Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Players of the Decade—1965-75

By John Turney
This is the eleventh in a series of picking players of the decades. We began with 1915-25, the 1920s, the 1925-35 period, the 1930s, 1935-45, the 1940s, 1945-55 the 1950s, 1955-65, the 1960s and now 1965-75.

Here are the picks for 1965-75:

1965-75 Player of the Decade
Joe Namath

Namath's 'decade' would be 1965-74 but it could slide to 1966-75 but during that span, no one threw for more passing yards per game than Namath. No one. He was a two-time AFL MVP and of course, won THE big game. He missed a lot of games and that does affect how he's seen. He did come back after injuries to have a Pro Bowl-quality year of 1974 and he also won the Comeback Player of the Year award for that seasons.

From 1965-74 Namath's starting record was 56-44-4 (.558 winning percentage) while all the other jet quarterbacks combined for an 11-24 W-L record (.314).  It was clear that a healthy Namath gave the Jets a fighting chance for a win.

Also, we have to consider the impact of Broadway Joe.

Those of us who remember the era, even in 1972-74, Namath was a big deal in the football world. Some of that was a holdover from the pre-merger era but part of it was his All-Pro year of 1972 and a solid 1974 season. But he was a star like few others have been in the NFL. So there was something else we took into consideration.

We recently ran a poll on Twitter (tongue in cheek) asking if Namath was HOF-worthy. It was amazing to see how many people look at gross stats from that era and just don't get it. Something will never change. And we looked very closely at the numbers.

We checked the game-by-game stats from 1975-77 (even though they were outside the 1965-74 'decade') and saw that the drop in stats occurred mid-season 1975. From Week 8, 1975, through the end of his career, Namath was 230 for 488 (47.1%)  for 2633 yards and 9 touchdowns versus 32 interceptions and a passer rating of  42.7.  That patch of 22 games really does skew his career stats. We don't know what happened mid-season of 1975, but whatever it was it followed Namath though 1976 and to Los Angeles.

Without doubt, Namath was hampered by injuries (knee in 65, 66, 68 and 71; wrist 1970 and shoulder in 1973) but also, without doubt, he was the best player of the 1965-75 era, warts and all. Yes, this will upset the statniks but, oh well.

1965-75 Defensive Player of the Decade
Dick Butkus
Butkus was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1969 and 1970 and was someone who was worthy of that award from 1965 (as a rookie) through 1968 as well. He was an easy choice for DOPD.

1965-75 co-Player of the Decade Runners-Up
Fran Tarkenton and Gale Sayers

Tarkenton was the top passer of this mid-decade in terms of gross statistics and also won an MVP in 1975. He set tons of records and was a winner. True, he never won it all, but he got close and sometimes that does count.

We are sliding his ten years to 1966-75 or even 1967-76 (to include the final Super Bowl). But even the 1965-74 decade is impressive. This is what we meant when we explained the 11-year "decades" we use. Things don't always fit into nice packages and we try not to get too hung up on details. The spirit of this series is to honor top players over a long period, so a year here or there doesn't really matter too much in our view.

Sayers was dominant, one of best ever, from 1965-69. But in 1970-71 he didn't do anything. The question is were the five years enough? Can the Gale Sayers exception be used here? We think so.

We think Sayers had MVP-quality seasons in 1965 and 1966. But so did the actual players who won them. Had, somehow, Sayers won one or both of those we don't think Jim Brown fans or Bart Starr fans could have complained. So, in the end, Sayers' peak is worth remembering and while it is not a 'stacked' era offensively due to injuries to the best players, still when all things considered (kick returns) and impact, Sayers is worthy of being tied for runner up with Tarkenton.

An honorable mention is Paul Warfield who was a rookie in 1964, then missed most of 1965 and then was consistently excellent through 1974. We just didn't see any near-MVP-type seasons or the kind of record of Lance Alworth of the 1960s, so he only gets the mention rather than a runner-up slot.

1965-75 Defensive Player of the Decade Runner-Up
Bobby Bell
To us he's the best 4-3 outside linebacker ever, he had size and tremendous speed, like that of a receiver. He was smart and had amazing coordination (he can still steal quarters out of your hand and there is nothing you can do about it) and quickness. He could rush, cover, set the edge. Just a complete linebacker.

A couple of honorable mentions are Merlin OlsenBob Lilly, Dave Wilcox as well as Willie Brown and Jimmy Johnson. It was a talent-rich era on defense, as can be seen. Olsen was at his peak from the late-1960s to the early 1970s and went to Pro Bowls every year. Lilly tailed off a bit in 1973 and 1974, being taken out on passing downs, but from 1965-71, 72 he was still at his peak.

Wilcox is one of the top two-three SAM 'backers ever and was a physically dominant player at the point of attack, he just didn't have the speed of Bobby Bell.

Brown and Johnson are top-10 all-time corners and this 'decade' was when both were at their peak.

Next up: the 1970s


  1. appropriate John, and 100% agree, anybody who doesn't "get" that Namath (who broke my heart on Jan. 12, 1969) was amazing AND arguably the most important player of his era simply does not understand history....imagine how different the NFL (and its history) would be if he'd signed with the Cardinals instead of the Jets.....re: Sayers...the most unstoppable backfield in history would be Gayle and Jim Brown. end of story....Butkus of course is serious candidate for greatest defensive player of the 100 years

  2. Wow - this is GREAT stuff. I did a lot of research on this time period and your choices are virtually identical to my own. I 100% agree with you on Namath. I think he and Tarkenton were the best of that 'decade'. I also agree re: Alworth being underrated. He is on the HoF 75th year anniversary team and I hope he makes their 100 year team. But his star seems to be fading. Some players, moreso those that stay in the news, are remembered more than others. IMO Alworth is the 3rd greatest receiver ever (behind Rice of course and Hutson).

  3. No honorable mention for Ted Hendricks JT?

    1. He lacked the "Player of the Year Awards" that others won, but he'd be a good HM for 1970s and 1975-85 if he'd have even been an AFC Defensive Player of the Year.

      If I picked an All-1970s team, Hendricks and Ham would be the OLBers

    2. as a cowboys fan I still cant believe that chuck howley isn't in the hall of fame , can you tell me why dan wilcox and chris hamburger are in the hall and not howley ? he played on winning teams , part of the original doomsday defense , 1st mvp defensive player in the superbowl , superbowl champ and from 1965-1971 6 pro bowls (5 straight ) 5 straight 1st team all pro nods (1 2nd team ) that is from age 29 to age 35 playing at a level when most are slowing down he was the the best SLB in the game . wilcoxs and hamburger won nothing !!!

    3. I think Howley should be in. I also think Cowboys fans think too many of their guys should be in and it clouds things. They want Lee Roy Jordan, Peerson, Howley...maybe it crowds the field.

      I think Howley gets in next year in the centenial class. I'd bet on it

  4. Great assessments on Namath and Warfield. Namath's team kept getting worse, while Warfield played for great running teams, that threw for the Home Run...Warfield in a nutshell.