Lost NFL Etiquette: Player Curtain Calls

As the NFL is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this year it causes you to look back at the NFL of yore. Many items changed due to knee jerk reactions instead of thinking the entire item through. One lost art is the player introductions before the Super Bowl. That moment of anticipation as you looked into players eyes as they came out before the big game. The intensity, inner desire, fear, and all the emotions you wanted to feel coming from that player at the moment of truth. Much like the camera that zooms in on boxers staring each other down when the referee gives the instructions.

John Riggins curtain call after the '82 playoff win over Minnesota.

John Riggins curtain call after the ’82 playoff win over Minnesota.

Another lost art is the curtain call for a quarterback who has just become league champion or a player after a great performance. Let the player come off the field alone to the applause of the crowd. This one is on the coaches.

I salute John Harbaugh for giving Ray Lewis his curtain call, platooning him for the Ravens’ last offensive play in the 2012 Wild Card win over Indy. The PSI Net crowd went nuts when he trotted on the field and were even louder after the kneel down and Lewis broke into his signature dance. How much did that emotional moment have to do with the Ravens winning Super Bowl XLVII 4 weeks later??

One of the greatest moments in NFL history happened in a 1982 NFC playoff as the Washington Redskins were putting the finishing touches on a 21- win over the Minnesota Vikings.

This curtain call along with John Riggins subsequent bow and the frenzied reaction by the RFK crowd propelled them through Dallas to Super Bowl XVII. The “We want Dallas!! We want Dallas!!” chant went on for the better part of 15 minutes. You just heard Russ Grimm talk about the moment being ‘electric’ and “brings the hair up.” That emotion and confidence set the tone for the NFC Championship to come for a town and a team. The next day Dexter Manley told the media he hated Dallas and the madness didn’t stop until an argument broke out in the House of Representatives the following Friday.

When it comes to great performances, coaches need to be aware of the moment and set it up for the player to hear the fans appreciation at the end of the game. Every moment may not be as catalytic as these moments were but these strengthen the bond between player, team, and fan. Today’s coaches shouldn’t lose sight of this.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Advertisements

Hispanic Heritage Month: Joe Kapp

With it being Hispanic Heritage Month, I have always found it hard to believe how Joe Kapp seems to be forgotten among Hispanic football fans. Not one time has The Chancellor met a hispanic Minnesota Viking fan or a Viking fan because of Joe Kapp. In a historic sense, Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett’s exploits are remembered more fondly and that is sad for Kapp’s contributions were just as great.

Joe Knapp Minnesota Vikings Quarterback July 20, 1970 X 15038 credit: Heinz Kluetmeier - contract

Flores was the first QB of Mexican descent that won a Super Bowl. Yet he did so as the backup to Len Dawson on the Super Bowl IV champion Kansas City Chiefs. The first Mexican-American quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback was Kapp who was across the field for the Minnesota Vikings.

Although he spent the bulk of his career in the CFL, Bud Grant brought him down to play for him in 1967. He had won several Grey Cups and was known for being a fiery leader. That and the fact he threw some of the ugliest wobbly passes from not using the football’s laces.

In 1968 Kapp led the Vikings to the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. However they lost to the Baltimore Colts 24-14. The Colts set the NFL record that year only allowing 144 points and were lauded as the best in history. Only a loss in Super Bowl III diminished their impact. They had defeated Joe Kapp….right?

In 1969 the Vikings lost the first game of the season 24-23 to the New York Giants. Kapp didn’t start or play in that game. However he was available for the week 2 rematch with Baltimore.

The NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game has Kapp’s name on it with 7. It would take rule changes and another 44 years before Payton Manning tied this record in 2013. The Colts loss to Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III strained Don Shula’s relationship with owner Carroll Rosenbloom, this 52-14 loss broke it. The next season he would be gone to Miami where he became the NFL’s winningest coach. Joe Kapp had a hand in that.

Starting with the week 2 win over Baltimore, Kapp led the Vikings to 12 straight wins. The longest win streak in the NFL in 35 years. Keep in mind the NFL was only in its 50th season. No quarterback would win 12 straight regular season starts in the same season until Tom Brady in 2003, some 34 years later. Finishing with a 12-2 record the Vikings went on to Super Bowl IV where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7.

He left the Vikings after a contract dispute and joined the New England Patriots where he only played the 1970 season. Was he not afforded the respect of prominent white quarterbacks of the time?? Why wouldn’t they sign him?? The 1969 Vikings broke the NFL’s defensive scoring record allowing only 133 points on their way to Super Bowl IV. If Kapp stayed to lead the offense would they have made it to Super Bowl V?? Last year I did a series on the best ever defenses, where it was discovered the ’70 Vikings gave up the fewest yards per game for every defense since. Yes they would have…

  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int

Joe Kapp only played 5 seasons in the NFL but he was a trailblazer. Tom Flores was the first Mexican American starting QB with the AFL’s Oakland Raiders and was a Kansas City Chief across the field in Super Bowl IV.  Yet Kapp played with distinction and set several records on his way there. He’s a cult hero who should be celebrated for his contributions to the game. He led his teams to championship games at Cal, the CFL, and the NFL. The very definition of a champion. To complete this circle for Hispanic Heritage Month… Who was the quarterback drafted #1 by the New England Patriots in 1971 after Joe Kapp?? Some guy named Jim Plunkett…

One day I hope to walk by and see a Hispanic kid with a Vikings jersey with the number 11 on it. That would be the coolest thing. Don’t forget Joe Kapp.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

The Soul Of The Game: Jack Lambert

In the history of pro football no position calls for hitting like Middle Linebacker. Whether facing the line of scrimmage and scraping to meet a runner, taking then shedding the Center, or defeating a Fullback. Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers was a different breed drafted in 1974 to patrol in a different game. Against the run nothing had changed but against the pass, the NFL had just narrowed the hash marks necessitating the need for MLB’s to cover more space against the pass.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the '76 playoffs.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the ’76 playoffs.

Backing behind the Steel Curtain allowed Lambert to “clean-up” runners held up at the line of scrimmage. He was an aggressive tackler and a ferocious hitter. In what has blasphemously become known as the “Tampa 2 Defense” is nothing but what the Steelers did with Lambert dropping him deep between 2 safeties. This caused many downfield collisions.

Lambert’s aggressive playing style meshed with the front four to anchor one of the best defenses in NFL history. Although there wee other great players, Lambert tied it all together patrolling the middle.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

Legends Of The Fall: YA Tittle

One of the earliest stories I read in my formative years learning about the NFL was on YA Tittle. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was celebrated for his effort in trying to obtain an NFL title but never did. He was a part of the legendary Million Dollar Backfield in San Francisco where he teamed with Hugh McElhenny, Joe “The Jet” Perry, and John Henry Johnson. The first complete backfield to make the Hall of Fame ad we’re talking all four players.

Tittle as a member of The Million Dollar Backfield.

Tittle as a member of The Million Dollar Backfield.

Tittle quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers throughout the 1950s but couldn’t overcome the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions in the Western Conference to play in the NFL Championship game. The most glaring was the 1957 season where they finished 8-4 and in a tie with the Lions. Detroit was the vanguard of the West having played in 3 title games in the previous 5 years, winning 2. Tittle had a career year completing 63% of his passes while throwing for 2,157 yards and 13 TDs on the season. He also rushed for 220 yards and 6 scores.

Hosting the playoff game with Detroit in old Kezar Stadium, Tittle and the 49ers took a commanding 27-7 lead in the 3rd quarter. In many accounts the 49ers thought the game was over. They became victims as the Lions roared back to win 31-27. Over the next few years the Baltimore Colts emerged as the best of the west and the 49ers were broken up.

Tittle and McElhenny wound up in New York with the Giants who were afflicted with not fulfilling the promise of winning an NFL championship. They won in 1956 on the broad shoulders of Tom Landry’s defense. However they came up short in 1958 and 1959 in championship losses to Baltimore. In truth, the offense with Charlie Connerly, Frank Gifford, and Alex Webster had let them down. Although Tittle was in the twilight of his career he would be an upgrade at quarterback and aid an aging yet still formidable defense. Over the next 3 years, Tittle took the Giant offense to greatness.

In 1962, he broke Johnny Unitas’ single season touchdown record of 32, throwing for 33. He had never thrown for more than 20 in a season. He broke it the following year when he threw for 36, along with George Blanda over in the AFL, that stood until Dan Marino eclipsed it in 1984. Which was several NFL generations later. Tittle was the most productive in his career at 37 years of age. All he had to do was win the NFL championship to cement his legacy.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Legendary Days: Ken Stabler’s Last Great Comeback

A few short weeks ago we lost Ken Stabler and it was felt by football fans everywhere. In my article describing why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I cited the great moments he had as one of the reasons. He had so many famous 4th quarter finishes they had nicknames: The Holy Roller, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost To The Post to name a few. However the one most people forgot about was his last great comeback.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff were gone and many holdovers from the 70’s were being phased out in 1979. Tom Flores was now the coach and Oakland was about to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Only the second time this had happened in 12 years. They traveled to New Orleans where both teams at 7-6, clung to fading playoff hopes.

The Saints had a shot at finishing with their 1st ever winning season. They had Pro Bowlers in QB Archie Manning, RB Chuck Muncie, TE Henry Childs, and WR Wes Chandler. Now on a Monday Night they were going to show the nation and the rest of the NFL they were to be taken seriously. They came out firing and took a 28-14 halftime lead on Oakland. The Raiders looked like an aging team as the Superdome was raucous from the 1st half heroics, then it got even louder early in the 3rd quarter:

…and just like that Stabler brought the Raiders back from 35-14 to the greatest comeback win in Monday Night history 42-35.  The Snake had gone 26 of 45 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were thrown in the 4th quarter alone.  On a Monday night in December 1979, Stabler turned back the clock with an unbelievable performance.

RIP Kenny Stabler

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Legends of The Fall: John Constantine Unitas

The name that comes to mind when it comes to quarterback – John Constantine Unitas…  I can’t remember hearing his complete name for the first time, but feel it needs to be brought up for the fans who need to know the greatness of this man. So glad they finished the documentary in 1999 before he passed. An old school American hero. The best ever quarterback conversation has this man’s name in it. Not Peyton Manning and Tom Brady where all the rules have been changed to manufacture what looks like greatness.

Unitas! Pictured in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium one last time.

Unitas! Pictured in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium one last time.

At the time of Unitas retirement, he held the record for passing yards (40,239) & touchdown passes (290). He was the first NFL quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in 1960 and once held the record for TD passes in a 12 game season with 32. In an era where the NFL game was rooted in the ground, Unitas took to the air where purists scoffed he was ruining the game. Through it all he raised quarterbacking to an art form by the way he played, his play calling ability, and field generalship in leading the Baltimore Colts. In fact, it was Unitas that invented the 2 minute drill in the most important game in NFL history…. the 1958 NFL Championship.

The ’58 NFL Championship ignited the passion for pro football for the masses as it overtook baseball for America’s heart. Lamar Hunt after this game decided to start the American Football League on the heels of this game’s popularity. A sense of irony between the AFL and Unitas’ would come to the fore later. Yet it was Unitas that became a superstar. Football had been booming with television in the 1950’s and it culminated with his championship heroics.

For an encore, when all eyes were upon him, he had his greatest season in 1959. Johnny U went 193 of 367 (52.6%) for 2,899 yards 32 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions in leading the Colts to a 2nd consecutive championship. By the way for those keeping score, this was in a 12 game season and the yardage and touchdowns were NFL records at the time. At the pace he was on, had it been a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 42 touchdowns. This was in an era where his receivers were hit everywhere on the field not just within a 5 yard contact zone. Legacy cemented.

His 47 straight games with a touchdown pass stood for nearly 50 years. After 40 of those years no one had come within 18 of that record. Drew Bees finally broke it because of all the rule changes…but if you dared to say Brees is in league with Unitas, you and I can’t talk football anymore. A final look back at his jersey retirement at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in 1977.

In watching the HBO documentary Unitas is where I first learned the plight of former players fighting for benefits from the NFL. When the elbow injury came up I immediately yelled out “1968!” That was the year he tore the tendons that attached the lower and upper arm, causing him to sit out the season and the late Earl Morrall played in his absence. They wound up losing Super Bowl III. Unitas wound up losing the ability to fully use the right hand that made the NFL what it is today. Not only was that a travesty but the anger that swelled in me is why I back all the former player’s groups, Footballer’s Wives, Dignity After Football, and Gridiron Greats to this day.

Sports Illustated cover featuring Johnny U.

Sports Illustated cover featuring Johnny U.

Whenever the mantle of greatness at the quarterback position is cheaply thrown around, as a historian I bristle. What would Unitas accomplish playing in the rules set up today?? How much greater would he have become training all year around like today’s players?? What would his stats look like if he played where he could hardly be hit??  He dwarfs all quarterbacks without the changes. With them he would have left marks that quarterbacks would still be chasing.

Unitas and his receivers, Lenny Moore, and Raymond Berry all made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The next time someone mentions greatest ever quarterbacks, start with Unitas and work your way down.

hof-unitasJohn Constantine Unitas: May 7, 1933- September 11, 2002

Thanks for reading and please share the article.