By John Turney
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
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
1965-75 co-Player of the Decade Runners-Up
Fran Tarkenton and Gale Sayers
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
A couple of honorable mentions are Merlin Olsen, Bob 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