Legends of The Fall: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson

When I came up with  The Legends of The Fall, my thoughts were to remember Hall of Fame players of yesteryear, and those whose “what if” legacies due to injuries or circumstances that kept them from becoming all time greats. Yet we still talk about them because they were supernovas that burned bright in our collective mind when we think of their transcendent play. One of those players was Thomas Henderson.

Artwork by Clarence Pointer signed by Hollywood Henderson available.

Now everyone remembers Henderson as one of the most flamboyant players of the 1970’s and he was. However lost in why he was so acclaimed were the distinctions he brought to pro football many observers obscure. Not this historian…and we’re going to take you through a few today.

One of those was his becoming one of the social icons of his times as a man of the 1970’s. A black cultural icon of transcendent play, outspoken black identity, and a reach that went beyond the football field.

In 1974 the NFL instituted several rule changes, the most visible had been the goal post moved to the back of the endzone. A more subtle change was the narrowing of the hashmarks which eliminated the short side of the field as you still see in college football. This called for Outside Linebackers with greater lateral speed and range play after play to either side.

Another subtle NFL rule change in 1974 made it illegal for all but the outside players on the punt team to leave before the ball was kicked. Enter Thomas Henderson. The Cowboys second #1 draft pick in 1975 who had been discovered out of Langston by Red Hickey. It was his speed and athleticism that led to his being used to help revolutionize the game from a tactical standpoint. This gave birth to the modern gunner where Henderson was also used. His size allowed him to bull through the two DBs as he came off the ball in pursuit of the punt returner

He was a special teams standout on a veteran laden ball club that had to get him on the field. He flashed downfield to make tackles and was used on reverses. A Linebacker on reverses?? Do you remember his reverse on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl X??

 

 

It was one of the first glimpses into what he was doing down in Texas. By 1977 Henderson had become the starting OLB where his speed was on display to match with some of the NFL’s best athletes covering backs out of the backfield and covering TEs out in space. The NFL was speeding up as a sport on astroturf and Henderson was among the new breed of athletes being moved to defense.

 

 

What most pundits don’t realize is how 1 penalty altered the perception of Hollywood Henderson.

Over the next four years Henderson’s Cowboys were the best team in the NFC as they became Super Bowl champions in 1977 and repeated as NFC Champions in 1978. In those two seasons the Flex defense was ranked #1 and #2 in the NFL and going into Super Bowl XIII were ranked higher than the #3 ranked Steel Curtain. If they win they become a dynasty as back to back champions and Henderson, who had made his 1st Pro Bowl, would have been lionized instead of the team being scrutinized because of the loss.

We all remember Super Bowl media day when Henderson claimed Terry Bradshaw was so dumb he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the “c” and the “a”. Well think back to the game. Henderson made a huge play when he sacked Bradshaw and Mike Hegman stole the ball to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead. Their only lead of the game.

In what became known as a seesaw game it really was one the Cowboys defense had taken over. They dominated the 2nd half as Pittsburgh couldn’t move the ball. It was the bogus pass interference penalty on Benny Barnes that changed the field position and put the Steelers in scoring position at the 22 late in the 4th quarter. Then a fumbled kickoff, two quick scores and they were up 35-17 en route to a 35-31 win.

That pass interference, which is now called incidental contact and no penalty, caused Henderson and the Cowboys to be scrutinized because of the loss. He had played a tremendous game but now pundits pointed to the press conference and even an on field altercation with Franco before his 4th quarter touchdown as turning points. Great story telling but very…very inaccurate accounting of the facts.

The history books don’t tell you Dallas had set a record holding the winning team to just 75 second half yards. Nor the fact Henderson is the only person in the 51 year history of the Super Bowl to be involved in scoring plays in both the conference championship and subsequent Super Bowl on defense. In the video above when he scored against the Rams, it was the finishing touch on a 28-0 win out in Los Angeles.

That Benny Barnes pass interference penalty made the Steelers the Team of the Decade and sent 10 Steelers to the Hall of Fame and only 4 of the Cowboys from that era.

Henderson smashes into Denver QB Norris Weese in Super Bowl XII.

We know of the pressures and build up to his release in Dallas but where would he have been had they become back to back champion?? Greatest defense in history?? No one has been #1 on offense and #1 on defense and champion since his ’77 Cowboys. How much did the fallout from Super Bowl XIII lead to his dismissal in Dallas??

Keep in mind Tom Landry in his A Football Life episode said on stage had he handled the situation with Henderson differently we could have won 6 or 7 Super Bowls. Dallas went on to lose the ’80, ’81, & ’82 NFC Championships without him. When you look back at those losses Dallas didn’t have a defensive playmaker on the field. Not like they had in 1977 and 1978. In fact he would have been in his prime going into his 6th, 7th, and 8th seasons. Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith, Alan Page all recorded defensive player of the year honors in that 6th season.

Would Joe Montana have all that time to scramble to the sideline and find Dwight Clark with The Catch in the 81 NFC Championship had Hollywood been chasing him??

henderson.crush

I’m still mad at him for this…he ruined 2nd grade for a kid in Denver.

Henderson was still in the NFL…just not in Dallas where they would have featured him. What could have been?

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP: Derek Carr

One of the reasons the NFL playoffs lacked any real sizzle was the loss of Derek Carr and the anemic way the Raiders season drew to a close. Arguably the best team in the AFC lost their chance when a Trent Cole sack rendered Carr’s leg broken in the 4th quarter of the 15th game. Did you know the Raiders were averaging 27 points per game before the injury yet could only score 20 in the last 2 games combined?? Not only could the Raiders not gain a 1st down the rest of the Colts game but the ability to convert dropped from 21.4 per game down to 13.

Carr's play was transcendent in 2016.

Carr’s play was transcendent in 2016.

In 2016 Carr channeled his inner George Blanda as he led eight come from behind wins in the 4th quarter or overtime. Eight! They were 6-1 on the road with him as he tossed game winning passes in 4 of the 1st 5 to begin 5-0 away from the Coliseum. The Raiders were in line to achieve home field advantage and had the most daring performer of the season taken from them.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr completed 63.8 % of his passes (357 of 560) for 3,937 yards 28TDs with just 6 interceptions. This was on the heels of achieving Pro Bowl status in 2015 when he had gone 350 of 573 for 3,987 yards 32 TDs yet threw 13 picks.

Here at Taylor Blitz Times we have charted his growth and this is one of the future faces of the NFL. His injury not only cast a pall over the playoffs but was the only reason we heard Aaron Rodgers heroics at the end of the year. Rodgers had a 6 game winning streak of stellar play where Carr dominated all year long. Had Carr avoided that injury odds are they would have won the finale in Denver and finished 7-1 on the road. If the Patriots would have won home-field based off tie breaker scenarios, who would have been better equipped to go into New England than Carr with all his 4th quarter road wins??

The winner of the 2nd Taylor Blitz Times Offensive Player of the Year is David’s younger brother…. Derek Carr.

Honoarable Mention: Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are the NFC odds on favorite for Super Bowl LII.

How could you not have the 2 super rookies who infused Jerry World with a glimpse of their future?? While it’s true the heart of the Cowboys is The Great Wall II offensive line we first told you about back in 2014, Elliott and Prescott played within themselves and stretched what can be expected of rookies moving forward.

Where most rookie runners hit the rookie wall right before Thanksgiving,”Zeke” never did. He faced tough defenses in New York, Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington who were all playing for their playoff lives. They kept him from breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. However his 1,631 yards allowed Elliott to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Edgerrin James in 1999.

His vision patience and timing have combined with the front wall to give the Cowboys a flashback to the Emmitt Smith and original Great Wall of 1990’s fame. His low center of gravity allow him to plow through most tacklers and fall forward. An effective tactic to keep the chains moving. He helped the Cowboys chew up the clock and keep opposing teams off the field, which protected Dallas’ defense. His future looks bright with several years in front of him.

The truth of the matter is Elliott was able to share the pressure heaped upon he and Prescott. All Dak did was complete 67% of his passes for 3,667 yards 23TDs with only 4 interceptions. Where the running game kept down and distance manageable, he was able to fire upon defenses selling out to stop the run. However he came of age in the 34-31 playoff loss at home to the Packers. He brought the Cowboys back twice in that game when Green Bay was geared to stop the pass. Down 21-3 he calmly fired 2 shots to get them back in the game 21-10… the last pass a 40 yard scoring play to Dez Bryant.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

Amid the pressure of being down to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers he brought them back from a 28-13 deficit… scoring 3 times to tie it 31-31. The came Rodgers miracle throw. However when the pressure was on Prescott to perform without the comfort of having the lead and leaning on his running game, he showed the NFL playoffs weren’t too big for him. Pundits and Cowboy haters waited for the cool veneer to wear off and waited for rookie mistakes to emerge. When they didn’t in the playoff loss to Green Bay, Cowboy haters better brace themselves for Elliott & Prescott are poised for a 5-7 year run in Dallas. They truly helped shape the season.

So there you have it… the first recipient of our Offensive MVP was Cam Newton in 2015 followed by Derek Carr in 2016. Along with the 2 headed monster in Dallas…these are the future faces of the NFL.

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2016 NFC Divisional Playoff: Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

One of the biggest misnomers NFL brass has told the public is the phrase “It’s a quarterback driven league.” To that avail The Chancellor of Football has always countered “the game is won on the line of scrimmage.” Well today those axioms collide when the streaking Packers take a trip to Jerry World for today’s divisional match-up.

mccarthy-rodgersTruth be told one of the best things to happen for Aaron Rodgers in this year’s playoffs is to get away from Lambeau Field and into these temperature controlled domes where his play can flourish.  Close your eyes and think of Rodgers greatest playoff games…they’ve all come in domes.

In 2009 he threw for 423 yards and 4 TDs in a 51-45 overtime loss in the desert of Arizona. He followed that up on the march to Super Bowl XLV when he torched Atlanta in the Georgia Dome 48-21. In that one he was 31 of 36 for 366 yards throwing for 3 scores. Two weeks later he lit up the Steelers for 304 yards and 3 TDs in Jerry World to bring home the Lombardi. Rodgers game is never going to go 3 straight cold weather playoff games to the Super Bowl and he has to get out of Lambeau Field in January to get the Packers there.

Before last week, even all his Hail Mary’s had taken place in domes on the road and make no mistake he is the only way Green Bay wins this football game.

elliottWhen it comes to winning the game on the line of scrimmage, no one has illustrated this better than the Cowboys offensive line. In October 2014 The Chancellor of Football christened this group The Great Wall II as they have now paved the way for a 2nd rushing champion in Ezekiel Elliott. His 1,631 yards were buoyed by a 28 carry 157 yard performance at Lambeau that shapes the heart of this game.

Back in October C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, Ronald Leary, T Doug Free & Tyron Smith paved the way for 33 attempts and 191 yards rushing. This was also the game where Dak Prescott (18 of 27 for 247 yds 3TDs & 1 ints) proved he was no fluke out playing Rodgers (31 of 42 294 yds 1 TD & 1 ints) while only being sacked twice. When they line up with 2 backs and especially 2 TEs, Dallas wins on early downs. They wear out the defense and keep Prescott in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations.

matthewsThis is where the game boils down to is Aaron Rodgers has to start hot and establish an early lead and force Prescott to throw. If they can do this and effectively take the ball out of Elliott’s hands they can control the tempo and make the Cowboys press on offense. Then Dom Capers can unleash Clay Matthews and show the exotic packages that have doomed young quarterbacks at this juncture of the playoffs.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Not only is Green Bay 20th against the rush but they are 0-2 this season when facing a top 10 rushing attack. Who are those two teams?? Dallas ranked 2nd and Atlanta ranked 5th. In the NFL its hard to repeat an earlier performance however when you can knock your opponent back, that gameplan can travel.

Much like Emmitt Smith and the first Great Wall, we’ll have to go with Ezekiel Elliott and this one in this matchup. Dallas will win 37-24.

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Thanksgiving Day 2016: Washington Redskins v. Dallas Cowboys Preview

When the Dallas Cowboys sprinted out to a 9-1 record, deep in the heart of Texas, fans were ready to anoint this the NFC’s best team. Its a legitimate argument as they have the NFL’s best record. However a closer look shows a series of teams separating from the pack along with The Boys from Jerry World.

Cousins is killing it in a contract year.

Cousins is killing it in a contract year.

Do you realize the Washington Redskins are 6-1-1 in their last 8 games? They come into this turkey shoot with the NFL’s 2nd ranked offense (3rd in passing/10th in rushing) as Kirk Cousins has dazzled in a contract year. All of this is happening under the radar thanks to the large shadow cast by the Cowboys.

What the Cowboys have feasted on has been coming out, establishing the lead and lean on their running game. Ezekiel Elliott is just ahead of former Cowboy DeMarco Murray for the NFL rushing lead 1,102 to 1,000. This masks their deficiencies as a defense. Sure Dallas’ D is 3rd in rushing yards allowed, however a closer look reveals a 17th ranking allowing 4.2 yards per rush. Did you know the Redskins 10th ranked running game is 5th in the league averaging 4.6 yards per rush?? So what happens if they establish a lead in Dallas??

The saving grace for the Cowboys and The Great Wall II is the Redskins are terrible against the run allowing 4.6 yards per carry. The 2nd worst in the league… yup 31 out of 32 teams.

While Dak Prescott has played tremendous and has shown to be the future in Dallas, Cousins has become that in Washington. He has 3,091 yards while passing for 17 touchdowns which equals Prescott’s TD total.

The Garcon Crowder, Jackson combination has been lethal in the nation's capitol.

The Garcon Crowder, Jackson combination has been lethal in the nation’s capitol.

  1. Jamison Crowder 47 rec. 637 yards 6 TDs
  2. Jordan Reed 49 rec. 535 yards 3 TDs
  3. Pierre Garcon 48 rec. 593 yards 2 TDs

Once you realize each of these Redskin receivers is in reach of having 1,000 yard seasons it hits you: Where is DeSean Jackson?? Right behind them with 34 receptions for another 467 yards and 2 touchdowns. Keep in mind this team is 4-2 against opponents with a .500 record or better. It would be 5-2 if the Green Bay Packers weren’t falling into the abyss.

While it’s true the Cowboys are building a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they have to get out of their own division first. This is the best race the NFC East has seen since the 90’s with both the Giants and Redskins coming on as the season’s progressed. No one is talking about this Washington Redskins team…

The Chancellor’s choice in a rousing game is Washington winning a high scoring affair 36-24.

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times MVP Preview: Derek Carr Leads The Charge

The mid-point of the season is a large enough sample size for us to assess what is taking place. Youth has not only served this season its starred. You’d have to go all the way back to the quarterback class of 1983 and the arrival of Eric Dickerson to find another where young players had this type of league wide impact. As twilight descended on the career of Peyton Manning and soon will for Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the emergence of the next generation of stars is upon us.

Carr & Mack have a lot to celebrate so far in 2016.

Carr & Mack have a lot to celebrate so far in 2016.

Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders: Easily the leading candidate for NFL MVP. No player has put a stamp on the 2016 season as the signal caller out in Oakland. Today he frosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense for a team record 513 yards and 4 touchdowns on 40 of 59 passing. The team is 5-0 on the road where Carr threw a game winning touchdown in every one of them.

Carr is on pace to complete 66% of his passes for 5,305 yards 39TDs and just 7 interceptions.  Last year’s performance (350 of 573  3,987 yds 32 TDs / 13 ints) marked him as an up and coming superstar and he is growing by leaps and bounds every week. He only faces 3 top 10 defenses in his final 8 games and 3 of them are 24th, 30th, and 31st against the pass. Today he overcame his team setting a league record with 23 penalties and kept on firing. This is not a fluke… Carr is growing  and could be Taylor Blitz Times MVP for 2016.

Brady’s suspension has him on a tear to start his 2016.

Tom Brady – New England Patriots: How can one player come back from suspension and instill fear in the rest of the NFL?? Well look no further as the Patriots drew and quartered the Buffalo Bills 41-25 to avenge an earlier loss to their division rival. On a game circled on the schedule after the Bills won 16-0 four weeks ago. With the chance to sweep New England and cast doubt the Patriots are still the leaders of this division….well… Brady led Belichick’s bunch on scoring drives on 5 straight possessions and goodbye.

The team is 7-1 and on a 4 game winning streak and headed into their bye week where Brady can hone his skills even more. In the 4 weeks since his return from suspension Brady has thrown 12 TDs and 0 interceptions. He has already gunned down Pittsburgh and aside from a game against Seattle, they’ll face Denver in week 16 in a game what could decide home field advantage. He is going for history as he wants to tie Bart Starr with the most rings for a starting QB with 5. Only Father Time, who is due to arrive at any moment, looks to be the only defense Brady can’t outrun. Until then… Brady is an MVP candidate.

Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys: With the Philadelphia Eagles vanquished in primetime 29-23, it propelled the Cowboys into the NFC East lead with a 6-1 record. A sixth straight win and 2 game lead in the division has signaled the end of the Tony Romo era.

Prescott has shown leadership while knocking off a 3rd straight team that figures prominently in the upcoming playoffs. The rookie is currently ranked 7th of all starting quarterbacks with a 99.6 rating. He’s thrown for 1,773 yards 9 TDs with only 2 interceptions.  He broke Tom Brady’s record for most attempts to start a career without an interception extending it to 176.  All while breathing confidence in the offense with the aid of running mate Elliott.

The NFL’s leading rusher with 799 yards is still on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. His physical style along with The Great Wall 2  offensive line establishes dominance and an attitude that permeates the entire team. The synergy between Elliott & Prescott has allowed each to take the pressure off the other. It’s even picked up the defense which ranks 11th where last year with similar personnel ranked 17th. Now that we’ve made it to the halfway point of the season its time to assess things for what they are regardless of rookie status. Which is why these two have to be considered as Co-MVPs at this point of the season.

These are the men who have made the first half of the 2016 season. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

Drew Pearson Should Be In The Pro Football hall of Fame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue 4/29/2017: In Philadelphia during the NFL draft, Pearson stepped to the mic and offered this passionate delivery in announcing Dallas’ 2nd round selection.  He honored every Dallas Cowboy who has ever played along with owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett:

 

Now imagine a Hall of Fame speech from him!!

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