Monday, March 22, 2021

Versatile Ones—Hidden Gems

 By John Turney 
Randall Cunningham rips off a 91-yard bomb
What if you had to build a modern team of 22 players with no Hall of Famers. Who would you pick? remember you need to fill all the positions and the special teams as well. So versatility counts here, it's not a "he should be in the Hall of Fame post, though some should me) it's picking guys who could do a lot of things and would fill out a 22-man roster and cover all your bases, kicking, punting, snapping, holding and coverage, and blocking on special teams. 

Here is our go at it—

First-team

OFFENSE
C—Rich Saul. Saul was a very good center, All-Pro-level. He also was a long-snapper and a great special teams player. He could also fill in at guard and tight end and even tackle. At times he wore two jerseys numbers when he played both the offensive line and tight end (#87 so he would be eligible as a receiver). 
G—Doug Wilkerson. Again, a very good guard and was someone who could run down on kickoffs and was a great wedge blocker.
G—Bob Kuechenberg. He was a great guard, could play tackle at a high level, and could long snap.
T—Joe Jacoby. Great left tackle, both in run blocking and pass blocking, played right tackle and guard at a high level as well, whatever he was asked to do, and a good blocker on the kick protection teams. 
T—James Williams. Ended his career as a Pro Bowl-level tackle who blocked plenty of kicks and began his career as a defensive lineman so he can fill in there for you. 
TE—Marlin McKeever. A Pro Bowl tight end and a good linebacker as well, both as a middle linebacker and outside. Also blocked a slew of kicks.
QB—Randall Cunningham—had more than one MVP-level season and could punt well when needed.
FB—Tank Younger. A good runner, decent receiver, great blocker, and when he played linebacker was  All-Pro level based on film study
RB—Herschel Walker. A super talented runner and receiver and could return kicks as well and late in his career you could still see him running down on kickoffs making tackles.
SE—Del Shofner. A tremendous split end with great speed. For some reason, he was moved to defensive back for a year. He had is one of the few (perhaps the only) player that had a career sack, interception and touchdown reception, and also a punt. 
WR—Roy Green. A speedster who was a great deep threat and could play defensive back—was a fine nickel back.

DEFENSE
DE—Lou Michaels. A left defensive end with some skill and a left-footed straight-on kicker. 
DE—Ron McDole. A defensive end who could get some rush, one of the best kick blockers ever, and could play guard (as he did early in his career).
NT—Joe Klecko. Nose was maybe his best position but he also played DE in both a 4-3 and 3-4 and 4-3 defensive tackle as well. Not a factor on special teams, though. 
ILB—Karl Mecklenburg. An inside linebacker who played RDE in nickel, but could play tackle was well and could do it on both the strong and weak side and also could play MLB in a 4-3. He does not get a checkmark for special teams, though but due to his versatility on we picked him anyway.
ILB—Bryan Cox. He was an excellent 3-4 OLBer, and played MIKE in base later, and RDE in nickel and some 3-4 inside linebacker as well. 
OLB—Matt Blair. A HOF-level SAM 'Backer and one of the top 2-3 kick blockers ever.
OLB—Cornelius Bennett. Outside linebacker, inside later in career, 3-4, 4-3 it didn't matter. A LDE in nickel early in career, run stopper, cover, everything. 
CB—Abe Woodson. A fine, fine cover corner. Four-time All-Pro as one of the best-ever combination kick and punt returners who was especially great on kick returns. 
CB—Albert Lewis. Clear HOF-lever corner and the best punt blocker ever.
Cromwell blocks a punt with his left hand
S—Nolan Cromwell. Another HOF-level player who could play strong or free safety. Was a slot corner in nickel, even started as cornerback a few games in 1979. He played "Buffalo nickel" under Fritz Shurmur. On special teams, he was perhaps the best holder ever with great hands and could execute fakes and was a fine punt blocker, and was the safety on kick coverage his entire career. And as a bonus could be your emergency quarterback.
S—Bill Bradley. An All-Pro safety and a good punter and a fair kick and punt returner and also held for placekicks. 

Second-Team

OFFENSE
C—Doug Smith—Filled in as a rookie for Dennis Harrah. Won the left guard outright in 1979 until he was felled by a knee injury. In 1980 when Dennis Harrah held out he kept the staring right guard job even after Harrah returned. Harrah didn't get the job back until Smith hurt a knee again. In 1981 Smith filled in at both guards and right tackle. Finally, in 1982, he began his Pro Bowl career as a center. 
G—Randy Cross. A fine guard and also center. 
G—Leonard Davis. A huge man, played guard and both tackles. On all the protection teams. 
T—Flozell Adams. Solid tackle and was a very good kick blocker. Began his career as a guard, so he can players as well and can play both tackle spots.
T—Tim Irwin. Also, a solid tackle and could block kicks with the best of the offensive linemen (9 blocks).
TE—Leon Hart. They did not call his position tight end at the time, but he was aligned next to a tackle early in his career. He was huge for his era (6-5, 257) and even decent-sized for this era. He played defense and in his final three seasons converted to fullback was a starter for the Lions at that position.
QB—Kordell Stewart. A quarterback who was a winner, he could run, throw and we think, had he stayed at wide receiver, would have been an All-Pro at that spot. Was really uncanny out there. 
FB—Don McCauley. A fine combination of a decent runner but a very special third-down back who was really tremendous in short-yardage runs and also as a receiving back—a rare combination. He could also return a kickoff for you, even ran one back for a touchdown. 
RB—Greg Pruitt. He was a 1,000-yard runner a good receiver out of the backfield and a Pro Bowl lever kick and punt returner.  And he threw six career touchdown passes on halfback options, kind of a throwback to the Giffords and Hornungs, and even om Tracy's of the 1950s and 60s NFL. 
FL—Pat Studstill. A very good flanker, but could also punt and return kicks and punts. and he didn't just do those things, he did them all very well, his numbers were occasionally near-league leading in those categories 
WR—Troy Brown. A pretty good possession receiver who played defensive back for a couple of years.

DEFENSE
DE—Richard Seymour. Was a 30 end but sunk the tackle in nickle. Was a good kick blocker (special teams skills) and also played some fullback on offense.
DE—Too Tall Jones. Played LDE in the flex defense and blocked ten kicks, likely should have blocked more given his height, but he did deflect over 100 passes and had over 100 sacks, and sometimes sunk to defensive tackle in nickel, though not often, mostly in 1975 and late in his career.
DT—Kevin Williams. Five career blocks and played end as a rookie and inside later where he was dominant. 
NT—Shaun Rogers. Stout nose who was special as a kick blocker (17 blocks) as well. 
ILB—Fredd Young. A Pro Bowl inside linebacker, before that, was Pro Bowl special teamer and while with Seattle was a standup defensive end in nickel situations.
OLB—Mike Vrabel. And outside linebacker, could rush and cover, could fill in and inside linebacker, could put a hand in dirt and rush as a DE. And on goalline as a TE—ten touchdowns.
OLB—(tie) Chad Brown and Larry Morris. Brown played great at outside linebacker and inside linebacker and also a guy who played defensive end in nickel with hand in dirt. Morris was a 4-3 linebacker who had a lot of sacks for his say but also could play fullback for you and also center. 
CB—Irv Cross. A complete corner who could cover, tackle, play the run. Also could return a kick and one of the best edge rushers on kicks ever (16 blocks of FGs and PATs). 
CB—Dave Whitsell. A Good corner who could hold for your kicker. And the best edge rusher on kicks ever (21 kicks blocked).
S—Eddie Meador. Like Whitsell, Meador blocked kicks (12 total), was a very good holder but in addition, an All-Pro level safety, and early in his career was a pretty good cornerback. 
S—(tie) Jerry Norton. A very good safety and also a good punter; Jim Norton. A safety who was an All-AFL level and a good punter as well—like Jerry Norton.


There are a couple of mentions we'd like to make concerning positions changed. Larry Brown, the Steeler's fine tackle began as a tight end and ended as a right tackle but he gained a ton of weight and really was a different player. So we decided to go against picking players like him. But, if you like, you can put him up there in place of one of the tackles. 

Another guy like that is Keith Traylor who began as a linebacker, got bigger and bigger and moved to nose tackle, and was a good one. However, neither had a special teams skill that was special. 

The Rams Cullen Bryant was a big safety as a rookie and he could run. But he got into weight lifting and was moved to running back, but could still run, in 1976 he returned his third kickoff for a touchdown and he also returned punts those first four years of 235 or so pounds. But he just kept hitting the weights and was a good all-around fullback who could run, catch, and was an excellent blocker. 

Paul Costa of the Bills was a good tight end and moved to tackle in the same way Larry Brown did but did not have as long a career. Ronnie Lee of the Dolphins with a similar career path. 

The Chargers Russ Washington was a defensive tackle (even a nose at 6 foot seven inches) for a couple of years before moving to right tackle but again, not much of a special team's presence.  AJ Duhe could play inside linebacker, outside, and defensive end—very similar to Karl Mecklenburg.

Current players like Elgton Jenkins and Taysom Hill are on track to be on teams like this in the future. And as we know there are Hall of Famers that were very versatile as well like Bruce Matthews (C/G/T) and Deion Sanders with his return skills added to his coverage skills. Night Train Lane, Ted Hendricks, Alan Page with their kick blocking prowess, and so on.

Then you could throw in a Steve Tasker who was a great special teams player and could fill in very well as a wide receiver or Ivory Sully who was every bit as good a special teams player as Tasker (don't @ us) and was a very versatile safety who played linebacker in dime and dollar packages and was a starter for the Bucs a couple of seasons. So guys like that would be fun to put in the mix, too.

We are sure to have missed some from your favorite team, so tell us, who are your 22 with no Hall of Famers?

Edited: Original post had Ray Childress as Second-Team DE. After consideration, we changed to Richard Seymour due to his ability to play fullback and also his kick blocking. We omitted Seymour because we think he will be in the Hall of Fame soon but then realized the ground rules were if a player were in HOF now. So, we made the change. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Raymond Clayborn—Lost the the Crowd?

 By John Turney 
In a decade that was full of great corners, sometimes we think Raymond Clayborn does get lost in the shuffle a little bit. We not necessarily suggest he was better than some of the Hall of fam corner from that era and even some that are still waiting, but he was a guy you could win with and he, like Albert Lewis, brought something extra to the table in terms of special teams, as a returner. 

Said Joel Buchsbaum in the mid-1980s about Clayborn,  "A complete corner who rarely gets beaten deep and though he can no longer run a 9.5 he can stay up with the speedsters".

Clayborn was the conscience of his rankings among his peers, even late in his career (1990) he told the papers, "I really want to go out there and be the best. I feel like I have been the best for a number of years. Last year I played very well. I was probably the best cornerback in the NFL although I didn't get the accolades that I deserved". 

Early in his career, Clayborn was overshadowed by "The Shadow"—Mike Haynes, the All-Pro on his own team. Later, All-Pros like Lester Hayes, Hanford Dixon, Frank Minnifield, Albert Lewis, Everson Walls, Darrell Green, and others all got All-pro selections but so did Clayborn. 

He was All-Pro in 1983 and Second-team All-Pro in 1985 and 1986 and making the Pro Bowl all three of those seasons. He was tall (6-0) and had long arms and had good catch-up speed, especially early on to make him an effective corner.

After Mike Haynes was injured and then traded to the Raiders, Clayborn moved to a more natural position of right corner and he began to really show his wares, beginning his run of receiving "honors".  In fact, in 1983 he picked off no passes but in the Sporting News poll of players he came up as one of the two best corners in the NFL. He just didn't get picked on and didn't get chances for many picks. 

The other aspect we mentioned was his role as a great kickoff returner early in his career—which he only did for two seasons but as a rookie, he returned three kicks for touchdowns and averaged 31.0 yards a kick. In the history of the NFL, only four players have returned three kicks for touchdowns and averaged over 30.0 yards a return while returning 25 or more kicks. the other three are Ron Brown (1985), Abe Woodson (1963), and Andre' Davis (2007). Not a bad achievement.

So, here is a guy called by Buchsbaum a complete corner who was "above the line" in honors four times and was a stellar kick returner. You could sure so a lot worse at corner/kick returner in your secondary.

Stats—

Honors—

Thursday, March 18, 2021

1925 Red Grange Tour Game Photos (Coral Gables, FL)

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films
1925 Red Grange-Chicago Bears vs Coral Gables All-Stars, game program

Off and on for the past twenty-five years I’ve researched the life and career of Red Grange. I’m always looking for anything and everything about the Galloping Ghost. Most of my research was used for my biography on him that was published in 2019. Little did I knew that I would find more material from an online source.

I was doing research on Florida Memory, the website ran by the State Library and Archives of Florida. Within their library that had material from the William A. Fishbaugh Collection, a well-known photographer in Miami during the decades of the 1920’s to the 1940’s. Within this collection I found a treasure trove of photos.

I was surprised and ecstatic to see what I found. Fishbaugh was working in the Miami area when Red Grange and the Chicago Bears visited Coral Gables to play during the famous 1925-1926 barnstorming tour. He took some great images of one of the greatest events in NFL history.  

William A. Fishbaugh, Miami photographer
(Courtesy: Florida Memory, Fishbaugh Collection) 

Backstory

After World War I the state of Florida saw a land boom in real estate that had never been seen before. With more time and money to spend, Americans ventured to Florida to buy up land in the sunshine state. By 1925 the state’s population exceeded 1.2 million residents. It was an area that was growing. C. C. Pyle, Red Grange’s manager, saw it as an area primed for making money by presenting events (a pro football game) to well-to-do customers.

CORAL GABLES GAME

Friday December 25, 1925

Chicago Bears vs Coral Gables All-Stars; at Coral Gables Stadium

Back in November of 1925, as Grange was finishing up his collegiate career at Illinois, Pyle traveled to Miami he met with Henry R. Dutton, recreational director for the city of Coral Gables. After 48 hours of negotiating the two finally came up with an agreement. Dutton said: “We feel justified in predicating that Coral Gables will be able to stage the greatest program of post-season football in the history of the game.” Tim Callahan, a former Yale guard who was team captain in 1920, was hired by Dutton to coach the team. The plan was for Coral Gables to build a stadium that would have a capacity of 20,000.

As for the split of the gate Pyle held all the cards. He had the “star” that everybody wanted to see. Dutton gave in to the demands. Pyle drew up a standard three-page contract- which he would do for all the stops on the southern and western games. For this stop he asked for a guarantee of $25,000, an unheard of sum for a pro football game. Pyle asked for $5,000 up front on the day the contract was signed and the rest ($20,000) deposited in the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank by December 19th. Pyle then got 66% of the gate receipts. The game was set for Christmas Day 1925. 

1925 Game Contract, C.C. Pyle and Henry R. Dutton of Coral Gables
(Courtesy: Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Because of the large guarantee tickets were set very high at $5.50, $8.80, $11.20 (end seats), and $13.20 (center-midfield). Ads in the Miami Herald and Miami Daily News read:

FOOTBALL GAME

“Red” Grange and his team of ex-college stars versus CORAL GABLES Collegiate All-Stars

Christmas Day- December 25th at

Coral Gables Athletic Stadium; Game Called 3 p.m.



They could be purchased at Tiny Parker Reservation (Ticket) Agency located in the lobby of the Alta Vista Hotel. Arriving in Coral Gables, a town roughly six miles from Miami, Red and the Bears stepped off the train at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 23rd, as the team was met by fans and a police escort to the hotel. Later that evening Red, Pyle, and the whole Bears team attended a banquet held at the Coral Gables Country Club. Hosted by the Illinois Alumni the 200 guests, including the town’s mayor Edward Dammers, toasted Red. The evening was followed by a night of music and dancing.

The following day the Bears conducted a workout. When they visited the empty field where the game was to be played what they found was hundreds of busy workers building a stadium on four and half acres of land. Work started on the stadium just two weeks earlier, but it wasn’t until Dec. 16th that the construction crew got really busy. Crew Supervisor J.W. Ricketts oversaw 82 large trucks who hauled lumber and supplies to the site. His staff included 400 workmen, working 8-hour shifts to have the stadium ready by Christmas Day. A chef was hired to prepare sandwiches and hot coffee for the laborers. Each day saw 100,000 feet of lumber sawed and put into place with 35 tons of cast iron pipe laid. When the stadium was finish 600,000 feet of lumber had been used with 250,000 riveted bolts. The U-shape arrangement of seats stretched 1,120 feet around the eastern, northern and western side of the stadium in 17 sections. Coral Gables Stadium was completed at midnight on Dec. 23rd with the final touches to the stands that would seat 16,000 spectators. Seats rose up 24 rows, some 66 feet from top to bottom with a press box.

Also at the site was photographer William Fishbaugh. The 51-year Fishbaugh was a well known photographer in Miami, mainly doing photo work for land developer George Merrick, who had developed Coral Gables in the 1920's. Fishbaugh's images sold the town to the buying public who wanted to live in the Florida sun. At this time Fishbaugh was assigned to shot photos of the stadium being built and the Grange football game. 

For the next few days Fishbaugh took photos of the stadium being built. 


Dec. 19, 1925 (two photos of stadium) 



Dec. 21st (Three photos) 


Dec 24th (Two photos, day before game) 

At the workout Red suffered a black eye. During one play he ran smacked into the elbow of one of his teammates. The swelling mark under his left eye showed that the sport wasn’t even easier in the Florida sun. The Coral Gables All-Stars were hand-picked by Tim Callahan. His roster featured some very talented players from three NFL teams- the New York Giants, Pottsville Marrons and the Frankford Yellow Jackets:

Frankford Yellow Jackets: Bull Behman (tackle), Joe Spagna (guard)

New York Giants: Joe Alexander (center); Lynn Bomar (end); Jack McBride (fullback)

Pottsville Maroons: Charlie Berry (end); Jack Ernst (quarterback); Duke Osborn (guard) 

Game day arrived on Christmas Day. The crowd was a big disappointment. Newspapers reported that half the stadium was filled with 8,000 spectators. In the press box to cover the game were Larry Dailey of the Chicago Herald-Examiner, Jack Sell of the Miami Herald and Steppy Fairman (Winnipeg Tribune). The 3:00 p.m. kickoff saw the weather rather warm and the newly sodded field more sandy than grass as players would call for the water bucket many times.

Fishbaugh was there again with his camera. During the pre-game he shot a wide angle of the flag raising ceremony, as well as the captain hand shake between the Bears George Trafton and the All-Stars Charlie Barry. He also captured Red Grange kneeling on the sidelines. A great image of the Galloping Ghost during his famous tour.

Pre-Game Flag raising ceremony, Bears vs Coral Gables All-Stars. To the right you see tiny Joey Sternaman with Ed Healey to his left. (Courtesy of Florida Memory, Fishbaugh Collection) 

Red Grange kneeling (Courtesy: Florida Memory, Fishbaugh Collection)

George Trafton (right) of Bears shakes hands with Charlie Berry (left) of All-Stars. Referee Hap Smith in middle. (Courtesy: Florida Memory, Fishbaugh Collection) 

As for the game the small crowd saw a defensive battle with little thrills- although they were given a chance to have better seats. Midway through the first quarter the Bears called a timeout. Larry Dailey of the Chicago Herald-Examiner wrote: “The spectators on the end section ($11.20 tickets) were invited to occupy the middle stands (midfield seats at $13.20 tickets), which were not half occupied and they made a wild scramble for more advantageous seats.” After just one carry in the first quarter Red came alive in the second. His first big carry went for 22-yards. To finish off the drive Red plowed through for a 4-yard touchdown. That was all the scoring for the day. In the second half Red thrilled the fans one last time with a 52-yard scamper. The Bears won 7-0.

The Miami News reported that Red had 9 carries for 94 yards and that the game, “proved dull and uninteresting to the small crowd of football fans who braved the top prices of $5.50 to $13.20. which were tacked up as an entrance fee.” But it did praise the redhead, “Dixie has seen the most talked of football player in America in action, and Dixie was not disappointed. Grange is still Grange, there is no other.


Game Action, Bears vs Coral Gables All-Stars (Courtesy: Florida Memory, Fishbaugh Collection)

Although the crowd was small Red, Pyle and the Bears still made out. The $25,000 guarantee made sure of that. The typed-up statement had the total gate at $20,725.91 which 66% went to the Red-Pyle-Bears group. In the end Coral Gables and the city of Miami refused to pay the obscene ticket prices to make a bigger gate. The guarantee was enough for the tour to make a profit, but Dutton and the city of Coral Gables did not. After the game the stadium was torn down to make way for more housing. The tour was now headed to Tampa.

Gate Recepit Bears vs Coral Gables All-Stars (Courtesy: Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Fishbaugh’s action shots were a little too wide to get in close. Both teams wearing dark jerseys didn’t help too.

I was very pleased to find these important images.




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

SAMMY BAUGH: Transition to the "T" and Back on Top

By TJ Troup 

Today is a day to celebrate one of the greatest and most versatile players in league history on his birthday. This saga will detail his season in 1945, but before going there...some background on the Redskins as a team and their most bitter rival the New York football Giants. 

Before Sammy Baugh arrived in the Nation's Capitol the 'Skins had a record of 3-6-1 against New York, and from 1937 through 1943 the Giants continued to get the better of their rivals to the tune of 9-4-1. 

Washington, led by Baugh, managed to play in the Championship game four times from 1937 through 1943. The Redskin offense was almost always aligned in a wing formation—either single or double wing. 

Baugh, early in his career

Baugh was a master at mixing the running game and his short passing attack. His ability to devise a pass play to go deep was simply a man who understood defenses and how to attack them. During 1944 the Redskins transitioned to the t-formation as Washington finished third in the division at 6-3-1. 

The paragraph written in The Official Encyclopedia of Pro Football states "Baugh, who had always been a tailback, didn't care for it at first, but then slowly made the adjustment." Frank Filchock had returned from the Coast Guard and had his one outstanding season in his career in 1944. 

He led the league in completions, touchdown passes, yards per pass, and also the passer rating at 86.0. Sam finished third in this category at 59.4, and ended the '44 campaign with two straight losses to the Giants. 

Baugh completed 39 of 69 for 414 with 1 touchdown and SIX interceptions. Being the competitor he was; must have been a long winter/spring in Texas as he mentally/emotionally looked back on his poorest season. 

Washington opened the 1945 season with a loss to the Yanks, and no doubt the upset brought to mind that maybe Baugh and the Redskins were not an elite team anymore. Having film of Sam and his 'Skins of '45 is a joy to watch (much of it in color), and on October 14th Washington dominated the woeful Pittsburgh Steelers 14-0. 

Baugh operated out of the t-formation like he was born to it; he completed 18 of 21 for 226 yards, with one score, and no interceptions...this equates to a passer rating of 127.8! 

Shredding the Steelers is one thing, how about against the Eagles and Giants? The 24-14 victory over Philadelphia set the stage for those damn Giants and another key game. New York is just not as strong a team in 1945 as they were in '44 but with a record of 1-1-1 another win over Washington elevates them above Washington in the standings. 

Baugh continues his pinpoint passing as he completes 19 of 23 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 24-14 victory. The blue-clad Chicago Cardinals are much improved with Paul Christman at quarterback and fight back to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Baugh expertly drives the 'Skins goal ward late in the game setting up the winning field goal 24-21. 

Earlier in the game, Samuel Adrian Baugh passed from his own end zone as he set up to punt to blocking back Mike Micka for 64 yards. The Chicago Bears had fallen on hard times in 1945, but since the Bears had won impressively over Washington three times in title games the first half of the decade Baugh took great pleasure in beating them 28-21. 

His touchdown pass of 68 yards to rookie Steve Bagarus was the key play of the game. Since one of his receivers was mentioned, how about we look at who Sam was pitching to? Wilbur Moore had been a favorite target in the past for Baugh, but not near as much in '45, as Sammy sent Bagarus in motion often and fired accurate passes to the lean rookie. 

Bagarus ranked among the league leaders in receiving all season and had one helluva performance in the victory over the Giants; 8 catches for 162 yards. Akins, Condit, and Seymour caught a pass once in a while, but Sammy usually concentrated on getting the ball to his ends. Describing his receivers brings to mind a handful of adjectives—but none of them would remind anyone of Rice, Warfield, Alworth, and the Alabama Antelope Don Hutson. 

Turley, Aguirre, Dye, Miller, and Milner ran short out patters or straight up the field and turned around on stop patterns. They needed to whip their heads around cause the pigskin was coming out of Baugh's hand quickly right at them. 

They all had their moments, yet Bagarus was the weapon Sam utilized at key times in the game. Washington was back on top in the standings at 6-1 and Slingin' Sam had completed 95 of 136 for 1,228 yards, with 7 touchdowns, and just 2 intercepted. 

Yes, folks, he was completing 69.9% of his passes which is unheard of in this era, and averaging 9 yards a pass! His technique while still very similar to his days in the wing formations, had evolved in that he would usually move to his right a few steps and deliver with his three-quarter arm throwing motion. His footwork remained superb and on balance, and since his mind worked so quickly defenders were just not able to anticipate the pass and drive on the throw. 

Watching the 16-0 shut-out loss to Philadelphia over and over is a microcosm of a defense; in this case the Eagles that could beat anybody with their fundamentally sound defensive game plans. Philadelphia "took away" Bagarus, and made strong open-field tackles as soon as Baugh's receivers caught the ball. Sam's longest completion was for only 12 yards. 

The Eagles were upset by New York on December 2nd as Washington got back in the win column with a 24-0 pasting of Pittsburgh. Baugh was again masterful as he completed 8 of 10 for 163 yards with a season-high three touchdown tosses. 

The final day of the season on December the 9th the 'Skins are at home in Griffith Stadium to again end the campaign with the Giants, and with a one-game lead on the Eagles, they can return to the title game with a victory. 

The end zone camera color film of this game captures from interesting angles the Washington Redskin offense. Powerful fullback Frank Akins continued to thunder up the middle, off tackle, and even bounce outside as Sam knew how to mix in the running game. The Giants concentrated on Bagarus(why not?) and the quick slippery rookie speedster caught one pass for 32 yards; so Sam again flipped, pitched, fired, and drilled his passes to Dye, Turley, Milner, Miller, and deCorrevont out of the backfield. Baugh ends his season by completing 12 of 20 for 184 yards, with one scoring toss, and again NO interceptions. The passer rating had not yet been devised, yet his rating of 109 for the season remains the best of the pre-modern era. 

Baugh vs the Rams in the 1945 Title game

Washington would take on the "Cinderella" Cleveland Rams in the championship tilt, and due to weather conditions, and one fateful pass in the wind the 'Skins would come up short. Since America is at war not sure how dedicated the league office was at keeping the weekly stats? There were many, MANY scorekeeping errors during the season, and hopefully, Elias would want my corrections? One of the corrections involves Sammy Baugh. 

When the Lions defeated the Packers on December 2nd Lou Brock of Green Bay returned an interception 26 yards (have the film). Charley Brock was credited with the interception return, and as such led the league with 122 yards in interception returns. In actuality, Sam led the league with 114. During the October victory over New York Baugh pilfered a pair of passes and returned them 95 yards; including the longest of his career—74 yards.

He also continued to rank among the league leaders in punting. Sammy Baugh had made a successful transition to t-formation quarterback in his 9th season, and would continue his onslaught on defenses for another seven years!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The NFL Loses a Special Teams Demon and Great Special Teams Coach—Rusty Tillman

 By John Turney 
Word passed over the Internet transom today that Rusty Tillman passed away on March 14 at age 75.

"The Seahawks website issued the following statement, “The Seahawks family is saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Rusty Tillman. We send our condolences and warm thoughts to Rusty’s family and friends during this time. Following an eight-year NFL playing career, Rusty joined Seattle’s coaching staff in 1979 and helped Seattle form its football identity for 16 years through the 1994 season, serving on the staffs of Jack Patera, Chuck Knox, and Tom Flores."

Tillman played linebacker for Washington from 1970-77 and was named as one of the top 70 Washington players of all-time and according to WashingtonFootball.com he was "nicknamed “The King” for his special teams mastery. He played seven different special teams positions and served as special teams captain from 1974 to 1977. He was a member of Washington’s 1972 NFC Championship squad."

Tillman was named by Dan Daley as the 1970s Special Teamer on his All-Decade team in his book Pro Football Chronicle. In 1974 Tillman had 15 tackles and 42 successful blocks on potential tackles and scored an 88.8 grade by George Allen. In 1975 he graded even higher with a 90.6 with 10 tackles and 55 blocks.

In 2018 we named Tillman our retroactive NFL Special Teams Player of the Year in 1974 and the NFC Special Teams Player of the Year in 1973 and 1974 (and we considered him for Second-team All-NFC for 1975). 

In 1974 Tillman had 15 tackles and 42 successful blocks on potential tackles and scored an 88.8 grade by George Allen. In 1975 he graded even higher with a 90.6 with 10 tackles and 55 blocks.

After retiring from football, Tillman was a special teams coach for the Seattle Seahawks from 1979 to 1991 and then a defensive coordinator. Under Tillman, the Seahawks were among the best, often THE best special teams units in the NFL. His teams featured Pro Bowl players like Fredd Young and Rufus Porter who went to two Pro Bowls each as core special teams players. 

Tillman's special team units led the league in punt coverage three times (1981, 1983, and 1985) and led in kickoff coverage twice (in 1982 and 1983) and once in punt return average (1985).

Tillman moved on to be the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 1992-94. He also was a defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay in 1995 and as special teams coordinator for the Raiders in 1997 and again he was a defensive coordinator for the Colts in 1998 and then from 2003 to 2005 he was a special teams coordinator once again from 2003-05. 

He also spent time as a head coach for the New Jersey Hitman of the XFL. 

Timman was a Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, Arizona) Lumberjack and is a member of that school Hall of Fame in 1984. Tillman was a collegiate walk-on twice from 1966-69. He began in Tucson with the University of Arizona, where he played for two seasons. He transferred to NAU where he played defensive end, linebacker, tight end, and also punted—setting an Axer record for punting average (44.5 yards a punt). Students who went to school with him remember him as an outgoing student-athlete, the proverbial "Big Man on Campus" if you will.

Tillman, a native of Beloit, Wisconsin, but attended  Agua Fria High school in Avondale, Arizona. He 

He is survived by his ex-wife Lorri, daughters Rachael and Emily, and sons Joshua, Jason  Jacob.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The (Seemingly) Forgotten Albert Lewis

 By John Turney
Riddle me this Batman, why doesn't Albert Lewis get mentioned more often in the discussion of great cornerbacks?

Lewis was someone who did it all as a corner—and more.

he began his career as a nickel back and was (in our view) one of the top 2 in the NFL that season and after starter Gary Green was traded to the Rams, Lewis took over the left corner spot though he would often still move inside in nickel. 

The mid-1980s were kind of a golden age for corners and it was tough to get All-pro honors, though he got some—he was "above the line" five times from 1986-80, though1985 and 1993 were "above the line worthy" if you will.

He tall, one of the last great tall corners, 6-2, maybe even a bigger, taller one with long arms and good hips (rare for a taller corner). He was studious once daying " “My focus is hypnotic. I put myself in a trance. When I’m in total focus – absolutely there – I can meet my fears head-on and defeat them.”

In addition to his height and long arms, Lewis could run, reported a 4.3 forty guy coming out of Grambling—said Joel Buchsbaum "Excellent in man-to-man coverage and can run with the racehorses".

Moreover, from the slot, Lewis could blitz (12.5 career sacks) and be a force in the run game (33.5 tackles for losses, aside from sacks. He could also pop a ball out of a receiver's hands (14 forced fumbles) and had 205 passes defended to go with his 42 picks—and that's with fellow Chiefs CB Kevin ross getting "most of the business" as former Chiefs coach Hank Stram would day—teams avoided lewis if at all possible. 

Chart credit: PFJ
After eleven seasons in Kansas City and the new free agency opportunities afforded to NFL players Lewis spent his final five seasons with the Raiders, a typical Al Davis signing... boy did he love corners who could cover and pass rushers. He was obsessed with them and Lewis fit that mold.

The thing that separates Lewis from his peers though is his value as a special teams player. 

Simply put he's on the shortlist for the best punt blocker in NFL history. Not only did he block ten he deflected a pair of others and tackle a punter as well (the same thing as a block, really) and he affected countless others. 

If you were to pick a corner that had complete value, Lewis has to be one near the top of your list, cover man or zone, run support, blitzing, outside or slot, and high value as a special teamer. He was a guy who sure checked a lot of boxes. A lot.



Raiders to Sign Yannick Ngakoue

 By John Turney 
Published reports state that defensive end  Yannick Ngakoue will sign with the Las Vegas Raiders as a free agent. This will be Ngakoue's fourth team in three years. 

He's an interesting player in that he fits his times. He's small (6-2, 246-252 or so pounds) but can get to the quarterback (45.5 sacks in 5 seasons) and when he gets there can separate the ball from the passer (18 forced fumbles since he entered the NFL in 2016, only Khalil Mack has more). 

Heck, in 2019 he had 8 run stuffs. 

Ngakoue will be a good fit with the Raiders. They need an edge presence and can limit his snaps to keep him from wearing down. Though there have been some questionable moves by Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, this one seems solid. It's a talent fit and a scheme fit.  

Monday, March 8, 2021

1967 Pro Football Hall of Fame Candidates

 By John Turney

Steve Hartman 

We caught up with Steve Hartman in the last couple of months and realized he's still a monumentally busy man. He does TV in Los Angeles and Radio in San Diego, often on the same day. 

He does research that envelops him for years and it's really the kind of guy you'd want as a lifeline if they ever had "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" on television again. In fact, he once was. And not just for sports—for Academy Awards as well. He can tell you the winners for that, who's in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and when (high school friend Jane Wiedlin's band the Go-Gos are up this year) and so on.

Then comes sports Halls of Fame, few, if anyone knows them better than Hartman. One of his research finds was the preliminary list for 1967 whc=ich included 77 people, including 15 coaches and contributors. 

Way back when Bob Carroll published Steve's list in the Coffin Corner the magazine published by the Pro Football Researchers Association and Hartman bolded those on the list who had been elected to the Hall of Fame.

In speaking to Hartman we asked if we could update his article and he said that was fine so here it is with those elected since also bolded but also underlined. As can be seen, only five of this 1967 list have been added in the last twenty or so years but there are some names that we think should have at least made it with the Centennial Class, namely Wistert and Lewellen and some who were not on this list as well. 

Here is what he wrote a couple of decades ago—

**********

"We're all used to seeing the Pro Football Hall of Fame's "Final 15" at election time each year. In 1967, the entire list of nominees was published. Eventually, 34 of the 78 nominees would be enshrined. (They are marked in bold type.)

1920-32

BACKS LINEMEN Heinie Benkert Francis "Jug" Earpe Benny Friedman Luke Johnsos Verne Lewellen Jim McMillen Fritz Pollard George Murtagh Glenn Presnell Bob "Nasty" Nash George "Wildcat" Wilson Al Nesser Duke Osborn Duke Slater Herb Stein

1933-1943

BACKS LINEMEN Cliff Battles Charley Brock Ward Cuff George Christensen Beattie Feathers Glenn "Turk" Edwards Marshall Goldberg Bill Hewitt Alphonse "Tuffy" Leemans Jim Lee Howell Clarence "Ace" Parker Frank "Bruiser" Kinard Ken Strong Wayne Millner Byron "Whizzer" White Joe Stydahar

1944-1963

OFFENSIVE BACKS OFFENSIVE ENDS Frankie Albert Tom Fears Tony Canadeo Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch Charley Conerly Dante Lavelli Pat Harder Pete Pihos Bobby Layne Marion Motley OFFENSIVE LINEMEN Joe Perry Frank Gatski Charley Trippi Abe Gibron Norm Van Brocklin Lin Houston Doak Walker Al Wistert DEFENSIVE BACKS DEFENSIVE LINEMEN Jack Butler Chuck Bednarik Jack Christiansen Gene Brito Tommy James George Connor Warren Lahr Art Donovan Emlen Tunnell Len Ford Leo Nomellini Ernie Stautner Bill Willis Alex Wojciechowicz FOUNDERS-COACHES-OFFICIALS Charley Bidwill-St. Louis Cardinals owner, 1933-47 Paul Brown-Cleveland Browns head coach and general manager, 1946-62 Potsy Clark-coach, Portsmouth Spartans, Detroit Lions, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1931-40 Jack Cusack-Canton Bulldogs manager, 1911-17 Ralph Hay-Canton Bulldogs owner 1919-22 Lee Joannes-founder, Green Bay Packers, 1933-66 Ralph Jones-coach, Chicago Bears, 1930-32 Earle "Greasy" Neale-coach, Philadelphia Eagles, 1941-50 Dan Reeves-Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams owner, 1941-66 Harry Robb- game official, 1925-45 Clark Shaughnessy-coach, Los Angeles Rams, 1948-49 Buck Shaw-coach, San Francisco 49ers, 1946-54; Philadelphia Eagles, 1958-60 Jock Sutherland-coach, Brooklyn Dodgers 1940-41; Pittsburgh Steelers, 1946-47 Andrew Turnbull-Green Bay Packers owner, 1923-28 Arch Ward-founder College All-Star Game, 1934 and AAFC, 1944"
**********

Colorization of the Day—1936 NFL Title Game

 By John Turney 



Sunday, March 7, 2021

Most Defensive Scores—All-Time

 By John Turney 
Here is a simple chart listing all defensive scores—pick 6s, scoop and scores, safeties, and also an addendum of the same thing in the playoffs for completeness.

Rod Woodson, Darren Sharper,  Charles Woodson, and Ronde Barber sit atop the list. 


However, if you count playoffs Barber and Aeneas Williams take the crown. 

Saturday, March 6, 2021

JIM CHEYUNSKI: Rising From the Ashes the 1975 Baltimore Colts

by TJ Troup 

There have been many, many men who have played strong dedicated football over their time in the NFL and received very little fanfare. Today's saga is about one of those men—Jim Cheyunski. 

Drafted in the 12th round entering the 1968 season the Boston Patriots hoped he could make the team and contribute. During the strange season of 1969, Cheyunski became a starter and played well. The league has had a three-man linebacking trio's that have stood out, and most folks would be hard-pressed to name the starting trio of the Patriots, yet Ed Philpott on the strong side, Cheyunski in the middle, and John "bull" Bramlett on the weak side were strong tacklers, and excellent in pursuit. 

After 12 games in '69 with a 4-8 record Boston still had an outside chance at a berth in the expanded playoffs in the last season of the AFL; this did not happen, and the next two years in the northeast the newly named New England Patriots were full of front office drama. Cheyunski continued as a starter, but was sent to Buffalo in April of 1973 in a six-player trade. 

Cheyunski was a key part of the revitalized Buffalo defense that earned a playoff berth in 1974, but yet again he was traded—this time in the summer for a 6th round draft choice. Joe Thomas had drafted and traded, and then traded and drafted to put a Colt team on the field that he felt would become a factor in the highly competitive AFC eastern division. 

Baltimore won opening day in Chicago, and as such had half as many wins after one game as they did the entire '74 campaign. The Colts under the guidance of new head coach Ted Marchibroda then struggled for four consecutive weeks; all loses. 

October 5th, 1975 was in the Coliseum to watch the visiting Colts take on the powerful Rams, this actually was once a bitter rivalry, but now in different conferences they would see each other every few years. The youthful-spirited Colts gave the Rams all they could handle before succumbing late in the game. 

Chuck Knox ground attack was productive and relentless, and as I watched began to realize that middle linebacker Mike Curtis while still a quality player was just not the Curtis of old. The write-up in Street & Smith's for that year raved about Curtis, but there were at least ten other middle linebackers in the NFL better than he was in his 10th year. 

NFL Films had two shows that were mainstays for fans: "This Week in the NFL" with Summerall & Brookshier, and "Game of the Week". October the 12 the Buffalo Bills were hard pressed but still managed to beat a vastly improved Colt team on the "Game of the Week". Curtis started this game, but at one point Simpson is running left and is dropped for a two-yard loss as massive John Dutton, and quick Jim Cheyunski penetrate into the backfield to make the tackle. 

Curtis started in the week five loss to the Patriots, and the so-called improved Baltimore Colts stood 1-4. The Colts had now lost 28 of their last 35 games, and next up Joe Namath and the Jets at Shea. Have the highest regard for Ted Marchibroda and his patience and teaching ability, and those traits had now taken root, and now Jones, Mitchell, and Kunz would bring back the enthusiasm that had been sorely missed. 

The Colt offense was balanced and productive beginning with the victory over the Jets. When you watch film of the Baltimore defense, and read the publications all the "ink" was about the defensive line.  

Joe Ehrmann and Cheyunski

The "Sack Pack" was young, strong, dynamic, and could make play after play. The defensive co-ordinator Maxie Baughan had learned his lessons well from George Allen. Baughan understood the role his linebackers needed to play to solidify the defense. Tom MacLeod was no Ted Hendricks, but was rock solid on the strong side, and was named All-AFC by The Sporting News, and undersized savvy Stan White was one of the handful of weak-side linebackers who played zone coverage with aplomb (8 interceptions) and could also blitz effectively (6½ sacks). 

This of course leaves Cheyunski, and my evaluation of him. He was an undersized tackling machine. Instinctive, and very capable of filling inside rushing lanes, the former Syracuse stalwart was exceptional in pursuit, and zone coverage. 

Difficult to state which game of the season was his best, yet against the Browns he had 6 lead, and 8 assisted tackles. Baltimore had won four in a row to climb into contention and off to the Orange Bowl and the Dolphins. 

Miami had won seven of ten so far against the Colts since '70 and earned a playoff berth all five years. The Colt 33-17 victory was the turning point in the season, and Cheyunski recovered a fumble(one of five takeaways by the defense) and made 3 lead and 4 assisted tackles. 

Jim intercepted passes in the wins over Chiefs and the Giants. "Game of the Week" at NFL Films for December 14th would be the re-match of the Dolphins and Colts this time in fog-shrouded Memorial Stadium. As one would expect, Sabol and his talented compadres brought to life the 10-7 overtime thriller. 

The Colt express was not going to be derailed, and they finished the season with a victory over the Patriots to finish 10-4 and when the AFC East. One of the keys to playing strong defense are half-time adjustments, and the Colts during the nine-game win streak allowed only 21 points in the 3rd quarter. The first five games of the season Baltimore allowed 152 yards a game rushing but during the win streak only 117.  

Bum Phillips did an outstanding job with the Oilers as they fought tooth and nail for a playoff berth in the AFC Central, but there was no doubt coach of the year was Ted Marchibroda. 

The playoff match up of the red hot Colts and the 12-2 defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers took center stage, and Baltimore fought valiantly against one of the best teams of that era. Cheyunski led the front seven in their ferocious battle with the Steeler ground attack in Pittsburgh. Jim Cheyunski returned to the Colts and they again earned a playoff berth in 1976. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

John Mendenhall—Another Good One Laid to Rest

 By John Turney 

Credit: NFL Films

The Giants website announced that defensive tackle John Mendenhall passed away last Friday at the age of 72.

In 1972 Mendenhall was drafted by New York Giants in the 3rd round (55th overall) of the draft. He became an immediate starter (and an All-Rookie selection) for the Giants at what they called 'middle guard' and recorded 2½ sacks and displayed good discipline in the middle—enough to allow Gregory to roam free in his "rover" position, which put additional pressure on all the other defensive linemen, including rookie Mendenhall but the scheme worked well in 1972. Mendenhall's 6-1 255 build seemed ideal for that position. And for that era, it was, 255 was more than big enough for a middle guard/nose tackle especially one with Mendenhall's quickness. 

The next year Mendenall was hurt but Mendenhall showed that he had grown into his position, recording six sacks in eight games before going down to a left knee injury but he clearly was always around the ball from what film is available and was a force at the middle guard or "nose tackle spot' in the Giants unique rover 4-3. 

Certainly, the Cowboys were impressed—

Mendenhall played almost all the games in 1974 and recorded seven sacks and got some recognition, gain Second-team All-pro honors from PFWA and First-team All-NFC from UPI.  


With Bill Arnsbarger's defense, he played both nose tackle and three-technique because the defensive lines shifted rather than 'flopped' depending on if they wanted to run an overshift or undershift, which freed Mendenhall some and got him away from double teams some. 

Mendenhall still drew extra blockers but often he whipped them both and he also drew praise from his new coach—

However the following season he missed half the season with another injury and it set him back. Even when he played early in the season he did so with a severe ankle injury and was not effective and eventually the Giants shut him down. 

Mendenall was healthy in 1976 and 1977 and he had excellent seasons recording six sacks and 112 tackles (an amazing number for a defensive tackle) in 1976 and ten sacks and 99 tackles in 1977 and the Giants coached credited him with seven forced fumbles. 
However, in 1978 new defensive coordinator Dick Modzelewski employed more and more 3-4 fronts and Mendenhall was not pleased. He was back to being on a center full-time (like in 1972-73) and he simply didn't like it. He felt it was too demanding on the defensive linemen and that the Giants linemen were not built for the 3-4. "You have tho have the right people for the 3-4", Mendenhall told the papers. His tackle total fell to 73 and sacks dropped to 4½ in the mixed scheme—some 4-3 and some 3-4.

In 1979 it was much more 3-4 and nose tackle almost all the time for Mendenhall and in 1980 he was traded to the Lions who were running a 4-3 under Floyd Peters, who had coached him when Arnsbarger was the coach. The Lions needed a replacement for Doug English who retired to go into the oil business. Mendenhall played well, recording four sacks on a team that recorded 44. It was Mendenhall's last NFL season.

In his career, Mendall played 116 games with 110 starts and record 42½ sacks was Second-team All-pro and All-NFC in 1974, and was honorable mention All-NFC in 1976 and 1977. 

In college, Mendenhall was selected All-Louisiana in 1971, Little All-America by the AP and was was also an All-NAIA selection, and was the team's defensive MVP. 

According to Giants.com: "John Rufus Mendenhall was born in Cullen, LA. on Dec. 3, 1948. He is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and daughters Zandra and Kendra."