Monday, July 31, 2017

BILLY HOWTON: Throw It and I'll Catch It

By T.J. Troup
The Green Bay Packers lost their last seven games of 1951 as their ground attack struggled all season. The Packers did, however, set a new record for passes attempted in a season with 478. Bobby Thomason and Tobin Rote shared the quarterback position and both had some strong games pitching the pigskin.

Historically the NFL draft of 1952 has been discussed as one of the most talented ever. Fourteen men will be taken in the draft before Green Bay selects a tall, lean, and swift split end named Billy Howton. Five of those previous fourteen are in the Hall of Fame. Howton is not, yet his saga needs to be shared.

Howton's rookie season is one that ranks among the best ever by any receiver before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. In the first nine games of the year he has caught at least one pass in every game, but the last three games of the season he runs routes and catches passes to the tune of 21 receptions for 485 yards, and 5 touchdowns.

This kind of production compares with the immortal Don Hutson! Billy receives first team All-Pro recognition. Expectations are high for 1953 as the Packers were in the thick of the Western Conference race till late in the 1952 season, but Howton has a chest injury that keeps him out of the lineup for the first four games. Though he plays well during the latter half of 1953 and contributes in 1954 the Packers struggle to win games.
Green Bay opens the 1955 season at home against a Detroit Lions team that has beaten them 11 straight times and outscored them 363 to 191. The hard-hitting affair against the three time western conference champion has come down to the 4th quarter with Detroit leading 17-13. Earlier in the game after a fine catch, Howten is hit hard and coughs up the ball. Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt of the Lions scoops up the ball and is pictured on the cover of my book "The Birth of Football's Modern 4-3 Defense: The Seven Seasons That Changed the NFL" returning the ball 17 yards.

Tobin Rote keys the final drive of the game with some timely completions, and a 28-yard dash up the middle. Time is running short when Rote throws to Howton on a stop route. Billy is running for the sideline but realizes he is going to be tackled in bounds and fumbles the ball on purpose out of bounds. This photo is captured in Mickey Herskowitz excellent book "The Golden Age of Pro Football".

The clock is now stopped with just 25 seconds left. Rote drops back and finds Gary Knafelc open on a quick post for 18 yards and the winning touchdown. Green Bay has a record of 1-2 as they take on the 1955 defending western conference champion Rams in Milwaukee. Howton has one of the greatest performances by a receiver ever in this game. During the first half, he snags 6 passes for 204 yards. Green Bay upsets the Rams 42-17. November the 4th the defending league champion Browns take on the Packers in Milwaukee. No team is as well prepared to take on an opponent as a Paul Brown team and film study details this aspect. Green Bay is knocking on the door to the end zone as left linebacker Chuck Noll "walks" off to align in front of Billy to disrupt his route, yet Howton's quickness gets him off the line. Howton splits the two Cleveland safeties and scores on a curl route for the only Packer touchdown in the game.

Green Bay travels to Wrigley Field to take on their long time rivals in navy blue & burnt orange. Late in the 4th quarter rookie Bart Starr is at quarterback and he lofts a beautiful pass up the right sideline over pro bowl left corner J.C. Caroline for 53 yards to Howton. Green Bay and the league manuals still have this incorrect as Starr is listed with a passing long of 36 for the year. Howton's excellent performance during the year brings him unanimous All-Pro recognition.

Green Bay has a new stadium for 1957 and early in the 4th quarter, the Packers have excellent field position on the Chicago forty-nine yard line. Babe Parilli fires to Billy for 41 yards to set up the game winning touchdown pass to Gary Knafelc. The Baltimore Colts are truly contenders for the Western Conference crown in 1957 and are at home against a Packer team that has now lost three straight. Late in the 4th quarter trailing 21-17 strong armed Babe Parilli comes off the bench and heaves a long pass up the right sideline as Billy has easily run by reserve left corner Henry Moore. The pass is on the money for 77 yards and the game winning score.

From this point on the Packers will stumble to the depths of their history as they go 2-16-1 for the remainder of 1957 and 1958. There are teams that bring out the best in a player, and for Howton, that team is the Rams. How many receivers historically have caught at least 47 passes for a minimum of 1,185 yards against an opponent the first ten times they face them?

Vince Lombardi needs help revitalizing the roster as he begins his tenure in Green Bay; thus on April 24, 1959, Howton is traded to Cleveland for Lew Carpenter and Bill Quinlan. Billy Howton played outstanding and consistent football for the Packers as he caught a pass all but three games during his time in Green Bay. A new chapter, but a very short one as Howton plays just one year for Paul Brown, yet it is the only winning team he plays on.
He is too talented to be let go in the expansion draft but is traded to Dallas on September 6th for a conditional draft pick. Howton is back in Texas where he played college football, but he is going to see many a player come and go as Tom Landry attempts to put a quality team on the field. Billy is not very productive for the most part in the '60 season, yet finishes strong with 12 catches for 162 yards and 2 scores over the last two games of the year. Dallas wins on opening day in 1961 and Howton is a key contributor in the first Cowboy victory with 6 catches for 138 yards. Later in the season against the defending league champion Eagles, he latches onto 11 passes as he torments the Philadelphia secondary with the variety of moves he has come to be known for. Though he still has some quickness, he has lost some of his swiftness—yet Billy can run every route.

Film study shows he can run an out route, the deep fade, the post/corner (Q), and the curl route well, yet he runs the slant to perfection. The last day of the 1962 season Dallas is again on the losing side; this time to the eastern conference champion Giants, but Billy is still the wily veteran as he catches 3 passes for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has now caught 470 passes for 7,945 yards, and 58 touchdowns in his career, and is fast approaching breaking Don Hutson's records for catches and yardage.

The issue though going into 1963 is the Baltimore Colts have an excellent receiver named Raymond Berry who with 419 catches for 6,217 yards is just 30 years old and looks to have a few more seasons with Mr. John Unitas. Yes, Howton does break Hutson's records, but as most know Berry soon passes Howton. Billy has his moments in the final campaign of his career. November the 10th against San Francisco he catches 8 passes for 107 yards, and his last touchdown, and you guessed it the final TD comes on a slant pattern. Though he will likely never be in the Hall of Fame Billy Howton is one fine receiver that should never be forgotten.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Remembering Bill Walsh: Super Bowl XIX Game Plan Binder

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Front Cover of Bill Walsh's Super Bowl XIX Binder
  On this day (July 30, 2007) ten years ago the NFL world lost the “Genius," when Bill Walsh passed away at the age of 75. Several years ago when doing research for my book on the 1984 49ers I interviewed Walsh’s son Craig who allowed me to make a copy of his father’s game plan binder for Super Bowl XIX against the Miami Dolphins. A game in which Walsh claimed to have been his “masterpiece” of game plans.

With the nearly 135 pages of offensive (and special teams) game plans Walsh had at his fingertips the perfect plan to attack the Dolphins defense.
Bill Walsh Offensive Research Page for Super Bowl XIX

    The work week started with film study. The 49ers staff gave the players the Dolphins last eight regular season games (including the two losses by the Dolphins to the Chargers and Raiders) to help evaluate their opponent. The 49ers offensive coaches really focused on watching film of three Dolphins games to gain a better grasp on the Dolphins 3-4 defense.
AFC Championship vs Steelers
AFC Divisional vs Seahawks
Dec. 17, 1984 vs Cowboys

    Sitting in his corner office Walsh hand drew the offensive game plan. He put in nearly forty runs (27 basic runs, 6 run specials, 6 draws) as well as twelve goal line and short yardage plays. As for the passing game he drew up nearly 100 passes on the call sheet. In the end Walsh’s game plan binder would consist of 134 pages of plays and notes as well as nearly one hundred and fifty hand-drawn plays.

Bill Walsh's Run Plays for Super Bowl XIX, two pages

   Walsh definitely wanted to be balanced. Watching the game film of the Dolphins 3-4 defense he did not see a very fast, athletic unit. While looking closer he saw that the Dolphins linebackers were somewhat slow footed, especially in covering backs. He instantly knew that he would use Wendell Tyler, Roger Craig and Carl Monroe even more in the passing game. “Without a potent pass rush, Miami was forced to cover the receivers tightly. The Miami defense depended on locking their linebackers into man-to-man coverage on running backs. That had worked well for them during the season, but I doubted that they could cover our backs, particularly Roger Craig, coming out of the backfield,” wrote Bill Walsh in his 1990 biography. “We had one play in particular that was ideally suited to work against the defense. On ‘20 Bingo Cross’ both backs would release between guard and tackle just past the line of scrimmage and then cross.”

20 Bingo Cross play sheet Super Bowl XIX
     Along with “20 Bingo Cross” Walsh also installed “Halfback Sail” in the first 25 plays to take advantage of his running backs speed and quickness. “That was crucial. Again, our coaches deserved a lot of credit because they saw the weakness. It wasn’t necessarily the weakness in the players. It was just a weakness in their scheme and Bill took advantage of it,” said Keith Fahnhorst, 49ers offensive tackle, in a 2014 interview.  The 49ers first touchdown- to Carl Monroe- was on "Halfback Sail." “Well, that was the whole thing. Because even though they had great linebackers they didn’t have speed. We practiced on crossing routes the whole week. Bingo Cross. Roger would go one way. I would go the other way,” said Wendell Tyler, 49ers halfback, in a 2013 interview. “I think Bill felt all along that their linebackers couldn’t cover our running backs. Bill always made the running backs a big part of his teaching. You could just tell by the way he talked to them about what his thought was in terms of where the ball might go,” said Paul Hackett, 49ers quarterback-wide receiver coach, in a 2012 interview.

Bill Walsh's Pass Plays for Super Bowl XIX, four pages
    While watching the Dolphins linebackers he also saw that when they turned to run with the running backs out of the backfield they tended to turn their heads and put their backs to the quarterback. Walsh thought if there was a running lane he wanted, encouraged, Joe Montana to tuck and run. During the 1984 regular season Montana had only had 39 carries for 118 yards but in two playoff games he had 85 yards rushing. Walsh would use his legs in this game. “I declined to remark on it until just before the game, because I didn’t want to preoccupy Joe with this option and preferred to be as spontaneous and instinctive as possible,” wrote Walsh.

    Running backs catching the ball, Montana running when given the opportunity, and being balanced on offense. Walsh had his plan for Super Bowl XIX. The 49ers offense performed the game plan perfectly defeating the Dolphins 38-16, amassing a Super Bowl record 537 total yards.

Hard to believe that it has been ten years since Bill Walsh passed away. He is missed dearly.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

All-Time NFL Team, Chosen in 1952

By John Turney
In January 1952, at NFL Meetings the NFL coaches were surveyed to find out who the consensus All-time team would be.

Here are the results of the tally:
C—Mel Hein
G—Dan Fortmann
G—Len Younce
T—Turk Edwards
T—Joe Stydahar
E—Don Hutson
E—Bill Hewitt
QB—Sammy Baugh
HB—Steve Van Buren
HB—Red Grange
FB—Bronko Nagurski

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Top 10 NFL Kickers: First 25 Years (1920-1944)

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

Here is a list of the top 10 kickers that played in the first twenty-five years of the NFL (1920-1944). Since the NFL didn’t start until 1920 this list won’t include some pre-NFL stalwarts like Jim Thorpe, Charlie Brickley, Frank Nesser, etc., who had their prime years of kicking before 1920.

The list ranks the kickers for production, consistency, post-season performance post-1933) and accuracy. Although scoring was taken into consideration, touchdowns are included in that stat, it wasn’t the most important criteria.

1) Jack Manders (1933-1940 Chicago Bears). Manders, who was nicknamed “Automatic,” kicked eight consistent years with the Chicago Bears. Manders twice led the NFL in scoring (1934, 1937); led the NFL in FGs made 4 times (1933-1934, 1936-1937); and XPs made 3 times (1933-1935). He kicked over (80 percent) of his extra points.
Manders kicked 23 of his 40 career field goals in the first half of games when the outcome was more in doubt.

Plus, Manders was 7 for 7 on extra points and 5 of 10 on field goals in his 4 career post-season games with the Bears. In the 1933 NFL Championship Game (first one ever in NFL history) Manders converted both extra points and made 3 of 4 field goals- from 16, 40, and 28 yards to account for 11 points in the Bears 23-21 victory over the New York Giants.
Jack Manders, Chicago Bears
2) Dutch Clark (1931-1932 Portsmouth Spartans, 1934-1938 Detroit Lions) Dutch led the NFL in scoring three times, field goals once (1932) and extra points three times (1932, 1935-1936). In 1932 the NFL saw only six field goals made- and Dutch Clark made half of them (3). He was probably the NFL’s best-ever drop kicker.
Dutch Clark, Detroit Lions
3) Ward Cuff (1937-1945 New York Giants, 1946 Chicago Cardinals, 1947 Green Bay packers). Cuff was nearly perfect on extra points during his 11-year NFL career. After not kicking one in 1937 Cuff went on to convert 156 of 162 point after kicks- that’s 96 percent!! He also wasn’t’ too shabby on field goals making 43 of 98 tries.

Cuff led the NFL in field goals four times (1938-1939, 1943 and 1947- although the one in 1947 is after the cutoff). He also made 10 field goals of 35 yards or more.
In three playoff games Cuff was 2 for 3 on extra points and 2 of 3 on his field goals tries (14 and 16 yards).
Ward Cuff, New York Giants
4) Paddy Driscoll (Chicago Cardinals 1920-1925, Chicago Bears 1926-1929). The Hall of Famer was consistently known as the best kicker in the NFL- before Dutch Clark came along- during his ten-year career in NFL (and even pre-NFL years). Driscoll led the NFL in scoring twice (1923 and 1926) and in field goals four times (1922, 1923, 1925 and 1926). In 1925-1926 Driscoll converted 23 field goals and 24 extra points. His best year of 1926 he led the NFL in scoring with 86 points- with 12 FGs and 14 XPs- that would be 50 points accounted for by kicking.
Paddy Driscoll, Chicago Cardinals
5) Armand Niccolai (1934-1942 Pittsburgh Pirates-Steelers) Niccolai, at six-feet-two and 226 pounds, also played on the line as a tackle-guard-end. But he was one of the best kickers in the NFL during his nine years with Pittsburgh.
Twice he led the NFL in field goals made- 1935-1936. He converted 34 field goals, while making 71 extra points in his career. Niccolai converted 8 field goals of 40 or more yards, including a 50-yarder against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934. From 1938-to-1942 he converted 48 of 49 extra points- nearly perfect. His 7 field goals kicked for Pittsburgh in 1936 lasted 14 years until 1950 when Joe Geri kicked 8.

Armand Niccolai, Pittsburgh

6) Joey Sternaman (1922-25, 1927-1930 Chicago Bears; 1926 Chicago Bulls (AFL), 1923 Duluth) “Little” Joey Sternaman, brother of Bears co-owner Dutch Sternaman, packed a big toe on his five-feet-six, 150-pound body for nearly of decade of pro football action. Little Joey led the NFL in field goals in 1924 with 9. He also led the rival AFL (1926) in field goals made with 9 too.

In 1925 when the Bears went on the famous Red Grange barnstorming tour Joey converted 17 extra points that season.
Joey Sternaman, Chicago Bears
7) Ken Strong (1929-1932 Staten Island Stapletons, 1933-1935, 1939, 1944-1947 New York Giants, 1936-1937 New York Yanks (AFL). Strong led the NFL in Field goals made twice (1931 and 1944)- including in 1944 when he was 38 years old.

Strong converted 38 career field goals and 166 extra points. In five post-season games he was perfect on all 9 extra points and was one of two on field goals.
Ken Strong, New York Giants
8) Ralph Kercheval (1934-1940 Brooklyn Dodgers). Kercheval didn’t kick as often as the previous names but was just as good. From 1938 to 1940 Kerchaval made 15 of 37 field goals; and 13 of 15 extra points. In 1936 he booted a 50-yard FG.

In 1938 Kercheval led the NFL in field goals made with 5.

The following year (1939) he led the NFL in FG accuracy, making 6 of 13 (46 percent). He might be higher on the list if he was a little more accurate but the Dodgers simply didn’t score as much as the other teams in the NFL.
In his first four seasons in Brooklyn, the Dodgers averaged just 7 points a game- compared to the Chicago Bears who scored around 18 points per game.
Ralph Kercheval, Brooklyn Dodgers
9) Glenn Presnell (1931-1933 Portsmouth Spartans; 1934-1936 Detroit Lions) Presnell, just like Kercheval, didn’t have as many opportunities (mainly because of the presence of teammate Dutch Clark), but was a very consistent place kicker. Presnell led the NFL in scoring in 1933 (although Clark missed the season coaching basketball) and in 1934 he set an NFL record with a 54-yard field goal, a mark that was not broken until 1953 by Bert Richichar.
10) Don Hutson (1935-1945 Green Bay Packers) and Clarke Hinkle (1932-1941 Green Bay Packers).
Don Hutson, Green Bay Packers
Clarke Hinkle, Green Bay Packers
Throughout the mid-1930's through the mid-40's the Packers had a two-headed kicking monster.

Hutson was the extra point specialist. During his 11-year career with the Packers, he made 172 of 183 extra points- 94 percent success rate. Twice he led the NFL in extra points (1941-1942).

In 3 playoff games Hutson was a perfect 4 for 4 in extra points.

Hinkle was the field goal specialist with 28 career FGs in his 10-year career. He led the NFL twice in FGs made- 1940 with 9 and 1941 with 6. Hinkle was also 15 of 31 in extra points- only half- so that’s why Hutson kicked the conversion.

Hutson made just 7 of 17 career field goals. The two future Hall of Famers worked perfectly together to be number ten on the list.

Best of the Rest
Red Dunn; Benny Friedman; Hank Gillo; Pete “Fats” Henry; Jack McBride; Ernie Nevers; and Bob Snyder.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Another Underrated Kicker—Jeff Wilkins

By John Turney

Jeff Wilkins, like Horst Mühlmann, is a kicker who flew under the radar (in our view), at least relative to other bigger name kickers of their time. In the 1980s-2000s the kickers most recognizable on the national stage were perhaps Adam Vinatieri, Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson, Nick Lowery or John Carney and all for good reason. Wilkins only went to one Pro Bowl, in 2003, and that same season he was Second-team All-Pro, his highest honor of his career.

However, when compared to all of the bigger-named kickers Jeff Wilkins is right with them on all measurables and in the "clutch" category as well. Wilkins, nicknamed "Money", had his share of important kicks that won games or put them into overtime. And as an aside, he was the last barefoot kicker in the NFL which he did in 2002.

We're not suggesting him for the Hall of Fame or anything, but we are pointing out, given the following data points that he had a fine career, worthy of high praise. He is a player who likely wasn't the best in anything, but he was very good in EVERYTHING.

Consider:  When Wilkins retired in 2007 he was eighth all-time in field goal percentage, ahead of many of his more famous peers:
In addition, currently, he is still one of the best long-distance kickers in history, ranking fifth:
Add to that his ability to kickoff deep, ranking 14th currently:
Further, he was excellent at executing onside kicks, ranking second currently:
Here are his career stats courtesy of Pro Football

MMQB All-Time Draft Computer Simulation

By John Turney
Last week Sports Illustrated's MMQB published the results of it's 12-man draft of the participants who were:
The Participants (in draft order)
1. Joel Bussert. Former longtime head of the NFL’s player personnel department.
2. Ron Wolf. Hall of Fame NFL executive.
3. Rick Gosselin. Longtime Dallas Morning News football writer and Hall of Fame voter.
4. Dan Fouts. Hall of Fame quarterback and Hall of Fame voter.
5. John Turney. Highly respected football historian from Pro Football Journal.
6. Gil Brandt. Pioneering scout and personnel executive.
7. Bob McGinn. Packers beat writer for 38 seasons.
8. Joe Horrigan. Vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
9. Peter King. Editor-in-chief of The MMQB and Hall of Fame voter.
10. Bill Polian. Six-time NFL executive of the year and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
11. John Wooten. Longtime player, NFL scout and director of The Fritz Pollard Alliance.
12. Ernie Accorsi. Former GM of the Colts, Browns and Giants.

One fan from Twitter, John in CA ran a simulation of the teams picked by the above participants. He sent these notes in an email to explain his process.

1.  The game used is called "Second and Ten"   I just play the game.  I have no financial interest.  The developers could probably do a much better job than me.

2.  All the player ratings are from the game as created by the developers.  The players are rated for the year/era they play.  However, the stats used in ratings are the real stats.

3. I took the best version of each player.  So the ratings and stats are not an overall summary of a players career.  These are the best players, using just their best years.  "Best" as in how the game AI rated them that its.  I didn't go through and compare to real life.  The game calculates rating(s) on factors other than just stats.  I don't know how they rated OLs. I'dd assume it's based on how well the real life team they were on ran and passed the ball.  For DLs and sacks.  Again Im not sure.  It seems they have stats for everyone.  Even the pre-1982 guys.  I did take a look and all the guys who would be good at sacks (Deacon Jones, etc) all have very high ratings.

4.  Interceptions will seem high.  But that is because nearly every CB and S has an incredible Int rating.

5.  I played 11-game schedule with each team facing each other once.  Home and Road determinations were random.

6.  The game has some min requirements on KR and PR.  In some cases, I had to increase the amount of returns for players to meet the min.  However, I kept the same yards per return the same so it should be negligible.

7.  QB comp % is important.  So QBs like Bradshaw, Unitas and Staubach who played when mid to low 50s% were normal will reflect that.

8.  All teams were played by AI coach.  How much they decided to run/pass is based on stats/ratings.

9.  This is just one simulation.  You will get variations every time.  Especially with each team being loaded with talent (high ratings)

10.  Dan Fouts team is clearly the weakest though.  His team will lose a lot no matter what.  Lots of reasons, but a QB with low comp % is a big one.

11.  I put the teams (people) in locations that seemed to be connected from where they are most connected and used old school, outdoor stadiums.  At least from my research.

12.  There are three or four game results which will look a bit odd with high scores, but......its a game.

13.  There are probably a few tweaks which could make it better, but I'm not aware of them.

So, with all those caveats here are the results:

And no, I had no idea I'd have the best regular-season record, but I do 100% recognize that the qb stats are important and Johnny Unitas underperformed. This game, and no other game I am aware of can make adjustments to passing stats. They are what they are.

Here are the leaders in statitical categories:
So that was the regular season. Here are the results of the playoffs:

The 4 teams were:
1. Turney
2. McGinn
3. King
4. Wolf
Round 1
Wolf 31
Turney 28

King 20
McGinn 7

King 28
Wolf 17
So Peter King, the designer of the MMQB draft takes the crown. Well done, Peter.

Monday, July 24, 2017

FORGED IN STEEL: The 1947 Steelers Earn a Playoff Berth

By T. J. Troup
Beginning in 1972 to the present day the Pittsburgh Steelers have earned a playoff berth 29 times. Success is almost an expectation for Steeler Nation but it has not always been that way.

Next week the Steeler hopefuls begin training camp with thoughts of another playoff berth yet when entering the 1947 season Dr. Jock Sutherland hoped to bring a first division championship to Art Rooney.

So let us return to yesteryear—70 years ago. Line coach Frank Walton, and end coach Joe Skladany are in their only year as Steeler coaches, while backfield coaches John Michelson and Mike Nixon will continue to coach the next season. Dr. Sutherland had success at the college level at the University of Pittsburgh and during the 1946 season, with league MVP Bill Dudley, the Steelers were contenders for most of the season.

Dudley has been traded to Detroit; yet Sutherland as head coach and undeniable leader truly believes he can teach his young team how to play football HIS way and win. There are only a handful of veterans on this team led by captain and starting center Chuck Cherundolo.

The campaign begins at Forbes Field on a very warm September Sunday against the Lions. The first touchdown of the year is scored by former Steeler Bill Dudley. The "Bluefield Bullet" releases out of the backfield up the left sideline and takes Zimmerman's well thrown pass over his shoulder on the six and trots in. Pittsburgh with 15 rookies making the team has without question the best depth they have ever had, and as the game wears on many of the youngsters are proving they can play quality football.

The Black & Gold ground attack will gain only 89 yards today, but the passing attack gains 194 yards to keep the chains moving. Rookie tailback Walt Slater throws three interceptions, and rookie wingback Bob Sullivan one as the Lions hold off Pittsburgh for most of the game.

The hard-nosed defense has kept the game close, and the pass rush has forced two fumbles already in the game, but the third forced fumble is the turning point. Lightning-quick right defensive end Bob Davis thunders in uncontested and knocks the ball loose. Rookie tackle Joe Repko picks up the ball and trundles 48 yards for the winning score.
Pittsburgh is humiliated at home on a Monday night game against Los Angeles 48-7. The Washington Redskins lost an exciting high scoring close game to contending Philadelphia to begin their season, and are looking to even the slate in their home opener. Ray Didinger captures the essence of this game in his outstanding book Great Teams' Great Years. Rookie Joe Glamp misses four field goals in a 27-26 defeat. There are bright spots in the loss though as tailback/wingback Johnny "Zero" Clement shines both running and passing. He gains 92 yards rushing (including his season long run of 43), and gains 157 passing on his 9 completions.

There are plays in the Sutherland wing where Johnny lines up as a traditional tailback and either runs or passes, but he also lines up as a wingback and when the ball is snapped to the fullback (usually Steve Lach) he takes the ball from Steve on a reverse and drops into a protective pocket to pass (most of the time from left wing since Johnny is right handed).

The Steelers are in Boston for week four and come away with a 30-14 victory. Wingback Bob Sullivan was injured during the loss to the 'Skins and taking his place in the lineup is the man who came in the trade for Dudley—Bob Cifers. One of the best punters in the league; Bob has the best game of his career running the ball as he gains 97 yards on just 11 carries (the Steelers gain 276 as a team on the ground). Clement is pinpoint in completing 8 of 13 as he is now the centerpiece of the offense. Walt Slater plays very little tailback, yet proves his worth to the team as a fine safety in the Steelers 5-3-3 defense, and ranks among the league leaders in punt returns.

Next up the 2-1 Philadelphia Eagles who are coming off a loss to the Bears 40-7. The Sutherland Wing runs the ball 52 times for 229 yards against a very tough and talented Philadelphia defense, and now is an appropriate time to detail the men who opened those holes. The tackles are Jack Wiley, Frank Wydo,  Paul Stenn, and Ralph Calcagni. The guards are veteran John Perko (the oldest player on the team at 33), Nick Skorich, John Mastrangelo, and outstanding rookie William "Red" Moore.

These men all go both ways though of course some see more playing time than others. Mastrangelo is a fine pulling guard, and plays both left linebacker and defensive guard. Wiley and Calcagni both play left defensive tackle and are adept at shedding blocks, and creating havoc. Wydo is strong at the point of attack on defense, and a powerhouse drive blocker on offense; the rangy lad just needs experience.

Red Moore earns some All-Pro recognition as a guard and he is also very effective at middle guard. This youngster has a very bright future in the Steel City. All-Pro Val Jansante is by far the best receiver on the team(35 catches for 599 yards), and does a fine job at left defensive end when called upon.

Bob Davis has his moments on offense at right end, yet he is by far the best pass rusher on the team and pursues the quarterback with a vengeance. Charley Mehelich rarely gets the ball thrown to him, but he is asked to play left defensive end (usually the strong side) and also earns some All-Pro recognition.

Rookie Elbie Nickel earns his letter on both sides of the ball, but needs experience. Old pro Tony Bova fills in when called upon, but has seen better days. Paul White plays very little offense, but is the starter at left corner in his only season in the league. Tough as nails Tony Compagno starts at right corner; and he is a force against the run and during the campaign returns two interceptions for touchdowns. Tony also rotates in at fullback to give Steve Lach a breather. They combine to gain 498 yards rushing on 154 carries.

You cannot run the single wing without a fullback willing to run hard up the middle or lead block. Lach catches a few short passes, but Tony proves to be a valuable asset in the passing game with 9 catches for 190 yards (usually on screen plays).

The game at Forbes Field against Philadelphia is a turning point as the Black & Gold gain 406 yards in total offense in the 35-24 victory. Pittsburgh has won only 3 of 13 against the Giants in the Polo Grounds, but today Sutherland's boys storm to victory 38-21. For the first time in team history the Steelers have scored over 100 points in a three-game stretch, and head to State Fair Park in Wisconsin to take on the 4-1 contending Packers.

Green Bay jumps out to a 7-0 lead on their first possession as Clyde Goodnight scores on a 69 yard pass from Indian Jack Jacobs. The Steelers respond with a 59-yard drive culminating in Joe Glamp's 17-yard field goal. The Packer come right back and score again on Ward Cuff's 15-yard field goal.

Late in the second quarter the Steelers are denied on 4th and one at the Green Bay one. Jacobs punts on first down, and with 38 seconds left in the half Johnny Clement pitches to Jansante for 22 yards and the go ahead score. Clement completed 7 of 12 for 122 yards in the first half against the best pass defense in the league.

The Packers take the second half kick-off and drive 58 yards, but are stopped on 4th down. When the Steelers punt Green Bay takes over on their own forty-seven. Second down and seven at midfield when Tony Compagno makes the key play of the game: he swipes Comp's pass and dashes 63 yards to score a touchdown.

Ralph Calcagni then sacks Jacobs in the end zone for a safety in the 4th quarter to put the Steelers up 18-10. Jacobs throws to Luhn for 26 to close the gap to 18-17 with seven minutes left, but gets the ball back just once more, and Jacobs is again sacked, and the Steelers run out the clock. The Black & Gold return home and exact revenge on Washington 21-14 as Johnny Clement runs and throws for a score. He now ranks among the leaders in the league in both rushing & passing.

Can the Steelers win six in a row? They have never done this, and here comes the Giants into a smoke filled, hazy Forbes Field with folks lined up all around the field in anticipation. The Steelers lead 3-0 at the half, but an interception by Tarzan White of the Giants puts New York on the nineteen yard line, and they punch it in to lead 7-3 late in the game. The young Steeler defense has reached a new level today as the longest run by a Giant is five yards, and they complete only three passes.

Due to New York's "A" formation and big line splits; the Steelers must adjust their defense, and adjust they do—going from the 5-3 to a 6-2, and even align in the old 7-diamond. The key man again today is the middle linebacker Charlie Seabright. Though listed as a quarterback in their offensive alignment; Charlie is basically a blocking back. He carries the ball once all season, but on defense he shines repeatedly all season. Instinctive, quick, and a fine tackler Seabright has his best game today.

That said, let's take a look at the Steeler linebackers for the 1947 season. Left linebacker is handled by Al Drulis, John Mastrangelo, and Bryant Meeks. Chuck Cherundolo begins the year as the right linebacker, but as the season wears on Bill Cregar, and Frank Sinkovitz get plenty of playing time. Seabright is the lynch pin of the defense, as he moves before the snap into different alignments.

There is less than two minutes left in the game, but the Steelers score twice, and that leaves New York with no choice but to pass. The errant throw is pilfered by Seabright, and he dashes 39 yards to clinch the victory. The first place 7-2 Steelers head to Wrigley for a showdown with a team they have never beaten. The Bears also must win to stay in contention with the Cardinals. The Bears wallop Pittsburgh 49-7 and inflict pain, as more than one Steeler is not only knocked out of the contest, they will not heal in time for the showdown with the Eagles. The key injury is to Johnny Clement. Can he be replaced? The second half of the year Gonzalo Morales has earned some playing time at safety, but can he do the job at tailback? Steve Lach and Bob Cifers gain 78 yards rushing (rest of the team loses 3 yards), while Morales gains just 1 yard in seven carries, and completes only 4 of 14 for 24 yards.
Watching the film of this debacle the better team is Philadelphia as they make all the plays in the 21-0 victory. The Cardinals knock off the Eagles on December 7th . . .thus with a victory today against Boston the Steelers will clinch at least a tie for the eastern division title.

Morales again plays tailback, but coming through when needed most is Walt Slater. He gains 70 yards rushing on 18 carries, and completes 5 passes for 68 yards. He also contributes on defense with his 4th interception of the season. Final—Pittsburgh 17 Boston 7.

The analysis of stats sometimes tells the story of a team, and the 1947 Steelers are no exception. In the eight wins opponents averaged only 100 yards rushing, but in the four losses 200 a game. Though the Steelers played adequate pass defense during the six game winning streak; for the season they ranked 8th in the league in efficiency with a mark of 63.7. Opponent passers completed many a long pass during the campaign. Pittsburgh set a team record for rushing yards gained in a season with 1,948; with an average of 132 a game when they lost, and 177 when they won.

This was by far the best passing team in Pittsburgh history, but in the four losses they completed just 29 of 81 for only 378 yards, with just 3 touchdowns, and 8 intercepted. The eight victories show marked improvement with 57 of 128 for 1,032 yards with 7 touchdowns, and 11 intercepted. The Eagles beat Green Bay in their final regular season game and again took care of Pittsburgh 21-0 in the playoff.

Johnny Clement was just not the same player that he was earlier in the season. Quarterback Tommy Thompson of the Eagles picked apart the Steeler secondary. Art Rooney knew his team was finally headed in the right direction. Right? No, it all came apart so quickly. Dr. Sutherland dies of a brain tumor in the off season, and many of the fine young players have very short careers. Clement is injured early in 1948 thus ending his promising career, and Walt Slater retires because he cannot get a $500.00 raise. Pittsburgh will continue in the single wing through the '51 season, but without Jock Sutherland's guidance and ability to teach it is just not the same. This is the saga of the FIRST playoff team in Steeler history.

Jan Stenerud—The Rest of the Story

By John Turney
Credit:  Merv Corning
Earlier we looked at Morten Andersen's  career kickoff statistics and through research surmised that he was the best kickoff artist in the NFL for the 1974-93 era, which was the era of kickoffs being from the 35-yard line. Prior to 1974 they were at the 40 and in 1994 they moved to the 30-yard line. (And were moved to the 35 again in 2011). Anderson also was top-notch after the 1994 rule change but wasn't the top kickoff man in the game, that honor for those first several years of the 30-yard line mark was likely Brad Daluiso.

Since Morten Andersen will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the weekend after next we thought we'd take a look at Jan Stenerud, the first pure kicker to be inducted into the Hall.

When Stenerud was inducted the argument was that Stenerud, for his time, was a weapon, a player who was enough above average so was to warrant the Hall of Fame. By and large, that is true and holds up to this day.  Stenerud was a five time First-team All-Pro selections plus had two more Second-team All-Pro picks plus six Pro Bowls and an addition Second-team All-NFC selection in 1981 gives him nine seasons of "honors".

At the time of his retirement in 1985, Stenerud ranked 14th in field goal percentage among qualifiers however quite a few ahead of him were newcomers, players who were part of a new generation of kickers that for whatever reason were more accurate than those of the 1970s and 1960s.

However, at one point Stenerud himself was one of the newbies who flew to the top of the field goal percentage chart the moment he hit the number needed to qualify.

Here is Stenerud's field goal chart, courtesy of Pro Football

And like we did with Andersen, here are the estimated kickoffs that were touchbacks:
As can be seen Stenerud was one of the top kickers for having kickoffs not returned (presumed touchbacks). He was tops as a rookie and was usually in the top five through 1973.

However, when the line was moved back five yards he was only in the top five one more time (1976 when he was 3rd). After leaving Kansas City he was usually in the bottom third, but at that time he was in his early forties so it's completely understandable.

He and Morten Andersen give the Hall of Fame voters a good baseline to compare kickers who have Hall of Fame aspirations.