The Soul Of The Game: Willie Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Soul Of The Game: Jack Lambert

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

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the '76 playoffs.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the ’76 playoffs.

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

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

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

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

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

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

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

In the vignette you can see Curtis aggressive tackling and hitting. You saw him head hunt on several tackles. All he cared about was getting the runner down.  His intensity is what led those Colts defenses. In fact he was the leader of one of modern history’s finest defense. In my series to find out the greatest defenses in NFL history, his 1971 Colts unit came in at #6.  They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken their old scoring record of 144 with 133.

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

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The Soul Of The Game: Butch Byrd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Soul Of The Game: RIP Chuck Bednarik

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

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

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

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

The 1960 NFL Championship Ring.

The 1960 NFL Championship Ring.

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

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

1949 NFL Championship Ring

1949 NFL Championship Ring

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

 

 

"Concrete Charlie"

“Concrete Charlie”

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

 

 

 

The Soul of The Game: Ernie Stautner

Last night during the retirement of Joe Greene’s #75, it was revealed his was only the second number retired in Steelers history. When they announced the other number belonged to Ernie Stautner, only the real old timers remembered him as a player.  Some knowledgeable Steeler fans would remember him from his days as a defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys during the Super Bowl years of the 1970’s.

Stautner was a 9 time Pro Bowl DT who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.

Stautner was a 9 time Pro Bowl DT who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.

However an earlier incarnation of Stautner was the greatest Steeler during those 42 years of losing before Super Bowl IX. During his 15 year career with the Steelers he was the lone standout as he made the Pro Bowl nine times. Stautner was voted to the All Decade Team of the 1950’s.

He was revered as the strongest defensive tackle at the point of attack. In the video you’re about to watch, you’ll see he alternated between defensive end and tackle. He only weighed 235 lbs for most of his career. The same weight as Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. Yet through his intensity and technique he was the greatest defensive player of the Pittsburgh Steelers first 42 years of existence.

Speaking of technique, he went on to be the defensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys for over 20 years. He taught them all from Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, Jethro Pugh, George Andrie, and on through Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Hall of Famer Randy White. He spanned both Doomsday I and II and only departed once Jimmy Johnson brought his own coaching staff to Dallas in 1989.

The late Stautner giving some gameday tips to the late Harvey Martin in 1978.

The late Stautner giving some gameday tips to the late Harvey Martin in 1978.

Yet it’s his first NFL incarnation of one of the greatest defensive linemen of his era. He was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 which ironically was the year the Steelers drafted Joe Greene.

Dedicated to the memory of  Ernie Stautner (Apr 20, 1925- Feb 16, 2006)

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