By TJ Troup
We are approaching the quarter pole during a very entertaining first three weeks of the NFL. Just a couple of stat notes; the bottom five teams in rushing have not won a game. Yes it is a passing league, yet running the ball still has meaning, especially when your offense has balance.
There are four teams that are 3-0 that have won twice on the road already: the Titans of Tennessee, the Chiefs of Kansas City, the Packers of Green Bay, and the Bears of Chicago. The Bears of Chicago have three wins? You mean Conor Orr of SI who predicted the Bears would win only six games all year?
Do the math Conor, the Bears have seven remaining home games, and only need four more wins over the course of the thirteen games left and you are wrong? Though very intrigued by the baseball season when it was finally announced, and a sixty game schedule released, had no idea what all of us fans would get?
Being Chicago born, and wearing #11 as a little league shortstop—always have cheered for my Cubs first, but also for the White Sox. Over the course of the last 70 years only seven times have both the Cubs & Sox had winning seasons in the same year, and only TWICE have both teams made the playoffs in the same year (2008 & 2020).
Won't miss a pitch this afternoon when the Sox take on Oakland. Each week in this column will re-visit an anniversary of the past Sunday's games, and for today we go back to 1942. The Washington Redskins had finally overcome the demoralizing loss to the Bears in December of '40 and had a powerful team in 1942 that would win the championship, yet they did lose a game that year. September 27th, 1942 the New York Football Giants beat them in a very strange game statistically. New York did not record any first downs and gained 51 yards of total offense. Twenty-six running plays gained 1 yard, and the Giants attempted just one pass in the rainy conditions that day. The pass was complete for 50 yards and a touchdown.
This past weekend we had 16 games and the fewest first downs recorded by any of the winning teams was 14 by Carolina, and the fewest yards gained in total offense was 294 by Miami. The way we move the ball has not changed much, as teams either run or pass, but the rules, and offensive schemes and philosophy sure have.
The title for this weeks column comes from Steve Sabol who would be celebrating his 78th birthday this Friday. Watching vintage film was the reason for my visits to NFL Films, yet every time there was an insightful thought-provoking, and fun discussion with Steve.
His favorite running back when he was a youngster was Hugh "The King" McElhenny. Hugh had many outstanding games, and open field runs, but his most productive season was 1956 when Steve was fourteen. The night game scheduled in 1965 between the Bears and Rams was re-scheduled for a sunshiny Sunday afternoon.
|Credit: Merv Corning |
The Bears had a tremendous rookie crop in '65, and a couple of them you might have heard of? Butkus & Sayers. Sayers takes the hand-off and sweeps left, pulls up to throw an option pass (he was left-handed), does not throw, and begins to weave his way to the right. The youngster uses his speed and moves to score on an 18-yard run that was more like 35. Why Halas benched Gale is still a mystery, as this was his only carry in the 30-28 loss to the Rams?
This was Sayers' first of 22 touchdowns, and I was there in person to watch at the age of fourteen. Much has been written about this truly amazing player, and if you take the time to evaluate his eye-popping stats you would discover the following.
Nine times he had a run of 50 yards or longer, and he did it over the course of just 39 games. Sayers averaged 5.85 yards a carry when Chicago won, compared to 4.16 when they lost.
Watching him explode, and accelerate on kick-off returns was a visual that remains seared in my memory, and averaging over 30 yards per kick-off return in a career tells you he exploded and accelerated often.
Many backs that have been the focal point of their offense, and get the ball often, yet Sayers carried the ball 20 times or more just ten games in his short career. During the late '60's Bud Grant was building an impregnable defense, as the Vikings before him struggled stopping the run. Gale Sayers gained 978 yards rushing against Minnesota on just 159 carries!
Trying to paint the portrait of Sayers with statistics just is not enough...if you can put on the film of him, and watch please do so.
Where does he rank as an open-field runner? Most would have him in the top ten, or even top five. After his brief NFL career, Sayers had success in other areas, and though confident in his ability "just give me 18 inches of daylight", he was a humble man and a team player. RIP Gale, you remain one of my all-time heroes.