Ken Stabler Belongs In The Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Originally Published 12, July 2015 w/ Postscript 9, May 2019

When it comes to who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, most inductees are in for the stellar performance over their careers entirety. Others are in based upon producing some of the greatest moments in football history. A third definition in the eyes of the The Chancellor is “Can we talk about the era in which a player performed without his name coming up?”  Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders fits the bill in all 3 of these categories.

KennyStablerHere in Taylor Blitz Times we have chronicled the long time bias against former Raiders when it comes to enshrinement. Head Coach John Madden’s field general has yet to be elected to Canton. Stabler was a throwback QB who called his own plays and routinely led the Raiders into the playoffs during the 1970’s. Along with Fan Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, these four ruled the 1970’s and arguably Stabler had the most legendary moments.

On December 23,1972 in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh, Stabler, whom Madden had been grooming since 1968, was the wild card needed to change the tide of a game down 6-0. Desperate for some offense, John Madden inserted a young, mobile Kenny “The Snake” Stabler in for an anemic Daryle Lamonica which produced immediate results.

On a last second desperation drive, the Raiders came scrambling downfield with a young quarterback in his first significant action in an NFL playoff game. At the Steelers 30 with less than 1:30 to go, Stabler avoided the Steel Curtain, took off and scored on a 30 yard TD run to give the Raiders their first lead of the game 7-6. “The Snake” had done it!! A hero was born!! There was bedlam on the Oakland sideline and with 1:13 to go began to make reservations for they would host the AFC Championship Game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

However this was overshadowed by The Immaculate Reception that happened 4 plays later. Then later that day Roger Staubach had his 1st famous comeback in a 30-28 win in San Francisco. Yet Oakland knew they had their quarterback of the future and he could perform in pressure situations. Like a young George Blanda, who had a magical run during 1970, the Raiders could depend upon Stabler’s heroics for years to come.

Over the next 5 seasons as the starter, Stabler guided the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game. An NFL record. He was a daring quarterback who was a true river boat gambler. This led to some interceptions but even more daring touchdowns. He was old school yet enjoyed wine, women, and song out in the nightlife. He still came in and put in his work and teammates respected him and would follow him anywhere.

In 1973 Stabler completed an unheard of 62.7% of his passes, for 1,997 yards 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Raiders won the AFC West and got revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 33-14 win in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, on their way to back to back championships, beat them in the ’73 AFC Championship 27-10. Take a wild guess who was there to get revenge in the 1974 AFC Divisional Playoff?

 

Stabler ended the Dolphin dynasty with the touchdown to Clarence Davis in what became known as The Sea of Hands. One of the most famous games in NFL history.

Although the Raiders lost the AFC Championship the next two years to the rival Steelers, they came back in’76 with a vengeance. They recorded a 13-1 record and sought revenge on those Steelers yet needed another “Snake” come from behind miacle win in the AFC divisional round to get there.

 

1977-01-17 CoverThe Raiders would go on to win the AFC Championship 24-7 over Pittsburgh, then Super Bowl XI over Minnesota 32-14. He had guided the Raiders to that elusive championship in an era when it seemed they would be destined to always be the bridesmaid. He had several great performances left but becoming a champion was the ultimate.

In defending that championship in 1977, Stabler guided Oakland to a record 5th straight AFC Title game in Denver. They fell short 20-17 in getting to Super Bowl XII. How much did that have to do with the fatigue from the 6 quarter epic, Ghost To the Post 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts 1 week before??

 

Stabler’s Raider career was filled with great highlights and one important Super Bowl championship. In 1976 he had one of the greatest season a QB could have. He went 194 of 291 for 2,737 yards 27 TDs and 17 ints and an astonishing completion rate of 67.7% and a 103.4 passer rating. Remember this is a guy who extolled the Raiders philosophy of pressure football while throwing the ball deep.

However Stabler’s career wasn’t a series of statistics. He was one of the NFL’s most visible and recognizable personalities. He did make four Pro Bowls, was voted NFL MVP in 1974, was All Pro twice, and led the league in touchdown passes on 2 occasions. Furthermore,”The Snake” also was voted to the 1970’s NFL All Decade Team and finished with 194 TDs and 222 interceptions. A trade to the Houston Oilers after the 1979 season ended his stint  in Oakland. However he did go out with a bang:

 

Before his retirement in 1984, he did play for the late Bum Phillips twice in Houston and with the New Orleans Saints. Yet it was the magic he deftly showed out in Oakland that should have him in Canton. You can’t even pick out the best quarterback/receiver combo from the 1970s. Was it Stabler to Cliff Branch who should be in the Hall of Fame?? Would it be Stabler to TE Dave Casper who is in “the hall”?? No…it has to be the obvious in Stabler to Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff…right?? If all of his receivers are in and being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame what does that make of the quarterback who helped get them there??

Unfortunately with his passing on Wednesday, we will have to lobby for Stabler to be enshrined posthumously.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Kenny “The Snake” Stabler

RIP Ken Stabler (December 25, 1945 – July 8, 2015)

Epilogue: 9, May 2019 When going through the pics and remembering the 2016 enshrinement weekend at the Hall, it was an emotional weekend. During the Gold Jacket Ceremony, one of the “Grandsnakes” came on the stage to receive Stabler’s Hall of Fame crest. Not only did we give a standing ovation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Not in the section I was in.

halloffamecrest.stablerIt was impossible to not think how great Kenny would have enjoyed that weekend. He would have shared it with his family and would have definitely included his grandsons to which he was most proud of in everything he did.

Having been to two of the last three ceremonies it’s the stories, the celebrating of a player and a family’s legacy to this great game, and the camaraderie reveling in the accomplishment. The Raider family was out in force and came far and wide to celebrate his enshrinement. Yet the elephant in the room is we all felt cheated out of hearing from the man himself.

chancellor.hall

I wore a Jerry Kramer jersey into “The Hall” then removed it to reveal a Stabler shirt I picked up after the Gold Jacket ceremony.

For the record I do wish the PFHoF presented Stabler’s family with a ring and gold jacket.

It was bittersweet however its better that Ken Stabler’s Hall of Fame legacy is in Canton where it belongs and no longer being debated.

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The Soul of The Game: “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis

Back when The Chancellor of Football was first developing his love for the sport, most of the stories of great players captivated me. When it came to the savagery of Mike Curtis it was also emblazoned by this photo.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

This sack of Roman Gabriel completely captures the visceral side of pro football. Back then you had images like these that accompanied the stories made Curtis bigger than life in the Punt, Pass, and Kick book series. Ironically the Colts during his time evolved from being known as an offensive team into a defensive one.

Baltimore rose to prominence with the 1958 NFL Championship on the arm of Johnny Unitas. Yet as the 60’s were concluding Unitas was aging and the defense came to the fore. Never was this more prevalent than the 1968 season Unitas missed with an elbow injury and the Colts defense set the record for fewest points in a season with 144. Curtis, an All Pro Outside Linebacker was one of the leading reasons why.

In the vignette you can see Curtis aggressive tackling and hitting. You saw him head hunt on several tackles. All he cared about was getting the runner down.  His intensity is what led those Colts defenses. In fact he was the leader of one of modern history’s finest defense. In my series to find out the greatest defenses in NFL history, his 1971 Colts unit came in at #6.  They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken their old scoring record of 144 with 133.

Led by “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis, Fred Miller, Bubba Smith,  and Rick Volk, this was a record setting defense that was overshadowed and forgotten in the aftermath of Super Bowl III. Even though they came back and won Super Bowl V. Then made it to the AFC Championship Game and nearly made it to Super Bowl VI. They once held the record for fewest points allowed in a season and by 1972 held the #2 & #3 spots. They were led by their Hall of Fame Linebacker who was definitely a Soul Of The Game defender.

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Ken Riley Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

There are several teams that have their best talents go unrecognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The prevailing theme that has emerged are the lack of members from franchises that haven’t won a Super Bowl or an NFL championship in their existence. Even those that compiled impressive numbers during their careers. Enter Ken Riley of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in their last year of the American Football League in 1969. He teamed with fellow CB Lemar Parrish and FS Tommy Casanova to form one of the best secondaries of the 1970’s. Over a 15 year career ending in 1983, Riley intercepted 65 enemy passes. Good enough for 4th all time at the time of his retirement, and still ranks 5th just behind Rod Woodson.

A quiet player drafted out of Florida A & M, his career was overshadowed by other teammates and playing in a small market in Cincinnati. There were only so many Pro Bowl votes to go around. Many of those went to teammate Parrish with 8 who was also one of the league’s best punt returners… we’ll get back to this.

From 1974-1978 the Bengal defense ranked 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 3rd against the pass. The “Soul Patrol” Raider secondary of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson never yielded less yards than this group. The Steelers only outranked them once in ’74, when they were ranked #1. Keep in mind in ’75 & ’76 the Steel Curtain had two of our greatest ever defenses and Cincy was better against the pass.

As for Pro Bowl voting during this time, Parrish who deserves Hall of Fame consideration in his own right, was a mainstay. However Riley was the better pass thief. Riley pirated 22 enemy passes to Parrish’s 6 during the time ’74-77. In fact you’d have to combine all their years together dating back to 1970 to get Parrish in the race with 23 interceptions. However Riley’s number balloons to 36 when you do that.

The biggest Pro Bowl snub came in 1976 when teammate Parrish made it to LA and Riley stayed home. Riley was 2nd in the league with 9 ints which were returned for 141 yards and a touchdown. Parrish and fellow AFC Pro Bowl CB Emmitt Thomas only had 2 respectively. Are you serious?? How does this happen?? Let’s take a look back…first at Riley, then his exploits in one of the finest secondaries in NFL history.

They were the best secondary of the 1970’s. Maybe it was going against Bill Walsh and what would become the “west coast offense” everyday in practice. Walsh was Cincinnati’s Offensive Coordinator at the time and had 2 time passing champion Ken Anderson at quarterback.

kenriley2What The Chancellor of Football remembers most about Riley was his flawless backpedal. He was a tactician that used the sideline as his friend and was never out of position.

Once Parrish was dealt away to the Redskins and Tommy Casanova retired to attend medical school in 1978, Riley played on in the Bengal secondary. He played through 1983 when in his 15th and final season, was 2nd in the league with 8 interceptions. Most players would have dwindling stats that late in their careers. Riley had a combined 18 interceptions in his final 3 years alone.

Did you know Riley never made the Pro Bowl during his career?? However he was voted All Pro in 1975, 1976, 1981, and his final season in 1983. Something has to be said about that type of sustained excellence. Of the top ten interceptors in NFL history, only he and Hall of Famer Dick Lebeau did so for the same team throughout their career. He’s the only corner to have 7 seasons with 5 or more interceptions totaling 65 over 15 years.

Keep in mind it took Darrell Green 20 years to garner 53 interceptions. Hall of Famer Deion Sanders needed 14 years to net 53 picks and Lester Hayes needed 10 years to snatch 39. None of these guys came close to matching the 18 Riley had in his final 3 seasons during their careers.

Just like there is little footage of the Cincinnati Bengals of that era, there just isn’t a lot out there on Ken Riley. He was a great cornerback that played in an era before they expanded Pro Bowl voting to include more players. Yet you can’t take away his numbers. Aside from Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane no cornerback intercepted more passes.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Ken Riley.

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The Soul of The Game: Ernie Stautner

Last night during the retirement of Joe Greene’s #75, it was revealed his was only the second number retired in Steelers history. When they announced the other number belonged to Ernie Stautner, only the real old timers remembered him as a player.  Some knowledgeable Steeler fans would remember him from his days as a defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys during the Super Bowl years of the 1970’s.

Stautner was a 9 time Pro Bowl DT who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.

Stautner was a 9 time Pro Bowl DT who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.

However an earlier incarnation of Stautner was the greatest Steeler during those 42 years of losing before Super Bowl IX. During his 15 year career with the Steelers he was the lone standout as he made the Pro Bowl nine times. Stautner was voted to the All Decade Team of the 1950’s.

He was revered as the strongest defensive tackle at the point of attack. In the video you’re about to watch, you’ll see he alternated between defensive end and tackle. He only weighed 235 lbs for most of his career. The same weight as Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. Yet through his intensity and technique he was the greatest defensive player of the Pittsburgh Steelers first 42 years of existence.

Speaking of technique, he went on to be the defensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys for over 20 years. He taught them all from Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, Jethro Pugh, George Andrie, and on through Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Hall of Famer Randy White. He spanned both Doomsday I and II and only departed once Jimmy Johnson brought his own coaching staff to Dallas in 1989.

The late Stautner giving some gameday tips to the late Harvey Martin in 1978.

The late Stautner giving some gameday tips to the late Harvey Martin in 1978.

Yet it’s his first NFL incarnation of one of the greatest defensive linemen of his era. He was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 which ironically was the year the Steelers drafted Joe Greene.

Dedicated to the memory of  Ernie Stautner (Apr 20, 1925- Feb 16, 2006)

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Corey Dillon Belongs In The Hall of Fame

There are many NFL fans who miss true talents around the league and just focus on their team. That narrow focus can keep one from seeing a Hall of Fame talent at work. That doesn’t mean an overlooked player should miss the call to the hall if he doesn’t garner great media attention. It’s about what they accomplished on the field and how well their peers respected their exploits.

Dillon was a violent runner.

Dillon was a violent runner.

Did you know that at one point Corey Dillon owned the greatest single game rushing performance and the #6 performance in NFL history?? Not Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, LaDanian Tomlinson, nor Adrian Peterson or any great back you’ve ever watched accomplished that . Well, you have to be in your mid fifties at least to say you saw someone perform to that high a level. That was when OJ Simpson held sway in the NFL. You’d have to be in your fifties!!

Not only that, his 6th place (at the time) performance stood as the NFL’s rookie rushing record at 247 yards in a 1997 game against the Tennessee Oilers. That record Dillon broke had been Jim Brown’s. Each of these have since been broken but it was the manner in which they were set that sets them apart.

Unlike the shifty make ’em miss running style of most halfbacks, Dillon struck like the hammer of Thor. He was a passionate violent runner that thrived on contact. Once he positioned a defender to one side, he’d forearm, stiff-arm, or shoulder right through them. He made a joke of arm tackles and if you wanted to tackle him, your heart had better be in it.

Dillon's passion led to frustration as the Bengals piled up losses.

Dillon’s passion led to frustration as the Bengals piled up losses.

For years media pundits painted him with the broad brush of that of a malcontent. Yet let me ask: If you were one of the best talents in the league, how frustrated would you be with a team that couldn’t get you any help?? In 1999 Inside The NFL broadcast their show from Cincinnati asking “Why can’t the Bengals tun it around?? Were they the JV of the NFL??” They interviewed player after player and the only one whose eyes burned fire with frustration were Dillon’s.

For an instant you could peer into his soul and you understood him completely. For all the hard work to make it to the NFL, then play for a franchise that couldn’t field a better team. He was toiling in anonymity loss after loss. All those childhood dreams of playing in a Super Bowl were dying an agonizing death.

It looked like 2000 would be no different as the Bengals started out 0-6. They had only scored 34 points while being shut out 3 times when the Denver Broncos, just two years removed from back to back championships, came to town. The heavens opened up and the football god’s touched Dillon, allowing his fury to be unleashed in the greatest rushing display in NFL history.

Inside The NFL Perspective:

Did The Chancellor of Football say the greatest rushing display in the history of pro football?? Absolutely!! Listen, on a day when the Bengals completed just 4 passes, Dillon got off on a defense focused squarely on him. As for the record of 278 yards being broken twice by Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson, we will put them side by side in a minute. You have to remember the football world was still reeling from Walter Payton’s death. We were just 1 week short of the 1 year anniversary of his passing. As for the record comparison:

  • 2000 Corey Dillon 22 car. 278 yds 2TDs
  • 1977 Walter Payton 40 car. 275 yds 1 TD
  • 2003 Jamal Lewis 30 car. 295 yds 3TDs
  • 2007 Adrian Peterson 30 car. 296 yds 3TDs

However a closer look and Corey lost 6 yds on 6 of his carries. So in essence he ran for 284 yards in 16 carries or 17.75 yards per rush!!! Yikes!!! Best in history by a wide margin… It was Corey who wiped Jim Brown and Walter Payton from the record book, proving to a generation those records weren’t unbreakable. Payton’s record had stood for 23 years.

Dillon finished the 2000 season with a team record 1,435 yards rushing. Don’t forget he had two games against the  record setting Super Bowl champion Raven’s defense that ranked #2, and two more vs. Tennessee’s ranked at #1. What would he have done had he played in a less stout division defense-wise??

What would he have done behind a line like the Dallas wall with Larry Allen??

In 7 years he only played once with a Pro Bowl lineman.  That was T Willie Anderson in 2003. By then he was splitting time with Rudi Johnson. In that same year Chad Johnson (Ocho Cinco) made the Pro Bowl. Other than that he played with NO Pro Bowl players for all that time. In those circumstances he ran for 1,000 yards in 6 of 7 seasons. In stark contrast Emmitt Smith’s line had 16 Pro Bowl Linemen and TEs between 1991-1995 alone. But alas he was traded to the New England Patriots for a second round pick when he failed to rush for 1,000 in 2003.

What did the Patriots get??

Try the driving force for their back to back championship season of 2004. He wasn’t just a member of that team. Dillon ran for a Patriots team record 1,635 yards and 13TDs & was the closer for the best of the three champions in their dynasty. He had 9 100 yard performances that year and the playoff clinching win came against Cincinnati. Where he received the game ball from Bill Belichick.

The Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XXXIX 24-21 which validated the career of Corey Dillon. For his career he rushed for 11,241 yards and 82 TDs. Dillon is one of a select few to set the franchise record in rushing for multiple teams. As the argument heats up about the candidacy of other power runners like Eddie George and Jerome Bettis, neither showed the exhibition of power and speed Dillon displayed. Not to record breaking levels. He had 7 1,000 yard seasons and was a world champion. What could have become of Dillon’s career had he more talent around him??

One of history's best power runners.

One of history’s best power runners.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Corey Dillon.

Roger Craig Should Be In The Hall of Fame

When you think back to Bill Walsh’s great 49er teams, who are the first players you think of?? Right there with the Joe Montanas, the Jerry Rices, and Ronnie Lotts it only takes a fraction of a second to think of Roger Craig. His high knee running style brought a physicality to the San Francisco offense that was seen as a finesse group up until his arrival. In fact he came to San Francisco as a fullback when they drafted him from Nebraska before the 1983 season.

Roger Craig was the battering ram of the San Francisco offense of the 1980s.

Roger Craig was the battering ram of the San Francisco offense.

In college he had been primarily a blocking back in the Cornhuskers wishbone offense. Normally he paved the way for Jarvis Redwine and then Mike Rozier. Yet when Bill Walsh decided to revamp San Francisco’s dismal backfield after a 3-6 season in 1982, he drafted Craig in the second round.

Although the 49ers had won it all in 1981, it had become apparent Bill Ring, Amos Lawrence, Walt Easley, and Earl Cooper just wasn’t cutting it in the backfield. To raise the stakes in the NFC for 1983, Craig and newly acquired Wendell Tyler would form a more potent backfield.

After posting the worst yards per carry average (3.4) and yardage (742) in 1982, the new backfield duo of Craig and Tyler turned that around completely. The much improved ground game of 1983 ranked 8th with 2,257 yards rushing and a gaudy 4.4 yard average. Ironically just ahead of the Los Angeles Rams, who had traded Tyler to San Francisco so they could draft Eric Dickerson.

You had to give the nod to Craig who ran for 783 yards a team leading 8 TDs, while catching 42 passes for 427 yards and another 4 scores. This more dynamic backfield, along with Joe Montana, powered San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game. A 24-21 loss to the Washington Redskins was shrouded in controversy, thanks to some questionable calls, yet Walsh had the backfield he envisioned. Craig had reinvented himself from a collegiate player who rarely touched the football to a dual threat pro.

The 1984 49ers were a juggernaut becoming the first team to go 15-1 during the regular season. Everyone of the 49 man roster played their role so no one had outstanding stats. However once the 49ers moved past the New York Giants and Chicago Bears during the playoffs, the stage was set for a coming out party in Super Bowl XIX. With all eyes on Joe Montana’s possible second Super Bowl trophy and the electrifying record setting Dan Marino, Craig’s name didn’t even make the marquee.

 

Roger Craig graces the cover of Sports Illustrated  after his record breaking performance in Super Bowl XIX.

Roger Craig graces the cover of Sports Illustrated after his record breaking performance in Super Bowl XIX.

It was his 1985 that set Craig apart as he amassed his 1,000/ 1,000 yard seasons both rushing and receiving. The first player in league history to do so. Some 27 years later, only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk shares that accomplishment when he did it in 1999. How dominating was his performance?? Well his 1,050 yards rushing doesn’t jump out at you until you realize he only ran 214 times for a whopping 4.9 yards per carry. The league average is always around 4.0.

Oh by the way, he led the NFL in receiving that year with 92, which set a record for running backs, that amassed 1,016 more yards. His 15 total touchdowns was second to Joe Morris and was 1 better than NFL MVP Marcus Allen. In fact many pundits, including our CEO believes Craig should have been the MVP in 1985 with that dominating performance.

Now buoy his 1985 record setting season not culminating with the league MVP, on the backdrop of a Super Bowl record 3 TDs yet not winning that MVP and you’ll see where we’re going in a minute. Don’t forget he did this on a 10-6 San Francisco team that was a defending champion with Jerry Rice being a rookie that didn’t have 1,000 yards receiving and only 3 touchdowns. Craig quite simply fueled that offense.

Once the 49ers won Super Bowl XIX, they were forced to retool and become a bigger physical team. In 1985, the Chicago Bears emerged with one of the most imposing defenses in NFL history. The Giants followed suit with an overwhelming defense that featured 4 linebackers in the 250 lbs category. When Bill Walsh and his 49ers were dominated 49-3 in the 1986 NFC Divisional Playoffs by the Giants something had to be done.

These were teams the 49ers had beaten on their way to the ’84 championship, now they had taken the game to a new level of brute force. In reinventing the offense from a size perspective, it was Craig who was switched from fullback to halfback to allow for the insertion of Tom Rathman at fullback. The entire offensive line was overhauled.

You have to keep in mind the average career for a runner in pro football is less than 4 years. Yet here Craig was making the switch in year 5 to a position that called for him to be quicker. This at a time where he should have been slowing down from a physical standpoint. Yet he, Jerry Rice and Joe Montana spearheaded one of history’s most accomplished runs. From 1987-1990 the 49ers went 51-12 in the regular season, winning back to back Super Bowls in ’88 & ’89 and were the prohibitive favorites to win it all in 1987 as well as 1990. They finished #1 in offense in ’87 and ’89 and #2 in ’88 and ’90. In each year they made it to at least the divisional round of the playoffs and 3 straight NFC Championship Games as they were trying to threepeat.

Playing in only 12 games due to the ’87 strike, Craig ran for 815 yards which projects out to 1,086 over a full season. The 13-2 Niners were poised to become the greatest team of the modern era yet were upset by the Vikings in the playoffs. They were #1 in both offense and defense yet proved fallible in the playoff loss. Craig went on to his greatest performance in the 1988 campaign. In rushing for a career high and club record 1,502 yards, he also caught 76 passes for an additional 534  yards for his second season with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. More important, he powered San Francisco to another Super Bowl championship with a win over Cincinnati in the XXIII’d edition.

Roger Craig was a hard nosed runner.

Roger Craig was a hard nosed runner.

Yet go back to 1988 being his second season with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Keep in mind this was no sleek, make ’em miss halfback. He brought a punishing style to his position where he bludgeoned the opposition. As you’re reading this you can picture his high knee running style like when he trampled through the Rams on his most famous run in 1988.

Yet did you know that Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, and Barry Sanders only had 2 different seasons amassing 2,000 yards from scrimmage also?? Did you also know that Marcus Allen and Adrian Peterson have only had one?? Only Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, Ladainian Tomlinson, and Eric Dickerson had more. What do all of these runners have in common?? Peterson and Tomlinson will be in the Hall of Fame and all the others are in. Roger Craig is right there with them.

Now going into the Hall of Fame is based on impact on the game. By the time we bring up the 1989 team that won Super Bowl XXIV, Craig was a driving force behind the team of the decade. Again he was a 1,000 yard rusher as the team won their fourth Super Bowl and Roger had his 3rd ring. When he left the game in 1993, his 566 career receptions was #1 among running backs all time and still remains 7th.

He is in the linear line of great NFL running backs when it comes to catching the football and is a part of the game’s evolution. He took the mantle from Chuck Foreman and propelled it forward. Since then, only a handful of every down running backs have provided that type of versatility. Now everyone has a receiving running back who comes in on 3rd downs where Roger was in every play.

It was Craig’s play that allowed a young Jerry Rice to flourish as teams concentrated their efforts to stop him. If Craig’s move to halfback in 1987 hadn’t panned out, what would have been the legacy of Bill Walsh’s “West Coast Offense”?? It was the run from 1987-1990 that made the offense spread it’s wings throughout the National Football League. During this time is when it proved it could take on the big bad Chicago Bears defense (see 41-0 1987 Monday Night shutout) and 28-3 NFC Championship win in Soldier Field in ’88. Then you add the rivalry with the New York Giants.

From Mike Holmgren to Denny Green to Mike White to Jon Gruden ( who had just begun coaching on the 1990 SF coaching staff) and George Seifert succeeding Bill Walsh. They all could attribute their Head Coaching jobs to some extent to Craig’s performance along with Montana and Rice. Yet the foundation of that offense running and receiving along with goal line and short yardage was #33.

By the way, when did Roger Craig set the Super Bowl record for becoming the first running back to have a 100 yard receiving game?? You guessed it… Super Bowl XXIII against Cincinnati and not his record setting performance against Miami. Now had he won the Super Bowl XIX MVP, or the 1985 NFL MVP, would that have propelled him to winning the NFL MVP in 1988?? Give it some thought.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you…Roger Craig