Monday, September 6, 2021

Small Insight into Statistics and Honors in Relation to Ron Pritchard

 By John Turney
A few months ago when someone would for to Pro Football maybe to look up Ron Pritchard or if they just were clicking through they would have seen something like this on his page—
We've modified it to condense the space, but when you pair his 1970 season with his being Second-team All-AFC one would have seen just the two interceptions and the safety. For some fans that may have begged the question of  "Why?".

So, what was it that a couple AFC sportswriters saw to mark him down as one of the top two AFL linebackers that year? They would have seen the safety he was credited with when Terry Bradshaw was forced out of the end zone but was that it? The interceptions? Two?

Recently PFR added sack data and that offers some insight—

We can now see that in 1970 Pritchard had 7½ sacks. Of course, but standards associated with 3-4 defenses and rushbackers or "edge" players that total may not seem like much. But for that time, it was an excellent number for a 4-3 outside linebacker. Heck, it's more than Hall of Famer Robert Brazile ever had in a single season and he was in a 3-4 his whole career so that will open one's eyes/

So, what we are suggesting is that the reason he got post-season honors in 1970 is because of that statistic. Writers saw him get the sacks, maybe it was even the Houston-based writers who voted for him or even maybe a Pittsburgh writer, we don't know. But we are saying it was based on something it was "not for nothing" if you will.
Credit: NFL, Fair use claim for education and criticism
We've seen this over the years, on an honorable mention for a less-known player on an AP or UPI All-Pro team and ask why that guy got a vote or two, enough to be an honorable mention. Sometimes it was on a reputation (Deacon Jones was an honorable mention in 1971 and he was hurt and didn't deserve any votes) but more often it was a guy like Clark Miller in 1966 who had 10 sacks (the number not known then but the writers would have seen the big plays) and was honorable mention All-Pro, never to get listed again.

We suggest though not perfect, the writers of the day were watching games, talking to coaches, players, other writers, and were, in general, careful and consciences about the All-Pro/All-Conference votes. We think this obscure pattern illustrated that and gives credence that All-Pros (and even Pro Bowls) were not just "popularity contests".

Certainly, the "All" system does have flaws and there are players who get overlooked, and maybe another player gets an "All" a year after he was deserving. But that is not a reason to dismiss the system completely. It, like anything, requires a little study and homework, a little reason and intelligence applied to it before some cliche is thrown around to completely discount it when it is convenient. 

Both things can be true—it was a basically fair system that has/had some flaws in specific cases. It's up to smart folks to identify those flawed cases but also affirm the majority of guys who make All-Pro/All-Conference/Pro Bowls are pretty deserving. The "snubs" are usually because there are only a certain number of slots and maybe there were more good players in a specific year at one of those slots.

Rant over.

Back to Pritchard.

He was a First-team All-American at Arizona State and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was All-WAC 1966-68 and was named to the Sun Devils’ All-Time Football team and to the All-Time Western Athletic Conference team. He is also a member of the ASU Sports HOF and Ring of Honor,

Prior to his time in the desert he graduated from Antioch High School  (CA) and his senior year at Antioch he was All-Everything. he made All-County, All-League, All-Metropolitan, All-Northern California, and an Honorable Mention All-America selection. 

He was drafted by the Oilers in the 1st round (15th overall) of the 1969 NFL Draft. In the Oilers' mind, he was going to bookend George Webster for a decade and dominate under the Astrodome lights.

But as fate would have it they never started a full season together. The two first-round bookends never got a shot to show what they could do. Asa rookie Pritchard played some but was not a starter, though his playing time increased throughout the year. 

In 1970 Pritchard was the "rush" linebacker and Webster was the cover guy, with some exceptions, of course. Webster could dog when asked and Pritchard was quick enough to cover backs or pickup who came through his hook/curl zone. 

But Webster was hurt in 1970 and 1971 and in 1972 both were traded away at midseason. Webster brought Dave Smith to Houston and Pritchard was exchanged with Charlie Joiner for Bengals running backs Paul Robinson and Fred Willis.

So the trio of Garland Boyette (pro football first African-American middle linebacker, edging Willie Lanier) at MIKE, Webster at SAM, and Pritchard at WILL lasted just about a season over the four years all were with the team and starting at their usual positions. 

After Pritchard was traded he filled in for injured Bengals linebackers after playing the first half of the season at middle linebacker for the Oilers.
He beat out Bengals right linebacker Ken Avery for the staring right-side linebacker job in 1973 but went down to an injury in the tenth game.

Pritchard rebounded nicely in 1974 totaling 122 tackles a career-high. Certainly, tackles can be subjective and looked at closely, however, the Bengals scorekeepers, in our view, were fairly reasonable and while one can question the exact totals, we think it is likely that a couple things are accurate that he had a lot more tackles than in past years and that aside from that he had a helvella year. 

Maybe Bill Bergy being gone caused some change in scheme and play asking Pritchard to cover more ground? 

In 1976 Pritchard hurt a knee and missed more than half of that year. He had trouble recovering and missed the 1977 season for all intents and purposes. He had two more surgeries on the knee and in 1978 the Bengals, though they found his knee to the stable (tighter than the non-inured knee) did offer Pritchard (his contract had expired) a 1978 contract which Pritchard didn't sign.

The saga was outlined in a May 31, 1978, Cincinnati Enquirer article—

In early July Pritchard was traded the Raiders for a draft pick which the Bengals never received, in late August Prichard left the Raiders camp—the knee had had it. 

Pritchard was also a professional wrestler in his offseasons and continued it some after his career giving it up in 1981.

In the early years, Pritchard could run very well and had good size. When the Oilers were criticized in mid-season 1969 for not taking Calvin Hill or Ron Johnson (the NFL's leading rushers at the time) general manager Don Klosterman defended the pick saying that "Pritchard was the best all-around athlete" and that he thought the organization was right in taking in seeing how he is "coming around".

However it was clear that OPilers fans and Houston media and likely the Oilers brass themselves were hoping for Pritchard to start as a rookie and when he didn't, the criticism Klosterman faced emerged.

We are not suggesting Pritchard was great, but when you see him he does move well, plays his position but he was no Webster, he was more of a potential Jim Lynch, Chris Hanburger or Andy Russell type, the right-side linebacker who could dog and be effective and be somewhat of a factor in coverage. He had the ability but for whatever reason, the Oilers gave up on him in 1972, as they did with Webster and even Boyette (who was a little older). 

Boyette was benched in early 1972 (for Pritchard), then retired after the season and began as a coach with the Oilers the following year. He was coaxed out of retirement (and the coaching staff) in camp in 1973 but was subsequently waived. He went on to play two seasons in the WFL in 1974-75.

So, while no star, Pritchard was, however worthy of Second-team All-AFC, and the numbers in this case back up that honor, again even if it was just a couple of voters who noticed his play in 1970 and 1971.

Career stats—

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