Saturday, May 30, 2020

Right or Free Safety: Roosevelt Taylor

Sure enjoyed writing about Richie Petitbon in April, and no story on his career can be complete without mention of his running mate at safety—Mr. Roosevelt Taylor.

Since this vastly under-appreciated player has left us, and since he played most of his career for my beloved Bears it is time to enlighten one and all on the position he played.

Not only will Taylor be featured in this saga, will address a recent article I read, and the responsibilities of the right or free safety. The right safety can be utilized in double coverage helping the right corner, he can roam "centerfield" and play the ball in flight, he can take the running back out of the backfield man to man, or he can even "blitz" the quarterback.

Years ago in messages and conversations with Paul Lionel Zimmerman he demanded that he be educated on the safety position, and historically the responsibilities. Am not going to cover the history of the league; as Taylor played from 1961 through 1972. Let us focus on that era, the players, and a handful of teams.

George Allen was hired by the Papa Bear in '58 to work in player personnel, and his coaching experience and enthusiasm enabled him to work with the Bear secondary. Taylor was a quick tough athletic free agent who made the team in '61due to Allen. Taylor's limited playing time in '61 changed in '62 as he became the starter at right or free safety. Under Allen the Bears combined man and zone principles.

This concept will only work(be effective) if the right safety has an abundance of ability, and Taylor did. Watching film of Taylor zip across the field, make sure tackles, and intercept passes helped the Bears win the title in 1963. Earlier this morning read an article by Gene Chamberlain at Bears Digest on the best Bear secondaries of all-time.

A daunting task and Mr. Chamberlain should be commended for attempting to write the article, YET the story he wrote is deeply flawed. No mention of any Bear secondaries previous to 1963? Without further ado, the best Bear secondaries previous to '63 are as follows; early 40's, and especially 1943 the Bears allowed only 8 touchdown passes, and intercepted 11.8% of all passes attempted against them (24).

By this time anyone who reads my stories here at the Journal knows how I feel about the defensive passer rating system. While this stat is not the be all end all statistic, there is definitely merit to using this tool to evaluate TEAM pass defense. Bears defensive passer rating in 1943 was 22.0, and the league average was 48.6. Chamberlain never mentions Johnny Lujack, Don Kindt, and very underrated Noah Mullins.

The Bears in 1948 have a defensive passer rating of 31.7 (league average is 60.0) and having watched film of them—the Bears of '48 rank as one of the three best second-place teams of all-time, and these men were vital reasons for success in '48. Clark Shaughnessy's myriad (mystical) defenses of the '50s had their moments, but pass defense was not one of the reasons why the Bears won.

The best Bear secondary of the decade should have been in 1959 with Petitbon, Barnes, and Caroline. Many men attempted to play the right safety position for the Bears in the decade of the '50s, and though most of the players had their moments, none would be ranked among the league's best at that position. That brings us back to Allen, Taylor, and the '63 Bears.

Green Bay in 1962 dominated the Bears, and the league, and in '63 again played terrific team pass defense, yet Allen has revamped, pared-down, and used his "cutting edge" concepts to stifle quarterbacks all over the league.

Roosevelt Taylor is a key factor in the Bears championship season, and he continues to play outstanding football from 1964 through '68 though George Allen leaves after '65 to rebuild and lead the Rams. Jim Dooley took Allen's nickel concept and renamed it the "Dooley Defense", and in 1967 the Bears allow opposing passers just a 42.7% completion.

Dooley does not have the relationship with his men in the secondary that Allen did, and one by one they leave, and the Bears flounder—try 1-13 in 1969 with men attempting to play defensive back that should not even have been in the league. Dooley trades Taylor to San Francisco for Howard Mudd. This will not be an in-depth history of the right safeties in 49er history, but San Francisco tried a number of men at the position including one of the worst of the decade in George Donnelly. A talented team like San Francisco can complete for a playoff berth under Dick Nolan if he can find someone to play right safety.
Jimmy Johnson and Kermit Alexander both played strong football for the Niners in the secondary, yet pass defense is a team concept, and as such San Francisco just cannot win a division title—until Taylor.

The Len Eshmont award is a coveted honor for the 49er organization, and Roosevelt Taylor wins this award when San Francisco wins the division in 1970. Taylor is not the reason the Niners won the division, he is the final piece to their championship puzzle.

The 1971 Washington Redskins under Allen's guidance earns the wild card and travels to the City by the Bay to take on Taylor and the Niners. Imagine the look on George's face during warm-ups as he watched Taylor. Though Brig Owens played strong football for the 'Skins, he is best suited to play strong safety not free, and as Petitbon finally hits the wall, he is replaced by Owens, and Allen (trader George) bargains with San Francisco and comes away with Taylor for his Super Bowl season of '72. Now back to the best Bear secondaries of all-time as written about by Gene Chamberlain.

He does not mention the '77 Bears led by Fencik & Plank who allowed only 7 touchdown passes, and for the first time in 14 years earns a playoff berth. Chamberlain's article discusses the mid '80's secondaries and continues on to the present day. Buddy Ryan's pass defense concepts are far different than every other defensive co-ordinator, yet very effective with the monstrous pass rush.

Fencik and his playmates maximized their abilities, and boy oh boy did they have fun limiting opponent offenses. Agree with him that Todd Bell in '84 was better than Duerson in '85 through '88. Lovie Smith's stacked linebacker alignment with Briggs & Urlacher was a concept that worked since little Mike Brown and Peanut Tillman took care of the heavy work in the secondary.

As for the Bears of 2020 am convinced that Jackson can put together more than one all-pro season, and join Roosevelt Taylor as one of the few Bear right or free safeties to distinguish themselves in Navy Blue & Burnt Orange. In closing, of all the plays in Taylor's career the one that still stands out to me is November 26th, 1967.

Travis Williams has become a force to be reckoned with on kick-off returns and ranks with Sayers as the best in the league. Williams with his size, and roadrunner speed rockets through the Bears on a kick-off return until 186 pound Taylor tackles Travis. The hit is eye-popping, and Taylor holds on as he hits the Wrigley Field turf.

Reviewing SI/Talk of Fame Candidates for the AFL-HOF Excercise

By John Turney

SI/Talk of Fame's Clark Judge is doing a needed and fun exercise with some AFL experts to see if there can be a consensus of who is most worthy of being inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

So often folks will just look at the easy stats listed on Pro Football Reference (and we will do that) and will also eyeball the post-season honors (we will do that, too) but we will also try to dig a little deeper with extra stats that we've studied and also the place in history these players have earned.

Also, we'll discuss what is a Hall of Famer and the criteria that was in place when these players were up for discussion, and the place longevity was played in the mix as opposed to now.

It's easy to just say "AFL guys have been ripped off, there is an anti-AFL bias" and so on. There likey was. WAS. Now? We don't think so.

Not only that, it's also easy to look at the All-Time AFL team and say "such and such is on it and he should be in HOF because of that". Well maybe, but how many guys played enough years at his position to even warrant being AFL All-Decade? There were a couple soft spots there. So, that, too should be considered.

In that spirit, we will give a thumbnail sketch of  44 finalists Judge has listed.

John Hadl (San Diego, 1962-72; L.A. Rams, 1973-74; Green Bay, 1974-75; Houston 1976-77)
Hadl's career went eight years into the 1970s—the NFL with six of them starting seasons, one an NFC Player of the Year, All-Pro, Pro Bowl season (1973). He went to the Pro Bowl in 1972 but didn't deserve it. Though in 1970 he had a Pro Bowl-worthy season and didn't go, so it evened out.

In his AFL years, he went to four AFL All-Star games. n 1965, 66, and 68 he was a Second-team All-AFL pick. In the AFL he never got any MVP or Player of the Year awards. The only ring he got was backing up Tobin Rote in 1963.

His stats were typical AFL—lots of yards, lots of touchdowns, and lots of picks. Threw to Lance Alworth and other fine receivers in San Diego. he led the AFL in passing yards twice and in touchdown passes once.

In the final analysis, Hadl is not a Hall of Fame quarterback. Hall of Very Good? Yes. Hall of Fame? No.
Jack Kemp (Pitt, 1957;  L.A./SanDiego, 1960-62; Buffalo 1962-69)
Kemp is interesting in that only Abner Haynes, a running back rushed for more touchdowns in the history of the AFL. Kemp was certainly not shy about calling his own number. We've not researched it be we'd wager that he also did the same thing on 3rd and 4th and short as well.

He tied Len Dawson for the most QB wins in AFL history and owns two AFL title rings. During his prime (1960-66) he won 71.7% of his starts and 63.3% for his career. He was the 1965 AFL MVP (AP) and was All-AFL in 1960 and 1065 and was Second-team All-AFL in 1961, 1963, and 1966—all very good.

The issue is that his stats were iffy. He has a cannon for an arm, but his 57.3 passer rating was low, even by the standards of the time. The AFL's passer rating for its existence was 61.7. So, his HOF resume rests with the fact that he was a winner, not a passer.

Daryle Lamonica (Buffalo 1963-66; Oakland 1967-74)
Lamonica was a passer and backed up Kemp for four years and even saved a handful of Kemps QB wins in those years before being dealt to Oakland.  There he went on to win 77% of his starts for a total of a 78.4 winning percentage, but he lacked the "big one" though he has two "gravy trainer" rings with Buffalo.

He was All-AFL in 1967 and 1969 and was Second-team All-AFL in 1968 and Second-team All-NFL in 1970 and All-AFC in 1970. Additionally, he was the AFL consensus MVP (AP and UPI) in 1967 and the AFL Player of the Year (UPI) in 1969. All those are HOF worthy.

In his five-year prime (is that enough for HOF?) from 1967-72, he threw for 145 touchdowns, 21 more than the next closest quarterback His 61 wins are five more than the next best.

Did he do it long enough and did he perform well enough when it mattered—In the playoffs? Probably not.

Clem Daniels (Dallas, 1960; Oakland, 1961-67; San Francisco, 1968)
Twice All-AFL, twice Second-team All-AFL, four times an AFL-All-Star game pick. In 1964 he led the AFL in rushing yards AND yards per catch. A rare combination.

A theme of all these running backs is they had short careers. Daniels 9; Gilchrist 6; Haynes 8; Lincoln 8; Lincoln 10; Lowe 10; Nance 7; which in and of itself is not an issue since many HOF running backs are in that range. It's that many of those years of service are not productive.

For Daniels, it is more like 5½ productive seasons. For Cookie, it's 4 or so. For Haynes, it's 4. For Keith Lincoln, it's 4, maybe. Lowe? Maybe 5. Jim Nance is 3, maybe 4.

So, with these running backs in the AFL, we've never thought it was anti-AFL bias keeping them out it was the shortness of their productive seasons when they were coming up. Later, in the 1990s, when the Seniors Committee was looking back they first went with Leroy Kelly who had 6-7 productive seasons so you could see him getting the jump on the AFL runners.

Then, later, Floyd Little got in and though he had some AFL legacy, he was an NFLer but he had five productive seasons, maybe six if you push it. So now it seems the door is wide open for some of these AFLers. And with Terrell Davis (4½ productive season) there is no) longer any valid excuse. That is the very definition of a slippery slope. Not to mention NFL runners like Chuck Foreman and others.

Cookie Gilchrist (CFL, 1954-61; Buffalo, 1962-64; Denver, 1965, 1967; Miami, 1966)
Two AFL rushing titles, four AFL rushing TD titles. Three-time All-AFL (four if you count NY Daily News).  Was the AFL MVP/POY in 1962 and won a title in 1964, though had to be coaxed to play in a dispute with the coach down the stretch, but that is a story for another time.

Averaged 1000 yards rushing from 1962-65. Only AFL runner to maintain such an average for such a long time.

What is interesting about Gilchrist is like Warren Moon, perhaps some (not a lot) weight should be given to his CFL career where he played seven years before entering into American football. He was a five-time CFL All-Star as we understand it and won a Grey Cup.

Part of Warren Moon's appeal was bypassed by the NFL unfairly when he came out of Washington largely because of race and he went to the CFL and dominated, winning five titles before returning to the US and signing with the Oilers in 1984. Moon's NFL career was the bulk of his resume, but there was some weight given to his CFL exploits. (Same is true, to a much smaller degree to Jim Kelly's USFL's success).

Why can't Cookie get some of the same consideration? Just asking.

Abner Haynes (Dallas/Kansas City, 1960-64; Denver, 1965-66; Miami, 1967; N.Y. Jets, 1967)
1960 AFL Player of the Year (Consensus), Three-time All-AFL, once Second-team All-AFL. One AFL ring. Led AFL in rushing once. Three times led AFL in rushing touchdowns.

In addition to being a good runner and receiver, Haynes was a very good punt returner and kick returner. That gives him, in our view an edge over some of the other halfbacks here.

Keith Lincoln (San Diego, 1961-66, 1968; Buffalo, 1967-68) 
Twice All-AFL, five AFL All-Star games. One AFL title ring.

Paul Lowe (L.A./San Diego, 1960-68; Kansas City, 1968-69)
1965 AFL Player of the Year, Twice All-AFL, once Second-team All-AFL, one AFL title ring. One rushing title and twice led AFL in yards per carry and twice led the AFL in touchdowns rushing.
Jim Nance (Boston/New England, 1965-71; N.Y. Jets, 1973, Houston/Shreveport-WFL (1974–75)
Two rushing titles, AFL MVP, twice All-AFL, once Second-team All-AFL. Also was All-WFL once if you want to give him some partial credit there.

Chris Burford (Dallas/Kansas City, 1960-67)
Was very good in the first half of the 1960s. Not a Hall of Famer.

Gino Cappelletti (Boston, 1960-70)
Gino is beloved by Boston fans and has lots of merit to his career. He was the AFL MVP/POY in 1964, went to five AFL-All-Star games, and was four-tine Second-team All-AFL.

His big stat is scoring, being a starting flanker and a kicker. But how good was he at those positions? In his time in the AFL (and one year in the NFL) the league average for field goal percentage was 53.9%. Cappelletti's was 52.9, about one percent below average.

In his prime, 1961-67, he averaged 40 catches for 623 yards for 15.7 yards a catch and 6 touchdowns per season.

Was he a great player? Or a pretty good player at two positions? We think the latter and that's not Hall of Fame. Hall of Very Good? Sure. Not Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Elbert Dubenion (Cleveland, 1959, Buffalo, 1960-68)
"Golden Wheels" was a three-time Second-team All-AFL, had a monster season in 1964, two AFL title rings, tremendous speed guy and deep threat. Not a Hall of Famer

Charley Hennigan (Houston, 1960-66)
Here is an interesting one. Three times All-AFL and one-time Second-team All-AFL. Five AFL all-Star games and two AFL rings but just seven seasons.

He stood out on film with great speed and good routes and excellent hands. He led the AFL in receiving yards twice, both times over 1,500 yards, and in 1964 caught 101 passes.

He was dogged by some injuries late in his career and he hung 'em up early. During his prime (1960-65) he averaged 64 catches, 1085 yards, 17.0 yards a catch, and 8 scores a season.

Art Powell (Philadelphia, 1959; New York, 1960-62; Oakland, 1963-66; Buffalo, 1967; Minnesota, 1968)
Powell was a big man for a wideout, 6-3, 211, and could really run. He was ahead of his time, really. In his prime (1960-66) he averaged 65 receptions, 1096, a 16.7 average, and 11 touchdowns.

He was a five-time AFL All-Star and was a four-time All-AFL pick but just one was a consensus pick.

Outside Lance Alworth, to us, he stood out on film more than anyone with his combination of size and speed and strength. He most certainly could play today and be an All-Pro. His hands might not have been as good as Alworth, Hennigan, or Lionel Taylor but they were good. If you were to have a "scout's pick" for the Hall of Fame among these wide receivers it would likely be Powell.

Lionel Taylor (Chicago, 1959; Denver, 1960-66; Houston, 1967-68)
A four-time All-AFL pick, five times he led the AFL in receptions. His prime (1960-65) numbers per season were:  85-1071-12.6-7.

His yards per catch suggest he was a "possession" receiver, and to some extent that may be true, but he played on a team without great blockers and without a great quarterback throwing to him. He had decent speed and terrific hands.

Smart, crafty, but fast enough, but more athletic on film that you might expect. Taylor is certainly in the top three in this group in our view.

Otis Taylor (Kansas City, 1965-75)
Taylor still gets lots of support for the Hall of Fame among Chiefs media and fans and others and we get that. However, looking at his record it's hard to see it when compared to others, even on the AFL-only list, not to mention NFL players like, say, a Del Shofner and others.

He played longer than most here, 11 years, but he had just two great ones (1966, 1971) and two very good ones (1967, 1972). The other six were just okay. One was kind of a throwaway. In his prime (1966-73) he averaged 45 catches 811 yards, 18.0 yards a catch for 6 touchdowns.

He was All-AFL/All-Pro twice and went to three AFL All-Star game/Pro Bowls and earned a Super Bowl ring.

Like Art Powell, he was a big man, a scout's dream. And yes, he could play today. He ran well, was smart, he had all the tools. He played on a great team with a great quarterback. He did seem to get nicked a lot but still, given all the advantages he had over Lionel Taylor or Powell or others, he just didn't get the results they did.

Warren Wells (Detroit, 1964, Oakland, 1967-70)
All-AFL in 1969, Second-team All-Pro in 1970. Wells was the penultimate deep threat. In his short, three-year prime he averaged 48 catches for  1111 yards, a 23.3 average, and 12 touchdowns.

That's the problem though. A three-year prime. he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame. At some point one has to have some longevity.  Also had some ugly off-field issues.

Fred Arbanas (Dallas/Kansas City, 1962-70)
Received post-season honors every season from 1962-67 including All-AFL selections in 1963, 64, 66, and 1967. He was All-Time All-AFL. Was part of two ultimate championships and one other AFL championship (losing in the Super Bowl to the Packers in Super Bowl I)

He was a fine blocker and receiver. We'd equate him to Ron Kramer as a two-way tight end. His receiving numbers don't stand out but that was simply a function of the era. Few tight ends put up big numbers. His key role was as a blocker. Still, had Arbanas been in the NFL he'd not have been getting as many post-season honors. Again, he'd have been like Ron Kramer—one of the best two-way ends.

Dave Kocourek (L.A./San Diego, 1960-65; Miami, 1966; Oakland, 1967-68)
Was a two-time All-AFL, but neither consensus and twice more was Second-team ALl-AFL. He did put up good receiving numbers, got an AFL title ring, and his 1961 season was akin to Mike Ditka's breakout season in the NFL for tight ends.

Still, Kocourek is not a Hall of Famer.

Jim Tyrer (Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-73; Washington, 1974)
Tyrer had one shot at the HOF in 1981 didn't make it and was forgotten largely because of his murder-suicide involving his wife. With more and more being learned about CTE and its link to depression and his wife's family having forgiven him, Tyrer is getting more traction.

It's silly to list his credentials, he's more than qualified to be in the Hall of Fame, both by honors, but also by the "rings" and also by the "testimonials".  George Allen and others have written and spoken about how good he was.

We'd like to see him get in. We are not in favor of putting ALL these Chiefs in, but without question, Tyrer should be the one.
Ernie Wright (L.A./San Diego Chargers, 1960-67; Cincinnati, 1968-71; San Diego, 1972)
Not a Hall of Famer

Walt Sweeney (San Diego, 1963-73; Washington 1974-75)
Went to nine consecutive Pro Bowls/AFL All-Star games, was All-AFL, and was a three-time First-team All-AFL/All-Pro and twice a Second-team All-AFL/NFL.

Was called by Merlin Olsen as his toughest opponent as the Rams and Chargers met often in the preseason in an era when they played those games full speed. He was a 6-4 265 or so (listed perhaps 10 pounds lighter) guard who could run really well.

His combined nine Pro Bowls/AFL All-Star games is the most of this group but Talamini has more All-AFL selections.

Ed Budde (Kansas City, 1963-76)
Seven times a Pro Bowler/AFL All-Star and three times All-AFL.

Budde was part of three AFL Championship teams and one Super Bowl-winning team. What hurts him is the fact that his teammate Jim Tyer is likely more qualified if one goes by the All-AFLs and AFL All-Star picks.

Like Sweeney, Budde was a big guard for that era, 6-5, 265, and like Sweeney could run.

Bob Talamini (Houston, 1960-67; N.Y. Jets, 1968)
Six-time All-AFL (four times consensus). six AFL All-Star selections.

Talamini was a squatty guy, 6-1, 255, more typical of guards in that era than Sweeney or Budde were. His team had a lot of success early in the AFL and likely led to some of his "honors" but he was a strong guy and said to be a good trap-type blocker.

A pure AFLer (never played in the NFL, Talamini got two rings with the Oilers and then one with the Jets in 1968.
Wayne Hawkins (Oakland, 1960-69)
Five AFL All-Star selections, three-time All-AFL (one consensus)

At 6-0, 240, again, if you check NFL and AFL rosters of that era, there were plenty of guards this size in the pro leagues. Often they were referred to as "technicians". Sometimes it was a euphamism, other times not. Though a pure AFLer (like Talamini) and though he had a worthy career, he's not a Hall of Famer.

Hawkins did get an AFL championship ring in 1967 and played in Super Bowl II.

Jon Morris (Boston/New England, 1964-74; Detroit, 1975-77; Chicago, 1978)
A lot of Second-team All-AFL selections. Not a Hall of Famer

Houston Antwine (Boston/New England, 1961-71; Philadelphia, 1972)
Four-times All-AFL (once consensus) and six All-AFL games.

Antwine was able to be relatively injury-free and have a long career, but he didn't have the "peak" that some of the other AFL defensive linemen had. He was good, but never, you know, great as in Hall of Fame great. He was on the All-Time AFL team, but again, that was more for long and meritorious service than for peak performance. Ladd was a better player.

Tom Keating (Buffalo, 1964-65, Oakland, 1966-72; Pittsburgh, 1973; Kansas City, 1974-75)
Keating played long enough, but some of those seasons he was just hanging on as a rotation player. He had a severe knee injury that cost him the 1968 season and he was never quite the same though 1969 was a good season, but when he was with the Steelers and Chiefs and his last couple of years with the Raiders it was not like 1966 and 1967 with the Raiders when he was stellar.

He was a three-time All-AFL picks (one consensus) and a one-time All-AFL pick.

Ernie Ladd (San Diego, 1961-65, Houston, 1966, Kansas City, 1967-68)
When he wanted to be great, he was great. Was it often enough? Three-time All-AFL, one right, Five-times he got AFL post-season honors. One AFL title ring.

Often (with Earl Faison) in money disputes with the Chargers. Possibly that is what led to his lack of motivation. he was 6-9, listed at 290, but was likely more like 320 (or more).

He played just eight seasons and in his last three he was just kind of "there".

Tom Sestak (Buffalo, 1962-68)
"Big Ses" was a combination of Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen—right between them in size and quickness from our film study. When you are the best player on the best defense in your league that wins two titles you are a Hall of Famer.

He was a three-time All-AFL pick and once a Second-teamer. He would have been the AFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1964 if they had such an award with 17½ sacks.

Knee injuries cut his career short and that, again, is the holdup. Were AFL players curses? So many felled by injuries and had short careers and came up for the Hall of Fame when longevity matter to voters.

Earl Faison (San Diego, 1961-66; Miami, 1966)
Four times All-AFL, once Second-team AFL-AFL

Every year he was healthy he made All-AFL, likely would have been an AFL Defensive Player of the Year in one of those seasons if they had that award then.

Back problems ended Faison's career. He was huge, strong, maybe the strongest linemen, NFL or AFL, of his era. He was 6-5, 270, and could run (5.8 50-yard dash). The Chargers, like All AFL teams would often toggle from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 and would alternate the sides they did it, meaning that when it was to Faison's side he was essential an outside linebacker who would usually rush, like a Lawrence Taylor but 2 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.

Like Ladd, needed to be motivated at times, but Faison could play.

Rich Jackson (Oakland, 1966; Denver, 1967-72; Cleveland 1972)
A Paul Zimmerman favorite and another of the short-career AFLers. "Tombstone" was All-AFL/All-Pro in 1968-70 and All-AFC in 1971.

Skill-wise/film-wise, he's a Hall of Famer. We've seen tons of film an him and he's all that Dr. Z said he was. It comes down to fairness and equity, is it fair to put someone in the Hall of Fame with so few productive seasons? It's a hard question.

Yes, he played seven seasons. Aaron Donald has played six, and if he never played another down, he'd be a Hall of Famer, no question. But there is a difference. Donald has played six injury-free dominant seasons. Jackson didn't.

In 1966 he barely played. In 1967 he played right end and was just leaning his trade and ended the season with 4½ sacks. Then we have his 1968-70 dominant run which extends though 1971 midseason when he hurt his knee.

In 1972 he was not himself and was traded to the Browns and he struggled. So, all told he had three full seasons and being generous two half-seasons of dominance for  total of four. It's a fair question to ask if that is enough.

He was asked to play nose tackle for the Patriots in 1973 by Chuck Fairbanks but Jackson wanted to be a player/coach and Fairbanks didn't want that. Jackson, an education major, wanted to begin the next phase of his career—coaching and teaching. Had that worked out, and Jackson, playing on the nose for a couple of years on what became a recurring team playing the 3-4, say a prequel to Curley Culp maybe that makes a difference for Tombstone's HOF chances.

Ike Lassiter (Denver, 1962-64; Oakland, 1965-69; Boston/New England, 1970-71; Jacksonville WFL (1974)
Few have heard of Ike Lassiter, but he was very good. He was Second-team All-AFL in 1966, 1968, and 1969 but his best season was 1967. He also has an AFL title ring

Ben Davidson got all the ink for the Raiders defensive line in those days but no AFL team sack quarterbacks more than the Raiders from 1965 through 1969 and the guy who had the most was Ike Lassiter.

He was the size of Earl Faison and almost as quick. He sometimes got a little heavy but still, he knew how to rush and could also play the run well. A very, very underrated player. He's the third-best defensive end on this list.

Jerry Mays (Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-70)
Mayes made the AFL All-Time Team and won 3 AFL rings and was a six-time All-AFL pick (two consensus) and played in seven AFL All-Star games/Pro Bowl.

Chiefs fans and media love him (like Otis Taylor) and he has more credentials than Taylor in terms of post-season honors. On films he's okay, but more of a "Steady Eddie" than a standout defensive end.

In 1968 he broked out some with 10½ sacks (he averaged just under 5½ sacks a year before that) and had a career-high 11 in 1969 then had six in 1970. He was certainly a solid run defender and got some pressure from his left end, but he was not special enough to be a Hall of Fame player. Even on this list, he'd be last.

Gerry Philbin (N.Y. Jets, 1964-72, Philadelphia 1973, New York-WFL, 1974)
Twice All-AFL, both consensus (three times if you count NY Daily News, if not he was Second-teat year anyway). His 1968 would have put him in contention for a mythical AFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, but he would have had to beat out Rich Jackson for it. He also won a Super Bowl ring.

An aggressive, high motor (as we say these days) player, an average-sized end that paid hard and played tough. He really was a joy to watch. Shoulder injuries limited him after 1969—yet another excellent player who never got to fulfill his full potential.

He broke out early totaling 55 sacks from 1965-69 (just 1½ as a rookie) but then came the bruises, injuries, and so on—Just 9½ the rest of his career.

Dan Conners (Oakland, 1964-74)
Post-season honors in 1967, 68, 69.

Not a Hall of Famer. Solid, but not an all-time great.

Larry Grantham (N.Y. Titans/Jets. 1960-72; Florida-WFL 1974)
If you include the NY Daily News Grantham was Five-time All-AFL, five times Second-team All-AFL, one-time Second-team All-AFC, one Super Bowl ring.

Grantham has a great Hall of Fame case. He has 24 picks and 31 sacks. Grantham had a long and pretty healthy career, a rarity among this bunch. He was a pine nut, 6-1, 210 (maybe a bit bigger later in his career) but he could cover and dog and stop a sweep can scrap over the top, all the things would ask an outside linebacker to do in his era. He wasn't a physical stud like George Webster or Mike Stratton but he got the job done.

E.J. Holub (Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-70)
A linebacker that converted to center. Enough with the Chiefs. Not a Hall of Famer

Mike Stratton (Buffalo, 1962-72; San Diego, 1973)
Has all the awards one could want, is in the same category as Grantham, Chris Hanburger (who is in the HOF), Chuch Howley (who should be) Dave Robinson, Dave Wilcox, and other linebackers who did it all, and didn't have huge sack totals but who red dogged well and could cover well and pick off a few passes a year.

Stratton had 21 picks and 30½ sacks went to six AFL All_Star games was All-AFL four times (three consensus) and was Second-team All-AFL twice more. He has 2 AFL title rings and the "Hit Heard 'Round the World". He has a solid HOF case but Sestak was far better and Stratton would have to wait for Ses to get in before he got a shot in our view.
George Webster (Houston, 1967-72, Pittsburgh, 1972-73; New England, 1974-76)
AFL-All-time team, Three-time All-AFL.

Talent-wise he is as good as any but the injury bug got him, too, in his fourth year. He gutted it out for six more years, but was never the same, never made another All-Pro team or Pro Bowl, never picked off another pass.

He's like so many AFL players that had super-high peaks but injuries limited the production in their careers and it begs the question as to whether they played long enough or if the post-injuries seasons were good enough to be considered great.

Butch Byrd (Buffalo, 1964-70, Denver, 1971)
Including NY Daily News, a Four-time All-AFL (three times without NYDN), Second-team All-Time AFL Team, Two AFL title rings

Picked off 40 passes, five of which were pick-sixes.

Dave Grayson (Dallas Cowboys, 1961; Dallas/Kansas City, 1961-64, Oakland, 1965-70)
All-Time AFL Team, Five-time All-AFL, seven AFL All-Star games, 2 AFL title rings.

Grayson had 49 picks (five for touchdowns) and led the AFL in interceptions once.

Stands out on film. Excellent speed and ball skills, he could sure run and cover ground. He was equally good at cornerback and safety, as a corner, he was on the "gambler side, a 'cluer' if you will. Would give up some big plays but would also get his team the big plays—like later Chief Gary Green perhaps or a poor man's Deion Sanders.

As a safety, he had great range and ball skills. In our view, he's the best AFL defensive back not in the Hall of Fame and he has the "peak" and the longevity and the honors, the rings. The whole package.

Goose Gonsoulin (Denver, 1960-66; San Francisco, 1967)
Post-season honors in six seasons, including All-AFL picks in 1960, 62-63, and Second-team picks in 1961 and 1964.

From 1960-65 he averaged 7.3 interceptions a season for the Broncos which is impressive, even in the AFL when they were tossing up aerials nearly every play (or it seamed).

He was a big safety, 6-3, 210, (bigger than Larry Grantham by quite a bit) he had good ranges, good un support and could track a ball and had a wide receiver's hands.

Very, very good. Hall of Fame? Maybe stretching it but maybe not. Injury in 1966, went to the NFL in 1967, and poof, another AFL great gone played just eight seasons.

George Saimes (Buffalo, 1963-69; Denver 1970-72)
Including NY Daily News, a Five-time All-AFL (four times without NYDN), Two AFL title rings

Once had four sacks in once game. Could track the ball, pick off passes, the classic free safety.

Jerrel Wilson (Kansas City, 1963-77; New England, 1978)
Wilson has all the post-season honors that you could want, but sure had a lot of punts blocked for a great punter. Obviously, not all are the punter's fault, but over a career, patterns emerge and some punters seem to avid blocks, with others they add up. With Wilson, it's the latter he's among to top five in the percentage of punts blocked. Again, that is not something that disqualifies him it's just something voters need to consider.

However, on the positive side, unofficially, though our research he led the  AFL in net punting in 1964 and 1968 and tied for the AFC lead in 1970 and led the AFL/NFL in gross yardage five times.

He was the All-Time AFL punter who received post-season honors in 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972.

In the final analysis, he was a good punter, but we've spent a lot of time looking at this subject—punters of the pre-official punting stats era (pre-1976) and the one who stands out is not Wilson or even Dr. Z's favorite, Tommy Davis, it's Bobby Joe Green. But he never gets any consideration at all. Of course, maybe it will turn out that Wilson and Davis get in and Green does not, but all we'd ask in all the stats get looked at as they would now.

We've contacted Elias Sports Bureau and the Bears about getting a complete net punting analysis done to perhaps 1950 or so and they are interesting, but who knows how long that may take.


Jim Turner (N.Y. Jets, 1964-70; Denver, 1971-79)
Turner was All-AFL in 1968 and 1969 (and led the AFL in scoring both seasons) and Second-team All-AFC in 1976 and earned a Super Bowl ring in 1968.

A solid straight-on kicker, above-average percentages for the time. He didn't have a strong leg. But if one were to put a straight-on kicker from that era in, it would have to be Jim Bakken, he had the most points above average for that era. Points above average you ask?

PFRA member, the late Ruppert Patrick's metric PAL—estimated points above average (Pro Football Persepctive's (PFP) Chase Stuart has a similar metric) and Turner is 22nd. They simply take the field goal percentages and measure them against the league averages during a player's time in the league.  PFP has Turner as 18th as of 2015.

For comparison, Bakken, a contemporary, is 6th according to PFP and Patrick's PAL has Bakken is 7th.

Or put another way, Turner never led the AFL or NFL in FG percentage.

We don't bring up Bakken to promote him but to illustrate that one not only has to be a top AFL kicker, but also the best, or one of the best kickers of his era and with all the new information available the voters can consider, a player needs to measure up in all of it to be considered the best of the best or one of the truly great.

So, how would we rank these players? In terms of HOF worthiness? That is not for us. But in terms of peak skills, not considering longevity, we'll take a stab at listing them. 

1. Tom Sestak
2. Rich Jackson
3. Art Powell
4. Jim Tyrer
5. Earl Faison
6. George Webster
7. Abner Haynes
8. Dave Grayson
9. Walt Sweeney
10. Cookie Gilchrist
11. Jim Nance
12. Ike Lassiter
13. Mike Stratton
14. Clem Daniels
15. Warren Wells/Otis Taylor

Friday, May 29, 2020

Piling On Rams Helmets?—Well, If They Deserve It Then It's Okay

By John Turney

The Rams release more photos and explanations of their new uniforms and helmet. We are not sure if it was today or not, but we first saw it today. It was what you might expect from an organization fighting pushback on the release of a new product.

Here is a screen capture of the introduction—

You'll see we've highlighted Fred Gehrke's name. That is because the Rams official website listed him as "fullback Fred Gehrke". He wasn't a fullback. He was a halfback. Piling on? Maybe.  But how hard is it to get that right? All they need do is go to Pro Football to get that information. It's not like we'd ask them to watch film or anything to gather that data point.

Of course, if it were a one-time thing it wouldn't be a big deal, but this comes from an organization that gets a lot wrong. From post-game notes to their media guide. And they don't seem to care and they have a Los Angeles and Ram media that (a) doesn't care or (b) doesn't know enough to correct the Rams staff when they make errors.

Here is an example.
The above shot is from the Rams media guide. They list Eddie Meador as having blocked 10 punts in his career and Jack Youngblood and Deacon Jones as having blocked eight punts each in their Rams careers. None of those three Rams greats ever blocked a single punt in their careers. 

And this isn't just an isolated nit-picking incident. It's a pattern and practice for their organization's media/press relations and elsewhere. 

Moving on.

Now we've again highlighted the same phrase from the release this time highlighting "color" and "shape"—
These are very key. The clear meaning of what the Rams are trying to convey here is that since the color and share of the horns have evolved over time then Rams fans who don't like the new horn (that Rams literature admits is a wave-horn) are simply anti-change or hanging on to a tradition that does not really exist since don't you know the "color and shape of the horns have evolved".

Yeah, right.  Who do you think they are talking to?

That is known as a true lie of a vacuous fallacy and is illogical on its face. It is also a red herring. So take your pick of logical fallacies. 

While it is true that the color and shape have evolved there is a reason for that. However, even so, they have never evolved to exclude the curl of the ram horn so as to render it into a "C" or a banana as Eric Dickerson called it or to hybridize it as a wave-horn as the artists intended it—
It's not that Ram fans couldn't accept a change in color or some small change in shape, it's that they (most of them and other uniform aficionados and NFL fans) didn't want what Kevin Demoff himself called "sacrosanct" bastardized into some "crashing wave" or "ocean wave" looking horn.

They wanted a ram horn with the curl.

And that is why the phrase "color and shape of the horns have evolved" is a true lie or a vacuous fallacy. It is meant to deceive. It is meant to say "hey, this change isn't out of the ordinary, you guys are just ignorant of the past, there have been lots of changes, you just don't know about them, we are the Rams brass, we're smart, we've researched this stuff (like they did Fred Gehrke?) and we know the color and shape has changed before".

Again. Yeah, right. 

We can hear D-Day, Bluto, Boon, and the rest of Delta Tau Chi coughing "Bullshit" under their breaths on this one. 

Here are the facts. Yes, the colors and shape of the ram horn have changed over the years. Why? Because the Rams have changed colors over the years. That explains the color change. Now, in 2020, we are not aware of anyone who does not like the new Rams colors—Rams Royal and Sol, or also known as 'blue' and 'yellow' or 'gold' if you like. Most like the metallic chrome blue helmet as well.

Perhaps some don't. It sure looks good on Angelo State—
So there is no reason it shouldn't look good on the Los Angeles Rams . It sure "worked" for the logo didn't it?—
So, we've established that the Rams have changed colors since 1948 when the Rams added the horns to their uniforms. They went from blue and gold, to red and gold (one year) to blue and gold, to blue and white to blue and gold to navy and old gold. And in each change, the helmets were the darker color and the horns were the lighter color. Nothing that would not be expected over a 70+ year history.

Here are the major Rams helmets from 1948-2020. Only one lacks the curl but there have been changes in color. No doubt. 
As for the shape, which is the real issue. yes, the shape has changed, too. In 1948 the Rams helmets were leather and the horns were had painted. In 1948 the helmets were plastic and the horn was a decal. In 1950 the helmets were plastic and the horns were painted again. 

Over time the shape of helmets changed and that necessitated the change in the shape of the horn. Facemasks were added in the early-to-mid 1950s. Then those masks became "cages" for some players with different attachment points. That evolved over time as did the helmets. In the late-1970s the horns were again applied by decal, rather than being masked off and painted on. The color of the helmets varied from time to time as the helmets when from being ordered white then sprayed blue (with the horn masked) to being pigmented blue in the manufacturing process. And on and on.

But the horn ALWAYS had the curl of a mature ram. Not the curl of a wave or a very young male ram. It never looked like a "C" or a banana.

Here are horns from 1948 to the 2010s. The color has changed, even the curl angles changed some, depending on the era. The amount of space and the type of attachment the masks required. 
But over that 72 years, none of them do this cur the curl almost out completely—
So it's really odd that the Rams are trying to see this as some run-of-the-mill change similar in size and scope as has been done in the previous 72 years so as to try and soften the blow to Ram fans who are pushing back and to NFL fans who are responding to polls overwhelmingly negatively.

The first tact by Kevin Demoff was to go on the radio and for all intents and purposes call those who didn't like the uniforms "anti-change" and then said they would love it when they saw the uniforms under the right circumstances, in the new stadium (aren't have the games on the road?) on the oculus and so on. And when did Demoff see the new uniforms in the new stadium anyway? Did we miss the opening? He also said, from a distance, the horn will look like the old Ram horn anyway. Great, but what about up close? 

The rest of the pro-new look Ram crowd will just go after critics of the new lid with name-calling, "You're old, anti-change, you're a 49er fan, you're stupid, you're gay, and so on". And that goes for others who have been critical of the new wave-horn on Twitter. Demoff has divided the Rams fanbase in our view. It's gotten very ugly. But that is what this kind of thing reaps when you sow this kind of division. 

It would be as though the Yankees changed their pinstripes and interlocking "NY" or the Montreal Canadiens changed their "C".  The Rams logo was the NFL's first and Demoff changed it significantly and then when called out on it told telling his organization to call it a routine change, similar to that which has been done in the past. Nothing to see here, move on. 

He must think he's talking to the local LA media or the Rams online media. Some can be fooled by Demoffspeak. We won't. 

Mr. Demoff, Don't say this is just a routine change. Say you didn't hold the original horn shape with the curl of a mature ram sacrosanct. Just say that you wanted a wave-horn. Say that held more value to you. It's offensive to people who know the difference between a normal change like what happened in 1964, 1973, and 2000 and what has happened in 2020. Thinking people get the difference. Don't try to spin your way out of it. Nothing can be done to change it. You won. It will be this way for at least five years. And if you are stubborn, as long as you are with the Rams. Congrats. 

Just mount these magnificent curled horned specimens on your wall. One is endangered. Two of them are extinct, the two on the right. 

Now on to Nike
Yes. Right there. The horn is chopped off. 
This morning the Rams released on YouTube a video entitled "The Design Process of the Rams New Uniforms - Behind the Scenes". It may have been released earlier on the Rams website but we missed it. 

In this video, Nike's Steve McClard (Sr. Design Director) and Jason Wright (Sr. Graphic Designer) offer opinions, which are simply not defensible regarding the Rams horn. 

Again, it's more of the same buzzwords used by fast guys and slick talkers who always try to get your money. They are not the plain-spoken, straight talkers needed to explain why they changed the iconic horn to such a degree and why they need to try and justify it as Demoff does as "respecting the past" which is clearly not true.

Wright said, "We had the opportunity to bring that (the horn) design into the modern era". McClard added, "There also was a healthy respect of the past. If would have been really easy for you guys to say, 'hey, let's throw everything out for the new, and start over, but that wasn't the case". 

Well, Mr. McClard, with the integrity of the horn, that is what happened. That is why you used qualifying words like a healthy respect. What does that mean? In whose opinion. What IS a healthy respect? Is that a little? A Lot. This is a weasel word, sir. 

Ben Marker, the General Manager of Riddell, then opined, "I think the change in the Ram horn is very cutting edge" I believe it is very unique to what is in the NFL right now." Well, in the second half he's right. There are no other wave-horns. But "cutting edge"? Again, that is a buzzword. It has no real meaning except in a PR video which is what he appeared in that the Rams released, in our view as damage control. And then he goes into the color, which again, as far as we know is generally accepted. So, if he's talking about that then we and most everyone would agree. 

Earlier in the video, Wright said, "When there are no limitations you can kind of go down rabbit holes". Wait, didn't Demoff report to the media that he told Nike that the horn was "sacrosanct"? Well, Nike, we guess, thought there were no limitations and it's apparent because the curl in the horn was left out.
If Nike was told horns were sacrosanct, what is with this iteration?
The spin will be "well, it's our job to look at everything", Sure it is.
Why is there a set of uniforms with helmets with just numerals on them?
Clearly more was on the table than Demoff and Nike is telling fans.
Look, these guys did what they were paid to do. The responsibility is with the Rams brass. Sure, what they are saying is weak sauce. Just saying the words "cutting edge" does not make it "cutting edge". Saying you brought the horn into the "modern era" does not mean you did. Just uttering the syllables of the words that sound out the words "a healthy respect of the past" does not make it so. Claims like that need to be proven when you've changed an icon to the level which they have.

Those are platitudes used in a video that was meant to get fans excited about new uniforms. It's not a real discussion of things. It's not intelligent debate, nor was it meant to be.

Why did Rams release now? We don't know. Maybe we just missed it. 

But since they offered their views and we've given ours—There was not a healthy respect for the past in the changing of the horn and their so-called "modernizing" is just a word with no basis in fact or evidence. 

They but a break in the horn near the top and cut out the curl. There, done, that is your "modern horn". And oh, by the way, we were inspired by Fibonacci and the ocean waves of Los Angeles beaches when he designed it. That is not modernization. That is just Nikespeak which is bullshit to you and me.

McClard called the Rams uniforms "future timeless". The same thing was likely said by Nike executives about the Cleveland Browns uniforms or the Jacksonville Jaguars uniforms or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniforms and look at what happened to them. Timeless became just about the league minimum for the amount of time you have to wear a Nike-designed eyesore. 

Future timeless?

How about the present desecration of an icon? The NFL's first logo, Mr. McClard. 

This wasn't that hard, any of these would be fine.

The upper-left was created by someone on Twitter named "Made by Tim", though we did change that to blue. The bottom left, also was someone on Twitter. Again, let us know if you did it and we will credit you. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dissecting the Original Hail Mary Pass

By Joe Zagorski
There have been few individual plays in pro football history that have received more scrutiny than the play that occurred on December 28, 1975, in Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota.  The play known for posterity as the original “Hail Mary Pass” has been written about, discussed and even argued over for the past two generations now, and not unlike Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” in the 1972 playoffs, it probably will continue to earn further study and discussion as time goes on.  The play gave the league one of its most exciting moments, and it is certainly one that has earned its “legendary” status.

I had to look at the play again several years ago when I wrote my first book, The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football’s Most Important Decade. Since then, several readers of my book commented on different aspects of the play that are unique to consider, most notable concerning the offensive pass interference that did or did not occur on the play. As a result, I decided to readdress the play, dissect it as closely as possible in its frame by frame seconds from every angle that is available, just to see if I missed anything, and finally, to offer my definitive opinion here in this article on the legality (or illegality) of the play.

Many memorable plays in NFL history have one common denominator: Controversy.  The original Hail Mary Pass is no different in that regard. Practically every Minnesota fan today claims that Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson pushed off on Vikings cornerback Nate Wright, in order for Pearson to make the catch. Those Vikings fans have good reason for their accusation.

If you watch the film of the play, as the ball descends, both Pearson and Wright collide with each other for a brief moment…less than a second if you will. But before we address that moment, let’s go back to the start of the play.  Heck, let’s go back to several plays before the start of the play, when a mini version of the Hail Mary Pass occurred.

The Cowboys had been dominating this playoff game, at least statistically. They held an advantage in practically every statistical category, yet they found themselves down on the scoreboard, 14-10, with just 1:51 remaining on the game clock. Dallas was situated at their own 15-yard line when they took control of the ball following a Vikings punt.

They would need to gain another 85 yards to win this game, and Minnesota was employing their Prevent Defense, with their defensive backs staying further back than usual, in order to foil a long pass. But as former Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden was so famous in expressing, “The only thing that the Prevent Defense prevents is victory.”

Dallas managed to move the ball to their 24-yard line, but they were faced with a fourth-and-16 situation.  This is where the mini version of the Hail Mary Pass takes place. During the first three downs of this momentous drive, veteran Dallas center John Fitzgerald was having difficulty snapping the ball back to quarterback Roger Staubach, who stood five yards behind him in the Shotgun formation. Most of his snaps were low, and one even bounced back to Staubach, who adroitly fielded it.

Cowboys head coach Tom Landry quickly realized that this was becoming a big problem, especially in so important of a game. So Landry threw caution to the wind and replaced Fitzgerald with rookie center Kyle Davis. That move proved to be yet another example of Coach Landry’s genius (or at the very least, his good luck). The snaps that Davis sent back to Staubach for the remainder of the game were perfect.

But the situation that the Cowboys found themselves in at this particular moment was certainly not perfect. They needed 16 yards on the next play, or their season was over. Landry called for a pass where the primary receiver, Drew Pearson, would be required to run a deep fly pattern, then stop on a dime after roughly 20 yards, make an abrupt turn to his right, then run back towards the sideline, where he would – if the play worked – catch Staubach’s pass before he would go out of bounds. It is commonly referred to as an “down and back” route. It sounds simple, but the play would require more than just Pearson’s efforts for it to work.

First of all, Davis would have to snap the ball back to Staubach accurately, which he did.  Next, Dallas right offensive tackle Rayfield Wright would have to drive Minnesota defensive end, Carl Eller, far outside of the pass pocket and away from the backpedaling Staubach. Wright succeeded brilliantly in this task. Staubach would then have to deliver as perfect a pass to his receiver as possible, which he did. Finally, Pearson would have to run his route and catch the ball, which he did.

As Pearson leaped and grasped the ball, he was hit by Nate Wright before he landed. In fact, Wright’s hit knocked Pearson out of bounds. It looked like the game was over right there. But wait! The NFL rules at that time stipulated that if a defensive player knocked a receiver out of bounds before the receiver could land on the ground, the referee then had the duty to individually determine if the receiver would have landed inbounds had he not been forced out by the defender. The head linesman on the sideline, Jerry Bergman, determined that Pearson indeed would have landed inbounds had he not been shoved out of bounds by Nate Wright. Despite a gruntled group of Minnesota defensive players, Dallas was given a first down at midfield.

Credit: CBS
But the Cowboys were now down to under a minute left in the game. An incomplete Staubach pass on first down left Dallas with just 32 seconds left on the clock. The ball was situated on the 50-yard line. It was definitely one of the most pressure-filled moments that the game could present. For the previous few plays, Staubach had been asking Pearson in the huddle if he felt the time was right to go deep.  Finally, Pearson told his quarterback that it was time.
Excellent protection for staubach on the 'Hail Mary" pass
Staubach caught the snap from Davis. Second-year running back Charles Young then broke from his stance and ran backwards to help the other Dallas blockers fend off the surging Minnesota linemen in the pass pocket. Wright drove Eller far out of the way. Staubach pump-faked his throw toward the center of the field, in the hopes of drawing Vikings safety Paul Krause away from where Pearson would be running towards.

The ploy worked to perfection, as Krause hesitated just long enough to keep him from helping Nate Wright. Staubach then threw deep for Pearson. As soon as he released the ball, he muttered a Catholic prayer to himself, The Hail Mary.
Credit: CBS
Staubach’s throw was one of the longest that he threw in the entire game. Unfortunately for him and for Pearson, however, it was not long enough. This is where the grand controversy came into play. It is a controversy that has withstood the test of time, as supporters of both sides continue to vehemently argue the issue. 

We’re talking 45 years now folks! Anyway, I will try to describe what I saw from two different NFL Films angles, as well as the original CBS-TV broadcast. Pearson had to slow down to have any chance to catch the descending ball. Wright did not originally notice that Pearson had to slow down on running his route, as Wright’s focus was on the ball. Both men had their arms extended, as if to catch the pass. The two men did bump into each other, but only slightly, and not intentionally.

Their collision was enough, however, for Wright to lose his balance and fall to the turf.  This was due, I believe, because Wright had to practically stop and come back further for the ball than Pearson did. Wright had maintained inside position on Pearson all throughout the play.

I can understand why many Vikings fans feel that Pearson had pushed Wright at this moment. Pearson brought his arms across the back of Wright in order to try to catch the ball. His arms may have brushed against the back of Wright’s jersey, but his hands and arms were not extended in any way until he gained a position behind Wright, who at this time was trying to redirect his body to the arc of the football. The ball had finally arrived at this point, but neither man was in a decent position to actually catch it.
Credit: NFL Films
This is the moment where an actual and extremely rare “football miracle” occurred. As Wright fell to the ground, the ball hit his left leg, above his ankle, but below his knee. The ball immediately (and I mean immediately…like a shot out of a gun) ricocheted right into the Pearson’s right hip, where it lodged between his hip and the inside of his right forearm.  

It happened so fast, that to actually see it, you really have to slow the game films down to a frame by frame analysis. But it did happen in just that way.  Pearson appears to be just as surprised that the ball was now attached to the side of his body as any of the people in Metropolitan Stadium, or the millions of television viewers across the nation were, most of whom were probably not believing what they had just witnessed. It was certainly an epic moment of “Divine Intervention.”

The third-year wide receiver contained his wits about him at this moment, however.  He quickly saw that he was holding onto the ball, not with his hands mind you, but rather with his right arm and his right hip!  But he also instantly noticed that he was still two yards away from the end zone.

He immediately moved toward the goal line. Minnesota safety Paul Krause had by this time recovered from his initial reading of the play and Staubach’s pump fake to make it to the sideline. But he was a step late, and just a fraction of a second before he could reach to try to make a tackle, Pearson had crossed the goal line.

“Looking back, I think the pump fake helped a lot,” said Staubach after the game. “Not only did it keep Krause from being involved in breaking up the pass, but it delayed him just long enough so he couldn’t tackle Drew and stop the touchdown.”

Pearson in a moment of expressible glee then threw the ball at the giant scoreboard at the open end of Metropolitan Stadium, just before he was mobbed by a throng of his jubilant teammates. There was certainly no joy on the part of the Minnesota players, however.

They surrounded practically every referee that they could find and voiced their displeasure that no offensive pass interference call was made.  They and the multitude of Vikings fans felt (and still feel) that Pearson had pushed Wright to the ground.

“From our side of the field, there is no question that Nate (Wright) was pushed,” exclaimed Minnesota head coach Bud Grant. Pearson had nothing to lose. If they call a penalty on him, what had he lost? They would just line up and try another long pass. It was one chance in a hundred that he would get away with it, but it was the only chance he had.”
Credit: NFL Films
This author disagrees with Grant’s assertion that Pearson pushed off on the momentous play. If one slows the films down to their absolute slowest speed, one can see that Pearson was trying to bring his arms across Wright’s back, not against Wright’s back. Pearson never extended his hands and arms, as if to push against Wright, until after Wright’s body was already beyond Pearson’s. 

As a result, this was simply a moment of unintentional contact between two players trying to make a catch. The referees were correct in keeping their yellow hankies in their back pockets. The Cowboys thus prevailed, 17-14.

The Dallas miracle touchdown with just 24 seconds left on the clock shocked football fans across the country. Dallas was an underdog going into this game, but the fact remains that they had outplayed the Vikings all game long. The better team on this day won, albeit with the help of one big controversial play.

This game, not unlike the defensive pass interference call that was not called on Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman in the 2018 NFC Championship Game at New Orleans, has unfortunately given many football fans the firm belief that the officials will keep their penalty flags hermetically sealed inside of their trousers during the final two minutes of a big game.

No referee wants to be the reason why one team wins and one team loses, even if a penalty is blatantly obvious to millions of others watching that particular game.

In conclusion, many Minnesota Vikings fans feel that they got jobbed in the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoffs. The films, however, if observed keenly and with an open mind, say otherwise.

Editor’s Note: Joe Zagorski has written three books about the NFL.  They include The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football’s Most Important Decade (2016); The Year the Packers Came Back: Green Bay’s 1972 Resurgence (2019); and America’s Trailblazing Middle Linebacker: The Story of NFL Hall of Famer Willie Lanier (2020).  He is currently writing his fourth book, a biography of former Philadelphia Eagles free safety Bill Bradley.