’s Buffalo Bills teammates took the news of his death hard.
Bills Pro Bowl special teamer Steve Tasker told The Buffalo News that Thurman Thomas, the rookie running back whom Hull took under his wing in 1988, cried so hard on the phone he could barely make anything of what he said.
The children of Darryl Talley and Bruce Smith – who grew up idolizing the three-time Pro Bowl center – also wept bitterly when they learned about Hull’s death, per Sullivan.
Former Bills head coach Marv Levy’s wife Fran also cried when she found out about Hulls passing.