Legends of The Fall: When Auburn Running Backs Ruled the NFL

In the annals of college football there was a time where USC had earned the moniker “Tailback U”. Then in the late 80s Oklahoma St churned out back to back Pro Football Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders. Yet go back another decade and you’ll have a hard time topping the talent Auburn sent to the NFL over a 10 year period.

From 1979 -1989 William Andrews, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Lionel “Litte Train” James, and Bo Jackson took the NFL by storm. While each touched a level of greatness during this era none would make it to the hallowed halls of Canton. Although injuries derailed 2 of these promising careers right at their zenith.

Of this list most think of Bo Jackson as the leading ground gainer who lost his prime to an injury. Not true the 1st of our super backs who had their career cut short was the punishing William Andrews. He’s the man that began this era of excellence unexpectedly as a 3rd round pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the ’79 draft.

To offer some context consider Andrews was the powerful fullback blocking for the shifty and elusive Joe Cribbs and James Brooks. In ’78 Cribbs led the Tigers with 1,278 yards while Brooks spelled him gaining 514 more. Andrews was the 3rd choice with the fewest carries at 72.

He exploded onto the NFL scene rushing for 1,023 yards in his rookie campaign in ’79. Then followed it up with back to back 1,300 yards seasons in ’80 & ’81 yet came to be known as the running back who once knocked out Hall of Fame hitter Ronnie Lott. We don’t have that hit but we do have one encounter on a Monday Night fans everywhere remember during that era…

By 1983 Andrews had supplanted Hall of Fame Member Earl Campbell as the NFL’s premier power back. His ’83 rushing total of 1,567 yards stood as a team record until Jamal Anderson broke it in 1998. He was 2nd in the league in rushing to another Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson. It was the 2nd time Andrews gained over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 3 years. Yet he was derailed with a knee injury that shortened a potential trip to Canton.

Take a look at how lethal he was both running and receiving from 79-83.

  • 79 – 239 car. 1,023 yds 3TDs / 39 rec. 309 yds 2TDs
  • 80 – 265 car. 1,308 yds 4TDs / 51 rec. 456yds 1TD
  • 81 – 287 car. 1,301 yds 10TDs / 81 rec. 735 yds 2 TDs
  • 82 – 139 car. 573 yds 2TDs (strike shortened year)
  • 83 – 331 car. 1,562 yds 7 TDs / 59 rec. 609 yds 4TDs

Andrews was either 1st or 2nd team All Pro 4 straight years and was in the Pro Bowl as well from 80-83. Guess who joined him in Hawaii for 3 of those Pro Bowls in ’80, ’81 and ’83?? Former “War Eagle” backfield mate Joe Cribbs. Do you realize in 1980 these former backfield mates wound up the #4 (Andrews 1,308 yds) and #6 (Cribbs 1,185 yds) rushers in the NFL??

In ’80 Cribbs blossomed into the AFC’s Rookie of the Year as he was the sparkplug in the Bills 1st division championship dating back to 1966. Cribbs juked his way to 1,185 yards rushing 11 TDs while gaining another 415 yards on 52 receptions. Quite simply he was Thurman Thomas before Thurman Thomas as he was a threat out of the backfield. He tortured linebackers trying to cover him.

Check out the move on the 1st vid at the 2:32 mark when he rushes for a 16 yard TD against New England. He makes 4 unblocked Patriots miss in a phone booth… just sick…

While being a Bills fan up close, it’s hard to choose between his rookie year or his 2nd year as his best. Both years the Bills were in the playoffs and in ’81 he rushed for 1,097 yards and only 3 TDs but made up for it with 7 TD receptions and another 603 yards on 40 receptions. He flashed on big play after big play as a the Bills rose to prominence challenging the NFL’s elite.

Amazingly Cribbs and Andrews were rarely used as receivers at Auburn and they’re game fully maturing on the NFL level is what elevated both. Auburn in ’78 completed just 5 passes a game in a run heavy offense.

Ironically this was the role James Brooks also found himself as the 3rd down back in his rookie season with “Air Coryell” in ’81. Chuck Muncie was the feature back and he scored an NFL record 19TDs rushing. Brooks was the change of pace scatback who recorded 46 receptions for 329 yards and 3 TDs and had to fit in where he could. He only ran the ball 109 times for 525 yards but had a whopping 4.8 yard average.

He was the AFC’s leading punt returner in 1981 and led the NFL in kickoff return yardage in 1982… so of course you’re asking “How is that dominant at the pro level?”

With a potential contract dispute looming, he was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984. His 2nd season in the Queen City saw him improve with 929 yards rushing and 7 TDs. Out of the backfield he caught 55 aerials for 576 yards and crossed the goal line 5 more times.

Over the next 5 seasons Brooks would make the Pro Bowl as a runner 4 times while being selcted All Pro in the same seasons. He had 3 1,000 yard season and in 1988 finished with 931 yards. Had he gained another 69 he and Ickey Woods (1,066) would have been just the 4th set of 1,000 yard rushers in the same backfield in a season. Brooks and Woods powered the #1 offense to Super Bowl XXIII that year.

His 1989 season of 1,239 yards rushing was the most in Bengals history up to that point. Corey Dillon broke it in 2000. Try this vignette:

So if you’re keeping score, between 1980 and 1990, these 3 running backs accounted for 11 Pro Bowls, 11 All Pro selections, a Super Bowl appearance (Brooks XXIII) and 10 – 1,000 yard campaigns. Each saw success as the Bills and Falcons twice made it to the divisional round of the playoffs and 1 trip to the AFC Championship Game with Brooks in ’81.

While these men were killing it on the NFL level, Bo Jackson and Lionel “train” James were the new set of Auburn backs to make names for themselves. James was thought of to be too small for the NFL standing at 5’6 and 171 lbs soaking wet. Yet he would have to make a name on special teams and spot duty in the backfield.

As a rookie in ’84 James led the NFL in kick returns (49) and kick return yards (949) to prove he belonged. Of course you’re asking “How is that dominating in the NFL?” Well…then came 1985…

In a season where Roger Craig became the first 1,000/1,000 yard performer both rushing and receiving & led the NFL with 92 receptions out of the backfield. Guess who was 3rd with 86 receptions 1,027 yards and 6 TDs? “Little Train” James. He actually outgained the more celebrated Craig in yardage 1,027 – 1,016. This was an NFL record for receiving yards out of the backfield.

However by the time you add James 516 yds on 105 carries & 949 yards on 43 kickoffs, he set an NFL All Purpose Yardage record with 2,535 yards. This didn’t count another 205 yards on punt returns!

His reception yardage record didn’t fall until 1999 when Marshall Faulk broke it with 1,048. His all purpose yardage mark stood until 2000 when Derrick Mason of the Titans broke it. Do you realize James’ ’85 season still ranks 4th in history?? He’s been gone from the NFL 31 years. His last season with the Chargers was 1988.

His best game ever?? His 345 yard performance against the LA Raiders where he won it in overtime:

By the way… that was the 2nd most all purpose yardage in a game in NFL/AFL history. In a brief 5 year career… James could fly. His 1985 was so dominant that it changed the Pro Bowl voting as the following year special team kick returner was added to the vote. In 1986 Bobby Joe Edmonds of Seattle became the 1st voted in but we know who’s play created that spot. Lionel James!

Bo powering past perennial all pro Cornelius Bennett of Buffalo.

Then we finish with the Heisman winning Bo Jackson. He was so great that 30 years later we’re still watching Bo Knows in a 30 for 30 documentary of what could have been. He shocked the world when he didn’t play for Tampa who drafted him in ’85 and we know of his baseball and football exploits. When he came back to “take on another hobby” in ’87 with the Raiders, it didnt sit well with a young Chancellor. It seemed arrogant and then we saw what happened on the Monday Night in Seattle:

Yikes! Bo can do whatever the hell he wants. To watch him just dust Hall of Famer Kenny Easley who had the angle on him… I was done. Apparently so was the rest of America. For the next 4 years every football season began with “When is Bo coming over from baseball?” He had other great games but not as electric as that Monday Night.

In 1990 Bo Jackson became the 1st backup to ever make the Pro Bowl as he ran for just 698 yards and 5 TDs. League wide respect poured out over what he could do if he turned to football full time. He was an adonis with sprinter speed that made the best athletes in the world view his exploits in awe.

But alas … we never saw Bo get to full potential as he went out with a fractured and dislocated hip in a 1990 AFC divisional playoff against Cincinnati. He never played again.

“Little Train” James had knee injries slow a once promising career that lasted just 5 seasons.

None of these men will make the Pro Football Hall of Fame but each left an indelible mark on the NFL of the 1980s. They arrived on the scene and turned lesser than franchises into teams that contended for championships. What was remarkable was how complete these backs were catching the ball out of the backfield when they rarely exhibited this in college.

This was one of the great runs from one school in NFL history. Even USC’s best was really OJ Simpson and Marcus Allen. Two Hall of Famers that came out 12 years apart in ’68 and ’81 respectively. Not a series of game changing backs.

To think that 3 players out of the same ’78 Auburn Tiger backfield, Andrews, Brooks, & Cribbs would go on to produce 27,771 yards from scimmage and 162 TDs in the NFL is nothing short of brilliant. Especially with Andrews and Cribbs having brief careers.

An era of dominance to be remembered for all time.

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Todd Christensen Belongs in The Hall of Fame

When Shannon Sharpe was inducted into “The Hall” back in 2011, pundits began to voice which of the new breed would be the next TE to get into Canton. Would it be Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, or Antonio Gates?? There is even outside talk of former Patriot Ben Coates as these were the dominant men at the position over the last 25 years. Uhhh… wait a minute… How did we get this far without mention of former  Oakland/L.A. Raider Todd Christensen??

A man once cut by the Dallas Cowboys found a home in Oakland and became one of the main targets in the heyday of the AFC West. The question that arises is how did we forget Christensen?? Was it the fact he was a specials teams player who didn’t start until his 4th year?? Or is this more bias against the late Al Davis’ Raiders??

In 1980 the NFL was marveling at the performance of future Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow in San Diego. When he burst onto the scene with 89 receptions, a record for Tight Ends at the time, for 1,290 and 9TDs. He became the measuring stick for all who would play his position especially with this only his 2nd season.

When he completed the ’81 season with 88 receptions only future Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome was anywhere near Winslow on the marquee. Or so pundits thought.

In 1981 after becoming the 1st defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record (7-9) the following season, the Raiders had to make changes. The 1st is they moved to L.A. then drafted super back Marcus Allen then following an old Raider tradition, converted a former running back into a Tight End…. Todd Christensen. If you went back 2 decades before, the Raiders converted former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon from RB to TE and sparked their run to Super Bowl II.

The ’82 Raiders had the NFL’s best record in a strike shortened season at 8-1, and Christensen finished 5th in receiving among TEs with 42 receptions for 510 yds and 4 TDs. Although the Raiders were upset 17-14 by the NY Jets in the AFC playoffs, a star was born.  The next year saw the Raiders cement the notion they had supplanted the Air Coryell Chargers as the best of the AFC West.

Every great player needs a signature game and in the 14th week of 1983 the Chargers were hosting the Raiders in a special Thursday Night telecast. To add to the excitement both Christensen and Winslow were on pace to tie or break Kellen’s TE record of ’89 receptions set in 1980. In front of a nationwide audience Todd proved his worth.

 

 

Buoyed by this great performance the Raiders propelled themselves to the AFC’s best record at 12-4. Not only did the Raiders go on to win Super Bowl XVIII, Christensen unseated Winslow as the game’s premiere tight end as the loss also ended the reign of “Air Coryell”. His 8 receptions 140 yards and 3 TDs completely outshone his Charger counterpart’s 4 catches for 30 yards. This was the difference between Todd’s record of 92 receptions to Winslow’s 88 to conclude ’83.

Los Angeles Raiders tight end Todd Christensen (46) blocks New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (58) during a 14-9 Giants victory on September 21, 1986, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

As injuries slowed Winslow it was Christensen who went on to maintain Pro Bowl level of play through 1987 when he went to his 5th straight. One aspect of a Tight End is to remember the primary role is to be a blocker. In the ’85 campaign he helped pave the way for NFL rushing champion Marcus Allen who ran for 1,759 yards. The following season he broke his previous NFL record for TEs as he nabbed 95 balls for 1,153 yards and 8 scores.

He led the NFL in receptions in 1983 and 1986 for all receivers not just Tight Ends.

In an era with 2 other Hall of Fame TEs Christensen had the best peak years.

  • Christensen ’83-’86: 349 rec. 4,394 yards 33 TDs *5 Pro Bowls*
  • Winslow ’80-’83: 319 rec. 4,258 yards 33 TDs *4 Pro Bowls*
  • Ozzie Newsome ’81-’84: 296 rec. 3,626 yards 20 TDs *3 Pro Bowls*
  • *Career Pro Bowls listed*

Now to be fair, Winslow and Newsome’s years include the strike shortened ’82 stanza which only had 9 regular season games. However keep in mind Todd was on special teams as a long snapper, set 2 receiving records at TE and blocked for 1985’s MVP and rushing champion Marcus Allen. Then don’t forget one of those record setting season was for a world champion when they won Super Bowl XVIII 38-9 over Washington.

Keep in mind his record for receptions in a season at TE was broken in 1994 by Ben Coates by 1 reception (96). Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2004 with 102 receptions, however Todd is the only one to have set the all time receptions record for a TE twice.

This isn’t to take away from the 2 gentlemen in “The Hall” from the same position, but how can Winslow (inducted in 1995) and Newsome (inducted in 1999) be in and we don’t even hear Christensen mentioned?? Is it because he was a late bloomer who went on to star on the 3rd team he played for?? Is this more of the media bias against Al Davis’ Raiders who seem to come up on the short end when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration??

A part of this has to do with the Raiders moving from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland in 1995. Those Los Angeles sportswriters didn’t honor the team and campaign for those players once the team went back up north. Many sportswriters campaign for players whom they lobbied for their team to draft originally and usually in the 1st round. His rocky path to Oakland through Dallas and New York is why he didn’t have that.

Yet they have/had a responsibility and shouldn’t have taken it out on those player’s legacies. I see Bill Plaschke and J.A. Adande all the time on talk shows over on ESPN when they have an obligation as history’s gatekeepers with their fellow writers and they have failed. They are why Todd, Head Coach Tom FloresLester Hayes, and Cliff Branch are on the outside looking in. It’s time to right these injustices.

Christensen deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Although we lost Todd, who passed in 2013, his family and Raider teammates should be able to share in that final honor.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Todd Christensen.

Dedicated in his memory: Todd Christensen (August 3, 1956 – November 13, 2013)

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Cliff Branch Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Madden once told NFL Films “Cliff Branch was so skinny when he walked his back pockets would fight.” Yet no one put fear in NFL secondaries when it came to getting beat deep during the 1970’s. When someone says close your eyes and picture the Oakland Raiders of the ’70’s, one of the first visuals you’d have would be Stabler launching a bomb in Cliff’s direction.

BranchBWDrafted out of Colorado in 1972, Branch was a football and track star in college. Oakland had been without a true deep threat since Warren Wells departure a few years earlier. His baptism by fire would come as he learned the game from Hall of Famer WR Fred Biletnikoff and going up against Hall of Fame CBs Willie Brown and Skip “Dr Death” Thomas in practice.

Going against those 2 big physical corners, Branch grew up in a hurry. When he was unleashed on an unsuspecting NFL as a 1st time starter in 1974, Branch blazed for 60 rec 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. Pedestrian by today’s standards until you realize he was 4th in receptions and led the league in yards and touchdowns.

It was the 1st of 4 straight Pro Bowl and All Pro seasons. He was the #1 weapon on a team that finished in no less than the AFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His best season capped off the Raider’s Super Bowl XI championship when he caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Why was it his best? He led the league in TDs and was 2nd in yards losing to Roger Carr by 1 yard on arguably the most powerful NFL champion of the 1970’s.

One aspect of Branch’s game that makes him an all timer is how he played in big games. When everyone marveled at Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as he was breaking all time NFL post season records, whose records did you think he was breaking? When Rice caught 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXIV, he was breaking the Super Bowl record for touchdowns in a game when Branch set it with 2 against the Eagles in XV. When Branch retired after the 1985 season, he was the NFL’s All Time postseason reception (73) and yardage (1,223) leader before Rice broke them some 9 years later. He had broken the previous records set by fellow Raider WR Biletnikoff, who was now his coach.

However records and numbers only tell a part of the story. How much space did defenses give him in respect to his speed that opened up opportunities for Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper?? Do you realize he was the only skill player on all 3 Raider Super Bowl champions?? Against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV it was his 2 scores that broke the game open 21-3…winning it 27-10.

In Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders held a precarious 7-0 lead over Washington it was Branch who blew that game open too. The Raiders first score was a blocked punt. In the 2nd quarter, a 35 year old Branch beat Anthony Washington and Darryl Green on a 50 yard bomb to put the silver and black in scoring position. A few plays later Branch scored from 14 yards out to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead. This took John Riggins out of the game and forced the Redskins to pass into the teeth of a secondary led by Vann McElroy, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, and Mike Davis. A 38-9 triumph won him his 3rd championship ring.

For his 14 year career he caught 501 passes for 8,685 yds and 67 touchdowns. His fellow receivers Biletnikoff and Casper have each made “The Hall.” This August his original quarterback, Ken Stabler will be enshrined posthumously. His original coach John Madden and the late Al Davis have both been enshrined. Once Tom Flores and Cliff Branch are voted in, it will close this chapter on Oakland /L.A. Raiders football.

**In 2016 the words from this article were used to induct Cliff into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame. Hopefully it will be the first on his way to Canton.**

Please lend your thoughts as well by writing in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the address below. Please be respectful and positively lend your voice:

Please write & nominate #21
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Joe Horrigan
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

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For enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Cliff Branch.

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SUPER BOWL XVIII CHAMPION 1983 LOS ANGELES RAIDERS

When Marcus Allen broke out with that famous run for LA in Super Bowl XVIII, you knew Al Davis was going to go with something similar to the past two rings…anyway Raiders 38-9 over the Redskins. Tom Flores became a great coach with not only his second Super Bowl win in 4 years. He knocked off a defending champion that was 1 game away from being labeled a dynasty.

sbxviiiHow did the Raiders kill the defending Redskins like that?  Beating the Redskins yes but dismantling them like that?  It’s still baffling some 31 years later.  The highest scoring team in history only scoring 9 points?  NFL Films shows you and tells the story. Raiders defense, Raiders defense, Raiders defense!  John Madden called the game, what more could a Raider fan want?

What most fans don’t remember was going into the ’83 AFC Championship Game, the Raiders had been swept by their division rival Seahawks during the year.  So Seattle was a formidable foe.  The game had a weird feel to it because it was drizzly and grey.  I remember Marcus Allen playing with a black eye, swollen like a boxer.  They ran over Seattle 30-14 and rewrote history.

sbxviii32Had Lyle Alzado controlled himself, the Raiders could have won that game in the 1982 playoffs (loss to Jets 17-14) and could have won Super Bowl XVII.  How do we know this?  The Redskins (who won XVII) was exceedingly stronger in 83 and that beating the Raiders gave them was epic.

Easily the strongest team in Raiders history with a mixture of old pros and young players that made up the core of this team.  Two Heisman winners on offense with Jim Plunkett and Marcus Allen.  Old pros like Cliff Branch and Todd Christensen.  Greg Pruitt was brought in to return kicks and set a league record for punt return yards.

sbxviii3Really solid defense…Reggie Kinlaw dominated from nose tackle with Hall of Famer Howie Long, the late Lyle Alzado, Greg Townsend on the defensive line were hard to move on the point.  They had the heaviest set of inside linebackers in Bob Nelson and Matt Millen. At 250lbs. each could take on and shed guards if they had too.  Rod Martin and Ted Hendricks ( the U) were the outside ‘backers with a lot of range.  Mike Davis and Vann McElroy were really solid safeties.

This defense had no real holes and then we get to Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.  One on one coverage at its finest that culminated in this performance against the Redskins receivers.

Charlie Brown and Art Monk combined for 125 receptions for 1,971 yards and 13 TDs during the season. Hayes and Haynes held them to 4 rec. for 119 yards…60 came on one play. It reduced the highest scoring team in NFL history to 1 scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. The next year in 1984 they started to give up some passing yards.  Yet Super Bowl XVIII they were at their zenith.

sbxviii5Remember that whole NFC 13 straight Super Bowl wins (19-31) and NFC dominance talk back when?  It was really worse than that.  After Pittsburgh’s win in XIV, only the Raiders won for the AFC in XV and XVIII. So it was really (16-31) that the NFC dominated but could not beat the Raiders winning 15 of 17.  Talk about carrying the torch for the conference…

 

It was also the last championship won by the Raiders under Al Davis. An original AFL pioneer who remained a separatist at heart and on all of the Raider’s Super Bowl winning rings, used the AFL “A” and not the AFC “A”.

 

Long live the American Football League, as we lost a pioneer back in 2011 when Al Davis passed.  In 2010 I attended a game in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and the ghosts of all those great Raider moments played out as I looked around that stadium. I met many former Raiders at the game and just missed Coach Flores but definitely would have loved to have met Al Davis.

bdavisThis is dedicated to the memories of Al Davis, along with Al LoCasale, Todd Christensen, Lyle Alzado, Earl Leggett, John Facenda, and Charlie Sumner.

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Legends of The Fall: Marcus Allen

Did you know that only once in NFL history has the single season rushing leader wore silver and black??  It was Marcus Allen in 1985 when he played for the Los Angeles Raiders. Yet when you think of Allen, you think of receiving out of the backfield more than you think of him as a pure runner.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

However in 1985, Jim Plunkett was lost for the season and Marc Wilson just wasn’t a top flight quarterback. Super Bowl XVIII was a distant memory as the team hadn’t improved from a personnel standpoint. They started to age. Recent drafts didn’t help when the team brought in receivers Jesse Hester and Dokie Williams, who weren’t quite the caliber of past Raiders and Allen was the only offensive weapon that was in his prime.

Where the team followed up their Super Bowl championship with a wild card loss to Seattle, team brass decided to lean on Marcus and ball control to stay competitive in 1985. Why not?? Marc Wilson only completed 49.7% of his passes that year in 12 games…

 

For the year Lionel James led the NFL with a record setting 2,536 all purpose yards but it was Marcus that set the yardage from scrimmage record with 2,314. He led the NFL with 1,759 yards rushing as the Raiders only real offensive weapon. Don’t forget Eric Dickerson held out and missed the first four games of the season and finished with 1,234 yards for 1985. Dickerson’s 1,808 in ’83 and 1,821 in 1986 were on a par with Allen’s ’85 total.

Allen had one of college football's greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Allen had one of college football’s greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Everyone forgets Marcus was the first running back in college football history to rush for 2,000 yards when he went for 2.342 in 1981. He had gone to USC where he was converted from defensive back and had been a blocking back for previous Heisman winner Charles White. Once White graduated, it was Allen’s show. It should have happened that way in the NFL as well.

Yet starting with a fumble forced by Seth Joyner in an overtime 33-27 loss to the Eagles, the rift between Al Davis and Marcus started to widen. The Raiders subsequently finished 1986 with 4 straight losses to miss the playoffs for only the 5th time since 1967. This ended a 20 year era in which the Raiders were among the league’s elite. This is where the feud affected Allen’s play on the field and had Davis draft Bo Jackson in the 1987. They started phasing Allen out as he only carried 9, 13, and 10 times in the final three games of 1986.

He became a prisoner of Davis who wouldn’t showcase him and mandated he not be given the ball. So the only running back in history with a Heisman, Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP, and first to rush for 2,000 yards in college had to become a blocking back for Bo Jackson. He endured that for six years until the advent of free agency freed him in 1993.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In his first year in Kansas City, it was he not Joe Montana, who was voted the most valuable player. Allen was also the NFL’s comeback player of the year as he led the league with 13 TDs in his first season with the Chiefs.

Yet we’re left with what if again.

After that great 1985 season, Allen wouldn’t rush for 1,000 yards again. He finished with 12,243 yards rushing and 123 touchdowns. From the backfield he caught 587 balls for another 5,411 yards and 21 scores. What would those numbers balloon to if he wasn’t exiled in Los Angeles?? Would he have played 15 years had he stayed the feature back?? Ultimately, what were we football fans cheated out of thanks to the Davis / Allen feud??

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Hell Hath No Empathy Like An NFL City Scorned

Alright NFL fans, answer this question:  Who was the first NFL team to play in Chicago?? The city where George Halas, long thought of as the NFL’s founder had his team?? Yup that’s right The Arizona Cardinals when they were the Chicago Cardinals and the Bears were in Decatur Illinois. You missed that?? Well the Bears were the Decatur Staleys back then. What made us think of it was joining the Facebook group Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams and it made our CEO ponder: Why isn’t there a group asking to bring back the Cleveland Rams?? or the St Louis “football” Cardinals??

Bring Back The Rams. Booster Clubs still exist.

Bring Back The Rams. Booster Clubs still exist.

Its crazy when you find out you’re the rebound boyfriend or girlfriend, but that’s the scorn left in the wake. You weren’t the original love nor were you the person once love blossomed anew. You’re just the one without. Its happened to NFL cities and it’s ironic that St Louis and Los Angeles both sat in this cauldron of long forgotten feelings.

For once upon a time, the Chicago Cardinals battled with the Bears, who moved in from Decatur in 1920 for the hearts of the city of broad shoulders. George Halas and the Bears won that particular battle and the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960. Then the Bidwell’s moved the franchise again in 1987 to the city of Phoenix.

Before the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis there were fans there that missed their football team. Yet the internet wasn’t in full bloom nor was there a mass media outlet to show this missing sign of support, but it existed. Otherwise why would Georgia Frontiere move the Rams there before the 1995 season??

Then you had the Cleveland Rams who never dominated the landscape of the NFL, have a powerhouse of a team in the Cleveland Browns playing in the rival All American Football Conference. A precursor to the American Football League. This was the late 1940’s when America had just returned home triumphant in the second world war and began to enjoy pro football as entertainment that would soon rival baseball. How do we know this?? The ink hadn’t dried on the Potsdam Declaration ending WWII when the AAFC was formed in 1946. In four short years the Browns dominated and won all four championships before the league folded and were absorbed into the NFL along with the 49ers and Baltimore Colts in 1950.

Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham tries to avoid a Ram defende in the 1950 NFL Title Game.

Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham tries to avoid a Ram defende in the 1950 NFL Title Game.

In another round of “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” the Rams decided to move to Los Angeles knowing they couldn’t compete with the champion Browns for the hearts of Cleveland. The only time a team left Cleveland and Art Modell wasn’t to blame…yet we digress. Ironically in that first season of both teams playing in the NFL, they played each other for the NFL Championship in 1950. One of the greatest games in NFL history.  It would be assumed that old Ram fans became Browns fans in Cleveland

The forgotten aspect of both situations in St Louis and Los Angeles is they were not the first city these teams played in. They were the rebound fling and Angelinos are pining for the Rams to come back west. Yet where was all this support when the Rams were in Anaheim?? In 1994 the Rams hosted the Los Angeles Raiders, in the last year both teams were in Southern California, their game drew 60 K but 2 weeks later drew a home crowd of only 34,000. Yet like a scorned love those fans wish for their lost team to come back to them and forget how little support was shown when the relationship existed.

Art Modell being presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXV.

Art Modell being presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXV.

St Louis had their pining for the departed Cardinals filled after just 8 years when the Rams moved east for the 1995 season. In 44 years in Los Angeles, the Rams won only 1 NFL championship in 1951, yet only made St Louis fans wait just 4 years before The Greatest Show on Turf took the title in 1999. Those fans in Los Angeles were the first to watch their former team win a Super Bowl championship in a new city. The following year it was Cleveland’s turn as they watched the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. Former Browns fans watched with horror as the late Art Modell hoisted the Lombardi Trophy just 5 years after moving to Baltimore.

Here is the real issue… The NFL thrives as an entity because of the revenue generated from television more than it does from the gate. The gate is important but a team is nothing more than a company and if the gate isn’t there, it will seek greener pastures. The teams split that gate 65/35 for the home and away teams. The personal seat licenses (PSL) and luxury boxes are the revenues that a team can keep to themselves. Hence we saw the boom in new stadiums from the mid 1990’s on. The other revenue streams a team can keep to themselves are the stadium naming rights, parking, and concessions. If the team can’t draw fans to the stadium, they will fall behind their competition when it comes to financial competitive balance. You do want your team to sign that free agent tackle next year…right??

At one time it was thought the NFL needed Los Angeles, with the nation’s #2 television market, to have a team. Our CEO contended then as he does now that it doesn’t. We just kicked off our 18th NFL season without a team in Los Angeles and it doesn’t seem to bother Vance Lockett who is watching games on NFL Sunday Ticket in Columbus, Ohio. Yet to the attending fan cheering for their team living where they have the chance to go to the actual games. Go when you can. The rules are set up to get you to the stadium in the first place.  In a direct television market, NFL city with a team, you are only guaranteed to be able to watch the road games in a particular season. Any concurrent broadcast of another game on the other network, Fox or CBS, will not be shown because you belong to that team. Hence a week ago The Chancellor of Football was stuck watching the Cardinals face the Lions instead of the Manning Bowl in New York… So instead of the 3 free broadcast games you only get 2 before the Sunday night game.

You only get to see the home games in those NFL cities if the game is sold out. This is when you hear of the “blackout being lifted” in television jargon. They’re figuring is: Why watch it on television when you can go down and pay your way to see the game?” So while our CEO (in Columbus, Ohio at the time) was able to watch and record the 1992 Wild Card Game, where Buffalo came from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in the greatest comeback in NFL history, people that lived 3 blocks from Ralph Wilson Stadium did not. The game wasn’t a sell out.

Just like those forlorn fans that pine for teams that once were in Cleveland, Los Angeles, St Louis, Houston, and especially Jacksonville for that matter: Get to the stadium and go watch a game! If that team gets down financially and decides to leave, it’s gone and it’s gone forever. Ask those Houston Oiler fans or even the Rams fans pictured about the despair that replaces the cheers once the team plays elsewhere. Los Angeles is nothing more than a bargaining chip for NFL teams to leverage their present cities and our CEO doubts the NFL ever returns there. Los Angeles is an overpopulated aging decaying city that is destined to feel old.

Along with the fact there is no space and it would be cost prohibitive to build a new stadium, people in Los Angeles are front runner fans that won’t support a non winner. After the 1994 game when BOTH Los Angeles teams played and drew 65 K, the Rams attracted less than 60 K in the 2 remaining games combined. This is before we even talk about the travel restraints thanks to overcrowded freeways. Corporations know better than to take those risks and that’s what NFL teams are…corporations.

Even the Chancellor of Football moved the Taylor Blitz Times headquarters out of congested Southern California to the beautiful clean open area of Glendale, Arizona. Why take the financial risk of moving to Los Angeles, when you can get between 10-15 million in the nation’s #2 television market to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket anyway?? You’d have more of a chance moving the Los Angeles Dodgers back to Brooklyn…oops we forgot those first reasons are exactly why the Dodgers left Brooklyn 56 years ago. See?? We’ve been here before.

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