Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mike Stratton

LOOKING BACK
By Jeffrey J Miller

Mike Stratton
(from Mark Palczewski Collection)

It was with great sadness that I learned of Mike Stratton’s death earlier this week (March 25, 2020).  He was not a household name like other football players such as Tom Brady, Joe Namath or O. J. Simpson.  In fact, I’m quite sure if I mentioned his name to my wife—no football fan there—she would look at me with those beautiful eyes of hers and blandly reply, “Who?” Even to most modern-day casual fans, Stratton’s name might not ring any bells, for his playing career ended some 47 years ago.  Stratton’s passing, however, resonated with true football historians and thousands of long-time fans across what we colloquially refer to as “Bills Country.”  It certainly resonated with me. 

I first became aware of Stratton when I was eight or nine years old. At the time, the Bills stars were O. J. Simpson and Jack Kemp. I was unaware of the team’s championship years, which had occurred when I was only three and four. The Bills had pretty bad teams in 1969 and ’70, so familiarizing myself with these guys was not a priority. But as I became more of a fan and started collecting bubble gum cards, my knowledge and interest continued to grow. When I would get a card of a player with whom I was unfamiliar, I would ask my Dad about him. My Dad, a hardcore football fan who instilled the love of the game in me, was usually dismissive of the players on the team at that time, but not Stratton. I remember him telling me how great Stratton was “in his prime.” He said something to the effect of, “He was a great player but he’s getting old now.” This was 1970 or ’71, so I suppose he was right to some degree, but I had Stratton’s card, so he became somebody I followed, nonetheless. 
Stratton's 1970 Card (Topps)

Stratton, I eventually learned, was a legend in Bills Country. He was the last remnant of the Bills’ back-to-back championship teams of 1964 and ’65. Unfortunately for this neophyte, my awakening came far too late to enjoy Stratton’s greatness. By the time of my discovery, he was already past his prime, and would be traded to the San Diego Chargers after the 1972 season. Even then, I recall being very saddened by that, since I had already developed a soft spot for the former great. My affinity was purely sentimental, since I wasn’t fully aware of his accomplishments until years later.  He was a great player and, as I learned later still, a really great guy, when I had the pleasure of interviewing him for my book on the Bills’ American Football League era, Rockin’ The Rockpile.  
"Rockin' The Rockpile:  The Buffalo
Bills of the American Football
League (Jeffrey J. Miller)

Stratton had come to the Bills as a tight end out of the University of Tennessee. He recalled that had it not been for Buster Ramsey, the Bills’ ill-fated first head coach who was himself a native of the Volunteer State, he probably wouldn’t have been drafted by the Bills.  “Ramsey was very sympathetic to people from Tennessee,” Stratton told me during interviews for the book, “and I would expect that if it hadn’t been for Buster, I would not have been drafted by Buffalo.”
By the time Stratton got to Buffalo, however, Ramsey was gone, and Lou Saban was now the team’s head coach.  He recalled a cold reception at his very first practice. “When the coach called everybody’s name and what we were going to do, he didn’t call my name. I went up and asked him, ‘Where do I go?’  He said, ‘What was your name again?’ I figured I was in a little trouble at that time.”  Drafted as a tight end, Stratton was instructed to group with the defensive ends, but a rash of camp injuries resulted in another move.  “Apparently, they got several linebackers hurt and they switched me to linebacker, and I couldn’t have been happier.” 
Stratton's 1963 card (Fleer)

Neither could the Bills. Stratton eventually won the job as the team’s starting right (weakside) linebacker, and retained a firm hold on the position for the next decade.  Between 1964 and 1969, he earned six trips to the AFL All-Star Game and appeared in three AFL championship games, winning two.  He recorded 18 interceptions during that time and was part of a linebacking corps (along with left linebacker John Tracey and middle linebacker Harry Jacobs) that started 62 consecutive games, which was a professional record. He was also a part of a defensive unit that between 1964 and ’65 went 17 straight games (16 regular season and one playoff) without surrendering a rushing touchdown—another record that still stands.    
Stratton lined up opposite Miami's Howard
Twilley, September 18, 1966.  (NFL Films)

It was during the 1964 championship victory over the San Diego Chargers that Stratton left an indelible mark on the collective memory of thousands of proud Buffalonians. When I was writing Rockin’ The Rockpile, I had my choice of literally hundreds of photos to put on the front cover.  However, there was really only one choice, one perfect shot that captured the spirit of those championship years. Robert L. Smith’s impeccably timed photo of Stratton milliseconds away from destroying Keith Lincoln’s ribs in what became known as “The Hit Heard ‘Round the World” is perhaps the most famous image ever taken during the AFL years, and it worked on so many levels.  First, it captured the game-changing tackle that effectively put Lincoln out of the game and changed the momentum which, up to that point, belonged to the Chargers. Second, its timing could not have been better, as Stratton’s blurry image closes in on a helpless, airborne Lincoln, and everyone seeing it knows exactly what is about to happen. Third, and perhaps the most overlooked aspect, was that it shows Stratton’s perfect form. Stratton was a prototype linebacker, the kind coaches dream of having on their teams.  His technique, whether in pass coverage or playing the run, was outstanding.  In his 11 seasons with the Bills, it was rare indeed to find him out of position. In this tackle, we see him lowering and turning his head to the side, shoulder careening toward Lincoln’s midsection, arms outstretched and ready to wrap up his prey.  Beautiful!

For these eyes, I also see a parallel to the historic photo of Johnny Unitas in the 1958 NFL Title Game. That photo, taken by Robert Riger on December 28, 1958, in New York’s Yankee Stadium, is the NFL counterpart to the Smith photo, being perhaps the most famous image ever for the senior league. Both photos capture not only the game’s essence beautifully, they are both shot in monochrome and capture the gray backdrop of games being played in cold, dreary, ancient stadiums by mud-caked men who put pride and team before money. Ironically, Stratton and Unitas ended up as teammates on the San Diego Chargers in 1973, two former greats playing out the string, mere shells of their former selves heretically adorned in those powder blue uniforms.     
 Mike Stratton applies the "Hit Heard 'Round the
World" on San Diego's Keith Lincoln in the
1964 AFL Title Game.  (Robert L. Smith) 


 John Unitas about to uncork a long one versus the
New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Title Game. 
(Robert Riger)

Mike Stratton leaves us as one of the Buffalo Bills’ all-time greats. As a testament to the respect he earned on the field, Stratton was named to the American Football League All-Time Team (second unit) compiled by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 (while he was still an active player). He was enshrined on the Bills’ Wall of Fame in 1994, and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.  Stratton was named to the Bills’ 50th Anniversary team in 2009. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Hammer's Dubious Record

By Jeffrey J Miller 

Fred Williamson had a fairly long and storied career in pro football before moving on to a successful career on the silver screen. After a somewhat lackluster rookie season with the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers in 1960, the Northwestern defensive back moved on to the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League.  There, he earned three consecutive trips to the AFL All-Star Game (1961, ’62 and ’63) and two All-AFL nods (1962 and ’63) and developed a reputation as a fierce hitter. His hard-hitting style earned him the nickname “Hammer,” which he played to the hilt.  In 1965, Williamson moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, helping them earn a spot in the 1966 AFL Championship Game and the very first Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers.

It was during those two successive post-season games that Williamson earned a very ignominious distinction.  Now, let me qualify my assertion by saying I don’t know if this is one-hundred-percent verifiable, but I find it highly unlikely that Williamson’s feat has ever occurred before or since. In back-to-back playoff games, Fred Williamson, the man who was reputed for lowering the hammer on opposing wide receivers, had the hammer lowered on him, setting a record for consecutive games being knocked unconscious.    
    
Williamson’s first bout with on-field slumber came in the second quarter of the 1966 AFL Title Game against the Buffalo Bills. On a cold and dreary New Year’s Day (January 1, 1967), the Bills were in possession at their own 36-yard line. Quarterback Jack Kemp sent a short pass out in the right flat to fullback Wray Carlton, who then turned to head upfield. 

Carlton heads upfield as Williamson closes in.






Almost immediately, Williamson closed in to make the tackle but leading with his head, Williamson’s helmet collided with Carlton’s knee. 

Williamson crashes into Carlton head first.
The Hammer’s body went limp and fell to the turf, where it lay still for several minutes before he was revived and walked back to the Kansas City bench with help provided by two teammates. 
Williamson lies unconscious after the collision



Williamson helped off the field by teammates

He would return later in the game, however, and played a key role in the Chiefs’ victory when he laid a vicious forearm to the helmet of wide receiver Glenn Bass, forcing a fumble that set up Kansas City’s game-clinching final touchdown.

In the days leading up to the first Super Bowl two weeks later, Williamson famously boasted he was going to knock Green Bay Packers starting receivers Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler out of the game.  Oh, the irony, when Williamson himself became the victim for a second straight week after his helmet struck the knee of Green Bay halfback Donny Anderson late in the fourth quarter. 
Williamson careening toward impact with Donny Anderson's knee.
“It was a pretty good collision,” Anderson recalled in Jeff Miller’s (no relation) fabulous book, Going Long, “and he got knocked out.” 


The moment of impact.

Williamson lies unconscious on the field.
And again for the second straight week, Williamson had to be helped from the field, only this time it was on a stretcher. 

Williamson is carried off on a stretcher.

 It’s a record no NFL player is in a hurry to break.

Review— America's Trailblazing Middle Linebacker: The Story of NFL Hall of Famer Willie Lanier

Review
By John Turney

America's Trailblazing Middle Linebacker: The Story of NFL Hall of Famer Willie Lanier by  Joe Zagorski was released last month and we are pleased to say it was an excellent read.

As always Zagorski thoroughly researched his subject (28 pages of endnotes, index, and bibliography) and presents in well though thoughtful prose.

It covers Lanier's humble beginnings to his time at the historically black college Morgan State in Baltimore to being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.

It covers well his winning the starting middle linebacker job for the Chiefs, becoming the first African-American player to play that position regularly.

Zagorski also details the famous Chiefs defense which now features six Hall of Famers (including Lanier) and their Super Bowl season of 1969 and also the prime of Lanier's career when he was All-Pro or a Pro Bowler seemingly every year.

Throughout the book there are excellent anecdotes and quotes from teammates like Johnny Robinson, Bobby Bell and even an excellent quote from author TJ Troup. The book also lays out Lanier's post-NFL career in which he was as much a success in business as he was in football.

Verdict: We Highly Recommend

About the Author
Joe Zagorski has been a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association since the mid-1980s. He has written numerous articles for their monthly publication, The Coffin Corner, and for the blog Pro Football Journal.

His first book, The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football’s Most Important Decade, was rated by Library Journal as one of the top ten football books in 2016. Zagorski is a former sportswriter for The Coatesville (Pennsylvania) Daily Record and The Evening Phoenix in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He currently resides in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

A Tale of Two Cities—Rams Logo Change is Worst PR Disaster Since 49ers Logo Change in 1991

OPINION
By John Turney
Part of covering esoteric NFL subjects in the aesthetics of logos and uniforms and facemasks and shoes and various sundries.

This week the Rams changed colors and logos. As we've outlined the colors were met positively but the primary logo was met with incredible resistance.
Rams primary logo
The secondary logo (the Ram head) has been received okay but hilariously Rams fans with computer and designing skills have been blowing away the Nike "world-class" designers that supposedly came up with what is being called the "Ram skull" with lifeless eyes.
Left is the official "skull" and the right is a fan iteration, one of many that can be found (see below)
'
After raising $2 million for charity Rams COO Kevin Demoff plans to read the Top 10 Mean Tweets about the new logos in the near future—which is fine. He likely won't read the Top 10 Positive Tweets because there likely are not that many.

What he should read are the constructive criticism-filled Tweets or the ones from fans who are just plain disappointed. After 2½ years of build-up and many trolling Tweets from Demoff there was great anticipation and by any objective standard, the Rams and Nike failed to deliver.

The Los Angeles media has barely touched the gravity of the situation (the New York Times, at the time of this post, has more coverage of this story than the Los Angeles Times), unlike the 1991 situation in San Francisco when the 49ers released this logo and we going to put it on the helmets.
1991 failed 49ers logo
Pre-Internet, fans called in, wrote letters, called radio shows and voiced their displeasure. The Bay Are media ran polls and cover the situation very well, not taking sides, but giving their readers a fair reading of the situation, unlike what we've so far seen from the Southland media. And the 49ers brain trust listened and reverted to the old logo.
That won't happen here. The Rams are dug in. The process is finished. Though the uniforms are yet to be unveiled they are set, done. The helmet will have the broken Rams horn on it—count on it. And Rams fans have already expressed how much they'd dislike that. 
However, the Rams fans will have to just get on board, unlike the 49ers fans. For one, the NFL has rules in place about changed and the NFL Creative people have signed off. 

So, sorry Rams fans. It's done. The petition at Change.org is D.O.A. No amount of e-mails, Tweets, phone calls can make a difference here. It should be noted that the rams fans ought to be commended for mustering enough energy to complain in the middle of a serious life-or-death national crisis where hope in anything is a good thing. If these were normal times the outrage would be far greater than it is now you can bet on that.

Your legitimate complaints will be characterized by Rams brass as coming from malcontents—you will be painted as the same as those who sent in "Mean" Tweets. It's simply a way to shut off the conversation, to marginalize real beefs and conflate them with over-the-top verbiage. It's a political trick that corporations use to "change the conversation".

Uniform/logo complaints will be mocked, the "what does it really matter" tact will come it, "it's all about winning and we've brought a winner to LA". Yes, McVay and Snead and Demoff have done that. But's it's a straw man. A pro sports team can win and please the fans with a good logo and uniform AND win. In fact, winning is hard. Uniform and logo design is easy by comparison.

And you can do both just as one can walk and chew gum at the same time (to throw a non-sequitur back at those kinds of silly retorts).

So, even with Eric Dickerson's criticisms of the logo or anyone else's, this is over. But make no mistake this is the biggest logo PR disaster since the 1991 49er logo change. What Demoff never fully understood with his trolls and when he got questions on chat boards over the years ("can't do a chat without a uniform question" smugness) is that Rams fans LOVE their helmets. They LOVE their uniforms. Many became Rams as young boys and girls solely because of the uniforms. It wasn't the city or the name. It was "the HORN". 

Sorry. There won't be a "New Coke and Coke Classic" moment here. 
On the bright side, the Rams may be the first team in history when the illegal, bootleg merchandise outsells the official swag because this fan-based design knock-off stuff is already being marketed (purportedly anyway)—

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Rams Logos—A Brief, Unofficial History

OPINION
By John Turney
Yesterday. the Rams released new colors, a new primary logo, secondary logo, and wordmarks yesterday via the Internet. Here are a few of the key players identified in the video released by the Rams—
Kevin Demoff, Rams COO, Had a habit of trolling Rams fans vis Twitter. Here he is
wearing a hat with red it in the design, apparently for giggles.
Steve McClard, Project Lead, Nike. Stated the team "got it right"
Shandon Melvin, VP, Creative Director, NFL
The reviews were mixed, to be generous. It's accurate to say that the creative team at Nike and the Rams and the NFL "didn't get it right the first time", at least according to the majority of the fans.
We've combed through a lot of fan comments and we think this summation is fair to what we've found online—
Colors—A
Rams Royal and Sol. Taken together it literally means Sun King Ram

Primary Logo—F
Rams fans Panned it. (Pan is the Greek goat god—sorry, couldn't resist). The horn's spiral is derived from the Fibonacci sequence—paging Dr. Robert Langdon.
Additionally, according to an interview given to Rich Hammond of The Athletic, Rams COO said  there was to be "grand debut throughout Los Angeles on the night of Saturday, March 21, to coincide with the start of Aries in the zodiac, which is the month of the ram." (Could this get more pagan?—maybe they need to page Tom Hanks to reprise his role in 'Dragnet'.)
Said Jack Youngblood via email, "Looks like the Chargers to me. That isn't us". Former longtime Rams Public Relations Director Rick Smith concurred on Twitter "Rams logo is soft.  I don’t see any football toughness in it. Honestly, at first blush, I thought I was looking at a Chargers lightning bolt."

There is even a Change.org petition asking Rams to reconsider. You can see it HERE. The goal for the petition is 5,000 signature. As of this posting they have nearly 4,000. Will Demoff take it seriously? Unknown.

Secondary Logo—B
Rams fans were more positive about this logo.
Though very quickly Twitter artists improved on it, according to many commentators. The top on increased the angle of the head and widened and colorized the eye and widened the cheek, the second added the wordmark and a mouth to the Ram head and is a deeper blue.

Wordmark—C
Boring. It looks like a basic Arial or Copperplate font. Comments like that we gleaned from Ram boards. Not awful. Not stunning. Not the work of, as Kevin Demoff called it "world-class artists", that's for sure. We give it a C. That's maybe generous.
Logo lockup—F
If the primary logo fails then this does, too. Many said they see a crescent moon. Some see DaVinci's seashell. Some see a Los Angeles Charger lighting bolt. People should immediately see a Ram horn. Many don't.
crescent moon
Side-by-side of new logo and Chargers logo, there is some resemblance
The Ram horn is their brand, their identity. If anyone sees anything other than a horn then there is a problem. A big one.
So, five categories and we have an A, an F, a B, C, and F.

GPA—1.8 or a C-/D+


Walk Down Memory Lane
Here are past Rams logos, some not official, though they did appear on Rams stationary in 1937 (the red and black ones) and some were used on officially licensed Rams merchandise in the 1970s. The white Rams head logo (no gold horn)  we are dubious of because it only appears in style guides in the black and white sections. And we never saw it after 1973 or so. We think the real logo was the Rams helmet with grey facemasks from 1974-80.

On 1937 Cleveland Rams official Stationary
Also on official 1937 Cleveland Rams stationary when the team colors were red and black

Purported to be Rams logo from 1941-42
This Rams head logo is from the 1946 Rams Media Guide. It is less
 refined than the 1946-47 versions that appeared on game programs but 
enough alike to be considered the same we suppose.

Purported to be Rams logo from 1944-50 but it seems to have first
showed up in 1946 on the championship pendant and on game programs and is 
not seen after 1947 but the above version did appear on the 1946 Media Guide.
Purported to be Rams logo from 1951-69, though we've seen several different
iterations with this particular logo, including all-white (seen below). However, it was first used
 in 1948 on the Media Guide and was also was used after 1970. (see below).
This is the Rams head that is claimed to be the 1970-82 logo, but we are dubious of it. We never saw
it for one. Also, it only is shown in the black and white portion of the official NFL style guide books.
When we have seen it used it was in color, it's been in blue outline, not black. 

Though never documented, when used, this is what the logo looked like, which makes sense
because the Rams colors were blue and white for a portion of the time this logo was said to be "official"
Not official, but did appear on officially licensed merchandise in the early 1970s, sometimes
offset with a light blue, perhaps to make it "pop"
Again, not official, but did appear on licensed merchandise in 1973 and 1974. Perhaps
in other years as well. It was used when Rams went back to blue and gold.


We saw this, along with the two-bar iteration more that the black at white Rams head logo in the 1970s.
Though this was not said to be "official" you'd be hard-pressed to find a Rams head logo in late 1970s
We saw this more than the single bar versions and always felt that this was the primary logo of
the mid-to-late 1970s. It was on most of the pennants, jackets, t-shirts, etc., of that time frame. 
In 1981 the Rams changed facemask to blue, but this is said to be the official logo from 1983-88
The official logo from 1989-94
The official logo from 1994-99 when Rams left Anaheim for St. Louis
The new Ram head logo in "millennium blue and new century gold". 2000-2016
Same Rams head as in St/ Louis but in navy and white. 2017-2019
The new Ram head in Ram royal and Sol. 2020—

As mentioned above, the long-time Rams head first made its appearance
in 1948, not the early 1950s as the Rams PR department has released.

As mentioned the yellow-horned logo was used after 1970 when it
was said to be defunct.

One of the few places we've ever seen the white Rams head
but as we mentioned it was blue, not black outlines.


Felt pennants are also a way to gage what was used since in the early days it was like the Wild West, you could put any Ram on a pennant and "Los Angeles Rams" and sell it and, apparently, not get sued—





Then it became more uniform—







Here is a page from a 1970s style guide, perhaps 1973. You can see the Ram head logo is shown in the black and white section...with the helmets that were to be used in magazines and newspapers that were not yet color. These style guides were to help media and merchandisers and advertisers get the reproductions as accurate as possible. They exist to this day (see top photo)

For more (and better) information we recommend going to Uniwatch.com. Click HERE.
We also recommend you go HERE for even more pertinent info by SportsLogos.Net

Paul Lukas (Uniwatch) and Chris Creamer (SportsLogos) are the home run kings of sports uniforms and logos.

Next up, what the Rams brain trust and Nike will do with the uniforms. Thee is no ETA for them.