Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Running Back Skill Set, Circa 1970s

By Joe Zagorski
Running backs for decades were first and foremost the men who accepted handoffs from their quarterbacks, then ran with the ball through an open hole in the line of scrimmage. They also blocked regularly for their backfield mates. Running a pass pattern out of the backfield was strictly a “sometimes” thing for running backs of the past.
That all changed during the 1970s, and for the most part, the era of “pure runners” has vanished from the NFL landscape. Today, the running game rarely gets anywhere near the attention that it received decades ago. Just look at how many more passing attempts are shown on the box scores each Monday morning. Few are the quarterbacks around the league who are not attempting at least 40 passes in every game these days. In the 1970s, if a quarterback was throwing the ball 40 times, it was usually due to desperation, as his team was probably many points behind in any one particular contest.
What happened in the 1970s that caused running backs to become pass targets more so than pure runners? The origins came from an unlikely source. In 1973, the Houston Oilers were mired in the midst of four straight seasons of losing records, the last two of which produced only one win each year. Houston quarterback had virtually no pass protection, but he did have some talented passing targets, including a world-class sprinter at wide receiver in Ken Burrough. But Dan Pastorini seldom had the time to stand back in the pocket to look for more than his first two reads, before he would be forced to tuck the ball into his side and run to avoid a sack. What would Pastorini do?
The answer came in the form of a teammate in his offensive backfield. Fred Willis was a young ball carrier out of Boston College. In the team’s 1973 training camp, head coach Sid Gilman and Dan Pastorini both noticed that Willis was not really a superstar runner, but he did possess the innate ability to catch passes.  

Pastorini started to throw the ball to Willis coming out of the backfield. Willis started catching those short passes, and before you knew it, he ended up leading the American Football Conference in pass receptions in 1973 with 57 catches worth 371 yards. Willis thus became the first running back in the modern era of pro football to accomplish this feat.
Willis’ achievement was just the beginning, however. Coaches across the NFL realized that despite Houston’s losing record, a quarterback could succeed by primarily throwing short passes to a running back. The goal of imitating the Oilers’ offensive success was now at the forefront of many teams’ plan. Yes, it would be great if every team could obtain a group of outstanding pass blockers on their offensive lines, but minus that, it was assumed that all they really needed was one decent running back who could catch passes. It was relatively common knowledge that most running backs could outrun most linebackers in a man-to-man coverage situation, both in the 1970s and the current day and age. You catch the ball and make one linebacker miss, and you could gain a lot of yardage.
It did not take long for a wealth of teams to respond to that challenge, and they did so throughout most of the 1970s. The year after Willis’ conference record of pass receptions, another running back would go on to lead another losing AFC team in pass receptions. But Lydell Mitchell of the Baltimore Colts did Fred Willis one better, as he would go on to lead the entire NFL in pass catches in 1974 with the grand total of 72 receptions, worth 544 yards. Mitchell shared a college backfield at Penn State with the great Franco Harris, and most scouts presumed that Mitchell might have a better pro career. That prediction did not pan out, but Mitchell proved that he was a pretty good pro player, nonetheless. Indeed, he was one of the few highlights visible for the 2-12 Colts in 1974.
“You play hard and you practice hard all of your life and you’re naturally happy when you reach goals you’ve set,” Mitchell expressed.  “I caressed that moment.  It was something that I worked toward and it happened.  It was a fantastic feeling.”
The 1975 season would see yet another running back lead the NFL in pass receptions. But unlike Lydell Mitchell, Chuck Foreman of the Minnesota Vikings played for a winning team. The Norsemen accumulated 12 victories in 1975, and there was no mistaking Foreman as his team’s most dynamic offensive performer. He caught 73 passes worth 691 yards and scored an incredible 22 touchdowns (combined rushing and receiving) in a 14-game schedule. By this stage of Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s 18-year pro career, he had already begun to focus his attention to throwing the ball shorter distances. His yardage totals certainly did not suffer with this decision, however, because a shifty, fluid, and elusive runner like Foreman could often catch a short pass and turn it into 20- or 30-yard gain.  
“I don’t know a better pass receiving running back,” said Tarkenton when describing Foreman.  “He has sure hands, runs his patterns well and has a feel for adjusting that I can anticipate.”  
This “running back turned into receiver trend” was by this time more than just a coincidence.  And that was proven beyond all doubt the following year, when a journeyman rusher by the name of MacArthur Lane led the entire league in receptions. Lane caught 66 passes in 1976 worth 686 yards for the Kansas City Chiefs, his third team.  One big difference between Lane and backs like Willis, Mitchell and Foreman, however, was that Lane was primarily a power back, built to be bullish on surges through the line of scrimmage. But he was also blessed with two very dependable hands.  Lane would go on to catch 287 passes throughout his 11-year pro career.
The remainder of the decade of the 1970s would see more running backs lead the NFL in pass receptions. In 1977, Lydell Mitchell was still playing for the Baltimore Colts, but by this time, they had become a perennial AFC playoff contender. Mitchell once again caught the most passes in the league in ’77 with 71 receptions, worth 620 yards. Baltimore also had a strong-armed quarterback in Bert Jones, and a couple of fast and dependable wide receivers in Roger Carr and Glenn Doughty.  Added to all those weapons was Mitchell, who constantly confounded opposing defenses, because they never knew when he would be leaving the offensive backfield as a primary receiver, or just as a decoy for the Colts. But it was Mitchell’s success at catching passes which helped to force opposing defenses to make strategical adjustments.
“Deep zones have been the reason for more teams throwing to their backs,” analyzed Mitchell.  “They (the opposing defenses) have to give you something; they can’t cut off everything.  So they give you the short pass to the backs.”
Two more years remained in the decade of the 1970s, and in both 1978 and 1979, running backs continued to lead the entire NFL in pass receptions. Minnesota’s Rickey Young successfully followed in the footsteps of Chuck Foreman in 1978 when he claimed the top spot in the league’s receptions category with an incredible 88 catches worth 704 yards.  At that time, 88 pass receptions were the most ever for a running back.
“Most of my catches came on broken plays,” admitted Young. “And with receivers like Sammy White and Ahmad Rashad around, you know that I’m not ever going to get double-teamed.” 
The following year, Joe Washington replaced Lydell Mitchell in Baltimore and led the NFL in pass receptions with 82 catches, worth 750 yards. Neither Young nor Washington were expected to be superstars, but both proved to be explosive weapons for their respective offenses. Washington’s exploits were remarkable, considering how poorly the Colts played throughout 1979. Baltimore could only earn five wins in 1979.
Eventually, more wide receivers would lead the NFL in pass receptions in successive decades, with larger statistical numbers. But the advent and the most prosperous period of utilizing running backs as a team’s primary passing targets began and succeeded in the 1970s. That was when running backs across the NFL expanded their skill sets.

Pro Football Journal Note: Joe Zagorski has two more books coming out later this year.  The Year the Packers Came Back: Green Bay’s 1972 Resurgence and America’s Trailblazing Middle Linebacker: The Story of NFL Hall of Famer Willie Lanier will both be available for purchase by this Christmas.

Sources:
Buck, Ray.  “All-Purpose Running Backs.”  Football Digest, August 1978, 23-26.
Distel, Dave. “Lydell Mitchell: San Diego’s 6,000-Yard Man.”  Football Digest, August 1979, 
33.
Magee, Jerry.  “Rickey Young: His First Year as a Viking Was a Record-Setter.”  Football Digest, March 1979, 62-64.
Neft, David S. and Cohen, Richard M.  The Sports Encyclopedia Edition 6, Pro Football the Modern Era, 1960-1988.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Best Receiver of Each of the Decades

OPINION
By John Turney

Recently we did a series of posts detailing who we think were the top players in each decade and each mid-decade (beginning and ending in the middle of a decade). They can be found HERE.

Then we expanded it to offensive and defensive linemen and defensive backs afre upcoming.

Now, here are the receivers, (ends, tight ends, wide receivers all grouped together). We begin with 1935-45, the first full "decade" that receiving stats were available.
Don Hutson was so far ahead of the game it was ridiculous. Jim Benton was the only guy close and there was a big gap between him and Hutson. Perhaps Benton deserves a long look for the Centennial Class of the Hall of Fame.

Pete Pihos, who was also a fine defense end was the next consistently great receiver. He was an end, usually tight, but all of the ends back then were.

The 1950s was tough because there were guys who flashed and then disappeared. Hirsch was fairly consistent, but he had one MVP-type year then nothing else close. Billy Howton had two monster years then little else close

Lance Alworth was an easy choice for the 1960s. John Mackey was the next-most impactful receiver of that decade.

Harold Jackson does not get a lot of love, but from 1969-81 he led the NFL in receptions, yards, touchdowns and was fifth in yards per catch. He also led the NFL from 1970-79 in same categories. Drew Pearson was a big-play receiver from his rookie year to the end.

Steve Largent was excellent every year from 1975-85. Lynn Swann's skills were a big part of the Steelers offense and were key to their wins. He had a short prime (career ended after 1982) but his impact was felt—especially in Super Bowls X, XIII, and XIV.

For the 1980s the biggest deal was Kellen Winslow who changed the game as part of Air Coryell. Again, another player who had injuries cut into production but we go by impact and peak performance not just stats. James Lofton takes the next spot, he was a throwback to the deep receivers of the 1950s-70s.

Jerry Rice dominates from mid-1980s through the 1990s. Sterling Sharpe and Cris Carter back him up, but they were not that close.

For the mid-90s to mid-00s Marvin Harrison takes the top slot and we are going with Ike Bruce behind him though Terrell Owens and Randy Moss are qualified. Ike's ring helped make the decision.

For the 2000s Randy Moss ranks first then T.O. was next. 

Megatron was the "next great thing" and he's number one from 2005-15 and his runner up was Larry Fitzgerald.

For the 2010s the receiver with the most impact was tight end Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown us next. Julio Jones is an honorable mention and is very close to Brown but Brown's numbers exceed Jones by enough to make a difference. However, since there is one year left in the 2010s we reserve the right to change if Jones has a monster year and maybe Brown disappoints.

Friday, June 21, 2019

A Preview the 2010s All-Decade Team

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney

After the upcoming season, the NFL's 100th, the Hall of Fame selection committee will pick and All-Decade team. With nine of the ten seasons in the books, we know some of the picks will be 'chalk' but others are open.

Here are some thoughts:
Offense
Center
This one is wide open. Ryan Kalil, Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Kelce, and Alex Mack would be the leading candidate and like the First- and Second-team All-2010s will come from this foursome.

Possibly the most effective center of the decade is Brandon Linder, but he's missed too much time. Nick Mangold retired after 2016 and has just enough seasons (in our view) to qualify, but recentism will likely keep him out of the mix. Max Unger would have a shot if he's First-team All-Pro in 2019 but it would be a long shot. Travis Frederick's illness will likely keep him out of the mix.

So, we think this is too close to predict and we need the 2019 season to be completed to see if anyone separates himself.

Here are the complete All-Pro centers since 2010—









Guards
Zack Martin has been the best guard in the NFL since he entered NFL in 2014. If he has his usual year in 2019, i.e. plays well and is injury free he will have one of the guard slots.

We think  Marshal Yanda will be the other guard.

On the Second-team we would suspect Jahri Evans, with what he did from 2010-14, will edge out some of the others.  David DeCastro will always get votes (all Steeler interior linemen seem to get them, whether they deserve them or now) and will likely be Second-team.

Tackles
Tyron Smith will be one of the tackles and Joe Thomas will be the other. Thomas played eight seasons in the 2010s and that's plenty.

The harder picks are the Second-teamers. We could see some votes going to Trent Williams, Joe Staley, Jason PetersAndrew Whitworth and/or Duane Brown. We'd imagine whoever has the best 2019 would be the one(s) to steal a few votes from Thomas and Smith.

Tight End
Rob Gronkowski is an easy pick here. If there is a Second-teamer then Travis Kelce (recent charge), Jimmy Graham (excellent first part of the decade) and/or Jason Witten (solid all decade) could snare a vote or two. The same may also be true of Greg Olsen.

Quarterback
Tom Brady and his three rings have this locked up. Second-team will likely be Aaron Rodgers (1-title, 2 MVPs, decade-high 104.7 passer rating). Drew Brees could get some votes, too.

Fullback
This position, added to the 2000s team, may not be represented on the 2010s team. The Hall of Fame may have a "Flex" position—which is not a position. We don't know but the silliness in these things seems to grow over time.

If there is a fullback we see Kyle Juszczyk is the likely top vote-getter likely edging Mike Tolbert but it could go the other way. Both are fine candidates.

John Kuhn, Anthony ShermanJames Develin and others would also garner some support.

Running back
Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy are the backs with the highest 'peak' in the 2010s. We think they would be the leading candidates at running back.

Others who might populate the Second-teams would be from among this group:  Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, et al.

Wide Receiver
Antonio Brown and Julio Jones stand out and have already done enough to be the wide-outs. 

Larry Fitzgerald, we think, will be one of the Second-teamers. A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas would be fighting for the last slot, we think. Calvin Johnson was the best WR, but we are struggling with him playing only six years in the decade when others played longer. He's 11th in reception for the decade. But peak-wise Johnson is tops. We'll see how it shakes out as others put distance between them and Megatron in terms of numebrs

Defense
Defensive end
J.J. Watt has a lock on one of the First-team spots. The other? Hard to know.

It could be Calais CampbellCameron Jordan, Julius Peppers, Cameron Wake, Chandler Jones (played some rush backer), or even Michael Bennett will get support. Jordan is at the top of his game and with Watt hurt recently he's been (in our view) the best DE over the last three seasons, though Campbell is close. 

Defensive tackle
Aaron Donald, with two Defensive Player of the Year Awards will take one spot. 

Like defensive end, the rest of the votes will be scattered among Ndamukong Suh, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, Gerald McCoy, and perhaps Haloti Ngata. We would vote for Donald at three-technique and Damon Harrison at shade tackle. But we doubt any other voters will recognize a run stuffer. They will go for the sack guys like Suh or Atkins, etc.

Linebacker
Like always the HOF will let voters pick the top three linebackers, regardless of position. And that means the 2010s linebackers will be Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and Von Miller. Two middle linebackers and one rush backer. The Second-team will likely be Khalil Mack and maybe NaVorro Bowman and then likely another rushbacker like Justin Houston or someone like him.

The guy who will get screwed will be Lavonte David. He has the most run stuffs of any outside linebacker and can rush the passer, but usually got overlooked for postseason honors.
Our First-team would be Middle—Leuchly, Outside—David, Rush—Miller. 

Second-team would be Middle—Wagner, Outside—Sean Lee (played some middle) or Thomas Davis, Rush—Mack or Terrell Suggs) would need to see the 2019 seasons of each).

Cornerbacks
Richard Sherman's fine 2018 locked this slot up in our view. Patrick Peterson's recent issues could raise some doubts, otherwise, we'd say he'd have been one of the two First-teamers. Darrelle Revis (tailed off at the end), Aqib Talib, Chris Harris have shots. Peak value would be Revis but his decade's prowess is front-loaded from 2010-15. Stephon Gilmore, with a career-year in 2019 could leap up to the top four.

Safety
Earl Thomas and Eric Weddle will likely be First-team, Thomas for sure. Eric Berry's peak is a clear top-two but he's only had five relatively injury free seasons. When well, he's Hell. If voters see the five seasons (six if 2019 is solid) as enough, he should be First-team. Harrison Smith should be one of the top four as well.

Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Jenkins will likely garner votes.

The selection committee doesn't separate strong and free safeties, so it's not a question of that. We'd like them to do that but in this decade there have been more 'twin safeties' in terms of assignments. So once again, we'll see how it shakes out in the voting next February.

Special Teams
Kicker
Justin Tucker is the top kicker. Stephen Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri will get some votes but Matt Bryant and Robbie Gould have had better decades. However, hopefully, voters will consider distance, onsides, kickoffs, and conditions (dome, etc.) All things considered, Tucker is the best ever at this juncture and should be First-team. For Second-team there could be a good case for several kickers.

Punter
Johnny Hekker is the best. Andy Lee and Shane Lechler will get support by voters who may not look too closely at the metrics. But even though he has the "dome advantage" the second-best punter of the decade is Thomas Morstead. After that, you could pick anyone one of three-four others and not be wrong.

Kick Returner
Cordarrelle Patterson is the clear choice for First-team. Jacoby Jones probably had the second-best decade, going by touchdowns, average and 'honors'.

Punt Returner
Devin Hester played seven seasons in the 2010s and that's enough to qualify. He had seven TDs and the best average per punt return in the decade.

Tyreek Hill is pretty amazing but has off-field issues. So absent him, Marcus Sherels and Darren Sproles may get a vote or two, enough to secure a Second-team slot.

Special teamer
The HOF has never added this position to their All-Decade teams just in case they do we'd go with Matthew Slater first and then Justin Bethel. Michael Thomas would get consideration, too.

Coach
Bill Belichick will again be the coach (he was the 2000s coach). His backup? Pete Carroll? Andy Reid? If someone who has had a good decade so far wins a ring gets to the big game it would help his case. That might include Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh or Sean Payton or even Mike McCarthy.

I think right now we'd say Carroll but we could be wrong and don't really care that much about the coach.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

1957 Defensive Players of the Week: Schmidt and Marchetti Lead the Way.

LOOKING BACK
By TJ Troup
The 1957 season is one of the most interesting in the decade since neither defending division champion returns to the title game. Though there would be a serious discussion on the merits of many men who could have been defensive player of the year; a strong case can be made that Gino Marchetti of the contending Colts and Joe Schmidt of the contending Lions would be co-Defensive Players of the Year.

Ready? Here we go...

WEEK ONE
September 29th: Though the highlight film of this game shows a masterful performance by the young man directing the Colts offense in black hightops---someone must be playing defense for Baltimore and that someone is Marchetti who records at least four sacks in the game (might have been five?).

WEEK TWO
October 6th: Jack Christiansen has played well against every opponent in the western conference, yet he always makes plays against Green Bay. Lions are ahead 7-0, as the "Kentucky Babe" Parilli attempts to throw to Don McIlhenny swinging out of the backfield. Jack always alert in his zone coverage area pilfers the pigskin and races to the left corner of the end zone for the score. Detroit wins 24-14 to even their record at 1-1. Jack will go on to intercept 10 for the season and tie for the interception title.

WEEK THREE
October 13th: Paul Brown was forced to endure a losing season in '56 and this season he has a powerful new runner for his offense. The Cleveland defense is also reinvigorated as the Browns use the 4-3 as a full-time defense. One of the keys to success is the play of stalwart left defensive tackle Bob Gain. Cleveland limits the Eagle rushing attack to just 63 yards as Gain continually stops Philadelphia runners in the Browns 24-7 victory. The Eagles score late on an interception return, thus the Browns defense demonstrates they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.

WEEK FOUR
October 20th: Many Chicago Bear teams have started slowly in the past under Halas, but this is not the way Paddy Driscoll wants to defend his division title—yet at 0-3 and with a ton of talent on the roster that is where the Bears are. Enter the Rams; a team the Bears have beaten six of the last seven times they have played. The highlight footage of this game just jumps off the reel as we see athleticism all over the field by both teams.

Though there is an expectation that a website should have an accurate box score; that just does not happen with Pro Football Reference as they list the Bears with 10 sacks for 89 yards. When you have the play by plays you get an accurate scenario of what really happened when Van Brocklin and Wade dropped back in the pass pocket.
Jack Hoffman (#82)
Jack Hoffman records 3 sacks for 37 yards from his left defensive end position, while Doug Atkins has finally come into his own at right defensive end and records 2 sacks for 35yards. Watching him blow into the Ram backfield is an awesome sight for the Bear fans in Wrigley. Chicago goes on to a 34-26 win as rookie Willie Galimore is the offensive standout, but Hoffman & Atkins are our co-Defensive Players of the Week. Oh yeah, before I go on; the Bears defense recorded 60 sacks for 479 yards during the year.


WEEK FIVE

October 27th: Ernie Stautner has played hard every down every week in his career. Durable (has missed only two games in his career thus far), tenacious, and with a mean streak a mile wide he punishes every Philadelphia Eagle blocker all afternoon in the Steelers 6-0 victory. Philadelphia gains but 71 yards rushing on 31 attempts as the new Steelers under Buddy Parker really believe they are contenders in the eastern division. Stautner will again earn a pro bowl berth; his fifth.

WEEK SIX

November 3rd: Another Pittsburgh Steeler as defensive player of the week you ask? You betcha, as right safety Jack Butler purloins three Baltimore Colt passes in the 19-13 win. John Unitas had thrown for 982 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first five games of the year, but not today as #80 ranges far and wide to stop Colt drives. Butler will tie for the interception title with 10 for the season.

WEEK SEVEN

November 10th: Right corner Don Paul has made many stellar defensive plays on pass defense in his career for the Browns, yet today he dashes 89 yards for a touchdown with a Pittsburgh fumble in the 24-0 win to stay ahead of their arch-rivals in the standings.

WEEK EIGHT

November 17th: Though Don Shula battled valiantly as the starting right corner for the Colts he lacked the athleticism and speed needed to excel at this demanding position. Enter Milt Davis. The youngster had played just one game with the Lions before coming east, and early in the year, he has played well. Now with a record of 4-3, the Colts can ill afford a loss on the road in Chicago.

Zeke Bratkowski zips a pass towards Harlon Hill near the left sideline as Davis darts in front of the all-league receiver and intercepts. Davis strides down the right sideline for 74 yards before Galimore knocks the ball from his grasp out of bounds. The Bears battle back, and actually take the lead at 14-13, but Davis reads Bratkowski's ill-advised wide side out throw in the 4th quarter and weaves his way 47 yards to score as Baltimore wins 29-14. Davis has just set a record with the most yards ever gained returning interceptions in a game, and for the season he also will tie for the interception title with 10. Baltimore has now won back to back games on the road for the first time since they re-entered the league in '53!

WEEK NINE

November 24th: Emlen Tunnell is in his 10th season and already has intercepted more passes than any other player in league history. He has intercepted twice earlier in the year including a 52 yard score against the Packers, but today the old magic is back as Tunnell steals three Cardinal passes in a key 28-21 win over the Cardinals. He will again be voted to the pro bowl; his 8th.

WEEK TEN
Matt Hazeltine
Marv Matuszak

December 1st: The San Francisco 49ers have a superb defensive coach in Phil Bengston, but lack the talent of other teams on defense—and as such finish dead last in total defense for the year. Today though coach Phil has a masterful gameplan to limit the Lombardi offense in Yankee Stadium. The Niners red dog almost every down, yes, almost EVERY down. Chuckin' Charley Conerly is avalanched in the pass pocket all afternoon and keeps fumbling. Right linebacker Matt Hazeltine records two sacks, and a fumble recovery, while left linebacker Marv Matuszak recovers two fumbles in the 27-17 win to keep San Francisco in contention in the West.

WEEK ELEVEN

December 7th: The New York Giants have gained 605 yards rushing in their last four games, and must win today to remain in contention with Cleveland. The Giants gain just 66 yards on the ground on 27 attempts as right linebacker John Reger earns the Defensive Player of the Week award. As an undrafted rookie in '55 Reger recovered five fumbles, and this year he will tie teammate Gary Glick for the league lead in this department; again with five. John puts the Steelers on the scoreboard first with his 14-yard touchdown run with a fumble as Pittsburgh knocks New York out of the division race 12-7.

WEEK TWELVE

December 15th: The Washington Redskins will close out the '57 season with three consecutive victories, and today in the 10-3 win over Pittsburgh left defensive end Gene Brito records 3½ sacks as the 'Skins go on the warpath every time the Steelers have the ball. Brito will return to the pro bowl for the 4th time.

BONUS
December 22nd: One of the best rivalries of the '50s has been San Francisco and Detroit. In the last 14 regular season meetings, the Niners have won eight and scored an average of 28 points, while in the six losses they have averaged just 13 points. Today for the first time since 1952 we have a divisional playoff since these two teams tied atop of the west at 8-4. Shelby Strother's book "The Top 40" details this game, and you just might want to get yourself a copy.

The captains meet at midfield: St.Clair & Nomellini for the 49ers, and Joe Schmidt for the Lions—you might have heard of these guys? San Francisco dominates play as they gain over 200 yards in the first half and lead 24-7. Kezar has just a wall separating the two locker rooms, and Strother quotes Lion players as they overhear the Niners celebrating.

The King breaks lose for 71 yards on a sweep right to begin the second half but does not score a touchdown. The field goal increases the lead, yet here comes Detroit as the offense begins to click, and Joe Schmidt as he has done so many times in his career leading his pride of Lions on defense. Detroit has taken a 4th quarter lead 28-27, and San Francisco is backed up near their own goal line with first and 10 on the 13. Joe Perry falls on Tittle's fumble for a loss, and then on second and seventeen Tittle is hurried and Schmidt from his middle linebacker post drifts in front of Conner to intercept. Joe returns to the 49er two-yard line. Though some of you may think that kicking a field goal to go ahead 31-27 is not that important?

The complexion of the game is changed dramatically with two minutes remaining—a field goal which would have given San Francisco the lead would now be meaningless, thus Detroit now controls the tempo and Tittle is again harassed into an interception as the Lions advance to the title game against Cleveland.