Legend of The Fall: Walter Payton

It has been 27 years since Walter Payton suited up for an NFL game. Before his passing in 1999 the question could be raised was he the greatest legend the game had known?? After his passing his legend is unmatched by any player of the last 60 years. “Sweetness” as a nickname is synonymous with those of “The Galloping Ghost” the “Steel Curtain” that will be shared with football fans forever.

The legendary

The legendary “Sweetness”

Although he is no longer the NFL’s leading rusher whenever you see a runner fighting for more yardage, you think of Payton. In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation during a majority of his career he was overshadowed by Tony Dorsett then Eric Dickerson since they were more flashy runners. It was grit and determination that made Payton special. Unlike other runners one man couldn’t bring him down nor could someone shoulder him down. Payton’s spirit was that of a great warrior and it took more than one man to stop him.

If you were to travel back to the 1980’s the standard bearer for runners was the great Jim Brown. He set the NFL’s all time rushing yardage mark with 12,312 yards when he retired in 1965. Only OJ Simpson came close to passing him finishing with 11,236 when he ran out of gas in 1979. Payton’s career long assault had him within reach as 1984 beckoned. Before he could eclipse Brown’s mark the comparisons started. Who was better?? Jim Brown or Walter Payton??

The video you just watched had been produced before Payton had become the all time leading rusher. They edited it before the second week of the 1986 season and re-aired it. He was about to score his 100th touchdown in the famous “Buddy Bowl”, where Buddy Ryan who had been the architect of the Chicago Bears championship defense the year before.  He returned as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Not only did Payton score his touchdown, he had his last true great game as he gouged the Eagles for 177 yards. It was his 75th 100 yard game. Much like Marvin Hagler in boxing, national media showcased Payton in the twilight of his career. Of course it was once he surpassed Jim Brown and his unbreakable all time rushing record was when he finally was afforded that status. That moment took place October 7, 1984.

At one time he had the greatest rushing performance in an NFL game with 275 yards and pushed the all time rushing record to 16,726 yards. Each of these have been broken but who embodied the spirit of the determined runner fighting a defense fighting to stop him?? Emmitt Smith and Corey Dillon come close but none matched his fury. Looking back on all these careers it was as though other runners were playing a role created for them by Payton. As thought they were all trying to impersonate him. Make no mistake about it he was The Chancellor of Football’s favorite player during his career.

The poignant moment that was etched in my mind wasn’t his sitting alone on the bench after his last game in the 1987 playoffs. It was his sitting on the bench by himself toward the end of the 1984 NFC Championship Game. Chicago was losing 23-0 to the San Francisco 49ers and it looked like this was the closest Payton would make it to the Super Bowl.

In an instant the flash entered my mind that his career would be over soon and he hadn’t been a champion. Then the great ’85 Bears stormed to the Super Bowl XX championship. He rushed for over 1,300 yards in 1986 then let it be known during 1987 it would be his last season. Sure he wasn’t the same runner as he split time with heir apparent Neil Anderson. It was at this time you had to reflect back on how great Walter had been over the years.

Friday would have been Walter Payton’s 60th birthday and he’s still missed by football fans everywhere. Yet we know the trials he faced toward the end of his life. Its better to focus on his play and the bright personality that we remembered him for.

Walter Payton soaring as he is in heaven above.

Walter Payton soaring as he is in heaven above.

Happy 60th birthday Walter Payton from a true fan that didn’t get a chance to meet you. Its fun to share vids for those who were younger that didn’t get to see you play or see the footage of your exploits. My gift to those fans in your honor started on your birthday. RIP Sweetness. Thanks for reading and please share the article. Epilogue: An extra video on Walter Payton’s 1984

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #10 1986 Chicago Bears

Welcome to the second installment on the 10 greatest defenses in NFL history. We are off to a rousing start as folks are putting in their reasons for their teams and why the honorable mention units should have made the top ten list. Truth of the matter is all bias has to be removed and the great equalizers lie in the season statistics, play against strongest offenses during their year, and what precedents they set.  If one team is sitting in front of another for having set a precedent, a team with less stature or ranking cannot sit above them on the list.

So now we have to countdown to the single season defenses in NFL history starting with #10.

The best trio of linebackers in the game in Mike Singletary, Wilber Marshall, and Otis Wilson.

The best trio of linebackers in the game in Mike Singletary, Wilber Marshall, and Otis Wilson.

10. 1986 Chicago Bears –  A season after bludgeoning their way to the NFL title, this group was poised to repeat. If Mike Ditka would have stayed the course and not played Doug Flutie at quarterback who was on the team for four weeks, they would have. Having done so he robbed NFL fans of the greatest 2 year dynasty the NFL had ever seen. They were 15-1 in 1985 then went 14-2 which tied for the best record in the league that year. 29-3 over two seasons?? So why is this group in and the ’86 Giants and ’02 Bucs left off??

  • ’86 Bears – 187 pts allowed *NFL record / 10 of 16 opponents held to 10 or fewer points / 258.1 yds per game (1st) / 62 sacks (2nd) / 31 int. (2nd)
  • ’86 Giants- 236 pts allowed / 5 of 16 opponents held to 10 or fewer points *2 more in playoffs* / 297.3 yds per game (2nd) / 59 sacks (4th / 24 int. (tied 7th)
  • ’02 Bucs – 196 pts allowed / 9 of 16 opponents held to 10 or fewer points / 252.8 yds per game (1st) / 43 sacks (6th) / 31 int. (1st)

Furthermore in compiling these statistics the yardage difference between #1 & #2 in 1986 (258.1 to 297.3) is the second biggest difference since 1970. No way in hell you could say the Giants defense in 1986 was better than Chicago’s…no way.

In a year where two future Hall of Famers Dan Hampton (10 sacks) and Richard Dent (11.5 sacks) didn’t make the Pro Bowl, LB Wilber Marshall, DT Steve McMichael, late SS Dave Duerson, and MLB Mike Singletary did. All this before we bring up FS Gary Fencik. They were 2-1 against Pro Bowl quarterbacks. They split with the Vikings and Tommy Kramer beating him once 23-0. Then they pasted Boomer Esiason and the NFL’s #1 offense 44-7 on the road. By the way the Bengals were 10-6 that year and the Browns were 12-4 and played for the AFC Championship. The Bears beat them also. In fact they were 4-1 on the year vs top ten offenses.

This group had to drag a Bears offense that had been handicapped by the loss of Jim McMahon through several qbs that couldn’t complete 50% of their passes. The true reason the ’86 Bears didn’t win Super Bowl XXI and the ’86 Giants did was this incident right here. 

The defense drug a team with no offensive continuity to the best record in the NFL at 14-2. However since the 2 losses came within the NFC and only 1 of the Giants had, New York got homefield advantage. The Bears fell to the Redskins in the divisional round 27-13 behind 3 turnovers on their own side of the 50 in the 2nd half. Even the 10th best defense in NFL history could save them from that. As for would the ’86 Bears have beaten the ’86 Giants had they played?? The first game of 1987 had both teams healthy and the Bears, without McMahon again, won 34-19. Two of New York’s touchdowns were on defense and special teams.

The Bears season in microcosm was this game against the Lions:

This defense really should be higher but we’re starting the top ten off with a bang. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL V CHAMPION 1970 BALTIMORE COLTS

When you think of the old Baltimore Colts, the first flashback that comes to mind are the black and white films with Johnny Unitas leading the team in the 1950’s. Then another thought stirs up images of Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and the mid 1970’s version with Head Coach Ted Marchibroda. You follow-up that thought with the green and yellow Mayflower trucks moving the team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1984. Yet sandwiched between the first and second of these events is the most forgotten champion in modern football history. The 1970 Baltimore Colts.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

There are varied reasons why this team is so overlooked when you think of this franchise.  Did you know this is the only Super Bowl winner where the franchise was sold just one year later?? Before the 1972 season, Robert Irsay (Los Angeles Rams) and Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises.

Carroll had one of the most successful tenures as an owner in NFL history. Yet after losing Super Bowl III, one of the landmark games in league history, he lost Head Coach Don Shula to the Miami Dolphins after the 1969 season.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

So is it ironic or part of the story that his last game as Colts owner, was a 21-0 loss to Shula’s Miami Dolphins in the 1971 AFC Championship Game?? Another twist was it was played in the Orange Bowl which had been the site of Super Bowl III.

Another reason this champion wasn’t remembered is there wasn’t a main powerful character. Yes the Colts had an aging fading John Unitas at quarterback. In 1970, he finished with a career low 51.7% completion percentage, and was the only qb to win the Super Bowl in a year he threw more interceptions (18-14) than touchdowns. He was 3 seasons removed from 11 straight Pro Bowl seasons and 5 player of the year awards.

By this time he was getting by on inspiration and finding the touch at the right time. As was the case in the first ever AFC Championship Game. Clinging to a 20-17 lead late in the 4th,Unitas had reserve WR Ray Perkins motion from the backfield and lofted a perfect sideline floater just past Raider CB Nemiah Wilson for the decisive touchdown. It was the only touchdown he threw in the game as he went 11 of 30 for 245 yards.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

It was echoed in Super Bowl V as he went 3 for 9 for 88 yards with 2 interceptions and 1 TD before being knocked out of the game. The lone touchdown was the bizarre 75 yarder to John Mackey where the ball bounced from Colt Eddie Hinton and Cowboy Mel Renfro first. So the late Earl Morrall had to come off the bench to save the Colts season just as Unitas tried to in Super Bowl III.

The game was played at a frantic pace with 11 total turnovers in what was nicknamed The Blunder Bowl. The Colts outlasted the Dallas Cowboys, they didn’t beat them. A last second interception by Mike Curtis put them in position for Jim O’Brien to win it with a field goal 16-13.

Another reason they weren’t remembered were they were coached by the late Don McCafferty. He was the hand picked successor once Don Shula departed for Miami having been the long time Offensive Coordinator. By the time we make it to 1972 the Colts were winless in their first five games. General Manager Joe Thomas wanted Unitas benched. When McCafferty refused he was fired.

super-bowl-logo-1970Less than 1 1/2 years after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenblom was no longer the owner, John Unitas was no longer the quarterback, Don McCafferty was no longer the coach, and the magic was gone from 33rd Street in Baltimore. The romantic era starting with the 1958 NFL Championship Game win over the Giants, ended with the 1971 AFC Championship loss in Miami.

In many ways the Super Bowl V championship had a lifetime achievement feel more than a best of the league feel. Would they have won Super Bowl VI had they rematched with the Cowboys?? How different would Don McCafferty’s legacy been had they won it? As a matter of fact, the Dolphins split their games with the Colts in 1970 and 1971. Would the Colts even make it to Super Bowl V had the Dolphins been able to get past Oakland in the ’70 playoff game??

Epilogue: Carroll Rosenbloom’s Rams won the NFC West 5 times from 1973-1978 but lost the NFC Championship 4 times. He died from a heart attack and drowned before the 1979 season when the Rams did make it to Super Bowl XIV. Which left the team to his wife…. Georgia Rosenbloom who later remarried. Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere.

Don McCafferty died of a heart attack in 1974 after he had coached the Detroit Lions for one season.

John Unitas remains one of the greatest players in NFL history and was the first to throw for more than 40,000 yards. A staple at Baltimore Ravens games well into the 2000s. Unitas passed away on Sept 11th, 2002.

Bubba Smith, the giant Defensive End  passed away in August 2011. Smith played the majority of his career in Baltimore and stated in 2007 “Super Bowl III, I still haven’t gotten over it.”

Earl Morrrall, the journeyman quarterback who was player of the year in 1968 with Unitas out. Was with the team when they lost Super Bowl III. Afterward he would duplicate his 1968 with a great performance leading the Dolphins to the undefeated season in Bob Griese’s absence. He won 2 more Super Bowls (VII & VIII) with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Morrall died last month on April 25, 2014.

To these men I dedicate this article to… they were a champion. NFL champions for 1970.

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The Soul Of the Game: Leonard Smith

leonard smithOne of the hardest hitting Buffalo Bills of all time was strong safety Leonard Smith. He was acquired in a trade early in the 1988 season as the missing piece to help a young team learn how to win. It wasn’t that Smith was from a winning tradition, but he was an old pro that brought an attitude and intimidating style of play.

Upon his arrival in 1988, Bruce Smith was entering his fourth year. Linebackers Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett, were entering their second seasons as was Nate Odomes. All four of these players went on to become Pro Bowl and All Pro performers but not until Smith’s work ethic and attitude had rubbed off on the young Bills.

The day that it was announced that Smith had been traded to the Bills, a young Chancellor of Football told his friends at practice that Buffalo will be in the playoffs. You can’t underscore the importance of a grizzled old pro that has been through the wars who still hunger for a championship. The same as it had with Fred “Hacksaw” Reynolds on the 1981 49ers or Charles Haley with the ’92 Dallas Cowboys.

Here was the thought at the time of his time in St. Louis before the move to Buffalo.

If you want to think of who Smith played most like, think of Rodney Harrsion formerly of the Chargers and Patriots. He was a Strong Safety that blitzed and stuffed the run. His strong suit wasn’t covering speedy receivers but he could put the wood to tight ends and running backs. In 1986, even though the great Bears were in their heyday, it was St Louis that led the NFL against the pass and was 4th in 1987 which was Smith’s last full season. In 1988 once he moved to Buffalo, their defense ranked fourth against the pass while the Cardinals slipped to 12th. The Bills started 11-1 and won their division by Thanksgiving which was the earliest in history.

...and he had crazy haircuts.

…and he had crazy haircuts.

Smith played 10 seasons in the NFL with his last being in 1991. A knee injury suffered between the 1991 AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XXVI abruptly ended his career. Yet the men he influenced went on to play in two more Super Bowls as the team was more offensive minded by then. Everyone forgets that 1988 team was a run oriented with the 4th best defense in football. They didn’t break out into the “K-Gun” until the 1989 NFL playoffs.

“Leonard Smith… was a head hunter” – Former Dallas Cowboy great and Cardinals secondary coach Mel Renfro.

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The Soul Of The Game: Bill Brown

Our choice for first special teams player to go to the Hall of Fame would be Bill Brown.

Our choice for first special teams player to go to the Hall of Fame would be Bill Brown.

When Steve Tasker was about to retire from the Buffalo Bills in 1997, many pundits talked about is candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Aside from former Chiefs kicker Jan Stenerud, no player who played primarily on special teams has made it into the halls of Canton. Everyone thought Steve should be the first along with Pat Tillman and possibly Hank Bauer. However if you ask our CEO who should be the first person to make the Hall of Fame when it comes to special teams players, Bill Brown of the 1960s-1970s Minnesota Vikings would be the first.

Our The Soul of The Game series is about hitting and defense. Its still the essence of the sport. Although Bill Brown was a Full Back, he played special teams through his entire career. Most notably when the Vikings decided to get younger and drafted Full Back Chuck Foreman out of the University of Miami (The [[_]]) in 1973. In most instances an aging player goes to another team or sits the bench quietly. Out of the offensive limelight Brown still crashed on special teams as the Vikings became a Super Bowl team again in 1973 & 1974.

 

After the Vikings played in Super Bowl IX, a 16-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown retired after a 14 year career. He had been a Pro Bowl Full Back 4 times back in the 1960s and finished his career with 5,838 yards rushing and 52 touchdowns. So his career did have real merit.

The only issue is the tackles weren’t being recorded on special teams to further showcase his contributions. However Brown’s career concluded well over a decade before the first Pro Bowl slot for a special teams player was introduced. He did go down and hit as the video will attest. What is sprinkled in the video as well are the many tackles he made after a fumble or an interception against the Vikings offense. Notice how many times he hits a linebacker wearing a 50s series number. Bill Brown was a complete football player and should be the first special teams player to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a special teams ace.

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Bill Brown (June 29, 1938- Nov. 4, 2018)

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

 

Greatest Defensive Performance in an NFL Game – Vernon Perry

Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers was a solid strong safety.

Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers was a solid strong safety.

When it comes to great performances in the NFL we tend to think of superstars having spectacular days. However there are times when a player finds himself totally in tune with a situation and turns in the game of a lifetime.

Such was the case with SS Vernon Perry of the late 70’s Houston Oilers. He was the college teammate of the late Walter Payton and Oiler teammate Robert Brazile at Jackson State. After a stint in Canada, Perry only played five seasons in the NFL (1979-1983) and the only distinction he gained was being named 2nd team All Pro in 1980.

In 1979, the Oilers were chasing perennial champion and division rival Pittsburgh, to whom they lost the 1978 AFC Championship Game to. Perry’s rookie year helped solidify a secondary that picked off 34 passes for the season. They were built as a run heavy team behind legendary Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell. In week 15 the Oilers beat the Steelers 20-17 to give them both identical 11-4 records. A loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the final week relegated the Oilers to the wild card role and the Steelers the division championship.

The wild card game was one of the most physical games in NFL history. The Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense battled tooth and nail in the 13-7 loss to the Oilers. They knocked out Earl Campbell, leading receiver Ken Burrough, and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini.

So a team that had serious aspirations of reaching Super Bowl XIV, or at least a rematch with the Steelers, would have to do so without Campbell’s 1,697 yards in the divisional round. Since the game would be on Saturday and not Sunday, they would be without Pastorini and Burrough as well.

Air Coryell - Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow

Air Coryell – Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow

Picture the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys going into a playoff game without Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin all not being in the game. This was that equivalent.

Their opponent was the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers who also had Super Bowl aspirations. In 1979 they became the first team since the merger to make the playoffs passing more then they ran. Dan Fouts had thrown for 4,082 yards which was an NFL record at the time. They too finished with a 12-4 record to tie Pittsburgh for best record in the conference, and had their confidence boosted in week 12 with a 35-7 blowout of those Steelers. They had Pro Bowlers in John Jefferson (61 rec. 1,090 yds 10TDs), Charlie Joiner (72 rec. 1,008 yds 4TDs) along with Hall of Fame DE Fred Dean and DT Gary “Big Hands” Johnson.

The Chargers finished winning 6 of their last 7 and had held 4 of their last 5 opponents to 7 points or less. For the year, finished 5th in the NFL in defense and were healthy and home for the divisional round. This was a Super Bowl ready group… All they had to do was get past an Oiler team without it’s starting quarterback, running back, and leading receiver.

Naturally the Chargers scored on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead and were driving to take a two score lead when Vernon Perry struck…

The Chargers were undaunted but found the Oiler defense was tougher than anticipated. Once they drove inside the red-zone on the next drive, they stalled at the 7 yard line. They were up 7-3 when they lined up for a 26 yard field goal in the second quarter when:

A pensive crowd started to sit on their hands as their high-flying Chargers were clinging to that same 7-3 lead and couldn’t increase it. The Oilers were also struggling to finish drives. The Chargers were coming out with 3:24 to go and they were sure they’d score on the last drive of the half when Vernon Perry decided to undercut Charlie Joiner crossing the middle.

Thanks to the field position caused by Perry’s 2nd theft, the Oilers scored to take a 10-7 halftime lead. With a team that scored 411 points, 2nd most in the NFL in 1979, it was only going to be a matter of time before the Charger juggernaut got rolling.

Or so San Diego fans thought.

Truth be told they had moved the football early and it was becoming clear the Oilers weren’t going away. The team traded 3rd quarter touchdowns and the Oilers were on top 17-14 after Mike Renfro’s 47 yard touchdown. From that point on an upset seemed imminent and the Chargers started pressing. With just over 3:00 to go in the game, Fouts led his team into field goal range when:

Complete disappointment had set in when the San Diego offense took the field with 1:00 to go. Even though they were only behind by 3 and needed a field goal, their body english was that of a defeated team. Yet with under 10 seconds to go, Dan Fouts could get them into field goal range or hope for a pass interference when he heaved his last pass…

After the game Oiler Head Coach Bum Phillips addressed his team “We were short on man power but we were long on guts” was an understatement. Not once can our CEO remember where a team had to go into a playoff game missing 80% of their season’s offensive production due to injury.

Behind Vernon Perry’s NFL playoff record 4 interceptions, 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and a blocked field goal he returned 57 yards, the Oilers pulled off the biggest upset since Super Bowl III. Not only did it come when the Oilers desperately needed it in a playoff game, he set up the Oilers’ first 10 points which gave the team confidence believing they could win.  It was the best defensive performance in NFL history by an individual in The Chancellor of Football’s estimation.

It set up an AFC Championship rematch with the champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Armed with their hot rookie safety they made it to the gunlap in the race for Super Bowl XIV. Once there Perry got the Oilers off to a great start early in the game.

Yet alas the Oilers fell 27-13 in a game made famous by the Mike Renfro no touchdown call that sparked the instant replay debate. At the time the score would have been tied 17-17 late in the third quarter and the Oilers would have had the momentum in a quiet Three Rivers Stadium. However that is another story for another day. For it was the week before when Vernon Perry made NFL history that was the story of the 1979 playoffs and a game for the ages.

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!