Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The All-Time "Short-Career" Team

By John Turney
Credit: George Bartell
Edit: 1/23/20
Some on Twitter have asked about Andrew Luck. Clearly, we could be wrong, but we are not 100% sure he's permanently retired. If he is still retired in another year, then yes, of course, he will be the First-team quarterback. And maybe it is wishful thinking on our parts. If his issue were concussions then that would be on thing, but he may heal up and get the desire to play again. Again, this is nothing but our speculation. 

Longevity, according to football literature of the time, was a part of what was desired in a Hall of Fame resume. Over the years we marvel at football players who played 16-, 17- or more seasons and did so at a high level.

In the 1990s there was a mighty debate over Dwight Stephenson's qualifications. He was All-pro plenty, even a five-time winner of the NFLPA AFC Lineman of the Year award but he played just nine seasons. We clearly remember the debate when both Stephenson and Mike Webster were on the final 15. In 1996, when neither was inducted after a lot of debate "in the room" we spoke to Will McDonough. When we asked about Webster he shook his head and lowly muttered "Seventeen years".

Those who supported Stephenson finally made the case that if a player's career was cut short it should not count against him, since it was a matter of chance as to had a career-ending injury and who did not. It could happen to any player in any game or practice.

That exception has been loosely known among many researchers and Hall of Fame fans as the "Gale Sayers exception"—the exception to the rule of reasonable longevity. Sayers was known for his great career that was cut short by knee injuries.

The 'Sayers exception' came up with the case of Terrell Davis who played at an MVP level for more than a year and had won Super Bowls, but was felled by a severe knee injury. "The kn-ee. Al-ways, th-e kn-ee" as Howard Cosell used to say.

Last week Jimbo Covert, an All-Decade performer with a ring was inducted to the Hall in the Centennial class of 2020 and that should really help Tony Boselli.

In light of that we've picked a full team of players who played nine or fewer years, but played them at a high level. Some are Hall of Famers, some may be. Some will never be but we tried to pick the players with the highest peak. We also will list quite a few honorable mentions.

We began in 1960 because prior to that there were guys who retired from football to tend to their auto parts business or some such thing. Also, it's when the AFL began so we started there.
Honorable mentions—
we picked a lot, but only at positions where there was not a definitive First- or Second-teamer. So if we missed a wide receiver or a tackle it means there isn't much debate as to the top performers.

In one there is some question and it was a close call we list some alternatives to our picks.
Howard Mudd —A very good guard, smart. Went into coaching after NFL career.
Doug France—The NFL's top left tackle in 1977-78 and ranked high in 1979 and 1980 as well. Slowed by injuries but had a decent comeback in 1983 before hanging them up.
Bubba Smith—Top-notch from 1968-71. After his knee injury a shell of his former self.
Joe Johnson —Vastly underrated end good versus run and pass
Jerome Brown—Could be one of the top four tackles, a close call.
Bob Baumhower—A top NT, tall, but still had base. Could rush well from inside.
Bobby Boyd—One of top zone cornerbacks ever.
Shawne Merriman —Could get after the passer. 
NaVorro Bowman—Solid in all areas as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
Otis Wilson—A rush backer in the Bear defense, but also did more than that unlike some of the rush backers of the day. 
John Mobley —Would be a star today, could run and cover and hit. Very athletic.
Bob Swenson —A tough Sam 'backer. Bedeviled tight ends.
Mike Douglass—A Paul Zimmerman favorite. A smaller version of Otis Wilson in many ways
Mark Fields—Like Mobely, could really cover a lot of ground
Gary Green—Tough, feisty, talkative. Could also rush the edge on special teams.
Rolland Lawrence—A small, quick type. Not a big hitter like Pat Thomas or Gary Green. But solid in most areas. 
Monte Jackson—Was the best CB for a few years, weight-lifted his way or of LA and to Oakland where he was never what he was as a Ram.
Miller Farr—A gambler, chance taker.
Kam Chancellor—Maybe the last of a kind, a "thumping safety". Rules have legislated his kind out of the NFL for good.
Jerry Gray—An excellent zone corner but also played slot and safety in different packages employed by Fritz Shurmur. 
Bill Bradley—An excellent ball-hawking safety. The Eagles were not a good team and his post-season honors just didn't sustain in the mid-1970s.
Goose Gonsoulin—One of the top two-three defensive players for the first six seasons in the AFL, if there had been an AFL Defensive Player of the Year he would have been in the running a few times.
Mike Reinfeldt—Had a huge year in 1979 but was highly graded by one pro scouting service from 1977-81. Very underrated.


  1. CB Willie Buchanon -- Was one of best ever for short time, then devastated by injury early and played on....anyway. Per Cliff Christl:
    Willie Buchanon, injured Oct.21, 1973 – Buchanon's left leg snapped when he got tangled up with Los Angeles Rams receiver Jack Snow in the end zone in the second quarter of the Packers' 24-7 loss at LA's Memorial Coliseum. Buchanon broke both the tibia and fibula in his left leg and was carried from the field on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. Although doctors told him at the time he might never play again, Buchanon enjoyed nine more productive seasons. He even survived another break to his left fibula in 1975. But there were scouts who thought he was the best cornerback prospect ever when he was taken with the seventh pick in the 1972 draft, and he was as valuable as any player on the Packers' NFL Central Division champs that year. While Buchanon insisted all he did was develop "a little hitch in my gitty-up" from the injury, he had future Pro Football Hall of Famer stamped all over him until that day.
    Mike Reinfeld was good safety with Raiders, great with Houston and became excellent team executive
    Where does Bo fit in history???

    1. Willie Buchanon played 11 seasons. We defined 'short career' as 9 or fewer.

  2. I'd put Cris Collinsworth ahead of Swann and Jefferson. Played 8 years but really only about 6 due to strikes in 1982 and 87 and injuries in 87-88. From 1981 thru 1986 he was 3rd in the NFL in catches yards and TDs behind only Largent and James Lofton (for WRs)

  3. Great list of players...

    Solid careers for most of these guys, but we also need to remember guys like Cecil Isbell, William Andrews, Billy Sims, Alan Ameche, Dave Parks ? Warren Wells, Marv Hubbard, Robert Brooks, Paul Hofer, Mike Garrett and others...

    Mike Reid retired early, but whenever people tell me Namath doesnt deserve the HOF, I tell them about George Sauer Jr, who retired after only six seasons before the 1971 season. Nobody knows what Namath would have done with him still playing alongside Caster and Bell.Lammons at TE, had a short career as well. I believe Sauer was as good as Fred Biletnikoff, and would have made the Hall as well.

    1. Had Reid originally, but then went away from it... but given sack totals and All-pros went back to Reid.

    2. Sauer was move the chains guy while Maynard stretched the D

  4. We cant forget Gene Brito or Eddie George either. Davis has great SB and postseason numbers, but I might put George ahead of him because he not only was a battering ram, that defences KNEW was coming but unlike Davis with Denver, George carried more of the load because the Titans werent much of a throwing team, till Mason arrived.

  5. Just for fun but say this team was dropped into today's NFL... how would they do?

    1. about the only weakness (and it's a 'scheme' issue) would be Brown and Sayers don't 'compliment' each other per se, more like 2 queens on the same side in a chess match.....how would this team fare? all-pros and all-timers at just about every position, they would dominate.....and how many teams want to line up against Selmon, Tombstone, Butkus, and Easley on the field at the same time......this is a staggering list of talent, no one currently comes remotely close

  6. LaVar Arrington doesn't deserve to be listed. Wasted talent.

  7. Greg Cook should be an honorable mention one would think

    1. Sterling Sharpe with his size, strength and smarts, would dominate today. I think he will get in the Hall in the next 3-4 years, if the Hall allows two seniors per year.

  8. I believe Don Perkins might have made the Hall if he had played two more seasons, but its tough to predict with Reeves, Garrison, then adding Calvin Hill to the team.

  9. Yeah... I don't see any problems with the defense. I wonder about the size of lineman like shaw and talamini but some of the olineman nowadays may actually be natural 240 pounders without all the excess weight. some of old lineman may have been stronger pound for pound.

  10. So who gets in now Gronk is coming back for a tenth year?