By TJ Troup
Coach TJ just might be watching some NFL this weekend! Before the anniversary story of the day; a few quick updates. The distinguished Mr. Eric Goska continues to enlighten us with facts on Packer history, and will dovetail to his story. Three times in Chicago Bear history two receivers have gained over 100 yards receiving against Green Bay in the same game, and all three times the cuddly little grizzlies have lost. Earlier today Mr. John Turney educated us with the fact-based saga of Elroy Hirsch and the repudiation of those so-called "historians/writers" that believed he was the first flanker. Was certainly glad to contribute.
Most coaches (especially crusty old retired ones)still enjoy watching old football film. Watch and learn the basics—what position did these men actually play, and how well did they play? The upcoming Hall of Fame vote to include many more players including those of the past has piqued interest in some of us who relish the history of the game.
One of those men who is truly deserving of enshrinement is Al Wistert of the Eagles. Seventy years ago today the Philadelphia Eagles are playing in their third consecutive title game, and after the victory over the Cardinals in the snow in '48 are attempting to repeat.
Take a look back at how few teams since 1933 had won consecutive titles? This talented tough Eagle team is on the road to Los Angeles and the December sunshine to take on the re-vitalized Rams who took the conference crown away from the Bears and Cardinals. Wait a minute? December sunshine? You mean it actually rains in southern California? You betcha!
The Captains meet for the coin toss, and representing Philadelphia is #70 right offensive tackle Al Wistert. My first book This Day in Football has its moments, yet the strongest part of the book is the foreword written by my departed friend Steve Sabol. Quoting him "In his hands, figures come alive and stats dance across the page, each number a tiny part of a bigger picture." Thank-you Steve, and yes sir the stats slogged through the mud during this game.
Steve Van Buren gains 196 yards on 31 carries; yes very impressive, but for me watching the film and the examination of those carries tells the story. Where did he run the ball? How many times to the left or right? How did the Eagles block the Rams 5-3 defense?
Did Los Angeles make any adjustments as SVB just kept moving the chains? Right offensive tackle Al Wistert should have received the game ball for his performance. He would drive block Dick Huffman straight back, he would pull out and lead SVB on toss sweeps to the right, with Pihos down blocking Huffman.
Wistert would down block on the middle guard or d-tackle as right guard Bucko Kilroy would cross block and kick out the first defender outside of Wistert. On the handful of plays run to the left you can see Wistert releasing quickly and making open-field blocks on the other side of the field; including one where he blocks two men on the same play.
The Eagles repeat as champions, and the result in Los Angeles is change. Just one man's opinion: Clark Shaughnessy was dismissed, and replaced by a man who was a quality tackle in the league in Jumbo Joe.
Dick Huffman played well in '49 but was handled so easily in the title game that there is no doubt other teams would copy this strategy in 1950. Right offensive end Bob Shaw is traded to the Cardinals for an even better tackle (and bigger) in Bob Reinhard. Huffman moves to the other side, and Reinhard plays outstanding football in 1950. Who takes Shaw's place at right offensive end you ask? Why none other than athletic back-up left halfback Elroy Hirsch. He has talents, and he has proven he is just not a running halfback.
In essence Wistert's performance saved Hirsch's career. Hampton Pool "tinkered" with the Shaughessy offense and actually improved upon his concepts. The Rams return to the title game the next two years. Returning to the man of the hour Al Wistert, and the evaluation of his career. Have watched countless hours of him on defense earlier in his career, and he was a force on the right side as he usually crashed down to the b-gap, or penetrated into the backfield. Very able in pursuit, while also being more than adequate when rushing the passer.
The advent of two-platoon football in '49 put rangy Al on offense, and he was a textbook tackle. Able to drive block, pass block, downfield block, and pull. Geez, what's left? Drive the team bus? There was a celebration in my den when the announcement came that Jack Butler was going to be enshrined, and just might be another when Wistert joins him.
In closing, the NFL has the all-time 100 being shown for one and all to see. We all have opinions on who should be on the team—and will address two areas. First running backs. Picture the following; unbalanced line to the right (wide side of the field). Split end left and in the slot Gale Sayers. The wing on the right (H-back) is Mike Ditka, and their is a split end on the right (wide split to take the corner far outside). Quarterback is in the "gun" and stationed next to the QB is Sir Walter.
Sayers goes in motion, and we run jet sweep right and give to the Kansas Comet. Thus I have Sayers on my all-time team as a slot receiver/kick-off return man. He is joined by Brown, Sanders, and Faulk (Payton has already been mentioned). The versatility allows me to have running backs who can throw the option pass either way. Brown at fullback running behind left halfback Payton gives me the Lombardi off-tackle slant to the weak side. Second area is the secondary; and when Steve Sabol's folks interviewed me in 1998 named my all-time secondary.
An adjustment needs to be made with Ed Reed becoming the best/greatest right or free safety of all-time. His cohorts in the secondary are the Train at left corner, Rod Woodson at right corner, and Ronnie Lott at left or strong safety. When my defense goes to nickel and dime defenses, Mel Blount comes in at right corner, and Deion at slot corner, with Rod moving into a hybrid role. Larry Wilson would not be on my team, and as much as Willie Wood, Em Tunnell, and Jack Christiansen can bring to my team they also are on the taxi squad. My final choice to join the team is Albert Lewis. He was a quality corner, and safety, brought his A-game every week, and would block punts for me. Deion returns punts for me.