The Chancellor’s Take: Green Bay Packers & Brett Favre’s Broken Relationship – HOF Edition

Originally published 24 July, 2012 w/ Postscript 13, August 2016

Coach Mike Holmgren being carried off after winning Super Bowl XXXI.

Coach Mike Holmgren being carried off after winning Super Bowl XXXI.

Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame last week and didn’t have his two marquee players there with him. Of course the deceased Reggie White couldn’t attend but Brett Favre’s absence was glaring. It would have been in Favre’s best interest to have taken the high road and gone but the lingering hard feelings are evident. It’s time to mend this broken relationship.

What is disturbing is how fast Packers fans turned on him. How hard would it be to leave a job you loved to do?? Many of us can’t answer that because our professions were something we chose to do for financial reasons not one of passion. For every “cheesehead” Packer fan: Can you tell me anything about John Brockington or Terdell Middleton?? You remember those guys right?? How about Vince Ferragamo?? He was the quarterback that took the Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl XIV against the Steelers. You do remember he played for the Packers right?? What number did he wear since #15 was obviously retired for Bart Starr?? For those of us that are 40-45, when we were kids, none of us living outside of Wisconsin could tell you we had met a Packer fan.

After Lombardi, it was 29 years before the Packers played for another NFL title. Green Bay was the place no one wanted to play for. In fact one of the famous quips on NFL Films by Buccaneers former coach John McKay, ” If these guys won’t get back I’ll run ’em to Green Bay.” This was during Tampa’s horrid 0-26 start as a franchise!! The only Green Bay games of distinction during that 3 decade drought that anyone can remember was the 1982 NFL Divisional Playoff loss to Dallas 38-27 and the 1983 Monday Night win over the World Champion Redskins 48-47. The latter was the highest scoring Monday Night Game in NFL history. The Packers returned to national prominence when WR John Jefferson was traded from the San Diego Chargers for those early 80’s seasons.

Brett Favre made it fashionable to be a Green Bay Packer fan.

The real reason why folks can’t remember the aforementioned names and the two games I stated were many of you weren’t Green Bay Packer fans. It didn’t become fashionable until the era of Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren. You may have been cheering for the Los Angeles Rams, St Louis Cardinals, Dallas, or Oakland, but this nationwide surge of Packer fans is new. You can recall the rich Packers history from the 1960’s but the other years lie somewhere in the abyss.

Well in 1992 all of that changed. Brett Favre was on the bench when Don Majowski fell to injury and an umproven player had to come off the bench. We remember him winning the game with a pass to Kittrick Taylor with :23 left in the game. He ran around like a child after winning his first NFL game. He did it again when he did it with less than :40 to go to win his first playoff game when he hit Sterling Sharpe in 1993. He played with passion and from the hip. He broke Ron Jaworski’s record of consecutive games played at QB (114) the week of Walter Payton’s death in 1999. He was still playing in 2009??

During his 16 years he gave everything he could on the field for the Packers. Other quarterbacks are more revered as “West Coast” quarterbacks yet none of them had better seasons than he did. Do you realize the most TDs Joe Montana threw for in a season was 31 during the strike shortened season of 1987?? Brett threw for 38,39, and 33 in 1995-1997 alone in that same offense.  He won those 3 MVPs in those same years. He gave real Packer fans and NFL fans everywhere more thrills than any other player. The “go for it” mentality is what endeared him to most fans not his stats. Although he has plenty now that he is the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback and yardage leader with 71,838 yards and 508 TDs. The question The Chancellor has if he didn’t do enough to decide on when he wanted to retire, who did??

The Packers organization decided to go with Aaron Rodgers after the 2007 season when Favre didn’t want to retire. His decision and indecision was well chronicled over the next few seasons yet it was his play that led the Packers to relevancy. Just like last year it was pointed out that the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and Lucas Oil Stadium itself, wouldn’t be in existence had it not been for Peyton Manning. Lambeau Field has been renovated twice and had a Hall of Fame built inside of it based on the relative wealth this team saw during Favre’s years. The estimated wealth of the Packers rose from less than $200 million to $1.09 Billion last year according to Forbes.

This is good enough for being the 9th richest franchise where they were in the teens in relative worth a decade ago. In fact when you google the relative worth of the Packers organization by year, every time Favre’s name is in the description.  You were able to rebuild your team for Aaron Rodgers because of Favre continuing to win for you while the young players developed. You owe your relative wealth and the development of the new Packers to him.

This is the reason I believe the Packers should reach out to him, retire his jersey on a Monday Night, and have a ceremony for him.  Do it before long-standing resentment settles in. It would be terrible to see this fractured relationship go on for decades like it did for Terry Bradshaw. By the time he and the Steelers came together, Art Rooney Sr, Mike Webster, and Steeler announcer Myron Cope had all passed on. In fact Three Rivers Stadium was even gone. It was bittersweet. In a few years he is eligible for the Hall  of Fame and the league is going to celebrate him and its in the Packers interest to do it first. If you wait until its within a year of his induction, it will look like an afterthought or at worst a knee jerk reaction to his being brought up nationally. This way the healing can start.

Every player that leaves via free agency has wanted to show their old team they could still do it. Its nothing new. Do you remember the round robin of former Chiefs signing with the Raiders and vice versa in the mid 90s?? There were 10 players that left one team and went to the other. RB Harvey Williams, RB Marcus Allen, CB Albert Lewis to name a few. Even Buffalo Bill great Thurman Thomas even signed with the hated Dolphins. Yet he, just like LaDainian Tomlinson this year all came back and signed a 1 day contract so they could retire with their original team. You’ve lost that chance but now you need to make sure he attends the next ceremony. Honor him before the rest of football does or you’ll come off as looking petty. After all you showed him the door…now open a new one and honor him in Packer lore. Time to get over it… now when he walks up to the podium and you see the wear and tear he gave on Lambeau’s surface, the memories will come flooding back to you.

Try this one out: This is the moment The Chancellor believes he left his contemporaries behind and made the Hall of Fame.

After the departure of Packer Hall of Fame coach Mike Holmgrenand Reggie White’s retirement, the Packers weren’t thought of as an elite team. This was 1999 and Ray Rhodes was the coach and being the only marquee player, the team started off 1-1 and in that lone victory Favre took the Packers to the winning score beginning with 1:51 on the clock. Their 3rd game was against the Minnesota Vikings who had unseated the Packers the season before as the bully on the NFC Central block. Randy Moss and the Vikings had scorched the Packers a season before and this was a big game. A defensive struggle that saw Moss score the apparent winning touchdown and gave the Packers the football with 1:51 (ironically) to go. Favre drove his team down and this was the finish…on the move with no time outs on 4th down and the clock running with :20 seconds to go. No way he could do it for a second straight week…. could he??

Only two times during John Madden’s career did he make his way down to the locker room to congratulate a player. The first was Emmitt Smith in 1993 when he and the Cowboys beat the Giants 13-10 when he played with a separated shoulder. This was the second. Great players respect great players and you saw Moss come across and greet Favre after the game.  A game for the ages that saw him pull off miracle after miracle and had the Rams and Kurt Warner not emerged, could have had his 4th straight MVP.

Again, as an organization step up and bring Favre in for a retirement ceremony of #4. He deserves it and it would be best for Packer fans and NFL fans everywhere.  Its time.

Postscript August 13, 2016: We fast forward 4 years and last year his return to Lambeau Field was an incredible event. Over 60,000 in Lambeau just for Farve to come on the field and offer a few words before the Packers Hall of Fame celebration. Then the jersey retirement during the season where Bart Starr made it to the game was cathartic for all NFL fans not just those of the Packers. Which brings us to last weekend and his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

VanAcker@hallPacker fans traveled far and wide to attend the enshrinement festivities last weekend. Met them from North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, all of Wisconsin and like my new fellow fanatics Ryan VanAcker (from Arizona) and his brother Ronald from Michigan, Favre fans were out in force.

You could feel the excitement emanating from Packer fans as the induction ceremony neared. The pressure building as Packer jerseys outnumbered all other teams represented 20 to 1 easily. Even on the day I toured “The Hall” for the first time I wore an autographed Jerry Kramer jersey I had received from the family a couple weeks before. Finally the emotion and love for Favre exploded in a crescendo of “Go Pack! Go!” right before Chris Berman introduced him:

Although time heals all wounds, there was still the subtle jab of the Favre Viking jersey in the locker display at the Hall of Fame. He said all the right things about “always being remembered as a Green Bay Packer” but you think about it… you can almost see him having a mischievous grin when it came time to decide what to showcase.  But that’s Favre… the fun but flawed, every man who happened to become one of the best quarterbacks in history.

Where Brett wasn’t there for Mike Holmgren’s enshrinement into the Green Bay Packers’s Hall of Fame, coach was in Canton for this one. I had the chance to meet him right after the ceremony and it was a great experience to be there.favre.bust

Congratulations Brett Favre… Pro Football Hall of Famer!

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Kevin Greene Belongs In The Hall of Fame: War Damn Eagle – HOF Edition

kevin-greene-pittsburgh-steelers-unsigned-8x10-photo5_2860d2f89fbbfa8abd33b1369cf0eb00Originally Published 3, March 2011 w/ Postscript 10, August 2016 

There are players that come along and break the mold and there are those that totally destroy it.  Enter Kevin Greene, one of my personal favorite players and one of the reason I love football (all sports) in the first place.  He broke molds, stereotypes, changed perceptions as much as any player over the last 25 years.  What am I talking about? Do you realize that of all the outside linebackers, the player with the most sacks in a career is Kevin Greene?  Do you realize that Kevin Greene had double digit sacks for FOUR different pro football teams? Yet I digress…

As the 1980’s beckoned, the 3-4 defense became the choice of many teams as the best way to attack NFL offenses.  All that changed with the 1985 Chicago Bears march to the Super Bowl. As teams started to revert back to the 4-3 defense as a staple, a lessor known talent started to lay his foundation out west with the Los Angeles Rams in 1986.

Kevin Greene started to rush as an outside linebacker in 1986 and recorded 7 sacks that year. Yet he didn’t gain notoriety until 1988 when he bested Lawrence Taylor with 16 1/2 sacks to 15 1/2 for the NFC lead at linebacker.  Whereas the majority of the modern age athletic linebackers were black, Kevin Greene was a white defensive player who broke that mold and with his crazy “War Eagle” Auburn attitude he was a great pass rusher from that season on.  A player that other Rams looked to on game day to lead them on and off the field.

In his single season in San Fran, Greene helped the ‘Niners to the 1997 NFC Championship against Green Bay.

However by the time we move to 1993, very few teams employed the 3-4 defense. Then the Steelers went looking for a linebacker to match Greg Lloyd that would be more effective than Jerrol Williams.  Kevin Greene signed, and Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh.

The Steelers had two outstanding linebackers to crash the pocket.    The last bastion of 3-4 defense at the time and Greene was the impetus of a chaotic defense.  Who should blitz? Who should drop? Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers, and Bill Cowher tinkered with different zone blitzing schemes that became the scourge of the league.  He helped the ’94 and ’95 teams to the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XXX respectively.  During his 3 years in Pittsburgh he recorded 12.5 sacks in ’93,  14 sacks in ’94, and 9 sacks in ’95.  It was Kevin Greene’s arrival that made the Steelers defense lethal.

Even after outplaying the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX and poised to return to the title game again from a personnel standpoint, the Steelers let Greene go for a younger Jason Gildon.  He rejoined Dom Capers who moved on to become head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers and tag teamed with Lamar Lathon, formerly of the Houston Oilers, to form a 1-2 linebacker punch equal to that of Blitzbugh.

He recorded his second highest career sack total, at the time, with 14.5 in Carolina. He led the league with Lathon coming in second in sacks with 13.5.  Again he was the impetus of a veteran laden defense that dethroned the champion Dallas Cowboys in a divisional playoff and made it to the 1996 NFC Championship Game where they lost to Green Bay.  The Carolina Panthers made it to the NFC Championship Game in only their second season.  Wow.

After a falling out with Carolina brass following that 1996 season, for which owner Jerry Richardson later apologized, he signed a 1 year deal in San Francisco where he was a pass rushing specialist and only started four games.  Yet amazingly he still compiled 10.5 sacks and helped the 49ers to the 1997 NFC Championship game where they fell to the Packers 23-10.  See a pattern here?  After the apology from Richardson, Greene re-signed with Carolina and played on for two more years for them recording 15 sacks in 1998 and 12 in 1999.

Kevin Greene was a street fighter tough player who brought that attitude to any team he played for.  He was a blood and guts player that teamed with Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon, each had their best years across from Greene.

What was the most puzzling aspect of Kevin Greene’s career was how teams kept thinking they’d replace him even though he was super productive and I wonder would he have moved around so much had he been a black outside linebacker.  I don’t think he would have.  You can’t tell me race had nothing to do with it either.  He was athletic, strong, tenacious and for the life of me can’t figure why teams  thought they’d replace him.  Do you realize that for 4 straight years, Kevin Greene was a defensive stalwart on 3 different teams that made it to the conference championship game?  Twice is a coincidence, four is a pattern.  He was a winner.

Greene, making his presence felt early in the 1994 AFC Championship Game.

How do you gauge impact?  The most sacks in NFL history for a linebacker with 160 and third all time behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith.  He was a 5 time Pro Bowl participant and made the All Pro team twice. He led the league in sacks twice during his career. If that’s not enough… Add the fact Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon’s best sack totals of their careers came when they teamed with Greene.  Lloyd had 10 sacks in 1994 and the aforementioned Lathon’s 1996 total of 13.5 in Carolina.

Each team he left had a defensive dropoff in production and wins.  The ’96 Steelers barely made the playoffs and were run out of town in New England when they got there, thanks to Curtis Martin’s 166 yards rushing, losing 28-3.  The 97 & 2000 Panthers didn’t make the playoffs. The 98 49ers were scored upon heavily even though they made the divisional round of the playoffs.  Even then they needed Steve Young’s miracle throw to T.O. to beat the Packers to get there.

So if the greatest defensive player in NFL history is Lawrence Taylor, rightfully so, who finished with 132 sacks in his career, where does that put Kevin Greene and his 160?? Happened in the same era, so that can’t be argued.  Quite simply he belongs.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Kevin Greene.

EPILOGUE:  I am getting the greatest kick out of watching the growth of Clay Matthews III.  Its like watching some weird Frankenstein thats part Clay Matthews the father (Browns) and Kevin Greene.  The style of play and to watch them interact.  I was fortunate enough to be on the Ravens sideline pregame and front row seats behind the Baltimore Ravens bench when they played the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

I watched how Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis interacted and see much the same in Greene and Matthews.  When the television mic caught Greene conveying to Matthews during the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XLV that it was time for him to put his imprint on the game.  Then to watch him force the Mendenhall fumble two plays later gave me goosebumps.  To watch him so in tune with his protege’ is cool and can’t wait to watch their encore.

Greene and protege’ Clay Matthews III

Postscript August 10, 2016: Fast forward 5 years and here we are a couple days removed from Kevin’s enshrinement into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the great opportunity to be there at both the Gold Jacket Ceremony and The Enshrinement as his guest. For the small role I had in advocating his candidacy may have been the sole reason for Taylor Blitz Times in the first place. It was an honor to do it and I am grateful to Kevin and his wife Tara for inviting me.

kev.ticketHowever they set a football fanatic on the unsuspecting city of Canton. I had the chance to meet with former teammates and coaches that have known him over his football life. His coaches from high school all the way through to the NFL. I jumped in and made sure to get down into where the fans were and wound up becoming the 1st person to pay for his authenticated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame autograph.

chancellor.kevTo watch him receive his Gold Jacket was an emotional moment as a big time fan. To hear his impassioned speech gave credence to all that I knew and heard over the last few days from his Auburn, Rams, and Steelers’ teammates, his father at the airport with Coach Vermeil, his high school freshman coach Nick Petrillo, to meeting Lamar Lathon at the after party who was recalling this very article with Thurman Thomas.

It was great to see Kevin take his rightful place and become one of the giants of the game and one of it’s great ambassadors. It’s been an unbelievable 5 year ride as you’ve taken your place as one of pro football’s immortals. Congratulations Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene!!

kev.bust.pngAs for that ticket… he signed a white Steelers #91 Greene jersey. The whereabouts of the ticket?? I gave it to Kevin who put it in his Hall of Fame Gold Jacket interior pocket… mission accomplished!

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Kevin Greene, The Chancellor & A Hall of Fame Trip: HOF Edition

Originally Published 3, August 2016 w/ Postscript 10, August 2016

As a huge football fan and historian, I’ve always wanted to know what football immortality would be like. Every year on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, I’m waiting to see who gets the call to “The Hall” and watch as players are congratulated by loved ones and former teammates. Then as they walk on stage and meet their fellow classmates who will be immortalized in Canton with them later that summer.  In August there is the Gold Jacket Dinner ceremony and the enshrinement festivities as we hear from the players themselves. This year, thanks to Kevin Greene and his family, The Chancellor will be there to see it and witness it up close.

kevingreene.enshrinementYes, I will be there for the Gold Jacket Dinner and the enshrinement ceremony. There for the full sense to watch him take his rightful place among the giants of the game. How did we get here? Well I have a crazy story to tell you…whatever your beliefs & it is a trip.

As I started to grow Taylor Blitz, one of the subjects that was important to me were the players and teams who were overlooked in history. When it comes to arguing for players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame I thought too much sway was given to Super Bowl champions and not necessarily players that defined the era they played in. So on 3, March 2011 I put the finishing touches on Kevin Greene’s article as I had a break at work and published it mid afternoon. A few minutes later my phone pinged saying someone had left a comment on the article. I didn’t fully check it until later that afternoon but the response was from KGreene. “Yeah whatever” I thought as I approved the comment. I thought it was a prank or spam… no way he read it that fast without our being connected through social media at that point in time.

greene cmment.3.3.11It was only once I got home that I checked in my administration page that the response had come from Greene’s Green Bay Packer email. Now get this… an article I published that has been read nearly 10,000 times and shared on Facebook alone 550 different times, was read and responded to by Greene in only 17 minutes!! In fact, Kevin may have been the 1st to read my article advocating his candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was published at 1:51 pm and his response was at 2:08 pm of the same afternoon. This was without being connected through social media at the time.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of the internet.

greene publish.3.3.11

Over the years we kept in touch as I would write him concerning an article on Fritz Shurmur and his role in his legendary  “Eagle Defense” that nearly won the NFL title in 1989.  The article would be shared countless times on social media by myself and others. It would show up on Twitter although I don’t have those analytic numbers to show.

 

The one thing I’ll never know are who of those thousands of readers had influence to vote Kevin in?? Did it make a difference?? Of course I believe it did and I know there have been national writers who have peeked at Taylor Blitz Times. Several articles from this blog have been linked by Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, Russian websites, and several SB Nation websites just to name a few. So to watch his candidacy rise to that of a semifinalist to a finalist to receiving the call to the hall over the last 5 years has been rewarding.

When I was watching the Saturday before the Super Bowl and heard he had made it of course it was cool to watch. I did have some insight before it was announced being connected to Alicia and Jerry Kramer as I’ve been interlinked with aiding in advocating for his Hall of Fame inclusion. The first thing I wanted to do was send a note of congratulations. Only one issue… he wasn’t coaching with the Packers anymore.

2016.bustsEventually caught up to him through social media and of course there is where I share a ton of Taylor Blitz articles and other historical football content. Then out of the blue I find out I was put on the invitee list by Kevin and Tara through a group posting. At first I thought…no way then I was hit with the email and here we are.

Since the advent of Taylor Blitz Times, well over 250,000 articles read, I always wanted to share articles and stories true fans and players could enjoy. A perspective on today’s game through the eyes of a historian. Yet one rooted in the heart of the rank and file football player and fan: the linebackers, fullbacks, running backs, defensive and offensive linemen… safeties. Sure we’ll talk quarterbacks here but not oversaturate the content making it all about them because they aren’t the essence of football. That essence is hitting and tackling and the last time I checked quarterbacks don’t do that.

k.greene.hallWhich brings us inexorably here: Hall of Fame weekend 2016!! Congratulations to Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Eddie DeBartolo, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and the families of Ken Stabler & Dick Stanfel. All earned their way to being immortalized this weekend.

However the biggest congratulations from Taylor Blitz Times and The Chancellor is reserved for Kevin and his family. The long wait is over and can’t wait to meet you guys in Canton. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this.

After 40 years of being a pure football historian and fanatic, The Chancellor of Football is finally taking a trip to The Pro Football Hall of Fame. To watch  favorite player take his place among the game’s greats.

Postscript August 10, 2016: Fast forward 5 years and here we are a couple days removed from Kevin’s enshrinement into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the great opportunity to be there at both the Gold Jacket Ceremony and The Enshrinement as his guest. For the small role I had in advocating his candidacy may have been the sole reason for Taylor Blitz Times in the first place. It was an honor to do it and I am grateful to Kevin and his wife Tara for inviting me.

kev.ticketHowever they set a football fanatic on the unsuspecting city of Canton. I had the chance to meet with former teammates and coaches that have known him over his football life. His coaches from high school all the way through to the NFL. I jumped in and made sure to get down into where the fans were and wound up becoming the 1st person to pay for his authenticated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame autograph.

chancellor.kevTo watch him receive his Gold Jacket was an emotional moment as a big time fan. To hear his impassioned speech gave credence to all that I knew and heard over the last few days from his Auburn, Rams, and Steelers’ teammates, his father at the airport with Coach Vermeil, his high school freshman coach Nick Petrillo, to meeting Lamar Lathon at the after party who was recalling this very article with Thurman Thomas.

It was great to see Kevin take his rightful place and become one of the giants of the game and one of it’s great ambassadors. It’s been an unbelievable 5 year ride as you’ve taken your place as one of pro football’s immortals. Congratulations Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene!!

kev.bust.pngAs for that ticket… he signed a white Steelers #91 Greene jersey. The whereabouts of the ticket?? I gave it to Kevin who put it in his Hall of Fame Gold Jacket interior pocket… Mission accomplished

chancellor.kev2.jpg

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Missing Rings: The 1980 Atlanta Falcons

After years of mediocrity you can have a team that rises from the depths and come within inches of joining the elite. Some even become more than contenders as the stars seem to align and the team matures into a once in a lifetime meteor. Back in the years before free agency in the NFL, most teams were built by implementing a 5 year plan. Down in the land of Dixie, one such would be champion was being groomed in Atlanta. Could Cinderella really break through and win that elusive Super Bowl before the clock struck midnight??

Wiliam Andrews ran with thunder.

Wiliam Andrews ran with thunder.

Borne out of expansion in 1966, the Atlanta Falcons became the 2nd NFL franchise to be started below the Mason Dixon line. Although the New Orleans Saints franchise would begin play a year later, it was just the Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys as most teams were platooned in the northeast U.S. Ironically the southeast had been a Washington Redskin television market in the years preceding the Falcons. However the Cowboys gained more fans as Tom Landry’s teams dominated in the late 60s and appeared in 5 Super Bowls in the 1970’s.

The Falcons struggled for years just to field a competitive team. Very few stars outside of LB Tommy Nobis, the franchise’s 1st ever draft pick, played with any distinction. It took the team nearly a decade to field their 1st 1,000 yard rusher in Dave Hampton. Even that was an odyssey as he fell less than 10 yards short of 1,000 in successive years before eclipsing the feat in 1975.

That same year Atlanta landed 1st overall pick in QB Steve Bartkowski out of Cal. Giving the offense credibility with the team’s 1st legitimate franchise signal caller.  However they had to throw him into the fire and play him as a rookie. The results were less than impressive as Bartkowski completed less than 50% of his passes while throwing 30 TDs to 55 interceptions over his first 4 years.

New Head Coach Leeman Bennett came in ’77 and brought with him Defensive Coordinator Jerry Glanville. With a young developing QB and a hodge podge set of runners, the Falcons through caution to the wind and employed a gambling blitzing scheme defensively.

Known as “The Gritz Blitz” they actually set the league record for fewest points in a 14 game season with 129 and finished ranked 2nd to the World Champion Cowboys. However with the NFL’s 25th ranked offense and 25th scoring offense, they could only muster 179 points to finish with a 7-7 record. They used this recipe to sneak into the ’78 playoffs where they nearly upset Dallas in the divisional playoffs. Once there they knocked out starting QB Roger Staubach and had Dallas on the ropes. Second string QB and team punter Danny White led the Cowboys to a 27-20 come from behind triumph over an incomplete team that had to get better.

One of the best passing combinations in 1980.

One of the best passing combinations in 1980.

Getting by on gimmicks wasn’t enough. If the Falcons were to compete for a championship they needed some blue chip talent ready for prime time play. For the ’77 and ’78 seasons they finished 25th and 26th on offense and only had DE Claude Humphrey, CB Rolland Lawrence and P John James as the lone Pro Bowl representation after the ’77 campaign. They were that anemic. Yet with a developing QB in Bartkowski going into his 5th year, he was to take a giant step forward in his maturation. So the Atlanta brass went looking for offensive firepower to surround him with in the 1979 draft.

Atlanta struck gold in the draft when they nabbed William Andrews and Lynn Cain in the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively. Cain was a solid halfback but it was the bruising Andrews that gave the offense an identity. He bludgeoned defenders rushing for 1,023 yards averaging 4.3 yards per carry in his rookie campaign. With defenses having to put 7 and 8 in the box to stop Andrews everything opened up.

In 1980 everything came together as Cain and Andrews nearly became the 3rd tandem in NFL history to each rush for 1,000 in the same season. Andrews had a career year with 1,308 yards and 4 TDs while Cain pitched in with 914 yards and 8 scores. Bartkowski came of age in 1980 throwing for more TDs than any quarterback in the NFL with 31 and 3,544 yards… both team records. Wideout Alfred Jenkins (1,035 yds / 6TDs) teamed with rookie TE Junior Miller (584 yds / 9TDs) to make the Pro Bowl as Bartkowski’s top downfield targets. Everyone of these players had the best season of their careers to this point with all but Cain making the Pro Bowl.

National pundits lauded the exploits of “Air Coryell” with the Chargers of the AFC however it could be argued this was a more complete offense. The Falcons finished 9th in passing, 5th in rushing, and ranked 3rd overall behind the Chargers and the Rams in offensive statistics. Who do you stop?? Where do you begin to defense an offense with nearly every skilled player worthy of Pro Bowl recognition?? Oh the other wideout?? Wallace Francis, who also nearly went for 1,000 yards with 862 yards and another 7 trips to the endzone.

Curry and the defense held their own in 1980.

Curry and the defense held their own in 1980.

Defensively the Falcons weren’t quite as effective in years past with the blitz yet fielded a decent defense with ILB Buddy Curry, OLBs Al Richardson (7 ints.) and Joel Williams leading the charge. Curry and Richardson were rookies where Williams was acquired in ’79 but didn’t hit the field until 1980. They finished in the middle of the pack in terms of defensive ranking yet were 5th in pts allowed with 272. Head coach Leeman Bennett’s team hurtled through the heavens finishing with a 12-4 record winning 9 of their last 10. For the 1st time in their history finished as the NFC Western Division Champs.

The entire season was a campaign battling for respect. As the playoffs beckoned they would get their chance facing the team that was always there to knock the Falcons back to also-ran status… the Dallas Cowboys.

However coming into this NFC Divisional Tilt the Cowboys would have to travel to Atlanta for the first time. While the Cowboys offense had broken numerous team records in their 1st season under Danny White, their defense had aged as the 70s drew to a close. They were still America’s Team but gone was “Hollywood” Henderson, Cliff Harris, Hall of Fame CB Mel Renfro, S Charlie Waters due to injury from the defense. The team that was #1 in 1977 and #2 in 1978 fell to 17th in 1980 overall and 17th against the pass going into the playoffs. Could the Cowboys keep pace with the high flying Atlanta offense?? Would the young Falcons be ready for primetime playoff football or would the moment be too great?? After all most of these players weren’t there in the 1978 playoff meltdown against Dallas but they were still young…would they be affected??

The Falcons scored 1st on a Tim Mazetti field goal then struck deep with a 60 yard bomb from Bartkowski to Alfred Jenkins to go up 10-0. Tom Landry’s charges weathered the storm and tied it up midway through the 2nd. However a closer look reveals Landry’s Flex Defense was controlling the game. They sacked Bartkowski 4 times and held the Falcons to 86 yards rushing for the game. This is a team that averaged 150.5 yards per game with 2 backs that almost had 1,000 yards each!! So when the Falcons went up 24-10 late in the 3rd and tried to lean on their running game to get them to the NFC Championship & couldn’t produce, they allowed Danny White to keep firing. Could they just get to the finish line…??

They couldn’t hold off the playoff pressure ready Cowboys who outscored them 20-3 in the 4th quarter to steal the game 30-27. White came of age completing 25 of 39 for 322 yards and 3 touchdowns. Danny White to Drew Pearson and Dallas knocked Atlanta back again. Well with the youngest team in the NFL lead by a franchise QB this was only the beginning  for Atlanta…right??

Would you believe they never returned to the playoffs after the 1980 playoff collapse?? They fell to 7-9 in 1981 as the San Francisco 49ers came out of nowhere to win the NFC West. Andrews rushed for 1,300 yards and Bartkowski threw for 30 touchdowns again but the defense totally broke allowing 355 points. Injuries and an inability to mesh complete seasons from Lynn Cain, Junior Miller and company led to Head Coach Leeman Bennett’s departure following the 1982 season.

They did make it to the 1982 playoffs when a strike shortened season allowed 8 teams per conference in a single elimination tournament. Atlanta went in with a 5-4 record and lost in Minnesota 30-24… is that really making the playoffs?? Their once great offense slipped to 14th in scoring and led to Dan Henning being hired from the Air Coryell coaching tree in 1983. Yet they looked up in the division to the San Francisco 49ers the rest of the decade just as they had the Los Angeles Rams in the 70’s.

For one brief moment in 1980 it all came together and they let it slip away.

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Cliff Branch Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Madden once told NFL Films “Cliff Branch was so skinny when he walked his back pockets would fight.” Yet no one put fear in NFL secondaries when it came to getting beat deep during the 1970’s. When someone says close your eyes and picture the Oakland Raiders of the ’70’s, one of the first visuals you’d have would be Stabler launching a bomb in Cliff’s direction.

BranchBWDrafted out of Colorado in 1972, Branch was a football and track star in college. Oakland had been without a true deep threat since Warren Wells departure a few years earlier. His baptism by fire would come as he learned the game from Hall of Famer WR Fred Biletnikoff and going up against Hall of Fame CBs Willie Brown and Skip “Dr Death” Thomas in practice.

Going against those 2 big physical corners, Branch grew up in a hurry. When he was unleashed on an unsuspecting NFL as a 1st time starter in 1974, Branch blazed for 60 rec 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. Pedestrian by today’s standards until you realize he was 4th in receptions and led the league in yards and touchdowns.

It was the 1st of 4 straight Pro Bowl and All Pro seasons. He was the #1 weapon on a team that finished in no less than the AFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His best season capped off the Raider’s Super Bowl XI championship when he caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Why was it his best? He led the league in TDs and was 2nd in yards losing to Roger Carr by 1 yard on arguably the most powerful NFL champion of the 1970’s.

One aspect of Branch’s game that makes him an all timer is how he played in big games. When everyone marveled at Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as he was breaking all time NFL post season records, whose records did you think he was breaking? When Rice caught 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXIV, he was breaking the Super Bowl record for touchdowns in a game when Branch set it with 2 against the Eagles in XV. When Branch retired after the 1985 season, he was the NFL’s All Time postseason reception (73) and yardage (1,223) leader before Rice broke them some 9 years later. He had broken the previous records set by fellow Raider WR Biletnikoff, who was now his coach.

However records and numbers only tell a part of the story. How much space did defenses give him in respect to his speed that opened up opportunities for Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper?? Do you realize he was the only skill player on all 3 Raider Super Bowl champions?? Against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV it was his 2 scores that broke the game open 21-3…winning it 27-10.

In Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders held a precarious 7-0 lead over Washington it was Branch who blew that game open too. The Raiders first score was a blocked punt. In the 2nd quarter, a 35 year old Branch beat Anthony Washington and Darryl Green on a 50 yard bomb to put the silver and black in scoring position. A few plays later Branch scored from 14 yards out to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead. This took John Riggins out of the game and forced the Redskins to pass into the teeth of a secondary led by Vann McElroy, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, and Mike Davis. A 38-9 triumph won him his 3rd championship ring.

For his 14 year career he caught 501 passes for 8,685 yds and 67 touchdowns. His fellow receivers Biletnikoff and Casper have each made “The Hall.” This August his original quarterback, Ken Stabler will be enshrined posthumously. His original coach John Madden and the late Al Davis have both been enshrined. Once Tom Flores and Cliff Branch are voted in, it will close this chapter on Oakland /L.A. Raiders football.

For enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Cliff Branch.

Drew Pearson Should Be In The Pro Football hall of Fame

When you think of the great NFL teams of the 1970’s, the team that usually comes to mind first are Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. Now Pittsburgh Steeler fans will argue they were the team of the decade and most fans and pundits should think of their team first. Yet think about it… Whenever the 1970’s Steelers are brought up, everyone points to the 2 Super Bowls when they defeated Dallas. Very rarely are the Super Bowls brought up over the Rams or Vikings. Therefore, Dallas was the most visible team. One of the most visible performers on the NFL’s most visible team was standout WR Drew Pearson.

pearson1To the casual observer, Pearson only had two 1,000 yard seasons, 3 All Pro & Pro Bowl seasons. In 1974, only Drew and Cliff Branch topped 1,000 yards that year in receiving. Yet if you were cheering against the Cowboys, as many of us were in those years, no one struck more fear in you when the game was on the line.

From playing every year on Thanksgiving, to numerous appearances on Monday Night Football, and annually making the playoffs, we were always watching the Cowboys. The moment Pearson burst onto a nation’s conscience was the 1974 Thanksgiving tilt vs the hated Washington Redskins. Roger Staubach had been knocked from the game thrusting rookie Clint Longley into his 1st significant action.

In a nationally televised game, the Cowboys appeared headed for a loss down 16-3 in the 3rd quarter. Then out of nowhere Longley and the offense got hot. Two touchdown marches gave the Cowboys a 17-16 lead before the 4th quarter began. What gave the game a unique quality was the fact a rookie QB and Pearson, in only his 2nd season, were drawing up plays in the dirt. It was not Landry’s intricate precise passing game leading the charge.

After a Duane Thomas touchdown put the Redskins back on top, Landry’s unknown players had a chance to win it late. As they had turned this game around playing shoot from the hip football, Longley and Pearson drew up another play in the dirt with just seconds to go in the game. George Allen’s Redskins and Landry’s Cowboys coaching staff’s had been in place for 5 years at this point. They knew each other’s playbook. It took Pearson making an adjustment on a “16 Route” in Cowboys terminology, to what amounted to an in and up. The safety bit and Pearson blew by as Longley hit him with a last minute 50 yard bomb and a 24-23 triumph.

Millions of fans digesting Thanksgiving turkey fell out of their Lazy Boy’s as they watched a game still revered in Cowboy lore. Pearson had 5 rec. 108 yards and the game winning touchdown. Bolstered by the heroics performed and notoriety of this game, Pearson was voted All Pro and made his 1st Pro Bowl. In 1975 Pearson was a marked man and had less receptions and yardage yet combined with Staubach for 8 touchdowns during the regular season.

So what makes Drew Pearson Hall of Fame worthy?? The moments. To turn in clutch performances in the final minutes when many players shrink at the moment of truth. How many times have you heard a coach describe how they have to get their player into the game with play calling to keep him engaged?? Well the 10-4 wildcard Cowboys of 1975 made the trip to play the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game. Against one of history’s best defenses and on target to play in their 3rd straight Super Bowl, the Vikings had held Pearson without a catch. With the game on the line… it was 4th and 17 from their own 25 down 14-10 with :44 left when…

The Hail Mary to win the ’75 playoff in Minnesota not only propelled the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl X, it marked Pearson as one of the NFL’s best clutch performers. The next two seasons he was voted to the Pro Bowl and the All Pro team. The second of which the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII to conclude the 1977 season.

As the late ’70’s beckoned, Pearson shared more of the spotlight with newcomers Tony Dorsett and fellow wideout Tony Hill. His numbers suffered but they were a better team as they appeared in back to back Super Bowls in 77 & 78. Everyone thought the magic would be over with the retirement of Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach after the 1979 season. Pearson had a mediocre season in ’80 (43 rec 568 yds 6TDs) as the Cowboys adjusted to new QB Danny White. Yet when the 12-4 wildcard Cowboys found themselves down 27-17 to the favored Atlanta Falcons in the divisional playoffs, it was Pearson to the rescue again. First he scored to close the gap to 27-24 midway through the 4th quarter.. then this happened with :49 left in the game.

Unfortunately this miracle touchdown didn’t propel the Cowboys to the Super Bowl as they fell in the first of 3 straight NFC Championships. However if you’re keeping count, from 1975-1982 Dallas played in at least the NFC Championship in 6 of 8 seasons and Pearson was the only featured performer on all 6. Staubach was only there for 3 of them. They played in 3 Super Bowls in a 4 year span and Pearson was able to make magic moments happen with 3 different quarterbacks.

Over the length of Drew’s 11 year career, he only scored 48 touchdowns. Yet he seemed to always score the money touchdowns that ruined opponent’s seasons. His career ended after a horrific car accident after the 1983 season and the Cowboys were never the same. In fact the very next year (1984) marked the first non playoff season for Dallas since 1974. In an era where the Dallas Cowboys became America’s Team, how can you talk about that era without mentioning his heroics??

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Drew Pearson.

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