The History of Instant Replay in the NFL – Benefit or Detriment??

Most people will agree that all tools at your disposal should be used to provide a positive outcome. Yet when do we cross the line in overusing said tool to compound issues it was supposed to address?? One of the interesting aspects of instant replay as an officiating tool has really boiled down to determining what is or isn’t a catch.

Does the NFL need all of this to figure out instant replay??

Oh sure you’ll see a replay concerning a kick returner stepping out of bounds, or if a runner’s knee/elbow touches the ground before a fumble, or even to check the ball spot before bringing out the chains for a 1st down. Its the catch that has been scrutinized to the point where we have to ask the question: When it comes to judging a catch in the NFL has instant replay outlasted it’s usefulness??

To understand the depth of the question we have to return to the growth from its genesis.

Back in the 1970s the NFL really sped up from the 3 yard and a cloud of dust days of the 1960’s as the game evolved into a speed game. With the advent of astroturf and the full fruition of the American Football League’s drafting speed at every position became commonplace. Televising the game became more sophisticated as additional and more creative camera angles brought the viewer a more immersed experience. The game had sped up but middle aged referees had not and there were spots on the football field they couldn’t get to where a well placed camera could capture the moment.

However those camera angles and instant replay could not be used to aid an official. Fans everywhere were becoming Monday Morning quarterbacks discussing blown calls the day after with their favorite teams. The talk of replay being used as an officiating tool really began during the 15 minute delay after The Immaculate Reception and the official ruling of a touchdown in the 1972 playoffs. Even the networks began to chime in showing replay after replay where the big eye in the sky told a different tale than what officials called on the field. Yet it took two huge blown calls in playoff competition that brought the issue to the rule makers.

The first occurred at the goal line in the 2nd quarter of the 1977 AFC Championship Game. The defending Super Bowl champion Raiders were down 7-3 and in need of a defensive play as Denver sat poised at the Raider 2 yard line…and then:

Denver seized the momentum on the very next play as you saw taking a 14-3 lead. They went on to dethrone the Raiders 20-17 and move on to Super Bowl XII. The buzz after the game centered on the cruel twist of fate dealt the Raiders on the blown call when Tatum hit Lytle. Grumbling from the Raider organization was met with sentiment by NBC broadcaster Dick Enberg repeating clearly the refs blew the call.

The talk hadn’t died down two years later when another play altered the course of NFL history. We had a new rivalry make it to the national level between the perennial champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

The argument to institute replay as an officiating tool went into overdrive as this play cast a pall over most of the time leading up to Super Bowl XIV and beyond. Yet it took 6 years before the NFL would vote replay in as an officiating tool. So going into the 1986 season how long was it before it had an affect. Try just 3 plays!! The defending champion Chicago Bears were hosting the Cleveland Browns in the opener when the 1st instant replay touchdown happened:

So Browns Safety Al Gross was the 1st NFL player to score a touchdown based on a decision by instant replay. In this instance it worked. When replay is concerning the spot of the ball, or whether a player was in-bounds before sliding out of bounds recovering a fumble, or whether a receiver had 2 feet in, replay is a critical tool for officiating crews to get it right. Yet when it comes to the catch itself replay has now become the problem.

Fast forward to the catch/non catch of Dez Bryant in the 2014 playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.

What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.

During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation was he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.

This event altered the course of NFL history and forever doomed the legacy of Tony Romo and a team that could have made the Super Bowl. Yet we have to move on…

We have to quit with the Zapruder Film reenactment every time we need to review a catch with instant replay. The Chancellor of Football says we need to interpret the rules as players, coaches, and refs always have and get away from the Bob Costas wannabe lawyer types who muck this up every time a reception is discussed.

  • What is a catch? A forward pass thrown from one offensive player to another and the recipient possesses the ball.
  • A reception and possession of the ball takes place once the receiver secures it and takes two steps, goes out of bounds, or immediately tackled or touched down once their knee, elbow, or ass hits the ground.
  • Possession of the ball is securely controlling the ball with one hand or two.

That is it!! That is a catch and the rest should be left to the judgment of an official. Back during John Madden’s early years in the broadcast booth, NFL Director of Officiating Art McNally explained a Jerome Barkum touchdown by stating “One knee equals two feet.” Which translates to the play was over once the receiver was ruled down and in this instance he only had one knee in while sliding out of the endzone with a reception.

The NFL needs to get away from this stupid notion someone somewhere brought up about reviewing the receiver having possession after the play has already been called down or out of bounds. Possession the instant a play is whistled dead is over! Who cares if he bobbles it 11 feet out of bounds sliding into a table of gatorade?? Once we remove this excess from replay it will remain an effective tool. You don’t need a panel of 72″ screens and a committee to determine a catch!!

Dedicated to my late brother Michael Vincent Rojas if he were here we would still be arguing Bert Emanuel’s catch/no catch from the 1999 NFC Championship Game.

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Missing Rings: The 1995 Detroit Lions – Curse of Bobby Layne Extended

Okay, before we get started we have to share something with you…

While it’s widely known the Dallas Cowboys were the team of the 90’s, do you know who held a 3-1 record against them during the years 1991-1995??

When we use hyperbole in sports we always talk about a team as a sum greater than its parts. You find this to be true in all championship teams and in the near champions. When you look back its amazing how teams have seasons where all their stars have career years at the same time. Yet something happens to the psyche of a team when they come up short. All the parts are still there, things look the same, however they cant rekindle the feeling nor winning ways of that lost season.   Enter the 1995 Detroit Lions

Have you ever heard of “The Curse of Bobby Layne?” He was the last quarterback to lead the Lions to the NFL championship and he did it 3 times in the Fabulous ’50s. Once he was an aging & injured player, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On his way out, the embattled future Hall of Famer quipped “The Lions won’t win for 50 years!” Well that was 1958.

Over the next 4 decades the franchise mired in mediocrity due to the fact they fell short constantly at quarterback. Only once in 1971 did the Lions have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Greg Landry since Layne’s departure. From 1957-1990 Detroit didn’t muster a single playoff win. Their teams toiled in anonymity with very few players of distinction during many of those years.

However with the ’89 NFL draft the Lions drafted Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. The greatest running back in NFL history. With such a breathtaking runner dominating the marquee, the Lions could hand the ball off and let Sanders break ankles as he routinely rushed for 100 yard games. Great for highlights not so much for winning as Detroit began 2-9 in his rookie season. Then Sanders exploded for 28 car 145 yds and another 45 yds receiving in a 13-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Cleveland. At the time the Browns were a perennial playoff team in the middle of 3 trips to the AFC Championship Game in a 4 year period. Propelled by that performance the Lions finished 7-9 with a 5 game winning streak.

To capitalize on their remarkable runner they needed to improve on journeyman QB Bob Gagliano and improve the quality of the roster. In 1989, Rodney Peete was a rookie QB on the team yet the Lions inexplicably followed his selection by drafting another in Andre Ware the following year. Desperate to develop a quarterback they also brought in Erik Kramer in 1991. Coach Wayne Fontes never settled on a QB and played the hot hand at the time. This retarded the growth of all 3 as the Lions staggered through a 6-10 1990 and began 1991 with a 6-4 record.

Benny Blades, from The [[_]] was a defensive force

The team rallied through tragedy as they played on and dedicated the rest of the season to G Mike Utley who had been paralyzed against the Rams. Offering the same “thumbs up” as Utley gave when he was taken from the field on a gurney, the team rallied winning their last 6 to finish 12-4. Winners of the NFC Central, they hosted the Wildcard Dallas Cowboys and destroyed them 38-6.

They fell in the 1991 NFC Championship 41-10 to the eventual champion Washington Redskins. The reality was they had overachieved on emotion and were short on personnel. Aside from the incomparable Sanders, only T Lomas Brown on the offensive side of the ball, made the Pro Bowl in ’90 and ’91. The defense had 3 Pro Bowlers in SS Bennie Blades (The [[_]]), LB Chris Spielman, and NT Jerry Ball.

Over the next few years management grew increasingly frustrated with Coach Fontes inability to groom a quarterback. Especially with the emergence of Brett Favre with the division rival Packers. With the signing of DE Reggie White at the advent of Free Agency in ’92, they had become the preeminent team in the NFC Central. For good measure Favre started his playoff run as a face of the future with a ’93 wildcard win over Detroit 28-24.

Management blew up the 3 QB rotation of Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, and Andre Ware by releasing them. They signed Scott Mitchell to a 3 year $11 million contract after he had admirably filled in for an injured Dan Marino in Miami. He was tall (6’6) could see over the line and seemingly make all the throws… matched with emerging wideout Herman Moore and a reliable #2 in Brett Perriman with Sanders in the mix?? They could be something. All were under 30 and hitting their prime. They had some growing pains that first year with Mitchell however veteran backup Dave Krieg had been brought in and 94 saw another wildcard birth.

Detroit showed flashes as they began slowly (again) mustering a 3-6 record precipitating management issuing an ultimatum to Coach Fontes. Anything less than the playoffs was unacceptable. The underlying tone was Fontes would be fired if they didn’t make the posteason. Rather than turn the game to Sanders as they had in years past, they kept honing their new 3 receiver approach… As for Sanders:

The ink was already drying where most sportswriters mentioned Scott Mitchell on the list of biggest free agent busts: Not so fast guys!! In their 0-3 start, Detroit scored a total of 47 points. The team emerged from the ownership ultimatum a focused group that roared back winning their final 7 games. In doing so, the Lions averaged 32 points per game and finished with the league’s #1 offense. Had they kept that scoring rate up for the whole season they could have challenged the NFL record for points. They still made NFL history though.

Herman Moore and Brett Perriman became the first teammates in NFL history to record over 100 receptions in the same season. Moore broke the NFL all time receptions record in a season with 123 for 1,686 yards and 14 TDs. Perriman (the [[_]]) emerged with 108 grabs for 1,488 yards and 9 touchdowns. This was the only time in league history where 2 receivers from the same team went over 1,400 yards receiving in the same season. Even 3rd receiver Johnny Morton got into the act with 44 rec. 590 yards & 8 scores.

The video already let you know Sanders ran for 1,500 yards & 11 touchdowns on just 314 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry was tops in the league. Why the remarkable turn-around?? Scott Mitchell!!

In a career year Mitchell bound all this talent together with a 4,000 yard season & a team record 32 touchdowns and should have made the Pro Bowl. The only reason he didn’t make the Pro Bowl was he was Scott Mitchell and not Troy Aikman (who did in ’95)… all about reputation:

  • Scott Mitchell 346 of 583 4,338 yds 32 TDs 12 ints (2.6 TD to int. ratio)
  • Troy Aikman 280 of 342 3,342 yds 16 TDs 7 ints (2.2 TD to int.ratio)

What argument could be made?? Well Aikman and the Cowboys were a running team. Wait a minute…didn’t Barry run for 1,500?? This team was flying into the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Mitchell had become the quarterback the franchise had been looking for since Bobby Layne. The curse had been lifted!! They had their eyes on those Dallas Cowboys who they believed they could beat. In 94′ they handed the back to back champion their first loss of the season 20-17 where Sanders blistered the #1 defense for 194 yards in Texas Stadium.

All they had to do was get through Philadelphia on Wildcard Weekend and they would travel to Dallas for the divisional round. There they could prove they were among the league’s elite.

With their eyes fixed on the Cowboys they forgot to close their mouth about the Eagles. In this case T Lomas Brown, who guaranteed a win in the Detroit newspapers which changed the temperament and the tone of the game. Right then “The Curse of Bobby Layne” and the ghosts of Detroit Lions past arose.

A raucous crowd awaited them in Philadelphia as the Lions were booed and taunted from the moment they got off the plane. Once inside the friendly confines of Veteran’s Stadium a fired up Philly defense attacked Scott Mitchell mercilessly. He was hit twice in the first drive and sacked by Mike Mamula. The Eagles taunted him and he disintegrated under the pressure. The cool confidence shown all season vanished as he threw 4 interceptions and was benched midway through the 3rd quarter. By then the score had swelled to 51-7 as a nationwide audience watched in disbelief.

How was this happening with an Eagle team with 1995’s 25th ranked offense?? The 4th ranked Philly defense did swarm Sanders holding him to 40 yards rushing but it was the curse. How else could you explain a team winning 58-37 after it had been outscored (318 for / 330 against) all season?? Remember when they gave up on the 3 quarterbacks and let go of Rodney Peete?? Well he just so happened to be playing for the Eagles…his 3rd team in 3 years.

In ’95 he was a backup and came in after Randall Cunningham had been benched and threw for 8 TDs v 14 interceptions. This is what plagued his Lions career. Well in this game he channeled his inner Bobby Layne and played flawless football. Going 17 of 25 for 270 yards 3 TDs and no picks. In fact with :02 left in the 1st half up 31-7, he completed a Hail Mary 43 yard pass to Rob Carpenter 38-7 at the half…ball game!!

No NFC playoff game from 1970 to this day has seen that many points…58?? Scott Mitchell the free agent savior with the #1 offense fell apart with 6 total interceptions while the QB they got rid of had a career game for the opponent?? The laughter of Bobby Layne’s ghost could be heard off in the distance.

That game was the turning point in Mitchell’s career as he never recovered. A poor ’96 where he threw for 17 TDs to 17 ints led to a 5-11 season as the offense plummeted to 20th and Head Coach Wayne Fontes was fired. Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards in 96 but they couldn’t rekindle the magic of their run the season before. The ’95 season was the statistical best as Mitchell, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman all had the best year of their careers.

One month later they watched the Dallas Cowboys win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. In ’93 and ’94 they lost to Green Bay in the Wild Card just as they did to the Eagles in ’95. Each of those times they would have played Dallas in the playoffs and possibly altered football history. They had a 3-1 record over Dallas during those years and league wide respect beating them again in the playoffs was right there for the taking. However there is this curse lingering over this franchise…

By the way…still don’t believe in curses?? Guess what day present owner William Clay Ford’s bid was approved to buy the franchise?? Try November 22, 1963!! Folks I can’t make this stuff up!!

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

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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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