The NFL’s Shameful Impatience with Black Quarterbacks

We are just a month removed from the NFL Network airing a special on the history of players and the importance of Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Even here I wrote an epilogue on the enshrinement of Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson’s into the Black College Hall of Fame last month. Outside of these circles you’ll hear comments as though every racial barrier has been eradicated and they haven’t. You have NFL experts pitching the notion Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson should switch to WR at the NFL Combine last weekend.

Are you serious?? Why is that even being asked?? Why isn’t this being asked of Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or Sam Darnold?? To many black former players and to this historian, it reeks of those in NFL circles who wish to keep the quarterback position white and that is a problem. It unveils what many of us have talked about in private circles for years and we’re talking about this today.

Now Colin Kaepernick situation withstanding, someone undoubtedly will mention “Julian Edelman was a qb in college and he switched.”  Yet he was a marginal talent at Kent St in the Mid America Conference where he threw for 1,820 yds 13 TDs and 11 interceptions as a senior. Hardly NFL material. He was not an electrifying talent that ran for 1,571 yards 21 TDs before tossing 30 more scores with just 9 ints and another 3,543 yards in a Heisman winning year. So lets kill that noise right off the top.

Its the audacity of having it come up in the first place when the young man has earned the right to be drafted as a quarterback. It pulls back the veil of the long ago thought that blacks weren’t to play the thinking positions and were asked to switch positions going into the pros.

Quick question: Who holds the Denver Bronco record for touchdown passes as a rookie?? *jeopardy music* The answer is Marlon Briscoe with 14 in 1968. Yes he has held the record for 49 years… not John Elway…not Tim Tebow…not Jay Cutler. In fact if you add Elway and Tebow’s rookie TDs together you would still only have 12. Briscoe’s reward?? He never quarterbacked in the AFL or NFL again and was switched to receiver. He won Super Bowl VII and VIII in Miami but the point we don’t know is what could he have developed into??

One aspect that rears it’s head are coaches and general managers impatience with wanting to get black QBs on the field. Why is it you rarely see black QBs groomed to be placed out there once they’re developed and ready??

What happens is the black quarterback is inserted for an element of excitement. Fans get behind the team. The team’s coaches don’t further develop the game of the quarterback and lock into the same plays. Opposing defense catches on to the quarterbacks tendencies within 2 years and the fans turn on the quarterback when he isn’t effective. Then hit Twitter, social media and the blogosphere about how they need to draft the next best thing. Sound familiar??

Its the same reason you didn’t see the Kordell Stewarts & Duante Culpeppers have long careers as backups once they weren’t starters. However a Ryan Fitzpatrick (7 teams looking for his 8th) and Josh McCown (8 teams) have been terrible yet hold clip boards and play without distinction for 28 years and not a playoff appearance between them.

If Duante Culpepper went from throwing for 4717 yards and 39 TDs to out of the league in 6 years, how did Fitz and McCown stay so long?? He couldn’t help develop a young QB as a gray beard George Blanda-type?

Even Doug Williams who won Super Bowl XXII with the most electrifying game in history was cut by the Redskins 1 year and 1 day later. In NFL Films Black Star Rising in 1995, Viking DE Jim Marshall expressed how “black players weren’t allowed to be 2nd tier players and had to perform just to be on a team.” That it was different for their white counterparts in the 1960’s. This still seems to hold true with the quarterback position.

This is where and how many of these black quarterbacks are thrown in before they’re ready. “If the play isn’t there take off and run the football” and not develop the QB fully before defenses catch up to them. This is what happened to RGIII, Kaepernick and would have happened to Russell Wilson had he not had such a great defense and running game. Its on the offensive coaches to gradually mature these scramblers into pocket quarterbacks. Landry did it with Roger Staubach and Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren did this with Steve Young. It takes years… it takes commitment.

Aside from Warren Moon down in Houston the one time I saw an organization really develop and commit to black quarterbacks has been the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did Andy Reid help develop Donovan McNabb to a QB who led his team to 4 straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance… it goes further back than that.

Go back to the late Buddy Ryan and Randall Cunningham. Keep in mind Cunningham was drafted the year before Ryan got there. Buddy was hired in 1986 and worked to get the most out of the players on the roster. First he would deploy Cunningham as a wildcard, only on 3rd down packages and by 1987 had him on the field once he developed to the point he could play every down. He hired Doug Scovil to be his QB coach. It was Scovil who tutored BYU QBs as their coach in the early 80’s with Jim McMahon and Gifford Nielsen. So he had developed pro quarterbacks and bonded while working with Cunningham.

Ryan and Scovil helped develop Cunningham into the NFL’s ultimate weapon. He led the Eagles to the playoffs over the next 3 years in ’88, ’89, & ’90. Tragically late in the 1989 season Scovil died of a heart attack at Veteran’s Stadium and it derailed an Eagle team with a chance at the Super Bowl. Without his coaching confidante, Cunningham fell prey to the LA Rams and Fritz Shurmur‘s confusing “Eagle Defense” with 2 linemen and 5 linebackers on the field. They lost an NFC wildcard playoff 21-7 at home in a drizzly rain and couldn’t make offensive adjustments.

Yet they never would have made it that far had Cunningham been thrown to the wolves without proper coaching and just “go make a few plays with your legs.” He would have been replaced by 1989 instead of 3 straight trips to the Pro Bowl and coming in 2nd in the NFL MVP voting in 1990. It was this fundamental structure being coached fully “how to play qb” is what allowed an older Cunningham to be 1998’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In that season Minnesota went 15-1 with the highest scoring offense in NFL history with 556 points. He did it from the pocket and framework of the offense.

Keep in mind Ryan and Scovil didn’t draft Cunningham yet polished a raw talent into something special. What Lamar Jackson brings to the table rivals what Michael Vick did as a quarterback a generation before. Yes he can get by on his legs when he doesn’t get through his reads. However I hope the staff that takes him has the patience and vision to start him when he is ready and further develop him to perform within the framework of the offense.

So the issue before us has several facets to it. One is the lack of commitment to fully developing black qbs to be more than an offensive anomaly for a few years. Another is the stereotypes and prejudices we see surrounding that position from the executive level. When Bill Polian suggested he switch to WR it made my blood boil and I have written about him here on his brilliance as a general manager.

While I know Polian doesn’t harbor those prejudices, after all he hired Tony Dungy to be the Colts coach, it raises an eyebrow because of the sensitive past it invokes. His voice carries weight in other NFL boardrooms and he could have damaged Jackson’s draft status. While I don’t agree with Polian’s assessment I do disagree with Jackson having his mother as his agent. He needs an agent who knows in NFL circles what to look for in a team. The scouting process to make sure the right organization will put the plan and succession in place for Jackson to be the most successful.  The Chancellor of Football can get you in touch with Adrian Ross or Leigh Steinberg…its not too late.

Dedicated to the memories of Buddy Ryan and Doug Scovil

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XX CHAMPIONS 1985 CHICAGO BEARS

Walter Payton and the ’85 Bears defense got this championship ring for routing New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, this is still the #1 team in history over 1 season.  Yes I was a ridiculous fan of the 46 defense, which they screw up on Madden, see the two lineback…..yet I digress.

chicago_bears_superbowl_ring_1985_chicago_bears_Cr0eY1ll.sizedBefore we get into Sweetness, Jimmy Mac, “Danimal”, Singletary, “Mongo” McMichael, Wilber, Otis, Dent, Hilgenberg, VanHorne, Moorehead, Suhey, Gault, Fencik, Duerson, Head Coach Mike Ditka, and the beat goes on…let’s show you why I think they were the strongest team ever. Did you know they did this while 1984 All Pro Safety Todd Bell held out??

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys were trounced 44-0, wildcard Giants 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. That’s 110-10 against the “best division in football” yikes!!

Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers, who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-Size* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn!

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

Copy (2) of Copy of sbRoundhouseSuperBowlRing*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won, there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bowl…so u could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say?

The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ’em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

When comparing the best ever teams none come close to this for beating strong competition none.  In fact the ’72 Miami Dolphins who went undefeated only faced 3 teams with winning records during the season.  That’s not their fault but it has to be a factor in deciding who was stronger as a team.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than Buddy Ryan & the ’85 Bear’s 46 defense?”  HELL NO!!! A group that finished ranked #1 in 9 of 14 defensive categories?? The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White had been a pro bowl quarterback as Ken O’Brien of the Jets had been in 1985. All were in their prime!

super-bowl-logo-1985Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!! Spurgeon Wynn. Who? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XI RUNNER UP 1976 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

January 9, 1977 was a day that the Minnesota Vikings again fell short of the Super Bowl win they so desperately wanted.  The 32-14 loss to the Oakland Raiders was the last hurrah for a team that dominated the NFC for much of the 1970s. They almost went to 4 Super Bowls in a row.  That famous “Hail Mary” against Dallas in the ’75 NFC Divisional playoff should have been called pass interference on Drew Pearson.

vikxiThink of how rewritten the 1970s in the NFL would have been had they won those Super Bowls…

  • Had they won Super Bowl IV against the Chiefs there would still be talk of inferiority between the AFL and NFL even though they were merging the following year.
  • Had they won Super Bowl VIII in Chuck Foreman’s (The U) rookie year the Dolphins do not repeat and do not become a dynasty.
  • Had they won the next year in Super Bowl IX the Steelers dynasty does not take place.
  • Which leads to Super Bowl XI, had the Vikings won that gamevikxi.1 it would have added to Oakland’s (at that time) failed legacy and would have handed them their 8th loss in AFL or AFC Championship games including 2 Super Bowls in 10 years.

 

This team has never received their due.  They dominated the black and blue division and were the scourge of the NFC for many years.  The legacy of the players was too damaged for not winning the Super Bowl.  Come on, the length of time it took for Paul Krause, the NFL’s all time leading interceptor, to get into the Hall of Fame was ridiculous.  The fact that Jim Marshall and Chuck Foreman aren’t in the Hall is a travesty.

11This team was one of the best in the 1970s and this team was the last one to reach the Super Bowl.  Buddy Ryan coaxed a good year out of a “Purple People Eater’s” defense that was aging. Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White were decent receivers and the aforementioned Chuck Foreman (The U) teamed with Fran Tarkenton (the all time touchdown and yardage leader at the time) to form a formidable offense.

An interesting contrast in handling coming up short in the Super Bowl is between Fran Tarkenton and Head Coach Bud Grant. Tarkenton told NFL Films how those games have haunted him all these years. How it robbed the Vikings of their dignity and celebrity which cost teammates Hall of Fame votes. Where Bud Grant said he never looked at any of them on field and it doesn’t bother him one bit. Always looking ahead.

super-bowl-logo-1976Yet if you catch the end of Super Bowl XI as the cameras panned the Viking sideline, you could see a deep hurt in every Viking player’s face. It was as though you could see the last of their prime as an elite team evaporate from the players as the final moments ticked down. Unlike the Buffalo Bills 4 year Super Bowl run, this one lasted 8 years starting with their appearance in IV.

Chuck Foreman only had 1 more 1,000 yard season in 1977 before his career wound down. DT Alan Page was with the Chicago Bears in 1978, Jim Marshall, Carl Eller, and Fran Tarkenton were gone after 1979. Even Metropolitan Stadium was gone by 1982 as the team moved indoors with the Metrodome. The end of an era for a once proud franchise. One last look back is in order:

This was the last conference championship ring the Minnesota Vikings won.  1976 NFC Champions.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #1 1985 Chicago Bears

This is The Chancellor of Football’s choice for the NFL’s greatest single season defense and there is a serious gap between #1 and the #2 Baltimore Ravens. We’ll cover why at the end of this article. However welcome to the perfect storm of dynamic personnel, innovative defensive tactics and an intensely focused unit. One interesting aspect of the 1985 Chicago Bears performance is they did so without ’84 All Pro Safety Todd Bell who held out that season.

Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was also carried off after Super Bowl XX.

Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was also carried off after Super Bowl XX.

This was the era of the 46 Defense of Buddy Ryan. A Nickle defense where DBs were substituted for more athletic linebackers which allowed Ryan to use it as an every down formation. He could spring it on a team at any time without substitution.

Contrary to misinformed sportswriters he had been using the defense since 1981. Considering he named the formation for the number Safety Doug Plank wore which moved him into a Linebackers position. Plank’s last full season was 1981 and was replaced by Bell in 1982.

The 46 covered the Guard, Center, Guard which kept the MLB from being blocked. Furthermore if either the Center or Guard pulled, a DLineman would be in the backfield to disrupt any running play.

The 46 covered the Guard, Center, Guard which kept the MLB from being blocked. Furthermore if either the Center or Guard pulled, a DLineman would be in the backfield to disrupt any running play.

Although this formation gave the Bears an edge over their competition they only used it 30-40% of the time. It was the element of surprise that caught the NFL off guard. What is overlooked is how great the personnel fit every scheme Ryan used. In 1984, this group set the NFL record for sacks with 72. After he departed they set the record for fewest points allowed in 1986 yielding 187 points. It’s the season in between, 1985, that was their crowning achievement.

Take a look at a few stats:

  • #1 overall ranking
  • #1 against the run #3 against the pass
  • #1 in turnovers w/ 54 forced
  • #1 in interceptions w/ 34
  • #1 in passer rating allowed w/ 51.4
  • #1 in points allowed: 198 for the season
  • #1 in 1st downs allowed per game: 14.8
  • #1 in opp. completion percentage allowed 47.7%
  • #1 in touchdowns allowed w/ 23
  • #1 in rushing touchdowns allowed w/ 6

Now add to the fact they were #3 in sacks with 64, #3 against the pass giving up yardage in garbage time with blowout leads. It was the venomous way they attacked strong competition that makes this defense the valedictorian of NFL units.

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys (10-6) were trounced 44-0, the wildcard Giants (10-6) 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. Outscoring them 110-10 when they were the “best division in football” yikes!! Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams (11-5) killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers (10-5-1), who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn! All were 10 win teams.

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East champion Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets (11-5) were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots (11-5) twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bow. So you could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say? The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ’em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

They were 4-1 against top 10 offenses and in those 4 wins held each team to less than 10 points. In fact, the ’85 Bears held 11 of their 16 opponents to less than 10 points and recorded back to back shutouts over the Falcons and Cowboys. In the playoffs they set another record not allowing a point in back to back playoff shutouts to make it to Super Bowl XX. Once there they set records for holding the Patriots to -19 yards at the half, 7 yds rushing for the game, record 7 sacks, and allowed the fewest yards in Super Bowl history with 127.

This second look shows a few plays from the 46 front look but the final play with Steve McMichael’s sack was one of the secrets of the ’85 Bears. They lined up in a 3-4 and had DE Richard Dent the rushing weakside ‘backer a la Lawrence Taylor. Ironically the 46 defense didn’t die it evolved into teams running it from 3-4 alignments and not 4-3 alignments as Buddy Ryan originated this from. If you’ve watched the Steelers over the last 15 years they have used DEs that were built like DTs and would squeeze them down to cover the Guard,Center, Guard and position an Inside Linebacker right next to the Strong side Linebacker. They just made it interchangeable in elements to surprise their opponents from time to time.

They had NFL Defensive Player of the year and Hall of Famer Mike Singeltary, All Pro Gary Fencik, Hall of Fame DEs Richard Dent and Dan Hampton. Pro Bowl Linebacker Otis Wilson and OLB Wilber Marshall who should be in the Hall of Fame.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than the ’85 Bears defense?”  HELL NO!!! The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White was a pro bowl quarterback as was Ken O’Brien of the Jets. ALL WERE IN THEIR PRIME!  Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!!

Spurgeon Wynn. Who?? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

me and singeltary

Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary and The Chancellor of Football on the Ravens sideline in 2003.

The best ever defense from the historian view of The Chancellor of Football’s view was the 1985 Chicago Bears hands down. How badly they trounced sound competition has resonated for decades. In compiling this list every #1 defense from 1960 to the present was used, every championship defense, and every record setting defense with the nod going to those that played since the merger in 1970. Hundreds of defenses boiled down to the 1985 Bears sitting atop as the best.

Dedicated to the memory of James David “Buddy” Ryan (February 17, 1931 – June 28, 2016)

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Missing Rings: 1993 Houston Oilers

Everyone can tell you when an era ends but when was its zenith?? The truly great teams burn bright for some time while winning championships. Others burn almost as bright for a long time but memory fades on those that don’t bring home Super Bowl rings. When it comes to the case of the Houston Oilers between 1987-1993, the zenith came at the end and the fall was so dramatic it killed the franchise.

Warren Moon was building his Hall of Fame resume with Pro Bowl performances 8 straight years.

Warren Moon was building his Hall of Fame resume with Pro Bowl performances 8 straight years.

Yet as we look back at the Houston Oilers of 1993, you have to stretch back a little further and remember what happened during the playoffs of 1991 and 1992.

The Oilers had become one of the most talented teams in football. They were the vanguard of the teams that ran the Run & Shoot offense. Their trigger man, Warren Moon had made it into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. He had orchestrated the league’s #1 offense in 1990 and 1992. in 1991 they dropped to second in the league behind the K Gun of the Buffalo Bills.

Moon was starting at a time when African American quarterbacks were just getting their start in the NFL on a league wide basis. Yet despite those pressures he approached Dan Marino’s passing records with 4,689 yards in 1990, and 4,690 yards in 1991. However his team coming up short in the playoffs was starting to become an issue. Similar to what was once a concern of Peyton Manning and continues to dog Tony Romo, Moon had only won 1 playoff game between 1987-1990. In reality, the Oilers were expected to ascend to be the best team in the AFC as they stockpiled talent around him. Make no mistake Moon was playing to erase the stigma that a black quarterback could lead his team to a championship. It hadn’t been done since Doug Williams in 1987.

He had diminutive and quick receivers in Ernest Givins, the late Drew Hill, Curtis Duncan, and a tall wideout in Haywood Jeffires. In 1991, 4 yards kept Moon from having 3 – 1,000 yard receivers as the Oilers opened 7-1 and looked like the AFC’s best rival to knock off the defending champion Bills.  However they ran into John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoff. On a mission they ran out to a 21-6 lead in Mile High Stadium. However Elway rallied his team back to a last second 26-24 win that sent the Oilers home after a total collapse. A team with 7 Pro Bowlers and 3 All Pros was sent home by a hodgepodge rebuilding Denver team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 1990 and wouldn’t in 1992.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

The team was still in it’s prime as they approached 1992. Age was becoming a factor as the 36 year old Moon missed 6 games during the middle of the year. Houston entered the playoffs with a 10-6 record courtesy of a 27-3 win over Buffalo in a Sunday night finale. It set up a rubber match at Rich Stadium in a wild card game against the two time defending AFC Champion.

Not only were the Bills without future Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, they would be without Pro Bowlers Cornelius Bennett and Thurman Thomas as well. Moon had a first half for the ages as he went 18 of 22 for over 220 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half. At an 81% completion rate, broadcasters Charlie Jones and Todd Christensen waxed philosophical about the possibility of breaking the record of 88% Phil Simms had accomplished in Super Bowl XXI. Houston was up 28-7 at the half and then SS Bubba McDowell returned an interception to give the Oilers a 35-3 lead in the 3rd quarter.  They had outscored the Bills 62-6 in 6 quarters in less than a week. They were hitting on all 8 cylinders.

Then came the greatest collapse in the history of the NFL. A 32 point lead was washed away as Buffalo just put on a performance for the ages in a 41-38 win. Once the Bills took the momentum from the shell-shocked Oilers the game was almost inevitable. Moon’s crispness in the first half, where he led the Oilers to touchdowns on all four of their drives, went 3 and out on the first four of the second half. Also completely befuddled was defensive coordinator Jim Eddy, who never changed the nickle package or calls for the entire second half of that game. Bills receivers and backup QB Frank Reich knew exactly which plays would work and kept waiting for adjustments that didn’t come.

If the Oilers would have won a Super Bowl between 1987-1993, would Ray Childress be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

If the Oilers would have won a Super Bowl between 1987-1993, would Ray Childress be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

Psychologically, the jury was in on the Houston Oilers of that era for many pundits. They just couldn’t win the big game despite the talent they had on the field. Pro Bowl defenders Ray Childress, Al Smith were possibly tarnishing Hall of Fame careers at this point. Former Pro Bowl talents such as CB Cris Dishman, DE Willam Fuller, and DE Sean Jones were all on the field in Buffalo and none could make a play to turn that game around. Just as they hadn’t in Denver the year before.

Owner Bud Adams had seen enough and decided the defense was the reason for the collapse and hired Buddy Ryan. That’s right the same Defensive Coordinator of the 1985 Bears and former Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Adams did this and forced him onto then Head Coach Jack Pardee. Ryan had total autonomy just as he had in Chicago. In fact he was able to hire his own assistants and player requests. In came former Ryan disciple Wilber Marshall, a fiery linebacker that was one of the unsung performers on that ’85 Bears team.

Ryan also forced the team to draft a MLB in Miami Hurricane Michael Barrow and draft a tight end in John Heny Mills. With a defense that had 6 former pro bowlers on it and a soon to be Pro Bowler Lamar Lathon at that point, this was going to be a sight to behold. Ryan resurrected the 46 defense deep in the heart of Texas yet how much of the leadership of that team was stripped of Pardee?? 1993 looked like the last year for the Oilers to make it to the Super Bowl or the team would be broken up. All or nothing.

When Buddy Ryan brought in former All Pro Wilber Marshall, the defense took on a totally different tone.

When Buddy Ryan brought in former All Pro Wilber Marshall, the defense took on a totally different tone.

The preseason began with Ryan firing off comments about Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride and the Run & Shoot offense. The “Chuck & Duck” Ryan scoffed at the high penchant for passing and not running the football and prone to turnovers.

The team however sputtered out of the gate as the defense had some growing pains and the offense started slow.

In fact, a 1-4 start to the 1993 season looked similar to the Houston Texans of this year. A lot of talent, although a little old and they should be able to turn it around. That fourth loss came in a return trip to Buffalo. With Warren Moon’s benching, it looked to all the world this era of Oilers football was about to come to a crashing end.

However the defense not only grew into it’s shoes, it became the scourge of the league. Gone was the passive 4 man rushes of the Jim Eddy defense and in was the confusing blitz packages Ryan had made famous in Chicago. His Philadelphia Eagles didn’t use as many packages as he did in Houston. Over the next eight games they had 35 sacks, 30 takeaways and had knocked 5 quarterbacks from the game. A defense full of star quality talent left opponents without a focal point to game plan against. The league hadn’t seen heavy focus on the 46 defense in over 5 years. They also hadn’t played against this personnel in these new positions. Teams were thoroughly over matched as the last 11 opponents never scored beyond 20 points.

As the defense helped turn the season around Warren Moon came off the bench when his backup Cody Carlson was injured in week 6. His play was more efficient than it was spectacular as defenses had caught up to the Run & Shoot by ’93. However the Oilers were running the ball more and inserted a bigger back to try and wear down defenses. Former special teamer Gary Brown took over due to injuries and rushed for 1,002 yards on 195 carries. He was the first player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards while only starting half the season. Gone was the scat back presence of Lorenzo White and Allen Pinkett and a bruiser was now running the football in the Run & Shoot. Now teams couldn’t go with pass specialists at linebacker with a hammer in the backfield.

However all wasn’t rosey.

The team operated in the awkward vacuum of two camps within a football squad. Buddy Ryan had complete autonomy with his players and coaches. The season long tension was always there as Ryan said what he wanted to at press conferences, even if it wasn’t supportive of the offensive side of the ball or the team as a whole. Head Coach Jack Pardee and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride acquiesced some of their game planning to accomodate Ryan. Think not?? Brown in half of the ’93 season carried the ball nearly 200 times where in 1991, Allen Pinkett started all 16 games and only ran it 171 times.

What bothered Ryan the most was the offense continuing to pass the football at the end of halves when they should have run the football and gone into the locker room. This resulted in two of his starting defensive backs being lost for the season on meaningless plays right before halftime. So when starting FS Marcus Robertson was injured with just seconds left before the half in the last game, Ryan exploded and threw a punch at Gilbride. Now heading into the NFL playoffs he would be missing 3 of his 4 starters in the secondary.

The Oilers of 1993 were a lab experiment about how a team with such disjointed chemistry could actually band together to be the tough minded team no one thought of them as. They survived “Baby-gate” when OT David Williams missed a game early in the season to witness the birth of a child. Media scrutiny was less intense and more forgiving when DT Jeff Alm committed suicide before their week 14 match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dedicating the game ball to his parents and their fallen teammates memory, they went on the road and whipped the Steelers 26-17 to capture the AFC Central.  Ten months after a collapse branded this team as one of the psychologically weak teams in modern history, they had forged an identity tougher than any could remember.

Houston concluded the regular season 12-4, finishing on an 11 game winning streak. Which had only been equaled by the ’72 Dolphins, the ’69 Minnesota Vikings, and the 1934 Chicago Bears in all of NFL history. No question did they look across state and see a possible match-up with the defending champion Cowboys. When they went out and hit Steve Young so often in a 10-7 win out in Candlestick on Christmas Day, league wide fear of this team only grew. This was not going to be the same team that wilted under playoff pressure come playoff time in 1993.

The Chiefs defense matched the physicality of the vaunted Oiler defense.

The Chiefs defense matched the physicality of the vaunted Oiler defense.

Everyone feared this group except one team, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Oilers had run over the Chiefs 30-0 early in the season and had talked a big game while doing it. As the AFC Divisional slate put these two together again, talk of knocking out Chief quarterback Joe Montana drew the ire of Chief defenders. The late Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith talked about their knocking Moon out if Montana left the game simiarly. What hadn’t been thought of was beating the bully at their own game.

The Chiefs came into the game as a team that didn’t blitz a lot. They stayed with bookend pass rush All Pros Smith and Thomas and played coverage behind them…or so the Oilers thought. The Chiefs threw blitzes at Warren Moon tying an NFL playoff record with 9 sacks and knocking the offense out of continuity from the very start. They held the Oilers to only 277 yards of offense. Their season low?? 246 yards ironically against the Chiefs in their 30-0 loss to the Oilers at the beginning of the season.

It was Joe Montana and moving on half rollouts away from the blitz that kept him upright in this game. A veteran of 20 previous playoff games, with a 15-5 record that featured 4 Super Bowl championships, he may have played his best game at 37 years of age. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 299 yards 3 TDs and 2 interceptions. Once he adjusted to the Oilers and their fleet of second string people in the secondary, he and Marcus Allen kept the ball away from Moon in the second half. The 28-20 win by the Chiefs came at great delight to both Buffalo and Dallas who no longer had to think of facing this monster team from Houston. They would go on to play each other in a second straight Super Bowl once Buffalo DID knock Montana from the AFC Championship Game.

As for the Oilers, they were broken up after 1993. Gone was Warren Moon who went on to sign with the Minnesota Vikings. Buddy Ryan received another Head Coaching position in Arizona taking Wilber Marshall with him. The defense was turned over to Ryan disciple Jeff Fisher, who would succeed Jack Pardee once he was fired in week 10 of 1994. Present Titans coach Mike Munchak played his last game for the Oilers in that 93 playoff loss and began his coaching career that same year. Former Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride was let go once Pardee was dismissed. They had been the men responsible for bringing the Run & Shoot to Houston and it left with them.

Ironically the offense that didn’t win it all as a complete scheme lived on in offenses around the league. It was Gilbride teaching some of the Run & Shoot principles to New York Giant receivers as they have won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Even the team of the 2000’s, the New England Patriots run variations of offensive principles that were a staple of Gilbride’s down in Houston. Especially the screen plays that Gilbride designed. Below is a copy of one of the pages from the Patriots Super Bowl playbook of 2003 and you can clearly read “Run and Shoot screen”. 

RunAndShootScreen

The largest fall had been with the fan base that was there from the Luv ya Blue days through this era of Oiler football. The heart of the fan base drained drastically as the team fell to 2-14 in 1994. Within two years, Bud Adams moved the team to Tennessee and renamed the franchise the Titans. It was a sad and sudden end to the Oiler franchise but it came off the heels of promise that was the best team in Oiler history that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

The Soul Of The Game: Todd Bell

As they used to do before every Bears game during player introductions, the late Walter Payton and Todd Bell used to high five as Payton was introduced last. This high five was when Bell was the first to greet Payton at midfield after he became the NFL’s All Time Leading rusher during a game against the Saints on October 7, 1984. Each player was the heart of their side of the ball. Payton was the offense’s and Bell was his equal to the defense.

When you talk about the NFL’s greatest defenses ever, our CEO’s pick is the 1985 Chicago Bears. When asked why he tells us “they set the modern standard for great defense without they’re best player.” How can this be?? Hall of Fame players Richard Dent, who went on to be Super Bowl XX MVP, and Mike Singletary (1985’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year) were front and center. Then you have blitzing linebacker Otis Wilson, Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall, and Gary Fencik. To know who their best player was you have to return to the season before and a player that defensive co-ordinator Buddy Ryan raved about… SS Todd Bell

Bell was a hard-hitting strong safety drafted out of Ohio St in 1981. The Chicago Bears were an average team with one superstar, the incomparable Walter Payton. Who at the time, was being recognized as he approached 10,000 yards and the inevitable question began: Could Walter break Jim Brown’s all time rushing record of 12,312?? As the media glare intensified following Payton’s pursuit of Brown’s record, some attention was being paid toward a very aggressive nickel defense that featured lots of blitzing.

Buddy Ryan was the architect of the 46 defense and he had a young safety coming into his own. He was a ferocious hitter and much like Ronnie Lott in San Francisco he was the emotional leader of that group. After finishing the 1983 season winning 5 of 6 games and with Payton on the cusp of history, media descended upon Soldier Field for 1984. Bell shined in 1984 as the Bears set an NFL record with 72 sacks (still stands) and finished #1 in defense.

For all their blitzing they needed a safety who could cover, adjust on the run and be a good open field tackler. He amassed 4 sacks, 4 interceptions and delivered countless big hits as the Bears fought for league wide respect. Not only was he voted to the Pro Bowl, in some circles he was in discussions for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

As the season went on, media attention shifted from Payton breaking Jim Brown’s record to a confusing defense wreaking havoc and; Could the Bears win their first division championship since 1963??  A question that seems goofy now but back in 1984, you have to remember Chicago was thought of nationwide as the Cleveland Browns or Buffalo Bills are now. Twenty one years without any distinction as a team will do that for you. The current Bills and Browns have been like that ONLY 13 years… so you have to understand.

What made Todd Bell was not the statistics but the moments. Those where a football game is teetering when it comes to balance…momentum, or who is going to dominate?? Who is going to establish tone?? The only way to do so in contact /collision sports of yesteryear was to have your main player deliver a thunderous hit to intimidate their opponent, and this was where Bell established himself.

In a week 10 win over the defending champion LA Raiders, it was Todd Bell’s fight with Todd Christiansen that got the Bears going. They went on to sack Raider QBs nine times in a 17-6 win. Four weeks after a rousing win against Minnesota, the Bears traveled to Minnesota with a chance to win that first division title since the merger. It was Todd Bell that sent the message that Chicago came to dominate. In the vignette below, on the second to the last play shown, you’ll see Bell’s hit on Vikings RB Ted Brown that broke his ribs and the Vikings spirit where Chicago went on to win 34-3.

After this win came the FIRST gatorade shower in the NFL between Head Coach Mike Ditka from Todd Bell, Dan Hampton, and Steve McMichael. It was the 1984 Chicago Bears that first performed this…not the 1986 Giants the New York based media has fed to the nation….yet we digress. It was Bell’s hit that changed the course of the game. Yet now they made the playoffs for the first time and NFL pundits thought the Bears reached as far as they could go. With a 10-6 record they were relegated to traveling to Washington for the divisional playoff.

The Redskins were two-time defending NFC Champions and had they won Super Bowl XVIII, would have gone back to back as one of the great teams in NFL history. So they had won it all once and played in the Super Bowl the year before and here they were on their way to possibly a third straight Super Bowl against the overmatched Bears at home. A season before, they had the highest scoring offense in NFL history, surely they could best the #1 defense the following year right??

Well the Redskins were ahead 3-0 and driving in a tense game where they were about to wrest control over Chicago. The had crossed midfield when at the 35 yard line Bell struck with the single greatest hit of the last generation. Had this hit happened in New York and not Washington it would be as famous as Chuck Bednarik’s hit on Frank Gifford from 1960.

The Redskins offense was intimidated the rest of the day and we didn’t see of Joe Washington any after that. His team gained so much confidence from that shot they went on to win 23-19 and moved on to the 1984 NFC Championship Game. Shamefully he and Bears management couldn’t agree to terms on his demands in 1985.

He sat out the season and the Bears, whom he helped give ultimate confidence to soared to new heights without him. Bell’s story is a cautionary tale. To what heights would he have gone to had he been there for the 1985 season?? How many fewer points and shutouts would they have achieved had they had their hatchet man patrolling the secondary?? For 1984, 1985, and 1986 the Bears fielded the NFL’s #1 defense. They set the NFL record with 72 sacks in 1984. They led in nine of fourteen defensive categories as the great ’85 team won it all. Then they were 14-2 in 1986 and the team set the NFL record for fewest points allowed with 187 in the new 16 game season format. How would Todd Bell’s career have gone had he stayed on the field and gained momentum from his 1984 season leading into 1985?? Leaves you to wonder how his meteoric rise would have played out.

Prologue: Bell returned to the team in 1986. During his holdout, many Bears were disgruntled by management’s unwilling to negotiate agreeable terms to such a proven player yet could give a $1.35 million contract to William “Refrigerator” Perry for being a 1st round draft choice. To which Defensive Co-Ordinator Buddy Ryan scoffed “We should have given the money to Todd Bell and the pros we know who can play and we should have forgotten about Perry.”

After his contract was up Ryan signed Bell to play for his Philadelphia Eagles where he was converted to linebacker just to get him on the field. A safety converting to linebacker in the pros?? That is a rarity and shows what kind of confidence Ryan had in Bell. The Eagles played the Bears in the 1988 playoffs and Bell starred intercepting two passes in what has come to be known as the Fog Bowl. Yet Bell’s career ended the following year (1989) with a broken leg ironically at Soldier Field again.

Todd Bell left us in 2005 after he suffered a heart attack… Bell was 46, the same number of the defense he helped make famous in Chicago. A ferocious hitter. Gone but not forgotten.

Dedicated in memory of Todd Anthony Bell: (November 28,1955 – March 16, 2005)

Thanks for reading and please share the article.