Monday, June 28, 2021

STEVE FILIPOWICZ: New York Football & Baseball Giants

By TJ Troup

There have been a handful of men who played both baseball and football that come to mind, but doubt if many of you usually think of Steve Filipowicz. 

He starred at Fordham University and was part of the Sugar Bowl victory over Missouri on January 1st, 1942 in a game that will never be equaled. Steve was taken by the New York Football Giants with the 6th overall pick in the '43 draft, but will not play for them until 1945. He began his major league career on September 3rd, 1944 at the age of 23, and he started with a bang as he hit a double and triple that day. The next day he goes 3 for 10 in a doubleheader with 4 RBIs. 

He struggled the remainder of the month, but Steve was now a pro athlete. 

The 1945 New York Baseball Giants had Steve Filipowicz as their starting left fielder, and he sure had his moments in the month of April. Probably the best game in his 57 game career came on Friday, April 27th when he went 4 for 5 with 3 rbi's in a 5-0 win. 

Notably he and player-manager Mel Ott hit back to back home runs in the game. As the summer months passed the Giants began to fall back in the pennant race and finished fifth for the season. Now it is time for the New York Football Giants to defend their Eastern Conference championship. 

Steve Filipowicz, #9

The '44 Giants had one of the best defenses of the decade, but New York would not be contenders in '45. Bill Paschal had won back-to-back rushing titles, but was not with the team opening day, and wearing his #8 jersey is Steve Filipowicz. 

"Flip" as he was called carried the ball 53 times for 142 yards during the first few weeks of the season; there was no doubt he was not Bill Paschal. When the former Georgia Tech runner returned to the line-up against the Rams he sparkled, and Flip was the left linebacker wearing jersey #34 in the Giants 5-3-3 defense. When the Rams sent a man in motion to his side of the field he went with him man to man and though he had quickness he lacked the necessary speed in his 5'8" 198 lb. body to run with the faster halfbacks in the league. Filipowicz was a hustling tackler who did miss once in a while, but overall in the games was able to study on film he acquitted himself well. 

He would return to the New York Football Giants in '46 and this team won the games they needed . . . to win the eastern conference. He was again playing left linebacker, and for this season he wore #23. Steve demonstrated marked improvement as a pass defender, while still being a solid tackler. He played very little fullback and carried the ball just twice during the year, though he did catch a few passes. During the conference clinching victory over Washington on December 8th, he intercepted his fourth pass of the year. 

The New York pass rush got to Baugh, yet Slingin' Sam tried to get the ball to his receiver in the right flat. Filipowicz moved forward grabbed the errant throw, and dashed for the corner of the end zone, and scored! New York had beaten and outplayed the Bears in the regular season, and this would be the third time these two times would meet for the title. 

The strange "hanky panky" with the betting odds led to back-up fullback Merle Hapes declared ineligible for the game, and with Paschal out also—the question for all Giants fans, who would be lugging' the leather? Filchock was allowed to play and he played his heart out, yet the Bear secondary picked him off six times. Surprisingly the Giants outgained the Bears on the ground as Filipowicz carried the ball more in this game than he did all season. 

His most significant offensive contribution was after the fake of a sweep left by Filchock to Flip, he continued up the left sideline and Frankie got the ball to him. Off to the races down the sideline, Filipowicz dashed hoping the get the Giants the lead in this hard-fought game. 

Swift George McAfee hustled over and took him down after a gain of 36, but New York was not able to score, thus the Bears won the title. Steve would not play either major league baseball or pro football in 1947 as he took a position at Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg Maryland to coach. 

The itch to return to pro sports led Steve back to major league baseball in 1948; this time with the Cincinnati Reds. He was called up in September and hit .346 for the year as the left fielder. During the doubleheader on September 21st he went 4 for 7—yes folks they use to play a lot of those back in the day, yet the way his major league career ended is eye-popping. 

October 3rd he got the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth to provide Johnny Vander Meer with the run he needed and win his 17th of the season. 

In closing let's review his short pro career; he hit back to back home runs with the all-time National League Homerun leader Mel Ott. 

He returned an interception for a touchdown off of Sammy Baugh. 

He got the winning hit for the only pitcher in major league history to throw back-to-back no hitters in the final game of his pro career. 

Today would have been Steve Filipowicz's 100th birthday!

1931 Benny Friedman Book, The Passing Game

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
The Passing Game, by Benny Friedman, published in 1931

    "The details of forward passing should be practiced until they become a habit. The habit can be only acquired by endless practice. After days and weeks of practice the arm and wrist work properly and the follow through is at the finish of every pass." - Benny Friedman, 1931 The Passing Game. 

Today, PFJ looks back at one of the earliest book written about pro football. A few years ago John Maxymuk, a fellow football historian and author, led me to a unique football book. He came across a copy of a book located in the University of Michigan Library titled The Passing Game written by Benny Friedman in 1931.

The former Michigan All-American quarterback in 1931 had just “retired” from the NFL and was helping out as a backfield coach at Yale. During the early part of that year he found time to write a short publication on the passing game that would be published that fall by Steinfeld, Inc. in New York.

Soon, Friedman got the itch to play football again in 1931 and re-joined the New York Giants. That fall Friedman didn’t have his best year, playing in nine games and throwing only 3 touchdown passes, as the Giants went 7-6-1.

Benny Friedman, New York Giants, 1931 

As for the book, it’s a very hard title to find, which probably means it had a very limited press run back in 1931. The book is only 50 pages in length with no dust jacket. It has 7 chapters along with 12 photos (with  Benny doing the demonstration of grip and passing) and four diagrammed plays. The individual chapters are titled:

Chapter 1- The Morale Buster

Chapter 2- Developing A Grip

Chapter 3- The Follow Through

Chapter 4- Not Too High, Not Too Low; Not Too Fast, Not Too Slow

Chapter 5- Two Kinds of Pass Plays

Chapter 6- The Choice, or Optional

Chapter 7- Backing Up The Passes

The Passing Game, Forward, 5 pages

The book was reviwed by several newspapers including the Boston Globe, Pittsburgh Press and Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle- mostly favorable. 


The Boston Globe (9-1-1931) wrote: “Football fans will like Benny’s book. It is pretty technical in spots, which should please coaches and youngsters who wonder how Friedman got that way. Ben wasn’t born with a forward pas sin his mouth and had to work hard and systematically to perfect himself. How he did it make interesting reading.”

Joe Williams of the Pittsburgh Press (8-29-1931) wrote: “Mr. Friedman’s book as you will note is largely technical and educational, which is what he intended it to be. I think the football fan and the football player will find much in it that is of interest.”

The Passing Game, Benny Friedman, Developing A Grip chapter

The Passing Game, The Follow Through chapter

The Passing Game, Two Kinds of Pass Plays chapter

Not too many books are written this early about NFL history or football techniques. Since this book was published in 1931 and Benny Friedman was playing with the New York Giants it’s one of the earliest books with an NFL connection.

Benny Friedman, New York Giants, quarterback

P.S.- Considered the earliest book on NFL history is Dr. Harry March volume, "Pro Football- It's 'Ups and Downs': A Lighted-hearted History of the Post Graduate Game." Published in 1934 by J. B. Lyon (N.Y.) 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

DOUG BUFFONE: "A Steadying Influence, Too Often Overlooked"

 By TJ Troup 

Both John Turney and myself have had conversations concerning players from the 1950's through the 1980's that we believe had excellent careers, yet were over shadowed and just did not receive honors or recognition they deserved—and Doug Buffone is sure one of these players. Did he deserve to be All-Pro? Pro Bowl? All-Conference/NFC? 

No is the answer to all of these, but he sure has a strong resume, and film study shows he to be versatile, and a player that you can win with. 

This story is not a history lesson on Chicago Bear linebacking, yet the tradition began in the '40s with Bulldog Turner and continued with George Connor (usually a d-lineman, but strong also at linebacker), Bill George, Larry Morris, Joe Fortunato, and the legendary Dick Butkus. 

Much was asked and expected of Bear linebackers under Shaughnessy and Allen, but entering 1966 George Allen has left the Bears to become a head coach, and Joe Fortunato is in the twilight of his distinguished career; thus Buffone is drafted out of Louisville on the 4th round. 

His rookie season he is the back-up on the strong side to Fortunato, and contributes in the kicking game. Buffone records a takeaway(fumble recovery) in the season-ending victory over Minnesota. Since the Bears were featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Pro Football edition, and entered the game against the Vikings with a record of 4-7-2—they were anything but contenders, and the defense missed George Allen. As this tale is told there will be many quotes from publications, and having sources is always a blessing. 

Coupled with my film study hopefully, you will get a clear picture of the roller coaster ride that was the Chicago Bears from 1966 through 1979.

Halas will step down after the '67 season, and coaching the defense is former Bear receiver Jim Dooley. Very little is stated in the publications for the '67 campaign, in fact, some stated that Fortunato would return? Doug Buffone is the starter at left linebacker, and he scores the only touchdown of his career in his eighth start of the season against the Lions in Detroit. 

We all hope to have accurate details on the history of the game, but the Lion scorekeeper on a 2nd and ten play on the Lion sixteen list Ed O'Bradovich as sacking Sweetan and forcing a fumble, when film review shows it is strong safety Richie Petitbon rocketing into the backfield making the hit. Buffone grabs the ball on the one, and tumbles into the end zone in the Bears 27-13 victory. 

During '67 Jim Dooley made an adjustment to George Allen's nickel coverage, and utilized Bennie McRae's tough-tackling as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive back—this became known as the "Dooley Defense". 

Buffone, Butkus, and the five defensive backs patrolled the secondary, and the Bear defense playing excellent defense the second half of the season to finish with a winning record of 7-6-1. Almost every publication would feature the Bears two superstars in Butkus and Sayers, and might even mention the ongoing attempt to find a quarterback who could pass, and lead the team, and as such many players got very little mention. Street & Smith's, in '67, listed Fortunato as a "venerable statesman", and "reserves are Buffone and Mike Reilly". 

The Chicago Bear season of 1968 is one of the strangest in team history as they went from the basement due to blowout losses to first place with one game to go. The disappointing loss in Wrigley Field to longtime rival Green Bay to close the season will key personnel and coaching decisions in Chicago. Joe Fortunato had spent the '68 season as defensive co-ordinator and linebacker coach, but he did not return for 1969. 

Being in the Coliseum for the Game of the Week in December of '68 between the Bears and Rams remains a highlight in all the games I have attended. Buffone and Petitbon ably assisted Butkus in limiting the Ram offense in the upset of the season. Seemed like everyone got a chance to play quarterback for the Bears in '68, and surprisingly in the draft Chicago took a "snap taker" in Bobby Douglass. No one who knows the history of the game, and the Bears would ever refer to Douglass as a quarterback. 

Again, so much was written about the triggerman position, and then the dynamic duo of Butkus and an injured Sayers—that Buffone is referred to in Street & Smith's in '69 as part of a young linebacking trio that had "youth to last indefinitely". 

The Bear press guide listed Buffone with 93 solo tackles and 68 assists in '69 after a banner year of 126/92 in '68. Though he played well in '69 with three takeaways, and supposedly got three sacks, he would not tell you that this was his best season. 

Since I brought up "sacks"—time to address the folly of the Chicago Bears Media department. Ready? Here goes...Doug Buffone is listed as having 18 sacks in 1967, and 9 in 1968, and folks this just goes to show that teams in that era, and especially the Bears not only made multiple errors in scorekeeping, they have never gone back and corrected those errors? Doug Buffone probably had 3½ sacks in '67 and 4 in '68. He was quick and effective on the blitz, could cover his zone well, was capable in man coverage, and was a strong tackler who just did not miss. Smart, dedicated and consistent as we head into a new decade. 

Watching the 1970 Chicago Bear highlight film over and over shows us not only is Butkus superb at taking the ball away, making tackles, and stripping the ball away from runners, he gets strong support from Doug. Many of Buffone's 4 interceptions in 1970 he drifts into the area where the quarterback is throwing as Doug would read the opposing quarterback's eyes and pilfer the pigskin. 

He did not record a fumble recovery or a sack, and a key reason is that the new Bear's linebacker coach Don Shinnick was a master at teaching outside linebackers pass defense based upon his own career. Though a 6-8 season is hardly anything to write home about, it is a dramatic improvement over '69. Street & Smith's in '70 states "working on either side of Butkus are Buffone and Caffey". Not exactly an endorsement for Pro Bowl honors? 

That is about to change in '71. Dick Butkus is my favorite football player of all-time and could go hours, and pages explaining what set him apart, but in '71 though he plays well, his knee has not responded to the failed surgery, and Doug Buffone begins to get some recognition. His stellar season is highlighted by his tackle totals of 143/76, he intercepts twice, and "breaks up" seven pass plays. 

Working with Shinnick sure helped, but by this time in his career he is an experience pro would just gets the job done in all facets of linebacker play. Street & Smith's in '71 state "(A)ny two outside linebackers would look good on the same team as Butkus-but the fact is that on this club, Doug Buffone and Lee Roy Caffey help make Butkus look good".  

Under Jim Dooley in '71 the Bears find a way to upset teams they should have lost to, and find themselves 6-3 with five games to go. Since they had beaten Detroit, Dallas, and Washington the boys in navy blue & burnt orange just might earn a wild-card berth in the playoffs? 

Where is Jim Mora when I need him? Playoffs? The season-ending five-game losing streak is painful to watch for many reasons (scoring only 29 points is sure one of them). Dooley is dismissed and replaced by the worst hire in Chicago Bear history—Abe Gibron. Fun quotes, and his almost cartoon presence are entertaining, but he just is not much of a head coach. 

The Bears claw their way to a 3-3-1 record at the half-way point, but again fall apart in the second half of the season. Street & Smith's comment in '72 "Chicago linebacking in fact, is strong all the way across from Buffone to Brupbacher". Any linebacker that records tackle totals of 158/96 in a fourteen-game season is doing his job and then some. 

When Doug Buffone joined the Bears in '66 the team had many quality players, but as the team entered 1973 the player personnel department had failed each season to draft what was needed (with the exception of Wally Chambers), and when you add to that Butkus & Sayers are just a shell of what they once were you have hard times for a proud franchise. Street & Smith's in '73 state "Chicago's linebackers tend to make any front four or deep four look pretty good. Gibron will line up Butkus, Doug Buffone and Ross Brupbacher, with Jimmy Gunn in reserve". 

Since Gunn was mentioned let's go back briefly to '72. Bill George coached the linebackers in '72 and with the injury to defensive end Willie Holman the Bears lost their best pass rusher. Some historians have stated emphatically that the Bears have been a 4-3 team virtually their entire history, and this is just damn wrong! 

Watch the film in '72 and you will see the Bears go from a 4-3 to 3-4 team many times during a game and the season. Thus Buffone will learn a new position of inside linebacker, and flourish with this new responsibility, as his tackle totals tell us. 

The game against Philadelphia late in the season the Bears aligned in a 3-4 to start the game. Jimmy Carr returns to coach the Bear defense in '73(he was there in '69), and just does not get the job done. From 3-5 to 3-11 and scoring just 34 points in the six-game losing streak is not the way to keep a job, yet Abe Gibron returns in 1974, and the new Chicago Bear linebacker coach is Bob Lord(he stays one year). 

Street & Smith's states "Doug Buffone give them strength at one outside position". A new publication would find it's way into my library in the early '70s and the Pocket Book of Pro Football edited by Herbert Furlow was a breath of fresh air as the book attempted to at least give some details about players. The '73 book states Buffone and Brupbacher complement him (meaning Butkus)expertly. Buffone is strong against the run". 

1974 book states "Buffone and Gunn played well, but the big question here is how to replace Dick Butkus". Suddenly there is hope in Chicago as Halas makes a hiring that actually saved the franchise. Jim Finks will begin to rebuild this woebegone team, and establish pride again.

Finks and Halas hire Jack Pardee to coach the Bears in 1975. This is a man who has seen it all from his days with the Rams and Redskins. Buffone is about to enter his 10th campaign, and has never been part of a play-off team. Can Finks and Pardee deliver? 

Street & Smith's states in '75 "Doug Buffone and Jimmy Gunn are formidable outside linebackers". The Pocket Book states "Buffone is a quiet veteran who seldom errs"...and the Bear highlight film is title "Bears to Build On". 

Thirty-four players are gone from the '74 team as Finks and Pardee assess the talent, yet here is still is at left or strong-side linebacker...Doug continues to play well. Though his tackle total for '75 is not as strong, he is now coached by Pardee and is asked to read differently and as such records seven tackles for loss, and forces five fumbles. 

He is almost never asked to blitz anymore, thus no sacks, and though he plays his zone area well, he has intercepted just once in both '74 and '75. Though the Bears have not won much during this time period; Buffone's fumble recoveries in these two seasons come in victories as he still has a nose for the ball, and is always hustling. 

Did Jack Pardee deserve to be coach of the year in the NFC in 1976? That can be debated, yet the Bears were by far the most improved team in the league, and the gauntlet of teams they played during mid-season showed that improvement. 

Problem is Buffone is injured in the second game of the season in the win over the 49ers, and misses the rest of the year. The only time he is ever seriously injured. Before writing about Buffone and the '77 Bears, time for some math, or what I call "rivalry math". 

From '66 through '68 the Bears record against the Packers, Vikings, and Lions was 8-8-2. Not great, but at least adequate. 

From 1969 through 1975 the Bears record against these Central division teams was 9-33.....let me repeat that—JUST NINE DAMN WINS, and 33 LOSSES. For the only time in his career, Buffone will be part of a Bear team that goes 5-1 against these rivals in '77, and though they struggled with consistency, this Bear team will saddle their wagon to Sir Walter, and an improved defense of hitters, and earn a wild-card berth. 

Buffone misses the victory over the Chiefs in November, but he has healed from injury and again plays well in the eleven games he starts. He intercepts against the Rams in the key Monday Night game victory, records five pass break-ups and six times he takes down a runner for a loss. Pardee has Buffone playing strong-side linebacker the way he did, and Doug will head to Dallas for the play-off encounter with the Cowboys. 

No team was going to beat the Dallas Cowboys in 1977, let alone the Bears, but the season gave rise to the belief Chicago had arrived to be part of the upper echelon of the league. Jack Pardee leaves, and Neill Armstrong is the new head coach of the Bears, and he brings with him Buddy Ryan to coach the defense. 

Buffone will miss the November loss to the Vikings, but he is there week in and week out in his 13th campaign to play outside linebacker. Having the complete game film of the September 10th victory over San Francisco is a joy to watch since again the Bears shift from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense many times in the game. 

Buffone expertly handles the adjustment, and his two 4th quarter interceptions are plays any linebacker would be proud to show. They certainly were key plays in the Bears win as they began the year 3-0, stumbled and struggled over the next eight weeks, then left hibernation to win four of their final five. The Ryan defense asks outside linebackers to blitz, and though Doug recorded two sacks, this is not the strength of his game at this point in his career. 

Buffone returns in '79 for one last campaign as a reserve, yet he started two games at middle linebacker due to an injury to Tom Hicks. Amazingly he intercepts passes in both the second and third quarters in the hard-fought loss to New England, and recorded 5 solo tackles. 

Much like 1977 the second half of the year is one of resolute toughness by the Bears as they win 10 games and earn a wild-card berth. On the journey to Philadelphia to play the Eagles wonder if Doug reflected back to 1968 when the Bears found a way to win when they had too? 

Buffone recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in that October victory, and Chicago sure could have used Buffone takeaways against Dick Vermeil's team in '79, but came up short. 

The final four years of his career the Bears won 15 and lost 9 against their longtime rivals, and again had earned respect throughout the league. Doug Buffone at the end of his career had played and started more games than any other Chicago Bear in team history. 

He was consistent, dedicated, and played the game the way we all want to see it played, yet very little notice outside of Chicago. 

Was honored to see him play in the Coliseum a handful of times against the Rams, and of course many times on TV. Watching the film I have on him brought back many memories, some of course positive, and some very painful. Today would have been Doug's 77th birthday. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Mike Bell—"He Blurred The Film"

 By John Turney 
We know a lot more about addiction now than we did in the 1980s. Back then we were all more judgmental of those who couldn't "kick the habit" whether it was alcohol or drugs. We thought those people—especially athletes, with all the money they made, should be stronger, tougher. We liked to kick them around. One of those players was Mike Bell. 

He was suspended from football in 1986 and was troubled with drug addiction before and after that. 

Bell came from Wichita, Kansas where he was an All-State player (after recording eleven sacks from his defensive line position) at Bishop Carroll High School and was heavily recruited by Wichita State and several Big 8 schools but the Bell family wanted scholarships for Mike's twin brother Mark as well and this package deal didn't want the schools wanted—they wanted Mark to walk on.

So, it came down to local Wichita State and WAC school Colorado State, the Big 8 schools didn't want the double deal. So, the brothers chose CSU in Fort Collins. 

Bell was an All-WAC player in 1977 and 1978 and was voted the WAC lineman of the year in 1977 following his 103 tackles and 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. The Associated Press named him to their second-team All-America after that season. In 1978 he was a consensus All-American and the runner-up for the 1978 Outland Trophy. Prior to that two seasons, in 1976, Bell was a Football News Sophomore All-American, totaling 86 tackles and 10 sacks.

He finished his CSU career with 25 quarterback sacks and 62 tackles for loss (still the CSU record) with 23 in both 1977 and 1978 (also the CSU record to this day) He's a member of the CSU Hall of Fame and the CSU All-Century Team.
In addition, Bell has been inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame.

Bell hurt his knee at Colorado State and had surgery but it didn't deter the Chiefs from taking Bell with the second-overall pick of the 1979 NFL Draft by the Chiefs and formed a bookend to Art Still who'd been taken second-overall in 1978. 

He spent his rookie year splitting time with Sylvester Hicks but Bell hurt his knee in the sixth game on a then-legal chop block and he missed five games. His coach, Marv Levy, lamented that the rule outlawing the chop block had not passed the previous June when it was considered by the NFL rules committee. In 1981 it was finally passed but two years too late for Bell and his aching left knee. 

In 1980 he had a bicep injury and missed the final 14 games of the season. 
In 1981 he had a good season, one that Pro Football Focus would love because he had a slew of hurries but just five sacks. He also had 11 run stuffs and was gaining national notice from pro scouts and the media as an up-and-coming star. 

He hurt his again late in 1982 and it caused Bell to re-think his training habits. He had been an avid weight lifter and would "even get out and run" but too many pulls and tears made him think he needed more flexibility. So he began to train at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs in the 1983 off-season. 

That strategy appeared to work—in 1983 he played all sixteen games for the second time in his career. In 1984 he hurt the knee again and was slowed by it but just missed one game and two starts. He was a Pro Bowl alternate both seasons.

In mid-season of '84, Bell was being compared to the best defensive ends in the NFL. Joel Buchsbaum said, "Bell is in the same mold as Gastineau but I don't think he's as good a pass rusher, but he plays the run better. It would be very hard for Gastineau to play a 3-4 defense. And end like Bell has to help keep blockers off the linebackers and Gastineau jus thas to worry about getting upfield".

The following season Bell has 6 sacks in 11 games, perhaps onto his third consecutive double-digit sack season when the other demon in his life reared its ugly head—drugs.

A grand jury in Wichita, KS, indicted Mike and his brother Mark on several drug-related charges and Mike was arrested at the Chiefs facility in November 1985. Mike was suspended for the 1986 season as a result of the arrest. In June of 1986, they were found guilty on all charges, and Mike and his brother served four months in federal prison and were released in December of 1986. A few days after Mike applied to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for reinstatement to the league. 

To be fair, through all of this, Bell maintained his innocence and purportedly turned down a plea deal to take the charges to a jury trial where he felt he'd be cleared.

In March of 1987, Bell was reinstated to the NFL by Rozelle, having served his time and met the conditions of his league suspension. 

He was about twenty pounds underweight at the time of his release. The Chiefs gave him a second chance, didn't release him, and had a fine 1987 season leading the Chiefs in sacks, though an ankle injury hampered him late. His new coach Frank Gansz said that Bell, "(W)as focused, you can see the intensity. He's a maturing, stabilizing influence on this defense. I am glad he's here".

To his credit, Bell told the media he tried to learn from his prison experience but also didn't dwell on it. He told the Kansas City Star, "I am ashamed of what happened and what it did to my family, my team, and my career. Why would I want to talk about it? It's a negative in my life". 

In 1988 Bell was not playing all that well and at some point failed a league-administered drug test and was suspended for the final four games of the year. 
The Chiefs kept Bell around from 1989-91 as a backup, the final year he played just three games, being signed, released then signed late in the year. That year he had inflammation in his shoulder and was on the non-football illness list for a few weeks before his release. 

But really, those last four years were not the Bell of old. He just didn't have the explosion or the effectiveness he did earlier in his career. Why? Who knows. But the skill set had diminished. 

He retired from the NFL in May 1992. 

In his prime, teammate Bill Maas said that Bell was so quick off the ball he "blurred the film".  When you watched him he had a quick get-off and then a push with his arm that got inside the blockers that would snap the tackles back—just a nice combination of quickness and power. 

He was a 6-4, 255-260 pound guy with good strength and who could run (4.7 forty) and was a good rusher, but he was not really playing his natural position in our view. He'd have been better as a 4-3 end.

Even teams that ran a 3-4 often went to four-man lines in passing situations, and the Chiefs did do that, but it was not as often as some other teams—perhaps because they never found interior rushers that were difference makers. 

Ken Kremer was serviceable for a few years as a fourth rusher but really, even after Bill Maas arrived in 1984, it was often just three guys (Still, Bell, and Maas) and maybe a random linebacker rushing for most of Bell's (and Still's) career. 

It would have been great to have seen Bell in a 4-3 defense his whole career, or relatively injury-free, or able to avoid the hard drugs. We think he'd remind recent NFL fans of Grant Wistrom or Tamba Hali to name two right-side guys. Or perhaps Cameron Wake who played both sides or even Chris Long who was a left-side guy, but they all were healthier versions of Bell, reasonable facsimiles at least that generally got to play the edge and didn't have to play nose-up on a tackle on run downs or even on many passing downs like Bell did.

It was sad for Bell and his personal troubles and for fans who only got to see him at his best for short stints, not for long periods of time and that is just the price of addiction we suppose. 

Regardless, while he was healthy, he was a fun player to watch, an arc rusher, with great hustle, the proverbial "high-motor" guy—a phrase you hear so often these days. Bell was that for certain. 

And the final endorsement was from Anthony Munoz who said, "He was the toughest to figure out—I don't know what it was about him. . . his knowledge on how to use his body made it tough to pinpoint and say 'This is what you have to do to stop him'. He was one of the best I faced."

When Mr. Munoz speaks, people should take notice. 

Career stats—

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Woodie Lowe—A Prototype Cover Linebacker

 By John Turney 
Woodie Lowe was a three-time First-team All-American (once a consensus selection) and yet because of his small size (6-0, 217 pounds), he fell to the San Diego Chargers in the 5th round (131st overall) of the 1976 NFL Draft. His college coach, the legendary Bear Bryant said that getting Lowe so late in the draft was like "getting a $10 gold piece for 10 cents". 

Bryant was right.

All Lowe did that first year was win a starting spot as a rookie and total 84 tackles, sack the quarterback three times, recover a pair of fumbles, block a kick. But that wasn't enough to make the NFL All-Rookie teams, losing out to Greg Buttle of the Jets,  the Bengals Reggie Williams, and  Larry Gordon of the Dolphins on the First-teams of the major outlets that picked teams that year. 

That was something Lowe would have to get used to—getting snubbed for honors, something that sure didn't happen in college.
Lowe had solid years in 1977 and 1978 and was part of a defense that was building with a terrific front four and in 1979 it went with two small, quick 'backers, himself and Ray Preston., Preston was even smaller than Lowe at 6-0 and 218 pounds. Lowe, by 1979, was 227 or so pounds. 
Coryell was right. Lowe and Preston picked for five passes each and Lowe returned two for touchdowns and the charger defense was top-5 in yards allowed and second in fewest points allowed. 
The next season, 1980, the defense was sixth in yards allowed but the points allowed ballooned to 18th. Lowe had a Pro Bowl-level season, and for the first time received some post-season honors, making UPI's Second-team All-AFC squad and was an alternate to the Pro Bowl, but one of the top three vote-getters missed the game so Lowe didn't get to go. (Preston, too, had a good season, but not as good as he did in 1979 or as good as Lowe did in 1980).

Lowe totaled 133 tackles, defensed 14 passes, including three interceptions (one was a pick-6), forced a pair of fumbles and blocked a pair of kicks. He was as good at covering backs out of the backfield or his zone responsibilities as any linebacker in the game.

It has been well-documented that the Chargers defenses were not good in the early-to-mid 1980s, usually finishing in the mid-to-high 20s in terms of rankings in both points and yards. 

In 1983 the Chargers switched to a 3-4 scheme and it really was not Lowe's scheme. While he was able to use his ability to run and cover in a 4-3, in the 3-4 and the need to blitz did put him at a disadvantage. He was game, he gave it his all, but like several of the linebacker in his era, he just wasn't going to be a star in a 30 defense.
Lowe had a knee injury in 1987 and was put on injured reserve and after the season his contract expired and was not signed by anyone after that. It was the first serious injury Lowe suffered in his career. He's missed one game in 1984 with a hip injury, but he could have gone, he told the Los Angeles Times, but the coaches and docs made him sit. All the rest of things were the nagging type of injuries he could play through. But this knee, which he said, make a 'clicking' sound and he had surgery that Fall but it was just the end of the line for Lowe's professional career. 

His career stats show 26 sacks and 21 picks, kind of reminiscent of the kind of linebackers that were around in the 1960s and 1970s like Jack Ham, Isiah Robertson, Dave Robinson, Chuck Howley, and others with 20 or more sacks and 20 or more interceptions. And he was three short of 20 forced fumbles as well. He filled up the columns in the tackle chart, that's for sure. 

Of course, one sack and forced fumble he'd like to have back was the final play of the September 10, 1978, game versus the Raiders—know as the "Holy Roller" play. On that play, Lowe rushed Stabler and knowing he could do nothing with the ball the Snake intentionally threw the ball forward when Pete Banaszak then threw it forward, and then Dave Casper fell on it. 

Lowe, of course, thought it was an incomplete pass, as did most fair-minded observers, but in real-time, and with no instant play and a poor view of the play referee  Jerry Markbreit didn't see it that way, so it was a Raider win.

Be that as it may, we'd say he had four (1979-82) seasons at near Pro Bowl quality and a few more surrounding those four that were very solid. He was a leader, became a skilled cover linebacker pretty quickly after doing very little of it at Alabama. He could block you a punt, and from 1983-85, though still small, maybe 235 pounds, got a handful few to a handful of sacks in the new 3-4 scheme. 

For his size, he played well. And like some of the other linebackers we've profiled lately—Thomas Henderson, Michael Jackson, Tom Jackson, and Rod Shoate, Woodie Lowe would be a great fit in today's NFL as one of the hybrid linebackers/money backers that are part safety, part linebacker.

That is kind of what he was then. At 6-0, 227 pounds or so with legit 4.6 (or better) speed, good tackling ability, excellent cover skills, he would likely be more of a star now than he was then. At least we think so. 

Here ar his career stats—

Monday, June 21, 2021

1938-1941 Turk Edwards Playbooks

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

While doing research for the NFL's 100th season in 2019 I came across some unique pages in the Pro Football Hall of Fame folder in Canton, Oho of former Washington Redksins tackle Turk Edwards. The six-foot-two, 255-pound Edwards played nine seasons (1932-1940) with Washington, earning first team All-Pro honors four times and helping Washington win a NFL Championship in 1937. 

Flipping through his folder I came across nearly 100-pages of his playbooks from the years 1938-1941. These pages show the Washington offense and defense during thier hey days with Sammy Baugh, Cliff Battles and coached by Ray Flaherty. 

I've included a handfull of pages from this special playbook notes:

1938-1941 Turk Edwards Playbook Cover Page
(Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame Turk Edwards file) 

Turk Edwards (left), Sammy Baugh (middle) and Dutch Bergman (right) look at plays in 1943

Washington Spinner Plays

Washington Passing Plays, for Sammy Baugh

Washington Spead Formation Running Plays

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Street & Smith's 1970s All-Decade AFC and NFC Teams

By John Turney 

There have been quite a few 1970s All-Decade Teams chosen over the years and as far as we know Street & Smith's is the only one that broke it down by conference, an AFC and NFC Team. 

The teams appeared in the 1980 Street & Smith's Offical Pro Football Yearbook. Also, we think it is the first year S & S used regional covers for their pro football magazine, having done that for its college issue for years. 

The teams were selected by Larry Felser (AFC) and Don Pierson (NFC) both veteran NFL writers and both eventually were Hall of Fame voters. 

The esoteric choice on the AFC team was Russ Washington, the AFC-NFC format allowed the top NFC tackles to fight it out for two slots while the AFC didn't have the likes of Dan Dierdorf, Ron Yary, and Rayfield Wright, and even George Kunz (who spend most of his time in the NFC). 

Washington didn't make any of the NFL-Wide 70s All-Decade teams we've re-posted

The same things that could be said for Washington apply to Jerry Sherk. Though we'd have gone with Curley Culp, there is nothing wrong with recognizing Sherk who was a very good player, a 1976 UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 even.

In the NFC the odd choice, and unlike Russ Washington, Forrest Blue isn't a good choice. Maybe for a 1970-75 half-decade team, but for the 1970s? We don't think so.

Regardless, it's an interesting team, worthy of looking at.