Legendary Days: The 1990 NFC Championship Game – The Death of Camelot

There is an old axiom when it comes to boxing when you hear someone say “styles make great fights” meaning opposing styles colliding provide great theater. Never was this more evident when it came to the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants of the 1980’s. The identity of the men from Gotham was a blood thirsty defense led by Lawrence Taylor, arguably the greatest defensive player ever. Joe Montana had ascended to legendary status as he led the NFL’s most efficient offense to 4 Super Bowl titles that decade. They would meet in a fitting crescendo that still has ramifications to this day.

Leonard Marshall clobbers Joe Montana and knocks him out of the 1990 NFC Championship Game. He doesn’t return to action until the final game of the 1992 season against the Detroit Lions.

If you travel to 1978 the Giants and 49ers met in what was a forgettable season for both. New York won 27-10 out in Candlestick during the 4th week. Yet they only won 3 games the rest of the stanza while San Francisco only won twice. Both began by hiring coaches in 1979 in Bill Walsh and Ray Perkins which set the course as each regime rose to prominence in the decade to come.

The next step was the selection of franchise quarterbacks, first Phil Simms in New York in round one and Joe Montana in the third. Each turned to the draft for the same spark on defense a few years later when the Giants selected LB Lawrence Taylor and Walsh’s selection of FS Ronnie Lott both in the 1st round in 1981.

Walsh and company ended an 8 year playoff drought with a 13-3 record and homefield advantage as Montana and company had come of age. New York defeated Dallas 13-10 to earn their first trip to the NFL postseason in 18 years. Then after a 27-21 upset of the defending NFC Champion Eagles in the wildcard round, New York was one step away from the NFC Championship Game and traveled west to face San Fran.

Going into it were the questions could NFL Defensive Player of the year Lawrence Taylor get to Joe Montana?? Could the finesse passing game take down the Giants’ hard rock defense?? Walsh’s team was shattering the NFL paradigm by passing first to set up the run. Contrary to popular belief was the fact it was San Francisco’s defense ranked #2 to the Giants at #3.

Montana was 20 of 31 for 304 yards for 2 TDs in a 38-24 win under the lights. Up next came the NFC Championship with Dallas & The Catch, then a Super Bowl XVI trophy and all the prestige that came with it. Walsh became the toast of the league and christened with his “genius” label. Joe became one of the faces of the NFL and would be one for the decade of the 1980’s.

Taylor was the toast of New York.

The vanquished?? Well New York Defensive Coordinator Bill Parcell’s unit collapsed giving up a season high 38 points. They had only given up 30 once the entire year up to that point. As is the case when teams come up short in the playoffs, their knocked off kilter for a couple of years. Parcells succeeded Perkins after a 4-5 season in ’82 and was nearly fired after a disastrous 3-12-1 rookie year in ’83. Yet all the while Walsh was one of the NFL’s faces as the 49ers bounced back and came within a couple bad penalties from winning the NFC Championship a 2nd time in 3 years. They fell to Washington 24-21 yet the media felt validated in the moniker they anointed Walsh with….”genius.”

Parcells bristled at the attention Walsh and the 49ers “finesse” approach to the game was getting. It only intensified in ’84 as they went 15-1 and threatened to go undefeated. New York rebounded as Phil Simms finally emerged from the shadows and became a 4,000 yard passer and the Giants returned to the playoffs. Another NFC playoff loss to Joe and the Niners 21-10 relegated the Giants to the NFL’s jr varsity as Walsh and Joe went on to hoist another Lombardi trophy.

However over the years Parcells kept building a team of brute force. Although they had been effective he drafted 6-4 240lb OLB Carl Banks who was a blue chip strong side ‘backer. Brought in 288 lbs DE Leonard Marshall to replace a 259lb Gary Jeter. He kept building upon his defense and relying on a straight forward power rushing attack.

Finally in the 1985 playoffs, the Giants #2 ranked defense held Montana and the 49er offense out of the endzone for the first time in a 17-3 Wildcard win at home. For the first time ever Parcells and the Giants beat the Niners in the 80’s and in the locker room he scoffed “What do you think now about that west coast offense?” In a bit of irony he wound up coining the name Walsh’s offense would come to be known forever.

However the Giants were manhandled in Chicago 21-0 on the road to the eventual champion Bears. Both teams were built in the same old school fashion. You win with brute force on the line of scrimmage with a heavy front 7 and a strong offensive line with an offense that relied on the run. Yet the Giants sent alarm bells off all around the NFL when they already had a strong defense yet spent their first 6 picks in the first 3 rounds all on defense.

They fortified their defensive line with 6’4 280 lbs DE Erik Dorsey, NT Eric Howard who stood 6’4 275, 250 lb ILB Pepper Johnson along with crafty CB Mark Collins who was nearly 5-10 200 lbs. Collins turned into one of the Giant defense’s greatest assets as he blanketed Jerry Rice and was the best in history covering him. This gave the Giants a tremendous advantage for years to come.

In the ’86 playoffs the Giants defense had come of age and starting with a 49-3 devastation in the NFC Divisional Round it became clear the pendulum had completely swung. Jim Burt knocked Joe Montana out with seconds to go in the 1st half as Taylor returned an interception 34 yards to swell the score to 28-3. In an embarrassing fashion Walsh’s squad was hammered into submission. Physically beat down unlike any game they had seen since they rose to prominence.

This forced the 49ers to finish what they started in the ’85 draft when they started drafting to fortify their lines and bigger running backs to deal with the Bears and Giants. In ’87 it took shape however it came to fruition as they won Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV after the ’88 and ’89 seasons. Walsh had stepped down after the XXIII championship and former DC George Seifert took over head coaching duties. Mike Holmgren and the 49er offense had elevated their offensive play to one of near perfection. Walsh’s legend only grew even in his departure for creating the offensive system which allowed his 49ers to become the team of the decade.

Going into 1990 pundits were debating not only were the 49ers the best ever team but was Joe Montana the best ever quarterback?? The same could be said of Jerry Rice as he had assaulted the record books and had also been a Super Bowl MVP. On their way to back to back championships they had set the NFL record with 18 consecutive road wins. Now they had the chance to win 3 straight Super Bowls where it would leave no doubt. They began the season with a 10-0 record and…

Waiting for them who also began 10-0 was the Giant team that had learned how to win from the 49ers and had taken it up a level. Now the more powerful rebuilt 49ers who had a 2-3 record (0-2 in the playoffs since ’85) staring them down. Were they lucky they hadn’t met the Giants in the playoffs in both ’88 and ’89?? Would they even have won back to back had New York had a shot at them??

In week 12 each team was 10-1 when they met in San Francisco on a Monday Night. In the 2nd highest watched MNF in history the 49ers beat the Giants 7-3 in a slugfest where the Giants inability to score a touchdown on offense did them in. In 3 shots inside the redzone they could only score 1 field goal. Yet to a man the Giants relished another shot at San Francisco. Finally they would have their chance in the NFC Championship Game. For the decade the record between the two stood at 2-2 and they would meet in the last chance to halt “Camelot’s” greatest procession into history.

 

In the collective gasp after the Leonard Marshall hit you knew everything had changed. The silence that befell Candlestick Park as Montana writhed in pain on the ground for several minutes was palpable. Unlike most games where the network would take a commercial break, a nationwide audience sat glued to the football version of a tragic event. The greatest ever quarterback whose nimble feet that had deftly dodged trouble in and out of the pocket forever in January’s past had been viciously taken down. The Camelot that Bill Walsh had so eloquently stated of that era ended in that moment. The final kick by Matt Bahr for the 15-13 win was just icing on the cake made by a ferocious defense in one of the greatest games in NFL history.

The era closed with the Giants holding a 3-2 edge in postseason games although the Niners were team of the decade. Over the next 26 years coaches from both sides made it to the Super Bowl 14 times with Bill Belichick (8) Tom Coughlin (2) Mike Holmgren (3) and Jon Gruden (1). This doesn’t include Bill Parcells’ 2nd Super Bowl triumph 1 week after this game vs Buffalo in XXV. Much has been made of the Bill Walsh coaching tree but take a look at the one stemming from Parcells’ group. Its second to none and it all started with a championship win over Camelot in 1990.

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Missing Rings: The 1995 Detroit Lions – Curse of Bobby Layne Extended

Okay, before we get started we have to share something with you…

While it’s widely known the Dallas Cowboys were the team of the 90’s, do you know who held a 3-1 record against them during the years 1991-1995??

When we use hyperbole in sports we always talk about a team as a sum greater than its parts. You find this to be true in all championship teams and in the near champions. When you look back its amazing how teams have seasons where all their stars have career years at the same time. Yet something happens to the psyche of a team when they come up short. All the parts are still there, things look the same, however they cant rekindle the feeling nor winning ways of that lost season.   Enter the 1995 Detroit Lions

Have you ever heard of “The Curse of Bobby Layne?” He was the last quarterback to lead the Lions to the NFL championship and he did it 3 times in the Fabulous ’50s. Once he was an aging & injured player, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On his way out, the embattled future Hall of Famer quipped “The Lions won’t win for 50 years!” Well that was 1958.

Over the next 4 decades the franchise mired in mediocrity due to the fact they fell short constantly at quarterback. Only once in 1971 did the Lions have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Greg Landry since Layne’s departure. From 1957-1990 Detroit didn’t muster a single playoff win. Their teams toiled in anonymity with very few players of distinction during many of those years.

However with the ’89 NFL draft the Lions drafted Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. The greatest running back in NFL history. With such a breathtaking runner dominating the marquee, the Lions could hand the ball off and let Sanders break ankles as he routinely rushed for 100 yard games. Great for highlights not so much for winning as Detroit began 2-9 in his rookie season. Then Sanders exploded for 28 car 145 yds and another 45 yds receiving in a 13-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Cleveland. At the time the Browns were a perennial playoff team in the middle of 3 trips to the AFC Championship Game in a 4 year period. Propelled by that performance the Lions finished 7-9 with a 5 game winning streak.

To capitalize on their remarkable runner they needed to improve on journeyman QB Bob Gagliano and improve the quality of the roster. In 1989, Rodney Peete was a rookie QB on the team yet the Lions inexplicably followed his selection by drafting another in Andre Ware the following year. Desperate to develop a quarterback they also brought in Erik Kramer in 1991. Coach Wayne Fontes never settled on a QB and played the hot hand at the time. This retarded the growth of all 3 as the Lions staggered through a 6-10 1990 and began 1991 with a 6-4 record.

Benny Blades, from The [[_]] was a defensive force

The team rallied through tragedy as they played on and dedicated the rest of the season to G Mike Utley who had been paralyzed against the Rams. Offering the same “thumbs up” as Utley gave when he was taken from the field on a gurney, the team rallied winning their last 6 to finish 12-4. Winners of the NFC Central, they hosted the Wildcard Dallas Cowboys and destroyed them 38-6.

They fell in the 1991 NFC Championship 41-10 to the eventual champion Washington Redskins. The reality was they had overachieved on emotion and were short on personnel. Aside from the incomparable Sanders, only T Lomas Brown on the offensive side of the ball, made the Pro Bowl in ’90 and ’91. The defense had 3 Pro Bowlers in SS Bennie Blades (The [[_]]), LB Chris Spielman, and NT Jerry Ball.

Over the next few years management grew increasingly frustrated with Coach Fontes inability to groom a quarterback. Especially with the emergence of Brett Favre with the division rival Packers. With the signing of DE Reggie White at the advent of Free Agency in ’92, they had become the preeminent team in the NFC Central. For good measure Favre started his playoff run as a face of the future with a ’93 wildcard win over Detroit 28-24.

Management blew up the 3 QB rotation of Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, and Andre Ware by releasing them. They signed Scott Mitchell to a 3 year $11 million contract after he had admirably filled in for an injured Dan Marino in Miami. He was tall (6’6) could see over the line and seemingly make all the throws… matched with emerging wideout Herman Moore and a reliable #2 in Brett Perriman with Sanders in the mix?? They could be something. All were under 30 and hitting their prime. They had some growing pains that first year with Mitchell however veteran backup Dave Krieg had been brought in and 94 saw another wildcard birth.

Detroit showed flashes as they began slowly (again) mustering a 3-6 record precipitating management issuing an ultimatum to Coach Fontes. Anything less than the playoffs was unacceptable. The underlying tone was Fontes would be fired if they didn’t make the posteason. Rather than turn the game to Sanders as they had in years past, they kept honing their new 3 receiver approach… As for Sanders:

The ink was already drying where most sportswriters mentioned Scott Mitchell on the list of biggest free agent busts: Not so fast guys!! In their 0-3 start, Detroit scored a total of 47 points. The team emerged from the ownership ultimatum a focused group that roared back winning their final 7 games. In doing so, the Lions averaged 32 points per game and finished with the league’s #1 offense. Had they kept that scoring rate up for the whole season they could have challenged the NFL record for points. They still made NFL history though.

Herman Moore and Brett Perriman became the first teammates in NFL history to record over 100 receptions in the same season. Moore broke the NFL all time receptions record in a season with 123 for 1,686 yards and 14 TDs. Perriman (the [[_]]) emerged with 108 grabs for 1,488 yards and 9 touchdowns. This was the only time in league history where 2 receivers from the same team went over 1,400 yards receiving in the same season. Even 3rd receiver Johnny Morton got into the act with 44 rec. 590 yards & 8 scores.

The video already let you know Sanders ran for 1,500 yards & 11 touchdowns on just 314 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry was tops in the league. Why the remarkable turn-around?? Scott Mitchell!!

In a career year Mitchell bound all this talent together with a 4,000 yard season & a team record 32 touchdowns and should have made the Pro Bowl. The only reason he didn’t make the Pro Bowl was he was Scott Mitchell and not Troy Aikman (who did in ’95)… all about reputation:

  • Scott Mitchell 346 of 583 4,338 yds 32 TDs 12 ints (2.6 TD to int. ratio)
  • Troy Aikman 280 of 342 3,342 yds 16 TDs 7 ints (2.2 TD to int.ratio)

What argument could be made?? Well Aikman and the Cowboys were a running team. Wait a minute…didn’t Barry run for 1,500?? This team was flying into the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Mitchell had become the quarterback the franchise had been looking for since Bobby Layne. The curse had been lifted!! They had their eyes on those Dallas Cowboys who they believed they could beat. In 94′ they handed the back to back champion their first loss of the season 20-17 where Sanders blistered the #1 defense for 194 yards in Texas Stadium.

All they had to do was get through Philadelphia on Wildcard Weekend and they would travel to Dallas for the divisional round. There they could prove they were among the league’s elite.

With their eyes fixed on the Cowboys they forgot to close their mouth about the Eagles. In this case T Lomas Brown, who guaranteed a win in the Detroit newspapers which changed the temperament and the tone of the game. Right then “The Curse of Bobby Layne” and the ghosts of Detroit Lions past arose.

A raucous crowd awaited them in Philadelphia as the Lions were booed and taunted from the moment they got off the plane. Once inside the friendly confines of Veteran’s Stadium a fired up Philly defense attacked Scott Mitchell mercilessly. He was hit twice in the first drive and sacked by Mike Mamula. The Eagles taunted him and he disintegrated under the pressure. The cool confidence shown all season vanished as he threw 4 interceptions and was benched midway through the 3rd quarter. By then the score had swelled to 51-7 as a nationwide audience watched in disbelief.

How was this happening with an Eagle team with 1995’s 25th ranked offense?? The 4th ranked Philly defense did swarm Sanders holding him to 40 yards rushing but it was the curse. How else could you explain a team winning 58-37 after it had been outscored (318 for / 330 against) all season?? Remember when they gave up on the 3 quarterbacks and let go of Rodney Peete?? Well he just so happened to be playing for the Eagles…his 3rd team in 3 years.

In ’95 he was a backup and came in after Randall Cunningham had been benched and threw for 8 TDs v 14 interceptions. This is what plagued his Lions career. Well in this game he channeled his inner Bobby Layne and played flawless football. Going 17 of 25 for 270 yards 3 TDs and no picks. In fact with :02 left in the 1st half up 31-7, he completed a Hail Mary 43 yard pass to Rob Carpenter 38-7 at the half…ball game!!

No NFC playoff game from 1970 to this day has seen that many points…58?? Scott Mitchell the free agent savior with the #1 offense fell apart with 6 total interceptions while the QB they got rid of had a career game for the opponent?? The laughter of Bobby Layne’s ghost could be heard off in the distance.

That game was the turning point in Mitchell’s career as he never recovered. A poor ’96 where he threw for 17 TDs to 17 ints led to a 5-11 season as the offense plummeted to 20th and Head Coach Wayne Fontes was fired. Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards in 96 but they couldn’t rekindle the magic of their run the season before. The ’95 season was the statistical best as Mitchell, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman all had the best year of their careers.

One month later they watched the Dallas Cowboys win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. In ’93 and ’94 they lost to Green Bay in the Wild Card just as they did to the Eagles in ’95. Each of those times they would have played Dallas in the playoffs and possibly altered football history. They had a 3-1 record over Dallas during those years and league wide respect beating them again in the playoffs was right there for the taking. However there is this curse lingering over this franchise…

By the way…still don’t believe in curses?? Guess what day present owner William Clay Ford’s bid was approved to buy the franchise?? Try November 22, 1963!! Folks I can’t make this stuff up!!

An aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided thrills in.

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The Chancellor’s Take: Green Bay Packers & Brett Favre’s Broken Relationship – HOF Edition

Originally published 24 July, 2012 w/ Postscript 13, August 2016

Coach Mike Holmgren being carried off after winning Super Bowl XXXI.

Coach Mike Holmgren being carried off after winning Super Bowl XXXI.

Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame last week and didn’t have his two marquee players there with him. Of course the deceased Reggie White couldn’t attend but Brett Favre’s absence was glaring. It would have been in Favre’s best interest to have taken the high road and gone but the lingering hard feelings are evident. It’s time to mend this broken relationship.

What is disturbing is how fast Packers fans turned on him. How hard would it be to leave a job you loved to do?? Many of us can’t answer that because our professions were something we chose to do for financial reasons not one of passion. For every “cheesehead” Packer fan: Can you tell me anything about John Brockington or Terdell Middleton?? You remember those guys right?? How about Vince Ferragamo?? He was the quarterback that took the Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl XIV against the Steelers. You do remember he played for the Packers right?? What number did he wear since #15 was obviously retired for Bart Starr?? For those of us that are 40-45, when we were kids, none of us living outside of Wisconsin could tell you we had met a Packer fan.

After Lombardi, it was 29 years before the Packers played for another NFL title. Green Bay was the place no one wanted to play for. In fact one of the famous quips on NFL Films by Buccaneers former coach John McKay, ” If these guys won’t get back I’ll run ’em to Green Bay.” This was during Tampa’s horrid 0-26 start as a franchise!! The only Green Bay games of distinction during that 3 decade drought that anyone can remember was the 1982 NFL Divisional Playoff loss to Dallas 38-27 and the 1983 Monday Night win over the World Champion Redskins 48-47. The latter was the highest scoring Monday Night Game in NFL history. The Packers returned to national prominence when WR John Jefferson was traded from the San Diego Chargers for those early 80’s seasons.

Brett Favre made it fashionable to be a Green Bay Packer fan.

The real reason why folks can’t remember the aforementioned names and the two games I stated were many of you weren’t Green Bay Packer fans. It didn’t become fashionable until the era of Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren. You may have been cheering for the Los Angeles Rams, St Louis Cardinals, Dallas, or Oakland, but this nationwide surge of Packer fans is new. You can recall the rich Packers history from the 1960’s but the other years lie somewhere in the abyss.

Well in 1992 all of that changed. Brett Favre was on the bench when Don Majowski fell to injury and an umproven player had to come off the bench. We remember him winning the game with a pass to Kittrick Taylor with :23 left in the game. He ran around like a child after winning his first NFL game. He did it again when he did it with less than :40 to go to win his first playoff game when he hit Sterling Sharpe in 1993. He played with passion and from the hip. He broke Ron Jaworski’s record of consecutive games played at QB (114) the week of Walter Payton’s death in 1999. He was still playing in 2009??

During his 16 years he gave everything he could on the field for the Packers. Other quarterbacks are more revered as “West Coast” quarterbacks yet none of them had better seasons than he did. Do you realize the most TDs Joe Montana threw for in a season was 31 during the strike shortened season of 1987?? Brett threw for 38,39, and 33 in 1995-1997 alone in that same offense.  He won those 3 MVPs in those same years. He gave real Packer fans and NFL fans everywhere more thrills than any other player. The “go for it” mentality is what endeared him to most fans not his stats. Although he has plenty now that he is the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback and yardage leader with 71,838 yards and 508 TDs. The question The Chancellor has if he didn’t do enough to decide on when he wanted to retire, who did??

The Packers organization decided to go with Aaron Rodgers after the 2007 season when Favre didn’t want to retire. His decision and indecision was well chronicled over the next few seasons yet it was his play that led the Packers to relevancy. Just like last year it was pointed out that the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and Lucas Oil Stadium itself, wouldn’t be in existence had it not been for Peyton Manning. Lambeau Field has been renovated twice and had a Hall of Fame built inside of it based on the relative wealth this team saw during Favre’s years. The estimated wealth of the Packers rose from less than $200 million to $1.09 Billion last year according to Forbes.

This is good enough for being the 9th richest franchise where they were in the teens in relative worth a decade ago. In fact when you google the relative worth of the Packers organization by year, every time Favre’s name is in the description.  You were able to rebuild your team for Aaron Rodgers because of Favre continuing to win for you while the young players developed. You owe your relative wealth and the development of the new Packers to him.

This is the reason I believe the Packers should reach out to him, retire his jersey on a Monday Night, and have a ceremony for him.  Do it before long-standing resentment settles in. It would be terrible to see this fractured relationship go on for decades like it did for Terry Bradshaw. By the time he and the Steelers came together, Art Rooney Sr, Mike Webster, and Steeler announcer Myron Cope had all passed on. In fact Three Rivers Stadium was even gone. It was bittersweet. In a few years he is eligible for the Hall  of Fame and the league is going to celebrate him and its in the Packers interest to do it first. If you wait until its within a year of his induction, it will look like an afterthought or at worst a knee jerk reaction to his being brought up nationally. This way the healing can start.

Every player that leaves via free agency has wanted to show their old team they could still do it. Its nothing new. Do you remember the round robin of former Chiefs signing with the Raiders and vice versa in the mid 90s?? There were 10 players that left one team and went to the other. RB Harvey Williams, RB Marcus Allen, CB Albert Lewis to name a few. Even Buffalo Bill great Thurman Thomas even signed with the hated Dolphins. Yet he, just like LaDainian Tomlinson this year all came back and signed a 1 day contract so they could retire with their original team. You’ve lost that chance but now you need to make sure he attends the next ceremony. Honor him before the rest of football does or you’ll come off as looking petty. After all you showed him the door…now open a new one and honor him in Packer lore. Time to get over it… now when he walks up to the podium and you see the wear and tear he gave on Lambeau’s surface, the memories will come flooding back to you.

Try this one out: This is the moment The Chancellor believes he left his contemporaries behind and made the Hall of Fame.

After the departure of Packer Hall of Fame coach Mike Holmgrenand Reggie White’s retirement, the Packers weren’t thought of as an elite team. This was 1999 and Ray Rhodes was the coach and being the only marquee player, the team started off 1-1 and in that lone victory Favre took the Packers to the winning score beginning with 1:51 on the clock. Their 3rd game was against the Minnesota Vikings who had unseated the Packers the season before as the bully on the NFC Central block. Randy Moss and the Vikings had scorched the Packers a season before and this was a big game. A defensive struggle that saw Moss score the apparent winning touchdown and gave the Packers the football with 1:51 (ironically) to go. Favre drove his team down and this was the finish…on the move with no time outs on 4th down and the clock running with :20 seconds to go. No way he could do it for a second straight week…. could he??

 

Only two times during John Madden’s career did he make his way down to the locker room to congratulate a player. The first was Emmitt Smith in 1993 when he and the Cowboys beat the Giants 13-10 when he played with a separated shoulder. This was the second. Great players respect great players and you saw Moss come across and greet Favre after the game.  A game for the ages that saw him pull off miracle after miracle and had the Rams and Kurt Warner not emerged, could have had his 4th straight MVP.

Again, as an organization step up and bring Favre in for a retirement ceremony of #4. He deserves it and it would be best for Packer fans and NFL fans everywhere.  Its time.

Postscript August 13, 2016: We fast forward 4 years and last year his return to Lambeau Field was an incredible event. Over 60,000 in Lambeau just for Farve to come on the field and offer a few words before the Packers Hall of Fame celebration. Then the jersey retirement during the season where Bart Starr made it to the game was cathartic for all NFL fans not just those of the Packers. Which brings us to last weekend and his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

VanAcker@hallPacker fans traveled far and wide to attend the enshrinement festivities last weekend. Met them from North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, all of Wisconsin and like my new fellow fanatics Ryan VanAcker (from Arizona) and his brother Ronald from Michigan, Favre fans were out in force.

You could feel the excitement emanating from Packer fans as the induction ceremony neared. The pressure building as Packer jerseys outnumbered all other teams represented 20 to 1 easily. Even on the day I toured “The Hall” for the first time I wore an autographed Jerry Kramer jersey I had received from the family a couple weeks before. Finally the emotion and love for Favre exploded in a crescendo of “Go Pack! Go!” right before Chris Berman introduced him:

 

Although time heals all wounds, there was still the subtle jab of the Favre Viking jersey in the locker display at the Hall of Fame. He said all the right things about “always being remembered as a Green Bay Packer” but you think about it… you can almost see him having a mischievous grin when it came time to decide what to showcase.  But that’s Favre… the fun but flawed, every man who happened to become one of the best quarterbacks in history.

Where Brett wasn’t there for Mike Holmgren’s enshrinement into the Green Bay Packers’s Hall of Fame, coach was in Canton for this one. I had the chance to meet him right after the ceremony and it was a great experience to be there. As we left Tom Benson Stadium headed for the shuttles to the Hall of Fame after-parties, Holmgren and I spoke of the ceremony and I let him know I thought he will be in Canton one day. The irony of this article hit me like a ton of bricks.favre.bust

Congratulations Brett Favre… Pro Football Hall of Famer!

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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!

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SUPER BOWL XXVIII CHAMPION 1993 DALLAS COWBOYS

xxviiiJimmy Johnson’s last ring with Dallas after the 1993 season besting MY Buffalo Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII, but don’t forget, he and that coaching staff was from  the [[_]]. The Cowboys were on the brink of becoming one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.

Had Jimmy and Jerry Jones been able to suppress egos this team was primed to win 5 or 6 Super Bowls in the 1990’s. Michael Irvin had just finished his 6th year, Emmitt his 4th, & Troy Aikman his 5th. A slew of defensive starters had come onto the ball club from 1991 on including Russell Maryland, Dixon Edwards, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith, and Larry Brown. They had just added a rookie star in LB Darrin Smith off the Miami Hurricanes (the [[_]]).

Did you know Hall of Famer Charles Haley didn’t make the Pro Bowl in 1993?? However 10 of his teammates did including 3 members from The Great Wall in Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, and Erik Williams. This team was stacked… yet Jimmy and Jerry left us wondering “what if?” which rages on to this day.

**Taken from another Taylor Blitz article comparing the Cowboys and the Patriots who each won 3 titles in 4 years**

xxviii3The Patriots remind me of what I think of the early 70’s Dolphins.  They’re not perceived as stronger, or faster..etc  They were always a step smarter when they needed to be and more physical than you expected. Just ask the Steelers who they beat twice in AFC Championships IN PITTSBURGH in both 2001 & 2004.  They kept Peyton Manning hogtied for years when he faced them. In winning their 3rd in 4 years the question came up “Who was better between the 90s Cowboys or the 00’s Patriots?”  Hmmmm at first glance…its no question the Cowboys were….but lets think about this a second…each team suppressed future super bowl winners…

*Cowboys held back Packers and 49ers who went on to win 29 and 31 respectively

*Patriots hed back the Steelers and the Colts who went on to win 40 and 41 respectively

Dallas defense was built on speed and the best way to attack it is to run right at them.  Corey Dillon was that type of back. The Cowboys strength was running right at their opponent with that offensive line and Emmitt Smith. Well the Patriots had some beef up front with Vince Wilfork (The U) Richard Seymour and Ty Warren.  Ty Law covering Michael Irvin(the U). Troy Aikman vs Tom Brady…Darren Woodson and Rodney Harrison hard hitting safetys for both teams…damn they’re more alike than originally thought!!

xxviii2I’ll have to go with the Cowboys in a close game 30-20.  Charles Haley and Tony Tolbert would have several sacks. Haley had sacks in 4 of the 5 Super Bowls he won…so he would get to Brady. Emmitt and Corey would each rush for 100 yards. Alvin Harper takes Tyrone Poole or Assante Samuel deep a couple times and “Moose” Johnston and Novacek would beat on Patriot linebackers for key first downs.  Deion Branch would do work on Kevin Smith and Larry Brown but other receivers would be swallowed by Darrin Smith (the U) and those fast linebackers. This is before i bring up FS Thomas Everett for any errant throws over the middle.

**No Deion Sanders—using the 93 Cowboys as a model because the 1993 Cowboys would kick the 95 Cowboys ass! Jimmy Johnson would be the coach not Barry Switzer**

So upon further review the Cowboys would win…

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SUPER BOWL XXV RUNNER UP 1990 BUFFALO BILLS

As the 90’s dawned we had a few teams that had been playoff staples during the 80’s and a few new teams coming of age. In the Buffalo Bills you had a team come of age as blue chip talent had been stockpiled in recent years. In the pre-free agent era you had to build a team through the draft. Just like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the 1970’s, the Bills sought to construct a champion brick by brick.

sb xxv2Defensive End Bruce Smith and WR Andre Reed came aboard in 1985. Jim Kelly agreed to terms after the USFL dissolved in 1986. Linebackers Shane Conlan and Cornelius Bennett were added along with CB Nate Odomes joined ranks in ’87. Aggressive veteran SS  Leonard Smith came in with 2nd round RB Thurman Thomas in ’88 as the Bills made the playoffs for the 1st time in 7 years.

The ’88 season saw a 12-4 Bills team with the NFL’s #4 defense make it to the AFC Championship Game. Although they lost 21-10 to Cincinnati, they were definitely a team on the rise. Yet injuries and infighting nearly brought the team down in ’89 as they became known as the “Bickering Bills”. They only finished with a 9-7 record and lost 34-30 to Cleveland in an amazing divisional playoff game.

sb25gnts2However a light went on for the ultra conservative Bills offensively. In week 3 they fell behind big in Houston. Kelly brought the Bills back with a 5 TD performance, a 47-41 win. In his USFL days, Kelly ran a Run & Shoot with the Houston Gamblers and looked most comfortable playing this style with a No Huddle offense. They unveiled it late in the season and won the AFC East before falling to Cleveland.

Kelly threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs. Thomas had come of age in the playoff loss with a record 13 receptions for 150 yards and 2 TDs. It capped a breakout year that saw Thomas run for 1,244 yards and 6 TDs. In 1990, several vets were let go and Darryl Talley, Kelly, Smith, Reed, Thomas, Lofton, and Bennett would have to take on leadership roles for the departed DE Art Stills, NT Fred Smerlas, OT Joe Devlin, then RBs Robb Riddick and Larry Kinnebrew. Would their new “No Huddle” K-Gun keep scoring at will?? After a 13-3 record secured home field advantage:

Alas Scott Norwood’s field goal sailed wide right and the best team the AFC had in years fell 20-19. The only team to lose the NFL championship by 1 point. However the Bills were a young team in their prime and they would be back. They would go on to be one of the league’s most galvanized teams. The infighting of ’89 was in the distant past.

Head Coach Marv Levy, GM Bill Polian, QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, and DE Bruce Smith all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Epilogue: When a long sought after quarterback finally joined the Bills in 1986, starved fans chanted for Jim Kelly to take the lowly Bills to the Super Bowl.

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