Legends Of The Fall: Barry Sanders

As I watched Barry Sanders A Football Life, they began the episode with Sanders reading his retirement. The closure gained from it was immense. It wasn’t as though I was still sitting here thinking he was coming back after 15 years. We’ve already witnessed his induction into the Hall of Fame, but to hear his words publicly, laid to rest those feelings and emotions that lay dormant from the years immediately following his retirement. He was simply the greatest running back ever in the Chancellor of Football’s estimation.

Sanders with defenders left in his wake.

Sanders with defenders left in his wake.

To a prior generation of NFL historians, Jim Brown was the measuring stick yet when you think about it, he wouldn’t have been as effective against modern defenses. He played at a time when the NFL didn’t play black players at linebacker or safety. Brown was bigger and more imposing than the players he faced which wouldn’t have been the case had he played decades later. Brown was 230 lbs at the time when defensive linemen were 260 lbs themselves.

Sanders’ speed and elusiveness translated to any and every era in NFL history. He also did it against better defensive athletes. He played against Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, the Kevin Greene’s, Chris Doleman’s, Keith Millard’s, and Howie Long’s of the more modern game. Terrorists who could swallow offensive linemen, split the double team and had the athleticism to catch a back from behind before he could get to the corner.

With teams now putting the best athletes on the defensive side of the field, Sanders used to terrify them with his start and stop jump cuts. No offensive player over the last 30 years put more fear in coordinators or defensive players. He could make a move and leave a defender embarrassed and grasping at air. Leave them with “broken ankles” as we used to say. Simply put he’s the greatest runner the NFL has ever seen.

In 1995 Sanders conceded his role as the sole focus in the Lions offense. Not only did they become the NFL’s #1 offense they became the first team in history to have 2 receivers amass 100 receptions in the same season. Scott Mitchell (346 of 583 4,338 yds 32TDs / 12 ints) and Brett Perriman (108 rec. 1,488 yds 9TDs) should have made the Pro Bowl. Herman Moore (123 rec 1,686 yds 14TDs) did make it to Hawaii. Moore set the NFL record for receptions in a single season while these 3 put up 4 other team records. Why is this being brought up when this article is about Barry Sanders?? In this crucible of talent he still amassed 1,500 yards 11 TDs while creating this book of highlights

Most will recall that season opener against Pittsburgh when Sanders shook fellow Hall of Famer Rod Woodson right out of his ACL with two quick moves. This following vignette covers Sanders’ last five seasons in the NFL

Did The Chancellor of Football say greatest ever runner in NFL history?? First consider the average running back’s career lasts 4 years. Then take into account the greatest runners had their highest rushing totals within those 4. Sanders ran for 2,053 in year NINE. It took Jim Brown 9 years to gain 12,312 yards rushing, where it took Sanders 10 to amass 15,269. Everyone forgets the near rushing titles to go along with the 4 he won.

In his rookie year he was 11 yards short of eclipsing Christian Okoye (1,480 to 1,470), yet told Coach Fontes to let his backup get some playing time. Okoye got his rushing title yet carried the football 90 more times than Sanders! Next case in point is the slanted description of Emmitt Smith missing the first 2 games of 1993, then coming back to win the rushing title. For every Cowboy fan that touts this, they casually omit Sanders missed the last 6 games of that season with a knee injury.

At the time of Sanders retiement, he was in striking distance of Payton to begin '99.

At the time of Sanders retiement, he was in striking distance of Payton to begin ’99.

Interesting… to think that Barry entered the NFL in ’89 and Emmitt in ’90, folks forget how big a lead Sanders had at the time of his retirement. Sanders was due to break Peyton’s record late 99, it took Emmitt another 3 1/2 years to break it. Paul Tagliabue should have got involved behind the scenes and facilitated a trade to keep Sanders playing. He blew it….

Sanders would have pushed the record to 20,000 guaranteed. As we alluded to earlier, most running backs have their greatest single season rushing total in the first 4 years of their career. Barry crossed 2,000 in year nine. Even in year 10 he wasn’t slowing down.

One of the greatest battles in NFL history in terms of effort, you need to check out the birth of the Baltimore Ravens as an elite defense in the final week of 98. Barry was trying to extend his streak of 1,500 yard seasons when late in the 4th quarter he had 1,495 yards. The next 6 or 7 carries the Ravens were determined to stop him and they fought tooth and nail. Barry didn’t make it to 1,500 but he made folks miss like no one’s business. Man I wore that tape out watching that.

We didn’t know what was happening at the time with Walter Payton’s health but the 1999 season we expected to see Sanders vault to the #1 all time rushing spot… instead we got this:

Thank goodness for the emergence of Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James because the beginning of the season didn’t feel right as Sanders’ abrupt retirement cast a pall over the start of ’99. It took years for the disappointment to go away and it was reawakened at the time Smith passed Payton.

One aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided those thrills in.

One aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided thrills in.

What was missing as a football fan and historian, I never had closure to his career. I can remember this Pro Football Almanac I purchased in the summer of 1990 and they foretold a fictitious story of Sanders crossing 15,000 yards in a decade. The Lions were supposed to be winning the Super Bowl over in Tokyo to conclude his tenth season also.

It was a very interesting take with half of it coming true. With all due respect to William Sanders, his son Barry was the greatest running back in NFL history.

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SUPER BOWL XX CHAMPIONS 1985 CHICAGO BEARS

Walter Payton and the ’85 Bears defense got this championship ring for routing New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, this is still the #1 team in history over 1 season.  Yes I was a ridiculous fan of the 46 defense, which they screw up on Madden, see the two lineback…..yet I digress.

chicago_bears_superbowl_ring_1985_chicago_bears_Cr0eY1ll.sizedBefore we get into Sweetness, Jimmy Mac, “Danimal”, Singletary, “Mongo” McMichael, Wilber, Otis, Dent, Hilgenberg, VanHorne, Moorehead, Suhey, Gault, Fencik, Duerson, Head Coach Mike Ditka, and the beat goes on…let’s show you why I think they were the strongest team ever. Did you know they did this while 1984 All Pro Safety Todd Bell held out??

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys were trounced 44-0, wildcard Giants 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. That’s 110-10 against the “best division in football” yikes!!

Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers, who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-Size* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn!

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

Copy (2) of Copy of sbRoundhouseSuperBowlRing*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won, there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bowl…so u could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say?

The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ’em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

When comparing the best ever teams none come close to this for beating strong competition none.  In fact the ’72 Miami Dolphins who went undefeated only faced 3 teams with winning records during the season.  That’s not their fault but it has to be a factor in deciding who was stronger as a team.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than Buddy Ryan & the ’85 Bear’s 46 defense?”  HELL NO!!! A group that finished ranked #1 in 9 of 14 defensive categories?? The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White had been a pro bowl quarterback as Ken O’Brien of the Jets had been in 1985. All were in their prime!

super-bowl-logo-1985Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!! Spurgeon Wynn. Who? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

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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

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.

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 Chancellor Weighs In: LaDainian Tomlinson Retires

Tomlinson set to retire as a Charger on Monday.

We’re hours away from the retirement of a future Hall of Famer when Tomlinson takes the podium. In the history of the NFL, Tomlinson is an evolutionary link to great runners of the past.  Ernie Nevers, Steve Van Buren, Jim Brown, OJ Simpson Continue reading