What Would Bill Walsh Say??

In Dcecember of 2016 NFL Films presented “A Letter to Bill Walsh” by Professor Harry Edwards… What would he say to the Colin Kaepernick protest?? Before spouting nonsense…watch the vid of one of his best friends and confidant who organized the boycott of the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico City. Edwards still works for the 49ers and u can see him on the sidelines and in the locker room of every San Francisco 49er Super Bowl win. Then it got me to thinking “What would my Hall of Fame trip in August been like had he been there?” Sharing his connections of each inductee

It would have been great had he been alive for the last Hall of Fame ceremony and to have met him. He had links to so many who were enshrined. The 1st being Eddie Debartolo, former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, who gave him the coaching job he deserved.

hofticketHe would have mingled with all the former 49ers who were in attendance and partied all week. He would have obviously shared stories with his former offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, whom I did meet right after his QB Brett Favre had just given his induction speech. What stories would they have shared?? I saw Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and bumped into Brent Jones as I entered the Hall of Fame ceremony walking and joking with SS Carlton Williamson off his 1st 2 49er championship teams.

He would have had a blast talking to friend and fellow Northern Californian Dick Vermeil. Of course he was in town for the enshrinement of T Orlando Pace of his Greatest Show on Turf Rams. They were coaching confidants for decades. When Walsh first struggled with the 49ers, Dick was one of the coaches he leaned on. Who kept telling him to “hang in there” as revealed in a 2000 interview with NFL Films. Vermeil, I got the chance to share a laugh and a joke with in the Atlanta airport waiting for our connecting flight to Canton.

Had he been there with me at the time… he could have shared that laugh as Vermeil introduced me to Kevin Greene’s parents sitting next to him. It was Walsh’s failure to block Greene when he had that 4 1/2 sack performance on a Sunday Night to put him on the NFL map in Walsh’s last Super Bowl season in 1988.

Had Bill Walsh been there it would be great to wish Dick Stanfel had been as well. Remember “The Fridge” when Mike Ditka put a defensive tackle in at running back to pay back San Francisco in the 80s?? Well it was Stanfel’s defensive line of the Chicago Bears in the 1984 NFC Championship Game where he put Guard Guy McIntyre in the backfield as an additional blocker. I got to share a couple stories with Bears DT Tyrone Keyes about those glory days hanging in the Canton airport with Hall of Fame LB Ricky “Dome Patrol” Jackson. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to hear all those great stories they would have told had he been there.

stabler-crestI know he would have definitely had a lot to share with all the former Raiders in town for Ken Stabler’s enshrinement. Walsh, Madden, and Stabler were all Bay area legends. It was the Raiders legacy he was chasing all those years in San Francisco. Working to make the 49ers a perennial winner. Fighting for respect from the Bay area press..

Then you have Tony Dungy…one of the first coaches to have come up through the Minority Coaching Fellowship program he founded. Now here he was…the 1st black head coach to win a Super Bowl who was going into the Hall of Fame having coached in much the same temperament as Walsh.

hofdungyspeechCould you imagine the stories he could have shared with all those former LA Rams in attendance?? Certain elements of game plans of what to do against specific Rams they had to game plan for. All those 49ers and Rams were sitting not too far from one another…

Had Bill Walsh been there and broken away from the week long 49er party ( I still haven’t seen Gary Plummer since the Gold Jacket night…lol) could u imagine the game plan stories he could have shared at Gervasi Vineyard as everyone had wine at Kevin’s post enshrinement with all those former Rams?? What questions would they have had for Walsh?? What stories would he have shared??

Bill Walsh had links to everyone who was enshrined this year off the top of my head except Marvin Harrison. There has to be a link there somewhere…just hadn’t thought of it yet..

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Could you imagine the fun had he been there for Canton this last August?? I definitely would have found him and shook his hand… however Walsh, Stanfel, Al Davis and Snake were up there looking down…smiling…and sharing stories of their own.

What would they have been sharing???

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack

As the end of the NFL season draws near its time to talk about the awards for the 2016 campaign. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we’re about defense and it’s the most prestigious award The Chancellor doles out. Its been a banner year as we have recognized two defensive giants who made 2 different Hall of Fames. Our words were read to introduce Robert Brazile into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in June, then our invite to Kevin Greene’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. So this 6th time offering the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year will be a special one. Especially now that alumnus from here have made their way to football immortality.

Before we get started on the nominees for the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year, lets take a look back at past winners:

  1. D'Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    D’Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    2011 -D’Qwell Jackson: Cleveland Browns – Recorded 158 total tackles (115 solo) 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble with 2 recoveries and garnered 1 interception as the only light on a 4-12 team. The Browns were in the top ten defensively all year and finished 10th.

  2. 2012 –Navorro Bowman: San Francisco 49ers – Garnered 148 total tackles (98 solo) 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception with a fumble forced. Was an All Pro force who outperformed his more celebrated All Pro teammate Patrick Willis. Starred on the NFL’s #3 defense and made the play of the year knocking down a 4th down pass to Roddy White on the last play of the NFC Championship Game. Sent the Niners to the Super Bowl.
  3. 2013 – Richard Sherman: Seattle Seahawks – He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and a week 4 TD against Housto that turned their season around. He also had 48 tackles, defensed 17 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and tipped Colin Kaepernick’s desperation throw into the game clinching interception in the NFC Championship Game.
  4. watt2014 – J.J. Watt: Houston Texans – One of the greatest defensive performances ever with 78 tackles, led the league with 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries returning 1 for a touchdown. Then had 1 interception returned 80 yards for his 2nd defensive touchdown. He drug a rebuilding Texan team to within a game of making the  playoffs with a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. May have been the greatest season by a defender in NFL history.
  5. 2015 – Thomas Davis: Carolina Panthers – The 6th best defense in 2015 & made it to Super Bowl L where Davis played with a plate in his broken arm just 2 weeks after the original injury. Toughness aside he garnered 105 total tackles (75 solo) 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his teammate Luke Kuechly garnered national media attention, the 4 additional sacks and 2 more forced fumble won Davis the last Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Award.

When gauging a defender’s impact the first thing you have to remember is at what point of the game does the defender make plays. When it comes to Khalil Mack he just had an 8 game streak snapped where he garnered at least 1 sack. The longest streak in the NFL in the last 7 years.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

However a closer look and you’ll see his forcing a fumble in overtime to short-circuit a Tampa drive in a 30-24 win in week 8. Another flash came late in the 4th quarter in week 13 when a gassed Raider defense was hanging on by a thread as Buffalo drove to the Oakland 17. A touchdown seemed imminent as momentum was teetering in the Bills direction. Well until this generation’s Derrick Thomas dipped his shoulder, came around the corner sacking Tyrod Taylor forcing and recovering the fumble preserving a 38-24 win.

Not bad until you realize the week before saw the Raiders clinging to a 35-32 lead with 1:00 to go and the NFL’s reigning MVP Cam Newton had the Panthers in Oakland territory at the 44. One more completion and Carolina, clinging to fading playoff hopes, could attempt a game winning field goal. On cue Mack burst into the backfield steamrolling Newton for a sack forcing a fumble and recovering it preserving another victory. These points are the difference between an 11-3 Raider team in line for homefield advantage, and Tampa 1 game out of the NFC wildcard, Carolina & Buffalo 1 loss from playoff elimination.

Mack forcing the game winning fumble. All but eliminating the defending NFC Champions from postseason play in 2016.

Mack’s season has been transcendent as he has collected 55 tackles (46 solo) 11 sacks with 5 forced fumbles. He’s recovered 3, returning 1 for a touchdown before we remind you he has 1 pick for another touchdown that also came in the win over Carolina. These are huge impact plays that decide contests not innocuous stats in the middle of a game without meaning or context. In the last 2 seasons he has 14 sacks that have come in the 3rd & 4th quarter of games. What happens if he carries that type of presence into the postseason??

Sure there are 2 games left in the season but no defender has meant more or produced more during the 2016 campaign.  Khalil Mack is the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

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Kevin Greene Belongs In The Hall of Fame: War Damn Eagle – HOF Edition

kevin-greene-pittsburgh-steelers-unsigned-8x10-photo5_2860d2f89fbbfa8abd33b1369cf0eb00Originally Published 3, March 2011 w/ Postscript 10, August 2016 

There are players that come along and break the mold and there are those that totally destroy it.  Enter Kevin Greene, one of my personal favorite players and one of the reason I love football (all sports) in the first place.  He broke molds, stereotypes, changed perceptions as much as any player over the last 25 years.  What am I talking about? Do you realize that of all the outside linebackers, the player with the most sacks in a career is Kevin Greene?  Do you realize that Kevin Greene had double digit sacks for FOUR different pro football teams? Yet I digress…

As the 1980’s beckoned, the 3-4 defense became the choice of many teams as the best way to attack NFL offenses.  All that changed with the 1985 Chicago Bears march to the Super Bowl. As teams started to revert back to the 4-3 defense as a staple, a lessor known talent started to lay his foundation out west with the Los Angeles Rams in 1986.

Kevin Greene started to rush as an outside linebacker in 1986 and recorded 7 sacks that year. Yet he didn’t gain notoriety until 1988 when he bested Lawrence Taylor with 16 1/2 sacks to 15 1/2 for the NFC lead at linebacker.  Whereas the majority of the modern age athletic linebackers were black, Kevin Greene was a white defensive player who broke that mold and with his crazy “War Eagle” Auburn attitude he was a great pass rusher from that season on.  A player that other Rams looked to on game day to lead them on and off the field.

In his single season in San Fran, Greene helped the ‘Niners to the 1997 NFC Championship against Green Bay.

However by the time we move to 1993, very few teams employed the 3-4 defense. Then the Steelers went looking for a linebacker to match Greg Lloyd that would be more effective than Jerrol Williams.  Kevin Greene signed, and Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh.

The Steelers had two outstanding linebackers to crash the pocket.    The last bastion of 3-4 defense at the time and Greene was the impetus of a chaotic defense.  Who should blitz? Who should drop? Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers, and Bill Cowher tinkered with different zone blitzing schemes that became the scourge of the league.  He helped the ’94 and ’95 teams to the AFC Championship and Super Bowl XXX respectively.  During his 3 years in Pittsburgh he recorded 12.5 sacks in ’93,  14 sacks in ’94, and 9 sacks in ’95.  It was Kevin Greene’s arrival that made the Steelers defense lethal.

Even after outplaying the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX and poised to return to the title game again from a personnel standpoint, the Steelers let Greene go for a younger Jason Gildon.  He rejoined Dom Capers who moved on to become head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers and tag teamed with Lamar Lathon, formerly of the Houston Oilers, to form a 1-2 linebacker punch equal to that of Blitzbugh.

He recorded his second highest career sack total, at the time, with 14.5 in Carolina. He led the league with Lathon coming in second in sacks with 13.5.  Again he was the impetus of a veteran laden defense that dethroned the champion Dallas Cowboys in a divisional playoff and made it to the 1996 NFC Championship Game where they lost to Green Bay.  The Carolina Panthers made it to the NFC Championship Game in only their second season.  Wow.

After a falling out with Carolina brass following that 1996 season, for which owner Jerry Richardson later apologized, he signed a 1 year deal in San Francisco where he was a pass rushing specialist and only started four games.  Yet amazingly he still compiled 10.5 sacks and helped the 49ers to the 1997 NFC Championship game where they fell to the Packers 23-10.  See a pattern here?  After the apology from Richardson, Greene re-signed with Carolina and played on for two more years for them recording 15 sacks in 1998 and 12 in 1999.

Kevin Greene was a street fighter tough player who brought that attitude to any team he played for.  He was a blood and guts player that teamed with Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon, each had their best years across from Greene.

What was the most puzzling aspect of Kevin Greene’s career was how teams kept thinking they’d replace him even though he was super productive and I wonder would he have moved around so much had he been a black outside linebacker.  I don’t think he would have.  You can’t tell me race had nothing to do with it either.  He was athletic, strong, tenacious and for the life of me can’t figure why teams  thought they’d replace him.  Do you realize that for 4 straight years, Kevin Greene was a defensive stalwart on 3 different teams that made it to the conference championship game?  Twice is a coincidence, four is a pattern.  He was a winner.

Greene, making his presence felt early in the 1994 AFC Championship Game.

How do you gauge impact?  The most sacks in NFL history for a linebacker with 160 and third all time behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith.  He was a 5 time Pro Bowl participant and made the All Pro team twice. He led the league in sacks twice during his career. If that’s not enough… Add the fact Greg Lloyd and Lamar Lathon’s best sack totals of their careers came when they teamed with Greene.  Lloyd had 10 sacks in 1994 and the aforementioned Lathon’s 1996 total of 13.5 in Carolina.

Each team he left had a defensive dropoff in production and wins.  The ’96 Steelers barely made the playoffs and were run out of town in New England when they got there, thanks to Curtis Martin’s 166 yards rushing, losing 28-3.  The 97 & 2000 Panthers didn’t make the playoffs. The 98 49ers were scored upon heavily even though they made the divisional round of the playoffs.  Even then they needed Steve Young’s miracle throw to T.O. to beat the Packers to get there.

So if the greatest defensive player in NFL history is Lawrence Taylor, rightfully so, who finished with 132 sacks in his career, where does that put Kevin Greene and his 160?? Happened in the same era, so that can’t be argued.  Quite simply he belongs.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Kevin Greene.

EPILOGUE:  I am getting the greatest kick out of watching the growth of Clay Matthews III.  Its like watching some weird Frankenstein thats part Clay Matthews the father (Browns) and Kevin Greene.  The style of play and to watch them interact.  I was fortunate enough to be on the Ravens sideline pregame and front row seats behind the Baltimore Ravens bench when they played the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

I watched how Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis interacted and see much the same in Greene and Matthews.  When the television mic caught Greene conveying to Matthews during the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XLV that it was time for him to put his imprint on the game.  Then to watch him force the Mendenhall fumble two plays later gave me goosebumps.  To watch him so in tune with his protege’ is cool and can’t wait to watch their encore.

Greene and protege’ Clay Matthews III

Postscript August 10, 2016: Fast forward 5 years and here we are a couple days removed from Kevin’s enshrinement into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the great opportunity to be there at both the Gold Jacket Ceremony and The Enshrinement as his guest. For the small role I had in advocating his candidacy may have been the sole reason for Taylor Blitz Times in the first place. It was an honor to do it and I am grateful to Kevin and his wife Tara for inviting me.

kev.ticketHowever they set a football fanatic on the unsuspecting city of Canton. I had the chance to meet with former teammates and coaches that have known him over his football life. His coaches from high school all the way through to the NFL. I jumped in and made sure to get down into where the fans were and wound up becoming the 1st person to pay for his authenticated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame autograph.

chancellor.kevTo watch him receive his Gold Jacket was an emotional moment as a big time fan. To hear his impassioned speech gave credence to all that I knew and heard over the last few days from his Auburn, Rams, and Steelers’ teammates, his father at the airport with Coach Vermeil, his high school freshman coach Nick Petrillo, to meeting Lamar Lathon at the after party who was recalling this very article with Thurman Thomas.

It was great to see Kevin take his rightful place and become one of the giants of the game and one of it’s great ambassadors. It’s been an unbelievable 5 year ride as you’ve taken your place as one of pro football’s immortals. Congratulations Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene!!

kev.bust.pngAs for that ticket… he signed a white Steelers #91 Greene jersey. The whereabouts of the ticket?? I gave it to Kevin who put it in his Hall of Fame Gold Jacket interior pocket… mission accomplished!

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Kevin Greene, The Chancellor & A Hall of Fame Trip: HOF Edition

Originally Published 3, August 2016 w/ Postscript 10, August 2016

As a huge football fan and historian, I’ve always wanted to know what football immortality would be like. Every year on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, I’m waiting to see who gets the call to “The Hall” and watch as players are congratulated by loved ones and former teammates. Then as they walk on stage and meet their fellow classmates who will be immortalized in Canton with them later that summer.  In August there is the Gold Jacket Dinner ceremony and the enshrinement festivities as we hear from the players themselves. This year, thanks to Kevin Greene and his family, The Chancellor will be there to see it and witness it up close.

kevingreene.enshrinementYes, I will be there for the Gold Jacket Dinner and the enshrinement ceremony. There for the full sense to watch him take his rightful place among the giants of the game. How did we get here? Well I have a crazy story to tell you…whatever your beliefs & it is a trip.

As I started to grow Taylor Blitz, one of the subjects that was important to me were the players and teams who were overlooked in history. When it comes to arguing for players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame I thought too much sway was given to Super Bowl champions and not necessarily players that defined the era they played in. So on 3, March 2011 I put the finishing touches on Kevin Greene’s article as I had a break at work and published it mid afternoon. A few minutes later my phone pinged saying someone had left a comment on the article. I didn’t fully check it until later that afternoon but the response was from KGreene. “Yeah whatever” I thought as I approved the comment. I thought it was a prank or spam… no way he read it that fast without our being connected through social media at that point in time.

greene cmment.3.3.11It was only once I got home that I checked in my administration page that the response had come from Greene’s Green Bay Packer email. Now get this… an article I published that has been read nearly 10,000 times and shared on Facebook alone 550 different times, was read and responded to by Greene in only 17 minutes!! In fact, Kevin may have been the 1st to read my article advocating his candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was published at 1:51 pm and his response was at 2:08 pm of the same afternoon. This was without being connected through social media at the time.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of the internet.

greene publish.3.3.11

Over the years we kept in touch as I would write him concerning an article on Fritz Shurmur and his role in his legendary  “Eagle Defense” that nearly won the NFL title in 1989.  The article would be shared countless times on social media by myself and others. It would show up on Twitter although I don’t have those analytic numbers to show.

 

The one thing I’ll never know are who of those thousands of readers had influence to vote Kevin in?? Did it make a difference?? Of course I believe it did and I know there have been national writers who have peeked at Taylor Blitz Times. Several articles from this blog have been linked by Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, Russian websites, and several SB Nation websites just to name a few. So to watch his candidacy rise to that of a semifinalist to a finalist to receiving the call to the hall over the last 5 years has been rewarding.

When I was watching the Saturday before the Super Bowl and heard he had made it of course it was cool to watch. I did have some insight before it was announced being connected to Alicia and Jerry Kramer as I’ve been interlinked with aiding in advocating for his Hall of Fame inclusion. The first thing I wanted to do was send a note of congratulations. Only one issue… he wasn’t coaching with the Packers anymore.

2016.bustsEventually caught up to him through social media and of course there is where I share a ton of Taylor Blitz articles and other historical football content. Then out of the blue I find out I was put on the invitee list by Kevin and Tara through a group posting. At first I thought…no way then I was hit with the email and here we are.

Since the advent of Taylor Blitz Times, well over 250,000 articles read, I always wanted to share articles and stories true fans and players could enjoy. A perspective on today’s game through the eyes of a historian. Yet one rooted in the heart of the rank and file football player and fan: the linebackers, fullbacks, running backs, defensive and offensive linemen… safeties. Sure we’ll talk quarterbacks here but not oversaturate the content making it all about them because they aren’t the essence of football. That essence is hitting and tackling and the last time I checked quarterbacks don’t do that.

k.greene.hallWhich brings us inexorably here: Hall of Fame weekend 2016!! Congratulations to Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Eddie DeBartolo, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and the families of Ken Stabler & Dick Stanfel. All earned their way to being immortalized this weekend.

However the biggest congratulations from Taylor Blitz Times and The Chancellor is reserved for Kevin and his family. The long wait is over and can’t wait to meet you guys in Canton. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this.

After 40 years of being a pure football historian and fanatic, The Chancellor of Football is finally taking a trip to The Pro Football Hall of Fame. To watch  favorite player take his place among the game’s greats.

Postscript August 10, 2016: Fast forward 5 years and here we are a couple days removed from Kevin’s enshrinement into The Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the great opportunity to be there at both the Gold Jacket Ceremony and The Enshrinement as his guest. For the small role I had in advocating his candidacy may have been the sole reason for Taylor Blitz Times in the first place. It was an honor to do it and I am grateful to Kevin and his wife Tara for inviting me.

kev.ticketHowever they set a football fanatic on the unsuspecting city of Canton. I had the chance to meet with former teammates and coaches that have known him over his football life. His coaches from high school all the way through to the NFL. I jumped in and made sure to get down into where the fans were and wound up becoming the 1st person to pay for his authenticated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame autograph.

chancellor.kevTo watch him receive his Gold Jacket was an emotional moment as a big time fan. To hear his impassioned speech gave credence to all that I knew and heard over the last few days from his Auburn, Rams, and Steelers’ teammates, his father at the airport with Coach Vermeil, his high school freshman coach Nick Petrillo, to meeting Lamar Lathon at the after party who was recalling this very article with Thurman Thomas.

It was great to see Kevin take his rightful place and become one of the giants of the game and one of it’s great ambassadors. It’s been an unbelievable 5 year ride as you’ve taken your place as one of pro football’s immortals. Congratulations Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene!!

kev.bust.pngAs for that ticket… he signed a white Steelers #91 Greene jersey. The whereabouts of the ticket?? I gave it to Kevin who put it in his Hall of Fame Gold Jacket interior pocket… Mission accomplished

chancellor.kev2.jpg

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXX RUNNER UP 1995 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Three yards short… just 3 yards short of the 1994 AFC Championship. That loss to the San Diego Chargers haunted the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly a full year. They had fought to unseat the Bills and Oilers in an AFC ruled by open offenses during the early 90s. In 1994 with each foe not making the playoffs, Pittsburgh would coast to Super Bowl XXIX, right?? After all Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Rod Woodson and the rest of the Blitzburgh defense would be back intact.

sbxxxpLOL Uh huh that’s exactly what everyone thought when on a rainy, gray, dreary, ominous day in Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers welcomed the San Diego Chargers in what was going to be a Steelers coronation and they’d be off to win that elusive “one for the thumb”, fifth Super Bowl title. However trailing late in the 4th quarter 13-10, on a 3rd and short, Stan Humphries play faked and went up top for Tony Martin for a 43yd touchdown with a few minutes to go in the game.

The Steelers weren’t known for their passing offense or good at a two minute drill. Frantically the Steelers raced down field when they were caught 3 yards away from the goal line facing a 4th down. The season rested on one play… Neil O’Donnell threw for Barry Foster yet Dennis Gibson knocked the ball down to preserve a 17-13 upset. Prozac prescriptions skyrocketed in western Pennsylvania.

So the mantra going into the ’95 season was to get those “3 more yards”. It was emblazoned on banners, t-shirts, terrible towels, you name it. They were determined not to be denied again.

In the offseason the Steelers said goodbye to free agent TE Eric Green and farewell to Barry Foster. Foster who had led the AFC with 1,690yds rushing in 1992 was the heart of the offense since Coach Bill Cowher had come to the Steel City. Yet unlike when the team lost Hardy Nickerson and Thomas Everett in recent years, Green and Foster represented the offenses identity and personality. So when they lost their most decorated player, cornerback Rod Woodson in week one, staggered to a 3-4 start, it looked like 1995 would become a lost season.

nfl_woodson-rings_600x600Enter Kordell Stewart. The mid-round draftee QB from Colorado made famous for his hail mary pass that beat Michigan in 1994, was languishing on the Steelers bench. Several receivers were injured and he was pressed into duty as a receiver in practice where he proved to be more athletic than the regular receivers. Stewart electrified in practice. Cowher started to insert Stewart into the lineup in several packages and a now wide open Steelers offense was born.

The big play along with 3, 4, and 5 receiver sets were run with regularity, for the first time. Teams did not have any film to study they’re new approach nor ANY film to recognize where or how they would use Stewart.

With this new weapon, “Slash” helped the Steelers break their predictable play calling and a bolder offense went from scoring 21 to 27 points per game. They went on an 8 game winning streak and for 6 straight games scored in the last two minutes before the half. Stewart scored 4 of those touchdowns. They took the momentum into the half with them in the process. Retooled with new enthusiasm the ’95 Steelers screamed into the playoffs.

super-bowl-logo-1995How different was this team? In their first playoff win over Buffalo, the Steelers scored the most points ever in a home playoff game winning 40-21. The AFC Championship against the upstart Indianapolis Colts was a slugfest that echoed the 1994 championship in many ways. The most eery was when Harbaugh duplicated the exact same scenario, throwing a late 4th qtr bomb to Floyd Turner to take a 16-13 lead. You want to talk about a hush falling over a stadium, my goodness you would have thought you were at a funeral…lol and we were. After all they had overcome to get back to the championship game and they were in the same position again?? Are you kidding me??

So what had changed?? The season long development of their passing game is what had.  Not only were they able to initiate a march, they actually faced the team’s motto during the drive. Facing a 4th and 3 near midfield with their season on the line, O’Donnell hit Andre Hastings to keep the drive alive. “To hell with a tie!”

Nearing field goal range for a game tying kick, this bolder Steeler offense went for it all when O’Donnell found a streaking Ernie Mills down to the 2. They scored on the next play to take a 20-16 lead. Now it was up to the defense to hold off the Colts who had come from behind many times that season. Harbaugh brought them to within a failed hail mary of pulling off the upset.

So with a collective sigh of relief they were off to Super Bowl XXX. They literally got those three more yards. Although they lost to Dallas, they thoroughly outplayed them from the middle of the second quarter on. They held Dallas to 61 total yards in the second half, fewest ever for a Super Bowl winner.

They were the first to kick an onside kick without being under 5 minutes to go. Something the Saints copied in Super Bowl XLIV. A couple errant interceptions by O’Donnell robbed this team of its rightful place in history as a Super Bowl champion. Yet the magnificence of their effort in trying to achieve their goal was to be celebrated. Tremendous lesson to be learned from these men is a simple one. To achieve what you want, you may have to change how you do things to get there.

me-lloydme-greene-hall

Sigh…. Neil!!! This was the crowning jewel for becoming AFC Champions in 1995. They should have won it all…

 

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle Defense: The Birthplace of the Zone Blitz

NFL Guru: Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur

The NFL has had several geniuses when it comes to coaches. Yet when it comes to coordinators many have not received their due nor have any made the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on their contributions. One such coach that did receive Hall of Fame consideration was Dick LeBeau (enshrined in 2011 as a player), who as a long time defensive coordinator has been credited (with Dom Capers) for creating the zone blitz in the modern NFL. Yes Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh but the true zone blitz, as a scheme, came from the mind of Fritz Shurmur. Another assistant deserving enshrinement in Canton.

In 1989, Shurmur was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. When the team suffered multiple injuries along the front line, yet had all their linebackers healthy, necessity became the mother of invention. His team employed a 3-4 defense that featured Kevin Greene, who had back to back 16.5 sacks in 1988 and 1989 (thanks Kevin), coming off the corner. Yet going into the wildcard matchup as an underdog, Shurmur decided  to go with emphasizing his linebackers over his linemen and came up with a 2 down lineman 5 linebacker set up to confuse Randall Cunningham.

You have to understand that this was Randall Cunningham at the height of his career, in fact the next year 1990,  he was the NFL’s MVP. However in 1989 he was on his way to stardom when he electrified a national audience on a Monday night by shaking off a hit by New York Giant Carl Banks, and throwing a touchdown to TE Jimmie Giles. He was a threat that ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the following year. He was John Elway 2.0 and the league was having serious problems in defending against such an athletic talent at QB.

In 1989 he led the Eagles in rushing with 621 yards while throwing for 3,400 yards 23 TDs and only 16 interceptions. The Eagles had won 5 of their final 6 games in 1989 and wanted to make amends in the playoffs for their 1988 playoff Fog Bowl loss in Chicago. Although they lost a toe to toe battle with the defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the regular season, the Eagles believed they could play with anyone and wanted a rematch with Joe Montana and company. But first they had to get through a wild card battle with the Los Angeles Rams, whom they taunted in the papers heading into the game. How would Shurmur defend Randall??

Shurmur opted for speed and confusion. One of the first items for a quarterback to determine is who the Mike (Middle) linebacker is. This is to set not only the blocking schemes but where the focal point to how the offense could attack the defense. Well the Rams shifted into their “Eagle” defense where OLBs Kevin Greene #91, Mel Owens #58, and Mike Wilcher #54 manned the outside with ILBs Larry Kelm #52, and Fred Strickland #53 were supplemented by either Brett Faryniarz #51 or George Bethune #57.

You have to understand the Rams weren’t doing this as a nickel defense, they were doing this on first and second downs also. Strickland would take the role of ‘nose-backer’ sometimes lining up as a nose tackle 1 yard off the ball and then would stand up to join the other four linebackers in a stand up position. They played a cat and mouse game as to who was the Mike on most plays.

Along with the outside linebackers taking a page out of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense and stacking two OLBs over the tight end.  The Rams jumped on the Eagles  14-0 in the first quarter forcing Philadelphia to pass. There were plays where Los Angeles would have as many as 4 linebackers lined up on one side of the formation yet only rushed  one with a blitzing DB.  Along with confusing Cunningham from an alignment standpoint, Shurmur drew up defenses that had DE Mike Piel #95 either dropping or spying.

With an array of blitzes off the corner and so much speed on the field  to chase Cunningham, once he scrambled, had one of his worst days. The Eagles had little continuity and one of the reason the offense couldn’t adjust was the untimely death of Eagle quarterback coach Doug Scovil just a week prior to the game. Without his working confidante, Randall and Buddy Ryan’s offense couldn’t adjust as Kevin Greene recorded 2 sacks and hurried him into a 24 of 40 for 238 yards, 1 interception performance and no splash plays whatsoever.

Once the game was over and the Rams danced out of Philadelphia’s Veteran’s Stadium 21-7 winners, the league took notice of Shurmur’s masterpiece. Every other coordinator running a 3-4 during that time employed some of the same tactics Fritz pioneered. At the time it was thought by pundits that they couldn’t employ that gimmicky type of defense against a down hill running team.

In fact their next opponents would be exactly that style of offense and many waited for the Rams to sign a DL during the week, and when they didn’t, knew they’d see the defense again. An underdog for a second consecutive playoff game they traveled to the Meadowlands where Ottis “OJ” Anderson and the New York Giants would run into the belly of the Rams “Eagle” defense. No way could they win a second cold weather road game…right??

In this first vignette, you see the Eagle defense against the Giants on a sweep play. Notice how Shurmur has “nose backer” Strickland #53 off the ball? A concept borrowed from Tom Landry’s defensive tackle position in his Flex Defense, allowing Strickland to use his speed and agility against New York center Bart Oates.

On this play you recognize the cat and mouse game Shurmur’s defense is playing with Phil Simms. Not only does ‘nose backer’ Fred Strickland #53 line up over center in a 3 point stance, he then stands up to give the Rams 4 standing linebackers from the center to the weak side of the formation. Who’s coming?? Who’s dropping?? Simms is so rattled at this point he overthrows Lionel Emanuel and the boo birds were out in the Meadowlands.

On this play you’ll notice that SS Michael Stewart is up on the line to the strong side yet Shurmur still employed twin outside linebackers to the top of the screen in Mel Owens #58 and Mike Wilcher #54.  With the two linebackers up near the line of scrimmage they have to be accounted for by the Giants front line. You’ll notice they engage the OL which kept them from sliding their blocking attention to Kevin Greene who runs over FB Maurice Carthon #44.

Since they were in a 2TE max protection, the only outlet for Simms to throw to as he scrambles to his left is Ottis Anderson #24, yet the aforementioned Owens (who backed off after engaging Giant T Jumbo Elliot) and ILB Larry Kelm were sitting right there. With nowhere to throw the ball, time was up and Greene was right there for the sack. You can clearly see the confusion in the Giants offense. Look at Zeke Mowatt #84 who completely does a 360 and didn’t help Carthon on Greene. Why?? SS Stewart was there to occupy him. Genius

The Rams had been losing 6-0 when the Giants, late in the second quarter, uncharacteristically threw into the teeth of the Eagle defense and an interception set the Rams up to take a 7-6 lead at the half. The biggest play in the game and the turning point that allowed the Rams to upset the Giants 19-13. On this final play DE Mike Piel #95 drops off in the weak flat along with LB Strickland, lined up in 3 point stance in front of Giants guard William Roberts, who also drops.

George Bethune #57, takes over as the ‘nose backer with Brett Faryniarz #51 rushing from the weak-side along with Greene #91 on the strong side. Since Strickland’s first step is forward, Roberts #66 has to honor his charge and not help out LT Jumbo Elliot.  He has no one to block!! Greene and Faryniarz’s rush is so strong Simms has to get rid of the ball and Jerry Gray, zoning away from RB Dave Meggett,  tips the pass that Michael Stewart intercepts. You also notice that Meggett’s “scat” route was to his right and away from the DE that dropped in the weak flat.  Shurmur fielded ONE DL and didn’t rush him!! In a nickel defense?? Think about that for a second…

This was a masterpiece performance by a true NFL genius in Fritz Shurmur. The ’89 Rams fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship and this defense never got the attention the 46 defense, the Steel Curtain, or the Ravens defense did because they didn’t win it all. Had they beat the 49ers and then the Broncos to win Super Bowl XXIV, this defense would have gone down in history. Yet what is interesting is this defense had it’s prime note taker in Giant defensive coordinator and current Patriot coach Bill Belichick.

How do we know this??

He used the 2 man front 1 year later in Super Bowl XXV to stop the Buffalo Bills to win that trophy. Just last year he used the defense with 5 standing players to force NY Jet QB Mark Sanchez into several interceptions. He used it against Tim Tebow also in both the regular season win and again in the playoffs. What Shurmur started in the 1989 playoffs live on to this day in a few 3-4 defenses. One centerpiece to this defense was Kevin Greene who moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993 to help form Blitzburgh.  Surely Greene took his playbook with him to Pittsburgh and may have shared some of these principles with Steeler coaches.


EPILOGUE: As for Shurmur, he moved on to become a champion defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI with Mike Holmgren. You want to hear about the ties that bind?? From the late 80s into the early 90’s, Mike Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers while Fritz Shurmur was his nemesis counterpart within the division for the Rams. Trust us…going into that 1989 NFC Championship it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the Niners would win.

In fact, in ’89 the Rams won game 2, 13-12 in Candlestick and even though the Rams lost the NFC Championship to SF, they returned to San Francisco the following year. In that game the ‘Niners were 10-0 and the Rams were 3-7 when the Rams hammered them 28-17 when the Niners were trying to 3peat. So when Holmgren took the head coaching job in Green Bay he took Fritz Shurmur with him. Shurmur followed Holmgren to Seattle in 1999.

However he passed away before the 1999 season. Yet now as the Cleveland Browns GM, Holmgren hired current head coach Pat Shurmur, who is the nephew of Fritz.  Shurmur developed other defenses that we will give mention to in the near future yet this 1989 run with his “Eagle defense” was his masterpiece. Even though he went on to coach a 4-3 in Green Bay, his use and expertise to adapt to personnel turned his 3-4 into a juggernaut that nearly stole an NFL title.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Frank “Fritz” Shurmur (July 15, 1932 – August 30, 1999)

Thanks for reading and share the article. Coaches don’t forget to adapt to your personnel instead of forcing your plays down the throat of a group that may not be able to run it.