Has Marvin Lewis Become the New Tony Dungy??

At the beginning of the season, Taylor Blitz Times had the Cincinnati Bengals picked to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. The season before they were picked to make it to their first Super Bowl since 1988. The prevailing theme is they would come of age where their temperament would match their talent and win a few signature games.

Has Marvin Lewis become the new Tony Dungy??

Has Marvin Lewis become the new Tony Dungy??

The type of wins that would send the message to other teams in the conference and the NFL they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. How long have we been waiting for Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals to come through with that signature win??

A few short weeks ago, this team was 3-0 and faced the staggering 2-2 New England Patriots. Tom Brady and co. had just come off the business end of a 41-14 thrashing from the Kansas City Chiefs. After traveling on a Monday night no less. The Bengals were ripe to gain that landmark win, yet were thoroughly outclassed 43-17.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. The Bengals know the Colts will figure prominently in the AFC playoffs. Where they had a chance to redeem themselves and send a message, they were blanked 27-0. Are you serious?? In a month they have gone from the last unbeaten team to an 0-2-1 record in that time. Before anyone can point to injuries take a look at the 5-1 Arizona Cardinals and all the players lost to injury.

Andy Dalton is linked to Coach Marvin Lewis. Like it or not, their chance to change their legacy could be in jeopardy.

Andy Dalton is linked to Coach Marvin Lewis. Like it or not, their chance to change their legacy could be in jeopardy.

We can’t make excuses and the biggest problem is we have seen this before. Whether we’re talking about Marvin Lewis or QB Andy Dalton. The question has been “What are you going to do in January??” With one of the NFL’s most talented teams, The Chancellor has to raise the question “Has Marvin Lewis taken this team as far as he could??”

This is starting to look eerily similar to the plight of the Tampa Buccaneers of 1998-2001. Head Coach Tony Dungy had built the league’s best defense and had acquired a few offensive pieces, yet couldn’t get over the hump. After multiple playoff flame outs, management turned to Jon Gruden and the team went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. A change of leadership with a new motivation strategy was the ticket then, is that what the Cincinnati Bengals need now??

Super Bowl caliber teams don’t go a month without a win nor do they get embarrassed by teams they figure to face come playoff time. For the record, The Chancellor of Football is a fan of Marvin Lewis, and has been so since his 2000 champion Ravens defense. However the question needs to be raised. Its de ja vu all over again.

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Report Card: San Diego Chargers

While the Denver Broncos have retooled their defense in an attempt to make it back to the Super Bowl, one team has begun to turn heads. The San Diego Chargers aren’t just posing as the #1 challenger for the AFC West crown. They’re posing as a legitimate threat to win the entire conference.

Phillip Rivers is the early season MVP of the league.

Phillip Rivers is the early season MVP of the league.

We keep wanting to take the Cincinnati Bengals seriously but when it’s time for them to win that champion’s building block landmark game, they fall flat on their face. Enter the San Diego Chargers…

Do you realize the Chargers are on a 5 game winning streak which began with a win over the defending champion Seahawks?? Did you know Phillip Rivers is the first QB in NFL history with 5 straight games with a passer rating of 120 or higher?? He is tied for 2nd with 15 touchdown passes thrown. Although Andrew Luck leads with 17, he’s thrown 7 interceptions to Rivers 2.

Head Coach Mike McCoy could be up for NFL coach of the year honors this season.

Head Coach Mike McCoy could be up for NFL coach of the year honors this season.

Their only loss was to the 4-1 NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals. So this team has been through an early crucible that should serve them well as they gear up for a huge game against Denver in 2 weeks. Therein lies the problem. How do they not look ahead of this weeks game against the Kansas City Chiefs?? That is the #1 item for Head Coach Mike McCoy to convey to his team.

Has anyone coached better than Mike McCoy this season?? You would be hard pressed to find one. At the beginning of the season you had backfield cogs Ryan Matthews & Danny Woodhead. Since they have been lost to injury, Branden Oliver (249 yds rushing / 124 yds receiving) has emerged as a spark plug. He runs with an explosive fury where Donald Brown is the steady sacrificial runner for this offense.

I know what you’re thinking… sacrificial?? Yes sacrificial.

The Chargers have been a power rushing team averaging 31.6 rushing attempts per game. The Chargers know Brown (59 car. 126 yds)will not break any nifty shifty runs. His runs are the equivalent of a boxing jab to just help wear down the defense. In keeping defenses honest TE Antonio Gates has re-emerged with 6TDs on 24 receptions. He hasn’t scored at this pace since 2004.

San Diego stands to get Ryan Matthews back from injury in 5 weeks. The ground and pound approach that has allowed Rivers to flourish has kept the defense rested as well. Right now they field the 3rd best defense in football.

Right now the Chargers have the NFL’s longest winning streak in football with 5. They have scored 30 or more in 4 games and it was their blueprint Dallas took to Seattle in their watershed victory last week. Two weeks from now they could be 6-1 going into that Sunday Night tilt in Denver. At stake, control of the AFC West and possible control of the conference as a whole.

Don't forget how well Charger coach Mike McCoy knows Peyton Manning.

Don’t forget how well Charger coach Mike McCoy knows Peyton Manning.

Last year the Chargers won in Denver on a Thursday night 27-20 but lost the rubber-match in the playoffs there 24-17. Those were the two lowest point totals for the record setting Bronco team a year ago who this year aren’t as potent. This year the Chargers are a little more battle hardened and must show it by not overlooking the Kansas City Chiefs.

The following week will take care of itself. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Report Card: Cleveland Browns

Dare we say it but we could be in the midst of a changing of the guard in the AFC North. No team has played with the verve and spirit of the Cleveland Browns consistently in this division. The proof that this team is growing is they were ripe for a letdown. After conducting the greatest come from behind road win in NFL history, they had to face the Steelers who they had been 1-18 against.

Brian Hoyer has put the debate over who should start at QB to rest.

Brian Hoyer has put the debate over who should start at QB to rest.

We would have said rivalry but when it’s this one sided it doesn’t qualify as one. After totally letting the Steelers off the hook in week 1, they battered them 31-10 this time behind a combined 155 yards rushing and 3TDs between Ben Tate and Isiah Crowell. Much like The Chancellor of Football alluded to last week with the Dallas Cowboys, it was the physical nature of running the football that wore the Steelers down. They ran the football 38 times in this game.

Isiah Crowell and the Browns have run by committee this season.

Isiah Crowell and the Browns have run by committee this season.

By owning time of possession you keep the game close and rest your defense. Going into the game yesterday Cleveland was averaging 143.5 yards per game. Not trickery draws and pass formation runs to fool the defense. We’re talking knuckles in the dirt, fire off the ball physical line play up front.

Hats off to Brian Hoyer who has been the beneficiary of this running game. Several times against the Steelers he used play action to full effect hitting downfield receivers. In all actuality if the vote were to happen now Hoyer would figure to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. His play this season has been more consistent than Tom Brady’s believe it or not.

For the season, Hoyer has completed 60.4% of his passes for 1,227 yards 7 touchdowns to just 1 interception. He’s not turning the football over… in fact the Browns as a team aren’t. They only have 2 turnovers in 5 games and are +3 on the season. If their defense stepped up and made more plays they could be 4-1 or even 5-0.

Free agent signee Karlos Dansby and the defense need to step up their game.

Free agent signee Karlos Dansby and the defense need to step up their game.

Right now the defense has been abysmal giving up 149.6 yards per game. They play well at times but have too many breakdowns to be consistent. Lets face it, the Browns overspent on Paul Kruger. His production doesn’t match the $40 million they have committed.

Maybe he can turn that around and Karlos Dansby (42 tot. tackles /2 sacks) and the front seven need to force more turnovers. Did you know no one in the front seven has forced a fumble yet?? Can’t gang tackle when you can’t disengage from blocks. They need to play with more force up front…period.

If the Cleveland Browns are to make a playoff run, the defense raising its play is the key. This team is 3rd in rushing and the defense should be rested. As Hoyer showed in the 4th quarter comeback 29-28 win over Tennessee, he can rally the team. The defense needs to play better to allow them some separation on the scoreboard.

It’s a work in progress…

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First Quarter Report Card: Dallas Cowboys

With today’s 20-17 win over the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys stretched their record to 4-1. Detractors are waiting for the shoe to drop on this team. However the front runner for Taylor Blitz Times Coach of the Year is Scott Linehan who has kept Dallas a run oriented offense. So much so DeMarco Murray just became the first RB since OJ Simpson in 1975 to begin his season with 5 straight 100 yard games.

Murray and Bryant have weathered the storm of 8-8 seasons.

Murray and Bryant have weathered the storm of 8-8 seasons.

Yes you read that correctly, it’s the first time in 39 years a back has begun the season with 5 straight 100 yard games. Here we have been critical of Murray from going down at first contact. He has run with purpose and fury in this his contract year and redefining his career. Never in his career has he been able to string together more than 7 straight starts.

Now they have to travel to Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl champions. This line with 3 1st round draft picks has matured into road graters. Murray is running with purpose and fury. A contract year will do that for a runner. To The Chancellor he’s always been a displaced 3rd down back. He’s breaking 2 to 3 tackles and falls forward after contact.

Rolando McClain has made plays along with fellow LB Bruce Carter.

Rolando McClain has made plays along with fellow LB Bruce Carter.

Right now he’s on a torrid pace with 670 yards rushing. On pace for 2,144 yards this season, which will be hard to maintain. Yet make no mistake about it, the Cowboys are 4-1 and teams that start with that record make the playoffs 75% of the time.

With the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, this is no fluke. If they could play game 1 again against the 49ers this team would be 5-0. When you can physically dominate your opponent on the line of scrimmage, it sets the tone for your football team. Now your defense is rested and playing less. Remember that worst defense in NFL history?? Well now they’re just 21st in defense. Keep in mind fresh defenders can make game changing plays.

Take it from The Chancellor of Football this is a recipe for championship football. Don’t listen to these idiots on ESPN who keep trying to feed the masses “it’s a passing league.”

With a run first offense, Romo isn't forced to make every throw which lead to some of his interceptions.

With a run first offense, Romo isn’t forced to make every throw which lead to some of his interceptions.

If so, then why did Seattle destroy Denver in last year’s Super Bowl?? Why has Drew Brees and the pass happy Saints watched the ground and pound 49ers play in 3 straight NFC Championships?? Why did it take the Cowboys, averaging 37 pass plays to 21 runs until week 7 to pick up their 4th win last year??

Before yesterday, Dallas was averaging 32.5 rushes to 29.5 passes per game. Murray ran for 136 yards on 31 carries as the Cowboys won their 4th game in a row to start this 2014 season. If you asked the Cowboys they would love to replay game 1 with the 49ers again. Somewhere down in Texas, they must be in the meeting room showing this offensive line the Football Life for The Great Wall of Dallas. Just as the team’s history had a second version of The Doomsday Defense, keep your eye on this offensive line.

This team is going to make the playoffs.

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Alex Smith v. Colin Kaepernick: In Whom Do You Trust

Today’s football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs isn’t just another football game. The saga playing out will be the Alex Smith v Colin Kaepernick debate. Did the 49ers keep the right quarterback?? Most 49er fans think they did. Is that because they’re blind loyalists and wanted to move on with the new QB??

Alex Smith goes back to San Fran to take on the 49ers

Alex Smith goes back to San Fran to take on the 49ers

This has a similar backdrop to the 1994 game between the Chiefs and 49ers. In that one Steve Young brought the 49ers to Arrowhead to face his predecessor Joe Montana, now a Chief. However this one is taking place in San Francisco. Its a shame this game couldn’t happen at Candlestick Park with all the history.

For the record, The Chancellor of Football believes the 49ers kept the wrong quarterback.

Short sighted 49er fans forget that Smith drove Harbaugh’s first team to an NFC best 13-3 record. Then knocked off the Saints with “The Catch III” playoff winner to Vernon Davis in the final seconds. Smith didn’t lose that NFC Championship Game to the Giants. Those two muffed punts by Kyle Williams did them in.

In 2012 the 49ers were an established contender at 7-4, when Harbaugh made the switch to Kapernick. Smith said all the right things as he watched the 49ers make the Super Bowl. They lost that game to a superior team and the game revealed Kaepernick’s fatal flaw that still haunts him.

Kaepernick is dazzling when he runs but suspect when throwing.

Kaepernick is dazzling when he runs but suspect when throwing.

He makes splash plays when he runs the football but hasn’t developed as a downfield quarterback. Watch his play. He can’t throw his receiver open to a designated spot in the defense, and relies on a straight path to drill the football to his receivers. In other words, he can only complete passes like a game of catch. He hasn’t shown the ability to throw on time and drop the ball in over the linebackers or the fade routes to Crabtree Richard Sheman was talking about.

This is why you see so many of his interceptions by defenders undercutting his throws. Think back to the Monday Night game against Chicago. Kaepernick hasn’t developed the touch that failed him on that final throw in Super Bowl XLVII, and is still throwing the same way. Relies too much on running and scrambling instead of allowing the specificity of the planned offensive play to take shape.

As these two went on separate paths, the 49ers went 12-4 and did make it back to the NFC Championship Game. Not only did Smith have a better record the year before with the 49ers but went 11-5 with a new team and new offense. Yes the Chiefs lost in the AFC Wildcard 45-44 but it was the most points scored by a team that lost an NFL playoff game ever.

Is Harbaugh going to make it in San Francisco past this year??

Is Harbaugh going to make it in San Francisco past this year??

Last year Kaepernick threw for 3,197 yards 21 TDs to only 8 interceptions. Smith tossed 23 TDs, 7 interceptions and 3,313 yards. So the tale of the tape is close.

Isn’t it ironic that after a week in which the NFL community is questioning whether Harbaugh has lost his locker room, here comes what ultimately could be his demise in San Francisco?? The Chancellor of Football told you before the season, Harbaugh will be out after this year.

Both teams are showing up to today’s game at 2-2 and Smith knows this defense pretty well. If you think this game doesn’t mean a lot to him, look at last week’s footage between the Texans and Bills. Before that game Ryan Fitzpatrick passionately told the Texans what beating his former team meant.

If you thought the buzzards are starting to circle above Harbaugh now, don’t let them lose this football game. By the way…Joe Montana and the Chiefs won that game in 1994 too.

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First Quarter Report Card: New Orleans Saints

It is totally amazing how in the game of football, a team can look nearly identical as it once did but the results are totally different. Take the 2014 New Orleans Saints. Here at Taylor Blitz Times The Chancellor of Football posed this question: When do you say when? What were the Saints about to sacrifice when they were about to commit heavily financially in Jimmy Graham??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Will the Saints turn it around in 2014??

Over the first quarter of the new season it looks like they sacrificed everything. When it was time to sign TE Jimmy Graham it was expressed he was the security blanket Brees needed. This isn’t true. He’s a weapon but the true chain mover of this offense was RB Darren Sproles.

Every time the Saints needed a first down they went to Sproles on screens, circle routes out of the backfield, draws, you name it. They haven’t had the same returns going to Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. A combined 6 receptions for 40 yards and no big plays. Last year after 4 games Sproles had 23 receptions for 277 yards and 1 touchdown.

Defenses are focusing in on this and the Saints first down totals 30, 27, 26, and 20 are diminishing per game. You won’t see it in Drew Brees totals but you see it here and in defensive statistics.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Jarius Byrd is out for the year.

Last year, the Saints owned time of possession and wound up with the league’s 4th best defense. In 2013 the Saints were 3rd in time of possession where this year they are 16th. Couple that with poor tackling and free agent losses and they’ve plummeted to 30th on defense. Allowing 89 more yards and 27.5 points per game.

They have a chance to right the ship in the upcoming weeks against the Bucs, Lions, Packers, and Panthers. None are offensive juggernauts and Green Bay is ranked 28th. ESPN and their talking heads keep mentioning Aaron Rodgers like this is 2010.

However Brees is playing like its 2010 as he has completed 71% of his passes for 1,203 yards and 7 TDs. He leads the NFL’s #3 offense into battle with the 26th, 1st, 22nd, and 24th ranked defenses in this next quarter. To get back into this season the Saints need to go 3-1 in this next quarter to give themselves a chance. If they can get to 4-4 or even 5-3 by the midway point, they will put themselves in wildcard contention.

If Atlanta keeps backsliding with their 31st ranked defense, they can still grab the division.

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First Quarter Report Card New England Patriots

After watching last night’s obliteration of the New England Patriots, it’s time grade this team. Did we really just watch Tom Brady get benched?? Last night just looked strange seeing Belichick and Brady on the business end of a 41-14 bludgeoning. However when you looked around, there are no other playmakers on this team.

Tom Brady's frustrating 2014 start.

Tom Brady’s frustrating 2014 start.

Of course you don’t want to overreact to 1 game but we have now played 4. A quarter of the season is a good enough sample size to assess how a team is doing and project how they will do. So far Brady has been sacked 9 times but he’s been hurried and hit many more. The offensive line has been shuffled and one glaring front office decision is truly haunting this team.

Remember when the Patriots didn’t re-sign Wes Welker and decided to waste $31 million on Danny Amendola?? We’ll get into that but…how do you pay that to a marginal receiver who was once cut on Hard Knocks?? Do you realize New England has the NFL’s 29th ranked offense?? Only Tampa, Jacksonville, and Oakland have been more anemic. Right now the Patriots are ranked 30th passing the football…30th!!

The glaring lack of receivers to get deep is killing this team. Concentrate your defense 20 yards or less and you can bottle them up. Denver did this in the AFC Championship Game and it’s the blueprint opponents have used ever since. New England has averaged 20 points while facing the 7th, 17th, 20th, and 11th ranked defenses in this 1st quarter of the season. Patriots-Logo1

Now they go home to face the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals who boast the 14th ranked defense. Two things to keep in mind though. Brady and company could only muster 16 points at home against the 20th ranked Raider defense a few weeks back. Another is the Bengals held New England to their lowest output of the season last year with just 6 points.

The surprising part of last night’s loss was how gashed the Patriots 4th ranked defense was. They nearly gave up two 100 yard rushers in Jamaal Charles (92 yds) and Knile Davis (107 yds). Keep in mind one of their 2 wins came against the Raiders who are not only dead last on offense, but just fired head coach Dennis Allen.

This Sunday is a must win game against Cincinnati. They need to prove to themselves they are still among the league’s elite. If they lose this game they’ll have to travel to Buffalo with a 1-2 road record and 2-3 record overall. The Bills boast the 10th best defense in football right now. Of course some will scoff “Didn’t the Bills just bench their quarterback?”  Which is true. However with just 4 touchdowns so far this season, isn’t that what New England did to Tom Brady last night??  These are interesting times.

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The RGIII v. Kirk Cousins Debate

With the Washington Redskins coming off a 45-14 loss to the New York Giants last night, many would think this would be the worse time for this conversation. Au contraire, for no time would be better for this debate than coming off this abominable performance.

Cousins or RGIII??

Cousins or RGIII??

Supporters of Robert Griffin III heard all week how Cousins was going to supplant him as the starter. The Chancellor of Football is one, for the record, who believes Cousins will become the permanent starter. Those in Griffin’s camp could be heard in the aftermath of Cousin’s 4 interception performance against New York. Yet were these people the week before?

Cousins dazzled in a week 2 shootout against the Eagles. He had gone 30 of 48 for 427 yards and 3 touchdowns. In that game he showed the complete package an NFL quarterback is supposed to have in his passing arsenal. The ability to make the proper read and trajectory on his throws. To throw the football on time within the zone of a defense.

So what happened this week??

Cousins was unglued by the Giants defense.

Cousins was unglued by the Giants defense.

To some it could have been the fact Cousins was starting in a prime time game where most of America was watching and came out nervous. There is some truth there but ultimately the clock in his head as a QB was thrown off by the early sack and forced fumble by Matthias Kiwanuka. One, two, three and boom he was hit and the ball came out. He played rushed the rest of the night.

A closer look reveals that ace Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell tricks quarterbacks into false pre-snap reads. His defenses for years have masked their intentions well. I can think of several plays where he confused Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI. His pre-snap read was a Cover 2 and at the snap of the ball, the two safeties stayed put 15 yards downfield. Fewell had a linebacker take the deep middle. Take  a look…

If Fewell can confuse a Hall of Famer playing in his 5th Super Bowl, he can rattle a young QB with less than 15 starts.

RGIII has to learn to let route options 2 & 3 open up downfield and less of this.

RGIII has to learn to let route options 2 & 3 open up downfield and less of this.

Robert Griffin III upon his return has to show he can be durable enough to be a starter. An even closer look shows he has to stay with the full development of a play from a specificity standpoint. Many times he comes off his receivers too early and either scrambles or quickly flips it to the running back. He has to learn to let the pass patterns move the defense to their predesignated spots to open where his passes should be thrown.

Its this facet of the game Griffin III needs to develop where Cousins has, but needs experience against complex defenses. This is the impetus on what will happen between these two. Which will come first??

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Legends Of The Fall: OJ Simpson

There is no more polarizing name in the history of the NFL than that of OJ Simpson. Once upon a time he was the greatest halfback in the history of professional football. A former Heisman Trophy winner from USC who was drafted #1 by the AFL’s Buffalo Bills in 1969. He restored respectability to a once great franchise.

OJ Simpson...an all time great runner.

OJ Simpson…an all time great runner.

Yet he is known now more for the events that transpired June 17, 1994 and the subsequent trial of the century. Simpson’s was a tragic fall and one we’ll get into later. Right now we want to focus on his previous life as the most electrifying running back the NFL had ever seen.

One interesting  note is he finished his career with 11,236 yards rushing, or 1,076 yards short of then all time rushing champion Jim Brown. Head coach John Rauch, who had been fired by Al Davis in Oakland, wanted to prove his genius and played OJ at wingback. So for his first three years he played in a position he was primarily misused until Rauch was replaced by incoming Bills coach Lou Saban.

Finally freed to play tailback as he had at USC, Simpson grabbed the imagination of NFL fans everywhere. He broke breath taking runs. His impromptu style brought shoulder fakes and make ‘em miss moves that the casual fan could identify with. To watch him battle against defenses that feared the big play element he brought to bare was a thing of beauty. He was the prototype to the bigger half back at 220lbs that had the speed to break the big play.

Although he burst into the nation’s consciousness with 1,251 yards in 1972, it was his legendary 1973 season that he became an all time classic. His 2,003 yard season was marveled at, lionized, and written about ad nauseum for eclipsing a number no one thought possible. He did this in a 14 game season and raised the bar in an era where great backs got the ball 30 times a game.

Simpson was a superstar of the highest magnitude as he led the NFL in rushing 4 times in a 5 year span. It was his 1975 season that propelled Simpson to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as he broke numerous records including the most TDs in a season with 23. As for rushing for 2,000 yards?? He didn’t do that but he did gain 2,243 yards from scrimmage… Take a look

For the most part, Simpson’s work was condensed in the 5 years from 1972-1976. In these 5 years he rushed for 7,699 of his 11,236 yards or 68.5% of his overall total. He put in work against some great defenses too. He had several 100 yard performances against Miami’s “No Name Defense.”

Against the Steel Curtain in 1975, by the way #9 on our list of Greatest Ever Defenses, Simpson crushed ‘em for 227 yards in Three Rivers Stadium no less. This was great considering he was within 24 yards of the all time single game rushing record. By the way he held that record also with a 250 yard rushing performance against the Patriots in 1973. Then he broke that record with a 273 yard performance against Detroit Thanksgiving 1976.

By this time the wear and tear began to erode his skill and ability to cut and change direction. Multiple knee surgeries followed an injury plagued 1977 where “The Juice” played in only 7 regular season games. He was dealt to his hometown San Francisco 49ers where he finished out his career. As the 1979 season came to it’s conclusion, it was time for OJ to say goodbye to the game.

NFL Films named Simpson pro football’s hero of the decade. Think about that a second.  Not Roger Staubach…not Terry Bradshaw… OJ was their choice and it was a logical one. His feats scaled the record books and he had gone where no other runner had gone before. He only played in one playoff game during his career, yet Pete Rozelle made sure he had primetime games to showcase his talents.

OJ Simpson….one of the best runners and greatest players in NFL history.

Epilogue: Once the events that took place on June 17, 1994, with the murder of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, it threw every Bills fan in a weird place. To see his descent into this tragic figure ripped our hearts out. It happened right after the Bills had lost our 4th straight Super Bowl in which he was a part of each NBC telecast.

The Chancellor of Football's pilgrimage to Buffalo. Bills  v Cowboys 9 22 1996

The Chancellor of Football’s pilgrimage to Buffalo. Bills v Cowboys 9 22 1996

Regardless what you think of him now, I wanted to put up an article featuring what he once was. He left an impression on me as a young fan and why I’m still a Buffalo Bill fan to this day. I can remember going to Rich Stadium, named after the late Ralph Wilson now, and asking where his name was on the ring of fame. That was Sept. 22, 1996 when Buffalo was hosting the Dallas Cowboys, so the emotions were still raw. Especially among the season ticket holders where I sat.

So here it is, 18 years to the day later and as The Chancellor of Football thinking back to that day. Which had a mixed set of emotions as it always does now when OJ’s name is brought up. I remember when the late Tim Russert of Meet The Press fame, spoke of seeing his bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame the first time after the double murders. His expression was much the same as I would suspect with every other Bills fan.

Many people remember it as the murder and court case of the 20th century. No one outside of Bills fans think of it as the fall of a franchise’s greatest player. We live with that more than the 4 Super Bowl losses in the 1990s. Don’t forget…they happened at the same time.

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2014 NFC Predictions

If there is one thing we learned from week 2 of the NFL, it’s that appearances are deceiving. Are the Seahawks as vulnerable as they appeared in a 30-21 loss to San Diego?? Have we begun to see the cracks in the 49er defense, after allowing Chicago to score 21 4th quarter points in a 28-20 loss?? Seriously if they lose to Arizona this week, they’ll be 3rd in the west??

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

Seattle Seahawks will be the 2014 NFC Champions.

NFC North Champs: Chicago Bears

NFC East Champs: Philadelphia Eagles

NFC South Champs: Atlanta Falcons

NFC West Champs: Seattle Seahawks

Wildcards: Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints

Joining The Chancellor of Football in Glendale Arizona and Super Bowl XLIX from the NFC will be the Seattle Seahawks. They will renew their playoff rivalry when they beat the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

With another Super Bowl title, Lynch could be building a Hall of Fame resume.

With another Super Bowl title, Lynch could be building a Hall of Fame resume.

The Falcons went into the tank when they lost Julio Jones last year. They lost 6 games last year by 6 points or less. Not only do they bring back the big play with his return, now they have Devin Hester in the slot. This offense will be the scourge of the south. They just need to be adequate on defense and should finish with 12 wins.

Similar situation will happen in the NFC North. Not in Green Bay but in the Windy City. Marc Trestman’s offense in it’s 2nd year should roll with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Matt Forte. The Bears receiving corps is so imposing they could win hurt just running hooks against the 49ers last week. No intricate pass patterns and  they scored 21 unanswered points.

Yes you did read correct The Chancellor of Football doesn’t think San Francisco will make the playoffs. A knee jerk reaction to blowing a big lead in week 2?? No try Taylor Blitz’s NFC West Preview before the season. They will lose to the Cardinals this week and the pressure will build from there.

Calais Campbell has to come up big this season.

Calais Campbell has to come up big this season.

Which brings us to the Cardinals who will win today to start 3-0. A great start but the losses they took on defense will take it’s toll as teams develop game plans for this new personnel. They surprised San Diego in week 1 with cover 0 blitzes. In fact, on the last 3 plays to end the game. Last week they beat the back pedaling Giants who look lost on offense. They are masking their limitations at linebacker with all this blitzing. It will catch up to them.

Sproles has been the sparkplug behindthe Eagles 2-0 start.

Sproles has been the sparkplug behindthe Eagles 2-0 start.

The Philadelphia Eagles will win the NFC East with the best personnel in the division. The acquisition of Darren Sproles will pay dividends all season. The inability to account for him has led to mismatches and huge momentum changing plays. These were the plays he used to make for the Saints when they’re offense bogged down.

Sproles change of pace plays are exactly what the Saints miss in the NFC South. Although they’re 0-2, they lost those games by 3 points and 2 points respectively. We’re only talking a few plays per game difference and they’d be 2-0. Sproles is /was that difference. Sean Payton is using Mark Ingram more in the passing game but he’s not the dynamic playmaker Sproles was. Brees and the offense will get it together despite the slow start.

Cliff Avril still brings pressure from the edge.

Cliff Avril still brings pressure from the edge.

Last week the Seahawks learned what it meant to be the Super Bowl for every opponent they will face this year. The Chargers were crisp and physical in their offensive execution. This week they get to right the ship against the finesse Denver Broncos. One aspect of their defense this year is they need more heat on the quarterback. So far they have just 4 sacks and a 1-1 record. They will right the ship and should finish with homefield advantage.

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2014 AFC Pedictions

Under normal circumstances Taylor Blitz Times would have these published before the season starts. However this has been a different off-season where more focus was on historical articles. Although we’re 1 week into the new season, we still haven’t seen a sample size large enough to alter The Chancellor of Football’s picks.

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

AFC North Champs: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots

AFC South Champs: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West Champs: Denver Broncos

Wildcards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

The representative to make it to Glendale, AZ and Super Bowl XLIX will be the Denver Broncos. They will narrowly defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game they should win at home.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Lets face facts, not many trust Bengals QB Andy Dalton but he will take a big step up this year and win his first playoff game. He won’t have the moxie to take on not only Peyton Manning but what should be one of the AFC’s best defenses. The signing of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib give the Broncos a defensive swagger they haven’t had before.

More importantly none of these players have won a championship which only adds to the overall hunger of the team. The Broncos won’t score anywhere near last year’s 606 point performance. They won’t have to as they will become more balanced.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

Right behind these two teams will be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Was there anyone more impressive than Andrew Luck in week 1 of the NFL season?? The fight he brought the Colts back with was infectious. He made his entire team believe they could come back and they were playing without DE/LB Robert Mathis. The Colts gained more from that 31-24 loss in Denver than teams that won in the first week.

The Patriots will bounce back from week 1 but will they feel the effects of trading away G Logan Mankins the rest of the season?? Brady and the offense was under attack in their 2nd half loss to the Dolphins. They gained less than 100 yards as Miami pulled away. Bill Belichick will right the ship and they should win the AFC East with at least 11 wins.

The Bengals and Colts look like the two that will play in the 2015 AFC Championship Game however we have to get through 2014 first. The Broncos will look to take a more battle hardened team to Glendale than the one they took to New York last year. Will Denver win Super Bowl XLIX??

 

2014 NFC West Predictions

Its football season and all is right with the world. Unlike in previous seasons, The Chancellor of Football spent the majority of this summer writing historical pieces instead of in depth team previews. However nearly every preseason game was watched as well as the roster moves for the top tier teams. So without further adieu lets take a look at the NFC for 2014.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

NFC West

1. Seahawks 14-2**

2. 49ers 9-7

3. Cardinals 7-9

4. Rams 4-12

No division will see as big a drop off in production as the NFC West. Once the province of 3 Super Bowl caliber defenses only 1 remains. Arizona lost Darnell Dockett off the DLine. He used to take on and beat double teams allowing Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington to flow sideline to sideline to the football. With his being gone for the season, teams will focus on DE Calais Campbell. Rendering him less effective.

Pro Bowl Corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary have to pick up the slack.

Pro Bowl Corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary have to pick up the slack.

Couple the loss of Dockett with the free agent defection of Dansby and season long suspension of Washington, the heart & soul of this unit is gone. How about the pending suspension for pass rush specialist John Abraham?? With 13 year veteran Larry Foote and Kevin Minter taking over for Dansby and Washinton this defense became two steps slower. Worse they’ll have to substitute more telegraphing their intentions.

Carson Palmer is the Andy Dalton of the NFC. One week he looks like a world beater then he’ll play uninspired and throw head scratching interceptions. He has to play his best to lift this team but he is a beta quarterback. His career has already been defined by this and it won’t happen. Ask the Raiders and ask Cincinnati.

In San Francisco…see the above about the Cardinals. Former Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Navorro Bowman will start on the PUP list which keeps him off the field until week 7. OLB Aldon Smith (28 sacks last 2 years) faces a 9 game suspension along with DE Ray McDonald facing a 6 game suspension. Just days after Roger Goodell unveiled his new discipline protocol for domestic violence too?? He might get more than 6 games.

Harbaugh will be on the hot seat.

This will be Harbaugh’s last season in San Francisco

Last year the 49ers were 7th in pass defense while ranking 18th in sacks with 38. Well removing these 3 players represents 17 of those 38. How much easier will it be to concentrate blocking efforts on 15 year veteran Justin Smith and OLB Ahmad Brooks?? Did you know NT Glenn Dorsey was put on the IR/PUP list and won’t be back until week 7 also?? Remember the Super Bowl caliber defense San Francisco fielded over the last 3 seasons?? This isn’t it. Addition from subtraction only works in creative math…not in football

Now couple this with GM Trent Balke not willing to offer a contract extension to Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. In fact Balke and 49ers brass almost traded Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns this summer. Traded?? Yes. There have been grumblings his message is getting old in San Francisco and now he’s being tied to the development of one Colin Kapernick. Honestly his game has not advanced in this last year and a half.

If this team comes out to the 2-4 record The Chancellor sees on the horizon, this science beaker will explode. Let’s say they are 3-3 or even 4-2. They will still drag a hodge podge defense into a week 7 road match-up with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Denver pasted the 49ers 34-0 in preseason to christen their new stadium. It could begin with a loss to the Cowboys in week 1.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

With all that has been offered: How significant was this pass defense in the grand scheme of these teams?? Their legacies?? Where they’re going?? Seattle just jumped all over the Green Bay Packers last night 36-16 to begin the defense of their Super Bowl championship.

We’ve already previewed the Seahawks and they played as advertised. Russell Wilson is maturing as a QB and they could have Percy Harvin all season. If they’re champions already with a young team that is getting better, what will that mean for the rest of the league?? Homefield advantage…

We do know what team will face them in the NFC Championship but won’t reveal it until later. One hint… it won’t be a team from the NFC West.

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NFL Kickoff : Seattle Seahawks v. Green Bay Packers

Once upon a time the Green Bay Packers traveled to play a young team led by Pete Carroll on a Monday night in week 3 of 2012. That game ended in a debated Hail Mary that dominated the headlines the following morning. What Packer fans and pundits forgot was the fact the Seahawk defense chased Aaron Rodgers out of Qwest Field. They sacked him 8 times in the game with 7 of those coming in the first half.

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

In that game Rodgers never adjusted to the noise and neither has the rest of the league. Since that game the Seahawks are 21-1 over nearly 2 seasons since the “Fail Mary.” Seattle joined the league’s elite where the Packers slipped to the 2nd tier of playoff teams. Last year they made the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record and that isn’t elite.

Can Green Bay crack the Seattle defense on the road?

Can Green Bay crack the Seattle defense on the road?

Did you know the Green Bay Packers are 8-7 on the road since that game?? Ooops make that 8-8 on the road if you include the “Fail Mary” game. Well….upon further review, if we include the 2012 playoff loss to the 49ers they are 8-9 on the road. Now they have to go in to play a team returning 11 of 12 starters on a defense that had one of the best seasons in NFL history and win?? On a night where the 12th man will be rowdy as they raise their first ever league championship banner??

The key to the Packers winning is Eddie Lacy running right at the Seahawk defense.

The key to the Packers winning is Eddie Lacy running right at the Seahawk defense.

Only one way for the Pack to pull off a stunner… They have to run Eddie Lacy at the Packers on direct power running plays. Screens and trickery won’t work against the Seahawks since they rarely blitz. If the Packers try these plays the Seahawk defenders will beat Green Bay blockers to the point out in space.

Another factor is the history of Pete Carroll coached teams in big games. Aaron Rodgers will struggle with this pass rush and secondary tonight. Green Bay’s receivers can win mismatches against an average secondary. Not this one…and not when they are healthy.

The other is Packer coach Mike McCarthy who has a penchant for abandoning the running game. Tonight is the night he has to coach against those tendencies and he won’t do it. He wants to showcase his quarterback and this is looking like a shutout to The Chancellor of Football. Tonight 29-0 as Seattle is on their way to defending their Super Bowl championship.

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Next up: 2014 NFC West Preview

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #1 1985 Chicago Bears

This is The Chancellor of Football’s choice for the NFL’s greatest single season defense and there is a serious gap between #1 and the #2 Baltimore Ravens. We’ll cover why at the end of this article. However welcome to the perfect storm of dynamic personnel, innovative defensive tactics and an intensely focused unit. One interesting aspect of the 1985 Chicago Bears performance is they did so without ’84 All Pro Safety Todd Bell who held out that season.

Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was also carried off after Super Bowl XX.

Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was also carried off after Super Bowl XX.

This was the era of the 46 Defense of Buddy Ryan. A Nickle defense where DBs were substituted for more athletic linebackers which allowed Ryan to use it as an every down formation. He could spring it on a team at any time without substitution.

Contrary to misinformed sportswriters he had been using the defense since 1981. Considering he named the formation for the number Safety Doug Plank wore which moved him into a Linebackers position. Plank’s last full season was 1981 and was replaced by Bell in 1982.

The 46 covered the Guard, Center, Guard which kept the MLB from being blocked. Furthermore if either the Center or Guard pulled, a DLineman would be in the backfield to disrupt any running play.

The 46 covered the Guard, Center, Guard which kept the MLB from being blocked. Furthermore if either the Center or Guard pulled, a DLineman would be in the backfield to disrupt any running play.

Although this formation gave the Bears an edge over their competition they only used it 30-40% of the time. It was the element of surprise that caught the NFL off guard. What is overlooked is how great the personnel fit every scheme Ryan used. In 1984, this group set the NFL record for sacks with 72. After he departed they set the record for fewest points allowed in 1986 yielding 187 points. It’s the season in between, 1985, that was their crowning achievement.

Take a look at a few stats:

  • #1 overall ranking
  • #1 against the run #3 against the pass
  • #1 in turnovers w/ 54 forced
  • #1 in interceptions w/ 34
  • #1 in passer rating allowed w/ 51.4
  • #1 in points allowed: 198 for the season
  • #1 in 1st downs allowed per game: 14.8
  • #1 in opp. completion percentage allowed 47.7%
  • #1 in touchdowns allowed w/ 23
  • #1 in rushing touchdowns allowed w/ 6

Now add to the fact they were #3 in sacks with 64, #3 against the pass giving up yardage in garbage time with blowout leads. It was the venomous way they attacked strong competition that makes this defense the valedictorian of NFL units.

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys (10-6) were trounced 44-0, the wildcard Giants (10-6) 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. Outscoring them 110-10 when they were the “best division in football” yikes!! Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams (11-5) killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers (10-5-1), who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn! All were 10 win teams.

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East champion Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets (11-5) were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots (11-5) twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bow. So you could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say? The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ‘em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

They were 4-1 against top 10 offenses and in those 4 wins held each team to less than 10 points. In fact, the ’85 Bears held 11 of their 16 opponents to less than 10 points and recorded back to back shutouts over the Falcons and Cowboys. In the playoffs they set another record not allowing a point in back to back playoff shutouts to make it to Super Bowl XX. Once there they set records for holding the Patriots to -19 yards at the half, 7 yds rushing for the game, record 7 sacks, and allowed the fewest yards in Super Bowl history with 127.

This second look shows a few plays from the 46 front look but the final play with Steve McMichael’s sack was one of the secrets of the ’85 Bears. They lined up in a 3-4 and had DE Richard Dent the rushing weakside ‘backer a la Lawrence Taylor. Ironically the 46 defense didn’t die it evolved into teams running it from 3-4 alignments and not 4-3 alignments as Buddy Ryan originated this from. If you’ve watched the Steelers over the last 15 years they have used DEs that were built like DTs and would squeeze them down to cover the Guard,Center, Guard and position an Inside Linebacker right next to the Strong side Linebacker. They just made it interchangeable in elements to surprise their opponents from time to time.

They had NFL Defensive Player of the year and Hall of Famer Mike Singeltary, All Pro Gary Fencik, Hall of Fame DEs Richard Dent and Dan Hampton. Pro Bowl Linebacker Otis Wilson and OLB Wilber Marshall who should be in the Hall of Fame.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than the ’85 Bears defense?”  HELL NO!!! The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White was a pro bowl quarterback as was Ken O’Brien of the Jets. ALL WERE IN THEIR PRIME!  Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!!

Spurgeon Wynn. Who?? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

The best ever defense from the historian view of The Chancellor of Football’s view was the 1985 Chicago Bears hands down. How badly they trounced sound competition has resonated for decades. In compiling this list every #1 defense from 1960 to the present was used, every championship defense, and every record setting defense with the nod going to those that played since the merger in 1970. Hundreds of defenses boiled down to the 1985 Bears sitting atop as the best.

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1990’s Buffalo Bills – The Rasputins of The NFL

When you think back to the Buffalo Bills team that made it to 4 straight Super Bowls, there are two schools of thought. You have one from the ignorant callous fan that says “Well they lost 4 straight Super Bowls.”  Then you have a more respectful set of players and fans that marvel at the feat of making it to four straight.

Andre Reed embracing Jim Kelly after hiss induction speech.

Andre Reed embracing Jim Kelly after his induction speech.

There was a point right before Super Bowl XXVIII when the media started to change their attitude toward the Buffalo Bills. After the win over Joe Montana’s Kansas City Chiefs in the ’93 AFC Championship, the country lamented over the Bills going to a fourth straight Super Bowl. When all of a sudden one of the networks had Stephen Hawking on and asked him a question: With the current landscape of 28 teams how long would it be before we would see another team make it to 4 straight Super Bowls?? Hawking sat quietly for a second and then pronounced “With the current landscape of teams it would take another 46 years.” Or if you’re counting at home it would happen in the year 2039.

The Buffalo Bills clowning around on Super Bowl picture day before XXV.

The Buffalo Bills clowning around on Super Bowl picture day before XXV.

Well the NFL now has 32 so it may not happen again in our lifetimes thanks to new mathematical algorithms. On Saturday WR Andre Reed became the 6th member of the early 90’s Bills to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s time to take a look back at one of the unique teams in NFL history and The Chancellor of Football’s favorite football team.

Reed joins fellow WR James Lofton, RB Thurman Thomas, the late Ralph Wilson former owner and founder, Head Coach Marv Levy, and QB Jim Kelly in Canton. It was this team’s closeness that was on full display as Reed was inducted. Kelly, who has been battling cancer, was determined to attend the ceremony and threw Reed one final pass that brought on the loudest cheer of the evening.

Kelly and Reed before taking the field in 1990.

Kelly and Reed before taking the field for the 1990 AFC Championship Game.

The amazing thing is how far this group had grown as men. Most people don’t realize or remember this team was known as the “Bickering Bills” during the 1989 campaign. Infighting almost derailed a season as they went 9-7 after a 12-4 campaign the year before marked them as a team on the rise. They would go on to become the NFL’s most galvanized team as the new decade took shape.

The 1990 Buffalo Bills were the first team to lose the NFL Championship or Super Bowl by a single point…20-19. Talk about being tantalizingly close. Most experts and pundits believed they would be dominant in 1991 as they went 13-3 with homefield advantage again. Thurman Thomas was league MVP and Bruce Smith was coming back from injury as the 1991 playoffs beckoned.

Back to back Super Bowl losses had many fans and pundits writing off the Bills. How would they recover?? Yet all these players were in their prime and led by unsung leaders like LB Darryl Talley, they dusted themselves off and came right back in 1992. During this season they were 4-0 against the NFC west including a 38-35 win in San Francisco vs. the 49ers who went 13-3. Good enough for homefield advantage in the NFC. Going into the final week of the season the Bills were ready to clinch homefield in the AFC when:

Once the most dominant team in the AFC, several teams had caught up to the Bills and the K-Gun offense. The 1993season brought on the first season of free agency as the Bills roster started to be plucked over. Gone were LBs Shane Conlan and Carlton Bailey. LT Will Wolford signed with the Indianpolis Colts. How much longer could they jeep their core players intact??

Other AFC teams bolstered their offensive units as QB Joe Montana and Marcus Allen joined the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dolphins started to acquire talent around Dan Marino as they brought in free agents Keith Byars and Mark Ingram. The Raiders pulled a coup and brought in Jeff Hostetler to quarterback the Raiders back to the playoffs.

The Houston Oilers resurrected Buddy Ryan and his 46 defense to conquer the AFC. They signed LB Wilber Marshall to help fortify an already talented defense. After all it was the defensive collapse in the 41-38 loss to the Bills in the ’92 playoffs that propelled Ryan’s hire in the first place. All of these teams wanted a shot at the aging Bills.

The 1993 team fought it’s way to another 12-4 record although the games were much closer. Was this still the AFC’s best team?? They seemed to be just a step ahead of the competition within the conference instead of leaps and bounds as they had been in 1990 or 1991.

The offense evolved into Kelly engineering more of a controlled passing game as TE Pete Metzellars led the team in receiving. Where in previous years the team really stretched the field with James Lofton and Andre Reed. Lofton retired after ’92 and the Bills brought in possession receiver Bill Brooks. Thurman Thomas was still in his prime but defenses ganged up on the run now that the Bills couldn’t stretch the field. The result?? Thurman did rush for 1,315 yards but a career low 3.7 yard average.

With the wear and tear of 10 additional postseason games over the previous 3 seasons, would they have enough in the tank to make it to that 4th Super Bowl?? That became the prevailing question. After a 29-23 come from behind win against the LA Raiders in sub zero weather in the divisional playoffs, here came Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and the Kansas City Chiefs. The AFC Championship at stake.

As we’re winding down the football life of these Buffalo Bill teams of the early 90’s, we get to really appreciate it several decades later. The outside world caught a glimpse into the closeness of this team. It was on full display as you watched last weeks induction ceremony. It was felt with conviction when Reed declared “The Bills will stay in Buffalo!”

There is nothing like being a Buffalo Bills fan. The excitement leading up to each of those Super Bowls were tempered as you came down after each loss. Then six month later we had to endure the fall of OJ Simpson, the greatest player in the history of the franchise. Bills players and fans had to endure that purgatory together and it could be the genesis of all this closeness. No one else could share in the pure elation after the greatest comeback in NFL history either. That entire January in 1993 was special.

Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas as they visited Jim Kelly at the start of his battle with cancer.

Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas as they visited Jim Kelly at the start of his battle with cancer.

To be a Bills fan and rally around the exploits of these players was easy. The ability to dust themselves off and march right back to the Super Bowl year after year taught a lesson in perseverance. Twenty five years ago they were known as “The Bickering Bills” and now they have matured into a close group rallying around Jim Kelly with his cancer battle. Its even easier to rally around them as men. Now each have taken their place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame which comes with a big ring.

Prayers from The Chancellor of Football are with you Jim Kelly. As a Miami Hurricane and Buffalo Bill fan…big time prayers. Get well!

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Happy Belated Birthday Walter Payton

It has been 27 years since Walter Payton suited up for an NFL game. Before his passing in 1999 the question could be raised was he the greatest legend the game had known?? After his passing his legend is unmatched by any player of the last 60 years. “Sweetness” as a nickname is synonymous with those of “The Galloping Ghost” the “Steel Curtain” that will be shared with football fans forever.

The legendary "Sweetness"

The legendary “Sweetness”

Although he is no longer the NFL’s leading rusher whenever you see a runner fighting for more yardage, you think of Payton. In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation during a majority of his career he was overshadowed by Tony Dorsett then Eric Dickerson since they were more flashy runners. It was grit and determination that made Payton special. Unlike other runners one man couldn’t bring him down nor could someone shoulder him down. Payton’s spirit was that of a great warrior and it took more than one man to stop him.

If you were to travel back to the 1980’s the standard bearer for runners was the great Jim Brown. He set the NFL’s all time rushing yardage mark with 12,312 yards when he retired in 1965. Only OJ Simpson came close to passing him finishing with 11,236 when he ran out of gas in 1979. Payton’s career long assault had him within reach as 1984 beckoned. Before he could eclipse Brown’s mark the comparisons started. Who was better?? Jim Brown or Walter Payton??

The video you just watched had been produced before Payton had become the all time leading rusher. They edited it before the second week of the 1986 season and re-aired it. He was about to score his 100th touchdown in the famous “Buddy Bowl”, where Buddy Ryan who had been the architect of the Chicago Bears championship defense the year before.  He returned as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did Payton score his touchdown, he had his last true great game as he gouged the Eagles for 177 yards. It was his 75th 100 yard game.

Much like Marvin Hagler in boxing, national media showcased Payton in the twilight of his career. Of course it was once he surpassed Jim Brown and his unbreakable all time rushing record was when he finally was afforded that status. That moment took place October 7, 1984.

At one time he had the greatest rushing performance in an NFL game with 275 yards and pushed the all time rushing record to 16,726 yards. Each of these have been broken but who embodied the spirit of the determined runner fighting a defense fighting to stop him?? Emmitt Smith and Corey Dillon come close but none matched his fury. Looking back on all these careers it was as though other runners were playing a role created for them by Payton. As thought they were all trying to impersonate him.

Make no mistake about it he was The Chancellor of Football’s favorite player during his career. The poignant moment that was etched in my mind wasn’t his sitting alone on the bench after his last game in the 1987 playoffs. It was his sitting on the bench by himself toward the end of the 1984 NFC Championship Game. Chicago was losing 23-0 to the San Francisco 49ers and it looked like this was the closest Payton would make it to the Super Bowl.

In an instant the flash entered my mind that his career would be over soon and he hadn’t been a champion. Then the great ’85 Bears stormed to the Super Bowl XX championship. He rushed for over 1,300 yards in 1986 then let it be known during 1987 it would be his last season. Sue he wasn’t the same runner as he split time with heir apparent Neil Anderson. It was at this time you had to reflect back on how great Walter had been over the years.

Friday would have been Walter Payton’s 60th birthday and he’s still missed by football fans everywhere. Yet we know the trials he faced toward the end of his life. Its better to focus on his play and the bright personality that we remembered him for.

Walter Payton soaring as he is in heaven above.

Walter Payton soaring as he is in heaven above.

Happy 60th birthday Walter Payton from a true fan that didn’t get a chance to meet you. Its fun to share vids for those who were younger that didn’t get to see you play or see the footage of your exploits. My gift to those fans in your honor started on your birthday. RIP Sweetness.

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Epilogue: An extra video on Walter Payton’s 1984

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #2 2000 Baltimore Ravens

The bludgeoning Baltimore Ravens in 2000 was one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and lands at #2 on The Chancellor of Football’s list. Aside from winning Super Bowl XXXV, their greatest accomplishment was setting the record for fewest points allowed in a season with 165. Do you realize allowing 3, 10, and 3 in the AFC playoffs, that in 19 games they still bested the old 16 game record of the ’86 Bears 186 points with only 181?? Remember the Giants touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV was a kick return and not allowed by the defense. Still that is 188 points in 20 games!!

Ray Lewis' greatest season was the 2000 campaign.

Ray Lewis’ greatest season was the 2000 campaign.

To fully appreciate the Ravens season as a whole you have to understand how anemic an offense they carried. Their 16th ranked offense was the 2nd lowest of all Super Bowl champions.

For the season they were ranked 2nd overall allowing 247.9 yards per game. Yet #1 against the run setting the record for fewest yards allowed rushing in a 16 game season with only 970. Yielding a paltry 2.7 yds per carry when league average was 4.0. Baltimore held 11 of their 16 regular season opponents to 10 or fewer points. Four of which were shutouts. By the way, they also held all four of their postseason opponents to 10 or fewer for a total of 15!!

  • 2000 Baltimore Ravens allowed 970 yds rushing
  • 1985 Chicago Bears allowed 1,319 yds rushing
  • 1991 Philadelphia Eagles allowed 1,136 yds rushing
  • 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers allowed 1,457 yds rushing *14 games
  • 1977 Dallas Cowboys allowed 1,651 yds rushing *14 games
Boulware off the edge was a staple of Baltimore's pass rush.

Boulware off the edge was a staple of Baltimore’s pass rush.

This was a physically imposing defense that started with mountains in the middle in DTs Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. Keeping blockers off 2000’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Ray Lewis. Who roamed free garnering 137 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception. It was one of the most dominating performances by a defensive player in league history. From The [[_]]

Fellow Linebackers Jamie Sharper (72 tackles /5 forced fumbles) and Peter Boulware clogged passing lanes, stuffed the run, and blitzed effectively. Boulware had 7 sacks as a Nickle rushing end. DE Rob Burnett led the team with (10.5 sacks) was a holdover from the Cleveland Browns days. He and fellow DE Michael McCrary were steady rushers that couldn’t be moved off the ball.

The most underappreciated aspect of this defense was the secondary. Led by Hall of Fame Safety Rod Woodson (77 tackles/ 4 forced fumbles /4 ints) this group was never out of position. They ranked 8th against the pass in 2000 yet were 2nd in passing TDs allowed with 11 while snatching 17 of the team’s 23 interceptions. Chris McAlister (4ints) and Duane Starks (6ints – The [[_]]) were top shelf corners and SS Kim Herring, Corey Harris, and Robert Bailey (The [[_]]) pounded TEs and slot receivers when teams went to multiple receiver sets.

During the season the Ravens were 1-1 against Pro Bowl quarterbacks and 2-0 against top 10 offenses. They held the NFL’s #2 offense to 3 points in their AFC Wildcard win. Yet this group was ranked #2 in 2000 and on their way to Super Bowl XXXV when they took on the #1 defense in the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.

After vanquishing the Titans the Ravens had to go on the road to face the Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship. In Oakland they faced the 6th best offense in football and the #1 rushing offense with 154.4 yards per game. Strength vs strength in a battle to make it to Super Bowl XXXV.

With their 16-3 win, you do realize this was only the 2nd time in the Super Bowl era a team hosted the conference championship and couldn’t score a touchdown, right?? Only the Baltimore Colts performed this with their 34-0 win over Art Modell’s Cleveland Browns for the 1968 NFL Championship prior to Super Bowl III. That is only twice in 70 games! The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were the greatest defensive 11 in NFL history and are #2 on The Chancellor of Football’s list. Why weren’t they #1?? That will be explained in the next article.

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Legends Of The Fall: Bart Starr

Why is it when great quarterbacks of the past comes up, few name Bart Starr?? Of course when talk of the 1960’s Green Bay Packers comes up, first we think of Vince Lombardi. Then we think of their signature play in the power sweep and their ferocious defense. Yet the glue that not only held everything together but made big play after big play in championship competition was quarterback Bart Starr.

 

The Origin of The Black & Blue Division

Our Soul of the Game series is always about hitting and hitters when it comes to football. However today is a look back at NFL Films chronicling the birth of the NFC Central. An ode to the visceral side of football.

Minnesota’s Purple People Eater’s ruled the division winning it 5 times in the 7 years covered (1967-1973). The division produced two NFL champions in Lombardi’s last championship team in ’67, and the ’69 Vikings who went on to play the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. Some of the best defensive statistics in history came from these teams. Defense, cold weather and a ton of hitting.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #3 2013 Seattle Seahawks

As we’re winding down this series of greatest single season defenses, the first question asked was where did the ’13 Seahawks belong in this group??

The Legion of Boom reigns supreme after 2013.

The Legion of Boom reigns supreme after 2013.

Do you realize Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith not only wasn’t a week 1 starter, but isn’t guaranteed to be one at Outside Linebacker for 2014?? He replaced  KJ Wright #50 who had been injured. Its the depth and lack of drop off in production that makes this group great. They ranked #1 and were led by The Legion of Boom secondary which boasts 3 Pro Bowl Players.

Starting with defending Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Richard Sherman, who led the NFL with 8 interceptions. He returned those for 158 yards and a significant week 4 touchdown. He also was 7th on the team in tackles with 48, defensed 17 passes and recovered 2 fumbles.

Kam Chancellor's thunderous hit on Vernon Davis a year ago is still the defense's seminal moment in becoming the NFl's most feared defense.

Kam Chancellor’s thunderous hit on Vernon Davis a year ago is still the defense’s seminal moment in becoming the NFl’s most feared defense.

By the time you add Pro Bowl FS Earl Thomas (105 tackles/ 5 ints/ 11 pass defensed/ 2 forced fumbles) & the thunderous shots by Pro Bowl SS Kam Chancellor (99 tackles / 3 ints/ 12 passes defensed/ 1 forced fumble) you have one of the best secondaries in history. That’s what a championship can elevate you to. Three of four in the secondary made the Pro Bowl.

This group was #1 overall (273.6 ypg.) while finishing #1 against the pass allowing 172 yards per game. Those stats were 28 and 22 ypg. better than the defenses ranked 2nd. Quarterbacks finished with a 63.4 rating in a modern game where the rules have been altered to favor the pass. How does that rank against other great defenses??

  • 2013 Seahawks passer rating allowed 63.4
  • 1985 Chicago Bears passer rating allowed 51.2
  • 1991 Philadelphia Eagles passer rating allowed 52.1
  • 2000 Baltimore Ravens passer rating allowed 62.5
Chancellor brings the intimidation factor. At 232 lbs. he hits with the force of a linebacker.

Chancellor brings the intimidation factor. At 232 lbs. he hits with the force of a linebacker.

For the season they held 7 opponents to 10 points or less and one of those was the 4th best offense in football, the New Orleans Saints.  An 8th team held to less than 10 was the record setting #1 offense of the Broncos in the Super Bowl when they could only muster 8 points. The highest scoring team in history with 606 points averaging 37.8 per game, was held scoreless until the last play of the 3rd quarter. By then they were down 36-0.

Avril terrorized quarterbacks rushing them from the front side.

Avril terrorized quarterbacks rushing them from the front side.

Before their 43-8 destruction of Denver, they bested Brees and the Saints in the playoffs were they held them to 15 points as well.  They did lose to one Pro Bowl quarterback in Andrew Luck but that is offset by shutting down the 5,477 yards and 55 TD record setting Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII. So 3-1 against Pro Bowl QBs and holding 2 of them to less than 10 points is strong defensive football. Keep in mind the defense was missing CB Brandon Browner (suspension) and LB KJ Wright (injury) or the Broncos may have been shut out.

By the time we get to the pass rush of Cliff Avril (8.5 sacks) and Michael Bennett(8 sacks) rushing side by side from the strong side, this group plays front 7 by committee. Utilizing blitzes they garnered 44 sacks while surrendering an NFL best 231 points. In contrast the 1971 Dallas Cowboys or the Doomsday Defense gave up 222 in 14 games.

So yes The Legion of Boom belongs on this list. To do it in the modern NFL where if you sneeze near a receiver it’s a penalty, they gave a world class performance. One of the best in history and #3 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #4 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Now how could we have a category on the best defenses and defenders in NFL history and not include the Pittsburgh Steelers?? As we moved into the 1970′s following the merger, we saw the hashmarks narrowed in 1974 and the goal posts moved to the end line to provide offenses more room to operate. Scoring had been down for much of the first half of the decade and it was thought this additional field to cover would hamper defenses. Especially those with burly MLB types that had limited range tracking sideline to sideline, or defending the pass.

No one could run on the '76 Steelers

No one could run on the ’76 Steelers

Enter Jack Lambert. A converted outside linebacker who stood 6’4 and stayed at a playing weight of 220 lbs. the majority of his career. What he brought to the table was the speed to get further back than the Willie Lanier’s and the Dick Butkus’, a prior generation’s middle linebackers who were mainly there to stuff the run. His ability to get past twenty yards in pass defense was the impetus for the Steelers to run what is NOW misnamed the “Tampa 2″.

It started in Pittsburgh because against the run and rushing the passer, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene, Dwight White, and LC Greenwood were the finest front four of their era….possibly football history. Lambert, along with outside linebackers Andy Russell, and Jack Ham, only needed to clean up against the run and were already a step back ready to clog the middle and flat areas against the slower tight ends of that era. The result??

A defense put together from astute drafting grew into one of menace that powered the Steelers to victories in both Super Bowls IX and X. In Super Bowl IX the Steelers held the Vikings to just 17 yards rushing for the game. A record that stood until Super Bowl XX. They stood tall and defended against a frantic last second effort in Super Bowl X. So strong was the Steeler defense, Coach Chuck Noll ran the ball on 4th and 9 and let the Cowboys have the ball at their own 40 yard line leaving it up to the defense to win the game. While winning a second straight world title they set the Super Bowl record for sacks with 7.

A young team with an unprecedented chance to win a third straight Super Bowl went into the 1976 season with their front four in their prime.With Terry Bradshaw growing up as a quarterback and growing receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann with one of history’s finest defense….What would they do for an encore?? Could they threepeat??

This team was primarily responsible for the upcoming rule changes of 1978 and this was their best season. For the year they were #1 overall (237.4 y/pg) gave up just 138 points and held 7 of 8 straight opponents to 10 points or less. Five of those came by shutout and the first modern team to record 3 in a ow. In fact they only allowed 2 touchdowns in the last 10 games and those came in the same game. A 32-16 win over the Oilers. They had a string of 25 quarters where they didn’t allow a touchdown. They were so good they had to be legislated out of business.

Starting in 1978 they instituted the “Mel Blount Rule” where receivers could only be jammed / hit within the first five yards of the scrimmage line. Blount was bludgeoning receives all down the field until the pass was thrown. Pass protectors were allowed to extend their arms to better protect against the Steel Curtain. The head slap was another tactic taken away from Pittsburgh’s charging front four in 1978. All of these rule changes can be traced back to this group.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

One of the best in history and number 4 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.

Dedicated to the memories of Art Rooney, Chuck Noll, Ernie Holmes, LC Greenwood, & Dwight White.

 

The Most Influential College Football Game In The Last 50 Years

Slaton celebrated all night with a dazzling rushing performance.

Slaton celebrated all night with a dazzling rushing performance.

Then along came Rich Rodriguez and his West Virginia Mountaineers. He took the spread offense to a complete zenith with what you could do with a 53 1/3 yard wide field and implemented a power rushing attack from a spread formation. First he recruited Pat White from Alabama.  At 6’0 (being generous) and 185 lbs. he was short for a quarterback and had a decent arm, yet it was his 4.28 40 yard dash that made it nearly impossible for interior linebackers to read blocking patterns, than get to the flank to defend against his options or pitch to Steve Slaton.

Slaton was brought down from Pennsylvania and one of the nation’s fastest running backs coming out of high school in 2005.  He had committed to Maryland who had offered him a scholarship then retracted their offer.  He took his 4.3 speed to West Virginia to team with Pat White, Owen Schmitt, recievers Darius Reynaud #82 and Brandon Miles#7 and a powerhouse was born. They spread from a traditional set and some 3 receivers yet ran what they call a speed option that most MLBs didnt have the lateral quickness to stay with.  The result?? First we have to set the table for you.

Pat White became the first QB in history to win 4  New Years Bowl Games.

Pat White became the first QB in history to win 4 New Years Bowl Games.

The Miami Hurricanes and Boston College had just fled the Big East to join the ACC. Many felt that the Big East was no longer a top flight conference with two of their heavyweight schools having departed. Yet the Mountaineers started a redshirt freshman in Pat White, and a freshman tailback in Steve Slaton and a new offense took the country by storm.  They improved as the season went on and Slaton finished the season with 1,128 yards and 17 TDs, while White finished with 952 yds rushing and 7 TDs to go along with moderate passing to keep defenses honest.

Once they ran out to a 10-1 record, their Big East championship gave them an automatic bid to the BCS Sugar Bowl where they would take on Georgia. The Bulldogs that year were 12-1 and only a close loss in SEC play had kept them from appearing in the National Championship Game. Experts scoffed that West Virginia’s offense couldn’t perform that well against a superior defense from a superior conference. Yes experts were treating the Big East as a second tier conference with the remaining teams.  So the battle lines were drawn and since the Sugar Bowl had to be moved from New Orleans to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, because of Hurricane Katrina, this would be a home crowd for the Bulldogs too. No way the Mountaineers could stay on the field with an SEC team……………….right??

So the landscape has changed, first through the proliferation of cable television stations allowing players to play in far away places and still be seen back home.  This changed the way colleges could approach players when they weren’t the clear cut favorite to land a particular recruit. Players weren’t forced to switch positions to go to a particular name school when there were other alternatives. This happened simultaneously with the NCAA limiting the amount of scholarships teams which spread talent all over the collegiate landscape.

Steve Slaton killed Georgia with 202 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Steve Slaton killed Georgia with 202 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Then in an effort to find the great equalizer, coaching innovations leveled the playing field even more with better tactics while landing a better athlete on their campus than ever before.  Couple these factors with the natural chip on the shoulder that most underdogs play with and college football has turned into “On any given Saturday…” Making college football an even greater game than before.

Yet it was this Sugar Bowl played in prime-time that changed the attitudes of coaches and pundits of the power conferences. From coast to coast teams were using the uptempo spread offense to run as well as pass. Teams could outflank those they couldn’t physically go toe to toe with. Forcing their opponent to field a different set of defenders and players who play better in space. This game was Rich Rodriguez’s masterpiece and changed the way college football is being played today.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #5 1991 Philadelphia Eagles

A recurring theme that seems to be running through these greatest defenses were they had to carry anemic, inefficient offenses through the season. One such incident took place when the Philadelphia Eagles lost the 1990 NFL MVP in Randall Cunningham in the first week 1991. All appeared to be lost as they attempted to go on without their #1 weapon. This defense turned in one of the last truly great performances finishing #1 against the run, #1 against the pass, and obviously #1 overall.

1991 Pro Bowl members of the Eagles defense.

1991 Pro Bowl members of the Eagles defense.

When you carry a team that played five quarterbacks during the season, you’ve done something. We’re sure you remember that renowned NFL quarterback Brad Goebel or Pat Ryan, right?? Who?? Brad Goebel not Stan Gable…that’s a fictitious character from Revenge Of the Nerds.

As for real quarterbacks they had two games against the Redskins Mark Rypien, that year’s Super Bowl MVP. Two more against Hall of Famer Troy Aikman then one against Steve Young and Warren Moon. Also Hall of Fame members. All but Young made the Pro Bowl in 1991. They went 3-3 against them and held Young’s 49ers (#3 offensively) and Aikman’s Cowboys (#9 offensively) to less than 100 yards passing in two complete games that year.

Remember these two went on to face each other in 3 consecutive NFC Championships the following year and won the next four Super Bowls.

They faced 6 top 10 offenses going 3-3 against them. Defensively they held 6 opponents to 10 points or fewer. Two of those games were against top ten offenses as we mentioned earlier. Counting match-ups with divisional foes as individual games, 8 times they held their opposition to their lowest offensive output for the season.

Half the defense made the Pro Bowl starting with the late Reggie White, the late Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons. These three accounted for 37 of the Eagle’s 55 sacks. Those 3 alone had just 7 sacks fewer than the 2013 NFL champion Seahawks had as a team. OLB Seth Joyner (110 tck / 6.5 sacks / 6 ff /3 ints) and CB Eric Allen who picked off 5.

The only reason SS Andre Waters didn't make the Pro Bowl was his reputation.

The only reason SS Andre Waters didn’t make the Pro Bowl was his reputation.

Amazingly the late SS Andre Waters didn’t make the Pro Bowl even though he had 156 tackles. It was he and FS Wes Hopkins that sent the early message in their signature game against the Oilers. Did you know starting the very next week, when others used their 13-6 destruction against Houston as a blueprint, stats diminished for the Run & Shoot beginning the very next week??

In winning 7 of their last 8 attempting to make the playoffs, the quarterback rating was around 40.0. For the season 206 of 467 (44.1%) for 2,807 yards 16 TDs and 26 interceptions would get a quarterback cut or ripped by ESPN shows. Well this was the passing given up by the 91′ Eagles all year.

Or think of it like this: Look at the ’91 Eagles performance against 6 top 10 offenses and 4 HOF QBs. Compare those stats to Geno Smith who was the worst rated QB last year:

  • Geno Smith – 247 of 443 (55.8%) 3,046 yds 12tds 21 ints
  • ’91 Eagles – 206 of 467 (44.1%) for 2,807 yards 16 TDs and 26 interceptions

One of the best in history and #5 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.apicofme3

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #6 1971 Baltimore Colts

One of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history happened in 1971. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts had the #1 defense and drug a struggling offense to the AFC Championship Game. They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken their old scoring record of 144 with 133.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

One interesting aspect of the ’71 Colts was how anemic their once great passing offense had become.  The 38 year old Unitas completed just 52.3% of his passes for 3 TDs and 9 interceptions. Earl Morrall, who was 37, fared no better with an even lower 50.3% with 7 TDs to 12 ints. They were 21st in passing offense and 12th overall making the defense work harder.

During the ’71 season the defense held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less. Including 5 of their first 6. Baltimore’s D recorded 3 shutouts and held their first playoff opponent to 3 points. In facing 5 top ten offenses that year, they were 4-1 and held two of those to 10 points or less. Yet why aren’t they remembered??

Yet the media anoints others of that era and obscures this team…lets compare a few:

  • 1971 Baltimore Colts – #1 overall / 203.7 yds all. / 140 points given up / 28 int
  • 1971 Dallas Cowboys – #3 overall / 243.3 yds all. / 222 points given up / 26 int
  • 1972 Miami Dolphins – #1 overall / 235.5 yds all. / 171 points given up / 26 int
  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int
  • 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers – #4 overall / 261.5 yds all. / 162 points given up / 27 ints

Right now fans of the Doomsday Defense, The No Name Defense, and the Steel Curtain are saying to themselves ‘Its not all about stats”. Which is true until you realize this was a defending Super Bowl champion that made it back to the AFC Championship Game despite its offense. Had they won against Miami, they would have taken on the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Well that is who they beat in Super Bowl V to become champions in the first place.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Led by Pro Bowlers DE Bubba Smith, MLB Mike Curtis, LB Ted Hendricks, SS Jerry Logan, and FS Rick Volk, its amazing only Hendricks is in the Hall of Fame. Curtis definitely should be but when you think of Hendricks making the Hall that is primarily from his work with the Raiders.

This was the last hurrah for the Colts as everything came apart starting in 1972. That was the year owner Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises with Robert Irsay. Head Coach Don McCafferty fired, John Unitas sent to the bench and the run as an NFL elite team ended.

Yet a tremendous performance by the defense in 1971 allowed them to hang on for one more season.

Dedicated to the memories of Don McCafferty, Bubba Smith, & Carroll Rosenbloom

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #7 1977 Dallas Cowboys

For all the talk of the Gritz Blitz and the Orange Crush Defense in 1977, it was the year of The Doomsday Defense II. They faced off with the Denver Broncos down in New Orleans in Super Bowl XII and the better defense won. They carried their season statistical domination into that game and forced a then Super Bowl record 8 turnovers. This was the last NFL champion to finish #1 on defense and #1 on offense. In giving up just 229.5 yards per game, most don’t realize that was better than the 1978 champion Pittsburgh Steelers (260.5) or even the great ’76 version (237.5).

After Craig Morton was benched, Hollywood Henderson and Doomsday treated Norris Weese to a rough outing. Super Bowl XII

After Craig Morton was benched, Hollywood Henderson and Doomsday treated Norris Weese to a rough outing. In Super Bowl XII

Unofficially that year was the little known fact that DE Harvey Martin recorded 26 sacks. The league didn’t start keeping that statistic until 1981 or that would still be a record. It was arguably his best season as he was named All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. Surprisingly he was only joined by SS Charlie Waters, FS Cliff Harris, and DT Randy White.

Yet this group does have some knocks against it. They only faced 3 top ten offenses that year and gave up  212 points  for the season. The highest of our top ten. However they were 2-1 in those games and were the first Super Bowl champion to face their eventual Super Bowl opponent during the season. Winning the finale 14-6.

Supe Bowl XII Co-MVPs Randy White and the late Harvey Martin.

Supe Bowl XII Co-MVPs Randy White and the late Harvey Martin.

So why are they in the top ten??

The number one reason this group is here is this was the height of The Flex Defense. Their dominance was felt in a season long display. They held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less then became the first team since the merger to hold their 3 opponent to 10 points or less. One of those was the #3 ranked offense of the  Chicago Bears and NFL rushing champion Walter Payton. He was held to 60 yards on 19 carries in a 37-7 win in the divisional round.

The havoc they raised in Super Bowl XII with 4 sacks, countless hurries that led to 4 interceptions on the biggest stage didn’t hurt. When half your line, DT Randy White and DE the late Harvey Martin, become the first defensive linemen to win Super Bowl MVP, that puts on an exclamation point on the season.

Other talents such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson made names for themselves as well. They would defend their championship in the following Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers where they ranked #2 in defense. That’s another story for a different time.

landry.2Epilogue: This was the crowning jewel in the late Tom Landry’s coaching career. Where he engineered a majority of the tactics to bring the 4-3 to be the modern staple of defense in the NFL. It was his ability to innovate that defense and come up with the Flex Defense to read and react as well as keep the Middle Linebacker (Bob Breunig) free of potential blockers.

Dedicated in the memory of both Tom Landry and Harvey Martin.

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My man Hollywood’s parting shot:

Hollywood Strikes Back!

Hollywood Strikes Back!

 

SUPER BOWL II CHAMPION 1967 GREEN BAY PACKERS & The Ghost of Vince Lombardi

To threepeat or 3 NFL Championships in a row…only time it’s been done in the modern era…1965-1966-1967…concluded with Super Bowl II win over the Oakland Raiders 33-14 and included the legendary ICE Bowl win over Dallas in the NFL Championship game 21-17. Legendary teams do legendary things! Can you imagine playing football in -15*F and wind chill near -50*F in 1960s fabrics?? Yikes but that’s what made the difference between Lombardi’s Packers and Dallas during that game. I can’t remember a famous last minute drive under similar conditions. I mean “The Drive” of Elway fame, Cleveland v. Denver in 1986, took place in a balmy 12 degrees.

alt_sports_cd_super_bowl_ii_lg

Super Bowl II was the final of 3 NFL champihips in a row.hence the 3 large diamonds.

But wow, three championships in a row! Vince Lombardi IS a football God and he kept teams from equaling that feat. Look at the strange circumstances that surrounded others trying to equal it…its Lombardi I tell ya’

1. Early 70s Dolphins after winning Super Bowls 7 & 8, loses to the Oakland Raiders in the famous Sea of Hands play in ’74 playoffs…Divine intervention? Go watch that play and you’ll see that the Dolphins had 2 backups trying to cover the throw from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis…the Dolphins lost two DBs in the second half of that game and also gave up a bomb to Cliff Branch in the 4th quarter also…not saying Lombardi did it…but he had a hand in it…

2. Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowls 9 & 10 come into ’76 primed to duplicate. Long story short…Pittsburgh overcomes a bad start and in winning their last 9 games while only giving up 28 pts including 5 shutouts. Both Rocky Bleier AND Franco Harris rushed for 1,000 yds that season with Bradshaw injured.

Finally healthy they light up Baltimore 40-14 in the divisional playoff (only AFC playoff pt total that high in the 70s) and lose BOTH Franco and Rocky in that game? Really?? Without either RB able to play the next week, they lose to the Raiders in AFC title game 24-7. I’m tellin’ you…Lombardi has something to do with all these strange circumstances…

super bowl ii23. Oh those wonderful 49ers of late 80s lore. Won back to back in Super Bowls 23 and 24, started 1990 10-0 and went on to go 14-2 and host their old protagonist, the New York Giants in the NFC Championship. Now yes, Leonard Marshall knocked Joe Montana from the game…but leading 13-12 and running out the clock, dependable Roger Craig loses the ball, squirting out behind him without really being hit? WTH? Giants recover and make last second field goal to escape 15-13: I can’t make this up!! Ghost of Lombardi and another strange circumstance…

4. The boisterous Dallas Cowboys of Super Bowls 27 and 28, and fairly healthy yet without Jimmy Johnson are coming to San Fran for the ’94 NFC Championship, were geared up for this battle. OK, Emmitt Smith was nursing a hamstring injury. Including the playoff game with the Packers, the week before, the Cowboys had only turned the ball over 20 times all year!! ALLYEAR!!

Wouldn’t you know they turned it over 3 times in 5 minutes and were out of it 21-0 after 7 minutes of play on their way to losing 38-28…so Emmitt’s hamstring had nothin’ to do with it! LOL. This represented the first time in NFL/NFC championship history that a team was down 21-0 in the 1st quarter. That is a span from 1933-1994!! 61 yrs that hadn’t happened. Off in the distance you can hear Lombardi’s ghost chuckling…

super bowl ii35. Then you had the steady Denver Broncos who won Super Bowls 32 and 33, over the Packers and Falcons respectively. With an opportunistic defense, John Elway with Terrell Davis (the 2000 yd rusher in 1998) was the engine that made that team go.

With the specter of a possible three-peat looming, Elway decided to retire. Shanahan whom many thought would start Bubby Brister the veteran over 2nd year player Brian Griese… a total brain freeze where Lombardi must have “clouded his judgment.” LOL So what happened…? Enter 1999, the Broncos struggled out of the gate 0-2 when Griese threw an interception against the Jets in week 3, Terrell Davis blew out his knee while making the tackle.

Now the two most indispensable Broncos: Davis and Elway were gone and the 0-3 record doomed the season… In a more ironic twist, tackle Mark Lepsis was a backup tackle in ’98, was the first to help Davis off the ground when he crossed 2,000 yards. It was he who fell on Davis in ’99 blowing out his knee on exactly the same spot on the field. Ah, that Lombardi…can almost hear his voice now “What the hell is goin’ on out here?”

super-bowl-logo-1967Now someone may ask “what about the 78-79 Steelers or the ’03-’04 New England Patriots?” Well let’s just say Lombardi’s intervention wasn’t necessary. The ’80 Steelers were swept by perennial division rival doormat Cincinnati, which gave the Browns the division title knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Hmmm maybe Vince was busy.

The Patriots just seemed to run out of gas in their playoff run. All strange circumstances of Green Bay’s 3 championships about to be equaled and goofy, weird circumstances kept it from happening EACH time. If you listen closely, off in the distance, you can hear Vince laughing.

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Legends of The Fall: Marcus Allen

Did you know that only once in NFL history has the single season rushing leader wore silver and black??  It was Marcus Allen in 1985 when he played for the Los Angeles Raiders. Yet when you think of Allen, you think of receiving out of the backfield more than you think of him as a pure runner.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

However in 1985, Jim Plunkett was lost for the season and Marc Wilson just wasn’t a top flight quarterback. Super Bowl XVIII was a distant memory as the team hadn’t improved from a personnel standpoint. They started to age. Recent drafts didn’t help when the team brought in receivers Jesse Hester and Dokie Williams, who weren’t quite the caliber of past Raiders and Allen was the only offensive weapon that was in his prime.

Where the team followed up their Super Bowl championship with a wild card loss to Seattle, team brass decided to lean on Marcus and ball control to stay competitive in 1985. Why not?? Marc Wilson only completed 49.7% of his passes that year in 12 games…

For the year Lionel James led the NFL with a record setting 2,536 all purpose yards but it was Marcus that set the yardage from scrimmage record with 2,314. He led the NFL with 1,759 yards rushing as the Raiders only real offensive weapon. Don’t forget Eric Dickerson held out and missed the first four games of the season and finished with 1,234 yards for 1985. Dickerson’s 1,808 in ’83 and 1,821 in 1986 were on a par with Allen’s ’85 total.

Allen had one of college football's greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Allen had one of college football’s greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Everyone forgets Marcus was the first running back in college football history to rush for 2,000 yards when he went for 2.342 in 1981. He had gone to USC where he was converted from defensive back and had been a blocking back for previous Heisman winner Charles White. Once White graduated, it was Allen’s show. It should have happened that way in the NFL as well.

Yet starting with a fumble forced by Seth Joyner in an overtime 33-27 loss to the Eagles, the rift between Al Davis and Marcus started to widen. The Raiders subsequently finished 1986 with 4 straight losses to miss the playoffs for only the 5th time since 1967. This ended a 20 year era in which the Raiders were among the league’s elite. This is where the feud affected Allen’s play on the field and had Davis draft Bo Jackson in the 1987. They started phasing Allen out as he only carried 9, 13, and 10 times in the final three games of 1986.

He became a prisoner of Davis who wouldn’t showcase him and mandated he not be given the ball. So the only running back in history with a Heisman, Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP, and first to rush for 2,000 yards in college had to become a blocking back for Bo Jackson. He endured that for six years until the advent of free agency freed him in 1993.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In his first year in Kansas City, it was he not Joe Montana, who was voted the most valuable player. Allen was also the NFL’s comeback player of the year as he led the league with 13 TDs in his first season with the Chiefs.

Yet we’re left with what if again.

After that great 1985 season, Allen wouldn’t rush for 1,000 yards again. He finished with 12,243 yards rushing and 123 touchdowns. From the backfield he caught 587 balls for another 5,411 yards and 21 scores. What would those numbers balloon to if he wasn’t exiled in Los Angeles?? Would he have played 15 years had he stayed the feature back?? Ultimately, what were we football fans cheated out of thanks to the Davis / Allen feud??

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Legendary Days: Bo Jackson Explodes On A Monday Night

Think back to 1986 when Bo Jackson decided to play baseball instead of report to the Tampa Bay Buccaneer organization. What could he have accomplished had he donned that uniform?? Would he have become one of the all time rushers and turned around a moribund franchise?? Or would he spend the bulk of his career playing in relative obscurity as Corey Dillon did in his?? It’s still interesting to think about when we think of the career of Jackson.

Bo Jackson was a force

Bo Jackson was a force

Most observers hold on to the what if scenarios over what other players actually performed on the field. The Chancellor doesn’t but what can’t be underscored was the impact he had when the Raiders decided to pick up his rights in the 1987 NFL draft. Yet they had to wait until he finished off his MLB season first.

The 1987 LA Raiders were an aging fading team in need of a spark. They were light years away from the ’83 group that won Super Bowl XVIII and were in the midst of a 7 game losing streak when they traveled to Seattle on a Monday night. Although it wasn’t a scintillating match-up, this was the first chance for a nation to catch the former Heisman winner playing his “hobby”.

The problem was we were left without knowing the best Bo could have been. He could have broken records or he could have just been a good pro. The player that he reminds me of most is Herschel Walker. Another former Heisman winner with a super man type body. Most straight line power runners wear down against modern defenses. There are some exceptions and Bo could have been one of them. Make no mistake about it he had the potential to be one of the biggest stars in NFL history. Yet we didn’t get the chance to see it and that’s the problem. We’re stuck in a gray twilight of what he could have been.

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Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

Someone somewhere coined the axiom  “Big time players make big plays in big games.” No defensive play this year was bigger than the pass defensed by Richard Sherman that turned into the game ending interception to win the NFC Championship. It would have been easy to catch Sherman flat footed having played a majority of the game being avoided.

TBT Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

TBT Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

If you make the biggest play in the history of your team to send them to the Super Bowl, you have done something. How many times do we see a player dominate in the regular season only to disappear in the playoffs.  Yet Sherman was front and center as one of the lead players on the #1 defense in football.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

In the most pivotal game of the season, Sherman provided the key play. Not the NFC Championship, but week 4 when the consensus was Seattle couldn’t win on the road. It was the 4th quarter when the Seahawks were losing in Houston 20-13. At the time the Texans were thought of as a Super Bowl team and on their way to a win. With just 2:51 left Sherman jumped a Matt Schaub pass and returned it 58 yards for the tying touchdown. Seattle eventually won 23-20 in overtime. The resultant confidence led the Seahawks to a 6-2 road record and NFC best 13-3 record. While the Texans didn’t win another game the rest of the season. Talk about a turning point.

The confidence building moment against Houston.

The big interception against Houston.

In 2013, Sherman talked the talk while leading the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and that significant touchdown. He also was 7th on the team in tackles with 48, defensed 17 passes and recovered 2 fumbles. The Seahawks assign him to their opponents best receiver and he answered the bell every week.

In the pivotal moment of the NFC Championship we saw a transcendent play. For an instant Colin Kaepernick thought he had Crabtree breaking free and let fly. From a fundamental standpoint he stayed inside Michael Crabtree, using the sideline as his friend, then reacted to make the play of the season.

Honorable Mention: 

Navorro Bowman pictured in last year's Super Bowl.

Navorro Bowman pictured in last year’s Super Bowl.

Navorro Bowman ILB – San Francisco 49ers: We were just a couple plays away from back to back Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player Awards for Navorro Bowman. If Richard Sherman doesn’t turn in that play to win the NFC Championhip how does he not win it again?? As we made it to the second half of the season, many pundits were pitching the case for Luke Kuechly. However truth be told he didn’t turn anywhere near the season Bowman did out in San Francisco.

  • Bowman -180 total tackles, 5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 1 returned for a touchdown
  • Kuechly -166 total tackles, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions ,  8 passes defensed, yet 0 forced fumbles or fumble recoveries

On top of that, was there a bigger defensive play than the interception return for a touchdown to put San Francisco into the playoffs?? Monday night against the Falcons his 89 yard pick six takes place with 1:31 to go when the 49ers needed a play. This play and his final play are the essence of the man. He stops Kearse in the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship at the two yard line. The tackle wasn’t enough, he forces and recovers a fumble although he injures himself in the process. It’s that spirit that makes him the best linebacker in the NFL. One we wish a speedy recovery from the knee injury suffered against Seattle.

Burfict has been the playmaker on Cincinnati's  top ranked defense.

Burfict has been the playmaker on Cincinnati’s top ranked defense.

Vontaze Burfict ILB – Cincinnati Bengals: Another blood thirsty linebacker who turned in one stellar season was this former Arizona St. Sun Devil. He recorded an astounding 50 more tackles than his breakout rookie season with 177 total tackles. Add to that his 3 sacks, 8 passes defensed, an interception, 1 forced fumble to accompany 2 fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown.

He was the trigger man on the NFL’s third best defense and has a great future ahead of him. We just need to see if he’ll be featured in the new defensive coodinator’s scheme now that Mike Zimmer is the head man in Minnesota.

These were the defenders that made the season for Taylor Blitz Times.

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The Chancellor’s Take on Peyton Manning

The old NFL logo

The old NFL logo

When it comes to NFL football no one has watched more games and studied the game more than The Chancellor of Football. It has always been the great escape for me to study the players, analyze games, dissect teams and playing styles of different eras. I can think back to the early 80’s when someone was watching “The Cosby Show” in the other room, I had a ton of paper out drawing up the “46 defense” and studying Bears games I recorded over in mine.

If I didn’t have a football video game going, I was outside playing it with friends. All  the while my mind was studying the nuances of the game. Then the study migrated to understanding the dynamics of coaches, the sociological aspects of football, the psyche of players, and the psychological make up of a team. What made the player tick…and why certain players received the coverage they did.

One of the real reasons I have been such a harsh Peyton Manning critic is the Alpha or Beta quarterback argument. He’s proven to be an alpha quarterback obviously but I wasn’t going to give him a pass because he was Archie’s son the way the mainstream media did.  I have never been a media darling type. I abhor it. The reason I gravitated to sports and football in general from the beginning was the exploits the athletes made were earned on the field of endeavor. Not what someone made up for them like a Hollywood movie or covered favorably when others are tortured by media types for the same short comings. Take a look at this comment from Facebook earlier when I described Matt Schaub in yesterday’s article. http://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/10/07/the-beta-quarterback/

“To come off this list you have to start winning the big games. I knew Schaub would regress for one simple reason. He NEVER beat the bully on his block. The Indianapolis Colts own him and even retooled on the run. He NEVER bested the Colts in significant games while Peyton Manning was there and now a whole new regime is in place and he still hasn’t grown. Pundits started to pick the Texans as a possible Super Bowl team because of other talent on the squad. Truth is…he’s a beta qb until he proves it beating good teams like Joe Flacco did last year. Only one way past the bully…you have to kick his ass…. If you don’t, you remain in this twilight.”

Peyton Manning with his college coach Phil Fulmer.

Peyton Manning with his college coach Phil Fulmer.

Think back to Peyton Manning’s inability to beat Florida when he was at Tennessee. The Chancellor of Football watched “the next big thing” all throughout his college career. I still have the highlights recorded when he and Jay Graham powered past Eddie George, Terry Glenn and the 4th ranked Buckeyes in the Outback Bowl in 1996…yet I digress

The fundamental flaw to NEVER take down your bully on your block goes with you psychologically for a lifetime. That bully is just substituted later by other people. i.e. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Yet in his coverage the mainstream media wanted to “make” him a champion before he became one.

What got his career launched is he played with 3 Hall of Fame talents that didn’t get the credit for it. Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison. Faulk, who in 1998 nearly had the same stats as he did when the St Louis Rams won it all in 1999. He had 1319 yards to go with 86 receptions and 908 more yards and 10 TDs. Sure a baby faced rookie Manning showed promise, but he threw a rookie record 28 interceptions. Yet you didn’t hear of that through the mainstream media. However Kurt Warner in 1999, who had never started in the NFL won the Super Bowl the following season with Faulk.

Marshll had been relieved of duty when the Colts traded him to the Rams to so they could draft Edgerrin James. In 1999, James became the first rookie to lead the NFL in  rushing in nearly 20 years. In fact he joined Jim Brown, Earl Campell, and Eric Dickerson as the only runners to lead the league in rushing in their first two seasons. That is dating back to 1957. Yet all the coverage went to Manning as though Edgerrin wasn’t even there. James is one of only 3 running backs (Barry Sanders & Eric Dickerson) to have 4 seasons of over 1,500 yards rushing yet when we suggest he’s a Hall of Fame player, http://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/01/19/edgerrin-james-belongs-in-the-hall-of-fame-from-the-_/, some scoff at the notion. Why?? All the coverage was on Peyton Manning and the mainstream media NEVER fed this information to the football masses. Never. He also went on to a Super Bowl without Manning with Kurt Warner ironically in Arizona 2008.

Then you have the quiet Marvin Harrison. Although the end of his career was somewhat shrouded with the backdrop of a gang related shooting death. This performer is the current record holder for receptions in an NFL season with 143 in 2002, and caught 1,102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns during his career. Just about the same as new Hall of Fame enshrinee Cris Carter, and finally we’re hearing about his Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy. This was a #1 draft pick and All America talent at Syracuse catching passes from Donovan McNabb. Yet here is another that rarely received coverage because Manning was the national media’s end all be all when it came to covering the Indianapolis Colts.

The biggest issue is how the media chose to cover him as they thought he would be and not cover him fairly for how he performed. His first forays into the playoffs were underwhelming to say the least. In ’99 when they were the 2nd seed, they only managed 13 at home in a loss to the Titans. Three years later came the worst playoff loss of this millenia in a 41-0 loss to the New York Jets in the Meadowlands. Ironically the site of this year’s Super Bowl. They only gained 167 yards total in that game which was nearly a record low performance. Yet you never heard of these performances or the fact he has a record 11 playoff losses. Why?? Too much jock sniffing by the national media. Guys who wished they were Peyton Manning instead of just covering him.

One of the reasons you're seeing a record breaking season for Manning started here. The 2003 AFC Championship Game.

One of the reasons you’re seeing a record breaking season for Manning started here. The 2003 AFC Championship Game.

Keep in mind he was favored in Super Bowl XLIV and fell behind the New Orleans Saints. Marching for the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter he threw the pick six to Tracy Porter to seal the Colts fate. What would the media have said had that been Eli Manning?? Tony Romo?? Jay Cutler?? They would have buried him like he was Rex Grossman. You have to keep in mind the NFL offices pay attention to media coverage. We saw how much sway media had when the Colts lost the 2003 AFC Championship 24-14 to Brady’s Patriots.

The immediate coverage was on how the Patriots held their receivers and stretched the 5 yard “chuck zone” further downfield. Complaints from the Colts were all over ESPN and dominated the airwaves leading into Super Bowl XXXVIII between the Patriots and Panthers. Ironically they set a Super Bowl record with both quarterbacks throwing for more than 300 yards for the first time in history.

That off-season the NFL stated they were going to reinforce that rule just because of the complaints from Manning and the Colts. No one was able to touch his receivers without a flag and ironically this was the season he broke Marino’s touchdown record of 48. Funny, he couldn’t come within 16 touchdowns of it in his 6 previous seasons.

Is Manning a Hall of Fame??? Absolutely

Is Manning a Hall of Famer??? Absolutely

The coddling of Manning and the favorable officiating is why the Broncos receivers are able to run pass interference routes at their leisure. Whenever you hear these announcers say “pick” its a form of offensive pass interference. Ironically the league hasn’t had a knee jerk reaction to reinforce those rules. So the record book has shattered from this.

The real problem here is it cheapens the record book and cheapens the league as a whole. Just like the Jordan rules ruined the NBA for purists, the same thing is happening in the NFL. What you’re doing is turning the sport into a television show. One where his games are officiated differently than other teams to manufacture a successful environment. Don’t tell me it’s a quarterback driven league when there are just as many who tune in for a stout defense or a record breaking runner. Then you hear the corporate types, who are wholly responsible for this, talk about ratings. Listen, in 1986 the Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX in front of 120 million viewers. At the time on American television, the top 20 watched shows were 18 Super Bowls, the MASH finale, and Roots. The ratings have always been there, so come off that excuse.

Where Peyton Manning was / is concerned he’s given a pass for his flaws and celebrated for what he has done right as though it’s never been done before. Is he really better than Joe Montana when it comes to pre-snap reads?? He’s a better gun slinger than Dan Fouts?? A better deep ball than Terry Bradshaw or Johnny Unitas?? Is he better than Joe Montana at any aspect of quarterbacking?? I know he wasn’t better than Dan Marino in his prime. Yet you hear these pundits wax philosophical as though there is no footage of the 77 years of the NFL before his arrival.

Well here at Taylor Blitz Times, we do have tons of footage of all the greats. No, Manning isn’t the first who handled pre-snap adjustments. Audibles have been a part of the league for greater than 50 years.  The one description I love is how he plays with what scouts call “nervous feet”, which was to a quarterbacks detriment. All of a sudden pundits helped change that to a positive attribute.  Go figure.  He is a Hall of Fame player but keep it in perspective from a historical sense. Everything happening today isn’t the greatest ever seen and make sure you cover players fairly for what they do. After all it is a sport, right??

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Legends of The Fall: Eric Dickerson

If you traveled back to the 1980’s in the NFL, Eric Dickerson was described as a running back from the future. Everything from his upright running style to the way he wore so much in the way of protective equipment. He had the speed of a sprinter yet at 6’3 220 lbs he could run over small defensive backs who came up to support the run. Now that we’re 30 years removed from his rookie year of 1983 there is only one player The Chancellor thinks is the 2nd coming of Dickerson. It’s Adrian Peterson.

Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton in 1984. Payton eclipsed Jim Brown to become the all time leading rusher  that year. Not to be outdone Dickerson broke OJ Simpson's single season record with 2,105 yards.

Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton in 1984. Payton eclipsed Jim Brown to become the all time leading rusher that year. Not to be outdone Dickerson broke OJ Simpson’s single season record with 2,105 yards.

One of the greatest open field sprinters in NFL history, Dickerson was a threat to break it the distance every time he touched the football. What made him great was his sprinter’s speed in the open field with his size. He’d break into the open field and cornerbacks tried to take angles on him and couldn’t run him down. Only Peterson can be compared to him for how far above the rest of the running backs they competed against.

In 1983, you have to remember the Rams wanted to shake up their offense. You had the great quarterback class of 1983 and the bright star from SMU. The Rams had a 1,000 yard rusher in Wendell Tyler but saw a more explosive runner in Dickerson. It was interesting because we hadn’t seen Dickerson carry the total load since he alternated series with Craig James while in college. With the Rams desperate to catch the 49ers, who had risen to power in the NFC West, they took Dickerson.

The clear understanding was he would pay immediate dividends over the quarterbacks who would take 4 to 5 years  to develop. At least that was the NFL’s thinking of QB development at the time. Dickerson took the National Football League by storm rushing for 1,808 yards and 18 TDs as he powered the 9-7 Rams to a wildcard playoff entry. The Rams had missed the playoffs the previous two years and were energized by their rookie rushing champion. He was the first to do so since Earl Campbell and second to do so since Jim Brown in 1957. They were a run oriented team with spartan quarterbacking and Dickerson still got his yards. Going into 1984 most pundits weren’t predicting a sophomore slump but a possible run to the record books. Dickerson delivered in grand style.

Although the 2,000 yard season has been achieved several times in the 29 years since Dickerson’s magical 1984, his was the most appreciated because teams saw it coming but couldn’t stop it from happening. Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson were both coming off knee reconstructions when they accomplished theirs. He was a sight to behold and led the league in rushing in 3 of his first 4 seasons. Each of which with over 1,800 yards which is amazing. No runner in league history can touch that. The only reason he didn’t do it four straight times was his holdout in a contract dispute before the 1985 season.

Without training camp that year he had a slow start and finished with only 1,234 yards. Marcus Allen led the league in rushing that year with 1,759 yards. Yet he hit his stride as the playoffs loomed. In the divisional round he torched the Dallas Cowboys with a National Football League playoff record 248 yard performance. That 20-0 win sent the Rams to Soldier Field where they lost to the Bears 24-0 in the NFC Championship Game.

However if you’re keeping score, after three years he held league records for most yards rushing as a rookie, most yards in a season, and most ever in a playoff game. Aside from a Super Bowl, the biggest fight he had was with the front office. Yet nothing prepared us for his being traded to the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of the 1987 season.

For all he had accomplished in Los Angeles it was his 1987 and 1988 seasons that cemented Dickerson as a greatest ever runner. The argument when a player is accomplishing these feats is what fuels it?? Is it the offensive line or the running back?? You just heard that Charles White, in Dickerson’s absence, won the 1987 rushing title with 1,347 yards rushing. Dickerson was second with 1,288. The ’88 year saw him reclaim the rushing title with 1,659 yards and 14 TDs where back in LA, White only gained 328. More importantly he had legitimized the Colts as a franchise in Indianapolis.

Before his arrival in ’86, the Colts were 12-36 in their previous three years in Indianapolis. In fact HBO’s Inside The NFL was there to chronicle if they were going to join the ’76 Bucs as the second winless team after an 0-13 start. They acquire Dickerson and he powers them to the 1987 playoffs with a 9-6 record.  His ability to control the ball allowed what was a laughingstock of a defense in ’86 to be the league’s 2nd toughest to score upon at only 15.9 points per game. Ladies and gentlemen that is tilting the field.

The only record he didn’t have at this point of his NFL career was the late Walter Payton’s 275 yards in an individual game. You can blame the Denver Broncos for that. During what was probably the most electrifying game of his career, the Broncos couldn’t keep pace on the scoreboard and eventually he was pulled in a 55-23 blowout. Thanks John Elway. Personally I pulled for Denver to keep scoring so he’d stay on the field for a chance at the record. No such luck….take a look

One of the unique aspects of that game against Denver:  Had the Colts beat the Cleveland Browns in the ’87 AFC Divisional Playoff, this would have been the AFC Championship Game the year before. Dickerson would go on to rush for 13,289 yards 90 touchdowns while catching 281 passes for 2,137 yards and another 6 scores. As the game seems to be phasing out the dominant rusher, he starred as the league took to the air. He was the equivalent of the great quarterback class of 1983 and captured the imagination of NFL fans everywhere. Although I compare him to Adrian Peterson, no other runner ever truly looked like him. If I could splice some film side by side, the person that looked most like him when they ran was Deion Sanders. He ran with an effortless gazelle like stride and when he broke into the open field it was curtains. You weren’t catching him. Well unless you’re Darrell Green.

Dickerson and his former Ram teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Jackie Slater.

Dickerson and his former Ram teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Jackie Slater.

What would he have accomplished had he completed his career in Los Angeles?? Would he have gone past Walter Payton for the all time NFL rushing champion had he stayed?? Would the Colts franchise have moved again without his arrival?? What would he have rushed for had he not spent time off the field fighting for a higher salary?? He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Ironically when the Colts and Rams were involved in another trade of a Hall of Fame running back in Marshall Faulk.

Eric Dickerson was a one of a kind talent. At his best he was an unstoppable force. Sure his career left us with many questions but at his best none put fear in modern defenses like he did.

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Missing Rings: 1993 Houston Oilers

Everyone can tell you when an era ends but when was it’s zenith?? The truly great teams burn bright for some time while winning championships. Others burn almost as bright for a long time but memory fades on those that don’t bring home Super Bowl rings. When it comes to the case of the Houston Oilers between 1987-1993, the zenith came at the end and the fall was so dramatic it killed the franchise.

Warren Moon was building his Hall of Fame resume with Pro Bowl performances 8 straight years.

Warren Moon was building his Hall of Fame resume with Pro Bowl performances 8 straight years.

Yet as we look back at the Houston Oilers of 1993, you have to stretch back a little further and remember what happened during the playoffs of 1991 and 1992.

The Oilers had become one of the most talented teams in football. They were the vanguard of the teams that ran the Run & Shoot offense. Their trigger man, Warren Moon had made it into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. He had orchestrated the league’s #1 offense in 1990 and 1992. in 1991 they dropped to second in the league behind the K Gun of the Buffalo Bills.

Moon was starting at a time when African American quarterbacks were just getting their start in the NFL on a league wide basis. Yet despite those pressures he approached Dan Marino’s passing records with 4,689 yards in 1990, and 4,690 yards in 1991. However his team coming up short in the playoffs was starting to become an issue. Similar to what was once a concern of Peyton Manning and continues to dog Tony Romo, Moon had only won 1 playoff game between 1987-1990. In reality, the Oilers were expected to ascend to be the best team in the AFC as they stockpiled talent around him. Make no mistake Moon was playing to erase the stigma that a black quarterback could lead his team to a championship. It hadn’t been done since Doug Williams in 1987.

He had diminutive and quick receivers in Ernest Givins, the late Drew Hill, Curtis Duncan, and a tall wideout in Haywood Jeffires. In 1991, 4 yards kept Moon from having 3 – 1,000 yard  seasons as the Oilers opened 7-1 and looked like the AFC’s best rival to knock off the defending champion Bills.  However they ran into John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoff. On a mission they ran out to a 21-6 lead in Mile High Stadium. However Elway rallied his team back to a last second 26-24 win that sent the Oilers home after a total collapse. A team with 7 Pro Bowlers and 3 All Pros was sent home by a hodge podge rebuilding Denver team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 1990 and wouldn’t in 1992.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

The team was still in it’s prime as they approached 1992. Age was becoming a factor as the 36 year old Moon missed 6 games during the middle of the year. Houston entered the playoffs with a 10-6 record courtesy of a 27-3 win over Buffalo in a Sunday night finale. It set up a rubber match at Rich Stadium in a wild card game against the two time defending AFC Champion.

Not only were the Bills without future Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, they would be without Pro Bowlers Cornelius Bennett and Thurman Thomas as well. Moon had a first half for the ages as he went 18 of 22 for over 220 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half. At an 81% completion rate, broadcasters Charlie Jones and Todd Christensen waxed philosophical about his breaking the record of 88% Phil Simms had accomplished in Super Bowl XXI. Houston was up 28-7 at the half and then SS Bubba McDowell returned an interception to give the Oilers a 35-3 lead in the 3rd quarter.  They had outscored the Bills 62-6 in 6 quarters in less than a week. They were hitting on all 8 cylinders.

Then came the greatest collapse in the history of the NFL. A 32 point lead was washed away as Buffalo just put on a performance for the ages in a 41-38 win. Once the Bills took the momentum from the shellshocked Oilers the game was almost inevitable. Moon’s crispness in the first half, where he led the Oilers to touchdowns on all four of their drives, went 3 and out on the first four of the second half. Also completely befuddled was defensive coordinator Jim Eddy, who never changed the nickle package or calls for the entire second half of that game. Bills receivers and backup QB Frank Reich knew exactly which plays would work and kept waiting for adjustments that didn’t come.

If the Oilers would have won a Super Bowl between 1987-1993, would Ray Childress be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

If the Oilers would have won a Super Bowl between 1987-1993, would Ray Childress be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

Psychologically, the jury was in on the Houston Oilers of that era for many pundits. They just couldn’t win the big game despite the talent they had on the field. Pro Bowl defenders Ray Childress, Al Smith were possibly tarnishing Hall of Fame careers at this point. Former Pro Bowl talents such as CB Cris Dishman, DE Willam Fuller, and DE Sean Jones were all on the field in Buffalo and none could make a play to turn that game around. Just as they hadn’t in Denver the year before.

Owner Bud Adams had seen enough and decided the defense was the reason for the collapse and hired Buddy Ryan. That’s right the same Defensive Coordinator of the 1985 Bears and former Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Adams did this and forced him onto then Head Coach Jack Pardee. Ryan had total autonomy just as he had in Chicago. In fact he was able to hire his own assistants and player requests. In came former Ryan disciple Wilber Marshall, a fiery linebacker that was one of the unsung performers on that ’85 Bears team.

Ryan also forced the team to draft a MLB in Miami Hurricane Michael Barrow and draft a tight end in John Heny Mills. With a defense that had 6 former pro bowlers on it and a soon to be Pro Bowler Lamar Lathon at that point, this was going to be a sight to behold. Ryan resurrected the 46 defense deep in the heart of Texas yet how much of the leadership of that team was stripped of Pardee?? 1993 looked like the last year for the Oilers to make it to the Super Bowl or the team would be broken up. All or nothing.

When Buddy Ryan brought in former All Pro Wilber Marshall, the defense took on a totally different tone.

When Buddy Ryan brought in former All Pro Wilber Marshall, the defense took on a totally different tone.

The preseason began with Ryan firing off comments about Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride and the Run & Shoot offense. The “Chuck & Duck” Ryan scoffed at the high penchant for passing and not running the football. The team however sputtered out of the gate as the defense had some growing pains and the offense started slow. In fact, a 1-4 start to the 1993 season looked similar to the Houston Texans of this year. A lot of talent, although a little old and they should be able to turn it around. That fourth loss came in a return trip to Buffalo. With Warren Moon’s benching, it looked to all the world this era of Oilers football was about to come to a crashing end.

However the defense not only grew into it’s shoes, it became the scourge of the league. Gone was the passive 4 man rushes of the Jim Eddy defense and in was the confusing blitz packages Ryan had made famous in Chicago. His Philadelphia Eagles didn’t use as many packages as he did in Houston. Over the next eight games they had 35 sacks, 30 takeaways and had knocked 5 quarterbacks from the game. A defense full of star quality talent left opponents without a focal point to game plan against. The league hadn’t seen heavy focus on the 46 defense in over 5 years. They also hadn’t played against this personnel in these new positions. Teams were thoroughly overmatched as the last 11 opponents never scored beyond 20 points.

As the defense helped turn the season around Warren Moon came off the bench when his backup Cody Carlson was injured in week 6. His play was more efficient than it was spectacular as defenses had caught up to the Run & Shoot by ’93. However the Oilers were running the ball more and inserted a bigger back to try and wear down defenses. Former special teamer Gary Brown took over due to injuries and rushed for 1,002 yards on 195 carries. He was the first player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards while only starting half the season. Gone was the scat back presence of Lorenzo White and Allen Pinkett and a bruiser was now running the football in the Run & Shoot. Now teams couldn’t go with pass specialists at linebacker with a hammer in the backfield.

However all wasn’t rosey.

The team operated in the awkward vacuum of two camps within a football squad. Buddy Ryan had complete autonomy with his players and coaches. The season long tension was always there as Ryan said what he wanted to at press conferences, even if it wasn’t supportive of the offensive side of the ball or the team as a whole. Head Coach Jack Pardee and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride acquiesced some of their game planning to accomodate Ryan. Think not?? Brown in half of the ’93season carried the ball nearly 200 times where in 1991, Allen Pinkett started all 16 games and only ran it 171 times.

What bothered Ryan the most was the offense continuing to pass the football at the end of halves when they should have run the football and gone into the locker room. This resulted in two of his starting defensive backs being lost for the season on meaningless plays right before halftime. So when starting FS Marcus Robertson was injured with just seconds left before the half in the last game, Ryan exploded and threw a punch at Gilbride. Now heading into the NFL playoffs he would be missing 3 of his 4 starters in the secondary.

The Oilers of 1993 were a lab experiment about how a team with such disjointed chemistry could actually band together to be the tough minded team no one thought of them as. They survived “Babygate” when OT David Williams missed a game early in the season to witness the birth of a child. Media scrutiny was less intense and more forgiving when DT Jeff Alm committed suicide before their week 14 match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Decicating that game to his parents and their fallen teammates memory, they went on the road and whipped the Steelers 26-17 to capture the AFC Central.  Ten months after a collapse branded this team as one of the psychologically weak teams in modern history, they had forged an identity tougher than any could remember.

They finished the regular season 12-4 finishing on an 11 game winning streak. Which had only been equaled by the ’72 Dolphins, the ’69 Minnesota Vikings, and the 1934 Chicago Bears in all of NFL history. No question did they look across state and see a possible match-up with the defending champion Cowboys. When they went out and hit Steve Young so often in a 10-7 win out in Candlestick on Christmas Day, league wide fear of this team only grew. This was not going to be the same team that wilted under playoff pressure come playoff time in 1993.

The Chiefs defense matched the physicality of the vaunted Oiler defense.

The Chiefs defense matched the physicality of the vaunted Oiler defense.

Everyone feared this group except one team, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Oilers had run over the Chiefs 30-0 early in the season and had talked a big game while doing it. As the AFC Divisional slate put these two together again, talk of knocking out Chief quarterback Joe Montana drew the ire of Chief defenders. The late Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith talked about their knocking Moon out if Montana left the game simiarly. What hadn’t been thought of was beating the bully at their own game.

The Chiefs came into the game as a team that didn’t blitz a lot. They stayed with bookend pass rush All Pros Smith and Thomas and played coverage behind them…or so the Oilers thought. The Chiefs threw blitzes at Warren Moon tying an NFL playoff record with 9 sacks and knocking the offense out of continuity from the very start. They held the Oilers to only 277 yards of offense. Their season low?? 246 yards ironically against the Chiefs in their 30-0 loss to the Oilers at the beginning of the season.

It was Joe Montana and moving on half rollouts away from the blitz that kept him upright in this game. A veteran of 20 previous playoff games, with a 15-5 record that featured 4 Super Bowl championships, he may have played his best game at 37 years of age. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 299 yards 3 TDs and 2 interceptions. Once he adjusted to the Oilers and their fleet of second string people in the secondary, he and Marcus Allen kept the ball away from Moon in the second half. The 28-20 win by the Chiefs came at great delight to both Buffalo and Dallas who no longer had to think of facing this monster team from Houston. They would go on to play in a second straight Super Bowl once Buffalo DID knock Montana from the AFC Championship Game.

As for the Oilers, they were broken up after 1993. Gone was Warren Moon who went on to sign with the Minnesota Vikings. Buddy Ryan received another Head Coaching position in Arizona taking Wilber Marshall with him. The defense was turned over to Ryan disciple Jeff Fisher, who would succeed Jack Pardee once he was fired in week 10 of 1994. Present Titans coach Mike Munchak played his last game for the Oilers in that 93 playoff loss and began his coaching career that same year. Former Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride was let go once Pardee was dismissed. They had been the men responsible for bringing the Run & Shoot to Houston and it left with them.

Ironically the offense that didn’t win it all as a complete scheme lived on in offenses around the league. It was Gilbride teaching some of the Run & Shoot principles to New York Giant receivers as they have won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Even the team of the 2000’s, the New England Patriots run variations of offensive principles that were a staple of Gilbride’s down in Houston. Especially the screen plays that Gilbride designed. Below is a copy of one of the pages from the Patriots Super Bowl playbook of 2003 and you can clearly read “Run and Shoot screen”. 

RunAndShootScreen

The largest fall had been with the fan base that was there from the Luv ya Blue days through this era of Oiler football. The heart of the fan base drained drastically as the team fell to 2-14 in 1994. Within two years, Bud Adams moved the team to Tennessee and renamed the franchise the Titans. It was a sad and sudden end to the Oiler franchise but it came off the heels of promise that was the best team in Oiler history that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.

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Missing Rings: The 1987 Cleveland Browns

When it comes to talking about Super Bowl Rings of NFL champions gone by, we think of great teams. Yet within each team, there are individuals who have their own story to tell. If becoming a champion is the crowning jewel for a lifetime achievement then how monumental is the chase itself?? Enter Marty Schottenheimer and the 1987 Browns.

Mark Jackson celebrates the touchdown at the end of "The Drive"in the '86 AFC Championship Game.

Mark Jackson celebrates the touchdown at the end of “The Drive”in the ’86 AFC Championship Game.

It all began on a dark foreboding afternoon on January 11, 1987 in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. After holding the Denver Broncos to only 216 yards of offense and 13 points in the first 55 minutes of the game, they pinned the Broncos to their own 2 yard line after the kick. The crowd was rocking as Browns fans were throwing confetti and were just a series or two away from Super Bowl XXI. Decades of NFL futility were about to come a close as John Elway and the Bronco offense took the field.

Yet in one of the NFL’s greatest ever playoff drives, John Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards to the tying touchdown. Then the game winner in overtime. The 23-20 thriller ended a season that had been the most accomplished in the modern history of the franchise.

In 1985, the Browns were a limited team that was easing their prized rookie quarterback, Bernie Kosar, into the game plan. This earthbound run oriented outfit was the first division winner in NFL history with a .500 record. Both Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack rushed for 1,000 yards during the season. These shortcomings came back to haunt them in a 24-21 loss to Miami in the playoffs. A game in which Cleveland was up 21-3 at one point. Once the Dolphins focused on the ground game, Kosar was ineffective in his first road playoff game.

So in 1986, third year Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer brought in passing guru Lindy Infante to open up the offense and personally develop Cleveland’s kid quarterback. Kosar developed into an upper level quarterback throwing for 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. Along with the Dawg defense they paced the conference and wrapped up home-field advantage with a 12-4 record. As the playoffs neared, pundits were mixed with what they expected of Bernie. Although he finished with the NFL’s lowest interception ratio per pass attempt, many felt a 23 year old quarterback would fold under pressure.

Marty Schottenheimer

Marty Schottenheimer

In the AFC divisional playoff contest with the New York Jets, Kosar completed 33 of 64 for an NFL playoff record 489 yards in a come from behind 23-20 win. The game went to double overtime before Mark Moseley kicked the Browns to a victory. Then came the loss to Denver and depression set in state wide. It wasn’t the fact the Browns lost, it was the heartbreaking way they lost it. Yet with a developing quarterback and one of the AFC’s best defenses, they vowed to make amends the following season.

Going into 1987, Cleveland started tinkering with their defense. They parted ways with high profile linebacker Chip Banks and altered their 3-4 defense in the early portion of the season. With two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon, the Browns could go man to man against anyone. Results were mixed as Cleveland had issues rushing the passer. Minnifield and Dixon started in the Pro Bowl for the 2nd straight year, so coverage wasn’t the issue.

The offense continued to diversify as Kosar elevated his game to a higher degree. In 1987 he had the second lowest interception percentage  of all NFL quarterbacks (2.3%) as he threw for 3,033 yards, 22 TDs with only 9 interceptions. His 62% completion percentage (241 of 389) was among the best in pro football. Although he was a bit awkward as a quarterback he started to win some acclaim. He made the Pro Bowl and was voted the People’s Choice MVP that year. Keep in mind these numbers came from only 12 games thanks to the players strike that year.

He still had future Hall of Fame TE Ozzie Newsome to go with his receivers Webster Slaughter (47 rec./ 806yds / 7 TDs) and Reggie Langhorne. However third receiver Brian Brennan (43 rec/ 607 yds / 6TDs) out of the slot was Wes Welker before Wes Welker. Running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack were no longer the 1000/1000 tandem. Mack was the straight ahead freight train and Byner became a combination runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Ancient Cleveland Municipal Stadium was remembered fondly by those from Ohio. Yet to the outside world it was an antiquated unattractive place.

Ancient Cleveland Municipal Stadium was remembered fondly by those from Ohio. Yet to the outside world it was an antiquated unattractive place.

To the casual football fan this team was put together in a hodge-podge sort of way. Very few of the Cleveland Browns were blue chip players. Kosar and Mack were supplemental selections. Inside Linebacker Mike Johnson and All Pro Cornerback Frank Minnifield came from the USFL. Spot time starter Felix Wright #22, came from playing several years in the Canadian Football League. The year before, the Browns brought in former Ohio St alums LB Anthony Griggs and SS Ray Ellis. Each of which were let go by the Philadelphia Eagles when Buddy Ryan took over. Starting DEs Al “Bubba Baker” was a former Cardinal and Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston was in his 12th year was a former Philadephia Eagle from an even earlier regime than Ellis and Griggs.

Now Pro Bowl Cornerback Hanford Dixon and Pro Bowl Linebacker Clay Matthews were 1st round selections fully entrenched as starters.Yet it was this unlikely group that fought as a unit to bring prestige and respectability to Cleveland. Their stadium was ancient and unattractive when you compared it to other teams around the league. Yet all of this fueled the furnace that was the spirit of those 1987 Browns. It fueled the fans as well. Hanford Dixon coined the “Dawg Defense” and the bleacher zone the “Dawg Pound” and that took on a league of it’s own. People dressed in dog masks, chewing on dog biscuits, throwing them on the field. In fact, in 1989 playing the Denver Broncos, the fans were so rowdy throwing biscuits on the Broncos huddled in the endzone, the referees switched sides. It was the first time in NFL history that had happened.

Did I just mention the Broncos?? Well back to 1987…

Wide Outs Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne embodied the spirit of the Browns of that era.

Wide Outs Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne embodied the spirit of the Browns of that era.

After posting a 10-5 record and winning the AFC Central, the Browns beat Eric Dickerson’s Indianapolis Colts 38-21 to set up the rematch they had waited for all year with Denver. This time the AFC Championship would be held in Mile High Stadium. Yet the Browns didn’t care. They had to exorcise the demons from “The Drive” and losing the AFC Championship the year before to the Broncos. When in fact it was a morality play when you thought of the two cities and the two teams. Cleveland was the unattractive “Mistake By the Lake” and Denver was the sprawling western urban city with mountains to ski off in the distance.

Even the quarterbacks took on the embodiment of their towns. John Elway was the prototypical glamour quarterback. First round draft pick with a rocket right arm who was on the cover of magazines and gained much of his fanfare from the previous year’s championship game. Where Kosar was the physically awkward antithesis to Elway’s athleticism, he didn’t have John’s polished ready for television demeanor and looks either. However there was an assassin beneath the surface. This was the kid who won the 1983 National Championship at the University of Miami (The [[_]]) as a redshirt freshman. The 31-30 upset of the #1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers that were averaging 52 points a game. So Kosar didn’t shrink under intense pressure.

How about the Head Coaches??

Well in one you had the polished, always in a shirt and tie Dan Reeves v. the bland “V-Necked”sweater or brown overcoat wearing Marty Schottenheimer. Reeves came up as a golden child on one of the NFL’s glamour teams playing for Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. Then coming up through the coaching ranks and winning a ring as a coach (Super Bowl XII) just as he had as a player in Super Bowl VI. He was a highly sought coaching commodity when Denver hired him in 1981.

Schottenheimer?? He had been a back-up linebacker and special teams player for the Buffalo Bills over in the “other league” known as the AFL. He had been a mid-season replacement for embattled coach Sam Rutigliano for whom he coached the defensive backs in 1984. In ignominious fashion it was his secondary who gave up one of the Browns biggest gaffes ever in 1980 when they allowed a Hail Mary to Ahmad Rashad in the final seconds to the Minnesota Vikings.

In short Cleveland was the antithesis of everything they felt the Broncos were not. Gritty, tough, fighting for respect from the establishment. It tapped into the inferiority complex of the Browns fans and together they lived with the pain of “The Drive” from 1986 ripping at their souls. As for the ’87 AFC Championship??

The largest come from behind game in NFL postseason history was the 20 point comeback by the 1957 Detroit Lions in a 31-27 win over the 49ers. At least up until that time. That was against a 49er team that couldn’t win the big game. This comeback by Cleveland, down 18 twice, was performed against the team with the best home record of any NFL team (75% 1960-1987) during those years. Against the backdrop of the emotion from the previous year?? It was the epitome of a never say die attitude that should be taught to kids everywhere.

To have such a monumental performance come up short like that doesn’t take away from it’s brilliance. Earnest Byner had rushed for 67 yards and caught 7 passes for an additional 120 and 2 touchdowns. Did you know this was only the 2nd time a team scored 30 points in any NFL championship game and lost?? The Browns scored 30 in just the second half!! They were down 21-3 at the half and lost 38-33. We’re talking 178 games of AFC /AFL Championships, NFC / NFL Championships and Super Bowls. The only other time was when Dallas lost Super Bowl XIII to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yet the overwhelming feeling after Byner’s fumble was the best team didn’t win that day. All the media talked about was John Elway who passed for 14 of 26 for 281 yards 3 TDs and 1interception. When the best player on the field that day was Bernie Kosar who threw for 361 yards (26 of 41) for 3 TDs and 1 pick. Which was the record for any championship quarterback playing on the road.

Browns fans had to watch in disbelief in Super Bowl XXII, when Washington blew out the Broncos 42-10 knowing their team was better. In fact the following year Cleveland won in Washington 16-10 on the road to knock them out of playoff contention in 1988. So could they have beaten them in a Super Bowl?? Probably. The year before when they lost “The Drive” to the Broncos. Had to watch the Giants pull away from the Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI. In 1985, the Browns beat the Giants 35-33 in the Meadowlands in the 13th week. Are we sure the Giants would have won on a neutral site Super Bowl?? Remember we’re talking about a pre- free agent NFL back then.

However for one magnificent evening, Marty Schottenheimer and the Cleveland Browns taught fans everywhere a lesson in not giving up. Working your way out of a hole borne from self induced mistakes and putting on a Herculean effort that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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Andre Reed Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

Andre Reed was a very dangerous receiver with the Buffalo Bills in the late 80s and early 90s.

Andre Reed was a very dangerous receiver with the Buffalo Bills in the late 80s and early 90s.

As many of the NFL’s best ever gather for the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, Andre Reed, who has been a finalist 7 times, remains on the outside looking in. Many forget how dangerous Andre Reed was with the football when the Buffalo Bills rose to prominence back in the late 80’s. He was a budding superstar before the Bills brought in James Lofton during the 1989 season.

Essentially and unselfishly he sacrificed personal glory as a slot receiver where he spent most of his time getting hit by linebackers and running away from safeties as he perfected the run after the catch. He could have been a prima donna and cried through the media for more passes, but he didn’t. He sacrificed for the good of the Buffalo Bills and it could be those lack of numbers now keeping him out of the Hall. So lets take a closer look.

During the early 1980’s, the Buffalo Bills were a downtrodden franchise with little direction. The Bills had stumbled in the standings from 1982-1984. going 14-27. The area was economically depressed and morale was low on a football team that was literally Siberia in NFL circles. However that changed in 1985 with the first overall draft selection of future Hall of Famer DE Bruce Smith and spent a fourth round pick on a little known receiver out of Kutztown St. Who?? Exactly. This was the draft where the pre-draft talk was on Jerry “World” Rice of Mississippi Valley State, and Al Toon out of Wisconsin. However there was talk brimming on a little known receiver shuffling off to Buffalo.

Reed as a rookie showed promise as he caught a modest 46 passes for 637 yards and 4 touchdowns. He and Smith were the first cogs in a rebuilding project that would include QB Jim Kelly in 1986, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett in 1987, and Thurman Thomas in 1988. The Bills became a defensive minded team that ran the ball with a combination of Ronnie Harmon, Thomas, and Robb Riddick. It was the 1988 season, Reed’s fourth, where the team took off racing to an 11-1 record and became the first team to win their division by Thanksgiving. Reed made the Pro Bowl for the first time that season catching 71 passes for 968 yards and 7 touchdowns. Despite missing two games to injury. The Bills dropped the Houston Oilers 17-10 in the divisional round before falling to Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game 21-10.

However it was the 1989 season where Andre Reed and the Bills offense hit full stride. For the record, he had become the NFL’s most dangerous receiver after the catch. In a year where the Bills found themselves in shootouts they opened up the offense with a no-huddle reminiscent of Kelly’s run & shoot USFL days. Reed burst into the nation’s consciousness when he had a 5 catch 135 yard 2 TD performance in a wild 47-41 overtime win against Houston. It was the game of the year and in spectacular fashion, Reed took a routine 5 yard pass and turned it into a winning 28 yard score. He juked the initial defender covering him, ran through an attempted arm tackle and took it down the sideline. Ballgame!! Reed finished with 88 receptions for a career best 1,312 yards and 9 touchdown (#2 in NFL /receptions) and became one of the league’s game breakers.

As the 9-7 Bills limped into the playoffs, they faced the aging Cleveland Browns in a divisional playoff.  With his team down 3-0, Kelly 0 for 5, and needing some offense, it was Reed who struck with a game breaking 72 yard touchdown to get the Bills into the game 7-3.

Reed went on to catch 6 for 115 yards and a touchdown as he was matched up against All Pro Cornerback Frank Minnifield all day. The 34-30 loss was one of the greatest games in NFL history and the nation’s first glimpse of what was to come. By 1990, with James Lofton now entrenched as a starter on the outside, the Bills ran their 3 receiver no huddle offense from the outset of the season and not as a 2 minute offense.  At the time, they made a then unheard of decision to have Reed play in the slot instead of the “Z” receiver. This isn’t like now where defenders aren’t allowed to really tee off on receivers running inside routes. He was never going to be the receiver running under picture perfect bombs again. He had to fight for yards the tough way….after the catch in the middle of defenses. As for the Bills offense??

Andre Reed tries to avoid Mark Collins in Super Bowl XXV.

Andre Reed tries to avoid Mark Collins in Super Bowl XXV.

Over the next five years, the Bills finished #1 in offense 3 times as the team went on to 4 Super Bowl appearances. During that time Reed amassed 288 receptions for 5,128 yards and 35 touchdowns on one of the offensive juggernauts in NFL history. While teammates Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas won several offensive player of the year awards and an NFL MVP in 1991, it was Reed who was the only Pro Bowler in all five of those seasons. The attention defenses afforded Reed on the inside is why Lofton reemerged as one of the league’s deep threats. Thanks to 2, 1,000 yard seasons, Lofton retired after 1992 as the NFL’s yardage reception leader with 14,—- yards. The last few years of his career propelled him to Canton as a Hall of Famer thanks to Reed’s sacrifice within the team’s offensive structure.

Over the next five years, the Bills finished #1 in offense 3 times as the team went on to 4 Super Bowl appearances. During that time Reed amassed 288 receptions for 5,128 yards and 35 touchdowns on one of the offensive juggernauts in NFL history. While teammates Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas won several offensive player of the year awards and an NFL MVP in 1991, it was Reed who was the only Pro Bowler in all five of those seasons. The attention defenses afforded Reed on the inside is why Lofton reemerged as one of the league’s deep threats. Thanks to 2, 1,000 yard seasons, Lofton retired after 1992 as the NFL’s yardage reception leader with 14,004 yards. The last few years of his career propelled him to Canton as a Hall of Famer thanks to Reed’s sacrifice within the team’s offensive structure.

One of the greatest aspects of Reed’s career was his performance in the postseason. We already alluded to the great game he had against the Browns in 1989. In ’90 the Bills had homefield throughout the playoffs yet Jim Kelly had missed the last three regular season games. Experts weren’t sure they could pick up where they had left off, until Reed caught a shallow crossing route, broke two tackles turning it into a 40 yard touchdown. 7-0 and the Dolphins were hanging on for dear life. In a 44-34 triumph, Reed scored the clinching touchdown on a similar play from 26 yards out. On the day he caught 4 passes for 122 yards and a pair of scores.

In 1992, Reed was the Bills only top shelf performer in the AFC Wild Card tilt with the Houston Oilers. After spotting the Oilers a 35-3 third quarter lead, Buffalo roared back to win 41-38 in the greatest comeback in NFL history. Both Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and Hall of Fame running back, Thurman Thomas didn’t play that day. All Reed did was team with Frank Reich, gather 8 receptions for 136 yards and 3 second half touchdowns including the one that tied it at 38 to force overtime. Although the Bills were beaten soundly in Super Bowl XXVII, Reed had another spectacular performance with 8 receptions for 152 yards, breaking two catches for over 35 yards in the second quarter to keep the game close. At halftime the Cowboys jumped his routes on their way to a blow out win. He was that much a factor early….but Dallas pulled away 52-17.

The ultimate reason Reed is a Hall of Famer is the way he played. Without being the size of a linebacker like Brandon Marshall, Terrell Owens, and this huge new breed of receiver, Reed only stood 6’2 and 190 lbs, yet he didn’t catch short passes and slide to the ground waiting to get touched down. He stiff armed defenders and ran through arm tackles for most of his touchdowns. He was the greatest ever receiver when it came to yardage after the catch. As you saw in the latest film, he caught passes over the middle and only when the Bills caught teams in a blitz did he sight adjust to a longer pattern. Otherwise he ran through defensive backs with ease. Over his 16 year career, he gathered in 951 receptions for 13,151 yards and 87 touchdowns. He ranks 10th all time in receptions and his 27 receptions in Super Bowl competition is 2nd only to Jerry Rice.

Had Andre Reed not sacrificed for the good of the Bills offense, would James Lofton have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? Would Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas?? For a period, Kelly and Reed held the record for most touchdowns by a combination in NFL history. They wrested that mantle from Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, which has since been broken by Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The closest duo in the 1990’s was Steve Young and Jerry Rice. All of these players are either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or a shoo-in to get there as the count down for Manning will start this February. Only Marvin Harrison and Andre Reed are on the outside looking in. Reed deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for his fearless play.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Andre Reed

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NEXT: 2013 Washington Redskins Preview

The Soul Of The Game: Pat Fischer

Pat Fisher played cornerback for 17 NFL seasons.

Pat Fisher played cornerback for 17 NFL seasons.

In the long history of the NFL there have been players who defined their positions because of their physicality. Men like Dick Butkus, Dick “Night Train” Lane, and Lawrence Taylor were freaks at their position. They were bigger than what other teams were geared to deal with normally. Yet there are those that stand out as hitters first although their size would suggest something different. Enter Pat Fischer.

Standing only 5’9, and 170 lbs (that can’t be right) Smith played in an era where the NFL was a running league. Unlike today’s game where he could play out in space chasing an X, Z, or slot receiver, Fischer had to come up and tackle in an era where everyone was emulating Green Bay’s power sweep. He had to take on pulling guards,  some fullbacks along with his coverage responsibilities. Yet he only missed 10 games in his first 16 years.

His physical play belied his diminutive size as he played as a pint sized intimidator. Lionel “Train” James loves to say “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Never was this more true than of Pat Fisher. Even in the Super Bowl VII highlight, NFL Films had John Facenda narrate how much a nemesis he was against the run and the pass. Let’s face it, a cornerback his size now is primarily a special team guy who is platooned only against multiple receiver sets. They rarely tackle players other than small slot receivers. Take a look at how Fisher played…

In the NFL of the 1960’s there was a concentration of talent that stayed with the same teams and systems for many years. Fischer was caught in this vice where Hall of Fame cornerbacks Dick “Night Train” Lane, Herb Adderley, Jimmy Johnson, and Lem Barney were playing. He was an overlooked player for awhile and some of it could have been other players not leaving behind on-field animosity when voting for fellow players.

There has to be some truth to it or Fischer wouldn’t have had one of his 3 Pro Bowl seasons in 1969 when he had just 2 interceptions. Now his first, in 1964, where he picked off 10 returning them for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns couldn’t be ignored. That was 1 TD short of the all time record. Yet other years he was overshadowed by these other players.

mel-gray-05893042

Pat Fischer played well into the 70’s and here he is going against Mel Gray in the mid ’70s.

One could also make the argument Fischer’s 1969 Pro Bowl and All Pro season came because of the higher visibility Vince Lombardi brought to the team in his only year coaching there.

Whatever the reason, Fischer played from 1961-1977 and retired having played in more games at cornerback in NFL history. If you think about that time frame, he came in 9 years before the AFL / NFL merger and played through the 12th Super Bowl. This is before the modern athlete could have arthroscopic surgery between seasons to prolong their careers. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame??

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The Golden Age of Hating The Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys helmet design on Facebook.

Dallas Cowboys

It was a feeling that manifested itself sometime during the 1970’s. We can put it on the late George Allen, former coach of the Washington Redskins, who was first to verbalize a total disdain for the Dallas Cowboys. It raised the level of rancor between the Redskins and Cowboys that elevated their rivalry to national televised status. T

hey had a behind the scenes rivalry that was based upon the Cowboys becoming the NFL’s most southern most team when they came into the league in 1960. Before that, the Redskins of George Preston Marshall were. It was during the 1970’s when their rivalry was felt between the fans and the players on the field.

However the disdain Allen felt during the early 1970’s was felt by many teams and fans. The feeling was the late Tom Landry and his Dallas Cowboys were given too much publicity by the networks and the print media. CBS was constantly covering the Cowboys and the level of success they had in the 1970’s, with 5 Super Bowl visits, seeded hatred in their rivals. Especially within their division. Yet none of them were good enough to challenge them in the NFC East.

By the time NFL Films made the 1978 Dallas Cowboys yearbook and labeled it “America’s Team” hatred was at an all time high. Even jealousy if you will. It was the arrogance and air of supremacy the Cowboys organization painted during those CBS days that fueled two schools of fans.

You had those who thought of themselves as beautiful and carried themselves with a sense of arrogance  and identified with the team. Then you had the regular meat and potatoes folks who loved when the Pittsburgh Steelers punched them square in the mouth during Super Bowls X and XIII. They were also fans of all other teams. Yet when your team is no longer in it, they cheered for whoever was facing Dallas in the playoffs or Super Bowl.

Ironically, this is where the Steelers gained their nationwide fans. It had nothing to do with the fact they won 4 Super Bowls in the 1970’s, it was the fact they beat the Cowboys in two of those Super Bowls that made them remain as fans.

As the 1980’s beckoned, many of the teams that Dallas had sat on for the previous decade began to grow anew.  A fresh generation of coaches and players started to internalize the disdain for the bully on the block and began their ascent. It was known that you had to take out Landry’s Cowboys if you really want to be recognized as champions. Although the Redskins were the one with the more acknowledged rivalry, it was the Philadelphia Eagles under Dick Vermeil that got the first crack at the boys from the Lone Star State.

Much of the animosity started at the beginning of the week, when the Eagles were cast as underdogs against Landry’s Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship Game. Although they were hosting, the Eagles were made underdogs by Vegas. Right on cue, the Eagles were being treated as bit role players even though they split their games with Dallas that year.

An upset Dick Vermeil made a declaration that ratcheted feelings up when he vowed “Never allow anyone to take you for granted! I get the feeling the Dallas Cowboys are taking us for granted right now. We’re here because we earned the right to be here. If the Dallas Cowboys are going to take us for granted, we’ll whip their ass!”

To further irk Tom Landry, Vermeil opted to play in their white uniforms forcing the Cowboys to play in the blue jerseys, which they felt were jinxed. Dallas complained to the league office yet for once the powers that be didn’t allow Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm to get their way. The crowd at Veteran’s Stadium was unforgiving as the two teams emerged from the tunnel.  It was 4* and -17* windchill when on the Eagles second play from scrimmage:

The roar of the crowd during Wilbert Montgomery’s touchdown was the loudest ever at Veteran’s Stadium. Cowboy haters everywhere delighted as the Eagles held the early upper hand on the Cowboys 7-0. As the game wore on and Landry’s charges behind 17-7 late in the fourth quarter, they were able to punt and pin the Eagles to their own 5 yard line. From their own 5 yard line the Eagles ended fading hopes for Dallas when in 3 runs Philadelphia moved the football to the Dallas 25. Montgomery was putting the finishing touches on a signature day when he struck with this 54 yard masterpiece.

The Eagles vanquished the Cowboys 20-7 on their way to Super Bowl XV. Wilbert Montgomery etched his name into  Philadelphia lore with a 194 yard performance. They had destroyed the Flex Defence, rushing for 263 yards on 40  carries averaging 6.575 yards a pop!! Cowboy haters everywhere rejoiced in hearing Landry, Danny White and Cowboy apologists have to answer the questions as the defeated football team. In fact many Cowboy haters pulled for the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl two weeks later. People weren’t cheering for the Eagles as much as they were for Dallas to lose.

The following year the Cowboys had revamped their secondary &  national press covered the exploits of rookies Everson Walls (who should be a Hall of Famer), Michael Downs, and Ron Fellows. Although the publicity was on this group in Big D, they were overshadowing an even greater group in San Francisco. Where Bill Walsh had drafted and started rookie CB Ronnie Lott, CB Eric Wright, and S Carlton Williamson to go along with scrappy veteran S Dwight Hicks.  Yet through most of the 1981 season, you didn’t hear about the 49ers. Even after a 45-14 devastation of the Cowboys in week 5 with Ronnie Lott scoring the decisive touchdown.

Did you know the 49ers didn’t make the Monday Night Football highlight package?? Don’t tell our CEO there was no media bias. Nor can you say the coverage of Dallas’ rookie trio of defensive backs didn’t motivate the group by the bay. Was it borne from the Cowboys propaganda and success of the 1970s?? Or was it borne from Tom Landry’s ties to the New York media since his pro coaching career started there??

Did you know the late Pat Summerall who broadcast many of the Cowboys games in that era, was a teammate and friend of Landry back in New York?? So when they didn’t make the ABC Monday Night package it fed into the hating Dallas mantra that much more by the 1981 NFC Championship Game.

There had been a history between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas. In fact you could say the 49ers were who Dallas had built their reputation on with wins over them in the 1970 and 1971 NFC Championship Games. At that point the Cowboys were called “Next Year’s Champions” for four straight playoff defeats to Vince Lombardi’s Packers and the Cleveland Browns. As a new decade beckoned it was the Niners and the Cowboys who stepped to the fore.

Once Dallas emerged and won Super Bowl VI, their prestige soared where the vanquished 49ers went into a tailspin the rest of the decade. Yet before that happened, there was the 1972 NFC Divisional playoff where a measure of revenge was going to be exacted against Landry’s troops when Roger Staubach led a furious 4th quarter rally. Staubach led Dallas to a 30-28 win after they were behind 28-13 with 5:00 to go in the game. This is when he earned the nickname Captain Comeback.

Fast forward to the 1981 NFC Championship where the resurrected 49er franchise, now under Eddie DeBartolo, were preparing for the game. Still smarting from the lack of respect afforded his group after the 45-14 win and no media coverage, set the tone of a franchise when talking to a reporter. “They ate it once and they can eat it (defeat) again.” Reminiscent of Dick Vermeil the year before, Cowboy haters were all pulling for the 49ers in this game when they took the field.

The final stint came when the Washington Redskins had their turn to climb over Dallas to make it to the summit of pro football. After a strike shortened season where the 8-1 Redskins entered a playoff tournament to make it to Super Bowl XVII, most pundits picked the media darling Cowboys to win the NFC Champoinship citing the Redskins only loss was courtesy of the Cowboys. Our CEO can remember being fired up for the NFC Championship between Washington and Dallas and knew it was going to be a thing of beauty.

It actually started when the Redskins were putting the finishing touches on a 21-7 win over the Vikings to set up the NFC Conference final when the chant “We want Dallas!!  We want Dallas!!” resonated from the jam packed crowd at RFK.   Just moments before, John Riggins who had rushed for 185 yard was in the midst of a curtain call, turned and gave a bow to the crowd sending them into a frenzy.  Those sights and sounds reverberated throughout the stadium and CBS chose instead of showing the final plays of that game, panoramic views of the raucous fans.

As for the rest of the Cowboy haters who gathered to watch this team go down again. Look no further than another bulletin board comment that jump started the festivities. It started with Dexter Manley professing in the paper that he “hated Dallas” that Monday that got the ball rolling.  Then back and forth in the newspaper ensued from Danny White of the Cowboys, to Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke, EVERYONE was stoking the fire.  How bad did it get?  There was even a heated argument about the game within the House of Representatives the Friday before the game and the late Thomas “Tip” O’Neill adjourned session an hour early.  It was on!!!!

Over a football game? Yes over a football game. The hating of Dallas really grew wings in the George Allen era.  He preached it, lived it, and over all the treatment America’s Team received as a media darling kept breeding that hatred within rival teams.  Real Redskin fans will talk with high regard of the fact that they beat Dallas in the ’72 NFC Championship when the Cowboys were defending champions.  So here we were some 10 years later and all that animosity was a thing of the past right?  After all new owner, new coach, new quarterback and cast of characters comprised the Redskins roster.  Right?

With that we were at an end of an era where other NFL teams were able to get their due as the 1980’s moved on. Media coverage transferred from Dallas to new teams coming from Chicago, the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, of course the 49ers and the Redskins who were dominant the rest of the decade. From this era came the nationwide fan base of the San Francisco 49ers much like the Steelers. The backlash of the “America’s Team” name and over favorable coverage brewed hatred from the majority of NFL fans and players.

Notice in these videos, the look in their eye and the description of elation for vanquishing the Dallas Cowboys of that era. In all three cases before the NFC Championship, where decorum was to be quiet, and not give the Cowboys bulletin board material. Coaches and owners in these instances were doing it let alone players. It set the table for things to come and put their organizations on high alert of what was expected of them.

The hatred for everything Dallas began to dissipate at this time. There was some animosity left when the ’85 Bears bloodied them 44-0 in Texas Stadium after 9 straight losses to them. Yet by the time of Tom Landry’s departure, people felt bad about what happened to the Cowboys and watched the dismantling of a franchise with mixed emotions.

You were almost mad that they were 1-15 in 1989, because the villain from Texas was gone. The Jimmy Johnson Cowboys of the 1990’s were an envied team, not a hated one. To be hated you had to be more than a good  football team, and in retrospect that was what made hating the Dallas Cowboys worthwhile.

The way they were marketed, branded, and packaged. The way their coach was treated like a God and their quarterback in Roger Staubach was the idol which gave way to Danny White. Their cheerleaders were even made famous. All of this tapped into the inferiority complex of many players and fans of other teams. When it came time to beat them for a championship or a game of importance, it was the Holy Grail.

NEXT: 2013 Indianapolis Colts Preview

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Greatest Defensive Performance in an NFL Game – Vernon Perry

Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers was a solid strong safety.

Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers was a solid strong safety.

When it comes to great performances in the NFL we tend to think of superstars having spectacular days. However there are times when a player finds himself totally in tune with a situation and turns in the game of a lifetime.

Such was the case with SS Vernon Perry of the late 70’s Houston Oilers. He was the college teammate of the late Walter Payton and Oiler teammate Robert Brazile at Jackson State. After a stint in Canada, Perry only played five seasons in the NFL (1979-1983) and the only distinction he gained was being named 2nd team All Pro in 1980.

In 1979, the Oilers were chasing perennial champion and division rival Pittsburgh, to whom they lost the 1978 AFC Championship Game to. Perry’s rookie year helped solidify a secondary that picked off 34 passes for the season. They were built as a run heavy team behind legendary Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell. In week 15 the Oilers beat the Steelers 20-17 to give them both identical 11-4 records. A loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the final week relegated the Oilers to the wild card role and the Steelers the division championship.

The wild card game was one of the most physical games in NFL history. The Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense battled tooth and nail in the 13-7 loss to the Oilers. They knocked out Earl Campbell, leading receiver Ken Burrough, and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini.

So a team that had serious aspirations of reaching Super Bowl XIV, or at least a rematch with the Steelers, would have to do so without Campbell’s 1,697 yards in the divisional round. Since the game would be on Saturday and not Sunday, they would be without Pastorini and Burrough as well.

Air Coryell - Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow

Air Coryell – Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow

Picture the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys going into a playoff game without Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin all not being in the game. This was that equivalent.

Their opponent was the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers who also had Super Bowl aspirations. In 1979 they became the first team since the merger to make the playoffs passing more then they ran. Dan Fouts had thrown for 4,082 yards which was an NFL record at the time. They too finished with a 12-4 record to tie Pittsburgh for best record in the conference, and had their confidence boosted in week 12 with a 35-7 blowout of those Steelers. They had Pro Bowlers in John Jefferson (61 rec. 1,090 yds 10TDs), Charlie Joiner (72 rec. 1,008 yds 4TDs) along with Hall of Fame DE Fred Dean and DT Gary “Big Hands” Johnson.

The Chargers finished winning 6 of their last 7 and had held 4 of their last 5 opponents to 7 points or less. For the year, finished 5th in the NFL in defense and were healthy and home for the divisional round. This was a Super Bowl ready group… All they had to do was get past an Oiler team without it’s starting quarterback, running back, and leading receiver.

Naturally the Chargers scored on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead and were driving to take a two score lead when Vernon Perry struck…

The Chargers were undaunted but found the Oiler defense was tougher than anticipated. Once they drove inside the red-zone on the next drive, they stalled at the 7 yard line. They were up 7-3 when they lined up for a 26 yard field goal in the second quarter when:

A pensive crowd started to sit on their hands as their high-flying Chargers were clinging to that same 7-3 lead and couldn’t increase it. The Oilers were also struggling to finish drives. The Chargers were coming out with 3:24 to go and they were sure they’d score on the last drive of the half when Vernon Perry decided to undercut Charlie Joiner crossing the middle.

Thanks to the field position caused by Perry’s 2nd theft, the Oilers scored to take a 10-7 halftime lead. With a team that scored 411 points, 2nd most in the NFL in 1979, it was only going to be a matter of time before the Charger juggernaut got rolling.

Or so San Diego fans thought.

Truth be told they had moved the football early and it was becoming clear the Oilers weren’t going away. The team traded 3rd quarter touchdowns and the Oilers were on top 17-14 after Mike Renfro’s 47 yard touchdown. From that point on an upset seemed imminent and the Chargers started pressing. With just over 3:00 to go in the game, Fouts led his team into field goal range when:

Complete disappointment had set in when the San Diego offense took the field with 1:00 to go. Even though they were only behind by 3 and needed a field goal, their body english was that of a defeated team. Yet with under 10 seconds to go, Dan Fouts could get them into field goal range or hope for a pass interference when he heaved his last pass…

After the game Oiler Head Coach Bum Phillips addressed his team “We were short on man power but we were long on guts” was an understatement. Not once can our CEO remember where a team had to go into a playoff game missing 80% of their season’s offensive production due to injury.

Behind Vernon Perry’s NFL playoff record 4 interceptions, 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and a blocked field goal he returned 57 yards, the Oilers pulled off the biggest upset since Super Bowl III. Not only did it come when the Oilers desperately needed it in a playoff game, he set up the Oilers’ first 10 points which gave the team confidence believing they could win.  It was the best defensive performance in NFL history by an individual in The Chancellor of Football’s estimation.

It set up an AFC Championship rematch with the champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Armed with their hot rookie safety they made it to the gunlap in the race for Super Bowl XIV. Once there Perry got the Oilers off to a great start early in the game.

Yet alas the Oilers fell 27-13 in a game made famous by the Mike Renfro no touchdown call that sparked the instant replay debate. At the time the score would have been tied 17-17 late in the third quarter and the Oilers would have had the momentum in a quiet Three Rivers Stadium. However that is another story for another day. For it was the week before when Vernon Perry made NFL history that was the story of the 1979 playoffs and a game for the ages.

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Super Bowl XLVII Preview: Ray Lewis and His NFL Legacy

Ray at a Baltimore practice session.

Ray at a Baltimore practice session.

The mere mention of his name conjures up images of frighteningly intense play from his great 2000 season. We have seen and heard his pregame speeches and he has spawned an entire generation of Middle Linebackers to imitate his play. One such player will line up for the San Francisco 49ers in Patrick Willis. Do you think it’s a coincidence that he wears number 52?? With this being his last NFL game how do we see him going out??

While it’s true that Lewis has lost a step, he’s been very effective as of late. In the AFC Championship he was in on 14 tackles. Against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the divisional round, he had 17 tackles and 1 fumble recovery. What you don’t see are the flash plays that he was able to achieve in the early 2000’s. However you do see a veteran linebacker take the minimum amount of steps necessary to make plays from his position.

The 2012 Ray Lewis in Lando Calrissian facemask. Are we sure he won't intimidate Colin Kaepernick on gameday??

The 2012 Ray Lewis in Lando Calrissian facemask. Are we sure he won’t intimidate Colin Kaepernick on gameday??

This is a veteran linebacker that needs to key with the zone option read Colin Kaepernick will run at them on Sunday. In the Ravens defense, when they see this play, Lewis needs to stay on Frank Gore and the outside guys in Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and Bernard Pollard have to be there to hit Kaepernick early to get his attention. Lewis out in space would definitely be a liability at this time. He, Haloti Ngata, and Terrence Cody have to take care of Frank Gore at the point of this play.

If the Ravens can prove to use the front 3 to eat up the blockers and limit Gore’s effectiveness on the read option, Lewis will be able to scrape from inside out if Ellerbe and Kruger can keep containment. This will have to be later in the game once the read option has been neutralized up front. This game may be won or lost on this premise. Lewis needs to flow from his Inside Linebacker position to the cut back point of this play with containment. If the 49ers can stretch the outside, Lewis will not be able to make it to that point to stop Kaepernick.

Ironically, he was the last player introduced in Super Bowl XXXV when players were introduced individually.

Ironically, he was the last player introduced in Super Bowl XXXV when players were introduced individually.

Don’t underestimate the value of leadership and what it means to motivate men. It’s a lot like going to war with Genghis Khan to those fellow players in the huddle with him. Warriors bring out the best in fellow warriors. The Ravens had lost 4 of 5 at the end of the season without him. During that time they had allowed 27.7 points per game in those 4 losses and only 4 turnovers. Take out the 2 special teams touchdowns against Denver, Baltimore is only giving up 16 points per game and forced 8 turnovers upon his return.

His place in history is secure. Simply put, he is the greatest Middle Linebacker of the last 50 years. Dick Butkus ruled the first 50 and the eras are different and here, we pay homage to each era. More players have used his example how they need to be when it comes to being a leader on his or her team. You have some that lead by words before or during a contest, or you have those who lead by deed. When you have both you catch lightning in a jug. When you have a player that players from other teams look to for leadership and counsel off the field, what does that tell you??

He has a chance to walk off into the sunset with another Super Bowl triumph. The first team achieved greatness because of his will. We’re hard pressed to think this second incarnation of the Ravens won’t do the same thing.

Epilogue: You know..everyone is entitled to their opinion of Ray Lewis. Rather than go on your page and say something, I’ll say it here. I hear others saying he is no role model from his obstruction of justice charge following his trial. What is disturbing is anyone who still vents how he is a murderer and such never seem to keep it to themselves…including a Mrs. Wes Welker. Now, I’m sure those of the opinion went over every nook and cranny of that trial’s evidence to find him guilty…right??

Brian Billick on the sidelines of Super Bowl XXXV.

Brian Billick on the sidelines of Super Bowl XXXV.

Maybe not, but there are many that preach forgiveness and all these virtues yet have none for the man. Let’s ask the question… Why?? I’m sure you donated money to funds set up for the the two deceased men who were killed in that fight. Correct?? By the way do you know their names?? Have your opinions, but I find it ironic we’re headed to Super Bowl XLVII some 12 years later and I can hear Brian Billick’s voice the second they arrived in Tampa for XXXV.

He stepped to the podium and sternly said ‘We’re not going to re-try Ray Lewis and go over that trial. Number one it’s inappropriate and two you’re not qualified.’ No matter his repentance those still feel compelled to say or express venomous comments at the mention of his name as though you’re pure of sin or misdoing. Seriously?? So no matter what he’s done, you have decided to be judge, jury, and executioner on his character forever. Nevermind charitable works, turning his life over to Christ and the lives he has touched. What would you say about him if his behavior was that of an athlete with run-ins after the fact?? Out in the nightlife with questionable behavior?? We’d be listening to how unrepentant his behavior is or had been.

What really is upsetting is how so much of this smack of racism. For African Americans it’s an unspoken but understood issue that once you fall from grace you won’t be forgiven. In Lewis’ case in many instances on the web, OJ is always brought up and it seems to be the same people with the race bating. How many of these have written the Atlanta District Attorney or the Atlanta police department looking for follow-up information?? Yet do we hear murder yelled out every time we saw or speak of actor Robert Wagner, whose wife Natalie Wood, drowned mysteriously with just a few people on the boat?? Aside from one outburst a few years before he died how often was “Chappaquiddick” yelled at Ted Kennedy after the drowning incident that involved Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969?? I don’t remember that slur following Kennedy around every where he went.

In those latter two incidents the person was there but the venom was never delivered anywhere near the frequency of bombs hurled at Lewis. This upsets me to know end because we don’t hear of the Robert Blake incident with this frequency either now do we?? Everyone needs to come off of their high horse and those that hide behind the “concerned citizen” cloak have nothing to fear. Unless you’re going to meet up with and have a fight with a younger Lewis outside of a bar with each of you banked by sets of friends you have nothing to worry about. He’s turned his life over to Christ and has led an exemplary life after that in the name of redemption. At what point do you forgive?? Just a thought…

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Edgerrin James Belongs In The Hall of Fame – From The [[_]]

The 49-45 upset of UCLA put [[_]] and Edgerrin James on the map. Miami return to prominence happend that day.

The 49-45 upset of UCLA put [[_]] and Edgerrin James on the map. Miami return to prominence happend that day.

When you stop and think of professional athletes, so few live up to their potential. In the case of Edgerrin James, no other NFL player had to live up to more coming out of college and he had a hurricane to thank. Although he played for the Miami Hurricanes (The [[_]]), it was Hurricane George that postponed a Miami v UCLA game that was supposed to be played in September of 1998 to December 5th. For many, the college football season was over and the nation watched Heisman hopeful Cade McNown and the 10-0 Bruins who were 1 win away from playing for the national championship. In a wild 49-45 upset, James burst onto the national scene with a 39 carry 299 yard 3 touchdown performance that returned the [[_]] to national prominence and made himself a top NFL prospect.

Since Miami had been down for years following NCAA sanctions, this was the first national glimpse of this immense talent. What followed in the April draft 4 months later added more pressure. Everyone forgets the Indianapolis Colts had drafted Marshall Faulk to resurrect the franchise in 1994 and had just drafted Peyton Manning in the previous year. Having traded Faulk away, it was a forgone conclusion they needed a running back in the #4 spot and Heisman winner Ricky Williams from Texas was there for the taking. General Manager Bill Polian opted to take Edgerrin James instead and it was this move that solidified the franchise. Some experts doubted James calling him a one game wonder.

Going into the 1999 NFL season Edgerrin had a lot to live up to. Could he consistently show the power and speed he displayed to a nation when he dismantled UCLA in that landmark game?? How in the world did he get selected ahead of a Heisman winner who just rushed for 2,124 yards and 28 TDs and was considered a can’t miss NFL superstar by pundits and coaches?? If that weren’t enough, Faulk had been a 1,000 yard rusher 4 times in 5 years including 1,319 yards rushing and 908 yards receiving in 1998. Marshall caught 86 passes and had scored 10 touchdowns in a Pro Bowl season and a rookie that wasn’t Ricky Williams was supposed to top that?? The Colts had been 3-13 in 1998 and now Edgerrin is going to be paired with a second year QB that threw 28 interceptions as a rookie?? No way….

In leading the NFL in rushing with 1,553 yards and scoring 17 TDs he laid to rest the competition with Ricky Williams who gained 884 and only 2 touchdowns in an injury plagued year. In the video you just heard that he had a rookie year better than 5 of the 6 who had been rookie rushing champions. First include Hall of Fame member Earl Campbell who gained 1,450 yards in his initial campaign. He also outrushed Hall of Fame member Jim Brown in his. Now someone will scoff Brown played in a shorter season and he did, but his 942 yards in 12 games comes out to 78.5 per game. Far fewer than the 97 yards per game James accumulated while helping the Colts go 13-3 and win their first AFC East division championship since 1987.

James in contemplation before the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff against Pittsburgh.

James in contemplation before the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff against Pittsburgh.

For an encore he became the first back since Eric Dickerson to start his career with back to back rushing titles in 2000. In his greatest season he ran for 1,709 yards with 13 TDs while catching 63 passes for 594 yards and another 5 scores. If you’re keeping score at home that is 4,444 yards from scrimmage and 35 touchdowns in just 2 years. The only back that could compete with that was Marshall Faulk who had gone on to power The Greatest Show on Turf Rams.

In 2001 James suffered a devastating knee injury and missed 10 games which sank the Super Bowl aspirations of the Colts. In the following season he only rushed for 989 yards and 2 touchdowns. His average had dropped from 4.4 in the previous 3 years to 3.6 and the whispers around the league were he’d never be the same. Not only did he bounce back, over the next 5 seasons he topped 1,000 yards rushing including 2 with over 1,500 yards in 2004 & 2005. Five seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing after reconstructive knee surgery…what was there left to accomplish??

Unfortunately the Colts regular season successes didn’t equal playoff success. The ’99 season ended when Indianapolis was upset 19-13  by the eventual AFC Champion Tennessee Titans. Post season losses to the Jets, Patriots, and finally the Steelers in 2005 kept James from winning it all with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The three had been the face of the team for 7 years together and his contract was up. The salary they would have to bring him back as a free agent would have crippled the franchise. Yet Colts owner Jim Irsay thought so much of James and his contribution to the organization that when the Colts did win it all in 2006, he presented him with a Colts Super Bowl ring even though he now played for the Arizona Cardinals. A classy move.

A triumphant James walks off the field after winning the NFC Championship.

A triumphant James walks off the field after winning the NFC Championship.

What looked like the swan song for James turned out to be false, he had one more surprise for critics that claimed he had lost a step. In 2007 he teamed with Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald on an improbable run to Super Bowl XLIII the very next year. Most of the publicity went to Warner since he was a reclamation project that arose like Lazarus, yet they don’t make it without James’ 1,222 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns.The combination of James on the ground, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald downfield proved too much as the 9-7 Cardinals soared through the playoffs. They beat Atlanta, Carolina, and finally the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in the NFC Championship. Only to lose the Super Bowl on a last second touchdown to the Steelers 27-23 in one of the best games ever.

However every good thing must come to an end and James had led an incredible football life. Think about his accomplishments and what can be attributed to him. How many recruits chose to go to Miami after watching his exploits against UCLA that day when all other teams were not playing?? Miami had received the Death Penalty and had been down for four years after dominating college football for a decade. His performance announced the return of Hurricane football. In the next three years after his 1999 graduation, Miami won the Sugar Bowl and played in two straight national championships winning one in 2001. How many running backs went to The [[_]] because of his influence?? Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Frank Gore came right after him. It was alleged he even donated $250,000 to the school at one time.

How about his low-key personality and league wide respect he garnered while he played with the Colts?? He was one of the first superstars that wore dreadlocks and coming from Miami he broke many stigmas that are unfairly attached to Hurricanes from a nation wide perspective. He was never in trouble away from the field and was thought of so highly he was given a Super Bowl ring for the team he no longer played for. Think about that for a second. All of this in the era of the “ME” athlete. When was the last time you heard of such things in the era of free agency?? Did the San Francisco 49ers give Joe Montana a Super Bowl ring when they won in 1994 after Joe left in 1993?? Give that some thought…

James and Colts Owner Jim Irsay at the Ring of Honor Ceremony.

James and Colts Owner Jim Irsay at the Ring of Honor Ceremony.

He completed his career with seven 1,000 yard seasons in his career.  Finishing with 12,246 yards 80TDs, to go along with 443 receptions 3,364 yards and another 11 TDs. Up until his arrival in 1999 the Indianapolis Colts hadn’t won their division in 12 years. Afterward they won it 5 times during his tenure. In Arizona, the Cardinals had not played for the NFL championship since 1947 until James arrived. 1947??? That is 60 years!! He was voted All Pro four times and led the league in rushing twice. In a Hoosier Dome that once had Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk as tenants, it’s James who is the franchise’s all time leading rusher with 9,226 yards and 64 touchdowns. He’s also been inducted into the ring of honor for both the Miami Hurricanes and the Indianapolis Colts.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, from The [[_]], Edgerrin James!!

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Missing Rings – 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

Elusive Fred Taylor was one of the best running backs in the NFL.

Elusive Fred Taylor was one of the best running backs in the NFL.

There comes a point and time where your greatest effort is rewarded with your greatest prize. At least that is what we are all lead to believe. However that isn’t always the case and it’s what makes the NFL playoffs so compelling. To know that a one and done scenario exists in the playoffs, heightens pulses, nerves, and ultimately leads to the best and worst in players and coach alike. Jimmy Johnson before Super Bowl XXVIII asked his team “How would you feel if you lost the game and you had the best team in the NFL?? How sick would you feel??”

Enter the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars…

This was a team borne from expansion in 1995 along with the Carolina Panthers. Each team surprisingly made it to their conference championships in their second year. However the Jaguars were able to sustain their success. They honed and developed offensive talent that had been mired on NFL benches with QB Mark Brunell (Packers), WR Jimmy Smith (Cowboys), and Keenan McCardell  (Browns). In 1996 & 1997 both Smith and McCardell had over 1,000 yards receiving. In fact it’s debatable that Smith had become the NFL’s best receiver.

Through the 1999 season, Smith had averaged 90 receptions 1,346 yards and 6 touchdowns over those 4 years. He had been to the Pro Bowl in 3 of those 4 seasons. They had former Charger RB Natrone Means and James Stewart who teamed to run the ball with minimal effectiveness.

Brunell had made a name for himself playing like the AFC version of Steve Young. A gritty, mobile quarterback who could make every kind of throw. Yet his spontaneous scrambles unnerved defenses.  He also had been to the Pro Bowl in 3 of those 4 years. Mark came of age in the 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff upset of the Denver Broncos. Mark BrunellIn that game the 9-7 Jaguars made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.  After upsetting the Buffalo Bills on the road, it was expected their Cinderella season would end at the hands of the 13-3 Broncos in Mile High Stadium. Not only were they 8-0 at home but nationwide sentiment favored John Elway making it back to the Super Bowl with the NFL’s strongest team. Denver had rushed out to a 12-1 record wrapping up the AFC West and homefield advantage before resting their players.

After falling behind 12-0, Brunell engineered a comeback where he passed for 245 yards and 2 scores, but came up with timely scrambles that kept drives alive. Along with the running of Natrone Means (140 yds / 1TD), Brunell ran for 44 more as the Jaguars scored on 6 straight possessions in front of a shocked Denver crowd taking a 30-20 lead. The final 30-27 score stunned fans around the nation and everyone hailed the coming of Brunell and the Jaguars.

On the ground the Jags had a plodding rushing attack with RB James Stewart and Means. Two big backs with very little wiggle and no splash plays of any kind. They needed a spark. In 1998 the Jaguars addressed their running issues by drafting the electric but often injured RB Fred Taylor of Florida. He brought the big play from the backfield whether it was a spectacular run or pass reception. His 1,223 yards and 14 TDs should have landed him in the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Brunell passed for 20TDs and only 9 interceptions in a season where he missed 3 games. Jimmy Smith exploded for 78 receptions 1,182 yards and 8 TDs and one of his Pro Bowl berths. As an offense they finally had everything and it looked like 1999 would be the year they would put it all together.

As a defense the Jaguars began to bring in blue chip players to replace those received in the expansion draft. In their 1995 they drafted linebacker Kevin Hardy and defensive end Tony Brackens. Over the next two years, these two matured into two of the AFC’s best as the Jaguars added blue chip draft picks S Donovin Darius & CB Aaron Beasley.

Free agency brought former Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Bryce Paup and perennial All Pro Carnell Lake formerly of Pittsburgh. Then they hired former Panther Coach Dom Capers to be the defensive co-ordinator and the team that finished 6th in the NFL in defense looked to improve in 1999.

The ’99 campaign began with a 41-3 devastation of the San Francisco 49ers at home. Hall of Famers Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the 49ers were still intact at the time. They started 3-1 before Young’s career ending concussion, but that one loss?? The Jags chased him all over AllTel Stadium. He was 9 for 26 while throwing for only 96 yards and 2 interceptions before getting benched.

They held Rice to only 2 receptions while Terrell Owens had 5. After giving up an early field goal, Jacksonville scored 41 unanswered points with the last touchdown being a 90 yard interception return by Aaron Beasley. This sent a shock-wave through the NFL.

Through the first 15 weeks of the season, the Jaguars looked like they were on a collision course with the St Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. They were 13-1 going into a game with the Tennessee Titans that could wrap up home-field advantage and the AFC Central Divsion Championship. They had only given up 169 points and were on pace to break the record of the ’86 Bears for fewest points in a season at 187. In fact they had a 6 game stretch where they held their opponents to 10 points or less.

They also beat the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos, who were the teams that knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Jimmy Smith was having a career year with 116 catches for 1,636 yards and 6 touchdowns. They had outscored their opposition 358-169 and were on an 11 game winning streak. What could go wrong??

Well early in September they lost 20-19 to the Tennessee Titans when Neil O’Donnell subbed for an injured Steve McNair at home. They were a 1 point loss from being 14-0 and now traveled to Tennessee to get revenge and ran smack into a buzzsaw. A division rival that had been chasing them all year had their number as Steve McNair, who was now healthy, threw for 5 touchdowns in a convincing 41-14 win. Surprise!

They now had been swept by their division rival who bullied and outhit them in that game. Not only was their confidence shaken, but questions about their Super Bowl legitimacy could be heard around the NFL and by fans. They did finish with a 24-7 win against the Bengals to finish 14-2, but they were going into the ’99 playoffs asking themselves two questions. Were they the team that was 14-0 against the rest of the NFL, or the one that got swept by the Tennessee Titans??

First up came a game with in-state rival Miami in the AFC Divisional round. It would be the first time Jacksonville would have a home playoff game. How would they fare??

After the 62-7 trouncing of Miami, the Jaguars knew they had to go through the Titans again in the AFC Championship Game. The Jaguars had pulled off the most lopsided playoff game in modern (post 1960) NFL history. For one that was labeled a finesse team, they had been physical with their demolition of Miami and they flew into the AFC Championship Game. The question was: Were they physical enough to beat a true phyical team in the Titans??

At least it would be at home where they had gone 8-1 when you include their playoff game. Winner take all for the right to go to Super Bowl XXXIV. The story lines surrounding this championship was the relative health of both Mark Brunell (knees) and Steve McNair (toe) who were nursing injuries. Wouldn’t you know it was the turning point of the game.

Mark Brunell sacked for the safety which turned the momentum in the '99 AFC Championship Game.

Mark Brunell sacked for the safety which turned the momentum in the ’99 AFC Championship Game.

The AFChampionship was a hard fought affair that saw the Jaguars hold onto a 14-10 lead at the half. While driving for what would have been a momentum building score at the end of the half turned out disastrous for Jacksonville when Brunell was intercepted in the end zone by Marcus Robertson. The momentum switched from there…

McNair, whose foot finally responded, escaped Jacksonville’s defense for a 51 yard run down to the 1 yard line on the first drive of the second half. He scored on the next play to give the Titans a 17-14 lead. Brunell on the other hand was immobile wearing two knee braces. During the regular season where he escaped the pocket 47 time for 208 yards and a touchdown, he was uncomfortable all day and left the pocket once for -1 yard.

In fact after the Titans pinned Jacksonville to their own 3, the immobile Brunell was sacked for a safety by DT Josh Evans that helped break open the game at 19-14. The resultant free kick was then returned 80 yards by Derrick Mason and now the Titans were up 26-14. In less than half a quarter, the Titans scored 16 unanswered points and had a 2 touchdown lead. With their ears pinned back, the Titans pass rush forced Brunell into his roughest outing of the season. He went 19 of 38 for 239 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 costly interceptions. They lost 33-14.

Epilogue: For one brief moment in time, the Jacksonville Jaguars soared to new heights. Most people forget that they were the first to flirt with breaking the record for fewest points given up in a season and not the Ravens. It was Baltimore who broke it in 2000. They had the NFL’s best record (14-2) and finished the season scoring 396 while allowing just 217 which was the fewest.

That 179 point differential was 2nd only to The Greatest Show on Turf ’99 Rams that many wanted to see them play in Super Bowl XXXIV. They finished 4th in total defense, 7th on offense, and had 5 Pro Bowl performers in Brunell, Kevin Hardy, Tony Brackens, Carnell Lake, and Jimmy Smith. Yet they had to sit home and watch someone else represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The team would never be the same. Injuries and disappointment followed in 2000 as they went 7-9. In fact the Jaguars had 3 successive losing seasons which led to Tom Coughlin’s dismissal after the 2002 season.

Want some irony??

Fisher had some parting verbal shots at Jacksonville on the field after that ’99 championship. Coughlin gets fired a few years later. Fisher goes on to lose Super Bowl XXXIV to the St. Louis Rams. Now Jeff Fisher is the St. Louis Rams head coach after NOT winning a Super Bowl in Tennessee. Guess what Fisher did last February?? He sat his ass on a couch and watched Tom Coughlin win his second Super Bowl with the New York Giants to put his name on the short list of great coaches who have accomplished that.

Always be classy when you win…

The 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the best teams that didn’t win the Super Bowl

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

For those avid readers of the Taylor Blitz Times, I would like to thank you for your continued patronage and we are growing in leaps and bounds. In the future we will have a new logo adorn the top of the website that reflects where we’re going. We have just been reached through specific searches in 100 different countries since February 25, 2011. Thanks again for reading and there are more changes to come to keep this the fun, informative site that it’s been.

 

Marcus Allen – A Football Life

The Chancellor of Football:

Super Bowl XVIII - AOne thing I always said about Marcus Allen, no one had a better trophy case. Think about what he amassed in a three year period from 1981 through the 1983 seasons. He runs for 2,342 yards and 22 TDs and wins the Heisman Trophy. He then wins NFL Rookie of the Year in his debut with the Raiders and what does he do for an encore?? Has a 1,000 yard season and wins Super Bowl MVP for his 191 yard performance against Washington. The only guy that comes close to that is Tony Dorsett, but he only ran for 66 yards in Super Bowl XII…yet I digress.

Then in 1985 when the Raiders passing game fell flat on it’s ass with an aging Jim Plunkett giving way to Mark Wilson, the Raiders turned to Allen. What did he do?? He ran for 1,759 yards and led the NFL in rushing while winning league MVP. This was the only time in NFL history that a Raider led the league in rushing by the way. Allen’s performance saved their season leading the Raiders to a 12-4 record.
Then came the personal vendetta against Allen by Al Davis. Now I’m not sure the real issue will be revealed in this episode but something happened off-field that had to involve a woman. Had to…it became way too personal. When Ice Cube interviewed Al Davis for the 30 for 30 “Straight Outta LA” he alluded to the fact that it was something off the field he took a personal disliking to. You could see it in his face. Back in 1993 when he was finally freed by free agency and waiting to sign with a new team, Allen said in an interview that Al Davis told him he would “get him” and try to ruin his career.

This is such a travesty because the NFL fan and history were robbed of what he possibly could have become. He was imprisoned for 7 years and still rushed for 12,243 yards after he finished as a Kansas City Chief. The Bo Jackson signing always puzzled The Chancellor. If it was about passing and not running the football, this signing doesn’t make sense. Why not trade Marcus Allen for a quarterback or future draft considerations??

straightouttalamarcusallen(2

This is when The Chancellor stopped thinking of Davis as one of the top minds in the game. It kept the Raiders stuck in neutral for many years and I hope this episode sheds some light on what went on behind the scenes. Should be a good one…
Marcus Allen – A Football Life

Originally posted on They Call It Pro Football - Official NFL Films Blog:

On December 12, “A Football Life” launches its twelfth episode of the season, featuring Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen.  Don’t miss an all-new episode this Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST only on NFL Network.

Here’s a sneak peek segment from “Marcus Allen: A Football Life.”  Be sure to check back to TCIPF throughout the week for more exclusive content from the show.

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Chuck Foreman Should Be In The Hall Of Fame

Versatile Chuck Foreman receiving a handoff from Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl IX.

There are several definitions of a champion and fewer for what constitutes a Hall of Fame player. When asked a week or so ago what I thought a Hall of Fame player was I responded “If you were to talk about a decade or era in which a player participated and you couldn’t talk about that time frame without that person’s mention. If you can’t he’s a Hall of Famer.” Chuck Foreman was such a player.

Has there ever been a running back that was more emulated than this 1970s icon?? When you look back at Foreman’s numbers, they don’t jump out at you. However it was his immediate impact on the entire football landscape that made him important. Every NFL fan can remember his spin moves and patented lateral side step moves that left linebackers reaching for him instead of getting a full on shot. If you close your eyes right now you can picture the famous shot from Super Bowl XI against the Raiders as he spun off two defenders. He was one of the breath-taking runners of the 1970’s…and before we get into the full argument, remember he spent many of his best years as a fullback. Yes, at fullback!

What impact are we talking about?? For starters the 1972 Minnesota Vikings were a run by committee team that only averaged 3.7 yards per rush as they gained 1,740 yards. Foreman’s insertion into the line-up as a rookie catapulted those numbers to 4.2 yards and a team total of 2,275 yards. Although he missed two games, he led the team with 801 yards while opening up the passing game being such a threat from the backfield. The Vikings went from 7-7 and fading from the promise of  a Super Bowl IV appearance a few years back, to 12-2 and NFC Champions in 1973.  Foreman reinvigorated the franchise.

Over the next three seasons, Foreman was as strong a force the NFL had seen when it comes to scoring production. He rushed for over 1,000 yards each season. Not only did he lead the Vikings back to the Super Bowl two more times, he set the standard for running back catching passes out of the backfield. Did you know in 1975 he led the NFL with 73 receptions?? This was the same year he rushed for 1,070 yards and scored an astounding 22 touchdowns. This tied him with the old record of 22 touchdowns with Gale Sayers because during the same game, OJ Simpson set the record with 23. Not to be outdone he scored 4TDs in that game when facing off against another great back. This was one of the landmark games in NFL history. Not only did OJ and Foreman (172 total yards & 4TDs) put on a show, Fran Tarkenton broke the NFL’s all time touchdown record by John Unitas throwing his 291st.

During the period 1974-1976, Foreman scored a league high 51 touchdowns. This was Chuck in his prime and before you compare his best 3 year period with any other running backs best 3 year period remember this… Foreman had these numbers in a 14 game season, not the 16 game season.

  • Chuck Foreman – 1974-1976 : 51 touchdowns
  • OJ Simpson – 1973-1975 : 39 touchdowns
  • Franco Harris – 1975-1977 : 36 touchdowns
  • Jim Brown – 1963-1965: 45 touchdowns          *all were 14 game seasons
  • Marshall Faulk – 1999-2001: 59 touchdowns *Set TD record at 26 in 2000
  • Emmitt Smith – 1994-1996: 62 touchdowns    *Set TD record at 25 in 1995
  • Barry Sanders – 1989-1991: 47 touchdowns

However a closer look at his touchdown numbers reveal that his touchdown totals for ’74-’76 project to a whopping 57 touchdowns had he maintained the same pace for a 16 game season. He measures up fairly well with these 6 Hall of Fame backs when it comes to scoring. That is the name of the game isn’t it?? It’s not just yards, its scoring, impact on the game, and winning. Even when you look at OJ Simpson’s yardage for his career it’s really a 5 year period that his work was condensed in from 1972-1976. So to talk about a players career in a condensed time frame in their prime isn’t foolish. OJ had five 1,000 yard seasons to Foreman’s three. If that was enough to make OJ NFL Films “Hero of the Decade” for the 1970s, where does that leave Foreman who’s spin move was copied by fellow 70’s runners Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett?? Who also clearly outscored Simpson during their heyday.

His Vikings went to 3 Super Bowls in 4 years and only the “Hail Mary”  playoff loss to Dallas kept them from going to 4 straight.

He changed the way the game was played from the running back position. It was the Vikings realizing they could free him from the logjam of the line of scrimmage by throwing it to him instead of handing it to him. For his career he caught 50 or more receptions in a season five times during his career. Compare that to only 2 for Lynn Swann who is in the Hall of Fame as a receiver in the same era. For his career he ran for 5,950 yards 53TDs, which doesn’t include another 3,156 yards and another 23 scores. In the end, Foreman was burned out before his time.

  • Yet when you have a player match Gale Sayers for the second best touchdown total of 22 in a season.
  • Win the 1973 NFL Rookie of The Year
  • Attend 5 straight Pro Bowls
  • He immediately turned a fading Vikings team into the winningest team in the NFC over a four-year period 45-10-1 and 3 conference championships.

If it’s about making an immediate impact and being an unforgettable talent, than Chuck Foreman needs to take his place with other great backs. One trend which has gone on too long is the omission of Minnesota Vikings from the 1970s not making the Hall of Fame because of Super Bowl losses. Foreman sits within that abyss and the situation needs to be rectified. As a one of a kind talent from “The [[_]]“, his playing style was mimicked by a generation of up and coming running backs and he hasn’t been forgotten by legions of NFL fans. If that is not enough, we have to redefine the definition of a Hall of Famer.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you: Chuck Foreman

provided by Tony Janetto

Chuck Foreman in motion. Just as we remembered him…compliments of Tony Janetto

If you want to get in touch with Chuck…and more on this talent hit him up at https://www.facebook.com/chuck.444444?fref=ts

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Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle Defense: The Birthplace of the Zone Blitz

NFL Guru: Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur

The NFL has had several geniuses when it comes to coaches. Yet when it comes to coordinators many have not received their due nor have any made the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on their contributions. One such coach that did receive Hall of Fame consideration was Dick LeBeau (enshrined in 2011 as a player), who as a long time defensive coordinator has been credited (with Dom Capers) for creating the zone blitz in the modern NFL. Yes Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh but the true zone blitz, as a scheme, came from the mind of Fritz Shurmur.

In 1989, Shurmur was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. When the team suffered multiple injuries along the front line, yet had all their linebackers healthy, necessity became the mother of invention. His team employed a 3-4 defense that featured Kevin Greene, who had back to back 16.5 sacks in 1988 and 1989 (thanks Kevin), coming off the corner. Yet going into the wildcard matchup as an underdog, Shurmur decided  to go with emphasizing his linebackers over his linemen and came up with a 2 down lineman 5 linebacker set up to confuse Randall Cunningham.

You have to understand that this was Randall Cunningham at the height of his career, in fact the next year 1990,  he was the NFL’s MVP. However in 1989 he was on his way to stardom when he electrified a national audience on a Monday night by shaking off a hit by New York Giant Carl Banks, and throwing a touchdown to TE Jimmie Giles. He was a threat that ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the following year. He was John Elway 2.0 and the league was having serious problems in defending against such an athletic talent at QB. In 1989 he led the Eagles in rushing with 621 yards while throwing for 3,400 yards 23 TDs and only 16 interceptions. The Eagles had won 5 of their final 6 games in 1989 and wanted to make amends in the playoffs for their 1988 playoff Fog Bowl loss in Chicago. Although they lost a toe to toe battle with the defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the regular season, the Eagles believed they could play with anyone and wanted a rematch with Joe Montana and company. But first they had to get through a wild card battle with the Los Angeles Rams, whom they taunted in the papers heading into the game. How would Shurmur defend Randall??

Shurmur opted for speed and confusion. One of the first items for a quarterback to determine is who the Mike (Middle) linebacker is. This is to set not only the blocking schemes but where the focal point to how the offense could attack the defense. Well the Rams shifted into their “Eagle” defense where OLBs Kevin Greene #91, Mel Owens #58, and Mike Wilcher #54 manned the outside with ILBs Larry Kelm #52, and Fred Strickland #53 were supplemented by either Brent Faryniarz #51 or George Bethune #57.  You have to understand the Rams weren’t doing this as a nickel defense, they were doing this on first and second downs also. Strickland would take the role of ‘nose-backer’ sometimes lining up as a nose tackle 1 yard off the ball and then would stand up to join the other four linebackers in a stand up position. They played a cat and mouse game as to who was the Mike on most plays.

Along with the outside linebackers taking a page out of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense and stacking two OLBs over the tight end.  The Rams jumped on the Eagles  14-0 in the first quarter forcing Philadelphia to pass. There were plays where Los Angeles would have as many as 4 linebackers lined up on one side of the formation yet only rushed  one with a blitzing DB.  Along with confusing Cunningham from an alignment standpoint, Shurmur drew up defenses that had DE Mike Piel #95 either dropping or spying. With an array of blitzes off the corner and so much speed on the field  to chase Cunningham, once he scrambled, had one of his worst days. The Eagles had little continuity and one of the reason the offense couldn’t adjust was the untimely death of Eagle quarterback coach Doug Scovil just a week prior to the game. Without his working confidante, Randall and Buddy Ryan’s offense couldn’t adjust as Kevin Greene recorded 2 sacks and hurried him into a 24 of 40 for 238 yards, 1 interception performance and no splash plays whatsoever.

Once the game was over and the Rams danced out of Philadelphia’s Veteran’s Stadium 21-7 winners, the league took notice of Shurmur’s masterpiece. Every other coordinator running a 3-4 during that time employed some of the same tactics Fritz pioneered. At the time it was thought by pundits that they couldn’t employ that gimmicky type of defense against a down hill running team. In fact their next opponents would be exactly that style of offense and many waited for the Rams to sign a DL during the week, and when they didn’t, knew they’d see the defense again. An underdog for a second consecutive playoff game they traveled to the Meadowlands where Ottis “OJ” Anderson and the New York Giants would run into the belly of the Rams “Eagle” defense. No way could they win a second cold weather road game…right??

In this first vignette, you see the Eagle defense against the Giants on a sweep play. Notice how Shurmur has “nose backer” Strickland #53 off the ball? A concept borrowed from Tom Landry’s defensive tackle position in his Flex Defense, allowing Strickland to use his speed and agility against New York center Bart Oates.

On this play you recognize the cat and mouse game Shurmur’s defense is playing with Phil Simms. Not only does ‘nose backer’ Fred Strickland #53 line up over center in a 3 point stance, he then stands up to give the Rams 4 standing linebackers from the center to the weak side of the formation. Who’s coming?? Who’s dropping?? Simms is so rattled at this point he overthrows Lionel Emanuel and the boo birds were out in the Meadowlands.

On this play you’ll notice that SS Michael Stewart is up on the line to the strong side yet Shurmur still employed twin outside linebackers to the top of the screen in Mel Owens #58 and Mike Wilcher #54.  With the two linebackers up near the line of scrimmage they have to be accounted for by the Giants front line. You’ll notice they engage the OL which kept them from sliding their blocking attention to Kevin Greene who runs over FB Maurice Carthon #44. Since they were in a 2TE max protection, the only outlet for Simms to throw to as he scrambles to his left is Ottis Anderson #24, yet the aforementioned Owens (who backed off after engaging Giant T Jumbo Elliot) and ILB Larry Kelm were sitting right there. With nowhere to throw the ball, time was up and Greene was right there for the sack. You can clearly see the confusion in the Giants offense. Look at Zeke Mowatt #84 who completely does a 360 and didn’t help Carthon on Greene. Why?? SS Stewart was there to occupy him. Genius

The Rams had been losing 6-0 when the Giants, late in the second quarter, uncharacteristically threw into the teeth of the Eagle defense and an interception set the Rams up to take a 7-6 lead at the half. The biggest play in the game and the turning point that allowed the Rams to upset the Giants 19-13. On this final play DE Mike Piel #95 drops off in the weak flat along with LB Strickland, lined up in 3 point stance in front of Giants guard William Roberts, who also drops.  George Bethune #57, takes over as the ‘nose backer with Brent Faryniarz #51 rushing from the weak-side along with Greene #91 on the strong side. Since Strickland’s first step is forward, Roberts #66 has to honor his charge and not help out LT Jumbo Elliot.  He has no one to block!! Greene and Faryniarz’s rush is so strong Simms has to get rid of the ball and Jerry Gray, zoning away from RB Dave Meggett,  tips the pass that Michael Stewart intercepts. You also notice that Meggett’s “scat” route was to his right and away from the DE that dropped in the weak flat.  Shurmur fielded ONE DL and didn’t rush him!! In a nickel defense?? Think about that for a second…

This was a masterpiece performance by a true NFL genius in Fritz Shurmur. The ’89 Rams fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship and this defense never got the attention the 46 defense, the Steel Curtain, or the Ravens defense did because they didn’t win it all. Had they beat the 49ers and then the Broncos to win Super Bowl XXIV, this defense would have gone down in history. Yet what is interesting is this defense had it’s prime note taker in Giant defensive coordinator and current Patriot coach Bill Belichick. How do we know this?? He used the 2 man front 1 year later in Super Bowl XXV to stop the Buffalo Bills to win that trophy. Just last year he used the defense with 5 standing players to force NY Jet QB Mark Sanchez into several interceptions. He used it against Tim Tebow also in both the regular season win and again in the playoffs. What Shurmur started in the 1989 playoffs live on to this day in a few 3-4 defenses. One centerpiece to this defense was Kevin Greene who moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993 to help form Blitzburgh.  Surely Greene took his playbook with him to Pittsburgh and may have shared some of these principles with Steeler coaches.


EPILOGUE: As for Shurmur, he moved on to become a champion defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI with Mike Holmgren. You want to hear about the ties that bind?? From the late 80s into the early 90’s, Mike Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers while Fritz Shurmur was his nemesis counterpart within the division for the Rams. Trust us…going into that 1989 NFC Championship it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the Niners would win. In fact, in ’89 the Rams won game 2, 13-12 in Candlestick and even though the Rams lost the NFC Championship to SF, they returned to San Francisco the following year. In that game the ‘Niners were 10-0 and the Rams were 3-7 when the Rams hammered them 28-17 when the Niners were trying to 3peat. So when Holmgren took the head coaching job in Green Bay he took Fritz Shurmur with him. Shurmur followed Holmgren to Seattle in 1999. However he passed away before the 1999 season. Yet now as the Cleveland Browns GM, Holmgren hired current head coach Pat Shurmur, who is the nephew of Fritz.  Shurmur developed other defenses that we will give mention to in the near future yet this 1989 run with his “Eagle defense” was his masterpiece. Even though he went on to coach a 4-3 in Green Bay, his use and expertise to adapt to personnel turned his 3-4 into a juggernaut that nearly stole an NFL title.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Frank “Fritz” Shurmur (July 15, 1932 – August 30, 1999)

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Requiem of An Upset – The Sequel: Judas Falls as AFL Gains Complete Vindication

Have you ever started a project only to have one of your partners try to sabotage it from within?? If you ever got back at that party wouldn’t you want it to be one where it came back and haunted at the most inopportune time?? Well sit down have we got a story for you. During the 1960’s, the NFL and AFL were rival leagues with the AFL’s having originated on the heels of the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game. Principles moved quickly to form a new football league that would rival the 40 year old NFL and had a new style of play that was scoffed at by the sporting press. The AFL fought for over half a decade for respect.

After an aggressive bidding war for players brought the rival leagues to the table to talk merger, a byproduct would be a championship game between the two leagues. The Super Bowl beginning in 1966. Sports writers of the time and most pundits thought the play in the NFL was superior to their younger counterpart. Although the AFL fought for respectability for the first 6 years, their Kansas City Chiefs were handled by the Green Bay Packers 35-10 in the inaugural game, and Oakland Raiders 33-14 in the second edition. Surely talk of a merger was still there but loyalists to both leagues were still at ends until the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

After losing Super Bowl III, the Baltimore Colts were the only team of the 92 who have participated in the Super Bowl, NOT to be issued a ring for doing so.

The shock and awe was so great that the sporing press scrambled to give the Jets credit for a David vs. Goliath type  upset victory. Yet beneath the surface, the establishment raged at the thought of the AFL being on a par with the NFL. Think not??  To the left of this paragraph lies the remnant of that embarrassment. To not commission a championship ring along with the fallout from Baltimore Colt brass losing Don Shula, and swapping franchise’s with Robert Irsay (Rams) a few years later was tantamount to the size of the loss. This is the sequel to our original ‘Requiem of An Upset. http://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/08/21/requiem-of-an-upset-super-bowl-iii-its-aftermath/

So seismic was the loss that commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to come up with a new round of playoffs called the wild card round. This would allow the team with the 2 best records who didn’t win their division to enter the championship race with the 2 division winners. Many believed that it was a move to keep a tremendous underdog like the Jets from making it to the Super Bowl. Another slap at the AFL if you will… Given the new landscape the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers lined up to take on the AFL East Champion New York Jets and West Champion Oakland Raiders.

Enter the Kansas City Chiefs of Hank Stram and Lamar Hunt. It was Hunt who was the founder of the AFL and began with his team in Dallas and not Kansas City. As we entered 1969, the tenth AFL season, it was fitting that his team would have the last shot to win the overall championship in the last game ever for the AFL. They were the winningest team in league history and had played in championships in 1962 and the first Super Bowl in 1966.

On-board they had players who had spent their entire careers with them like FS Johnny Robinson and DE Jerry Mays (both should be in the Hall of Fame). Yet they finished the season with a loss in the finale to the Oakland Raiders. Couple that with the fact the 1968 season ended with a humiliating 41-6 loss to those same Raiders, confidence wasn’t that high outside Kansas City. The underdog  Chiefs upset the New York Jets 13-6 to make it to the AFL Championship Game. There they bested the Raiders in Oakland 17-7 to make it to New Orleans and Super Bowl IV.

Their opponent would be Judas, otherwise known as the Minnesota Vikings. What are we talking about?? Take a look SUPER BOWL IV CHAMPION 1969 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS <——CLICK LINK *STORY FROM AN UPCOMING BOOK – Ring of Champions*

So January 11th, 1970 was the last game ever for the AFL. Starting with the 1970 regular season, the NFL would have an all inclusive regular season combining both leagues.  How did that game appear on television?? Here is the game in it’s entirety

SUPER BOWL IV: FIRST HALF

part 1(00h41m22s-01h22m44s)

SUPER BOWL IV: SECOND HALF

EPILOGUE: So there you have it. The AFL ended the 1960’s on a par with the NFL, not only on the field but in Super Bowl competition with a 2-2 record. The regular season of 1970 had the AFL’s 10 teams joined by the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers in the newly formed American Football Conference. League play between the 26 team NFL began in 1970 yet the Super Bowl stayed an American staple as a championship game born from two rivaling leagues. Yet so many ironies  can be pointed out within these stories.

One irony is the AFL’s founder, Lamar Hunt and the Chiefs were able to get revenge on the Minnesota Vikings ownership group that tried to sink the new league. Ironically it came in the last ever game but it came. Another irony is the fact that New Orleans was the site for Super Bowl IV and was where the 1964 AFL All Star Game was to have been played.  New Orleans, at the time had wanted an AFL team and bid to host this game to showcase the city as a sports town. After multiple incidents of discrimination against many of it’s African American players, the AFL All Stars called for a boycott of the game being in New Orleans.

All this took place during the week prior to the game. The AFL All Star Game was subsequently moved to Houston’s Jefferson Stadium honoring the stance of the player’s right to be treated with respect. There was a backlash toward those players later recounted by Abner Haynes in NFL Films’ Black Star Rising (circa 1995), then Ernie Ladd & Earl Faison for HBO’s History of the AFL: Rebels With A Cause (circa 1995) by the AFL, but that is another story for another time.

One final irony was that in the end, where a city’s populace had discriminated against African American players in 1964, in 1969 we saw the Kansas City Chiefs become the first team to win the World Championship with African Americans comprising more than half of their starters. It was a powerful notion along with the 1968 Olympics that many of America’s athletes were black. Up until that point amongst those that played pro football, there was a quota system in place over in the NFL. “That players had to be stars just to play.” as recounted by Jim Marshall in Black Star Rising.

They weren’t taxi squad (special teams) or even second string players on NFL rosters. The Chiefs also were the first to win with an African American Middle Linebacker in Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, and had the first Hispanic quarterback to win a Super Bowl with Tom Flores. Flores would go on to glory later as an NFL head coach http://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/01/26/tom-flores-belongs-in-the-hall-of-fame/ , yet it was ironic that his team beat the Vikings who were the first to have a Hispanic (Mexican American) to lead his team to the Super Bowl in Joe Kapp. The MVP was Chief QB Len Dawson who would go on to know a generation of NFL fans as half of the duo of Inside the NFL for nearly 30 years.

The AFL came to a close in the bowels of New Orlean’s Tulane Stadium, with Lamar Hunt and Hank Stram, receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Commissioner Pete Rozelle. There is no way that at that moment, Hunt had more than a feeling of irony that he was thwarted in an attempt to gain an NFL franchise in 1959. Now here he was being granted the ultimate prize with a rival league and could claim victory against the NFL. Not just for Super Bowl IV, but for the last 10 years.

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Tom Flores Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Tom Flores with his team before player introductions in the L.A. Coliseum

When you think of the short list of coaches in NFL History that have won multiple Super Bowls, who comes to mind?? Of course you think of Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, or even Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Throw in Joe Gibbs and his three rings.  Do you realize that there is only one eligible coach that has won multiple Super Bowls that is NOT in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

Think about it a second, we’re talking about a coach with as many victories as six eligible Hall of Fame coaches and you don’t consider Tom Flores great?? Only Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh can best Flores (9 & 10 to 12 yrs) in shortest coaching careers who achieved 2 Super Bowl victories.  Landry, and Shula coached 29 and 33 years respectively to achieve the same number of championships.

Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett showing off Super Bowl rings.

For some it’s the fact that his winning percentage of .527 isn’t that high. However Bill Parcells is almost a shoo-in finalist this year with a winning percentage of .570. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/coaches/ParcBi0.htm Also, before his stint as Seahawks head coach, he left the Los Angeles Raiders with a winning percentage of .610 which is better than Bill Walsh at .609. Something to think about.

After following in the footsteps of another Hall of Fame coach in John Madden, some mistakenly think Flores won with Madden’s guys. Which isn’t close to being true. In today’s market of free agency we’re used to a lot of movement, yet between winning Super Bowl XI (Madden’s team) and Super Bowl XV only WR Cliff Branch and Mark Van Eeghen remained of the skill positions. WR Fred Biletnikoff, QB Ken Stabler, and RB Clarence Davis were all gone. Ken Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers. He won with (at the time draft bust) Jim Plunkett at quarterback who was with his 3rd team. Stop and think about that.. That’s the equivalent of the Colts trading away  Peyton Manning and bringing in Matt Leinhart and winning the Super Bowl.

Furthermore 9 of the 11 starters on defense for Super Bowl XI were gone by Super Bowl XV. Jack Tatum, Willie Brown, Monte Johnson, all gone with the holdovers being John Matuszak andTed Hendricks. He won Super Bowl XV with a quarterback the world had forgotten about. A little known RB in Kenny King and 14 new players in only his second season as a head coach?? Might be the single greatest coaching performance in NFL history.

Tom Flores and Al Davis receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl XVIII

Although winning it all in 1980 was the crowning jewel of a season, his triumph in 1983 should have catapulted him to legendary status. It was his ’83 Raiders that stopped the defending champion Washington Redskins and MVP Joe Theismann dead in their tracks. The ’83 Redskins were the highest scoring team in NFL history and going into Super Bowl XVIII, pundits were hailing them as the best team ever. Yet in a dominant performance the Raiders ushered in the era of the Super Bowl blowout winning 38-9. After that game we had the string of 13 consecutive NFC Super Bowl winners. Yet if you looked at the era from 1980-1996, ONLY Tom Flores won a Super Bowl for the AFC side of the ledger and he did it twice. How is that for impact??

Yet why is he constantly overlooked for his coaching performance when it comes to greatness?? Is it because of the shadow cast by former owner Al Davis?? Even in the NFL Films Super Bowl XVIII video, they lauded Raider assistant Charlie Sumner for the defensive play that put the Redskins hopelessly behind. The Jack Squirek interception for a touchdown to make it 21-3 at the half. Why didnt they give Flores the credit for that move??

Logic tells us that a part of it could be the fact that he’s Hispanic and the sporting press doesn’t view him in the same light as fellow coaches. We hope to be wrong in this assessment yet it’s the ONLY discernible difference between he and every other coach listed above.  Tom Flores, for his career had 97 wins, 87 losses and was 8-3 in the postseason. He had the AFC’s best record (12-4) also in 1985 with MVP Marcus Allen but they were upset in the playoffs by the Patriots. To some, those aren’t great numbers but neither were Joe Namath’s 173 TDs and 220 interceptions and he’s in.

It’s about impact and contribution to the game. Being the only AFC coach to win a Super Bowl in a 17 year period qualifies for impact. Another interesting fact; Of the first 20 Super Bowl winners, his 1980 Oakland Raiders are the ONLY  team that doesn’t have a skill player in the Hall of Fame. Cliff Branch being in there is another argument for another time. Again we call that one of the greatest coaching performance in NFL history. It’s time to give Tom Flores the credit and distinction he deserves.

For induction into the Hall of Fame, I present Tom Flores

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Marshall Faulk Makes The Hall of Fame

You can still hear Chris Berman saying “Marshall! Marshall! Marshall!” on NFL Primetime. Can’t you? When we think of great players we tend to think of them at their zenith. For Marshall Faulk it was definitely the years of “The Greatest Show on Turf” where he played his way into the Hall of Fame in just three years. The earlier years were just a harbinger of things to come.

Yet when I think of Marshall Faulk, I think of a faster version of Thurman Thomas. Better yet, if we spliced Thurman Thomas with Barry Sanders, this is the hybrid that would have been created. In fact it was Sanders departure that swung the door wide open for this talent to finally get his acclaim on a world wide basis. When Barry retired, the NFL lost it’s instant highlight reel. We were spoiled as fans because week after week we saw something spectacular and weren’t sure if we’d see that again. Enter Marshall Faulk.

The NFL world was mourning the loss of John Elway and Barry Sanders to retirement. Then we were thrown for another loop when the Indianapolis Colts selected Edgerrin James ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. Almost as an afterthought Marshall Faulk was traded by the Colts to the Rams to make way for James. Instantly, I remember saying this is the Football Gods reversing the Eric Dickerson trade. Referring to the Rams trading Dickerson, the greatest runner of his era, to the Colts in 1987.

No one was really paying attention to Marshall Faulk going to St Louis yet being in Anaheim at the time, I was still in the Rams television market. My response was a flippant comment and not a premonition but it turned out to be. History would judge this trade on what happened with both teams. I thought the Colts had made a mistake letting Faulk go. So who won the Marshall Faulk / Edgerrin James trade??

Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl XXXIV

Super Bowl XXXIV Ring

The St Louis Rams became “The Greatest Show on Turf” thanks to a forgotten running back who could play receiver, had moves and an effortless running style with a burst. In three seasons (1999-2001) he rushed for 4,122 yards averaging 5.4 yards per carry while scoring 59 touchdowns!! Won 2 NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards and an NFL Most Valuable Player Award while taking the Rams to 2 Super Bowls. They won Super Bowl XXXIV beating the Tennessee Titans 23-16. Before Faulk the Rams had not been league champion since 1951.

In the 1999 championship season alone, he joined Roger Craig as the only other back to gain 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. When Craig did it he had 1,050 yards rushing, 1,016 receiving. Faulk burst by that with 1,381 yards rushing and 1,048 yards receiving while sitting out most of the last 3 quarters of the finale against Philadelphia.

That game the Rams lost 38-31 and Faulk would have stretched his numbers further had he played that game and the 4th quarter of 4 other blowouts at home. Not factoring that in, Faulk still broke Barry Sanders record for total yards from scrimmage with 2,429 yards. Greatness. He was the impetus for one of the NFL’s greatest champions.

How do you follow up a season like that? How about narrowly missing another 1,000/1,000 season with 1,359 yards rushing and 830 receiving while setting a new record by breaking Emmitt Smith’s TD record with 26 TDs. In 2001 he led the league with yards from scrimmage for the 4th straight year tying the record of Thurman Thomas. Yet all four of Faulk’s seasons were over 2,000 combined yards where Thomas only had 3. Now when you look back and see that in 1998, in his last season with the Colts, he ran for 1,319 yards and caught passes for 908 yards. He had four consecutive seasons  where he flirted with 1,000/1,000.

He broke records and tied another of Hall of Fame running backs, how could he not be enshrined with them with numbers like that?? All this to lead the Rams in becoming the first team to score over 500 points in multiple seasons with 3 (1999-2001). The Rams also averaged 32.6 points per game for those 3 seasons which was the best in history narrowly beating their 1951 predecessors with just under 31 points.

Marshall Faulk on Saturday’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Marshall went on to finish his career with 12,279 yards rushing with another 6,875 receiving and 136 overall touchdowns. Yet it was this amazing 3 year run that catapulted him to the halls of Canton. Now its interesting to note that while Faulk was doing all this, Edgerrin James (The U) twice led the league in rushing.

Yet the Rams were participating in Super Bowls and became one of the most memorable teams in league history. Another irony is they each went to the Super Bowl while teaming with Kurt Warner when….wait for it…..the Colts let James go via free agency. *In all due respect, the Colts gave Edgerrin a Super Bowl XLIV ring for all that he had done for them up to that point.*  Jim Irsay don’t let any more running backs go because the one you let out of town in 1998 was one of the best in history. The Rams won that trade plain and simple. His induction speech was eloquent and he’s been the best analyst on the NFL Network. Congratulations Marshall Faulk…Hall of Famer

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Terrell Davis Belongs In The Hall of Fame


Terrell Davis in Super Bowl XXXII

When you think back to the Denver Broncos of the late 90s, Terrell Davis is usually the first player you think of.  He brought an NFC toughness to the AFC in terms of running the football.

You have to remember that the NFC was in the midst of a 13 game winning streak before the Broncos broke through with their win in Super Bowl XXXII.  The AFC had been filled with primarily scat backs and finesse runners when Davis was drafted in the 6th round of the 1995 draft.  He ran with power between the tackles and had the speed to pull away once he made his upfield cut.

For four years he was one of the best runners in football. An all time great until a knee injury in ’99 derailed a promising career.  Just like Gale Sayers he was a whirlwind of production before that injury so why should he be denied Hall of Fame consideration??

In 1995, Davis became the lowest draft pick ever to rush for 1,000 yards when he bolted for 1,117 on a Denver team that was retooling itself. Coach Shanahan had just come over from the World Champion 49ers and combined a single back set and merged it with a version of the “west coast” offense. Davis was an affective runner in that system but it was once the team moved to an offset I formation with the addition of FB Howard Griffith in ’96 did Davis’ production reach the stratosphere.

It was the ’96 season that Davis wrested the mantle of best power back from a fading Emmitt Smith with a 1,538 yard, 13TD rushing performance. If we add in his receiving totals he had 1848 all purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns. Yet despite the 13-3 record, his ’96 Broncos were upset in the divisional round of the playoffs by Jacksonville 30-27.

Davis in the ’97 AFC Divisional Playoff win over KC 13-10

Davis’ numbers would have been higher for the ’96 season yet Shanahan rested he and most of the starters after jumping out to an 11-1 start.  The team rusted before the playoffs and Davis lost 3 second halves where he could have piled up more yards and should have been an 1,800 yard rusher.

The ’97 season saw the Broncos move to a 12-4 record yet were cast in the roll of wildcard by virtue of Kansas City’s 13-3 record. Again Davis was the driving force running for 1,750 yards and 15TDs leading the AFC in rushing and the NFL in touchdowns. He then ran for over 100 yards against the Jaguars, Chiefs, and Steelers enroute to Super Bowl XXXII. Now their physical running game would be put to the test against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and their mammoth defensive line.

In one of the best performances in Super Bowl history, Davis ran for 157 yards and a Super Bowl record 3 touchdowns propelling the Broncos to a 31-24  upset win.  Davis had a superb performance and may have broken Tim Smith’s record of 204 yards had he not missed the 2nd quarter with a migraine headache. In the game he punished the Green Bay defense with physical, tackle breaking runs that broke the former world champions down. He was MVP of the NFL’s signature game in his own hometown what more could be on the horizon??

One year after the sporting press celebrated Barry Sanders rushing for 2,053 yards in ’97, there was speculation that Terrell Davis could repeat that feat in 1998. Terrell Davis and his Broncos ran out to a 13-0 record and threatened the ’72 Dolphins unbeaten streak but an upset by the Giants then the Dolphins relegated the AFC West champions to a 14-2 record.  Davis ran for over 170 yards in the final game of the season to finish with 2,008 yards, 23 TDs and he was voted NFL Most Valuable Player in the process.

His total was even more impressive than Eric Dickerson’s, Barry Sanders or O.J. Simpson’s total for one reason: his 2,000 yard season came with his sitting out over 8 quarters in blowout wins. With his average per game divided out over a 14 game season his numbers project out to 2,294 yards and 26 TDs. Had that happened he would have broken Emmitt Smith’s record of 25 TDs and Marshall Faulk never would have had the record in 2000. Keep in mind he attained all this while playing for a defending Super Bowl champion with a bullseye on their back for the entire season. Something the other 2,000 yard rushers didn’t have to contend with.

After leading the Broncos to another Super Bowl triumph in the XXXIIIrd edition, a 34-19 win over the Falcons. Davis was on pace for a record setting career yet in the 3rd game of the ’99 season he tore ligaments in his knee making a tackle against the Jets and was never the same player after a year and a half off to recover. He retired after the 2001 season with 7,607 yards rushing and 60TDs in 7 seasons.

Now it’s at this point where you have to realize the greatness of Davis. At the current rate he was running the ball at the time of his injury, he was on pace to gain 12,824 yards in only EIGHT years! Only comparison to that  is Jim Brown who ran for 12,312 in 9 years. This was a north south runner who didn’t rely on moves to gain his yards so its very likely that he could have maintained his pace. His 56 touchdown total swells out past 110 given he would have made it injury free for those same 8 years. Thats production..

Here is another talent who didn’t play for a long career but as a comet burned bright as any ever seen in the football heavens. He was the power and impetus for a two time league champion, a celebrated 2,000 yard rusher, a Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP. What more could he have done? Those 3 years (96-98) he was an All Pro and Pro Bowl performer.

Just like Gale Sayers his career was cut short and he was never the same yet Davis deserves the same Hall of Fame distinction. He wasn’t as flashy as Sayers but he was more productive with a bullseye on his back and powered a league champion. That has to be worth something more than distinction. He was a great player and ambassador of the game. Never an off field issue uttered with his name and came off as an affable likeable player and person. He has to be considered the top Bronco running back of all time and that includes Hall of Famer Floyd Little who came three decades earlier.

Yet thats another debate for a different day…For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame I present to you: Terrell Davis

Death Becomes the Run & Shoot on a Monday Night

Single outside receiver site adjustments from the Run and Shoot

Whatever happened to the Run & Shoot as a pro offense?? You remember in the early 90s, when several downtrodden franchises looked to this offense to gain a tactical advantage on the competition.  Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, and Seattle deployed 4 receivers who ran their routes according to how defenses were playing them.  Borrowing on a concept from Bill Walsh’s offense, it was up to both the receiver and quarterback to read the defense, then adjust the route accordingly.

The truth of the matter is for each team with 4 receivers; the 3rd and 4th receivers were better than the opposing 3rd and 4th defensive backs that were normally platooned to cover them.  These teams started racking up yards by the bushel and along with Buffalo’s “K Gun offense”, the zenith of the Run & Shoot was 1991 when each team, except Seattle. who abandoned the offense in 1990, made the playoffs.  The Bills set offensive records for TDs scored and 33TD passes in a season by Jim Kelly.  In fact Thurman Thomas was NFL MVP with over 2,100 combined yards from scrimmage.

Everyone thought of the Bills “No Huddle” offense as an offshoot of the Run & Shoot because of option routes run by Andre Reed in the slot and Thurman Thomas out of the backfield.  Teams had a hard time adjusting and no matter how your corner played any of these receivers, the receiver would change his route and use the corner’s position against him.  For instance if the corner played outside position in a cover 3 zone, the adjustment would be a seam route by the slot receiver, or a skinny post for the outside receiver.  That same corner came up in press one on one, the receiver would try for an outside release and run a fly pattern.   In a cover 2 where the corner was off, he would adjust and run a hook with the underneath receiver running a down and out underneath his pattern, as the outside receiver occupied the corner.  What could a defense do to combat an offense that used your very choices against you?

Enter the NFC East.  This was the division that each team fielded twin 200 lbs. safeties receivers were funneled to. Whether it was Myron Guyton / Greg Williams with the New York Giants, Danny Copeland / Brad Edwards of the Washington Redskins, or the more punishing Andre Waters / Wes Hopkins duo that was on patrol in Philadelphia’s Veteran Stadium.  Where most teams were employing mainly dime defenses that were off the receiver, these teams started fielding nickel and dime defenses with cover two over the top and bludgeoned smaller  run and shoot receivers.  Many pundits look back to the Giants 1990 Super Bowl XXV defeat of the Buffalo Bills and their use of a 2 man line nickle and dime variations to slow down Buffalo’s no huddle / run and shoot tactics.

However thats misleading…the Giants conceded the run to the Bills (see Thurman Thomas’ 135 yards rushing) to set the tone punishing receivers with hits from the linebackers and safeties.  It was more of a victory based on the strong time of possession difference from the methodical Giants offense more than defensive tactics. A 40:31 to 19:29 possession time difference as a matter of fact.  Although Super Bowl XXV, at the end of the 1990 season, did set the blueprint for playing physical defense against this speed type offense.  So when and where was the run and shoot conquered as an offense??

The signature game that signaled the death of the Run & Shoot as an offense, came in week 14 of the 1991 season.  A Monday night matchup where the Houston Oilers hosted the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles as a defense had come to full fruition as a unit originally put together by Buddy Ryan and now run by defensive coordinator Bud Carson.  They had high hopes that 1991 would be their year: they returned ’90 NFL MVP Randall Cunningham and an improving defense, yet torn ligaments to Cunningham’s knee courtesy of Bryce Paup in the season opener, sent the Eagles season spiraling.  Not quite… A defense that ranked near the bottom in ’88, Buddy Ryan helped their esprit de corp when he drafted only four players in 1989 citing he liked his guys.  The team grew defensively into a giant by 1991 although Ryan was no longer with them.  The defense kept them in games week after week and they came into this matchup 7-5.  Could they best the #1 passing offense in the league? Could they do it on the road?

The Houston Oilers were the vanguard of the run n shoot teams and with Warren Moon had put up the most prolific numbers. In 1990 Moon passed the Oilers to the playoffs with 4,689 yards and 33 TDs.  The most since Dan Marino’s record setting 1984 and he missed 1 full game and time in 2 others.  Along the way he passed for 514 yards against the playoff bound Chief’s #6 ranked defense. Coming within 41 yards of Norm Van Brocklin’s 50 year old record of 554. Alas Moon suffered a broken thumb and missed the Oiler’s playoff loss to Cincinnati.

Going into 1991, Moon was on a near record setting pace again and some thought this, and not Buffalo was the strongest AFC team.  The Redskins were 8-0 and the Oilers 7-1 when they met in a week 8 slugfest with the eventual world champion Redskins. The game was won  by Washington 20-17 in RFK, yet they showed they indeed were ready to stand toe to toe with the best the NFC offered. Going into the Monday Night tilt against the beat up Philadelphia Eagles at home, many thought the Oilers juggernaut offense would roll in this game too.

What took place over the next three hours was one defensive masterpiece that many defensive affecionados remember reverently to this day. The Eagles employed a 4-2-5 nickel variation with OLB Seth Joyner and MLB Byron Evans, who was lanky for a middle backer yet had great range, for most of the night.  Occasionally they’d bring in the dime defense (6 defensive backs) yet what they did differently was press the receivers and blitz off short corners. The hitting was vicious with Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters leading the way.  They knocked out both Ernest Givins and Drew Hill out of the game twice each. The first vicious shot was a dirty elbow from Wes Hopkins that broke Givins nose, yet set the tone for the night.

Joyner played his way to the Pro Bowl and almost the Hall of Fame that night with 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to keep the game close.  Reggie White, Jerome Brown (The U), Mike Golic, and Clyde Simmons swallowed Allen Pinkett’s attempts to run holding the Oilers to a paltry 21 yards rushing for the game.  They also provided a serious rush that they supplemented with the occasional blitz that beat Houston into total submission before a stunned audience of millions. When dime back Otis Smith’s thunderous hit on Drew Hill, on an outside swirl route, forced Houston’s fifth fumble of the night. The rest of the league were on their second tablet from taking notes. The Eagles won 13-6 in front of a shocked audience.

Early 90s pic of Eagles L-R: Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, and Reggie White

The beating was so decisive it ruined the Oilers season and this game was the complete blueprint on how to stop the run and shoot. Going into the game the Oilers were averaging 307 yards passing, just off pace needed to break Marino’s passing record, yet staggered away from this game only averaging 232 the rest of the season. The 226 they gained through the air against the Eagles was their season low.

The average was also down for the Falcons and Lions over the last 4 weeks of the season as well. The Oilers went down in the divisional round of the ’91 playoffs 26-24 to Denver, and the lone run n shoot playoff winner was Detroit who went on to whip Dallas 38-6. In fact the Cowboys had lost 4 games to run n shoot teams in 1991. The next year the Cowboys drafted a rangy MLB Robert Jones, in a Byron Evans mold, and brought in CB Kevin Smith, SS and former rangy college linebacker Darren Woodson, to stop those offenses the next year. The first of their 3 Super Bowl wins in the 90s and it started with that 1992 draft to mimick what the Eagles fielded in 1991.

As for the run n shoot, its effectiveness was diminished and the race for the record book was over.  In 1991 Houston passed for 4,621 yards where in 1992 that number dropped to 4,029. In ’92 neither the Lions or the Falcons came within 3 games of the playoffs and the Lions and Bills started to alter their offensive approach. The Oilers along with the Falcons ran the offense until 1993,yet the Falcons never returned to the playoffs…and the Oilers?? Well they went into the 1992 wildcard and took a 28-3 halftime lead on Buffalo who was playing with 6 & 7 DBs on the field.  Warren Moon at the half was 19 of 22 for almost 300 yards and 4 TDs and ballooned the lead to 35-3.

In the 3rd quarter, the Bills decided to play it the same way the Eagles had in ’91 inserting rangy MLB Carlton Bailey #54 and Darryl Talley #56 and they shut Houston down in the second half enroute to the greatest comeback in NFL history winning 41-38 in OT. Couple these landmark events with the system’s inability to score in the red zone and the run n shoot’s fate was sealed.  Even now the run n shoot receiving principles of WR route running based on options lives on in playbooks, just not in a 4 receiver set, nor as an entire offensive approach.

As for the Philadelphia Eagles defense that was the architect of the run n shoot’s demise? They went on to become the last great defense to finish #1 against the run, #1 against the pass, and #1 overall.  A distinction the ’85 Bears, ’86 Giants, ’76 Steelers, ’78 Steelers, ’08 Steelers, nor ’00 Ravens could match.  They finished the season winning 7 of 8 games and finished 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

The combined quarterback rating for their final 6 QBs was less than 40.0, and their principle line rushers R. White, Jerome Brown(The U), and Clyde Simmons combined for 37 sacks (which if they played last year would rank 11th in the NFL by themselves), and all 3 were Pro Bowlers and 1st team All Pro. Seth Joyner and Eric Allen earned Pro Bowl distinctions in 1991 as well.  They don’t receive the recognition of those other great defenses because they didn’t win the Super Bowl. Who would have operating with 5 different starting quarterbacks? They were one of the best defenses in NFL History.  Had Randall Cunningham not been injured…

Prologue: The impact of the players of this era in Eagle history were felt throughout the decade…

Super Bowl XXXI ring

Reggie White-Became the main prize in 1993’s free agent derby, signed with Green Bay and went on to become the NFL’s all time sack leader. Recorded 3 sacks in Super Bowl XXXI when he became a champion with Green Bay along with former Eagle TE Keith Jackson. They bested the New England Patriots who had former Eagle RB Keith Byars and CB Otis Smith on the team. White passed on the week of Christmas 2004 which cast a pall over the playoffs that year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumosly in 2006. RIP Reggie White.

Commemorative patch worn by the 1992 Philadelphia Eagles in Jerome Brown’s memory.

Jerome Brown- An all pro talent who passed away the following June. He’s still one of the most beloved Miami Hurricanes and missed by Hurricane fans everywhere. The 1992 Eagles dedicated their season to his memory and wore this commemorative patch on their jerseys the entire season. They also kept an equipped locker for him throughout the season and set it up on road trips also. His locker was with the ’92 Eagles in the Superdome as they won their first playoff game in 15 years.

Brown was the predecessor to fellow Hurricanes DTs Cortez Kennedy Russell Maryland, and Warren Sapp. Kennedy, who changed his number to 99 in honor of Jerome and went on to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year in his honor in 1992 while playing for the Seahawks. Every Hurricane playing in the NFL during 1992 wore a black #98 on their helmet that year including several that played for the Dallas Cowboys. The next time you watch Super Bowl XXVII where Dallas beats Buffalo you’ll see the black #98 on the back of many helmets. Jerome was alos the inspiration and reason former Hurricane Warren Sapp wore #99 during his entire NFL career. R.I.P Jerome Brown

Super Bowl XXXII

Seth Joyner & Clyde Simmons- Were twin free agent prizes that signed with Buddy Ryan and the Cardinals in 1994. I wrote the Buffalo Bills organization and suggested we grab Simmons and Joyner to join Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett to fortify our defense to get to our fifth Super Bowl…yet I digress Joyner went on to join White with the Packers (1997) in their bid to repeat as champions yet they lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII. Well if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and when Denver (1998) went on to become back to back champions a year later. Seth Joyner was a Bronco and guess what number he wore?? Number 99. He is a motivational speaker in Arizona now http://sethjoyner.com/ runs youth football clinics and is a coach himself. Can also be heard on Philly radio w/ co-host Artie Clear http://www.theartieclearshow.com/

joyner_and_clear-logo---transparent

Eric Allen- Played on through the 2001 season finishing with the Raiders. A popular notion is he should have been 1993’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year for his 64 tackles 6 interception performance in which returned 4 of them for touchdowns.  The most famous being a 91 yard interception against the Jets. After weaving his way into the endzone, he handed the ball to teammate Randall Cunningham who was on crutches having been injured earlier in the game. His last game as a player was the famous “Tuck Game” in New England in the 2001 playoffs. Former teammate Otis Smith was a Patriot CB. He’s currently an ESPN analyst.

Byron Evans-Played 8 years with the Eagles through the ’94 season and was an underrated talent. Has an internet radio show he does with former teammate CB Mark McMillan on the Voice of America Network. http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/1475/hard-hittin-radio

Andre Waters- The hard hitting safety went on to join Simmons and Joyner in Arizona for the ’94 and ’95 seasons. He had gone into coaching yet passed away in 2006 R.I.P. Andre Waters

Super Bowl XXXVI Ring

Otis Smith-Was an Eagle dimeback in ’91. He went on to be the wily CB for a veteran laden Patriot team that lost Super Bowl XXXI to Green Bay. Yet was a Patriot 5 years later man handling Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce to stop the Greatest Show on Turf as he became a champion in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Mike Golic- finished his career with Miami and is half of the popular duo Mike and Mike on ESPN television and radio in the morning.

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Sterling Sharpe Belongs In The Hall of Fame

As those in and Packerland celebrate the team’s 13th championship in NFL history, the mind travels back to when Green Bay was the desolate outpost that few players wanted to go to.  The team had a celebrated past yet the years after Vince Lombardi’s team won Super Bowl II were lean with very few postseason appearances.

Everyone points to the hiring of GM Ron Wolf  or Mike Holmgren, or Reggie White’s free agent signing in 1993, or even Brett Favre being picked up in 1992 as the first step in the team returning to prominence.  Each were significant but weren’t the first step.  That distinction belongs to former All Pro receiver Sterling Sharpe who became the preeminent receiver of his time and was outplaying the legendary Jerry Rice at the time of his forced retirement because of a neck injury.

The Packers selected Sharpe in the ’88 NFL Draft and he played for 7 seasons. During that time he would go on to produce….nope not going to tell the story in that fashion. This was Terrell Owens before Terrell Owens meaning he would run over cornerbacks who tried to jam him or tackle him on slants.  I can still see the touchdown in ’92 when he drug CB Darryl Henley and half the LA Rams secondary into the endzone from the 5 yard line, knocking out Safety Pat Terrell in the process.

In an era where receivers were sleek, run and shoot quick guys like Earnest Givins, Drew Hill, & Andre Rison as the preferred types.  Michael Irvin and Sterling Sharpe were breaking in a new mold later carried on by Detroit’s Herman Moore and Minnesota’s Cris Carter.  The muscular intermediate receiver who were physical with cornerbacks then would slip by them for 40 yard gains later in the game once they beat up on them a bit.

Sterling started rather slow with a 55 catch rookie season where he only scored 1 touchdown and vowed to improve his approach to the game.  He felt the media was harsh in how they treated him and nearly went the rest of his career without granting an interview…well almost.  In 1989 he burst onto the national scene with 90 receptions for 1,423 yards and 12 TDs, earning the first of his 5 Pro Bowl and All Pro appearances.

He teamed with Don Majkowski to power The Pack to a stellar record of 10-6 which included a late season win over the World Champion 49ers in Candlestick.  He became the focal point of Head Coach Lindy Infante’s offense and gave the Packers a legitimate star to help attract Plan B free agents. Sharpe went on to Pro Bowl and All Pro status in the 1990, 1992-1994 seasons.

The greatness of this talent was showcased in 1992, he had to learn a new offense from a new coach in Mike Holmgren and during the third game learn to play with first time starter Brett Favre. How did he perform? Well he went on to break Art Monk’s all time NFL record of 106 catches in a season, going for 108.  He totaled a career high 1,461 yards and scored another 13 TDs.  Sharpe led the NFL in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 1992 which is amazing considering the coach & quarterback scenario.  Think about it for a sec… Jerry Rice’s most prolific years were 1987 and 1995 where he totaled 22 TDs receiving (87) and 122 catches / 1,808 yards gained in 1995.  These were achieved with league MVPs & Super Bowl MVPs Joe Montana and Steve Young in their 8th and 5th seasons as starters respectively. So naturally he would get better in the ensuing years with a new system in place right?

In 1993, his second year in Holmgren’s system, he broke his previous All Time NFL record of 108 catches going for 112 rec., 1,274 yard and 11TDs.  He also introduced the sporting world to “turf toe” as an injury to the sporting world lexicon which was a dislocated large toe basically.  The painful injury not only kept him from practicing ALL YEAR, he had to wear a shoe 1 1/2 sizes larger on the foot with the injury. What would he have done had he been able to hone his pass routes in practice?

The Packers went 9-7 and made the playoffs as a wild card.  They played their division rival Detroit Lions in the Silverdome and Sharpe electrified with a 5 rec., 101 yd 3TD performance.  His 3TD receptions tied the NFL All-Time Post season record which still stands.  The last of which (pictured above) was a 40 yard TD from Favre with less than a minute to play.  Not bad for his first playoff game huh? It was a day so interesting and exciting that he broke his 5 year boycott of granting interviews and spoke at the post game press conference.

The next week the Packers lost to the world champion Dallas Cowboys 27-17 yet Sharpe caught 6 passes for 128 yards and 1 TD.  He showed he was a prime time performer even in the postseason.  He had led the league in receptions in back to back years and was still improving with a young up and coming quarterback.  What more could the future hold?

Yet 1994 proved to be the last season in the NFL for Sterling Sharpe. A promising career cut short with a serious neck injury that robbed us of viewing the best receiver in the league at the time. Really? Yes really! Sharpe went out with a bang. In ’94 he amassed 94 rec. for 1,119 yards and an astounding 18 touchdowns.

The 18 receiving TDs were the second most in NFL history (at that time) tying the old all time record with Mark Clayton (who did it in ’84) and who ironically was Sharpe’s teammate in ’93.  Along the way there was a much ballyhooed showdown on Thanksgiving in Dallas to show the nation Sharpe and the Packers had arrived.  They lost 42-31, but again Sharpe dazzled the nation with a 9 rec. 122 yards and 4 TDs on the league’s #1 defense,  totally outperforming counterpart Michael Irvin.  Both players, along with Andre Rison, battled Jerry Rice in the stat sheets for league supremacy at receiver in the early 90’s.  However Sharpe missed the playoff rematch and retired after the season.

Sterling Sharpe left the game after 7 super productive seasons with 595 rec. for 8,134 yards and 65 TDs which doesn’t truly paint the full picture. In his last 3 years he caught 314 passes for 3,854 yards and 42 TDs averaging 104 receptions per season. At that rate over 3 more seasons he would have crossed 900 catches for almost 12,000 yards and 107 TDs which he easily would have done.  How do we know this? Brett Favre’s next three years in ’95,’96, and ’97, not only was he league MVP all 3 years, he threw for 38, 39 and 35TDs in those seasons.

Those three seasons the Packers lost the NFC Championshp Game in ’95 yet made the Super Bowl the next two years. It’s a shame that the team he led back to NFL prominence would go on to be league champion without him.  Ironically his brother Shannon gave him his first Super Bowl ring when the Broncos defeated the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, citing Sterling as his greatest male influence.

How do you gauge impact? Well you need to ask yourself a few questions.  In 1992 Mike Holmgren was the hottest coaching commodity when the Vikings, Steelers, and Packers were vying for his services.  Seeing that Holmgren wanted to install his “west coast offense”, don’t you think Green Bay won out by having Sterling Sharpe as his Jerry Rice already in tow to play his “Z” receiver?  What happens if the star receiver wasn’t on hand to aid a nervous young Brett Favre, allowing him to gain confidence?

If he would have struggled, Don Majkowski gets his job back 7 weeks later and we may never have known of Brett… think about it. Favre only became the NFL’s all time quarterback in ….well everything. In fact it was Sharpe who got Favre rolling in his first start against Pittsburgh absolutely scorching Rod Woodson on a stutter-go 76 yard touchdown to settle Favre down.  Without Sterling Sharpe, NFL history and certainly Green Bay Packers history would have been altered drastically.

This was a talent that blocked in the running game and didn’t dance in the endzone when he did score.  He didn’t jump up signaling first down when he made a catch.  He was the absolute antithesis of the “me” receiver that has overtaken the league over the last 20 years.  After Charlie Hennigan in 1961 ( 101 rec. /AFL’s Houston Oilers), Art Monk in ’84 (106 rec. / Washington Redskins), and ’90 Jerry Rice (100 rec. / San Fran 49ers) it was Sharpe who made the 100 catch season a staple in league totals, going for 108 receptions then 112 the following year.

The fact that he didn’t self promote on every television camera he saw yet isn’t in the Hall of Fame, may give way to why we see receivers that do.  Gale Sayers isn’t the only great player to have his career cut short by injury so Sharpe needs to be more than considered.  His play and on field conduct was a celebration of how and why football is played and loved by millions.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Sterling Sharpe.