Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

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SUPER BOWL XXII CHAMPION 1987 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Hail to the Redskins…we heard that song so much in the 2nd quarter it was ridiculous!! Somewhere Tony Lilly (#22 Broncos) is still having nightmares. I remember tellin’ my boy Tommy Walker he may never play again in the NFL after this performance. Yet we’re here to celebrate accomplishment.

ringXXIIThe first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl was one that carried significant weight for all those that were “coerced” into playing other positions throughout the years. Prejudice kept blacks from playing the thinking positions throughout the 50’s, 60’s,’70’s, & 80’s with the last bastion being that of the quarterback. Now to have Doug Williams about to face media darling John Elway, pundits wondered if Washington could stay on the field with them.

To think that we were about to see the greatest offensive performance in the history of the NFL in Super Bowl XXII just didn’t seem plausible.

Consider the fact that Doug Williams had begun the season as backup to incumbent Jay Schroeder and the on again, off again, nature of being the 2nd stringer being replaced by the starter. Schroeder had led the Redskins to the 1986 NFC Championship the year before which included a big playoff win over the defending champion Chicago Bears. He couldn’t come up big against the NY Giants in that championship game but neither had any other QB that season. So in ’87 after another Schroeder benching, Gibbs went with Williams as the starter in the playoffs. He played ok when the Redskins beat the Bears 21-17 in Walter Payton & Gary Fencik’s last game.

Super-Bowl-22-ringWilliams only completed 9 of 19 passes in a lackluster NFC Championship (17-10) win over the Minnesota Vikings. There was still speculation over who would start at quarterback as the Redskins made their way to San Diego for SuperBowl XXII. After going down to Denver 10-0 and Elway’s first pass being a touchdown to Ricky Nattiel, Williams hurt his knee yet came back to start the 2nd quarter.

 

 

Now get this, the famous Elway drive in Cleveland took a little over 5 minutes the year before. Well in the 2nd qarter of SuperBowl XXII, Doug Williams led Washington’s offense to 356 yds of offense, 5TDs with 4 of them being TD passes in only 18 plays and 5:54 seconds of possession!! Yikes!! Talk about the “Greatest Show on Turf”…to finish the game with 602yds when they clearly stopped trying to score after halftime was ridiculous. Joe Montana, in his win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, threw for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns in a 55-10 rout.

Or to put it to you another way – Of the previous 21 Super Bowls, only 5 of the 42 teams gained more yards in their complete game than the Redskins had in the 2nd quarter alone.

A few of the Super Bowl records set:

  • Doug Williams most yds passing game 340 and for a half with 306.
  • Tim Smith most yds rushing game 204 and for a half with 136
  • Ricky Sanders most yards receiving game 193 and for a half with 177.
  • 35 points were most in a quarter and a half of a Super Bowl.
  • Total yardage for a Super Bowl game with 602 yards of offense.
  • Longest touchdown pass tied 80 yards – Williams to Sanders

This was one quarter we’re talking about!! Steve Foley had been Denver’s safety for many years, retired before the season and was replaced by Tony Lilly. Who spent Super Sunday chasing Redskins into the endzone and was subsequently let go after the game. He did not resign with another team.

super-bowl-logo-1987This was the ring for winning SuperBowl XXII and ushered in the era where black quarterbacks were able to gain their due…with the Warren Moon’s & Randall Cunningham’s soon to follow. I can remember my Mom being in tears as we watched and I kept telling her what record had just fallen and which ones were coming up.

His MVP announcement

 

 

Ironically the first modern black quarterback who held almost all significant Denver Bronco rookie passing records (even over John Elway) was Marlin Briscoe. He ironically was “coerced” into playing receiver later in his career winning two Super Bowls with the Dolphins. Full circle to have this feat happen to the Denver Broncos who gave up on Briscoe playing QB?? Not yet…

Try the fact the Washington Redskins are in a battle against Native Americans to keep their team name. What this generation doesn’t know is the Redskins under George Preston Marshall was the last NFL team to integrate. Before 1960, the Redskins were the NFL’s most southern team whose games were broadcast to the south regionally. In fact at their welcome back luncheon to kickoff the season, the Marshall owned Redskins actually sung “Dixie.” Something Hall of Fame Redskin Bobby Mitchell recounted in NFL Films’ Black Star Rising. Now Robert Griffin III sporting dreadlocks is the Washington incumbent starting quarterback.

If the Seattle Seahawks win it all here in the next 3 weeks, we’ll have the NFL’s first dynasty with a black quarterback at the helm in Russell Wilson.

Life works in mysterious ways…. now you’ve come full circle.

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This article is dedicated to Doug Williams for his transcendent performance in San Diego in 1988.

I also dedicate this article to my mother Mrytle Taylor who shared this moment with me. Her tears that day brought me to mine as we watched this performance obliterate an old stereotype. i know she’s looking down from heaven right now…

SUPER BOWL XVIII RUNNER UP 1983 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

A Dynasty Lost.  During the Super Bowl era, the measuring stick for a team to be considered a dynasty was winning back to back championships.  Poised to do that, were the 1983 Washington Redskins, fresh from their Super Bowl XVII win over the Miami Dolphins, had roared through the ’83 season on a high. Man, with Riggo, ‘The Hogs’ & ‘The Fun Bunch’ this team was fun to watch!

sbxviiimarbleAs I sit here and think about it…this could have been Joe Gibbs finest coaching job over a Hall of Fame career.  A coach of a defending champion normally has to fight off complacency within his team trying to keep them from becoming ‘fat cats’ and playing with the hunger that drove them to a title.  Most defending champions try to stay the course and hope other teams won’t catch up to them, yet the ’83 Redskins were better than the team that won it the year before.

00036203Let’s take you back to 1983…Ronald Reagan wanted to get re-elected…MASH aired its final episode (hated that show)…and the NFL had returned to its roots with the Redskins offense bludgeoning its way to the ’82 title with Hall of Famer John Riggins running “50 gut” right down team’s throats. Then a funny thing happened, the Redskins caught teams in a vice.  Gang up to stop Riggins and the “Fun Bunch” receivers were wide open behind the drawn up linebackers and points rang up all year long.

They set the NFL record for season scoring at 541.  Joe Theismann went from being a serviceable quarterback to league MVP throwing for 29 TDs.  Riggins went on to set the single season TD record at 24 while rushing for 1,347 yards.  Coming off the only time a kicker was named MVP, Mark Moseley in 1982, set the kicker record for scoring at 161.

00036202They marched to a 14-2 record with their 2 losses coming when they lost 31-30 to Dallas and 48-47 to the Green Bay Packers. These were the two teams that faced each other in the ’82 playoffs with the winner, Dallas, moving on to play Washington for the NFC Championship.  Each happened on a Monday night, yet the game against Lynn Dickey, John Jefferson, James Lofton of the Packers, was the highest scoring Monday Night game ever. Talk about a juggernaut…

Where this team was solid on defense was up front with big Dave Butz and Darryl Grant at DT swallowing opposing running attacks.  Dexter Manley was in his prime as a DE caving in the pocket from the QBs blindside.  Steady linebacker play came from Rich Milot, Neal Olkewicz, and Mel Kaufman.  The secondary was bolstered by sensational rookie Darrell Green.  The Redskins were never spectacular on defense but always ranked among the league’s best and 1983 was no different.

sbxviii5They marched into the ’83 playoffs as a powerful defending champion…so what happened??  They peaked 6 quarters too early.  After the 51-7 dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round, they went back to basics and were grinding out a win in the NFC Championship over the 49ers. Looks can be deceiving. Although the Redskins had taken a 21-0 lead, a closer view and you saw Niners cornerbacks Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright were smothering Charlie Brown and Art Monk for the most part, allowing other 49er defenders to solely focus on Riggins.

They could cover them man for man.  This slowed Washington down and Joe Montana almost pulled off a spectacular comeback losing 24-21 with some dubious penalties called against them late in that game….yet I digress.  The point being, this served as the blueprint for what was to come 2 weeks later in Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders, with even better cornerbacks in Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, handled the Redskins receivers allowing the front 7 and safeties to attack Riggins.

00036201C’mon, 38-9??  Really??  I still can’t believe they were beaten that convincingly until I have to remind myself of an NFL truth:  The highest scoring teams in history: 1980-1981 Chargers, these ’83 Redskins, the ’84 Dolphins, My ’90 Buffalo Bills, the ’98 Vikings, the 2001 St. Louis Rams, and the 2007 Patriots all EVENTUALLY ran into a defense late in the playoffs and were all knocked off.  The lone exception is the ’99 Rams.

This was a team that right before Super Bowl XVIII were being called one of the best teams ever and all they had to do was win this one game.  This is the ring commemorating the NFC Championship for getting there.

Best team ever?  Not quite…  Best Redskins team ever??  I think this team would give the 91 team a run for its money.  If you think about the ’83 Redskins and the Super Bowl XXVI champion, they really looked alike.  Who would win between these two if we had a mythical match-up??

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SUPER BOWL XVII CHAMPION 1982 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Hail to the Redskins:  Really?  David Woodley can’t complete ANY passes in the second half of Super Bowl XVII for Miami?? None??  Ok he completed two in the second half, 1 to his team and an interception to Redskins S (present Green Bay Packers President & CEO) Mark Murphy and wasted a decent effort by the “Killer B’s” defense.  However the Super Bowl win by Washington was a throwback to old fashioned grind it out football with Riggins for 4, Riggins for 3, Riggins for 5, and wearing down the defense.  However, when I see this ring it takes me back to two weeks prior.

xviiI can remember being fired up for the NFC Championship between Washington and Dallas and knew it was going to be a thing of beauty.  It actually started when the Redskins were putting the finishing touches on a 21-7 win over the Vikings to set up the NFC Conference final when the chant “We want Dallas!!  We want Dallas!!” resonated from the jam packed crowd at RFK.

Just moments before John Riggins, who had rushed for 185 yard was in the midst of a curtain, turned and gave a bow to the crowd sending them into a frenzy.  Those sights and sounds reverberated throughout the stadium and CBS chose instead of showing the final plays of the game, panoramic views of the raucous fans. It became a part of the story.

Then it really got started…

sbxvii4Beginning with Dexter Manley professing that he “hated Dallas” on Monday of championship week that got the ball rolling. It was all over ESPN…  Then came the back and forth in the newspaper from Danny White of the Cowboys, to Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke, everyone was stoking the fire.  How bad did it get?  There was even a heated argument about the game within the House of Representatives the Friday before the game between Texas and Washington delegates where the late Thomas “Tip” O’Neill adjourned session an hour early.  It was on!!

Over a football game? Yes over a football game. The hating of Dallas really grew wings in the George Allen era in the early 70’s.  He preached it, lived it, and hated the treatment America’s Team received as a media darling. It kept breeding hatred within their division rivals.

Old time Redskin fans still talk with high regard of the fact that they beat Dallas in the ’72 NFC Championship when the Cowboys were defending champions.  So here we were some 10 years later and all that animosity was a thing of the past right?  After all new owner, new coach, new quarterback and cast of characters comprised the Redskins roster.  Right?

I still get chills thinking about that because kickoff was 30 minutes away and the crowd at RFK began another “We want Dallas!” chant. It wasn’t as boisterous as the one from a week prior but it stoked the fire. How must that have felt for the Cowboys to come out to shaking stands and all that noise during warm-ups let alone what would they hear on 3rd downs??  The Redskins weren’t a taunting team but they talked big before that game during the week and on the field pregame.  Near fights broke out….couldn’t have been better set up.

super-bowl-logo-1982So what happened? Remember Dexter Manley?  Well he knocked Danny White out of the game with a concussion very early and forced Gary Hogeboom to finish a championship game he was ill prepared for.  Then clinging to a 24-17 4th qtr lead and the Cowboys having seized momentum, Manley struck again.  On a screen pass the hard charging Manley blew by the Cowboy tackle and as Hogeboom tried to float a screen to Dorsett, Manley tipped the pass that DT Darryl Grant took back 20 yards for the final TD to seal Dallas’ fate 31-17.  The entire team was in the endzone celebrating that touchdown…hadn’t seen that before.

So Joe Gibbs, Theismann, Riggo, The Hogs, & The Fun Bunch played a spirited game and here is a video recount of it.

They were off to play Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena against Miami.  Of course it was a day for Hall of Famer John Riggins who rushed for a record 166 yards and his famous “70 Chip” touchdown run that gave the Redskins a 20-17 lead in the 4th quarter on their way to a 27-17 triumph.  Of course it was the brass ring that they won but even in remembering their actions (expressed joy) the win over the Cowboys for the NFC Championship, meant more.  Want further evidence?  When Charlie Brown scored the decisive touchdown that put the Super Bowl away the entire team wasn’t in the endzone celebrating it the way they had against Dallas.  That’s how we know…

You couldn’t tell me otherwise…

This article is dedicated in the memory of former Washington Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke and the late George Allen.

For a more visceral look

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The RGIII v. Kirk Cousins Debate

With the Washington Redskins coming off a 45-14 loss to the New York Giants last night, many would think this would be the worse time for this conversation. Au contraire, for no time would be better for this debate than coming off this abominable performance.

Cousins or RGIII??

Cousins or RGIII??

Supporters of Robert Griffin III heard all week how Cousins was going to supplant him as the starter. The Chancellor of Football is one, for the record, who believes Cousins will become the permanent starter. Those in Griffin’s camp could be heard in the aftermath of Cousin’s 4 interception performance against New York. Yet were these people the week before?

Cousins dazzled in a week 2 shootout against the Eagles. He had gone 30 of 48 for 427 yards and 3 touchdowns. In that game he showed the complete package an NFL quarterback is supposed to have in his passing arsenal. The ability to make the proper read and trajectory on his throws. To throw the football on time within the zone of a defense.

So what happened this week??

Cousins was unglued by the Giants defense.

Cousins was unglued by the Giants defense.

To some it could have been the fact Cousins was starting in a prime time game where most of America was watching and came out nervous. There is some truth there but ultimately the clock in his head as a QB was thrown off by the early sack and forced fumble by Matthias Kiwanuka. One, two, three and boom he was hit and the ball came out. He played rushed the rest of the night.

A closer look reveals that ace Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell tricks quarterbacks into false pre-snap reads. His defenses for years have masked their intentions well. I can think of several plays where he confused Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI. His pre-snap read was a Cover 2 and at the snap of the ball, the two safeties stayed put 15 yards downfield. Fewell had a linebacker take the deep middle. Take  a look…

If Fewell can confuse a Hall of Famer playing in his 5th Super Bowl, he can rattle a young QB with less than 15 starts.

RGIII has to learn to let route options 2 & 3 open up downfield and less of this.

RGIII has to learn to let route options 2 & 3 open up downfield and less of this.

Robert Griffin III upon his return has to show he can be durable enough to be a starter. An even closer look shows he has to stay with the full development of a play from a specificity standpoint. Many times he comes off his receivers too early and either scrambles or quickly flips it to the running back. He has to learn to let the pass patterns move the defense to their predesignated spots to open where his passes should be thrown.

Its this facet of the game Griffin III needs to develop where Cousins has, but needs experience against complex defenses. This is the impetus on what will happen between these two. Which will come first??

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SUPER BOWL VII RUNNER UP 1972 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

“The Over the Hill Gang” reclamation project of the late George Allen, was built on the heels of the turnaround ushered by the late Vince Lombardi in 1969. The Redskins had been losers for nearly 20 years. Allen was named his successor after Lombardi’s death in June of 1970. He had a disdain for rookies and young players which drove Allen into bringing in old vets. Many of which he brought over from the LA Rams where he served as Head Coach in the mid to late 60s.

 

superbowlvii2He brought in Billy Kilmer to be his quarterback and the subsequent QB battle between he and Sonny Jurgenson tore at the Redskins fan base yet they won in spite of all that. A defense with Jack Pardee and feisty cornerback Pat Fischer, who should be in the Hall of Fame, held most teams down with conservative mistake proof defense.

super-bowl-logo-1972Meanwhile a transplanted Baltimore Colt WR Roy Jefferson teamed with Hall of Fame wideout Charlie Taylor, and the late Jerry Smith to form a decent receiving combination.

However the engine that powered this team was RB Larry Brown, the first Redskin in history to rush for 1,000 yards and a man who ran so violently he burned out after a short career. Yet in 1972, he was one of the finest running backs in the NFL and if there was a yard to get he’d give his all to get it. He really reminded me of Walter Payton in that regard.

After a hard fought win from the shutting down of RB John Brockington and the Green Bay Packers 16-3. This team gave the Redskin faithful one of the team’s landmark wins when they beat the defending champion Cowboys to win the NFC Championship 26-3.  Having outscored their NFC playoff opponents 42-6 this apparently was enough for the Redskins to be favored by 3 in Super Bowl VII over the undefeated Miami Dolphins.  Really??

This was the ring for capturing the NFC Championship for 1972.