The Soul Of The Game: Willie Davis

Hall of Fame President David Baker presenting Jim Taylor and Willie Davis new PFHofF rings.

Hall of Fame President David Baker presenting Jim Taylor and Willie Davis new PFHofF rings.

One of the truly great moments in recent years have been the Hall of Fame rings given to the new inductees. David Baker, who is the President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been presenting rings to those previously enshrined in tributes at early season games. Back in September Willie Davis along with Jim Taylor received new rings from the Hall of Fame.

However the television execs only allow us glimpses of these presentations instead of hearing Mr.Baker’s presentation or the players themselves. We’re truly missing the opportunity to share the history of the game to a new generation.

Willie Davis with his Hall of Fame presenter... the legendary late Grambling Head Coach Eddie Robinson.

Willie Davis with his Hall of Fame presenter… the legendary late Grambling Head Coach Eddie Robinson.

Hopefully some kid asked his Father, Uncle, or Grandfather who Willie Davis was. A youngster could learn how Davis was one of the best Defensive Ends in pro football history. A living legend dating back to the legendary Green Bay Packer teams of the 1960’s.

Although fellow Hall of Famers Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, and Dave Robinson were on that team, it was Davis who made the biggest defensive plays during their dynasty. Remember the “million dollar fumble?” Well that is just one… take a look

Willie Davis was definitely A Soul of the Game defender who showed up in big games. An interesting aspect to Davis’ career was the fact he was the Defensive End to the strong side of the offense. He was only 240 lbs yet took on the double team of the Tackle and Tight End and had to play the run as well as the pass. Yet you saw he recorded sacks in the 1965 NFL Championship as well as Super Bowls I & II. Most of the time you think of light pass rushing ends they’re predominant weak side rushers. Not Mr. Davis.

Vince Lombardi stealing Davis from Paul Brown’s Cleveland team could have been the difference between the Packers ruling the 60’s instead of the Browns.

We may not have been able to hear from him during that Monday Night telecast but we could at least bring you his retirement speech from 1969.

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2015 Lessons Through Week 4: Buffalo Bills

With only one of its teams taking the field on this continent in week 4, the Buffalo Bills had the perfect opportunity to continue their  defensive success. After a big 41-14 win over Miami, they welcomed the Giants with the league’s 21st ranked offense. Eli Manning and the Giants hadn’t sustained offensive continuity the first 3 weeks. However with 17 penalties committed, the Bills played undisciplined allowing the Giants to sustain drives in a 24-10 loss.

bills v giantsIn the NFL there are games where a team can just come out flat. The Bills and QB Tyrod Taylor fell prey to that yesterday. This is a young team that needs to learn to bring it all four quarters no matter the competition. Also what has happened to the defense?? Last year the Bills were the NFL’s 4th best unit yet currently ranked 22nd and giving up 23 points per game. Sure the figures are distorted thanks to the 40 points and 507 yards the Patriots put up in week 2. Yet what did the Giants score in Sunday’s tilt? Twenty four points so the Bills have to shore up their defense and CB Leodis McKelvin will be available in 3 weeks to help.

The upside is the Bills have yet to hit their stride offensively. LeSean McCoy hasn’t been healthy enough to play a full game at any point in this season. He missed Sunday’s game along with WR Sammy Watkins. Once established they can sneak Percy Harvin in the mix better where now defenses know to key on him when he’s in the game.

Bills v Giants

One issue of concern is the propensity of Tyrod Taylor to scramble back and then brake containment rather than climb the pocket. That added 10 yards increases the recovery time of the defense to react to his throws and minimizes his running effectiveness. When the rush is coming and he steps up in the pocket, he’s able to dash for a quick 5 to 7 yard gain if the play breaks down. He did so Sunday on a 32 yard TD scramble that was called back but that is where he can add to the structure of the offense. Buffalo just has some growing up to do.

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2015 Lessons Through Week 3: AFC North

Every NFL season takes on its own unique shape. With so many moving parts between player movement, player maturation & coaching changes, the landscape doesn’t change every changes every week. By the time we sprinkle injuries in this cauldron it’s nearly impossible to forecast. This is what makes NFL football great.

Bell and Williams will power the Steelers in 2015.

Bell and Williams will power the Steelers in 2015.

Take the Pittsburgh Steelers for instance. Coming into the season they had to figure how to get through the first few games while LeVeon Bell served a 2 game suspension. With a defense being rebuilt they would have to lean on one of the NFL’s best offenses for success in 2015. Insurance policies were signed in former Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams and former Falcon / Eagle QB in Michael Vick. Williams paid off handsomely with 206 yards rushing and 3 TDs, which is good enough for 6th in the league going into week 4. Now they have a 1-2 punch that is second to none with Bell’s return.

Yet Bell’s first game back against the Rams in week 3 saw Ben Roethlisberger go down with a knee sprain. Vick is the next man up and has to produce in the 4 weeks Big Ben is expected to be gone. Vick can’t just hold the fort down in Ben’s absence. The Steelers, with all their offensive weaponry, rank 5th offensively and 14th defensively. If this insurance policy doesn’t pay off and the Steelers find themselves punting more and come back to the pack, they will  expose their defense. Tomlin’s defense needs to grow up in a hurry. Michael Vick your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Time to play Manziel.

Time to play Manziel.

In Cleveland its as if Head Coach Mike Pettine is trying hard to look for work next year. The upside to Josh McCown is he is a journeyman quarterback that will minimize mistakes. The downside is he is not a playmaker that can win you games. Just as he did with his game ending interception to Charles Woodson in their 27-20 loss to Oakland last week.

However a closer look at the numbers and Johnny Manziel has a 99.7 passer rating to MCown’s 83.2. Did you know through 3 games of this season Manziel has 3 touchdown passes of 50 yards where the rest of the NFL has 6?? That is called playmaking and is the difference between the Browns being 1-2 v. 0-3. To bookend Manziel’s week 2 heroics you have the Woodson interception and before that, the fumble at the goal line when McCown got himself knocked out against the Jets. Come on son…

It’s time to play Manziel and see what you have. If the Browns can’t turn it around they could be looking for a new Head Coach and quarterback next season. Like it or not Mike Pettine, your job’s future lies in the success of this 2015 campaign. Especially in a down year for the division, better to tie it to a playmaker like Manziel than a losing game manager like McCown.

bengals tComing in with the NFL’s 2nd best offense and 12th ranked defense is the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals. The conversation for the Bengals is the same as the last few years. They beat the teams they should beat and come up empty against the best the AFC has to offer. The combined record of the Raiders, Chargers, and Ravens was 3-6 before Thursday Night’s game. We’ll talk about this team in 3 weeks when they host Seattle then go on the road to Buffalo. They come through that 2-0 we have something to talk about.

The Baltimore Ravens won last night to earn their first win of the season. However it isn’t a season saving victory as many of the t.v. pundits would have you believe. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost that game last night due to terrible kicking with Josh Scobee and even worse play calling late in the 4th quarter. Justin Forsett broke out with 150 yards rushing but the Steelers have given up 373 yards on the ground in the last 3 weeks. This team has middle of the road rankings offensively and defensively and new playmakers have to emerge on the defensive side of the ball.

Thanks goodness they get to play against Cleveland next week, especially if Pettine stays the course to get fired starting McCown. After that they go on the road to San Francisco and Arizona. The 49ers aren’t as strong as they once were for certain.  However neither were the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos as the Ravens started 0-2 on the road traveling west. These next few weeks will definitely tell the tale.

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Hispanic Heritage Month: Joe Kapp

With it being Hispanic Heritage Month, I have always found it hard to believe how Joe Kapp seems to be forgotten among Hispanic football fans. Not one time has The Chancellor met a hispanic Minnesota Viking fan or a Viking fan because of Joe Kapp. In a historic sense, Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett’s exploits are remembered more fondly and that is sad for Kapp’s contributions were just as great.

Joe Knapp Minnesota Vikings Quarterback July 20, 1970 X 15038 credit: Heinz Kluetmeier - contract

Joe Knapp Minnesota Vikings Quarterback
July 20, 1970
X 15038
credit: Heinz Kluetmeier – contract

Flores was the first QB of Mexican descent that won a Super Bowl. Yet he did so as the backup to Len Dawson on the Super Bowl IV champion Kansas City Chiefs. The first Mexican-American quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback was Kapp who was across the field for the Minnesota Vikings.

Although he spent the bulk of his career in the CFL, Bud Grant brought him down to play for him in 1967. He had won several Grey Cups and was known for being a fiery leader. That and the fact he threw some of the ugliest wobbly passes from not using the football’s laces.

In 1968 Kapp led the Vikings to the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. However they lost to the Baltimore Colts 24-14. The Colts set the NFL record that year only allowing 144 points and were lauded as the best in history. Only a loss in Super Bowl III diminished their impact. They had defeated Joe Kapp….right?

In 1969 the Vikings lost the first game of the season 24-23 to the New York Giants. Kapp didn’t start or play in that game. However he was available for the week 2 rematch with Baltimore.

The NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game has Kapp’s name on it with 7. It would take rule changes and another 44 years before Payton Manning tied this record in 2013. The Colts loss to Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III strained Don Shula’s relationship with owner Carroll Rosenbloom, this 52-14 loss broke it. The next season he would be gone to Miami where he became the NFL’s winningest coach. Joe Kapp had a hand in that.

Starting with the week 2 win over Baltimore, Kapp led the Vikings to 12 straight wins. The longest win streak in the NFL in 35 years. Keep in mind the NFL was only in its 50th season. No quarterback would win 12 straight regular season starts in the same season until Tom Brady in 2003, some 34 years later. Finishing with a 12-2 record the Vikings went on to Super Bowl IV where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7.

He left the Vikings after a contract dispute and joined the New England Patriots where he only played the 1970 season. Was he not afforded the respect of prominent white quarterbacks of the time?? Why wouldn’t they sign him?? The 1969 Vikings broke the NFL’s defensive scoring record allowing only 133 points on their way to Super Bowl IV. If Kapp stayed to lead the offense would they have made it to Super Bowl V?? Last year I did a series on the best ever defenses, where it was discovered the ’70 Vikings gave up the fewest yards per game for every defense since. Yes they would have…

  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int

Joe Kapp only played 5 seasons in the NFL but he was a trailblazer. Tom Flores was the first Mexican American starting QB with the AFL’s Oakland Raiders and was a Kansas City Chief across the field in Super Bowl IV.  Yet Kapp played with distinction and set several records on his way there. He’s a cult hero who should be celebrated for his contributions to the game. He led his teams to championship games at Cal, the CFL, and the NFL. The very definition of a champion. To complete this circle for Hispanic Heritage Month… Who was the quarterback drafted #1 by the New England Patriots in 1971 after Joe Kapp?? Some guy named Jim Plunkett…

One day I hope to walk by and see a Hispanic kid with a Vikings jersey with the number 11 on it. That would be the coolest thing. Don’t forget Joe Kapp.

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2015 AFC Predictions

Before we get into the heart of this conversation, The Chancellor of Football is going to take you back to a simpler time. The year was 1999 and the St Louis Rams were gearing to take on the NFC West bully on the block San Francisco 49ers. The Rams won the 1st game of the 1990’s between the two then lost the next 17 straight. They were the laughingstock of the league and beating the Bengals, to go 3-0 broke the tie between St Louis and Cincy as to which team had the most losses in the decade.

For the Rams to be taken seriously, they had to beat their long time division bully. A young Chancellor of Football explained to my friend Allan Kennedy – if the Rams can win this game they will make the playoffs. If they beat them handily they can make it to the Super Bowl. He looked at me as though I was crazy. When a team builds and the animosity permeates the entire roster, when its good enough, it goes looking for that bully. Do you realize with a win today Buffalo will have beaten the two teams that faced off in last year’s AFC Championship Game??

buffalo bills2015 AFC East Champions: Buffalo Bills

2015 AFC North Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

2015 AFC South Champion: Indianapolis Colts

2015 AFC West Champion: San Diego Chargers

Wildcards: New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills

This is what sits before the Buffalo Bills today as they take on their nemesis in the New England Patriots. The confidence gained from knocking down a conference heavy is what cements a team on the rise. In 1980 the Bills beat the Dolphins for the first time after losing all 20 games to them in the 1970’s. They made the playoffs andnearly the AFC Championship Game.

The Indianapolis Colts will win the South but Andre Johnson looks extremely slow in a Colts uniform. They need to establish Frank Gore and gain some physicality on the offensive side of the ball. Luck is a growing quarterback but struggles against Defensive Coordinators that give different looks. Do they have enough defense to get to Super Bowl L?

Phillip Rivers will have a great 2015.

Phillip Rivers will have a great 2015.

The team that is growing steadily is the San Diego Chargers under Mike McCoy.  Phillip Rivers and his Charger teammates in the past have played up and down to their competition. This is the year they break the hex the Denver Broncos have over them and win the division. Last year Rivers threw for 4,286 yards 31 touchdowns and just 18 interceptions. Once they can get rookie Melvin Gordon running the football and Antonio Gates back from suspension, this team could be 3-1.

They fielded the NFL’s 9th best defense and added Jacoby Jones to bolster their return game. Their solid at every position on their roster now the young talent needs to mature and Rivers can’t have down games. He’s 33 now and a veteran that should put it all together this season.

The AFC is wide open this year and the Steelers and Patriots have serious deficiencies on defense. These units will grow and mature but not in time to to serious damage this season. Malcolm Butler is a Super Bowl hero but he got torched by Brown of the Steelers in week 1. If corners Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis gave the Pats a championship pedigree defense, then losing them reduces them to the latter half of the league.

Taylor is prepared to lead the Bills into the playoffs.

Taylor is prepared to lead the Bills into the playoffs.

Which brings us back to the Bills who return the 4th best defense in football. Rex Ryan the season before had the 6th best defense when he ran the New York Jets and the Bills have better personnel. Now that DT Marcell Dareus is back to join Mario Williams this team can be lethal if they can play with a lead. They will finish as the #1 defense and have a stable of backs. LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin are the wildcards to keep Tyrod Taylor from feeling like he has to make all the plays. Rex will play him like the AFC version of Russell Wilson. If you get through the first two reads and aren’t comfortable, take off for 5 yards.

Ryan used the formula of power running, solid defense, and a quarterback minimizing turnovers and made it to back to back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. That was with a rookie in Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor has a Super Bowl ring from his days in Baltimore as he learned the NFL going against the Ravens defense in practice. he is not overwhelmed and will do fine.

Tyrod Taylor celebrating at the end of Super Bowl XlVII.

Tyrod Taylor celebrating at the end of Super Bowl XLVII.

As for the intro?? The St Louis Rams blew out the San Francisco 49ers in that 1999 match-up 42-20, went on to sweep them for the season and won Super Bowl XXXIV. Buffalo will win handily today over New England.

If they can get to Super Bowl L as The Chancellor of Football thinks…. they’ll run right into a former Buffalo Bill playing running back for the NFC Champion.

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2015 NFC South Predictions

When the Carolina Panthers lost wideout Kelvin Benjamin for the season, everything changed for Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton. Instead of coming into a second season with Benjamin and fellow 1,000 yard receiver in Greg Olsen, the offense regresses with Ted Ginn Jr becoming a starter. Ginn doesn’t fight for the football and hears footsteps on in routes. This further stunts Newton’s growth as he will have to run for his life again with a pedestrian receiving corps.

Falcons-590x9002015 NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons 10-6 *
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
  3. Carolina Panthers 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

The heat is on for Jameis Winston especially after that first game performance losing 42-14. He was badly outplayed by Marcus Mariota and his head is definitely out of the clouds now. Yet he can turn and give the ball to the shifty Doug Martin and settle into a balanced offense.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Tampa has weapons in WR Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson also. Two big physical receivers that will collect all of the intermediate passes if Winston is inaccurate. The biggest lesson Tampa should have learned is to not give Winston too much of the playbook yet. Lean on the running game and expand the sophistication of the passing game as the game and season wear on. Doug Martin had a great preseason and needs to be reestablished.

New Falcon Head Coach Dan Quinn will get more out of the defense than former coach Mike Smith. Offensively this team has had the firepower to make a Super Bowl run yet came up short on the other side of the ball. Matt Ryan is in his prime and needs to mature fully as a quarterback. What is keeping him from being great are his 3rd quarter flame outs that necessitate 4th quarter heroics. Great quarterbacks keep the pressure on the opponent to keep scoring with them. The Falcons rarely get up 2 to 3 scores on opponents.  So now its up to Quinn’s defense to make up the difference.

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2015 NFC East Predictions

One of the most perplexing aspect of picking the NFC East is what is going on with Jason Pierre Paul’s hand?? How damaged is it?? Is he really missing his thumb?? Today he showed up to the facilities and is about to sign his contract yet we haven’t been shown what his hand looks like. As the Giants “alpha dog” on defense, without him being what he had been could have a ripple effect on the Giants as a whole.

dez2015 NFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys 9-7 *
  2. Philadelphia Eagles 8-8
  3. New York Giants 7-9
  4. Washington Redskins 4-12

The Dallas Cowboys will come down a peg now that they are running by committee. This is the first time since 1946 when the NFL’s leading rusher switched teams the following year. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we made mention of “The Great Wall II” and an offensive line is great for an era. We stand by that but we have to see how the often injured Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle will perform.

Cowboys brass has to have some reservations or they wouldn’t have traded for Christine Michael from Seattle. The penchant is there to revert back to the pass happy era we saw earlier in Tony Romo’s career. At least in a few games this can happen. The defense begins the season with Rolando McClain, Kevin Hardy and Orlando Scandrick beginning the season suspended and on the reserved injured list doesn’t bode well. Dallas will have a sloppy start to this season as they try to establish their running game and find defensive continuity.


Sanchez will have to play for Bradford several times this season.

Interestingly the Eagles are coming into 2015 with something old and something new. The old?? Chip Kelly jettisoning off top shelf talent. Gone is RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and WR Jeremy Macklin to the Chiefs. The something new is swapping QBs Nick Foles for Sam Bradford from the Rams.

The often injured Bradford won’t remain on his feet for the entire season. We saw the hit Terrell Suggs put on Bradford in the pre-season. Chip Kelly’s offense will expose Bradford too additional hits and Sanchez will have to take his place several times this season. This kills offensive continuity and we know Kelly’s too arrogant to change his play calling.

Not only will the Eagles wear down but the Giants will remain too inconsistent to take the division. Eli Manning just inked a new contact extension and will play loose. However Victor Cruz is still rounding back into game shape and Odell Beckham is getting the business from defenders set to get after him in his sophomore season.

If Jason Pierre-Paul had showed up with 10 fingers the Giants win the division. With his being sent home without signing his contract something is definitely up. And without an index finger he’s rendered one of his hands to be useless to pull on jerseys in pass rush hand fighting techniques. Pierre-Paul won’t be the same player and the defense will take a big step back without it’s dominant pass rusher. Remember he was their franchise player… not any more.

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2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

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2015 NFC West Predictions

The 2015 NFL season is upon us! The first thing we have to do is get to the season after a tumultuous offseason for what had been the best division in football.  The Seahawks were reeling from a shocking Super Bowl defeat when holdouts and contracts threatened team chemistry. The St Louis Rams traded often injured Sam Bradford for Nick Foles at QB. However the story of the division was the devastating fallout from retirements, suspensions, and player defections after Jim Harbaugh’s dismissal. Easily the worst off-season for one team in NFL history.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

2015 NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks 13-3 **

2. St Louis Rams 10-6

3. Arizona Cardinals 7-9

4. San Francisco 49ers 6-10

After spending time in the spring with Kurt Warner, it doesn’t seem as if Colin Kaepernick’s mechanics have changed that much. He is still holding on to the football and taking to long to get through his progressions. Now he has to find chemistry with new receiver Torrey Smith with Michael Crabtree’s defection to Oakland. After the worst off-season in NFL history, this was the least of their worries.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Now another off-field issue could cause a suspension for LB Ahmad Brooks. Along with Aldon Smith’s latest transgression, the notable defenders that didn’t leave or retire wont be on the field much of the season. Navorrro Bowman is back to provide toughness and leadership. It will be a season of growing pains as the 49ers need new leaders to emerge with the loss of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis.

Carson Palmer has come back healthy as has scatback Andre Ellington. As was the case last year, they still can’t run the football. The Cardinals signed former Titan RB Chris Johnson to bolster their anemic running game. We have yet to see much from rookie runner David Johnson, and the offensive line is having problems. Free agent signee G Mike Iupati could be gone until week 7 due to injury. RT Bobbie Massey faces suspension after a DUI arrest and LT Jared Veldheer was terrorized by the Raiders Kahlil Mack in the 3rd preseason game. Mack looked like the second coming of the late Derrick Thomas, but Veldheer has to be able to hold his own.

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

An offensive line needs cohesion and missing two of the five starters projected will set back an offense that already can’t run. Now this puts more onus on the Cardinal’s passing attack. Palmer, who is returning from a knee reconstruction, has to go to work behind this patchwork line?? This is not a recipe for returning to the playoffs.

In St. Louis, not only did Jeff Fisher rid the Rams of the team’s former face in Sam Bradford, but he may have forged their new identity in drafting RB Todd Gurley. At 6’1 and 231 lbs. the team has a game controlling back whose been brought along slowly this summer. Fisher has already gone on record saying he would be better than Eddie George.  You remember George was the power source for Tennessee’s offense during Fisher’s tenure there.

Now Tre Mason can be used as the change of pace, 3rd down back type, he’s more suited for. After being pounded by Gurley, defenders are going to hate Mason darting in and out of holes when they’re exhausted. Especially if they interchange both backs from the same formations. New quarterback Nick Foles should have a great year in his new surroundings. He will be able to ease into his passing rhythm as this team will not fall behind in many games.

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

With DE Robert Quinn, DT Aaron Donald, and a healthy Chris Long, this defensive line will be dangerous playing with leads. Although many pundits have lauded the play of Linebacker James Laurinitis, it will be Alec Ogletree who will emerge as the new NFC super backer. Last year he forced 4 fumbles, gathered 2 interceptions to go with his 110 combined tackles and is a favorite for Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The Rams will make the playoffs this year as a wildcard.

Yet still on top of the division and the NFC for that matter are the Seattle Seahawks. The team is being chipped away as players like Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are being rewarded with lucrative deals. SS Kam Chancellor is holding out and could affect the play of the defense at the start of the season. With Marshawn Lynch back to punish defenses it will mask early offensive line struggles. In the preseason teams didn’t honor the read option and just teed off on Wilson. That won’t happen with Lynch on the field. Now we add in the intermediate play of new TE Jimmy Graham and you see why they are the odds on favorite to make a 3rd straight trip to the Super Bowl.

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The Soul Of The Game: Jack Lambert

In the history of pro football no position calls for hitting like Middle Linebacker. Whether facing the line of scrimmage and scraping to meet a runner, taking then shedding the Center, or defeating a Fullback. Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers was a different breed drafted in 1974 to patrol in a different game. Against the run nothing had changed but against the pass, the NFL had just narrowed the hash marks necessitating the need for MLB’s to cover more space against the pass.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the '76 playoffs.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the ’76 playoffs.

Backing behind the Steel Curtain allowed Lambert to “clean-up” runners held up at the line of scrimmage. He was an aggressive tackler and a ferocious hitter. In what has blasphemously become known as the “Tampa 2 Defense” is nothing but what the Steelers did with Lambert dropping him deep between 2 safeties. This caused many downfield collisions.

Lambert’s aggressive playing style meshed with the front four to anchor one of the best defenses in NFL history. Although there wee other great players, Lambert tied it all together patrolling the middle.

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Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

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Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

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Legends Of The Fall: YA Tittle

One of the earliest stories I read in my formative years learning about the NFL was on YA Tittle. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was celebrated for his effort in trying to obtain an NFL title but never did. He was a part of the legendary Million Dollar Backfield in San Francisco where he teamed with Hugh McElhenny, Joe “The Jet” Perry, and John Henry Johnson. The first complete backfield to make the Hall of Fame ad we’re talking all four players.

Tittle as a member of The Million Dollar Backfield.

Tittle as a member of The Million Dollar Backfield.

Tittle quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers throughout the 1950s but couldn’t overcome the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions in the Western Conference to play in the NFL Championship game. The most glaring was the 1957 season where they finished 8-4 and in a tie with the Lions. Detroit was the vanguard of the West having played in 3 title games in the previous 5 years, winning 2. Tittle had a career year completing 63% of his passes while throwing for 2,157 yards and 13 TDs on the season. He also rushed for 220 yards and 6 scores.

Hosting the playoff game with Detroit in old Kezar Stadium, Tittle and the 49ers took a commanding 27-7 lead in the 3rd quarter. In many accounts the 49ers thought the game was over. They became victims as the Lions roared back to win 31-27. Over the next few years the Baltimore Colts emerged as the best of the west and the 49ers were broken up.

Tittle and McElhenny wound up in New York with the Giants who were afflicted with not fulfilling the promise of winning an NFL championship. They won in 1956 on the broad shoulders of Tom Landry’s defense. However they came up short in 1958 and 1959 in championship losses to Baltimore. In truth, the offense with Charlie Connerly, Frank Gifford, and Alex Webster had let them down. Although Tittle was in the twilight of his career he would be an upgrade at quarterback and aid an aging yet still formidable defense. Over the next 3 years, Tittle took the Giant offense to greatness.

In 1962, he broke Johnny Unitas’ single season touchdown record of 32, throwing for 33. He had never thrown for more than 20 in a season. He broke it the following year when he threw for 36, along with George Blanda over in the AFL, that stood until Dan Marino eclipsed it in 1984. Which was several NFL generations later. Tittle was the most productive in his career at 37 years of age. All he had to do was win the NFL championship to cement his legacy.

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Legendary Days: Ken Stabler’s Last Great Comeback

A few short weeks ago we lost Ken Stabler and it was felt by football fans everywhere. In my article describing why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I cited the great moments he had as one of the reasons. He had so many famous 4th quarter finishes they had nicknames: The Holy Roller, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost To The Post to name a few. However the one most people forgot about was his last great comeback.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff were gone and many holdovers from the 70’s were being phased out in 1979. Tom Flores was now the coach and Oakland was about to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Only the second time this had happened in 12 years. They traveled to New Orleans where both teams at 7-6, clung to fading playoff hopes.

The Saints had a shot at finishing with their 1st ever winning season. They had Pro Bowlers in QB Archie Manning, RB Chuck Muncie, TE Henry Childs, and WR Wes Chandler. Now on a Monday Night they were going to show the nation and the rest of the NFL they were to be taken seriously. They came out firing and took a 28-14 halftime lead on Oakland. The Raiders looked like an aging team as the Superdome was raucous from the 1st half heroics, then it got even louder early in the 3rd quarter:

…and just like that Stabler brought the Raiders back from 35-14 to the greatest comeback win in Monday Night history 42-35.  The Snake had gone 26 of 45 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were thrown in the 4th quarter alone.  On a Monday night in December 1979, Stabler turned back the clock with an unbelievable performance.

RIP Kenny Stabler

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Legends of The Fall: John Constantine Unitas

The name that comes to mind when it comes to quarterback – John Constantine Unitas…  I can’t remember hearing his complete name for the first time, but feel it needs to be brought up for the fans who need to know the greatness of this man. So glad they finished the documentary in 1999 before he passed. An old school American hero. The best ever quarterback conversation has this man’s name in it. Not Peyton Manning and Tom Brady where all the rules have been changed to manufacture what looks like greatness.

Unitas! Pictured in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium one last time.

Unitas! Pictured in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium one last time.

At the time of Unitas retirement, he held the record for passing yards (40,239) & touchdown passes (290). He was the first NFL quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in 1960 and once held the record for TD passes in a 12 game season with 32. In an era where the NFL game was rooted in the ground, Unitas took to the air where purists scoffed he was ruining the game. Through it all he raised quarterbacking to an art form by the way he played, his play calling ability, and field generalship in leading the Baltimore Colts. In fact, it was Unitas that invented the 2 minute drill in the most important game in NFL history…. the 1958 NFL Championship.

The ’58 NFL Championship ignited the passion for pro football for the masses as it overtook baseball for America’s heart. Lamar Hunt after this game decided to start the American Football League on the heels of this game’s popularity. A sense of irony between the AFL and Unitas’ would come to the fore later. Yet it was Unitas that became a superstar. Football had been booming with television in the 1950’s and it culminated with his championship heroics.

For an encore, when all eyes were upon him, he had his greatest season in 1959. Johnny U went 193 of 367 (52.6%) for 2,899 yards 32 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions in leading the Colts to a 2nd consecutive championship. By the way for those keeping score, this was in a 12 game season and the yardage and touchdowns were NFL records at the time. At the pace he was on, had it been a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 42 touchdowns. This was in an era where his receivers were hit everywhere on the field not just within a 5 yard contact zone. Legacy cemented.

His 47 straight games with a touchdown pass stood for nearly 50 years. After 40 of those years no one had come within 18 of that record. Drew Bees finally broke it because of all the rule changes…but if you dared to say Brees is in league with Unitas, you and I can’t talk football anymore. A final look back at his jersey retirement at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in 1977.

In watching the HBO documentary Unitas is where I first learned the plight of former players fighting for benefits from the NFL. When the elbow injury came up I immediately yelled out “1968!” That was the year he tore the tendons that attached the lower and upper arm, causing him to sit out the season and the late Earl Morrall played in his absence. They wound up losing Super Bowl III. Unitas wound up losing the ability to fully use the right hand that made the NFL what it is today. Not only was that a travesty but the anger that swelled in me is why I back all the former player’s groups, Footballer’s Wives, Dignity After Football, and Gridiron Greats to this day.

Sports Illustated cover featuring Johnny U.

Sports Illustated cover featuring Johnny U.

Whenever the mantle of greatness at the quarterback position is cheaply thrown around, as a historian I bristle. What would Unitas accomplish playing in the rules set up today?? How much greater would he have become training all year around like today’s players?? What would his stats look like if he played where he could hardly be hit??  He dwarfs all quarterbacks without the changes. With them he would have left marks that quarterbacks would still be chasing.

Unitas and his receivers, Lenny Moore, and Raymond Berry all made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The next time someone mentions greatest ever quarterbacks, start with Unitas and work your way down.

John Constantine Unitas: May 7, 1933- September 11, 2002

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Ken Stabler Belongs In The Hall of Fame

When it comes to who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, most inductees are in for the stellar performance over their careers entirety. Others are in based upon producing some of the greatest moments in football history. A third definition in the eyes of the The Chancellor is “Can we talk about the era in which a player performed without his name coming up?”  Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders fits the bill in all 3 of these categories.

KennyStablerHere in Taylor Blitz Times we have chronicled the long time bias toward former Raiders when it comes to enshrinement. Head Coach John Madden’s field general has yet to be elected to Canton. Stabler was a throwback QB who called his own plays and routinely led the Raiders into the playoffs during the 1970’s. Along with Fan Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, these four ruled the 1970’s and arguably Stabler had the most legendary moments.

On December 23,1972 in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh, Stabler, whom Madden had been grooming since 1968, was the wild card needed to change the tide of a game down 6-0. Desperate for some offense, John Madden inserted a young, mobile Kenny “The Snake” Stabler in for an anemic Daryle Lamonica which produced immediate results.

On a last second desperation drive, the Raiders came scrambling downfield with a young quarterback in his first significant action in an NFL playoff game. At the Steelers 30 with less than 1:30 to go, Stabler avoided the Steel Curtain, took off and scored on a 30 yard TD run to give the Raiders their first lead of the game 7-6. “The Snake” had done it!! A hero was born!! There was bedlam on the Oakland sideline and with 1:13 to go began to make reservations for they would host the AFC Championship Game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

However this was overshadowed by The Immaculate Reception that happened 4 plays later. Then later that day Roger Staubach had his 1st famous comeback in a 30-28 win in San Francisco. Yet Oakland knew they had their quarterback of the future and he could perform in pressure situations. Like a young George Blanda, who had a magical run during 1970, the Raiders could depend upon Stabler’s heroics for years to come.

Over the next 5 seasons as the starter, Stabler guided the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game. An NFL record. He was a daring quarterback who was a true river boat gambler. This led to some interceptions but even more daring touchdowns. He was old school yet enjoyed wine, women, and song out in the nightlife. He still came in and put in his work and teammates respected him and would follow him anywhere.

In 1973 Stabler completed an unheard of 62.7% of his passes, for 1,997 yards 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Raiders won the AFC West and got revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 33-14 win in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, on their way to back to back championships, beat them in the ’73 AFC Championship 27-10. Take a wild guess who was there to get revenge in the 1974 AFC Divisional Playoff?

Stabler ended the Dolphin dynasty with the touchdown to Clarence Davis in what became known as The Sea of Hands. One of the most famous games in NFL history.

Although the Raiders lost the AFC Championship the next two years to the rival Steelers, they came back in’76 with a vengeance. They recorded a 13-1 record and sought revenge on those Steelers yet needed another “Snake” come from behind miacle win in the AFC divisional round to get there.

The Raiders would go on to win the AFC Championship 24-7 over Pittsburgh, then Super Bowl XI over Minnesota 32-14. He had guided the Raiders to that elusive championship in an era when it seemed they would be destined to always be the bridesmaid. He had several great performances left but becoming a champion was the ultimate. In defending that championship in 1977, Stabler guided Oakland to their 5th straight AFC Title game in Denver. They fell short 20-17 in getting to Super Bowl XII. How much did that have to do with the fatigue from the 6 quarter epic, Ghost To the Post 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts 1 week before??

Stabler’s Raider career was filled with great highlights and one important Super Bowl championship. In 1976 he had one of the greatest season a QB could have. He went 194 of 291 for 2,737 yards 27 TDs and 17 ints and an astonishing completion rate of 67.7% and a 103.4 passer rating. Remember this is a guy who extolled the Raiders philosophy of pressure football while throwing the ball deep.

However Stabler’s career wasn’t a series of statistics. He was one of the NFL’s most visible and recognizable personalities. He did make four Pro Bowls, was voted NFL MVP in 1974, was All Pro twice, and led the league in touchdown passes on 2 occasions. Furthermore,”The Snake” also was voted to the 1970’s NFL All Decade Team and finished with 194 TDs and 222 interceptions. A trade to the Houston Oilers after the 1979 season ended his stint  in Oakland. However he did go out with a bang:

Before his retirement in 1984, he did play for the late Bum Phillips twice in Houston and with the New Orleans Saints. Yet it was the magic he deftly showed out in Oakland that should have him in Canton. You can’t even pick out the best quarterback/receiver combo from the 1970s. Was it Stabler to Cliff Branch who should be in the Hall of Fame?? Would it be Stabler to TE Dave Casper who is in “the hall”?? No…it has to be the obvious in Stabler to Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff…right?? If all of his receivers are in and being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame what does that make of the quarterback who helped get them there??

Unfortunately with his passing on Wednesday, we will have to lobby for Stabler to be enshrined posthumously.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Kenny “The Snake” Stabler

RIP Ken Stabler (February 2, 1952 – July 8, 2015)

Legends Of The Fall: Barry Sanders

As I watched Barry Sanders A Football Life, they began the episode with Sanders reading his retirement. The closure gained from it was immense. It wasn’t as though I was still sitting here thinking he was coming back after 15 years. We’ve already witnessed his induction into the Hall of Fame, but to hear his words publicly, laid to rest those feelings and emotions that lay dormant from the years immediately following his retirement. He was simply the greatest running back ever in the Chancellor of Football’s estimation.

Sanders with defenders left in his wake.

Sanders with defenders left in his wake.

To a prior generation of NFL historians, Jim Brown was the measuring stick yet when you think about it, he wouldn’t have been as effective against modern defenses. He played at a time when the NFL didn’t play black players at linebacker or safety. Brown was bigger and more imposing than the players he faced which wouldn’t have been the case had he played decades later. Brown was 230 lbs at the time when defensive linemen were 260 lbs themselves.

Sanders’ speed and elusiveness translated to any and every era in NFL history. He also did it against better defensive athletes. He played against Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, the Kevin Greene’s, Chris Doleman’s, Keith Millard’s, and Howie Long’s of the more modern game. Terrorists who could swallow offensive linemen, split the double team and had the athleticism to catch a back from behind before he could get to the corner.

With teams now putting the best athletes on the defensive side of the field, Sanders used to terrify them with his start and stop jump cuts. No offensive player over the last 30 years put more fear in coordinators or defensive players. He could make a move and leave a defender embarrassed and grasping at air. Leave them with “broken ankles” as we used to say. Simply put he’s the greatest runner the NFL has ever seen.

In 1995 Sanders conceded his role as the sole focus in the Lions offense. Not only did they become the NFL’s #1 offense they became the first team in history to have 2 receivers amass 100 receptions in the same season. Scott Mitchell (346 of 583 4,338 yds 32TDs / 12 ints) and Brett Perriman (108 rec. 1,488 yds 9TDs) should have made the Pro Bowl. Herman Moore (123 rec 1,686 yds 14TDs) did make it to Hawaii. Moore set the NFL record for receptions in a single season while these 3 put up 4 other team records. Why is this being brought up when this article is about Barry Sanders?? In this crucible of talent he still amassed 1,500 yards 11 TDs while creating this book of highlights

Most will recall that season opener against Pittsburgh when Sanders shook fellow Hall of Famer Rod Woodson right out of his ACL with two quick moves. This following vignette covers Sanders’ last five seasons in the NFL

Did The Chancellor of Football say greatest ever runner in NFL history?? First consider the average running back’s career lasts 4 years. Then take into account the greatest runners had their highest rushing totals within those 4. Sanders ran for 2,053 in year NINE. It took Jim Brown 9 years to gain 12,312 yards rushing, where it took Sanders 10 to amass 15,269. Everyone forgets the near rushing titles to go along with the 4 he won.

In his rookie year he was 11 yards short of eclipsing Christian Okoye (1,480 to 1,470), yet told Coach Fontes to let his backup get some playing time. Okoye got his rushing title yet carried the football 90 more times than Sanders! Next case in point is the slanted description of Emmitt Smith missing the first 2 games of 1993, then coming back to win the rushing title. For every Cowboy fan that touts this, they casually omit Sanders missed the last 6 games of that season with a knee injury.

At the time of Sanders retiement, he was in striking distance of Payton to begin '99.

At the time of Sanders retiement, he was in striking distance of Payton to begin ’99.

Interesting… to think that Barry entered the NFL in ’89 and Emmitt in ’90, folks forget how big a lead Sanders had at the time of his retirement. Sanders was due to break Peyton’s record late 99, it took Emmitt another 3 1/2 years to break it. Paul Tagliabue should have got involved behind the scenes and facilitated a trade to keep Sanders playing. He blew it….

Sanders would have pushed the record to 20,000 guaranteed. As we alluded to earlier, most running backs have their greatest single season rushing total in the first 4 years of their career. Barry crossed 2,000 in year nine. Even in year 10 he wasn’t slowing down.

One of the greatest battles in NFL history in terms of effort, you need to check out the birth of the Baltimore Ravens as an elite defense in the final week of 98. Barry was trying to extend his streak of 1,500 yard seasons when late in the 4th quarter he had 1,495 yards. The next 6 or 7 carries the Ravens were determined to stop him and they fought tooth and nail. Barry didn’t make it to 1,500 but he made folks miss like no one’s business. Man I wore that tape out watching that.

We didn’t know what was happening at the time with Walter Payton’s health but the 1999 season we expected to see Sanders vault to the #1 all time rushing spot… instead we got this:

Thank goodness for the emergence of Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James because the beginning of the season didn’t feel right as Sanders’ abrupt retirement cast a pall over the start of ’99. It took years for the disappointment to go away and it was reawakened at the time Smith passed Payton.

One aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided those thrills in.

One aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided thrills in.

What was missing as a football fan and historian, I never had closure to his career. I can remember this Pro Football Almanac I purchased in the summer of 1990 and they foretold a fictitious story of Sanders crossing 15,000 yards in a decade. The Lions were supposed to be winning the Super Bowl over in Tokyo to conclude his tenth season also.

It was a very interesting take with half of it coming true. With all due respect to William Sanders, his son Barry was the greatest running back in NFL history.

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New England Patriots Super Bowl XLIX Ring: Capping An Era

Patriots frontLast February the New England Patriots won their 4th Super Bowl championship in the last 14 years. Coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been front and center for each one. In doing so they became only the second coach /quarterback combo to achieve 4 titles in the Super Bowl era. On Sunday they attended a ceremony hosted by Robert Kraft to receive the hardware commemorating the event.

With all that has hit this organization over the last couple of years, you knew Kraft was going to go all out. Detractors had said Belichick hadn’t won since Spy-Gate. The legacy of Tom Brady as the best quarterback of his generation, was in question by some pundits. Victory in Super Bowl XLIX completely laid those to rest.

First off the team had gone undefeated, played in two Super Bowls, and appeared in two more AFC Championship Games since. So where the Patriots hadn’t won since Spy-Gate argument came from never made sense. How Tom Brady held a 3-1…oops make that 4-1 advantage in Super Bowl victories somehow had him behind Peyton Manning was lunacy.

Patriots side 2Going into Super Bowl XLVI, I already gave Belichick his laurels. Where Vince Lombardi was the NFL’s greatest coach of the first 50 years of pro football, Belichick is the greatest of the last 50. Eight trips to the AFC championship game, six Super Bowl appearances with four wins. No one comes within hailing distance of that type of performance.

It will be interesting to watch how pundits speak of this era of Patriot championships in the future. The first dynasty ended with their victory in XXXIX against the Eagles. Yet they won consistently for the next decade before winning it all 10 years later. Someone might bring up the 1980-1990 San Francisco 49ers, but they didn’t have two more trips to the Super Bowl between championships during their tenure. Just NFC Championship losses to the Dallas Cowboys.

Patriots sideWhat about the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990’s who won 3 championships in 4 years?? Well the first dynasty equaled that feat of 3 in 4 years and consistently won for a decade after that, appearing in 3 more Super Bowls winning one. Dallas won only 1 playoff game in the next decade after that.

Now if we put the Patriots up against the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and the Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s the debate intensifies. Many will point to the Spy-gate and Deflate-gate incidents to tarnish their accomplishments, yet it’s not enough.

This run for sustained excellence is one of the best in NFL history. As The Chancellor of Football, looking at this ring I don’t think of  the 2014 championship, I think about the closing of an era. Last year they won on guile and quarterback know how, they weren’t clearly the best team. Yet they didn’t have to be.

Winning back in February had more to do with the championship mettle Belichick and Brady were able to instill in a new group of Patriots. Much like the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1995 Dallas Cowboys, and the 1967 Green Bay Packers they barely finished ahead of the pack. Will they do so in 2015?? You’ll need to read the previous article to see how The Chancellor thinks they’ll fare in 2015. It’s this bauble that cemented the legacies of the Patriots, Belichick, and Brady.

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2015 New England Patriots Preview: Winds of Change

When Malcolm Butler jumped Ricardo Lockett’s slant in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIX, it was one of the great plays in NFL championship history. In one swoop Butler thwarted a Seahawk dynasty. Cemented the post Spy Gate legacy of Tom Brady, and insured his name will be bought up at the end of every close Super Bowl through out eternity. In the next couple of weeks, the Patriots will receive their championship rings commemorating the event.

McCourty and HightowerYet now the Patriots have to get back to work. Amid all the pomp and circumstance is the pending suspension of Tom Brady. The Chancellor’s stance is he will miss the first 4 weeks.

If it were true the signing of CBs Brandon Browner and Darelle Revis made the Patriots a Super Bowl contender, what does their departure mean?? Now subtract Vince Wilfork (The U) from the center of that line and the Patriots are rebuilding defensively.

They re-signed LB Brandon Spikes and released him after the ordeal with his abandoned car / accident. They did not need another p.r. hit on the heels of an Aaron Hernandez guilty verdict, and the aftermath of “Deflate-gate.

Brady's suspension appeal will fully impact the 2015 season.

Brady’s suspension appeal will fully impact the 2015 season.

Offensively: This begins and ends with the upcoming suspension of Tom Brady. If he serves his full suspension, he can’t practice with the team and wouldn’t be back until week 5 against the Colts. The offense won’t get in rhythm until the 9th or 10th week. Keep in mind Brady is 37 yrs of age where the difference shows up in hundredths of a second off in throwing motion and velocity. This leads to interceptions on passes toward the sideline 10-15 yards downfield.

Belichick will have to balance the offense in his absence. He did it masterfully with LeGarrette Blount (281 yds) and Jonas Gray (412 yds) last year when Stevan Ridley was lost to injury. Last year’s 2nd leading rusher Shane Vereen (391 yds) was re-signed where Ridley was lost to free agency.

The team just announced today the signing of QB Matt Flynn. In Jimmy Garoppolo the Patriots don’t fully trust. So now they have some quarterback insurance if Brady’s appeal is unsuccessful.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are averaging 16 sacks per season as a tandem.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are averaging 16 sacks per season as a tandem.

Defensively: One block in the rebuilding of the defensive line came on draft day when Texas DT Malcolm Brown was taken in round 1. The 320 lb. is more of a 3 technique DT than a NT like the departed Wilfork. Belichick will rotate him in with Alan Branch and Chris Jones given all the fronts he uses.

The saving grace to this defense is the tandem of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Jones, with 23.5 sacks in his first 3 years, is due to break out in his 4th season. Those long Jevon Kearse-like arms make him an ideal blind side rusher. He’s across from Ninkovich, who is the consummate professional coming off an 8 sack season. The rush will need to offset the inexperience in the secondary.

Overall: This team is steady but not spectacular and that will come back to haunt New England in 2015.  It looks to be the last time the Patriots will be clearly the best team in  the AFC East. As a champion last year they split with Miami and Buffalo then swept the Jets by a combined total of 3 points. It just takes a couple bounces of the ball to go from 12-4 to 10-6.

Now remove Tom Brady from the equation for 4 weeks and the accumulative effect of all these distractions. Add to that the loss of Revis and CB Brandon Browner and an 8-8 to 9-7 record is very possible. Remember this defense was 16th against the pass, 13th overall and allowed 313 points with those two and Wilfork. Where will the on-field leadership come from??

Patriot fans better pray that Brady’s suspension is reduced. If not, this team could be 1-4 after the first 5 games. This team is steady but not spectacular. There are no real play makers to turn around tight games outside of Brady and he turns 38 August 3rd. If the suspension stays in place, the best this team will finish is 9-7.

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The Soul of The Game: “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis

Back when The Chancellor of Football was first developing his love for the sport, most of the stories of great players captivated me. When it came to the savagery of Mike Curtis it was also emblazoned by this photo.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

This sack of Roman Gabriel completely captures the visceral side of pro football. Back then you had images like these that accompanied the stories made Curtis bigger than life in the Punt, Pass, and Kick book series. Ironically the Colts during his time evolved from being known as an offensive team into a defensive one.

Baltimore rose to prominence with the 1958 NFL Championship on the arm of Johnny Unitas. Yet as the 60’s were concluding Unitas was aging and the defense came to the fore. Never was this more prevalent than the 1968 season Unitas missed with an elbow injury and the Colts defense set the record for fewest points in a season with 144. Curtis, an All Pro Outside Linebacker was one of the leading reasons why.

In the vignette you can see Curtis aggressive tackling and hitting. You saw him head hunt on several tackles. All he cared about was getting the runner down.  His intensity is what led those Colts defenses. In fact he was the leader of one of modern history’s finest defense. In my series to find out the greatest defenses in NFL history, his 1971 Colts unit came in at #6.  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.

Led by “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis, Fred Miller, Bubba Smith,  and Rick Volk, this was a record setting defense that was overshadowed and forgotten in the aftermath of Super Bowl III. Even though they came back and won Super Bowl V. Then made it to the AFC Championship Game and nearly made it to Super Bowl VI. They once held the record for fewest points allowed in a season and by 1972 held the #2 & #3 spots. They were led by their Hall of Fame Linebacker who was definitely a Soul Of The Game defender.

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The Soul Of The Game: Butch Byrd

When football fans and historians talk about big physical cornerbacks who dominated wide receivers in yesteryear, several names come up. Dick “Night Train” Lane, Mel Blount, Lester Hayes and Herb Adderley come to mind. Yet history has always been slanted toward players before the AFL-NFL merger.

byrdOver in the AFL there were some great players history has overlooked.We’ve already taken a look back at Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and now need to do so with Butch Byrd.

He starred on the 2 time defending AFL champion Buffalo Bills at right cornerback. The Bills were the most dominant defense in the history of the AFL. Byrd only played 6 of his 8 seasons in the old league yet was an all star on 5 occasions. He was nudged out by David Grayson and Hall of Famer Willie Brown for cornerback on the All Time AFL Team.

Byrd could cover and could hit. He finished his career with 40 interceptions, returning 5 for touchdowns. An excellent defender whose hitting and coverage makes Byrd a “Soul of The Game defender.

Long live the AFL! Thanks for reading and please share the article..

One true friend to Taylor Blitz Times is AFL historian Ange Coniglio. His website RememberThe AFL is a permanent link on Taylor Blitz and the best reference point for everything about the American Football League.

remember the afl

Missing Rings – 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

When you look back at seasons past, many of the NFL champions had a feeling of inevitability to them. You can remember the greatest of champions putting their stamp on the season as they started to separate from other contenders. The inadequacies that kept them from winning it all before, had seemingly been swept away. Yet when that team runs into a brick wall on the way to what was supposed to be their championship. It becomes the expiration date on their being a legitimate  contender and you’re left with…what if??? Enter the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles.

McNabb to Owens made the 2004 Eagles.

McNabb to Owens made the 2004 Eagles.

Head Coach Andy Reid was hired in ’99 from the Green Bay Packers and the Mike Holmgren coaching tree. As Quarterback Coach he oversaw Brett Favre as he accumulated 3 straight NFL MVP trophies, 2 Super Bowl visits, and 1 championship in their final 3 seasons together. By drafting McNabb in year 1 for Reid to develop, the future looked bright.

As the 2000’s began, your Philadelphia Eagles were developing a young Donovan McNabb at quarterback. He was the shining member of the quarterback class of 1999, and he had become a dynamic play maker in Head Coach Andy Reid’s “West Coast Offense”.  Although he was developing as a passer, he would take off on serpentine runs when plays broke down. They ran the ball by committee at RB and relied on a gambling blitzing defense run by the late Jim Johnson.

McNabb eludes Michael Strahan in the 2000 divisional playoff.

McNabb eludes Michael Strahan in the 2000 divisional playoff.

Philadelphia became a wildcard entrant in 2000, where they gained confidence with a 21-3 hammering of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The following week they lost a 20-10 slugfest in the divisional round v the Giants. New York went on to play in Super Bowl XXXV and did so based on 3 wins over Philly. So the die was cast, a little improvement and the Eagles could play in the Super Bowl.

No one knew beginning with the 2001 NFC Championship a new odyssey would begin. Three consecutive losses in the championship game left the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia mired in despair. They lost a tough game in ’01 to The Greatest Show on Turf St Louis Rams, although they were underdogs on the road.  This was nothing compared to what happened next.

The 2002 NFC Championship had the Eagles hosting in the last game ever in Veterans Stadium.  A title starved city was raucous in anticipation as the Buccaneers were making the trip to The City of Brotherly Love for a 3rd consecutive postseason. The ’00 Wildcard win established the Eagles as the up and coming team in the NFC and not the Bucs. The ’01 Wildcard solidified the notion and Tampa fired Head Coach Tony Dungy.

Ronde Barber sails 95 yards with the game clinching touchdown.

Ronde Barber sails 95 yards with the game clinching touchdown.

The Eagles were planning an NFC Championship coronation with an outdoor trophy presentation. The field was surrounded by police mounted on horseback. One small problem…the Bucs won the game 27-10 thanks to new Coach Jon Gruden’s offense.  Tampa was motivated by those previous playoff losses. They went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21 over Oakland.

After another NFC Championship flame-out against Carolina in ’03, and it appeared the Eagles had let their championship window close.

Speculation rained down over the organization. Had the Eagles put enough offensive talent around McNabb to become a champion?? Rush Limbaugh was fired by ESPN over comments “the NFL was desirous of a black quarterback doing well.”  Donovan McNabb had thrown for 1 TD & 5 interceptions in the 3 NFC Title losses. Was McNabb given a pass for his poor performances?? Everyone had an opinion…until

Jevon Kearse was one of the league's best quarterback trackers.

Jevon Kearse was one of the league’s best quarterback trackers.

The front office struck a blow in Free agency when they signed DE Jevon Kearse then traded for WR Terrell Owens. These were the two big fish available in the 2004 off-season and Philly nabbed them both. Gone was the attitude the Eagles didn’t need to sign blue chip talent to make it to the Super Bowl. It was all or nothing for 2004.

A perennial top 10 defense returned to form after sliding to 20th in the 2003 season. With Kearse (7.5 sacks) the Eagles returned to form as they garnered 45 sacks and 17 ints in 2014. Up from 35 sacks and 13 picks the season before. Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson didn’t blitz as often with a dominant presence like Kearse in the lineup.

McNabb, now with the league’s best receiver in T.O., had the best season of his career. In his previous 3 complete seasons he averaged 57% completion rate, 3,272 yards, 22 TDs and 11 interceptions. In ’04 he completed 64% of his passes for 3,758 yards, 31 touchdowns to just 8 picks. He set several club records and Owens was on his way to when he suffered a fractured ankle in week 15 after a dirty horse collar tackle by Roy Williams in a 12-7 win over Dallas.

Before that Owens, and his endzone antics, had shredded the league with 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 scores. He had made a pact with Coach Reid to score 15 TDs and if he did so Reid would have to don a pair of tights. Damn he came close but the real story became what would the 13-3 Eagles do in the upcoming playoffs without their #1 playmaker??

They would have to rely on the receivers from previous years who weren’t thought of as making enough plays to get the Eagles over the top.  Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston, and Greg Lewis. It was Mitchell who scored twice in the 24-14 NFC Divisional playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. Running back Brian Westbrook (1,515 yards from scrimmage) would be relied upon heavily. Although there was speculation T.O. might make it back if the team made it to the Super Bowl. To do so they would have to make it past their albatross… the NFC Championship Game.

Leading up to Super Bowl XXXIX, the lead story was would Terrell Owens play in the title games. With several surgical screws in his ankle, and after signing an injury waiver, he was available on center stage.

The Eagles 24-21 loss was a valiant effort. Just 6 weeks after fracturing his ankle, Terrell Owens 9 rec for 122 yards was a sight to behold. They were beaten by the defending champion New England Patriots who were just a step better. McNabb had thrown for over 300 yards but had 3 costly interceptions that were the difference in a close, close Super Bowl. The Eagles were primed to make it back to the big dance in ’05.

However the expiration date had come and gone on the Eagles as a personality conflict between T.O. and Donovan McNabb tore at the fabric of the team. Owens would eventually be released for conduct detrimental to the team. After a 3-1 start, the ’05 Eagles fell to a 6-10 record which included a 42-0 road loss to the eventual NFC Champion Seahawks. . The run was over.

Andy Reid coached on through the 2012 season with several playoff seasons but none where the Eagles were considered elite. McNabb played on through 2009 before leaving for Washington. He was replaced by Michael Vick, the quarterback he beat for the 2004 NFC Championship.

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The Chancellor’s Take on Deflategate

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Well here we go again as the New England Patriots are locked in the latest scandal involving deflated footballs. I’ll be brief… A new football is like a new baseball glove. You work it in and squeeze it rub it and get the sheen off of it so you can get a better grip. This is common place in the NFL of not only quarterbacks but kickers.

Remember the introduction of the “K” ball??  The NFL believed that the higher percentage of field goals made was directly related to kicking “worked in” footballs. So the decision came down to have a series of balls marked with a “K” that were hands off to teams. The other balls they were able to throw, squeeze, and work in the 12 they want to use for game play. Every team does it…every quarterback does it.

The late Weeb Ewbank, who coached the Jets to victory in Super Bowl III, once said at a coaches clinic  “All I want is my fair advantage!” Which means everyone is pushing the envelope of what they can get away with or at least moving ever so close to the line.

However it has set in that the rest of the NFL is tired of the New England Patriots. Not one active quarterback came to Tom Brady’s defense as “Deflate-gate” was first investigated. They’re all squeezing and working in balls all the time. Where they have overstepped their bounds is having the equipment guy taking the air out of the football. That is what will get the Patriots and Roger Goodell in trouble.

The Patriots are in trouble because of their history with “Spy-Gate” and the $250,000 fine levied against them. This makes them a repeat offender. In a year where the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons were penalized for pumping in crowd noise, expect a heavy fine. Richard Sherman pointed a light at Roger Goodell’s chummy relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft during Super Bowl week. That spotlight is about to intensify…

Richard Sherman's comment about the relationship between Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft are coming back to haunt.

Richard Sherman’s comment about the relationship between Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft are coming back to haunt.

Did you notice the decision came down 1 week after the draft?? Now the Patriots can’t be penalized draft picks for this season. That will cause a groundswell of anger amid owners over this next week. Looks like a “scratch my back” move by Goodell and it can come to cost him. When it comes to competitive balance you have to be decisive and the punishment severe. The man that will have to be suspended when the axe falls is Tom Brady.

Brady wasn’t forthright in dealing with the investigation and lied about his involvement. Of course he knew what was being done because its the quarterback who selects what 12 balls a team is going to use on gameday. As Goodell has been harsh with his suspensions of players over domestic abuse and non-competitive violations, he has to be harsh here. Brady has to be suspended between 4-6 games or Goodell will come off favoring Kraft again.

The other owners shouldn’t stand for a suspension less than that and there will be grumblings from players if the punishment isn’t severe either. Black players will come forward stating Goodell won’t harshly punish a prominent white player. Teams that face the Patriots in the first 4-6 weeks will rally on the side of suspending Brady for those reasons. More importantly, Goodell is going to have to face the Richard Sherman allegation of favoring the New England Patriots owner.

During Super Bowl week, Robert Kraft vehemently demanded an apology for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady if they were cleared of wrong doing. Now that they haven’t all eyes are on Goodell in New York.

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1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: 49ers Perspective

Former San Francisco 49er Head Coach Bill Walsh referred to the early years of the organization’s coming of age as “Camelot”. After the 1981 Super Bowl championship they would go on to become “Team of the Decade” winning another 3 titles. San Francisco became the NFL’s gold standard in on field achievement and the corporate way they conducted themselves.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor had taken the West Coast Offense to a record level.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor had taken the West Coast Offense to a record level.

Their players were revered as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott took their place among the league’s greatest ever players. They had been the toast of Presidents as the 80’s drew to a close. In 1989 new Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones traveled to San Francisco to learn from Eddie Debartolo how the league’s model franchise did business. This was nothing new as even former Head Coach Bill Walsh had become a favorite on the corporate motivational speaking circuit.

As the 90’s beckoned, the team was transitioning on the field as Steve Young, Ricky Watters and a new wave of 49ers emerged. It started with a team loss in  the 90 NFC Championship to the New York Giants 15-13 ending their chance at a 3-peat. Gone were 80’s holdovers Montana, Roger Craig, and Lott as the new generation took shape in 1991. Montana from a vicious hit that kept him out of football for two years. The others were released as the team looked to get younger to stay competitive.

They finished 10-6 as Steve Young finished his first season as a passing champion. It took awhile for San Fran to find their footing yet they finished on a 6 game winning streak. By 1992 the Niners hit their stride finishing 14-2 and retooled with Ricky Watters rushing for 1,013 yards to join Young, and Rice in the Pro Bowl. Another passing title moved Young into the elite of the sport yet it came crashing down with a loss to the upstart Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship 30-20.

Steve Young being sacked  during the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Steve Young being sacked during the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Yes, those same Dallas Cowboys who had studied the 49er organization some 4 years before. The same Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones who had traded for former 49er Charles Haley to help lead the upstart Cowboys and shift the balance of power. Haley had grown up a 49er and battled T Steve Wallace, G Guy McIntyre, and G Harris Barton for 6 years in practice. His experience and spirit settled the nervous young Cowboys in their ’92 NFC Championship triumph.

Going into the game it was a 50/50 split as to who had the upper hand. What really hurt Steve Young is a now healthy Joe Montana watched from the sideline. As San Fran fell behind in the second half, a growing feeling in the stadium loomed. Would George Seifert put Montana in if the game got away from Young. Even though Young was the NFL’s MVP, he still had the legend looking over his shoulder.

Troy Aikman outplayed him and made several signature throws to Alvin Harper while Young threw 2 4th quarter interceptions. What if Guy McIntyre doesn’t false start on the game’s 3rd play negating Jerry Rice’s 63 yard TD from Young?? It would have changed the complexion of  the game. However Troy Aikman had gone 24 of 34 for 322 yards and 2TDs. Emmitt Smith controlled the clock with 114 yds rushing and 59 yds receiving. They took the measure of San Fran and became the league’s signature team with their Super Bowl XXVII championship.

Going into 1993 the 49ers had traded away Joe Montana making it Young’s team. This added pressure from the fans but their real battle was catching Dallas who was now an established champion. They were brash and played with an in your face bravado that took the 49ers aback. In the locker room following the ’92 Championship, Jimmy Johnson’s boast “How ’bout them Cowboys!?!” reverberated in the CBS cameras & throughout Candlestick Park. It haunted the organization as they set their sights on dethroning the loud, brash Cowboys.

Once they qualified for the NFC Championship rematch in Dallas, it was time to right the ship. Dallas had beat them 26-17 in the regular season to add to their confidence. Then Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson dropped a bombshell.  He called a Dallas radio station and declared “We will win the game and you can put it in 3 inch headline!” Now they were calling San Fran out and how would they respond??

Called out and humiliated like an after school fight in 6th grade, the 38-21 loss in the ’93 NFC Championship was worse than it looked. Dallas was up 28-7 in the 2nd quarter and was sitting on the ball with 3:27 to go. The defense, which had struggled all year, was completely exposed. The gap was widening and the team needed to make drastic changes if they were going to compete with the younger Cowboys.

Michael Irvin had emerged as one of the best wide outs in the NFL. Emmitt Smith had the last 2 rushing titles and had his 3rd straight 100 yard rushing game against the 49ers. Troy Aikman had yet to throw an interception in 2 NFC Championship games. Alvin Harper was becoming a serious 49er killer as he emerged with the highest yard per catch average in postseason history. Most of it due to huge plays against San Fran.

Carmen Policy and the 49ers brass moved into swift action. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl squad. Free agency had come to the NFL the year before and they used this as a recruiting trip. They signed future Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson, Richard Dent, Deion Sanders off the NFC Pro Bowl squad. Then stole Ken Norton Jr from the Cowboys and DE Charles Mann all fom the ’93 Pro Bowl.

Floyd and Watters celebrate touchdown during their 44-15 demolition of Chicago in the '94 playoffs.

Floyd and Watters celebrate touchdown during their 44-15 demolition of Chicago in the ’94 playoffs.

“If you can come in and give us the defense, we have an offense that can dethrone the Cowboys and get to the Super Bowl.” They also knew they needed a new approach psychologically and embraced a more brash, in your face street tough mentality. Embraced was the outgoing personalities of Ricky Watters, Deion Sanders, and rookie FB William Floyd. Gone was the laced up corporate attitude of the team on the field. This group showed its emotions on the field, celebrated with end zone dancing and Deion highstepping downfield after interceptions. The only thing that made the 49ers recognizable were their helmets. Thanks to the NFL commemorating their 75th season, the Niners elected to play most of the season in their “throwback” uniforms of the 1950s. The 49ers were reborn in 1994.

It worked as the 49ers blew through the regular season 13-3 and scored a team record 505 points. Steve Young was league MVP and Sanders was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. They retooled and had specific match ups ready as they eyed the defending champion Cowboys. They beat them during the season 21-14 to earn the right to homefield advantage for the ’94 NFC Championship. If the Cowboys were going to 3peat, they had to go through the last team that had that same chance just 4 years before.

The vanquished became the victors with their 38-28 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys in the ’94 NFC Championship Game. Super Bowl XXIX was an anticlimactic 49-26 win over the San Diego Chargers. Steve Young liberated himself from the ghost of Joe Montana. For 3 straight years these two teams pushed each other to heights they would not have achieved without each other. However the final shot was fired by the 49ers.

Young and Rice celebrate in Super Bowl XXIX.

Young and Rice celebrate in Super Bowl XXIX.

Jerry Jones had become obsessed with overtaking the 49ers who themselves made practical business decisions. They didn’t match Ricky Watters free agent contract with Philadelphia, which was a mistake, and they had to enter a bidding war for Deion Sanders. In ’94 they signed him to $1.1 million for one year where other teams were offering 4 years $17 million. Coming off a Super Bowl triumph and his 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year it was time to cash in. San Francisco baited jones and he took it and overspent for Deion at a cost of $35 million.

This crippled Dallas who wouldn’t be a player in free agency the rest of the decade. The Cowboys had all their money tied to Aikman, Smith, Irvin, and Sanders. The 49ers had freed themselves of the Dallas stranglehold and would go on to be an elite team the rest of the decade. They just didn’t see a new foe emerging in Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers.

However there was the 1995 season where the 49ers were more in the spirit of the pre ’94 group. At midseason they took on the revenge minded Cowboys in Texas Stadium. The Cowboys were 8-1, healthy and ready to show with Deion Sanders in tow, they had overtaken San Fran. Going into the game they were missing QB Steve Young, FB William Floyd and staggered into the game with a 5-4 record. Perfect timing for the Cowboys to provide the knock out blow. Nobody believed the 49ers had a chance…

After being upset by the Packers in the 1995 NFC Divisional Playoffs 21-17, they began a new rivalry chapter with them. As for Dallas, they did win Super Bowl XXX to make it 4 wins in 4 years between these two organizations. New teams would emerge before the decade concluded. Most notable was Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos. Shanahan was San Francisco’s Offensive Coordinator during the heat of the 49er v Cowboys rivalry.

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1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys Perspective

Back on January 10, 1982, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship in what came to be known as “The Catch”. Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin were 12, 15, & 15 yrs of age respectively at the time. Over the next decade, a football generation came to know the 49ers as the dominant team in pro football. Yet here they were in January 1993, as men, having conquered the 49ers in the ’92 NFC Championship 30-20 in a true changing of the guard.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Joe Montana, an iconic symbol of the old guard, was shaking hands congratulating the young Cowboys. They had vanquished not only the team with the NFC’s best record, 14-2, they topped the team that epitomized conference excellence over the last decade. Now they were navigating uncharted waters and off to Super Bowl XXVII to take on the Buffalo Bills. By the time they made it to Pasadena to take on the Bills, they’re confidence was at an all time high.However beating Buffalo was anticlimactic to what had taken place in soggy San Francisco 2 weeks before.


Troy Aikman came of age in the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Troy Aikman fulfilled the promise of being drafted #1 overall with his 1992 NFC Championship Game performance.

They had come through the gauntlet which was the NFC at the time. A conference that had won the last 8 straight Super Bowls and would ultimately win 13 in a row. The physical nature of the conference was one thing, but they had to beat the mystique of the best organization in San Francisco.

Once the 49ers unseated the Cowboys back in the ’81 NFC Championship Game, they became the gold standard of NFL franchises. Every veteran wanted to play for Eddie Debartolo’s organization. Once Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, he traveled to San Francisco to study how the league’s model front office operated.

By the time Jimmy Johnson had rebuilt “America’s Team” in a few short years, they were ready to take on a 49er team that was prepared to rule the 1990’s just as they had the 80’s. They were built with a different breed of player. Fast, aggressive and an in your face bravado reminiscent of the Miami Hurricane teams Johnson coached in college. The most indelible image from that ’92 Championship was in the locker room when he boasted “How ’bout them Cowboys!??!” loud enough you could nearly hear it in the 49er locker room.

Terry Bradshaw once said “Once you win a Super Bowl the regular season is boring. All you care about is getting back to the playoffs where it can be fun again.”

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Well the boredom Dallas had to endure was losing Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt, Emmitt Smith’s holdout, and the advent of free agency. In time free agency would prove to be the bigger foe, but when the Cowboys started 0-2 without Smith’s services, it was clear what priority one was.

The reality set in these were the two best teams in football. Steve Young had won the last two passing titles but Aikman was thought of as the better quarterback. Troy entered ’93 as a Super Bowl winning QB, something Young had yet to do. Michael Irvin (78 rec. 1,396 yds 7 TDs) was beginning to challenge Jerry Rice (84 rec. 1,201 yds 10 TDs) as to who was the best receiver in the game.

In every way these two team were eyeing each other for another postseason date but first had to get through a regular season affair that offered some answers.

The 26-17 win over the 49ers gave the Cowboys the inside track to Super Bowl XXVIII. In fact when they won homefield advantage for the ’93 playoffs, the only question was the status of Emmitt Smith’s separated shoulder suffered in the clinching finale against the New York Giants. Smith was one of 11 Pro Bowlers that included QB Troy Aikman, FB Darryl Johnston, WR Michael Irvin, linemen Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton, and Eric Williams. By the time you include TE Jay Novacek, they were 3 starters away from sending every player to the Pro Bowl.

The defense, which ranked 10th in the league sent LB Ken Norton Jr, DT Russell Maryland, and FS Thomas Everett to Honolulu. A far cry from the year before when they ranked #1 defensively and sent 0 players to the Pro Bowl. We’ll talk about the importance of Everett later but this team was riding high after the emotional win vs. New York. They kept their eye out west on the 49ers as they blew out the wildcard Giants 44-3 in the divisional round. Dallas beat Green Bay 27-17 to set up the NFC Championship rematch in Texas Stadium.

As pundits lauded the 49ers lopsided win in Candlestick, it belied the fact they had actually struggled down the stretch losing 3 of their last 4. Sure their defense had put it together in taking down the 1 dimensional Giants, but that is after they had the huge battle in the season finale at Dallas and a hard fought wildcard against the Vikings.

After listening to the experts all week, Jimmy Johnson had had enough and called in to a Dallas Radio show on Friday night and declared “We will win the game! You can put it in 3 inch headline!” There was no easing into it now….this was a street fight in the school yard. They called the laced up shirt and tie corporate 49ers out and how would they respond.

They beat down the 49ers 38-21 and were actually ahead 28-7 in the 2nd quarter. Texas Stadium for the first time ever was raucous. Even in the Tom Landry days crowds in Dallas responded like they were at a play or something. They cheered when it was time to but this felt different. It was boisterous and the tempo of the team and the audience fed off Jimmy Johnson’s bravado and echoed in kind. Who knew it was  going to be Johnson’s last game ever at Texas Stadium??

After beating The Chancellor of Football’s Buffalo Bills for the Super Bowl XXVIII championship, we had Johnson’s departure in the offseason. On March 29th was the press conference where there was a mutual parting of the ways. The shock wave could be felt through the NFL. The youngest team in the league that won back to back Super Bowls was going on without their vocal leader?? Jerry Jones erroneously stated there were 50 coaches who could coach the Dallas Cowboys and hired Barry Switzer to succeed him.

The Cowboys were that talented and headed into 1994 as the best team in football on paper. Or so they thought… the 49ers had retooled and fashioned much of their team and personality based on the bravado that left them whipped in Dallas the preceding January. The Niners had signed away Ken Norton Jr. and 6 defenders to bolster their defense including future Hall of Famers Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, and Deion Sanders. All off the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl and San Francisco used this as a recruiting trip.

Free agency had robbed the Cowboys of Norton, DTs Tony Casillas & DT Jimmie Jones, and to the Chancellor the most valuable defender in FS Thomas Everett. Before Everett’s arrival in ’92, the 11-5 Cowboys struggled with Run & Shoot offenses especially, and at times was awful against the pass. Why do you think they drafted CB Kevin Smith, S Darren Woodson, and traded for Everett to start 1992??

Not Charles was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Not Charles Haley…it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Dallas had been 1-3 against Run & Shoot teams in 1991. They went 5-0 against those teams including the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII that finished as the top passing teams that year with Everett. It was this end zone interception in Super Bowl XXVII that started the 1990’s reign of the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise the Bills take a 17-14 lead and the Bills take control of the game. In big games he starred….in each NFC Championship Game against the 49ers he picked off Steve Young. You cannot underscore his importance in gluing a young secondary together and teaching them to be pros by example.

Yet 1994 saw this team try to move on without this defensive firepower and they did go 12-4. DE Charles Haley was healthy and made the Pro Bowl with 12.5 sacks, S Darren Woodson, and Leon Lett came into their own making their first Pro Bowl trips. The offense was as potent as ever with Smith’s 1,461 yards and 21 TDs. Although he battled leg injuries the 2nd half of the season. Did they have enough in the gas tank to get to win a 3rd straight Super Bowl and make it into NFL lore?? All they had to do was take a trip out to beat the 49ers for the right to go to Super Bowl XXIX.

So Dallas had to watch the 49ers go on to win Super Bowl XXIX 49-26 over San Diego. They did return the following year to beat Pittsburgh 27-17 to win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years yet the rivalry came to an end for this era. Both teams kept raising the bar on each other and pushed themselves to a height no other team could reach. In each of these seasons they were the best teams in football and won all 4 Super Bowls… yet lingering questions are still being debated to this day…

  • How many Super Bowls would Dallas have won if Johnson coaches the whole decade??
  • Would they have won 3 in a row if Johnson coached them in ’94??
  • Would the 49ers have won in 1994 if they hadn’t built a defense from the ’93 Pro Bowl roster??
  • How would the 1990’s play out for Dallas if there had not been free agency??
  • Why isn’t Jimmy Johnson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??
  • Would the Cowboys have won in 1994 if T Erik Williams doesn’t get in that car accident??

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Epilogue: When it came to Jimmy Johnson’s success in Dallas, it was bitter sweet being a Buffalo Bill fan. We lost those two Super Bowls but I was a fan of his back to Herschel Walker and when he first coached the Cowboys. Nope not Dallas…we’re talking the Oklahoma St Cowboys. I first read about Jimmy Johnson during the ’82 season when his running back Earnest “Sparkplug” Anderson became the 5th back to run for 1,000 yards in just the 5th game of the season.

Herschel walker won the Heisman but I kept screaming it was “Sparkplug” Anderson that led college football in rushing! Alas…no blog back in ’82. Yet remember following Johnson and as a tradition would watch the Bluebonnet Bowl played on New Year’s Eve and watched Oklahoma St win that game. When it was announced he was coming to my favorite college team at The [[_]] of Miami, talk about excited… I knew Schnellenberger’s replacement and the rest is history.

I did get to meet Johnson and the Dallas Cowboy coaching staff at Houlihan’s on St Patrick’s Day in 1993 just after the first Super Bowl with Buffalo. I remember having him sign my Golden Nugget /Mirage jacket from Vegas and talked a little football. If only cell phones with cameras, Instagram & Facebook existed then…

Dedicated to the memories of Mark Tuinei, Godfrey Myles, and Joe Avezzano

Next Up: 1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: 49ers Perspective



Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

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Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

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Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl Favorite In the AFC??

Most of the time you look at what a team projects to and you waffle with will the team play up to those expectations. In the case of the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, the maturation of the rebuilding process beginning with Peyton Manning’s release, should pay off this year.

Luck scores in last year's playoff win in Denver.

Luck scores in last year’s season opener in Denver.

Let’s face it the Colts struck gold in the selection and development of Andrew Luck. Every year he has elevated his game along with another playoff accomplishment. At the end of the 2013 season, he brought the Colts back in a 45-44 wildcard thriller before falling to Brady’s Patriots in the divisional round. Last year his Colts won a couple playoff games including a 24-13 win against Manning’s Broncos signaling a changing of the guard.

In that game he out-dueled Peyton and looked to be the more confident quarterback with more command of the field. Our eyes didn’t deceive us. Luck was sure of himself and his teammates fed off his energy. Along with his playmaking ability, you could see he was capable of carrying a franchise.

However once again Luck and the Colts were struck down by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 45-7. What was different about the loss last year is we clearly saw he didn’t have the talent around him to beat New England. The year before they were just a step behind Brady’s boys where last year, a retooled Patriot secondary obliterated the league’s #1 passing attack.

It’s evident: To get to the Super Bowl the Colts need to get Luck some dogs to help lead the pack. Enter Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.

How many championship teams over the years have brought in grizzled veterans to lend experience and tone for a young team?? Remember when the ’81 49ers brought in “Hacksaw” Reynolds and Fred Dean?? How about the ’92 Cowboys bringing in Charles Haley and Thomas Everett?? What about the ’01 Patriots bringing in LB Bryan Cox?? The latter was just as impotant.. go back and see which “alpha dog” lead them onto the field for Super Bowl XXXVI. it was Cox…yet I digress

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Frank Gore brings a punishing, tone setting style to an offense that can be described as finesse up to this point. Indy couldn’t knuckle up with two tight ends and impose their will on a defense. Gore brings that will and toughness to an offense relying too much on trickery. Knowing his time in the light is short, his hunger to get back to the Super Bowl will fuel the team’s urgency to win now.

The same can be said for fellow [[_]] alumnus Andre Johnson.  Year after year he’s had to watch the Colts foray into the NFL playoffs as his Houston Texans stumbled. They played in Super Bowls and AFC Championships. Now they have retooled on the run and came within a game of the big dance last year. How envious has he been watching this from up close in the same division?? So he’s staying within the division  (Calvin) and joining ranks with Gore to bring a veteran hunger to forge a tougher team mentality than the last few years.

Andre Johnson fightDid we say a tougher mentality?? Now I know you remember the fight between Johnson and former Titan Cortland Finnegan. Well this is a microcosm of the toughness he’ll bring to the offense converting 3rd and 7’s over the middle this season. A 7 time Pro Bowler will work the intermediate routes while TY Hilton will blow the top off opposing defenses.

With all the departures in New England this team should ascend to Super Bowl L. A third shot at New England with an even more mature Luck will come up rosy for Indy. Don’t forget LB Robert Mathis will return to join free agent DE Trent Cole to rush the passer. They join former Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year D’Qwell Jackson to improve last year’s 11th best defense. If this team is playing with a lead they will be hard to beat.

All they need is a good draft to address a few needs and luck when it comes to injuries.

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The Soul Of The Game: RIP Chuck Bednarik

Its with great sadness to hear of the passing of Hall of Fame member Chuck Bednarik. “Concrete Charlie” is a throwback, not only to a woebegone era, but one of the last living members of the Philadelphia Eagles last NFL champion from 1960. In that game he performed as the last of the two way players as he played Center and Linebacker.

Bednarik's hit on Gifford was one of the greatest in NFL history.

Bednarik’s hit on Gifford was one of the greatest in NFL history.

In his career he made two plays iconic in not only Eagles history but NFL history. The first was in 1960 in New York when he leveled Frank Gifford of the Giants, knocking him out of football for nearly two years.  The hit was instrumental in the Eagles finishing as Eastern Conference champions and the Giants going home. Philadelphia swept them as they finished first and broke the Giants string of championship appearances. The Giants played for it all in 1958, ’59, ’61, ’62, and ’63.

The 1960 NFL Championship Ring.

The 1960 NFL Championship Ring.

The second was in the ’60 NFL Championship when he stopped Jim Taylor at the 9 yard line and wouldn’t let him up as time ran out. It was the only time Vince Lombardi’s Packers lost in postseason play. It was also the last game in which a player went both ways in a championship or Super Bowl game. Don’t mention a Deion Sanders playing Cornerback and a couple plays at Receiver either. We’re talking Middle Linebacker and Center hitting on every play.

Don’t forget Bednarik was 35 years old at the time.

1949 NFL Championship Ring

1949 NFL Championship Ring

Bednarik’s career spanned from 1949-1962 where he played for 2 NFL champions. His rookie year was the second of Head Coach Greasy Neale’s back to back NFL champions. He played all 14 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a hitter and its sad to know he’s passed away today at the age of 89. I wish I would have met you and talked some football.



"Concrete Charlie"

“Concrete Charlie”

RIP Chuck Bednarik (May 1, 1925- March 21, 2015)




Unsung Players: Joe Morris

From time to time there are players where we wonder how their careers could have tuned out if… Those ifs come in the form of injuries, had the player had a different coach who would have utilized him more, to if they had better talent around them. Then in some cases you can have a player that is a supernova burning bright for a brief period of time. Enter Joe Morris…

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

For those of us old enough to have enjoyed decades of pro football, we still remember the era of the super back. The power and speed of an Eric Dickerson, toughness and fury of a Walter Payton, or the electrifying burst of a Tony Dorsett. Several prototypes come to mind and Morris at 5’7 190 lbs and a straight line runner, just didn’t fit any.

He was the epitome of a ball carrier. One who could only get the yardage a given play was designed for. However as New York Giant Head Coach Bill Parcells was establishing his power running game in the early 1980s, he decided to move Rob Carpenter to Fullback which inserted Morris into the line-up. Morris had more of a burst and once he gelled with the offensive line, he may have given us the best 2 year stretch of any runner in the history of the NFC East. Morris evolved into a runner.

We’ll take a look at the numbers in a second but here is a glimpse at his play in 1985:

After powering the Giants to a wildcard finish in 1985, they had bigger aspirations for 1986. Could he have an encore performance to rival his breakout 1985??

In 1985, Morris rushed for 1.336 yards and a career high 21 touchdowns. He followed that up in ’86 with 1,516 yards and 14 more trips to the endzone. When you look at the best two year period v. other great NFC East backs of his era, the numbers will surprise you.

  • Joe Morris ’85 &’86: 635 car. 2,852 yds 35 TDs
  • Emmitt Smith ’94 & ’95: 745 car. 3,257 yds 46 TDs
  • Tony Dorsett ’80 & ’81: 620 car. 2,831 yds 15 TDs
  • John Riggins ’83 & ’84: 702 car. 2,586 yds 38 TDs
  • Wilbert Montgomery ’78 & ’79: 597 car. 2,732 yds 18 TDs
  • Ottis Anderson ’79 & ’80: 632 car. 2,957 yds 17 TDs

The only two that outscored him were Riggins in ’83 and Emmitt in ’95. Ironically those are the years that each set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season. Along with Smith and Riggins,  Morris powered his team to a Super Bowl win in his 2 year period. It’s also surprising he had a better two year total than OJ Anderson when he was with the Cardinals. In another ironic twist it was Anderson who replaced Morris in 1989 after Joe broke his foot. An injury that subsequently ended Joe’s career.

Morris didn’t finish with a Hall of Fame career (5,585 yds 50TDs) but he did power the ’86 Giants to their Super Bowl XXI championship. He developed into a power runner despite his size and was as good a running back the NFL had ever seen. Up until Tiki Barber, this was the New York Giants best running back and it’s worth taking a look back.

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Mark Clayton’s Magic Night

When you mention receiving records in the NFL, the name that sits a top several categories is Jerry Rice. However there have been great performances and incredible stats gathered by other receivers. What gets lost are the records that were broken by others just before Rice came into the league.  One such record was set by Mark Clayton of the Miami Dolphins.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

You need to understand the Dolphins had played in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the 1982 season. The late David Woodley struggled in the second half of that loss completing just one pass. The following draft Don Shula moved to upgrade not only his quarterback, Dan Marino in the 1st round, but began to look to upgrade one of the league’s slowest receiving corps in the draft. Clayton was selected in the 8th round from Louisville in the same ’83 draft.

Thus began the genesis to one of the NFL’s greatest offenses. Clayton began slowly as a reserve catching just 6 passes in his rookie year. He teamed with fellow reserve WR Mark Duper to form the core of what would be Shula’s new passing game. All three played with a chip on their shoulder all year long as they assaulted defenses on a week to week basis. While Marino shattered the all time record for touchdowns thrown in a season, he was within 58 yards of Dan Fouts yardage record going into the finale vs. Dallas.

Overshadowed by the records Marino was eclipsing, Clayton entered the finale just 2 touchdowns shy of an even longer standing record. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch’s record of 17 TD receptions which had stood since 1951. He would have to do it against a Dallas Cowboy team that needed a win to make the playoffs.

Clayton had scorched the NFL’s 7th rated pass defense for 4 recpts 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. His two 4th quarter touchdowns allowed him to set the new record at 18 TD receptions. . His record stood until Rice broke it in 1987. Then Randy Moss pushed the record to 23 in 2007. In fact only Sterling Sharpe in 1994, Rice, and Moss are the only receivers to amass 18 touchdowns in a single season. Just 4 receiving seasons in 65 years.

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton’s 1984 season of 78 rec. 1389 yds 18 TDs was among the greatest in history. He had a good career with 5 Pro Bowl seasons, 5 – 1,000 yard seasons while finishing with 582 catches 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. He did leave his imprint on the game and his signature moment was his record breaking Monday Night in 1984.

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Ken Riley Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

There are several teams that have their best talents go unrecognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The prevailing theme that has emerged are the lack of members from franchises that haven’t won a Super Bowl or an NFL championship in their existence. Even those that compiled impressive numbers during their careers. Enter Ken Riley of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in their last year of the American Football League in 1969. He teamed with fellow CB Lemar Parrish and FS Tommy Casanova to form one of the best secondaries of the 1970’s. Over a 15 year career ending in 1983, Riley intercepted 65 enemy passes. Good enough for 4th all time at the time of his retirement, and still ranks 5th just behind Rod Woodson.

A quiet player drafted out of Florida A & M, his career was overshadowed by other teammates and playing in a small market in Cincinnati. There were only so many Pro Bowl votes to go around. Many of those went to teammate Parrish with 8 who was also one of the league’s best punt returners… we’ll get back to this.

From 1974-1978 the Bengal defense ranked 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 3rd against the pass. The “Soul Patrol” Raider secondary of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson never yielded less yards than this group. The Steelers only outranked them once in ’74, when they were ranked #1. Keep in mind in ’75 & ’76 the Steel Curtain had two of our greatest ever defenses and Cincy was better against the pass.

As for Pro Bowl voting during this time, Parrish who deserves Hall of Fame consideration in his own right, was a mainstay. However Riley was the better pass thief. Riley pirated 22 enemy passes to Parrish’s 6 during the time ’74-77. In fact you’d have to combine all their years together dating back to 1970 to get Parrish in the race with 23 interceptions. However Riley’s number balloons to 36 when you do that.

The biggest Pro Bowl snub came in 1976 when teammate Parrish made it to LA and Riley stayed home. Riley was 2nd in the league with 9 ints which were returned for 141 yards and a touchdown. Parrish and fellow AFC Pro Bowl CB Emmitt Thomas only had 2 respectively. Are you serious?? How does this happen?? Let’s take a look back…first at Riley, then his exploits in one of the finest secondaries in NFL history.

They were the best secondary of the 1970’s. Maybe it was going against Bill Walsh and what would become the “west coast offense” everyday in practice. Walsh was Cincinnati’s Offensive Coordinator at the time and had 2 time passing champion Ken Anderson at quarterback.

kenriley2What The Chancellor of Football remembers most about Riley was his flawless backpedal. He was a tactician that used the sideline as his friend and was never out of position.

Once Parrish was dealt away to the Redskins and Tommy Casanova retired to attend medical school in 1978, Riley played on in the Bengal secondary. He played through 1983 when in his 15th and final season, was 2nd in the league with 8 interceptions. Most players would have dwindling stats that late in their careers. Riley had a combined 18 interceptions in his final 3 years alone.

Did you know Riley never made the Pro Bowl during his career?? However he was voted All Pro in 1975, 1976, 1981, and his final season in 1983. Something has to be said about that type of sustained excellence. Of the top ten interceptors in NFL history, only he and Hall of Famer Dick Lebeau did so for the same team throughout their career. He’s the only corner to have 7 seasons with 5 or more interceptions totaling 65 over 15 years.

Keep in mind it took Darrell Green 20 years to garner 53 interceptions. Hall of Famer Deion Sanders needed 14 years to net 53 picks and Lester Hayes needed 10 years to snatch 39. None of these guys came close to matching the 18 Riley had in his final 3 seasons during their careers.

Just like there is little footage of the Cincinnati Bengals of that era, there just isn’t a lot out there on Ken Riley. He was a great cornerback that played in an era before they expanded Pro Bowl voting to include more players. Yet you can’t take away his numbers. Aside from Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane no cornerback intercepted more passes.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Ken Riley.

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The Freezer Bowl – 1981 AFC Championship Game

For all the romanticized hyperbole when The Ice Bowl is brought up, The Freezer Bowl is largely forgotten about. The 1981 AFC Championship between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers was colder from a wind chill factor at -59*. This was where  Air Coryell unceremoniously crash landed.

One man that happened to be in both games was Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg. He was the starting Tackle for the Green Bay Packers in the ’67 NFL Championship. Then he was the Head Coach of the Bengals in 1981 when they advanced to the AFC Championship Game. In a game where the winner would make the trek to Super Bowl XVI, they first had to endure the coldest game in NFL history.

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From the perspective of the ’81 San Diego Chargers

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One reason this game wasn’t remembered with the reverence of The Ice Bowl is it didn’t produce a champion. Another reason is it was buffered against 2 other memorable playoff games in January 1982. One was the Epic In Miami where the Dolphins and the Chargers played in 81* weather for 6 quarters in a 41-38 thriller. The other was The Catch or the NFC Championship between San Francisco and Dallas later that same day.

If you’re keeping score at home, yes the San Diego Chargers had to play in 140 degree temperature difference in one week’s time. Cincinnati won the game and went on to Pontiac, Michigan to face the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI. Yet it’s hard to forget -59* below zero.

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Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes

The saga that has been Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings is just heating up. Did the Minnesota Vikings do enough to show support while Peterson served his suspension??  It culminated in a shouting match at the scouting combine between team brass and Peterson’s agent. Clearly there is a disconnect and the best back in Viking history wants out.

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

The key is he said he will not take a pay cut nor will he renegotiate his contract in any fashion. So a sign and trade is out of the question. Will the Vikings be forced to cut him?? Now that he is reinstated it’s time to talk about possible destinations for the NFL’s best back. Sure his father has an idea where he wants to go but a lot can change when GMs move quickly.

1. The Arizona Cardinals – Please, please, please get the on air radio personalities out here to quit talking about Andre Ellington like he is an elite back. Never have I heard a more marginal talent talked about with such reverence. Peterson’s lifetime average of  5.0 per carry would be a serious boost here over Ellington’s paltry 3.3 yard average in 2014. If Arizona had a legitimate running game last year they may have had a deep run in the playoffs.

In all actuality, cutting DT/DE Darnell Dockett, Ted Ginn Jr, and restructuring Larry Fitzgerald’s contract has freed $15 million in cap space. The Cardinals can sell him on the weather, a stout defense, a returning Carson Palmer, and the fact the last 3 NFC representatives in the Super Bowl hail from the NFC West.  Peterson is 30 and if his intentions are to make it to a Super Bowl this is a legitimate landing spot.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

2. The Detroit Lions – This is a great landing spot for all the reasons mentioned with the Cardinals. Last year it was the Lions with the NFL’s #2 defense and only a controversial call kept Detroit from the divisional round of the playoffs. You want to talk about a big three?? Matthew Stafford, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and Adrian Peterson would be a sick combination. Keep in mind Peterson has at least 3 good years left and the Lions just cut Reggie Bush.

Another note to keep in mind is the high propensity for players to sign with a division rival to show their old team that they still have it. Emmitt Smith to the Cardinals, Thurman Thomas to the Dolphins, Lawyer Milloy & Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo, Brett Favre to the Vikings, then last year with Julius Peppers going to Green Bay and Jared Allen going to Chicago.  What better way to get back at Minnesota than to go for 200 on them??? Detroit is on the rise folks and Peterson is that missing piece.

3. New England Patriots – Now here is where folks will think The Chancellor of Football has lost it. Until I remind you when the 2003 defending champion Patriots acquired Corey Dillon…remember that??  Again Peterson is 30 with a few prime years left and just like Dillon never had a great team around him. Well in 2009 the Vikings with Favre did make it to the NFC Championship but the balance of his career has been spent with very average talent.

Peterson may be willing to take a little less for the chance to play for the game’s ultimate prize. Take a look at the long list of veterans who have signed with New England to play with Tom Brady. Look at last year alone in acquiring Darrell Revis, Brandon Browner, and Brandon LaFell.

It could even be on a 1 year proposition. Remember when Deion Sanders bypassed several 4 yr – $15-17 million contracts to sign with the 49ers for $1.1 million in ’94?? Of course the collective bargaining agreement would force the Pats to pay him a minimum around $4 million but you get the point. Bill Belichick always has an ace up his sleeve and to pull in a Peterson is within range.

4. Indianapolis Colts – After the Trent Richardson trade cost them this year’s #1 draft pick, the Colts would overpay to get Peterson. Everyone says you can get a quality running back in later rounds. Well not this team. The Colts haven’t had a running back pay off since they drafted Joseph Addai in 2007. That is 8 years ago!!

Signing Peterson would shift the balance of power in the AFC and Andrew Luck could have the weapon that would propel him to the Super Bowl. Luck has proven he can carry the organization but he needs help to topple New England. Painfully we have seen this for several years.

Adrian Peterson has a decision to make but one thing is certain, he will play with a serious chip on his shoulder this first year back. If the performance is anything like his 2012, he will get stronger by the game. He should have at least 3 prime years left as a work horse runner. That is his Super Bowl window.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Everyone, including Peterson is saying the Dallas Cowboys but lets give this some thought… Why would the Cowboys get a 30 year old runner over a 27 year old runner who just set the season record for rushing?? Why would you challenge the collective adhesiveness of the offensive line, running back, and huddle temperament with QB Tony Romo??

In reality, the Cowboys are taking a hard negotiating stance with Murray and Dez Bryant as they have with black players throughout the team’s history. Remember when Troy Aikman received a new contract for $50 million before his contract was up and Emmitt Smith had to hold out just to get $13.5 million?? Us old timers do and know several other stories…so Peterson beware. You’re just a bargaining chip to Dallas.

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Overcoaching: Vol 3. Super Bowl XLIX Edition

Super Bowl XLIX was a great game but the end left a lot of fans empty as Seattle opted for a pass from the 1 with seconds left to play. Immediately I railed it was the worst play call in Super Bowl history on social media. Many former NFLers agreed. So after a small hiatus my thought hadn’t changed and now it was time to revisit another classic case of overcoaching in the NFL.

03_ball_grand_canyon_1_hi_nat1366First off… if anyone thinks the Seattle  throwing that pass at the one yard line was the right play call, then they think Vince Lombardi called the wrong play on the final play of the Ice Bowl. Its that simple. One of his philosophies played out at the goal line during the final seconds of both the 1966 & 1967 NFL Championship Games.

Lombardi’s philosophy was in a pressure situation, players would make mistakes in Tom Landry’s complicated offense. The Cowboys had the ball at the 2 with less than 2 minutes to go down 34-27. They had momentum and had just scored on the drive previous. True to form T Jim Bokeim had a false start… remember they did a lot of shifting on the line. On the final play, which was a rollout, RG Leon Donohue ran past Packer LB Dave Robinson instead of blocking him. Robinson hurried Don Meredith into a game ending endzone interception.

The rubber match for the Ice  Bowl (1967 championship) saw the reverse as the Packers were down to the 2 yard line with less than 2 minutes to go. After two plays and a final timeout, Green Bay was at the 1 with :16 left down 17-14. Where Tom Landry was heard yelling “watch Starr on the rollout”, Lombardi’s Packers went with a QB sneak to win the game. A simplified play.  Years later in recalling Lombardi’s philosophy, G Jerry Kramer said “When the game or life is on the line, you don’t gamble and you put your faith in the defensive player’s chest.”

A philosophy the Seattle Seahawks had believed in until the 1 minute mark of Super Bowl XLIX. Some new age philosophies have made coaches overthink and overcoach situations lately. Ever since that Monday Night game where Brian Westbrook had that breakaway run at the end of the game against the Dallas Cowboys and slid down to run out the clock, people have been overcoaching end of game scenarios.

However I said it right after…that was the same play call the Titans went with in Super Bowl XXXIV when Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson at the 1 yard line also. That stacked receiver slant is 0-2 in late Super Bowl moments. Truth is they should have run the ball twice with the read option and kept it on the ground. They should have immediately run a play after Lynch made it to the 1.

Fist lets take a look at the early stages of the game when Marshawn Lynch scored to tie the game at 7.

You’ll note the first run Lynch face initial contact at the 9 ans made it to the 6 1/2 yard line. Then on the touchdown he faced initial contact at the two and powered to more than a yard into the endzone. He’s the best contact runner since Corey Dillon and he was constantly falling forward during the game.

Now we get to the fateful last plays of Super Bowl XLIX.


Had Seattle rushed to the line of scrimmage with the 1:06 left (after Lynch made it to the 1) New England may have let them score (another bone head new age move) to ensure Brady would have a chance with the football and more clock. Don’t tell me Belichick doesn’t think that way because he was lauded for his taking a late game safety against Denver 10 years ago so the Patriots would get the ball back with time and field position… Had Seattle got up and rushed to the line, New England also wouldn’t have sent in their goal line 3 corners package where Seattle would have been better suited to block. Wasn’t that why Pete Carroll said they were wasting a play??

By not rushing back to the line the Seahawks overcoached the situation. There comes a time where coaches have to drop those silly play charts and coach on guts. Lynch had gained positive yards after contact on all of his runs. Even his last carry he broke a tackle at the 4 and made it to the 1. Had they hurried and faced the same defense the next play you don’t think he scores from the 1?? That same personnel he powered through for their first touchdown and 3 yards after contact.

Bill Belichick was saving all of his timeouts and let the clock run down to :32 seconds before Seattle snapped the football.

Yet alas Malcolm Butler ended the Seahawks bid for back to back Super Bowl championships. Coaches have to get back to owning each situation and score first and win the game. Don’t sit and speculate when you can or even if you will score on a later play. You just have to trust your defense. If you can think back to Super Bowl XLVI between the Patriots and the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw tried not to score when he “accidently” fell in the endzone. Taking a 17-15 lead, the Giant defense held off Tom Brady in that one. You have to rely on your defense.

Another clear case of overcoaching and now Seattle has to let this fester as they ponder an opportunity lost. It could fuel their trip to Super Bowl L in San Francisco’s new stadium. Stay tuned…

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Super Bowl XLIX: Seattle Seahawks v New England Patriots

As the sun is beaming here in Glendale Arizona the day of Super Bowl XLIX, it’s time to get on to the game at hand.

The Legion of Boom will go down in history as the best defense of the new millenia.

The Legion of Boom will go down in history as the best defense of the new millenia.

As I analyze this game one of the aspects not being covered are the smallish receivers of the New England Patriots vs the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks. Everyone is mentioning the force of Rob Gronkowski, and he is a mismatch for most teams. However the bigger cornerbacks for Seattle should manhandle the smaller receivers. Much like the 2013 AFC Championship against Denver.

If the Seahawks are able to get to Tom Brady early that would really play into Seattle’s hands. Watch for Belichick to put Brady on half rolls and waggles to minimize that. However will they sustain a gameplan of that. It’s just come down that Jonas Grey is inactive for the game. LaGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen have to carry the load today.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-SizeThe New England Patriots will have to contain Russell Wilson. Whether on rollouts, the zone read where he keeps it, they can’t allow him to extend plays. They may have to concede the run to Marshawn Lynch to a degree.

The Legion of Boom, Russell Wilson, and ‘Beast Mode” should go down in history with a 26-10 win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The first back to back champion since the Patriots in ’03 & ’04.  Marshawn Lynch should be the MVP.

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Whenever the 1980’s Denver Broncos are brought up the first player that comes to mind is John Elway. Rightfully so as he led one of the NFL’s most successful teams during the decade. However his teams did have some great talent on them. Did you know LB/DE Karl Mecklenburg, FS Dennis Smith, and SS Steve Atwater have been Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalists in the last couple years??

sb24denIf we rewind the clock to 1989, Atwater was a wide-eyed rookie learning the ropes under Smith’s tutelage. Big hits rang up all year as receivers ducked for cover against these big safeties. Smith was a Pro Bowl player in 1989, the 3rd of 6 trips to Hawai’i after an 82 tackle 2 interception season. The intimidation factor they brought led the Broncos to a #3 defensive ranking overall or #2 in the AFC, and yielding the fewest points in the league with 226 points.

Meanwhile Mecklenburg was a Pro Bowl player with 143 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. The 1989 season was the 4th of his 6 Pro Bowl trips and where there are a ton of vids showcasing Smith and Atwater, Mecklenburg is largely forgotten in circles outside of Denver. This vignette from ’86 showcases his talent best

In each of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl seasons they fielded a top 10 defense. Unsung players like Simon Fletcher and Michael Brooks made the back 7 one of the best during this era.

sb24den2Another factor in 1989 was the Broncos finally landing a top running back in rookie RB Bobby Humphrey out of Alabama. He was Denver’s first true breakaway threat since Floyd Little. He rushed for 1,151 yards and 7 TDs after starting the season on the bench. Denver climbed to #6 in rushing where they had ranked 20th in the 1st Elway era Super Bowl team in 1986.

Yet alas this team ran into one of the all time great teams in Super Bowl history. This is the championship ring won by Denver after beating Cleveland for their 3rd AFC championship in 4 years.

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Want to hear something interesting?  Going into Super Bowl XXIV, the Denver Broncos were the ONLY team in the NFL the 49ers hadn’t defeated during the 1980s.  So in the last game of the decade…what happened??  Yikes 55-10 in a Super Bowl!!!  Joe Montana and company could have scored 80 if they wanted to…As crisp as the 49ers played, what did their practices look like??  Damn!

49.24The craziest thing was when Terry Bradshaw skirmished with John Elway that week about how Elway had been coddled…etc (remember Terry was roughed up by press and such as a young player) and after a back and forth, they sit down to talk about Super Bowl XXIV in a round table discussion and Bradshaw blurted out “I just don’t see Denver having a chance. This sucker could be as bad as 55-3!” Much to the chagrin of CBS brass trying to drum up interest for a game the press was touting as a blowout. Why 55? Eight tds, and a missed p.a.t.s? Only 3 for the Broncos?

If Bill Romanowski hadn’t faceguarded (form of pass interference) Orson Mobley in the endzone to give the Broncos 1st and goal at the 1, Terry Bradshaw would have NAILED IT!! The Broncos needed 4 plays to score from their touhdown also…Terry Bradshaw is a dummy? Not on this prediction! Final score 55-10.

49.24aHas there been a better or more dominant run in a single postseason?? In dispatching the Vikings 41-13, Montana carved up the #1 defense that ranked 1st in sacks with 71.  Joe was 17 of 24 for 241 yds and 4 touchdowns. In the NFC Championship, they faced their NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams. The Rams had been the scourge of the playoffs with their “Eagle Defense” with 2 D Linemen and 5 Linebackers.

No one could figure out Los Angeles hybrid defense as they befuddled Randall Cunningham’s Eagles and Phil Simms Giants. Well… Montana shredded them going 26 of 30 for 262 yds and 2 scores. Thanks to Craig, Rice, Taylor, and Rathman, San Francisco set a post season record with 29 first downs in a 30-3 slaughter. Don’t forget they split their games with them in the regular season. San Fran taught them the difference between post season and regular season play.

As for Super Bowl XXIV, Montana had his best ever game when it counted most. It almost seemed like a choreographed fight scene from a movie. Every move was countered perfectly. No matter what defense the Broncos were in Montana had an answer. The 1989 Denver Broncos were ranked 3rd in defense and had given up the fewest points in the NFL. Montana was 22 of 29 for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns and sat most of the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1989The perfect game Bill Walsh had Montana strive for from the quarterback position he watched in a booth next to Eddie DeBartolo. George Seifert was the coach who witnessed it up close as the Head Coach. He riddled the #1 and #3 ranked defenses with 9 touchdowns and no interceptions. This was a coronation, not just the 49ers becoming team of the ’80s, but Montana unseasting Johnny Unitas as the NFL’s greatest ever quarterback.

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Welcome to the second greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL…well next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Again…the question has to be asked: Can a team change its stripes?? From 4-11 in 1987 to 12-4 and :34 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl…wow!! You have to realize this is before free agency where a star could be bought and brought in.

bengals headerThis team was led by a genius named Sam Wyche, easily one of my favorite coaches ever. And right before you scoff “He didn’t win a Super Bowl”. Don’t forget he was quarterback coach with a glistening Super Bowl XVI ring for coaching Joe Montana, ironically against the Cincinnati Bengals some 6 yrs earlier. So Sam Wyche is/was Bill Walsh the 2nd and I’ll explain.

Paul Brown owned and coached the Cincinnati Bengals and had Bill Walsh as his Offensive Coordinator, and Wyche was the heady backup quarterback. When Brown failed to make Walsh his successor he lost Wyche who joined Walsh in San Francisco and ironically they beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. Having been burned by not hiring his protégé’ and losing to him taught him a lesson. The next time Brown needed a coach he tapped into the Bengals past and brought back Sam Wyche, who had a keen offensive mind and unconventional ideas. So what turnaround am I speaking of?

Let’s take you back to 1987, where the Bengals had failed to live up to unfulfilled promise since Super Bowl XVI. They came close to making the playoffs in 1984 and 1986 yet failed to win on tie breakers in the last game of the season. Especially in 1986 when they drubbed the playoff bound Jets 52-21 in the finale. The Bengals went into ’87 with serious optimism yet kept being plagued with bizarre losses where the mistakes were blamed on their unconventional coach.

The most notable was in week 2, when beating the 49ers and Bill Walsh of all people, elected to run a play on 4th down rather than risk a punt block with 6 seconds left. Kevin Fagan (from the U) charged in and stopped James Brooks with 2 seconds to go. Montana hit Rice for a touchdown on the last play of the game. The 27-26 loss to San Francisco in Cincinnati cast a pall on the entire (4-11) 1987 season. Many losses when the unconventional coach had plays backfire in the 4th quarter earned the Bengals coach a nickname –“Wicky Wacky” Wyche and the team was the laughingstock of the league with reports that Wyche would be fired. He held on barely…

bengal sideEnter 1988, the mantra coined by Sam Wyche was ‘finish everything’, alluding to the 4th quarter collapses that doomed 6 Bengal games the year before. The draft brought a very important player…the talented and infectious Elbert “Ickey” Woods who teamed with James Brooks to help push the Bengals to the #1 offense in the NFL. More than anything, his touchdown dance “The Ickey Shuffle” and his personality changed the team chemistry from the doldrums of the year before.

Woods rushed for 1000 yards and 15 TDs. “Boomer” Esiason went on to be league MVP and his receivers Eddie Brown (The U) Tim McGhee and Cris Collinsworth were as effective as any trio in the league. Operating out of their “sugar huddle” and keeping opposing teams defensive specialists off the field, Cincinnati exploited mismatches to pile up points. They were the first team to play with a “no huddle” attack. On defense DT Tim Krumrie, OLB Reggie Williams, and SS David Fulcher were the undisputed leaders of an opportunistic defense. Throw in CB Eric Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl in ’88 and the late Lewis Billups made up a superior secondary along with FS and present NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots.

The team went from being a laughingstock to a 6-0 start and the league was reluctant to let go of the pigeonholed way they viewed both Coach Wyche and the team. Everyone was waiting for the Cleveland Browns and the Dawg Defense to overcome the injury to Bernie Kosar and catch them…yet no one could. The Bengals blew no 4th quarter leads and by the time they got to the playoffs they still weren’t respected.

Coach Wyche and his team that was laughed at the year before had become the scourge of the league. So much so that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle before Super Bowl XXIII ruled they weren’t allowed to run their “sugar huddle”. Why? Well because other measures were tried during the playoffs by Seattle faking injuries to get defensive replacements on the field. The Bengals still won 21-7 before besting Buffalo 21-10 in the AFC Championship.

Super Bowl XXIII, what a game? Would it have been a game had the Bengals not lost Stanley Wilson to a cocaine episode the night before the game? Would it have been a game if they could use their Sugar Huddle? Before you jump up and say no…don’t forget the ’88 49ers had a 6-5 record late in the season and only finished at 10-6 (worst record ever for a Super Bowl champion by the way) before getting hot in the playoffs. They were being held by a Bengal defense without a touchdown going into the 4th quarter.

bengals logoThat also includes losing Tim Krumrie to a severe broken leg in the 1st quarter. League against them, Niners against them…Stanford Jennings took back a kick 93 yards at the end of the 3rd quarter to give Cincy a 13-6 lead and they looked like they were going to be Super Bowl champs. Alas a Lewis Billups dropped interception on the following touchdown drive led to the 49ers scoring on the next play and eventually the game winning drive with :34 seconds left to play.

For the rest of my days I’ll forever believe Pete Rozelle cheated the Bengals and altered how the game would have been disallowing the “sugar huddle” in the Super Bowl.

They were 34 seconds away….from erasing a history that they didn’t deserve. Yet they did win the 1988 AFC Championship and I applaud them for an olympian effort to force the league to give them a respect that was earned.


Super Bowl XXIII was a game for the ages, 49ers 20-16 over the Cincinnati Bengals in Joe Robbie Stadium. When I think of this Super Bowl I think of the moments that take place in a game that could have altered the course of history. If only David Fulcher could have knocked down a couple passes on that last drive…. What if the late Pete Rozelle had allowed the Bengals to use their “Sugar Huddle”?? All banter for historians now since Joe Montana did his thing!!

xxiiiWith the Bengals leading 13-6 early in the 4th quarter, Stanford Jennings had just returned a kickoff 93 yards to put the Bengals up by a touchdown. The 49ers were driving for the tying touchdown when the late Lewis Billups cut in front of Mike Wilson and had a clear endzone interception, then dropped the ball.

The Bengals had shut down the 49er offense all game long but now the 49er offense was clicking. Rice scored on the next play to tie it at 13 . What would have happened had Billups held on for that interception? Would that have been the demoralizing play that would have deflated the 49ers for good in a defensive struggle?

Montana went on to lead that famous last second drive that cemented his legacy…however there are some interesting points to this team. Did you know this 49er team had the worst record of any Super Bowl champion at the time with a 10-6 record? Did you know that the ’88 49ers were 6-5 during the season after back to back losses in Candlestick including a 9-6 loss to the LA Raiders with no touchdowns scored? The first set of back to back losses at home in almost a decade. This was a team that had to overcome the psychological damage that was inflicted a year before that nearly sunk the ’88 season.

xxiii2The 1987 season was the best 49er team in history (up to that time) in The Chancellor of Football’s opinion. This was the first team since the 1977 Dallas Cowboys to finish #1 on both offense and defense in the same season. So prolific was this team in a strike shortened year of 15 games, Montana led the NFL with 31 TDs in only 12 games played with the regulars and Steve Young throwing for 10 more. It was the most prolific season of Montana’s career. Projected over a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 45 TDs at a time when only Dan Marino had surpassed the 40 mark.

Jerry Rice was league MVP with 23 TDs (22 receiving) in only 12 games that broke the single season TD reception record of Mark Clayton’s 18. Rice was so dominant he had 17TDs in the final 7 games alone. The overall touchdown record at the time was 24 by John Riggins. At the pace that Rice was going he would have had 30 TDs had they played 16 games. So Emmitt, Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, and Shawn Alexander NEVER would have touched the record.

The draft class of ’86 came to fruition with Charles Haley, John Taylor, Don Griffin, Tim McKyer, Kevin Fagan (The U), Brent Jones, Tom Rathman, and Harris Barton, who would anchor the team for years to come. This mixed youth with the experience of the Joe Montanas, Ronnie Lotts, Randy Cross’, and Dwight Clarks to form a team that rolled to a 13-2 record finishing on a 6 game winning streak. They scored the most points and gave up the 3rd fewest.

They outscored their last 3 opponents 124-7 including a 41-0 trouncing of the NFC Central Champion Bears on a Monday Night in front of the nation. So what happened?? Two things…the flu and Anthony Carter got hot and did a Larry Fitzgerald thru the 1987 playoffs with this being the centerpiece game of that run and his career.

The Minnesota Vikings were 8-7 and backed into the playoffs with losses in their last few games and had to have someone else lose just to get in.

Joe wasn’t himself in that divisional playoff game and even though he was weakened with the flu he was getting’ hounded by the Vikings pass rush. He did throw a down and out to Dwight Clark that was late and Reggie Rutland returned for a touchdown that put San Fran down 17-7. Bill Walsh benched Joe Montana for Steve Young, who had been acquired that year in a trade, who did lead a few TD drives that ultimately led to QB controversy to start the ’88 season.

That 36-24 loss along with Anthony Carter’s 227 yards receiving haunted that team to the midway point of the 88 season. This team clearly should have won Super Bowl XXII. I remember the shock that the Bears & Redskins took into their divisional playoff game the next day, realizing whoever won would host the Vikings in the NFC Championship game when they clearly were dreading a trip to San Francisco. Especially the Bears who in a matchup for home field advantage were trounced 41-0 at the end of the ’87 season and who did the ’88 49ers beat in the NFC Championship game to get to Super Bowl XXIII? The Chicago Bears 28-3 in Soldier Field in 28 below zero weather.

However the upset playoff loss to the Vikings caused tensions throughout the organization. Embarrassed by the biggest upset since Super Bowl III, it was rumored Eddie DeBartolo nearly parted ways with Head Coach Bill Walsh. This led to changes within the organization and corporate pressure was one of the reasons Walsh stepped down after Super Bowl XXIII a year later.

The 49ers did get revenge on the Vikings over the next two years in the playoffs. The ’88 postseason began with a 34-9 beat down of Minnesota puncutated by an 80 yard touchdown run by Roger Craig in the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1988However when I look at the Super Bowl XXIII ring, the ’88 season doesn’t come to mind. The turmoil that took place from the previous postseason and subsequent retirement of Bill Walsh dimmed the luster of their coronation. With this win, the 49ers had become The Team of the 80’s. It wasn’t a pyrrhic victory but…

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Dedicated to the late Bill Walsh


Coming off a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants the year before was disappointing, however #1 draft pick John Elway had arrived.  By all accounts Elway came of age with “The Drive”, the 98 yard march in Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the last minutes of the AFC Championship Game. Denver tied it at 20 in the final minutes and won 23-20 in OT.

87 Broncos ringThe game was seen as an all time classic.  Cleveland’s “Dawg Defense” smarted for over a year feeling as though they let the Brown’s fans down and swore to get revenge against the Broncos, and Elway in particular.  Two weeks later Elway came up a little short in his upset bid of the New York Giants out in the Rose Bowl, Super Bowl XXI, yet had a bright future. Denver would have many opportunities with a quarterback who conceivably could carry a team seemingly all by himself…wouldn’t they??

Bronco fans were buoyed with more optimism for the future with Elway than wracked with Super Bowl disappointment.  After all, this franchise hadn’t won a league championship in their first 26 years of existence. They hadn’t been among the league’s elite since the late 70s. This was the first time the Broncos had a legitimate “franchise quarterback” and Elway followed up his ’86 campaign with a better one the following season.

1987-cf-tnElway’s mobility was a vital element in the offense; he would scramble for first downs, scramble to keep passing plays alive, then deliver the ball anywhere on the field with his rocket arm. The offense being more potent helped resurrect the Orange Crush defense by keeping drives alive and the defense rested. Many pundits predicted that 1987 would be the Broncos year.

Enter the 1987 season; the Broncos bolstered their passing attack with speedy receiver Ricky Nattiel from Florida. He supplemented incumbents Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson and the three proved harder to defense. The “Three Amigos” were deadlier than ever thanks to an increasing penchant of Bronco coach Dan Reeves to go with more 3 receiver sets to create mismatches.

Steady play came from Sammy Winder at running back.  Versatile Steve Sewell saw increased playing time as a third down back with the loss of Gerald Willhite due to injury. Points rang up all year as the Broncos went 11-4 (strike shortened year) and earned home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs with a 24-0 win over San Diego in the snow in the final week. So this year, if they faced nemesis Cleveland, it would be in the friendly confines of Mile High Stadium.

00033503From 1977 – 1990 the Denver Broncos enjoyed the best home record in all the NFL. It was loud, the steel framing of the stadium & stairs made it louder when the 75,000 fans began to stomp on them. Already vociferous in nature, the din of the fans, along with the thin air that made it hard to breathe for hyper ventilating opponents. It made Mile High a most inhospitable place.  Many teams fell victim to this lethal combination….except one.

The Cleveland Browns were on a collision course with the Broncos.  They were running roughshod over the AFC Central and again finishing with a 10-5 record. Bernie Kosar, Webster Slaughter, Earnest Byner led the offense, where Clay Matthews, the late Eddie Johnson, Hanford Dixon, Ray Ellis, and Frank Minnifield again led the Dawg defense which added a new wrinkle. To take advantage of their superior cornerback play started to employ the “Bear” defense which was the Browns version of the “46 defense.”

As the AFC Championship began, Elway was on fire taking a 14-3 lead as Cleveland couldn’t get out of their own way. Several turnovers kept the Browns fighting an uphill battle. He kept play after play going with his legs and scrambling to find open receivers. They built a 21-3 halftime lead and when the Browns threatened to comeback, Elway made plays to turn the momentum.

super-bowl-logo-1987When Cleveland closed the score to 21-10, three plays later he escapes a 3 man rush scrambles out and hits Mark Jackson. He eludes 3 defenders and completes an 80 yard touchdown to put the Browns behind by 18 points again at 28-10. Once the Browns orchestrated a second half come back tying it at 31, he then drives the Broncos to the winning touchdown to Sammy Winder to make it 38-31. They withstood a final charge and recovers Earnest Byner’s fumble to escape to Super Bowl XXII.

Denver needed every great play from Elway that day to edge the Browns. His second AFC Championship solidified his position as one of the premier QBs with a bright future ahead. All he had to do was win a Super Bowl and he would have his second chance against the Washington Redskins.

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Hail to the Redskins…we heard that song so much in the 2nd quarter it was ridiculous!! Somewhere Tony Lilly (#22 Broncos) is still having nightmares. I remember tellin’ my boy Tommy Walker he may never play again in the NFL after this performance. Yet we’re here to celebrate accomplishment.

ringXXIIThe first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl was one that carried significant weight for all those that were “coerced” into playing other positions throughout the years. Prejudice kept blacks from playing the thinking positions throughout the 50’s, 60’s,’70’s, & 80’s with the last bastion being that of the quarterback. Now to have Doug Williams about to face media darling John Elway, pundits wondered if Washington could stay on the field with them.

To think that we were about to see the greatest offensive performance in the history of the NFL in Super Bowl XXII just didn’t seem plausible.

Consider the fact that Doug Williams had begun the season as backup to incumbent Jay Schroeder and the on again, off again, nature of being the 2nd stringer being replaced by the starter. Schroeder had led the Redskins to the 1986 NFC Championship the year before which included a big playoff win over the defending champion Chicago Bears. He couldn’t come up big against the NY Giants in that championship game but neither had any other QB that season. So in ’87 after another Schroeder benching, Gibbs went with Williams as the starter in the playoffs. He played ok when the Redskins beat the Bears 21-17 in Walter Payton & Gary Fencik’s last game.

Super-Bowl-22-ringWilliams only completed 9 of 19 passes in a lackluster NFC Championship (17-10) win over the Minnesota Vikings. There was still speculation over who would start at quarterback as the Redskins made their way to San Diego for SuperBowl XXII. After going down to Denver 10-0 and Elway’s first pass being a touchdown to Ricky Nattiel, Williams hurt his knee yet came back to start the 2nd quarter.

Now get this, the famous Elway drive in Cleveland took a little over 5 minutes the year before. Well in the 2nd qarter of SuperBowl XXII, Doug Williams led Washington’s offense to 356 yds of offense, 5TDs with 4 of them being TD passes in only 18 plays and 5:54 seconds of possession!! Yikes!! Talk about the “Greatest Show on Turf”…to finish the game with 602yds when they clearly stopped trying to score after halftime was ridiculous. Joe Montana, in his win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, threw for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns in the entire game.

Or to put it to you another way – Of the previous 21 Super Bowls, only 5 of the 42 teams gained more yards in their complete game than the Redskins had in the 2nd quarter alone.

A few of the Super Bowl records set:

  • Doug Williams most yds passing game 340 and for a half with 306.
  • Tim Smith most yds rushing game 204 and for a half with 136
  • Ricky Sanders most yards receiving game 193 and for a half with 177.
  • 35 points were most in a quarter and a half of a Super Bowl.
  • Total yardage for a Super Bowl game with 602 yards of offense.
  • Longest touchdown pass tied 80 yards – Williams to Sanders

This was one quarter we’re talking about!! Steve Foley had been Denver’s safety for many years, retired before the season to be replaced by Tony Lilly. Who spent Super Sunday chasing Redskins into the endzone and was subsequently let go after the game. Did not resign with another team.

super-bowl-logo-1987This was the ring for winning SuperBowl XXII and ushered in the era where black quarterbacks were able to gain their due…with the Warren Moon’s & Randall Cunningham’s soon to follow. I can remember my Mom being in tears as we watched and I kept telling her what record had just fallen and which ones were coming up.

His MVP announcement

Ironically the first modern black quarterback who held almost all significant Denver Bronco rookie passing records (even over John Elway) was Marlin Briscoe. He ironically was “coerced” into playing receiver later in his career winning two Super Bowls with the Dolphins. Full circle to have this feat happen to the Denver Broncos who gave up on Briscoe playing QB?? Not yet…

Try the fact the Washington Redskins are in a battle against Native Americans to keep their team name. What this generation doesn’t know is the Redskins under George Preston Marshall was the last NFL team to integrate. Before 1960, the Redskins were the NFL’s most southern team whose games were broadcast to the south regionally. In fact at their welcome back luncheon to kickoff the season, the Marshall owned Redskins actually sung “Dixie.” Something Hall of Fame Redskin Bobby Mitchell recounted in NFL Films’ Black Star Rising. Now Robert Griffin III sporting dreadlocks is the Washington incumbent starting quarterback.

If the Seattle Seahawks win it all here in the next 3 weeks, we’ll have the NFL’s first dynasty with a black quarterback at the helm in Russell Wilson.

Life works in mysterious ways…. now you’ve come full circle.

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This article is dedicated to Doug Williams for his transcendent performance in San Diego in 1988.

I also dedicate this article to my mother Mrytle Taylor who shared this moment with me. Her tears that day brought me to mine as we watched this performance obliterate an old stereotype. i know she’s looking down from heaven right now…


It was a dreary, cold, dark, forboding day in Cleveland. It was January 11, 1987 in Cleveland yet there was an excitement in the air…

xxireflectionOh yes…the 1986 AFC Championship on the line and a trip to SuperBowl XXI in Pasadena awaits.  John Elway and the Broncos are 98 yards away from the “Dog Pound” and the tying score with 5:43 seconds left…*sigh* Elway sent the entire state of Ohio into a catatonic shock that lasted thru the next football season and up to and thru Earnest Byner’s fumble in the following AFC Championship game in ’87.

However lets take you back to the game where John Elway had arrived. It was the moment forgotten once he performed “The Drive” that came a week prior. The 1986 Broncos had a maturing quarterback coming of age and if you remember were still smarting from posting an 11-5 record, while missing the 1985 playoffs on a tie break technicality.

Elway was typical of a young quarterback who struggled to be consistent throughout. After taking off on a 34 yard touchdown early in the game, he severely sprained his ankle. He hobbled and gutted it out against Andre Tippett and the Patriots defense. The big thing was he didn’t make the big mistake and struck when the defending AFC Champions blinked. Down 17-13 late in the 3rd quarter, Patriot LB Don Blackmon jumped offside. With a free play Elway fired deep to Vance Johnson to take a 20-17 lead.

Then Rulon Jones sack and safety of Tony Eason sent the Broncos to their first AFC Championship since 1977 22-17. ESPN’s Tom Jackson was a linebacker on both the ’77 and ’86 teams and was from Cleveland. Fittingly the last win he experienced as a player was “The Drive”, as the Broncos prevailed 23-20 in overtime.

Subsequently the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20 in Pasadena to win Super Bowl XXI. This ring commemorates the accomplishment of getting there.  Denver would get to more Super Bowls right? Elway was just a young pup…he’d have plenty more…right?

The one thing that was lost were the pundits made it seem that Elway was the only player on that team. They ran the ball by committee with Sammy Winder and Gerald Wilhite. Had solid receivers in Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson. Yet they had the AFC’s 3rd ranked defense, 9th overall which ranked higher than The Dawg Defense of Cleveland ranked 19th.

super-bowl-logo-1986Pro Bowlers Karl Mecklenburg, SS Dennis Smith, DE Rulon Jones, and CB Mike Harden led a resurgent “Orange Crush” defense. It wasn’t quite as dynamic as the group that carried Denver to Super Bowl XII. Of course I could be partial to the ’77 group since I lived there at the time and they were influential on a youngster.

This was the ring commemorating the ’86 Broncos who came out of a competitive AFC West to win the conference.

Epilogue circa 2010: John Elway should be thanking Art Modell and Lebron James for getting him off the hook.  These are the most hated men in Cleveland now.  I don’t think Elway golfs or vacations there…lol…but he has a fair chance of not getting stoned to death.  So hated was Elway in Cleveland that in 1989 the Broncos were huddled in the “Dog Pound” end zone of Municipal Stadium when Elway gets conked on the head with a flashlight battery.

The debris became so great that Jerry Markbreit (referee) actually had the teams switch sides on the field.  The Chancellor of Football had never seen that before in an NFL game or since.  Cleveland won 16-13 for a measure of revenge yet lost again in the 89 AFC Title 37-21 to further fuel Elway angst in Ohio.  I was one of ’em…and it took a long time to let it go.

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The Soul Of The Game: Randy White

Randy White... easily a Hall of Fame player.

Randy White… easily a Hall of Fame player.

When it comes to great hitting in the NFL, much of it takes place on the line of scrimmage, away from the camera following the football. However there are players who deliver those hits on quarterbacks, running backs and those same offensive linemen. Randy White was one of those players. An intense desire burned in him if you ever watched him play.

In fact it was that desire which helped him turn in probably the NFL’s greatest defensive play in our CEO’s estimation. In the 1980 season finale, Dallas needed to beat the Eagles by 25 points to win the NFC East. The Eagles were near midfield when they completed a slant to wide receiver Scott Fitzkee, who took off for the goal line. White, who had seen the pass whiz by turned and chased down Fitzkee tackling him at the 5 yard line. Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a defensive lineman chase down a receiver after a 49 yard gain??

Of course that wasn’t a great hit but it showed unbelievable heart. When you thought of the Dallas Cowboys during the late 1970’s and thought of toughness, he was the one that came to mind. He wasn’t that big either and thrived on his quickness to get into the “A” gap of opposing offenses.

One aspect of his play that is unusual is his size for a defensive tackle. The Cowboys had him listed at 6’4″ 257 lbs but that was a smokescreen. He looks like he’s about 6’1 or 6’2 and played at a weight where most of his contemporaries were pushing 275-280 lbs. We have yet to see in any film where White was bigger than a player trying to block him.

Randy White was a flat out beast for the Dallas Cowboys.

Randy White was a flat out beast for the Dallas Cowboys.

Over his 14 year career he made the Pro Bowl 9 times and was voted All Pro in 8 of them.  He was the impetus to the Doomsday Defense II that followed the original unit Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, Dave Edwards, and Chuck Howley played on. In fact along with Howley, White shares the distinction of being named Super Bowl MVP while wearing #54 for the Cowboys. Howley did so as the only player from a losing team, to nab that distinction in Super Bowl V.

As for White, he was the co-winner along with the late Harvey Martin for chasing Craig Morton all over the Super Dome in game number XII. In that contest he and the defensive line hounded Denver quarterbacks into 4 interceptions on 8 of 25 passing for 61 yards. In a Super Bowl?? Yikes. For his career he finished with 9 Pro Bowls and 7 – 1st team All Pro selections. A sure Hall of Fame performer which raises an interesting question: Who was the Dallas Cowboys all time greatest defensive tackle?? Bob “Mr. Cowboy” Lilly or Randy “Manster” White??

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NEXT: Andre Reed Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

On This Date In 1977: The Ghost To The Post – Oakland Raiders v Baltimore Colts

Lydell Mitchell powered the Cols with 3 straight 1,000 yard seasons in 1975-1977.

Lydell Mitchell rushed for 1,193 yards in ’75, 1200 in ’76, and 1,159 in 1977.

During the 1970’s, the NFL would reach the playoffs by the time we made it to Christmas and in 1977 we were treated to one of the best ever. The Baltimore Colts hosted the Oakland Raiders, who were defending Super Bowl Champions. In all honesty the Colts under Head Coach Ted Marchibroda were one of those really good teams that seemed to be forgotten. From 1975-1977 this was one of the NFL’s best teams. Those three years they were powered by RB Lydell Mitchell, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and was a Pro Bowl performer in each of those seasons.  Bert Jones was the quarterback who in our CEO’s estimation was who John Elway reminded him of. Tall, mobile with a rocket arm. He made the 1976 Pro Bowl with Mitchell after throwing for 3,104 yards 24 TDs and only 9 interceptions.

Over this time period, the Colts were 31-11 posting 10-4, 11-3, and 10-4 seasons. An even closer look shows that after starting 1-4 in the ’75 regular season and before a 3 game losing streak near the end of ’77, they had gone 29-4 during the meat of these seasons. Three of those losses came from playoff bound teams. Baltimore’s only problem was in both 1975 and 1976, they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. So 1977 was the year where they had to prove they were more than just a team that won during the regular season. Much like the Atlanta Falcons have to in our time. They’re mission, should they choose to accept it, was to knock down the defending champion Raiders at home in a divisional playoff.

Oakland having won Super Bowl XI had enjoyed the fruits of finally becoming a champion. From 1967-1976 they had played for the AFL or AFC Championship 8 times with a ninth possible appearance if they made it past Baltimore. For all the talk of the Dallas Cowboys during the same era, just stop and think about the winning this organization had for this 10 year period. They won the AFL championship and faced Vince Lombardi’s Packers in Super Bowl II. They lost the AFL’s last two championship games to the Jets, and Chiefs. Once the AFL / NFL merger took place they even made it to the first AFC Championship Game. They lost that one to John Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 27-17. Four championship appearances in a row and the Raiders of the late 60s finished 45-8-3 in those years….but no Super Bowl championships to show for it.

ken_stabler_1977_12_24It looked like the Raiders were a team in decline and needed to be rebuilt. Holdovers like Hall of Famers WR Fred Biletnikoff, CB Willie Brown, G Gene Upshaw, and T Art Shell taught the Raider way to newcomers to forge a new team by 1972. They transitioned new blood into the team with S Jack Tatum and moved CB George Atkinson to safety to forge a ferocious secondary. They lost in the 1972 playoffs in Pittsburgh with the controversial Immaculate Reception, a game they were winning with :22 seconds away from making it back to the conference finals. Starting the following year they made it to the AFC Championship 4 straight years, finally winning the championship in 1976.  Now they were an established champion with QB Ken Stabler, RBs Clarence Davis, Mark Van Eeghen, TE Dave Casper, and Cliff Branch teaming with Biletnikoff to form the league’s best offense. With a win on Christmas Eve in Baltimore, they would make it to a record 5th straight conference final.

This was the end of the run for the mid 70’s Baltimore Colts. Within a few years, Lydell Mitchell was traded to the San Diego Chargers. Bert Jones was never the same quarterback. His career was marred with injuries after that and his potential went unfulfilled. Head Coach Ted Marchibroda went on as a successful offensive co-ordinator, most notably with the 4-time AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in the 1990s. He then returned as head coach in Indianapolis for several years after that. However none achieved the successes they had as members of the Baltimore Colt years.

As for the Raiders, they returned to a record setting 5th straight AFC Championship Game where they lost to the Denver Broncos 20-17. Again the loss was shrouded with another controversial fumble non call when the late Rob Lytle was hit by the late Jack Tatum at the goal line in the 3rd quarter. The Raiders over a 6 year period had gone 66-15-2, played in 5 AFC Title Games and won one Super Bowl. If you’re keeping count that is 111-23-5 over an 11 year period. John Madden became the first coach to win 100 games within a decade and was enshrined in Canton in 2006. A younger generation came to know of him through broadcasting and his likeness and involvement with the popular video game series that bears his name.

This era of Oakland Raider football came to a close when Coach Madden, Biletnikoff, and Willie Brown (all Hall of Famers) retired after the 1978 season. Within two years the team was revamped and they went on to win Super Bowls XV and XVIII under former Raider assistant Tom Flores. Yet for one space and time these two teams met and gave football fans a playoff game for the ages. A six quarter epic that saw each team give all they could. Which leaves us with the obvious question: Had the Raiders beat the Colts in a four quarter game instead of one so draining, would they have had enough energy to beat Denver the following week in Mile High??

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The Soul Of The Game: Sundays, NFL Films & The Theater Of The Imagination

Steve Sabol with his father Ed, founder of NFL Films

What makes us love NFL football as much as we do? The game itself with its players giving their heart and soul on the field is what keeps us coming back. We love the game, its players, strategies & coaches. Yet it was the work of Ed and Steve Sabol with NFL Films that helped fuel our imagination through great story telling. You were able to get an account of eras gone by that you could only read about. Now most feel as though the book is always better than the movie, well not in this instance. If you’re like me you’ve grown up with these images of iconic figures over the decades. What makes it such an interesting test subject is football is a very visual sport.

I can still remember the day I saw my first NFL Films production back in the summer of 1977, ironically on a Sunday. Living in Denver, Colorado at the time they had just previewed the upcoming Broncos season. I had come inside to cool off when a new show came on featuring The Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship played in -15* weather between the Packers and Cowboys. The frozen images burned into my mind as John Facenda’s legendary voice gave it such theatrics, I felt like I was watching a monumental event. From that point on I looked for anything NFL Films to supplement reading about players in the old Punt, Pass, and Kick books at the local library.

Through the years everything they did I gobbled up. Whether it be their work in 1982’s History Of Pro Football for HBO, Inside The NFL highlights, NFL Yearbooks on ESPN, Monday Night Matchup on ESPN hosted by Chris Berman, Steve Sabol, and Allie Sherman. It was because of that relationship Chris Berman had instant credibility with me. All of this before we get to the Super Bowl highlights every year and then their own Lost Treasure series starting in 2000.

Yet it’s the images through the years that come to mind when you think of NFL Films. Jackie Smith’s touchdown drop and the call “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.” You don’t remember that from a live broadcast, this was their work covering Super Bowl XIII. How about Jack Tatum hitting Sammy White in the Super Bowl XI highlight knocking off his helmet then hearing “Helmet flying one way! Chin strap the other! Holy Toledo!” Those were rebroadcast productions with radio voices Verne Lundquist and Bill King layered over slow motion captured video. What’s funny is you can’t remember the call from either NBC broadcast. Yet these legendary calls are playing in your mind as you read this. Dramatic…that was the power of NFL Films

All these images and great story telling helped sell the game to the American public as great as the game itself. Ed Sabol’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was great to watch for how great an ambassador he and his company had become. What started out as Blair Motion Pictures filming the 1962 NFL Championship between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, has become a crown jewel of the NFL. The history of the NFL game can’t be told without them. Thanks Ed and Steve Sabol.

Dedicated to the memory of John Facenda (voice of God) 1913-1984

Re-Dedicated to the memory of Steve Sabol (President of NFL Films and brother in spirit) 1942-2012

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Best Finish To An NFL Game Ever: Hail Mary -1980 Vikings v. Browns

Metropolitan Stadium

Everyone loves a fantastic finish and we feel as though NFL Films and such focus too much on the glamour teams. They leave too many great moments on the cutting room floor if it’s not Dallas, Pittsburgh, or Green Bay. What if we were to tell you that a team actually completed a hook and lateral (not ladder) and a hail mary to finish a game?? Yes everyone remembers the hook and lateral in the ’81 AFC Divisional Playoff between San Diego and Miami, yet we’re going to take you to one that was even better. It was the last great moment in the 21 years Metropolitan Stadium served the Minnesota Vikings.

It was 1980 and the ink was just drying on the Nation’s newspapers of Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory over incumbent President Jimmy Carter. The Iran hostage situation was over 400 days old and we were completing the 1980 NFL Season. Teams were just now fully understanding the capabilities afforded them when the NFL loosened it’s rules on passing before the 1978 season. The ball was able to be thrown and touch multiple receivers without having to hit a defender in the interim giving birth to the Hail Mary.

Hall of Fame Viking Coach, Bud Grant

The Minnesota Vikings had just said goodbye to Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton, the league’s All Time yardage and touchdown passing leader. In stepped Tommy Kramer, who had none of the big game moxie of a Tarkenton. He was a poor man’s Danny White in that he followed the most revered quarterback in the team’s history.

After losing the fourth game to the 4-0 Detroit Lions, 27-20, it looked as though the Vikings had indeed passed the baton. However with a strong finishing kick they went into the penultimate game of the season with an 8-6 record. If they could win the 15th game, they would win Bud Grant his 11th NFC Central Division Tltle. Their opponent  going into that game was no slouch.

In came the 10-4 Cleveland Browns and Sam Rutigliano. He was in his third year and on his way to his second straight NFL Coach of the Year award for breathing life into a moribund franchise. In those years they were known for their ability to win a game in the final seconds and had performed that feat 14 times in the last two years with less than 2 minutes remaining  in the game. Moreover this was the Browns first real winning season in nearly 10 years. What better chance to show that they had arrived than to go on the road and win in a tough NFC camp and finish off the Viking’s season.

So on a cold day the Browns took the field and roared to a 23-9 lead and the Vikings looked cold on their sideline as the 3rd quarter ended. Then the Browns started playing conservatively and played close to the vest as the Vikings roared back.

After the Vikings scored 2 touchdowns to trim the Browns lead to 23-22. The Browns had the ball and drove toward midfield yet the Vikings defense held and forced the Browns to punt and pin Minnesota at their own 20 yard line. There was less than :20 left in the game. Time for daring and time for one final drive to win the NFC Central Division championship for their coach. This is what took place…

Epilogue: The Vikings running a hook and lateral on the opposite of the three receivers look on a Hail Mary was beautiful and I can’t remember anyone running it like that since.  By the way, do you know who the Cleveland Browns linebacker #53, who was beaten on the play was?? Try former Pittsburgh Steeler Coach Bill Cowher. Yet this team covered 80 yards in 2 plays to earn Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant his 11th and final NFC Central Division title. However they went down to the eventual NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles in the ’80 NFC Divisional round of the playoffs 31-16.

Mike Davis intercepts Brian Sipe’s pass for Ozzie Newsome to end the Brown’s season 14-12, in the 1980 playoffs.

On that exact same weekend the “Cardiac Kids” Cleveland Browns lost in the ’80 AFC Divisional Round to the Oakland Raiders 14-12. This game was made famous for “Red Right 88”. The tail end of a play’s assignment that had the Browns throw to the tight end in -42* weather rather than kick the obvious field goal. It was 3rd down and Coach Rutigliano opted to go for the endzone one more time. Only to have Raider Safety Mike Davis step in for a game clinching interception to end the Browns season. However the Browns had two kicks blocked in that game which was one of the coldest in NFL history.

However for one  magnificent drive, Tommy Kramer, Ted Brown, and Ahmad Rashad gave Viking fans the last great moment in Metropolitan Stadium. Within 2 years they would move indoors and the Viking franchise hasn’t been the same since. Hopefully they can get a new stadium deal and go back outside where the Vikings should be.

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Requiem of An Upset: Super Bowl III & It’s Aftermath

Super Bowl III Logo

One of the great things about the NFL and it’s history are the stories behind the men. Unfortunately the greatest lessons come from those that come up short in big games. Everyone loves a David v. Goliath scenario when the underdog pulls off an upset. When a landmark incident takes place like Super Bowl III, all eyes follow the winner who have vanquished a favored foe and the game is revered and talked about for years to come.

Super Bowl III has been rehashed, talked about, re-shown, and re-released in 1997 (as a video broadcast) for a generation to see for themselves a landmark game that changed the course of the NFL. It was the centerpiece to a  Hall of Fame career for Joe Namath and allowed Weeb Ewbank to become the only coach to win a championship in both leagues. Yet what does all this fallout do to the men who lost that event?? Is the harm irreparable for  the men who came up short in Super Bowl III?? How easy is it to forget and move on??

Surely the Baltimore Colts could go on and win another championship and set things straight, right?? Here are the accounts of  Bill Curry, Mike Curtis, and the late Bubba Smith. As you listen to the recount through their eyes, you will get a different feeling about Super Bowl III than ever before. What is ironic, these are interviews celebrating their Super Bowl V championship for the America’s Game series. What makes these poignant is the dissident sound of honesty reflected in their voices. What makes these stories resonate is this was a game 42 years ago and made even more impactful that this was the last interview for Bubba Smith to talk about this with his passing last week.

CHAPTER I:  This short story was originally part of a book idea and was written July 12, 2010 and showcased on Facebook where several former players responded. Keep in mind this came before finding the Colt player’s recount of the events featured later in this article:


superbowliiiWow Talk about shock and awe!!! 

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era.  Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula.  The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring.  A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow!  Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season?  Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

Let’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II.  The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss.  The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers.  Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game.  Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then.  So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968.  So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2.  No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever.  They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points.  They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts.  The great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback.  They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football.  Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND.  So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!!  One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL.  The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone.  Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay (then Rams owner), become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams.  Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well.  Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it.  The after affects can be frightening…

 Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

CHAPTER II: A vignette of what was shared by Bill Curry, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Ernie Accorsi as the events and aftermath of Super Bowl III were recounted.

CHAPTER III/EPILOGUE: Again, what makes this unique are the events that take place hastening Don Shula’s departure, where he became the NFL’s All Time winning coach in Miami and not Baltimore. Even after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenbloom was still disenchanted with being the owner of the Baltimore Colts and swapped franchises with the Rams Robert Irsay in 1972.

Was it ironic or a part of the story, that after winning Super Bowl V, the Baltimore Colts made it to the AFC Championship to defend their title?? Who did they lose to 21-0, to bring about the end of an era (1958-1971) where the Colts were among the NFL elite?? Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Another irony is Don Shula went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history in the stadium where Super Bowl III was held. The Orange Bowl. Don Shula went on to excorcise his demons. As for Carroll Rosenbloom, Ernie Accorsi, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Bill Curry??

So remember to pay close attention to the men and these moments. What will become of the principles of a landmark event for those on both sides of the equation. A compelling study in the psychology of man and sport.  This is one of the reasons we love bringing you these real life stories with such richness.

Thanks for reading and share this with those who love football and football history. Teach them something that scores on ESPN won’t tell them.

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The AFL: A True American Success Story

Roster from Ange Coniglio’s Remember The AFL.

Unlike other leagues that popped up and died, the American Football League lives on in the American Football Conference of the modern NFL.  With a burgeoning economy after World War II, Americans turned their attention to a life of leisure during the 1950s. Sports became the outlet for most of America. There was a clamor by many who felt slighted when it came to big league sports.  The furthest point west on the map where major professional sports was played, was Wisconsin & St Louis Missouri. Then something happened to change the landscape.  The AAFC football league folded and the San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL in 1950, along with the champion Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts.

This event helped propel the Cleveland Rams west to Los Angeles, where they joined San Francisco to be the first pro teams in California. Now other western cities wanted in on the action and all the other sports started to broaden their minds toward relocation.  Soon moves were made by an L.A. Councilwoman who massaged the beginnings of what came to be the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants move to California also in 1957.  Expansion was on soon with the Lakers in 1960 moving from Minneapolis.  Now Texans wanted an NFL team and had the money to gain an NFL franchise or so Lamar Hunt thought.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

Then the NFL had the landmark 1958 NFL Championship overtime game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts that transformed the spark of interest into a flame. Hunt and principles moved quickly to form the American Football League since the NFL had thwarted their attempts to bring football to Texas. Now you have to understand who we’re talking about here for a second.  Lamar Hunt was son of H.L. Hunt of Hunt Brothers Oil! We’re talking seriously deep pockets here. The NFL in its arrogance thought they would outlast a fledgling league like the AAFC just a decade before….damn were they wrong.

Once the idea of the AFL gained momentum, the NFL turned to espionage and tricky double dealing to sink the new league.  The eight cities that Hunt and the other AFL owners decided on were Dallas, Houston, Denver, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Buffalo. However the NFL bent the ear of the Minnesota ownership group, and told them they would give them an NFL franchise if they would decieve their brethren, by defecting to the NFL at the last minute to sink the new league. It almost worked but the AFL scrambled to move the eighth team to its new home in Oakland. Meanwhile the NFL put a team in Dallas to compete with Hunt’s Dallas Texans, they were called the Cowboys.

The AFL had some seriously rich men that wanted to see it succeed in Bud Adams, Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt, and Barron Hilton yet there were other ownership groups that struggled to make ends meet as the league got off the ground in 1960. Many teams were losing money at record rates, some to the tune of a million dollars or more.  It was former Boston Patriot owner Billy Sullivan who coined the phrase “The Foolish Club” when listening to his colleagues joke about revenues lost.  However John Madden recalled a reporter asking Lamar’s father H.L. Hunt “What did he think of his son losing $1 million  a year??” Hunt’s answer was cryptic to the NFL and the sporting establishment’s ears when he replied “Well, he’ll be ok. At that rate he’ll only be able to go on for another 150 years.” Damn!!  On 1960’s dollars??  Yikes!!

Although the NFL had been around forever, for the first time they were up against wealthy men who gained their fortunes as titans of industry outside of football. NFL owners George Halas, Carroll Rosenbloom, Tim and Wellington Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Art Modell were primarily football men and knew their asses were in trouble.  If it came down to the AFL’s pockets they would be in for a battle they couldn’t win.

The first few years had the established sporting press scoffing at the league’s style of play, uniforms, retread players and coaches, you name it. This is an era where if you went against the establishment, you had more than an uphill battle just for acceptance….I mean the radical 60’s were not yet underway. Yet here they were continuing the plan on expanding professional football to more points within the United States.

One of the first items the AFL did was secure a television contract to assist the teams that had financial problems like the Titans and Raiders.  The Raiders had also come to a point of folding when they contacted their fellow teams and said they couldn’t sustain operation financially.  Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson stepped in and lent the Raiders $450,000 to stay afloat because the league couldn’t operate with only 7 teams. As for the Titans and Harry Wismer, the Jets needed an ownership group that had the pockets and vision to rival that of the New York Giants. Enter Sonny Werblin.

Werblin spearheaded a group that purchased the bankrupt New York Titans, renamed them the Jets and helped negotiate the most lucrative television contract to date with NBC.  Over $1.8 million dollars went to each team in 1965 and with all of their teams solvent for future operation, new stadiums went up in San Diego (Los Angeles), Oakland, & Denver. Now the next move Werblin spearheaded was to draft Joe Namath and pay him a ridiculous $427,000 contract to be the star in New York. Uh oh…this single shot turned the draft into a who is going to pay the most for a players services between the two leagues.  Talk about impact.

An unwritten agreement existed between the two leagues to not sign each others current players.  Yet the NFL went underhanded, yet again, when the New York Giants signed kicker Pete Gogolak from the two time AFL Championship Buffalo Bills.  The AFL retaliated big time. It was recounted by Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Texans who had moved his team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs, to meet Tex Schramm and discuss a possible merger. Hunt still lived in Dallas. They met at Love Field under the Texas Ranger statue and when the meeting was over, Hunt flew to Houston to elect Al Davis AFL Commissioner.  Joe Foss had been a good commissioner but now they needed a “war time President”.  Al Davis quickly helped teams realize they could bring the NFL to its knees if they created a bidding war by signing away their superstars.

The moves of signing away San Francisco quarterback John Brodie, Los Angeles’ Roman Gabriel, and Chicago’s Mike Ditka were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The bidding for player’s talents had driven contracts up dramatically and the NFL grudgingly came to the table.  Al Davis was away about to sign another player when Hunt told him that they were going to meet the next day about a merger and they didn’t need the headlines. *Pay attention because this is the birthplace of the Chiefs / Raiders rivalry and the Al Davis against the world mentality takes place*  Davis signs the player which angers Hunt.

In the subsequent negotiations, the leagues agree to a merger with the two league’s champions playing in a new championship game, the Super Bowl, for the first four years and realignment into one all inclusive league in 1970.  Pete Rozelle remained commissioner over all of football, there was a common draft starting in 1966… and Al Davis….?? They left him out in the cold sort of..  This is where he received his dubious ownership distinction and awkward title Managing General Partner of the Raiders.  He had only been a coach before, yet one of the  items that seemed spineless is the NFL made the AFL’s teams pay $3 million in reparation damages each and had Al Davis been there would never have acquiesced to such a demand.  Not when they had the NFL crawling to the table.  It was this animosity toward Pete Rozelle, Bud Adams and especially the Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Hunt that raged on for many years. *This is where the animosity between Davis and Rozelle fostered…remember the court battles of the 1980s between the Oakland Raiders v the NFL??*

The patch worn by the Kansas City Chiefs on January 11, 1970 for Super Bowl IV. The final game of the AFL

In the first two Super Bowls Green Bay bested Kansas City and Oakland respectively.  The landmark win came when the Jets upset Baltimore to show that the AFL was on a par in Super Bowl III.  Then with a twist of fate, the ownership group who traitorously tried to sink the AFL by defecting, came into Super Bowl IV against the Kansas City Chiefs and AFL founder Lamar Hunt.  In the last game ever for the AFL, Kansas City buried the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to bring not only the Super Bowl record to 2-2 between the two leagues, but able to have the satisfaction of kicking Judas’ ass in the process.

In conclusion: It was wrong to not include Davis and to me is the one of the few black eyes in this success story.  The AFL was swallowed into the monolith that is the NFL after expanding the AFL to 10 teams with Cincinnati, and Miami emerging.  These 10 teams were joined by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts, yes the Baltimore Colts who gave the NFL a black eye with that first loss. They didn’t go empty handed, each club was paid $3 million to move to the new AFC.  Yet AFL loyalists such as Davis wished the two leagues stay separate, and he truly believed they would have eventually folded the NFL.

This is the ring for the Raiders triumph in Super Bowl XI. Look at the middle pic of the side of the ring. There you’ll see the AFL Block “A” along with the AFL logo and not the bold modified AFC “A”.

In fact in the 3 Super Bowls the Raiders won in the post merger NFL, Davis always used the Block “A” of the AFL and not the bold modified block “A” of the AFC on their Super Bowl rings.  He didn’t relent until the 2002 AFC championship ring where he finally used the AFC “A”.

There you have it…how the AFL changed the sporting landscape after the first shot was fired by the folding of their predecessors, the AAFC.  San Francisco’s entering the NFL doesn’t get the impact that it should because so much focus was on champion Cleveland coming over.  The western expansion of American Football owes a debt of gratitude to the 49ers yet even more to those original owners.