George S Halas – A Word on Papa Bear & 1963 NFL Championship Highlight

"Papa Bear" George Halas

“Papa Bear” George Halas (Feb. 5, 1895 – Oct. 31, 1983)

In the last few years, we get to the NFL playoffs, it’s interesting to hear short sighted fans ask why the NFC Championship trophy is named after George S. Halas and the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi. Several times our CEO has heard on multiple occasions that one of the trophies should be named after Tom Landry. Those Cowboy fans couldn’t be more delusional.

First off, Tom Landry never had a back to back champion that would qualify any of his Cowboy teams as a best ever unit. What would be the basis for this?? Because he won 2 championships as coach of the Dallas Cowboys and coached for 29 years?? That is nowhere near close enough to unseat George Halas who coached for 40 years, and his six championships are the most ever. Not only is he the Phil Jackson of the National Football League when it comes to coaching championships, he’s also the  founding father of the NFL and the Chicago Bears. No George Halas, no NFL, its that simple.

Don Shula has overtaken him as the coach with the most wins 347-324, but you have to realize he was there pushing the pro game from it’s infancy to the modern age. Yet if you want to base it on just coaching feats try these on…

Ring for the 1933 Chicago Bears championship rings

Ring for the 1933 Chicago Bears championship.

Earlier we mentioned Landry not having coached back to back champions, well Halas did it twice. First in the 1932 & 1933 seasons, then in 1940 & 1941. The latter dynasty featured the 73-0 defeat of the Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship Game that introduced a new backfield alignment, the T-Formation. For a seven year period, his Chicago Bears won 4 championships which nearly equals what the Steelers (4 in 6 yrs) did in the 1970’s. His greatest team were none of these.

In 1934 with his chance to three-peat, he had an undefeated team in the NFL Championship Game when the Giants “outsmarted” them switching to basketball shoes on in icy field. That 30-13 loss brought an end to his first dynasty. So it wasn’t Don Shula with the first team to finish the regular season undefeated and Bill Belichick suffered the same fate in 2007, but he was going for 3 in a row at the time.

As for his last championship in 1963:

George Halas Bust

The George Halas Trophy that is awarded to the NFC Champion.

The George Halas Trophy that is awarded to the NFC Champion.

George Stanley Halas led an incredible football life. Without his efforts of over 60 years the National Football League and the subsequent All America Football Conference and the American Football League wouldn’t have had the wings to take flight. Each of those rival leagues had to have the NFL to aspire to be greater than. So when you see his name on the side of the NFC Championship Trophy, understand his importance to pro football.

The list of his Champion Chicago Bears championship teams:

Dedicated to the memory of George Stanley Halas (Feb. 5, 1895- Oct. 31, 1983)

The ring for George Halas' last champion Bear team from 1963.

The ring for George Halas’ last champion Bear team from 1963.

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On This Date In 1994: Jerry Rice Eclipses Jim Brown’s Touchdown Record

On this date 18 years ago, Jerry Rice scored this touchdown against the Raiders. It was his 127th touchdown to break the record of legendary running back Jim Brown.

On the first Monday Night Game of the 1994 season, there was an outside chance Jerry Rice could break Jim Brown’s touchdown record of 126. He entered the season with 124 and was in the prime of his career. The San Francisco 49ers were retooling their team to take down their arch nemesis in the Dallas Cowboys who bested them in the last two NFC Championships. At this time fellow Hall of Fame member Michael Irvin was starting to move into the “best receiver in the NFL” talk as well. All of this kept an already certain Hall of Famer Jerry Rice motivated.

In came the Los Angeles Raiders who had been a playoff team the year before. They had a defense that ranked 9th overall in 1993, and fifth against the pass. To bolster their defensive secondary they signed free agent CB Albert Lewis formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders had just lost Howie Long to retirement yet thought this game would show they were still among the league’s elite. Surely with a young Terry McDaniel and Albert Lewis manning the corners they would stop Rice in the season opener…right??

In what was a microcosm of the 1994 season, the 49ers slaughtered the Raiders 44-14 on national television. This was the great 49er team that signed Deion Sanders, who went on to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and multiple free agents from the 1993 Pro Bowl. They would coast to a fifth Super Bowl trophy four months later.

Looking back at how great that team was with Sanders, Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now was the greatest of the 1990s. In fact it was one of the best in history and the man who led by example on this day 18 years ago became the all time touchdown record holder. His record of 208 touchdowns will never be broken.

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The Soul Of The Game: The Purple People Eaters

The Minnesota Vikings front four was anchored one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. They were the NFL’s first super front four and it’s members consisted of Hall of Famers Carl Eller & Alan Page. Gary Larsen was the other DT, later replaced by Doug Sutherland, and DE and team captain Jim Marshall who should be. Although the 1968 Baltimore Colts were heralded as the greatest defense in NFL history for giving up a record 144 points on the way to Super Bowl III, it was this group that broke that record with 133 allowed  in 1969. They also powered the Vikings to 12 straight wins (longest win streak in 35 years) and carried the team on it’s back to Super Bowl IV.

All four made the Pro Bowl in 1969.

All four made the Pro Bowl in 1969.

This defense made history as well. DT Alan Page was the first defensive player in NFL history to win the MVP of the league in 1971. No player would win that honor again until New York Giants LB Lawrence Taylor, who won the honor in 1986. What is interesting was the year Page won the award the Vikings didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. They lost to the Dallas Cowboys, who went on to win Super Bowl VI.

Yet this team was remembered for having reached the Super Bowl 4 times. Although they came up short in the big game as a team, what this defensive unit was able to do from 1968-1977 was spectacular. The team won 9 division championships on the way to 4 conference championships. It’s possible that they would have won a fifth conference championships and played in 4 straight Super Bowls had Dallas not completed the Hail Mary in the 1975 divisional playoff game. They preceded the Dallas Cowboys Doomsday Defense, the Steelers Steel Curtain, or the Denver Broncos Orange Crush.  These were the super defenses of the 1970s immortalized by nicknames to accompany their fierce play. At the head of that pack for a decade of dominance wrests the Purple People Eaters.

Thanks for the years of great play gentlemen.vikings today

Requiem of An Upset – The Sequel: Judas Falls as AFL Gains Complete Vindication

Have you ever started a project only to have one of your partners try to sabotage it from within?? If you ever got back at that party wouldn’t you want it to be one where it came back and haunted at the most inopportune time?? Well sit down have we got a story for you. During the 1960’s, the NFL and AFL were rival leagues with the AFL’s having originated on the heels of the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game. Principles moved quickly to form a new football league that would rival the 40 year old NFL and had a new style of play that was scoffed at by the sporting press. The AFL fought for over half a decade for respect.

After an aggressive bidding war for players brought the rival leagues to the table to talk merger, a byproduct would be a championship game between the two leagues. The Super Bowl beginning in 1966. Sports writers of the time and most pundits thought the play in the NFL was superior to their younger counterpart. Although the AFL fought for respectability for the first 6 years, their Kansas City Chiefs were handled by the Green Bay Packers 35-10 in the inaugural game, and Oakland Raiders 33-14 in the second edition. Surely talk of a merger was still there but loyalists to both leagues were still at ends until the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

After losing Super Bowl III, the Baltimore Colts were the only team of the 92 who have participated in the Super Bowl, NOT to be issued a ring for doing so.

The shock and awe was so great that the sporing press scrambled to give the Jets credit for a David vs. Goliath type  upset victory. Yet beneath the surface, the establishment raged at the thought of the AFL being on a par with the NFL. Think not??  To the left of this paragraph lies the remnant of that embarrassment. To not commission a championship ring along with the fallout from Baltimore Colt brass losing Don Shula, and swapping franchise’s with Robert Irsay (Rams) a few years later was tantamount to the size of the loss. This is the sequel to our original Requiem of An Upset.

So seismic was the loss that commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to come up with a new round of playoffs called the wild card round. This would allow the team with the 2 best records who didn’t win their division to enter the championship race with the 2 division winners. Many believed that it was a move to keep a tremendous underdog like the Jets from making it to the Super Bowl. Another slap at the AFL if you will… Given the new landscape the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers lined up to take on the AFL East Champion New York Jets and West Champion Oakland Raiders.

Enter the Kansas City Chiefs of Hank Stram and Lamar Hunt. It was Hunt who was the founder of the AFL and began with his team in Dallas and not Kansas City. As we entered 1969, the tenth AFL season, it was fitting that his team would have the last shot to win the overall championship in the last game ever for the AFL. They were the winningest team in league history and had played in championships in 1962 and the first Super Bowl in 1966.

On-board they had players who had spent their entire careers with them like FS Johnny Robinson and DE Jerry Mays (both should be in the Hall of Fame). Yet they finished the season with a loss in the finale to the Oakland Raiders. Couple that with the fact the 1968 season ended with a humiliating 41-6 loss to those same Raiders, confidence wasn’t that high outside Kansas City. The underdog  Chiefs upset the New York Jets 13-6 to make it to the AFL Championship Game. There they bested the Raiders in Oakland 17-7 to make it to New Orleans and Super Bowl IV.

Their opponent would be Judas, otherwise known as the Minnesota Vikings. What are we talking about?? It has to do with the origin of the American Football League and told in our championship ring series for the ’69 Chiefs.

So January 11th, 1970 was the last game ever for the AFL. Starting with the 1970 regular season, the NFL would have an all inclusive regular season combining both leagues.  How did that game appear on television?? Here is the game in it’s entirety

SUPER BOWL IV: FIRST HALF

part 1(00h41m22s-01h22m44s)

SUPER BOWL IV: SECOND HALF

EPILOGUE: So there you have it. The AFL ended the 1960’s on a par with the NFL, not only on the field but in Super Bowl competition with a 2-2 record. The regular season of 1970 had the AFL’s 10 teams joined by the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers in the newly formed American Football Conference. League play between the 26 team NFL began in 1970 yet the Super Bowl stayed an American staple as a championship game born from two rivaling leagues. Yet so many ironies  can be pointed out within these stories.

One irony is the AFL’s founder, Lamar Hunt and the Chiefs were able to get revenge on the Minnesota Vikings ownership group that tried to sink the new league. Ironically it came in the last ever game but it came. Another irony is the fact that New Orleans was the site for Super Bowl IV and was where the 1964 AFL All Star Game was to have been played.  New Orleans, at the time had wanted an AFL team and bid to host this game to showcase the city as a sports town. After multiple incidents of discrimination against many of it’s African American players, the AFL All Stars called for a boycott of the game being in New Orleans.

All this took place during the week prior to the game. The AFL All Star Game was subsequently moved to Houston’s Jeppeson Stadium honoring the stance of the player’s right to be treated with respect. There was a backlash toward those players later recounted by Abner Haynes in NFL Films’ Black Star Rising (circa 1995), then Ernie Ladd & Earl Faison for HBO’s History of the AFL: Rebels With A Cause (circa 1995) by the AFL, but that is another story for another time.

One final irony was that in the end, where a city’s populace had discriminated against African American players in 1964, in 1969 we saw the Kansas City Chiefs become the first team to win the World Championship with African Americans comprising more than half of their starters. It was a powerful notion along with the 1968 Olympics that many of America’s athletes were black. Up until that point amongst those that played pro football, there was a quota system in place over in the NFL. “That players had to be stars just to play.” as recounted by Jim Marshall in Black Star Rising.

chancellor.e.thomas.w.lanier

Hall of Fame CB Emmitt Thomas and MLB Willie Lanier of the 69 AFL Champion Chiefs.

They weren’t taxi squad (special teams) or even second string players on NFL rosters. The Chiefs also were the first to win with an African American Middle Linebacker in Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, and had the first Hispanic quarterback to win a Super Bowl with Tom Flores. Flores would go on to glory later as an NFL head coach, yet it was ironic that his team beat the Vikings who were the first to have a Hispanic (Mexican American) to lead his team to the Super Bowl in Joe Kapp. The MVP was Chief QB Len Dawson who would go on to know a generation of NFL fans as half of the duo of Inside the NFL for nearly 30 years.

hof-lamar-huntThe AFL came to a close in the bowels of New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium, with Lamar Hunt and Hank Stram, receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Commissioner Pete Rozelle. There is no way that at that moment, Hunt had more than a feeling of irony that he was thwarted in an attempt to gain an NFL franchise in 1959. Now here he was being granted the ultimate prize with a rival league and could claim victory against the NFL. Not just for Super Bowl IV, but for the last 10 years.

The Chancellor & The Super Bowl LI Trophy

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

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Tom Flores Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Tom Flores with his team before player introductions in the L.A. Coliseum

When you think of the short list of coaches in NFL History that have won multiple Super Bowls, who comes to mind?? Of course you think of Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, or even Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Throw in Joe Gibbs and his three rings.  Do you realize there are only two eligible coaches that have won multiple Super Bowls that are NOT in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

Think about it a second, we’re talking about a coach with as many victories as six eligible Hall of Fame coaches and you don’t consider Tom Flores great?? Only Jimmy Johnson,Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh can best Flores in shortest coaching careers who achieved 2 Super Bowl victories.  Landry, and Shula coached 29 and 33 years respectively to achieve the same number of championships.

Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett showing off Super Bowl rings.

For some it’s the fact that his winning percentage of .527 isn’t that high. However Bill Parcells is almost a shoo-in finalist this year with a winning percentage of .570. Also, before his stint as Seahawks head coach, he left the Los Angeles Raiders with a winning percentage of .610 which is better than Bill Walsh at .609. Something to think about.

It’s fair to compare him to Bill Walsh since he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and coached in the same era. Walsh led the team of the 80’s to 3 Super Bowl wins in San Francisco to Flores’ 2 championships. Yet in head to head competition, Flores Raider’s were 2-1 against Walsh’s 49ers. Now throw in the fact Flores had a better winning percentage before he left for Seattle and it’s hard to argue his candidacy.

After following in the footsteps of another Hall of Fame coach in John Madden, some mistakenly think Flores won with Madden’s guys. Which isn’t close to being true. In today’s market of free agency we’re used to a lot of movement, yet between winning Super Bowl XI (Madden’s team) and Super Bowl XV only WR Cliff Branch and Mark Van Eeghen remained of the skill positions. WR Fred Biletnikoff, QB Ken Stabler, and RB Clarence Davis were all gone. Ken Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers. He won with (at the time draft bust) Jim Plunkett at quarterback who was with his 3rd team. Stop and think about that.. That’s the equivalent of the Colts trading away  Peyton Manning and bringing in Matt Leinhart and winning the Super Bowl.

Furthermore 9 of the 11 starters on defense for Super Bowl XI were gone by Super Bowl XV. Jack Tatum, Willie Brown, Monte Johnson, all gone with the holdovers being John Matuszak andTed Hendricks. He won Super Bowl XV with a quarterback the world had forgotten about. A little known RB in Kenny King and 14 new players in only his second season as a head coach?? Might be the single greatest coaching performance in NFL history.

Tom Flores and Al Davis receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl XVIII

Although winning it all in 1980 was the crowning jewel of a season, his triumph in 1983 should have catapulted him to legendary status. It was his ’83 Raiders that stopped the defending champion Washington Redskins and MVP Joe Theismann dead in their tracks. The ’83 Redskins were the highest scoring team in NFL history and going into Super Bowl XVIII, pundits were hailing them as the best team ever. Yet in a dominant performance the Raiders ushered in the era of the Super Bowl blowout winning 38-9. After that game we had the string of 13 consecutive NFC Super Bowl winners. Yet if you looked at the era from 1980-1996, ONLY Tom Flores won a Super Bowl for the AFC side of the ledger and he did it twice. How is that for impact??

Yet why is he constantly overlooked for his coaching performance when it comes to greatness?? Is it because of the shadow cast by former owner Al Davis?? Even in the NFL Films Super Bowl XVIII video, they lauded Raider assistant Charlie Sumner for the defensive play that put the Redskins hopelessly behind. The Jack Squirek interception for a touchdown to make it 21-3 at the half. Why didnt they give Flores the credit for that move??

Logic tells us that a part of it could be the fact that he’s Hispanic and the sporting press doesn’t view him in the same light as fellow coaches. We hope to be wrong in this assessment yet it’s the ONLY discernible difference between he and every other coach listed above.  Tom Flores, for his career had 97 wins, 87 losses and was 8-3 in the postseason. He had the AFC’s best record (12-4) also in 1985 with MVP Marcus Allen but they were upset in the playoffs by the Patriots. To some, those aren’t great numbers but neither were Joe Namath’s 173 TDs and 220 interceptions and he’s in.

It’s about impact and contribution to the game. Being the only AFC coach to win a Super Bowl in a 17 year period qualifies for impact. Another interesting fact; Of the first 20 Super Bowl winners, his 1980 Oakland Raiders are the ONLY  team that doesn’t have a skill player in the Hall of Fame. Cliff Branch being in there is another argument for another time. Again we call that one of the greatest coaching performance in NFL history. It’s time to give Tom Flores the credit and distinction he deserves.

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

Please write & nominate Tom Flores
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Senior Selection Committee
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

For induction into the Hall of Fame, I present Tom Flores

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The Greatest NFL Game Never Talked About

Webster Slaughter’s hauling in a 52 yd TD in the second quarter.

Welcome to another episode of theater of the past. The most famous games in NFL history have always been playoff games. Football is a game of emotion and it’s the finality of knowing your season could be over that can elevate the play of both teams. Yet some playoff games are talked about and held with esteem while others are rarely written about, rehashed, re-shown, or ever discussed among the greats.

To us, there is a heavy bias toward the glamour franchises or darlings that the media aid in anointing their games great while others are passed over. One such game was the 1989 AFC Divisional playoff tilt between the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills. Not only was it great, it was as great as “The Epic in Miami”, or in our CEO’s estimation better.

This was a magnificent football game. You have to realize that particular weekend you had John Elway and the Denver Broncos hosting the cinderella Pittsburgh Steelers in one playoff game. Jim Everett’s underdog Los Angeles Rams in New York facing Lawrence Taylor’s Giants, and the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers of Joe Montana hosting the Minnesota Vikings for a third straight post season. Yet it was the Browns v. the Bills that caught the imagination of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was in attendance, and Donald Trump who was in the box with Browns owner Art Modell. Why??

Well the Browns, famous for their “Dawg Defense”, had been stung 3 years before by John Elway’s Denver Broncos in the ’86 AFC Championship, and the following season with Earnest Byner’s fumble in the 1987 AFC Championship. Although the Cleveland Browns had been the NFL’s Team of the decade in the 1950’s, they had been a down franchise for many years. However each time the Browns thought they had a team capable of winning it all, they lost in heart breaking fashion on 3 occasions. The stellar teams they had from 1985-1989 were aging and many pundits thought this was the last chance for this team to get a Super Bowl win for owner Art Modell.

The other side had an up and coming Buffalo Bills team that rose to prominence as a defensive giant in 1988, after nearly a decade of futility. High draft picks,which included future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, and Shane Conlan carried this team to the 1988 AFC Championship Game. After losing that game to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills were looked upon as a team of the future. However the team almost imploded in 1989 from infighting and finger pointing, which earned them the nickname ” the Bickering Bills”. The offense of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas was starting to show signs of life as the defense slumped slightly from the year before.

Better than “The Epic In Miami”?? Yes! This game featured big play after big play and came down to the wire with the Browns prevailing 34-30. To compare it to the great ’81 AFC Divisional playoff: Want to talk excitement?? With touchdowns of 33, 44, 52, 73, and 90 yards out, this game in ’89 had 5 touchdowns from 33 yards or more compared to 2 in that one. The only other playoff game in the Super Bowl era to equal 5 TDs of that distance was Super Bowl XXXVII between the Bucs and the Raiders. This game had 4 lead changes as compared to 3 in the earlier game.

Each had the record holder for receptions in a playoff game with 13 in both Thurman Thomas and Kellen Winslow. (both Hall of Famers) Each had a Hall of Fame Coach, Marv Levy of Buffalo and Don Shula as well as quarterbacks in Jim Kelly and Dan Fouts. Where the earlier game went to double overtime and ended on a boring field goal, this one had a sense of de ja vu. The Bills made a last second march toward their goal line with time running out, just like John Elway and “The Drive.” Although this time Clay Matthews intercepted Jim Kelly at the 1 yard line with :03 left. Now that is a finish!!

The game was also one of the best ever broadcast with Charlie Jones and the late Merlin Olson making the call. Here are the sights and sounds of the biggest plays from that game…

One outstanding aspect of this game was how great the commentary was. Notice how Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen allowed the viewer to take in the sights and sounds of 80,000 fans going crazy. This is the antithesis to Joe Buck, who our CEO thinks is the worst play by play man ever. One aspect of announcing a football game versus a baseball game: Allow the visuals to stimulate the viewer more so than the commentary and know when to acquiesce to such.

Epilogue: Why is this game not revered like “The Epic In Miami”? This game had more Hall of Famers and neither game produced a Super Bowl winner. We feel that it might have something to do with the media’s growing disdain for the University of Miami football team, from which both Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar hailed. Then NFL Films, who rarely slights a team due to media prejudice, chose NOT to put this game in the Cleveland Browns 1989 Yearbook. Seriously?? That was embarrassing. Yet alas it came down to one play and Clay Matthews made it. So when you saw the 4th quarter fumble caused by his son Clay Matthews III in last year’s Super Bowl, and Casey Matthews forcing a 4th quarter fumble in last year’s National Championship Game for Oregon, you now know it’s in the genes.

The Browns would go on to lose their 3rd AFC Championship Game in 4 years to the Denver Broncos that brought an end to their playoff run. However the Buffalo Bills went on to a record 4 straight Super Bowls which began the following season. From 1986-1993, one of these teams was in every single AFC Championship game for an 8 year period. It was this game that was the birth of the Buffalo “K-Gun” offense and the crossing point where Cleveland conceded to Buffalo as an AFC elite team. For one game, and four hours of sheer escapism magnificence, they played to the highest level worthy of being one of the greatest NFL playoff games ever played and is due more in it’s remembrance.

I dedicate this article to the late Charlie Jones and the late Merlin Olsen for their broadcasting excellence in elevating this game to one of  magnificent lore. Your call on this afternoon in January 1990 was simply the best ever. Gentlemen, thank you for a job well done.

R.I.P. Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen

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