Steve and his dedicated and talented staff lived that quote over and over again. Am honored that Steve wrote the foreword of my first book, and in that foreword he explained to the reader that I told stories by using statistics and analysis of those statistics. Since he supplied film to me was much easier to tell my stories. When visiting NFL Films our discussions usually began with "Coach, what are you working on?".
Steve was enthusiastic in his support, and relished me handing him lists of my research. Wish I could hand him the list of my latest detailed research on defensive fumble returns. From 1950 through 1969 defenders gained 10,763 yards on fumble returns. The league manual lists the man or men who led the league each year. Some are household names, and some are having a brief moment in the sun.
Some are rookies like one of Steve's and my favorite players like Dick Butkus who led the league in 1965. Was told by some researchers this topic was boring, and almost impossible to list each defender and how many yards on the return.
Tom Wham of the Chicago Cardinals, and voila . . . in the Chicago Tribune write-up and watching film—there is Tom returning a New York Giant fumble 32 yards.
Many seasons the league manual is correct, and can account for how far the fumble was returned and who was it against. Steve would have asked very direct and insightful questions, which takes me to the next part of the saga. The record book does not list which team holds the record for most yards gained returning opponent fumbles during a game (fumbles are the last area listed on the old score sheets).
|Howley with Chicago Bears|
On a snowy December day in Wrigley and Joe Childress of the Cardinals is being tackled in the backfield by all-pro middle linebacker Bill George as rookie right corner Erich Barnes blasts into Childress knocking the ball loose. Right safety Charlie Sumner scoops up the ball and sprints down the right sideline for 86 yards and a touchdown. Later in the game Doug Atkins returns a Cardinal fumble 20 yards, but Doug is not near finished.
Atkins has improved dramatically over the last two years and nails the Cardinal quarterback and the ball is on the frozen ground again. Hansen grabs the ball and gains 16 yards to again put the Bears in scoring position in the one-sided victory. Chicago gains 122 yards in defensive fumble returns in the game which is the most during this twenty year time period. A quick note: late in the game Zeke Bratkowski of the Bears completes a pass to slotback Bill McColl who after making the catch begins to juggle the ball. McColl is surrounded by Cardinal defenders (Lane, Patera, and Taylor), and the ball pops into the hands of rookie safety Bobby Gordon who gains 42 yards to the Bear three yard line (film shows this).
The league manual lists Gordon with a 2-yard return for the season—OOPS! LaBrum and his staff have erred again.
|Howley with Cowboys|
Next stop—yards receiving. Over 8,300 times a player has gained over 100 yards receiving in a game, and many, MANY times teammates have gained over 100 yards receiving in a game. How many times has a team had THREE teammates gain over 100 yards receiving in a game? We have 32 teams, and over half of the those teams have never had this happen. The total since 1933 is 19, and twelve teams have accomplished this once, while the Chargers have done it twice.
In closing—Happy Birthday Steve, and no doubt you are smiling up in football heaven.