Unsung Players: Isaac Curtis Breakout 1973 Season

One of the unsung players I remember growing up was Isaac Curis of the Cincinnati Bengals. It was 1981 and the Bengals were looking to upgrade their receiving corps when they selected wideouts David Verser and Cris Collinsworth with their 1st & 2nd round selections. What of the incumbent starter Isaac Curtis??

It made me go back and look at who he was and I learned about what happens as a player ages.  I remember reading his exploits and had come across his performance as a rookie many moons ago and saw it on film once. Recently I found Curtis’ rookie season in my video archives and wanted to share them.

When you think of rookie sensation receivers some will think of Odell Beckham, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or some old timers will bring up Paul Warfield or “The Catawba Claw”… one guy forgotten about?? Isaac Curtis

In a season where only 1 receiver crossed 1,000 yards (Harold Carmichael) Curtis broke out with one of the eras greatest rookie seasons. He amassed 49 receptions for 849 yards and 9 TDs yet broke huge plays for Cincinnati. Five of his scores were from greater than 40 yards out and 3 of those over 70 yards. Those are Randy Moss-esque for that era.

Take a look:

Cincinnati won the AFC Central however fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dolphins in the divisional playoffs which curbed the impact historically. However players were the only voters for the Pro Bowl back then and they voted him in as a rookie and the next 3 years. Quarterback Ken Anderson became a two time passing champion and joined his deep threat in the pro bowl in ’75 & ’76.

What was lost was the offense fashioned by Bill Walsh under Paul Brown became one of the most efficient in history.  However Curtis was their long range weapon in the Ohio bred “West Coast offense.” In 4 of his first 6 years he led the Bengals in receptions & in 4 of those seasons he led Cincinnati in touchdown receptions.

Curtis played on through the 1985 season finishing as the Bengals career reception leader with 416. He was also Cincy’s career recption yardage leader ( 7,101 yards) and touchdowns (53). Thirty four years after his retirement he still ranks in the top 5 in all 3 team categories.

These stats may not get Isaac Curtis to Canton but he definitely deserves to be in the Bengals “Ring of Honor” as one of the team’s greatest players. That 1973 breakout was equal in impact and stature to the ’64 debut of Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. A few more bounces of the ball in playoff appearances in 1973 and 1975 may be the only difference why we’re not talking about Curtis in a Gold Jacket. An unsung great.

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Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Unsung Players: Joe Morris

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

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unsung Players: James Jones

When pictures of the abandoned Silverdome surfaced on aol.com this week, it struck a nerve with everyone The Chancellor interacts with. Of course all of us pictured so many Thanksgiving Day games, Barry Sanders breaking ankles, and the incomparable Billy Sims flying high into the end zone. However sandwiched between these two was a fullback who was a #1 draft pick in James Jones.

The Silverdome as it exists today. Almost a scene from the shoow "Life after People"

The Silverdome as it exists today. Almost a scene from the shoow “Life after People”

In the vignette to follow, you’ll see Jones was forced into a bigger role with the Lions although the team was lacking in talent to fully showcase him. Had QB Chuck Long developed fully or Eric Hipple able to avoid injuries, the offense could have gotten on track.

They just didn’t have the talent at receiver to stretch the field and provide more running room. Not a single Pro Bowl performer on offense between 1983-1988 slowed what could have been an even more productive career.

As twilight is descending on the Silverdome with all of it’s assets being auctioned off, why not take a look back at James Jones career. His name should be thought of with the best Detroit Lions who played in this building. Yes Super Bowl XVI was played here but these men toiled on the floor of this stadium trying to bring Detroit a winner.

Jones had the talent to be one of the best fullbacks in league history. When you play for a team that is always behind it’s hard to get rushing totals to be considered among the elite. Players like Jones are overlooked when playing for incomplete teams that lose most of the time. That has to be frustrating. Its worth taking a look back and think what might have been as the Silverdome fades from memory.

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