Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

SUPER BOWL XXIII RUNNER UP 1988 CINCINNATI BENGALS

Welcome to the second greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL…well next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Again…the question has to be asked: Can a team change its stripes?? From 4-11 in 1987 to 12-4 and :34 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl…wow!! You have to realize this is before free agency where a star could be bought and brought in.

bengals headerThis team was led by a genius named Sam Wyche, easily one of my favorite coaches ever. And right before you scoff “He didn’t win a Super Bowl”. Don’t forget he was quarterback coach with a glistening Super Bowl XVI ring for coaching Joe Montana, ironically against the Cincinnati Bengals some 6 yrs earlier. So Sam Wyche is/was Bill Walsh the 2nd and I’ll explain.

Paul Brown owned and coached the Cincinnati Bengals and had Bill Walsh as his Offensive Coordinator, and Wyche was the heady backup quarterback. When Brown failed to make Walsh his successor he lost Wyche who joined Walsh in San Francisco and ironically they beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. Having been burned by not hiring his protégé’ and losing to him taught him a lesson. The next time Brown needed a coach he tapped into the Bengals past and brought back Sam Wyche, who had a keen offensive mind and unconventional ideas. So what turnaround am I speaking of?

Let’s take you back to 1987, where the Bengals had failed to live up to unfulfilled promise since Super Bowl XVI. They came close to making the playoffs in 1984 and 1986 yet failed to win on tie breakers in the last game of the season. Especially in 1986 when they drubbed the playoff bound Jets 52-21 in the finale. The Bengals went into ’87 with serious optimism yet kept being plagued with bizarre losses where the mistakes were blamed on their unconventional coach.

The most notable was in week 2, when beating the 49ers and Bill Walsh of all people, elected to run a play on 4th down rather than risk a punt block with 6 seconds left. Kevin Fagan (from the U) charged in and stopped James Brooks with 2 seconds to go. Montana hit Rice for a touchdown on the last play of the game. The 27-26 loss to San Francisco in Cincinnati cast a pall on the entire (4-11) 1987 season. Many losses when the unconventional coach had plays backfire in the 4th quarter earned the Bengals coach a nickname –“Wicky Wacky” Wyche and the team was the laughingstock of the league with reports that Wyche would be fired. He held on barely…

bengal sideEnter 1988, the mantra coined by Sam Wyche was ‘finish everything’, alluding to the 4th quarter collapses that doomed 6 Bengal games the year before. The draft brought a very important player…the talented and infectious Elbert “Ickey” Woods who teamed with James Brooks to help push the Bengals to the #1 offense in the NFL. More than anything, his touchdown dance “The Ickey Shuffle” and his personality changed the team chemistry from the doldrums of the year before.

Woods rushed for 1000 yards and 15 TDs. “Boomer” Esiason went on to be league MVP and his receivers Eddie Brown (The U) Tim McGhee and Cris Collinsworth were as effective as any trio in the league. Operating out of their “sugar huddle” and keeping opposing teams defensive specialists off the field, Cincinnati exploited mismatches to pile up points. They were the first team to play with a “no huddle” attack. On defense DT Tim Krumrie, OLB Reggie Williams, and SS David Fulcher were the undisputed leaders of an opportunistic defense. Throw in CB Eric Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl in ’88 and the late Lewis Billups made up a superior secondary along with FS and present NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots.

The team went from being a laughingstock to a 6-0 start and the league was reluctant to let go of the pigeonholed way they viewed both Coach Wyche and the team. Everyone was waiting for the Cleveland Browns and the Dawg Defense to overcome the injury to Bernie Kosar and catch them…yet no one could. The Bengals blew no 4th quarter leads and by the time they got to the playoffs they still weren’t respected.

Coach Wyche and his team that was laughed at the year before had become the scourge of the league. So much so that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle before Super Bowl XXIII ruled they weren’t allowed to run their “sugar huddle”. Why? Well because other measures were tried during the playoffs by Seattle faking injuries to get defensive replacements on the field. The Bengals still won 21-7 before besting Buffalo 21-10 in the AFC Championship.

Super Bowl XXIII, what a game? Would it have been a game had the Bengals not lost Stanley Wilson to a cocaine episode the night before the game? Would it have been a game if they could use their Sugar Huddle? Before you jump up and say no…don’t forget the ’88 49ers had a 6-5 record late in the season and only finished at 10-6 (worst record ever for a Super Bowl champion by the way) before getting hot in the playoffs. They were being held by a Bengal defense without a touchdown going into the 4th quarter.

bengals logoThat also includes losing Tim Krumrie to a severe broken leg in the 1st quarter. League against them, Niners against them…Stanford Jennings took back a kick 93 yards at the end of the 3rd quarter to give Cincy a 13-6 lead and they looked like they were going to be Super Bowl champs. Alas a Lewis Billups dropped interception on the following touchdown drive led to the 49ers scoring on the next play and eventually the game winning drive with :34 seconds left to play.

For the rest of my days I’ll forever believe Pete Rozelle cheated the Bengals and altered how the game would have been disallowing the “sugar huddle” in the Super Bowl.

They were 34 seconds away….from erasing a history that they didn’t deserve. Yet they did win the 1988 AFC Championship and I applaud them for an olympian effort to force the league to give them a respect that was earned.

SUPER BOWL XXIII CHAMPION 1988 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Super Bowl XXIII was a game for the ages, 49ers 20-16 over the Cincinnati Bengals in Joe Robbie Stadium. When I think of this Super Bowl I think of the moments that take place in a game that could have altered the course of history. If only David Fulcher could have knocked down a couple passes on that last drive…. What if the late Pete Rozelle had allowed the Bengals to use their “Sugar Huddle”?? All banter for historians now since Joe Montana did his thing!!

xxiiiWith the Bengals leading 13-6 early in the 4th quarter, Stanford Jennings had just returned a kickoff 93 yards to put the Bengals up by a touchdown. The 49ers were driving for the tying touchdown when the late Lewis Billups cut in front of Mike Wilson and had a clear endzone interception, then dropped the ball.

The Bengals had shut down the 49er offense all game long but now the 49er offense was clicking. Rice scored on the next play to tie it at 13 . What would have happened had Billups held on for that interception? Would that have been the demoralizing play that would have deflated the 49ers for good in a defensive struggle?

Montana went on to lead that famous last second drive that cemented his legacy…however there are some interesting points to this team. Did you know this 49er team had the worst record of any Super Bowl champion at the time with a 10-6 record? Did you know that the ’88 49ers were 6-5 during the season after back to back losses in Candlestick including a 9-6 loss to the LA Raiders with no touchdowns scored? The first set of back to back losses at home in almost a decade. This was a team that had to overcome the psychological damage that was inflicted a year before that nearly sunk the ’88 season.

xxiii2The 1987 season was the best 49er team in history (up to that time) in The Chancellor of Football’s opinion. This was the first team since the 1977 Dallas Cowboys to finish #1 on both offense and defense in the same season. So prolific was this team in a strike shortened year of 15 games, Montana led the NFL with 31 TDs in only 12 games played with the regulars and Steve Young throwing for 10 more. It was the most prolific season of Montana’s career. Projected over a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 45 TDs at a time when only Dan Marino had surpassed the 40 mark.

Jerry Rice was league MVP with 23 TDs (22 receiving) in only 12 games that broke the single season TD reception record of Mark Clayton’s 18. Rice was so dominant he had 17TDs in the final 7 games alone. The overall touchdown record at the time was 24 by John Riggins. At the pace that Rice was going he would have had 30 TDs had they played 16 games. So Emmitt, Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, and Shawn Alexander NEVER would have touched the record.

The draft class of ’86 came to fruition with Charles Haley, John Taylor, Don Griffin, Tim McKyer, Kevin Fagan (The U), Brent Jones, Tom Rathman, and Harris Barton, who would anchor the team for years to come. This mixed youth with the experience of the Joe Montanas, Ronnie Lotts, Randy Cross’, and Dwight Clarks to form a team that rolled to a 13-2 record finishing on a 6 game winning streak. They scored the most points and gave up the 3rd fewest.

They outscored their last 3 opponents 124-7 including a 41-0 trouncing of the NFC Central Champion Bears on a Monday Night in front of the nation. So what happened?? Two things…the flu and Anthony Carter got hot and did a Larry Fitzgerald thru the 1987 playoffs with this being the centerpiece game of that run and his career.

The Minnesota Vikings were 8-7 and backed into the playoffs with losses in their last few games and had to have someone else lose just to get in.

Joe wasn’t himself in that divisional playoff game and even though he was weakened with the flu he was getting’ hounded by the Vikings pass rush. He did throw a down and out to Dwight Clark that was late and Reggie Rutland returned for a touchdown that put San Fran down 17-7. Bill Walsh benched Joe Montana for Steve Young, who had been acquired that year in a trade, who did lead a few TD drives that ultimately led to QB controversy to start the ’88 season.

That 36-24 loss along with Anthony Carter’s 227 yards receiving haunted that team to the midway point of the 88 season. This team clearly should have won Super Bowl XXII. I remember the shock that the Bears & Redskins took into their divisional playoff game the next day, realizing whoever won would host the Vikings in the NFC Championship game when they clearly were dreading a trip to San Francisco. Especially the Bears who in a matchup for home field advantage were trounced 41-0 at the end of the ’87 season and who did the ’88 49ers beat in the NFC Championship game to get to Super Bowl XXIII? The Chicago Bears 28-3 in Soldier Field in 28 below zero weather.

However the upset playoff loss to the Vikings caused tensions throughout the organization. Embarrassed by the biggest upset since Super Bowl III, it was rumored Eddie DeBartolo nearly parted ways with Head Coach Bill Walsh. This led to changes within the organization and corporate pressure was one of the reasons Walsh stepped down after Super Bowl XXIII a year later.

The 49ers did get revenge on the Vikings over the next two years in the playoffs. The ’88 postseason began with a 34-9 beat down of Minnesota puncutated by an 80 yard touchdown run by Roger Craig in the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1988However when I look at the Super Bowl XXIII ring, the ’88 season doesn’t come to mind. The turmoil that took place from the previous postseason and subsequent retirement of Bill Walsh dimmed the luster of their coronation. With this win, the 49ers had become The Team of the 80’s. It wasn’t a pyrrhic victory but…

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Dedicated to the late Bill Walsh

Legends of The Fall: Joe Montana

While being interviewed for the 1999 documentary Unitas, legendary writer Frank Deford offered “all great quarterbacks are descended from John Unitas.” To which I believe. However the narrative has changed to this generation being descendants of Joe Montana. Some of his performances were so impressive they left sports writers in awe and unlike many of today’s quarterbacks, he was rarely thought of as the best during his time. For all his greatness he was overlooked until the latter stages of his career where he took quarterbacking to an art form.

Joe Montana during his san Francisco heydey.

Joe Montana during his San Francisco heydey.

Yet if you think back to the 1981 season, folks were waiting for the cinderella 49ers to fall on their face than appreciate Joe that year. It wasn’t until after The Catch in the NFC Championship Game and we were getting ready for Super Bowl XVI did Montana start to get acclaim.  It was similar to the attention Colin Kaepernick was generating before last year’s Super Bowl. Part curiosity surrounding his play and part flavor of the month.

Remember many writers were reeling at the time having picked Dallas to vanquish him in that ’81 Title game. Then thanks to the surprising Super Bowl opponent being Cincinnati, they were almost forced to talk about him. It was a grudging respect they afforded him.

Back in that time the prototypical quarterback was the tall, stout, rocket arm passer. The Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones, a young Doug Williams, a Ken Stabler, or a Dan Pastororini. The 6’3 guy who could stand amidst the masses and deliver the football 50 yards down field. The late Bill Wash even contemplated trading Montana for the right to draft John Elway. Even after that first Super Bowl triumph. 

Yet it was his size and mobility that set him apart. On every scouting press release Montana was listed at 6’2 200 lbs. but anyone who saw those skinny legs know better. He looked every bit of 180 lbs. They led to his gliding around the pass pocket and avoiding big hits. Whether he scrambled for yardage or he was biding time for a receiver to clear downfield. It was Montana’s nimble feet that kept him in rhythm with his receivers and had his feet ready to throw at a moments notice. Only later was it revealed that those steps were timed with specific receivers to break open and throw at precise moments. That specificity was where Montana elevated quarterbacking to an artform.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Another aspect was the ability to bring his Niner teams from behind. The confidence he could instill in his team was on full display during the 1983 playoffs. First he led a last second drive to hold off the Detroit Lions 24-23 to prove The Catch wasn’t a fluke. Then came the NFC Championship with the defending champion Washington Redskins and NFL MVP Joe Theismann. The Redskins jumped out to a 21-0 lead and going into the 4th quarter were laughing their way to Super Bowl XVIII. Then San Francisco Joe got hot.

At the time, the biggest come from behind win in an NFL postseason game was 20 points. Yet in the 4th quarter alone Montana threw 3 touchdowns to tie the game 21-21. Only an offensive pass interference (pick play) that derailed a late drive and two questionable defensive calls kept Joe from performing the greatest championship come back in league history. RFK Stadium was silent until those questionable calls robbed fans everywhere of another possible great moment. Motivated by the slight they felt in not being able to determine they’re fate in that championship game, propelled Joe and the 49ers through 1984.

The 49ers became the first team to go 15-1 in the regular season in NFL history. In defeating the New York Giants and Chicago Bears during the NFC playoffs, he tamed the next two Super Bowl champions that were led by their defenses. Don’t forget the ’84 Bears record of 72 sacks in an NFL season still stands. He lost the MVP to the power passing game of Dan Marino that year. What did he do to earn the media’s respect ?? He beat Marino in Super Bowl XIX 38-16 and along the way set a passing record of 331 yards and the team set another with 537 yards of total offense. Only when Montana forced the media to vote for him did they award him what he earned. He became a Hall of Famer based on his second Super Bowl MVP.

Over the next two years the 49ers retooled their personnel and Montana adjusted to new receivers. Freddie Solomon was phased out retiring in 1985. Dwight Clark was now facing the Jerry Rices and John Taylors that came aboard during ’85 and ’86. Even Roger Craig moved from fullback to halfback. Joe lent continuity to the offense and raised his level of play and took his teammates with him. Those same blood thirsty defenses he sidestepped started getting closer and 1986 ended in the Jersey Meadowlands with a major concussion suffered against the Giants.

Although the 49ers would go on to win Super Bowl XXIII and XXIV, it was the 1987 season that was Montana’s zenith. Not only were the ’87 Niners the last team in NFL history to finish #1 in both offense and defense, it was Joe’s greatest season. Due to the player’s strike and injuries, Montana only played in 11 games when he threw a career best 31 touchdowns. Projected over a full 16 games he would have thrown for 45 and possibly challenged Marino’s record of 48. Yet he was beaten for NFL MVP by class of ’83 quarterback and media darling John Elway. Now consider the 49ers had the best record with a 13-2 record vs Denver’s 11-4-1 record and show me where Elway was better.

  • Joe Montana 1987- 266 of 398 66.8% for 3,054 yds 31 TDs 13 ints
  • John Elway 1987- 224 of 410 54.6% for 3,198 yds 19 TDs 12 ints

So two years later when the 49ers were up 55-10 in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XXIV over Elway’s Broncos, how satisfying must that have been?? The ’87 season ended with Montana having the flu and playing in his worst playoff game that saw him benched. The 36-24 upset loss to the Vikings in the NFC Divisional is what propelled the 49ers play in an unprecedented run during the 1988,1989, and 1990 NFL playoffs. They came within :02 of having the chance of a threepeat. However Joe was knocked from that game and was out of football for two years.

As we look back, think about some of Joe Montana’s exploits. To win Super Bowl XIX & XXIII, he beat reigning MVPs Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason. In winning his record 3rd Super Bowl MVP, he beat the QB he was almost traded away for in John Elway. During those 4 Super Bowl wins he went 83 of 122 for 1,142 yds 11 touchdowns and a completion rate of 68%. He never threw an interception in the Super Bowl. He came close when the late Lewis Billups of Cincinnati cut in front….but i digress.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Now we talk about his coming back from back surgery, concussions, or being out of football for 2 years, then leading the Kansas City Chiefs to their only conference championship appearance in 40 years. Consider the greatest pass rush in NFL history was the ’84 Bears with 72 sacks. He beat them in the NFC Championship 23-0. The second greatest was the ’89 Minnesota Vikings of Chris Doleman and Keith Millard with 71 sacks. Montana carved them up something special in a 41-13 NFC Divisional blowout. In Super Bowl XXIV, he beat the #1 scoring defense with a 55 point scoring barrage where he threw a record 5 touchdowns.

It was the four year run from 1987-1990 that changed the landscape of quarterbacking in the NFL. Everyone was looking for their quarteback to run the “West Coast Offense” as Montana had. Then you had the coaches in Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, and Mike White go abroad preaching the gospel of the offense.

Former Head Coach Bill Walsh had left the 49ers after 1988 and watched Montana’s mastery of the offense he fathered, reach record heights over the next few seasons. Maybe Walsh knew what he was doing when he let it out he was looking at Elway. Then challenged Joe when he brought in Steve Young from Tampa before the 1987 season. No matter what pundits make of these events, they pushed Montana to become the best quarterback he could be. He finished with a 4-0 record in Super Bowls and 16-7 playoff record along with countless completion records. NFL executives have changed the rules over the last 15 years to make pedestrian quarterbacks look more Montana-like.

montana going to kcThe next time someone wants to talk greatest ever quarterbacks and doesn’t start with this man, they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t tell me what a quarterback was voted, show me what he earned on the field of battle. How did he fare against the best competition during his time?? Competition between his offense and opposing defenses and against opposing quarterbacks. Would his contemporaries pick him as the quarterback on their side in a big game they had to win?? You come to those conclusions and you have a best ever quarterback. Not the quarterback that sports writers want to be.  Big difference.

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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 was the piss-boy 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