Thursday, June 22, 2017

NEMESIS: Pilfering the Pigskin

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Though there have never been any Greek Goddess's patrolling an NFL secondary trying to intercept passes, there have been men who victimized certain teams at an impressive level of interceptions.

The following is the list of men who intercepted at least 10 passes against a specific opponent. Emlen Tunnell tops our list, and since his last interception against Washington came in 1959 no doubt he will remain there forever. A strong statement?

The percentage of interceptions league wide has dropped dramatically in the last fifty-seven years; thus Tunnell will probably stand alone forever. There are men on the list who are Hall of Famers, and men who just happened to play their best against a specific team.

Bobby Dan Dillon of the Packers is the only man on the list who proved to be a "nemesis" against three different teams. Championship teammates are also on the list; such as Yale Lary & Jack Christiansen of the Lions. For many teams though there is just one man who"Pilfered the pigskin" to make the list.

I have been honored/fortunate to have received letters over the years by former defensive backs who answered my many questions concerning coverages, opposing receivers, and teams they played against. The best remains the long letter from former Jet Billy Baird. He detailed playing against the Patriots and his success against them.

A perusal of the list definitely shows that only two recently retired players made the list twice. Rod Woodson is a deserving member of the Hall of Fame, and will be joined (possibly on the first ballot) by safety Ed Reed very soon. Reed not only intercepted against Cleveland and Cincinnati he returned the ball over 300 yards against both—no one will ever achieve that kind of return yardage again. There are men on the list that should be considered for the Hall of Fame, and not just because they were a "nemesis" to a particular team, yet if some of you take the time to respond; would enjoy hearing about men on the list you feel have been overlooked.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

1919 Rock Island Independents Football Ads

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films


In 1919 the Rock Island Independents fielded one of the best pro football teams in the country. That season they finished with a 9-1-1 record.

1919 Rock Island Independents Results

Date/Opponent/Result/Attendance Figure 
Sept. 28th vs Rockford A.C., Won, 20-0 (2,000)
Oct. 5th vs Chicago Cornell-Hamburgs, Won, 21-0 (2,000)
Oct. 12th vs Hammond All-Stars, Lost, 7-12 (7,000)
Oct. 19th vs Davenport A.C., Won, 33-0 (6,000)
Oct. 26th vs Cincinnati Celts, Won, 33-0 (3,000)
Nov. 2nd vs Pine Village A.C., Tie, 0-0 (4,000)
Nov. 9th vs Moline Fans Association, Won, 57-0 (2,000)
Nov. 16th vs Hammond Clabbys, Won, 55-0 (1,300)
Nov. 23rd vs Columbus Panhandles, Won, 40-0 (4,500)
Nov. 27th vs Davenport A.C., Won 26-0 (1,500)
Nov. 30th vs Akron Indians, Won, 17-0 (1,700)

 
Walter Flanigan, owner-team manager, Rock Island Independents, circa 1916-1919

Owner and team manager Walter Flanigan, a former Rock Island player, built a very competitive team. Led by quarterback and coach Reuben “Rube” Ursella, end Oke Smith and halfback Fred Chicken the Independents played and beat some of the better pro teams in 1919. They outscored their opponents 309-12- with TEN shutouts. Only a 12-7 loss to the Hammond All-Stars (who had Paddy Driscoll and George Halas) marred a nearly perfect season. The 12 points was the only points they surrender.

They also played their entire schedule at home at Douglas Park averaging over 3,100 fans per game. The Hammond game attracted a season high of 7,000 fans. Because of their home schedule advertising became a key component for Flanigan to get fans out to the game. One of his biggest tools for promoting his team was taking newspaper ads out. Flanigan took out ads in the Rock Island Argus. Tickets were usually $1.00 for "Gents" and fifty cents for "Ladies."


Ad # 1
Oct. 12, 1919
vs Hammond All-Stars, Douglas Park (7,000)
RII Lost 12-7

 


Ad # 2
Oct. 19, 1919
vs Davenport A.C., Douglas Park (6,000)
RII Won 33-0

 


Ad # 3
Oct. 26, 1919
vs Cincinnati Celts, Douglas Park (3,000)
RII Won 33-0



Ad # 4
Nov. 2, 1919
vs Pine Village A.C., Douglas Park (4,000)
Tie, 0-0

 

Ad # 5
Nov. 23, 1919
vs Columbus Panhandles, Douglas Park (4,500)
RII Won 40-0

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Finally—Herb Adderley: Cementing the Dallas Secondary.

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Today is Herb Adderley's birthday and an it is an appropriate time to herald his career. Joining Green Bay in 1961 he contributed as a special teams player, and substituted late in blowout victories as a flank however, he did not start 14 games at left corner (hopefully the Packer organization will correct this error in the literature). The win over the Lions on Thanksgiving was his only extended time as a left corner, and his interception in the game was sure a value contribution. Hank Gremminger was the starter all 14 games that season.

Without doubt Adderley was by far the best left corner in the NFL from 62-69; though there were other men who played the position well. For his efforts he was voted second-best behind Dick"Night Train" Lane for the NFL 50th anniversary team voted on in 1969. Stories about why Adderley left Green Bay vary, yet he was traded to Dallas right before the season of 1970. Playing in the Super Bowl was nothing new for Herb, but losing an error-plagued game was.


Tom Landry had coached the Cowboys for eleven years entering the 1971 season, and he himself had played left corner during his NFL career. The early years in Cowboy history were not filled with airtight pass defense and the only reliable player was right cornerback Don Bishop.

Mel Renfro joined the Cowboys in 1964 and earned a Pro Bowl berth at right safety (free), and with help from left corner Cornell Green team pass defense improved. Dallas was winning and making the playoffs, yet the Silver Trophy eluded them.

Landry has shifted personnel in the secondary when  Adderley joined the team. Green moved to left safety (strong), and Renfro (who led the league in interceptions in 1969) moved to right corner. The right safety post is shared by two rookies in 1970—Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris. Though both men demonstrated they were "legitimate" but both would likely agree they had much to learn.

Tom Landry not only believed in a gap control defense,  with what he calls the "Flex" for the defensive line. The complexities of the defense for the front seven has been discussed many times, but what coverages does Tom want to align in?  He prefered man coverage over zone, he had the personnel to return to the Super Bowl entering 1971.

Seven weeks into the season the Cowboys were 4-3, and just might be the best 4-3 team in league history. Talent abounds; how can they possibly lose three times?

Film evaluation shows that starting right safety Charlie Waters is out of position or takes the wrong angle in both pursuit and pass coverage. The pathetic Buffalo Bills score 37 points Opening day, and Charlie Harraway has the longest run of the season against Dallas in the home loss to the rival Redskins. Cliff Harris replaces Waters as the starter, and though he does not have a strong season; he at least is not out of position.

Renfro and Green are proven durable starters, yet the key figure is Adderley. He plays well the first half of the season though he Cowboys defensive passer rating is a lackluster 60.5. The defensive passer rating is only a tool to evaluate team pass defense, yet does help explain the improvement the second half of the campaign. Adderley's savvy, combined with his physical gifts limits opposing passers from throwing in his territory. The Cowboys finished the regular season strong with seven straight victories, and the defensive passer rating is an improved 52.4. Overall the defense allows just seven offensive touchdowns during the win streak. Film study shows an occasional blown coverage, and one of the defensive backs getting "beat", but those seven wins have the Cowboys confident entering the playoffs. Cowboys records reported that Adderly didn't allow a touchdown pass in 1971.

Beating the Vikings in Minnesota in December during the first few years of the Bud Grant era was a real challenge, yet the 20-12 win set up a home NFC title game clash with a new rival; the San Francisco 49ers. The impressive 14-3 win takes Dallas back to the Super Bowl. Adderley played extremely well in both games, he now has the opportunity to add to his ring collection.

The Miami Dolphins may have captured the imagination of fans across America, and Dallas had never won a Super Bowl, yet this team is by far the best in Cowboy history. The dominant and decisive victory caps a season in which everyone wondered what is wrong with the Cowboys?

Adderley and his cohorts allowed just 45 completions out of 91 attempts for just 528 yards (only one completion over 40 yards) in the playoffs. Just one touchdown pass was thrown against them, and they pilfered 8 passes. An air-tight defensive passer rating of 34.5.

Eleven years and six championships for Herb. Though Adderley will lose his job during the 1972 season, and his career end in the preseason of 1973 when he was trying to catch on with the Rams. For today let us celebrate this gifted tough left corner and his Hall of Fame career.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Deacon Jones: The Alpha and the Omega

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
What is well known about Deacon Jones is his dominance as a pass rusher at left defensive end from the time he was a rookie until the end. Well, he was all that, but technically, he began his career and ended it on different notes.

What is not commonly known is that Jones made his first NFL start as an offensive left tackle. In 1961 he opened the season trying to block the Colts defensive end Ordell Braase. He didn't start at defensive end until later in the season, though he played there.

The Rams settled on Jim Boeke at left tackle for the rest of the season (Boeke started in 1960 at left tackle as well). Boeke is not a household name but had a decent NFL career, being a starter at times for both the Rams and the Cowboys.

More people will remember Boeke from his acting career in which he had a few memorable bit parts. One ironically enough was in 1978's Heaven Can Wait in which he played "Kowalsky" in tandum with Deacon Jones's "Gorman" the two defensive lineman who tormented Warran Beatty when he was trying out (as Leo Farnsworth) as the Rams quarterback.

The memorable line from the Rams coach was "Look at Gorman and Kowalski. That's how they look when they eat".
Deacon Jones as "Gorman"
Jim Boeke as Kowalski

Back from sidebar—here are some shots of Deacon, then known as David Jones, in his first NFL start.

 
''


Jones didn't play well and was not in the game on the offensive line in the second half of the Colts-Rams 1961 opener. Perhaps the coaches had seen enough to know that perhaps Jones was better suited for defense.

Jones ended his career in 1974 with the Washington Redskins. He was a designated pass rusher that season, usually filling in for Ron McDole at left end in passing situations, but sometimes at right defensive end, subbing for Verlon Biggs. What is little know, though, is that Deacon's last regular season play was not on the defensive (or offensive) line. It was as a kicker.

Late in a 42-0 blowout of the Chicago Bears, Redskins coach George Allen called on Deacon to kick a PAT because Mark Moseley was injured. Or so the story goes:


Credit: Nate Fine. Getty Images.
Years ago Jones told us that he'd been a backup kicker for much of his career and that at halftime he asked Allen (who'd coached him from 1966-70 in Los Angeles) to let him kick in the game if there was an opportunity. With a blowout of a game the opportunity arose. According to Jones backup quarterback and full-time holder Joe Theismann wouldn't hold for him ("that little prick") but finally relented after a brief "conversation" with Jones.

Jones made the PAT, though it was not pretty. So there you have it. One of the greatest defensive ends in the history of the NFL opened his career as a left offensive tackle and ended it as a kicker.


1978 Leroy Neiman Art for Super Bowl XII CBS Graphics

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

For Super Bowl XII CBS-TV commissioned artist Leroy Neiman to paint artwork that could be used to introduce the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos offensive groups.

Television then, as it does now, introduces the players to the viewing audience through graphics illustrated by photos (that often look like mugshots). For the Super Bowl XII telecast, these pieces of art were used.

Enjoy:
The Dallas Offense
 The Denver Defense
 The Denver Offense
 The Dallas Defense

Monday, May 29, 2017

Strictly Personal: HOF Voting Committee, Would a Little Soviet-style Central Planning Be So Bad?

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney
Bold denotes first ballot
In any given year getting voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a zero-sum game, there are only five slots and there are 15 finalists who are, in the end, voted in at above a 90% rate, so they are worthy of the HOF, but have to wait.
Some folks (and I am one of them) agree with Bob Costas who once told me that there is extra cachet to being a first-ballot Hall of Famer in any sport. So, the challenge for voters is to take extra care to ensure those who truly rose above their peers get that honor. For football, it's the likes of Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Jerry Rice and next year, likely Ray Lewis and many other greats.

There have been some in the media who say "A guy's a Hall of Famer or he's not". They say it as though it's scripture or carved in stone atop the mountain where the football gods reside. It's not. Sometimes players have to wait, as was the case for Terrell Owens. He will get in, but he had enough "dings" to warrant exclusion from being a first-balloter.

For those who say the Hall of Fame should include as many qualified players as there are, and expand the maximum number from five to . . . whatever is suited for the year. Perhaps that could happen for the 100th Anniversary of the NFL, a special circumstance, but Year-in, year-out? No.

Remember the Hall of Fame is a real thing, it's bricks and mortar and not something just on paper or on a website. If all the critics want to take a couple of weeks off (or more) and volunteer in Canton to make sure that nine, ten, or twelve HOF inductees all get the special attention they need for the celebration, then maybe. They can drive people around, make hotel and flight reservations, prepare the parade, the festival, then go ahead, maybe it could work with all of the critics doing those things to help those who already do it for the five current players and the senior and contributors.

The real world, outside the Internet, has budgets, time constraints, limited manpower, limited room accommodations. And if an inductee is from Pittsburgh or Buffalo, look out. It's going to be standing room only at all the events. So those not familiar with the Hall should be a bit more humble when suggesting that they expand the current size a potential current player Hall of Fame class if they don't know what it takes to put on the Hall of Fame week. Maybe, just maybe the Hall of Fame officials have good reasons for having the current player classes capped at five.

So, let's focus. If recently, over 90% of those who make the Final 15 list for induction into the Hall of Fame (and it is higher than that, I've done the math) then why not make sure they all get in while also preserving the extra honor to those who deserve to be first ballot inductees? That means making sure good, qualified candidates who have been on the Final 15 or SHOULD have been do not get overlooked any further and go into the Senior's Pool, often called "Senior Swamp" where it's hard for those candidates to get another look. Sadly, there are many great players in that category. Some of that was because of (and this in my personal opinion) in-fighting and localism and esoteric concerns by less enlightened voting committees of yesteryear. Yes. I said it.
Okay, how does this apply now?  Well, to make sure all of the 10 Finalists who didn't get inducted plus the newcomers and a couple players who are coming to the end of their eligibility in the modern player category it will take four or five years. That means some players and their fans and presenters will have to wait, but in my view, that is no dishonor, getting in is an honor.

So here is the convivial suggestion: The voters can prioritize players less by parochial concerns and on a more open evaluation that includes stats, honors, testimonials, etc. to really give first-ballot to those whose "resumes" are almost flawless and allow other great players to wait and not be offended by it.
So, let's take the wide receivers. Terrell Owens has been dinged for a couple of years. Vote him in in 2018 and he'll be a third ballot guy, same as Marvin Harrison. Then, ding Randy Moss a year. There is enough of his "dogging it" and "I play when I want to play" in his numbers and performance to reasonable say he's not in the same category as Jerry Rice, the last first-ballot wide receiver.

Yes, his fans will scream and rip apart the voting committee like they did for Owens and other wide receivers over the years, but they will get over it when he's elected in 2019. Then the "receiver" space is open for Isaac Bruce, who's qualified but gets lost in the shuffle. Three receivers in the next three years. No more backlog, no one waits too long, qualified greats of the game get into the HOF. That clears the deck for when Megatron and others recently retired receivers become eligible, which always come faster than it seems they should. Five years goes by fast, it seems.

Now, the tackles. Joe Jacoby is considered the best lineman of the three-championship Redskins and he was a starter in all three of those Super Bowl wins. The upcoming vote in 2018 is his last year before being relegated to the "Swamp". Jacoby's resume is not as strong as some recent tackles like Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones, but it is certainly strong enough to warrant election and not put in a place where it could be decades before he's pulled out. Solution: Vote him in.
Then, in 1994, and this is imperative, keep Mike Kenn from going into the Swamp. In 2019 he, if the voters see fit to vote for him, will have his first chance at induction and last chance before becoming a senior. Like Jacoby, he's too great a player to have that fate. He played 17 seasons and started 17 seasons. Jackie Slater, for example, played 20 and was a full-time starter in about 14-15 of those. Kenn was an All-Pro in 1980 and in 1991, eleven years apart (what offensive tackle can make that claim?). He was All-Pro and Pro Bowl player in between those two seasons, too. He also ranked very high during his career in Pro Scout, Inc's grades, was rarely called for penalties, gave up fewer sacks per 16 games that some of the recent tackles (though it was close). Kenn has the goods.

Of course, this will upset the Jaguar fans who have a fine tackle of their own who made it to the Final 10 in 2017. However, his final season was in 2001 so he can wait without being cast into the Swamp. So, with Jacoby, then Kenn, then Boselli the deck is cleared for others like who are waiting.

Brian Dawkins didn't get in last year, but he's (in my view) one of the best two free safeties of the last three decades. Ed Reed, in my view, is the best free safety ever, though clearly, others will disagree, in either case, he;s worthy of being one of those rare players who have no flaws on their resume to speak of and being voted into the HOF right away. So, any delay on Dawkins only gums up the works for him. Then, in 2019, Reed gets in. In 2020 in this proposed "defensive back spot" Ty Law could get his due. Law was a key to the early 2000s Patriots defenses and was a tremendous cover corner. Surely those Patriots were more than just Tom Brady.

As mentioned, Ray Lewis should get a first-ballot spot in 2018 (meaning Brian Urlacher will have to wait), then in 2019 Tony Gonzales should get that honor as well, and in 2010 I think Troy Polamalu should also get the same treatment, though debatable.

Now for the interior line. It comes down to if Steve Hutchinson is a first-ballot guy or not. To me, it's close, but there have been great guards who had to wait. Maybe the interior linemen get undervalued in the HOF process and perhaps other factors. To me, he's the top left guard of the new century, but if he had to wait like some of the wide receivers it would be as big an injustice as some other players.

So, perhaps Alan Faneca in 2018, skip a year for interior linemen and put in Urlacher in 2019, then Hutch in 2020 and then Kevin Mawae in 2021.

That could make a potential awesome class for 2021. Peyton Manning is a first-ballot lock and Charles Woodson may (should) be, then Mawae, Champ Bailey (with all the other DBs having already included) and leaves a spot for the one of the best but on of the most overlooked defensive tackles ever—Bryant Young.
No offense to Warren Sapp, but Bryant Young was a, more complete tackle. Sapp played 3-technqiue, Young had to play both the shade tackle and the three-tackle. Sapp had 96.5 sacks, Young 89.5. Hardly a difference. Young played the run better, just solid in every way. Obviously, voters disagree, but in any case, it seems clear Young deserves a shot in the "room".

In 2022 John Lynch can get his due, getting all the players from the 2017 Final 15 into the Hall of Fame. Nothing against him, but compared to Dawkins, Reed, and Polamalu, Lynch would rank fourth and with great corners available and space limited someone has to wait. And that opens up things for Ronde Barber and Edgerrin James, Richard Seymour, Antonio Gates and others.

Now, of course, I am going to get slammed for this post. But look at the bright side, I am just a blogger, nothing more. The "who does this guy think he is" and "he's planning a conspiracy" or other things I may hear are going to be well-deserved. What I've done is try and take concerns of cities, teams, and fans out of it and focus on the resumes of each player as I see them.

Resumes, in my view, consist of honors like All-Pro, Pro Bowl, All-Decade, Player of the Year, etc., testimonials such as "Moss dogged it" or "I could never cover that guy" or "No on was tough to block than", team success, intangibles (toughness, courage, intelligence), and statistics (both standard and advanced) and other factors and try and come up with fair classes that won't create new backlogs and will keep great players from going into the Swamp and honors the truly great with first-ballot accolades.
If this is offensive to fans of Moss or Urlacher or others my post "snubs" then, well, blast me in the comments section. Your views are every bit as valid as mine. And there is some tongue-in-cheek here (see title of this post).

Additionally, this is not, I repeat NOT any kind of indictment to the HOF Voting Committee like so many bloggers level. My view is they do a tough, thankless job and 99% of the time get it right. Sure, there have been a couple of first-ballot players that didn't meet the criteria of what I thought was a first balloter, but that's simply my opinion. It matters little. My guess is they will take this polemic in the spirit intended, one of suggestion or idea and not a criticism of their work.

In my interactions of the voters, they do want to get the best players in but they also have a duty to present cases for players from the teams they cover and that is when, sometimes, the parochial concerns can set in and cause a logjam here and there and that's all that we're addressing by suggesting this one thing:  Don't fill the swamp with more good players.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Part IX: Who Will Be On NFL's 100th Anniversary Team?

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney

In Part IX of this nine-part series, we look at the possible secondary picks after discussing defensive line, running backslinebackersquarterbackstackles and tight endscenters, guardswide receivers, and special teamers who were on the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team and who may end up on the NFL's 100th Anniversary Team.
This is the toughest to gauge which is why we left it for last. All of these are solid picks but there are some excellent players who would now be eligible who were not at the times.

Night Train Lane should keep his spot as one of the cornerbacks. Mike Haynes and Rod Woodson are as worthy to be on the 100th Anniversary Team as they were for the 75th Anniversary Team, though Woodson's selection raised some eyebrows in 1994 since he'd not been in the NFL very long in comparison to others on the team. But, Deion Sanders lays claim as the best cover corner ever, though his run support was not the equal of say, Night Train. 

Revis Island might want to argue he is tops, over Deion. Charles Woodson was someone who could cover outside, cover in the slot, tackle, hit, blitz (over 20 sacks) and could lay claim to being one of the best all-around corners in league history. 

As for safeties, Lott should keep his spot. Our view is that Ed Reed has to be on the 100th Anniversary Team and we will see if the panel/committee agrees in 2020(1). Could he replace Larry Wilson who took the safety blitz to a new level (though he was not the first to do it, he took it to a higher level). Ken Houston, a great strong safety. In our view Brian Dawkins was great in all phases of the game, coverage in both man and zone, hitting, and was a very effective safety blitzer. We don't however, think he will quite rise to the 100th Anniversary Team level, but loved watching him play.

Emlen Tunnell was bounced in 1994 after being the safety on the 50th Anniversary Team in 1970. He was a left safety, something akin to what became the strong safety and he was, in our view, a more consistent and effective safety than Houston, so we hope he gets another look.

In our view, in reviewing these kinds of "All-Time Teams" the votes for safety are the most widely distributed so anything is possible. No one asked us but our three would be Tunnell, Lott and Reed.

Agree or disagree with this or any of the nine posts on this subject, fell free to tell us how we are wrong.