Sunday, February 27, 2022

Cooper Kupp by Bruce Tatman

 By John Turney 
Cooper Kupp by Bruce Tatman

Back in the day, the NFL commissioned Merv Corning to do a watercolor of the MVP of the Super Bowl. That ended in 1998 and Corning passed away in 2006 so it could never have been revived. So, for over twenty years we've not had the opportunity to see an awesome watercolor of a Super Bowl MVP like this one of Cooper Kupp.

Bruce Tatman, just an amazing artist, did this piece recently. We've proposed that the NFL hire him to do such commissioned pieces. He does not try to be Corning, he's got his own style but the NFL lacks because there are no longer artists such as Corning, Chuck Ren, George Bartell, Bart Forbes, Cliff Spohn, and others. 

The fans are not able to appreciate the stimulation right side of their brains because these kinds of works of art are not snapped up by the NFL and used in programs and books or other media. 

We supposed they younger fans are too busy working the numbers of fantasy football and stimulating their left brains . . . which is too bad. Both are needed, left- and right brain usage.

We've suggested this before to the NFL marketing group but to no avail. We will do the same again in another email and also stage them on Twitter but we don't expect and consideration of the proposal to once again incorporate the fine arts into the palette of images seen by fans—they can still use digital art and photos, of course—so fans can appreciate what previous fans enjoyed.

Here are a few of Corning's Super Bowl MVPs—




Saturday, February 26, 2022

Elbert Dubenion—Deep Ball Record-Holder

By John Turney
Elbert Dubenion still holds the record for highest yards per catch for players with 40 or more catches at 27.1—a mark that ma never been broken. 

Flipper Anderson averaged 26.0 on 44 grabs in 1989 but it is really something of a relic, a pure deep threat. 
Chart credit: Pro Football Reference

26.8 yards per catch in 1969

Fourth on the list, 25.9 average in 1976

We used to love these guys, 25-yards a catch, 22.0 yards a catch, anything over twenty was impressive. It's just one of those things that are gone forever. The closest we've had recently is DeSean Jackson, really. 

Sure, today's players could do it but they catch way too many short passes and with coverages as they are teams pay a premium to stop the long passes to give up some yards on short passes.

So, here's to Golden Wheels Dubinion—The best of an extinct player—The Deep Threat. And mentions to Harlon Hill, Bob Hayes, Paul Warfield, Homer Jones and so many more. 

What fun they were. 

A Coach Traded for a Player, Kind Of

 By John Turney 
Jim David

In the Spring of 1960, the Rams traded for Pro Bowl defensive back Jim David and gave up Sam Williams for him.

The thing is Bob Waterfield said that David was brought to Los Angeles to be the defensive backs coach. When pushed he said "David would never play and that David was too busy to be a player-coach.

So it was Sam Williams for a secondary coach.

Williams was expendable because the Rams were deep at defensive end. They had Gene Brito returning from an injury, Lamar Lundy who played left end in Brito's place. At the right end they had Lou Michaels and as a third end John Baker. And in 1959 they had Williams who played some but mostly on special teams—he blocked a punt that went for a safety.

So, in 1960 they had their four defensive ends and added rookie John Kenerson ostensibly to replace  Williams who went on to be a starter in Detroit and also was a starter for the expansion Falcons in 1966 and 1967.

Waterfield treaded for David when he had Tom Fears as an offensive coach and as the following article said some felt David was "a villain" because he broke Fears' leg several sessions previous—David was known as "The Hatchet" so he had a reputation already as a hard-hitter. 

He went on to coach the Rams d-backs for three years, until Waterfield was fired. Then he went to the 49ers in the same capacity. When his former teammate Joe Schmidt got the head coaching job in Detroit in 1967 he hired David to run the defense, a position he held through 1972 when Don McCafferty replaced Schmidt as the head coach.

With the Lions he coached Lem Barney, Dick LeBeau, Mike Weger, and for one season future NFL head coach Dick Jauron.

Here are the clips—


Friday, February 25, 2022

A Few Thoughts on The Hall of Fame

 By Nick Webster 

1.  So frequently we have debates on who should go in, who’s left out, who should be first-ballot; but we rarely reverse the exercise. Suppose you’re a ‘small Hall’ guy, who would you take out that you don’t think belongs. Or even if you’re not a ‘small Hall’ guy, if forced to, who would you remove that would do the least harm to the Hall?  

A few approaches can apply, who do you come up with?

    a.  Remove one player per position

    b.  Remove one player per team

    c.  Remove one player per HOF class

    d.  Remove the bottom X number of players - we’ll go with 10

2.  So much talk among real Hall fans is about the Senior Pool. Should it be the recently overlooked, should it be ‘super Seniors’ e.g.: two-way players, etc. A thought, what if every year the Senior pool rotated through decades, or clusters of decades. It’s always been problematic to compare Jim Benton to Drew Pearson, but what if in year one we were selecting from a pool of players from the ’30s, year-two the 40s, year-three the 50s, and so on. 

Jim Benton

This would make player comparisons easier, you could have different panels of experts with relatively more insight on the era and it would ensure, over time, broad generational representation.  What one player would you select from each decade?

3.  Some nerdiness. Should the bar for the Hall of Fame be lower or higher? Thinking about it mathematically, the Hall is supposed to represent the best of the best. 

What if players are normally distributed on a bell curve the average player (say an alright starter) is right in the middle, a terrible player (the next guy you cut when you can find a replacement - say Falcons QB Kim McQuilken - look him up if you don’t know him) is on the left tail, and a Hall of Famer should be on the right tail. 

 If you buy the general assumption that, like most everything in the world, players are distributed in a ‘normal distribution’ on the bell curve then any lowering of the bar lets in more players than a raising of the bar removes. If you move the line between the orange and blue sections a notch left (lowering the bar) you let in more players than if you move it the same distance to the right. In such a way lowering the bar only inspires more debate about other worthy players than raising the bar.

    a.  A simple concrete example. Suppose you set the RB bar based on Career Yards-per-game and started with requiring a 1000-yard season with a 12-game schedule, you’d let in everyone over 83.3 yards-per-game, or 8 currently retired RBs. But if you raised that five yards-per-game to 88.3 you’d only have four currently retired RBs whereas lowering it to 78.3 yards-per-game nets you 16 retired RBs.

    b.   I for one, am not for lowering the bar— 

4.  Finally, we occasionally hear people emphasize that it is the Pro Football Hall of Fame not the NFL Hall of Fame in various contexts. But, not having been in the room, who are players who crossed the Hall of Fame threshold based on Professional performance not in the NFL or its predecessors (AFL, AAFC—yes I’m counting it)?  Jim Thorpe seems a fairly obvious selection; but scratch your head to think of who is in based on NFL plus CFL performance, NFL plus USFL performance, NFL plus WFL performance.  

Arnie Weinmeister

Possibly Arnie Weinmeister, though we believe his selection was based on his short-but-spectacular AAFC and NFL play. For both the USFL and WFL there’s a fairly good argument that the level of play was notably lower and the leagues were short-lived, so it’s difficult for accrued performance to meaningfully impact your view of a player; so apparently, no love for Herschel Walker.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Top Kick-blocking Teams—A Selected List

by Nick Webster 
Chiefs got into the playoffs by devasting special teams performance versus Steelers in the season finale.
Part of digging up sacks gives you a chance to find other big plays like run/pass stuffs, forced fumbles, and not least—blocked kicks and punts.

So, my latest project is to paint a picture of the top teams that valued and executed the most kick blocks (placekicks and punts).

Here are some teams that did it very well. It is not a comprehensive list in that some teams have had some great years but we are skipping over to keep this post readable. In the future we will have fillers information, perhaps featuring the best kick blocking seasons for each team—something like that. 

1937 Washington
Turk Edwards
TheNFL Campions blocked at least nine with Turk Edwards having blocked four and Sammy Baugh blocked one. The problem with going back too far is we cannot find who had the four unidentified blocks. Maybe someday. 

1943 New York Giants
Frank Cope
The Giants were great in '42 and '44 as well so this era was a strong one, I have found eight blocks in 1943. Frank Cope blocked four in 1943 and Charley Avedisian blocked two and two others had one. 

1956 San Francisco 49ers 
Bob St. Clair 
This was the year that Bob St. Clair was rumored to have 10 blocks. He had at least three with one so far still unidentified so he may have had four and fellow Hall of Famer Leo Nomellini got three. We've found eight blocks for the '56 49ers. 

1961 Bears 
J.C. Caroline
One of the biggest single-season ever and a good era as well, basically you could count on getting a few each season of the Dave Whitsell era. 

The 1961 Bears had 12 blocks—Whitsell led with 4 and Larry Morris blocked 2 and JC Caroline got 2. Doug Atkins, Bill George, Fred Williams, and John Mellekas all blocked 1

1962 Giants: 
Dick Lynch
This unit had had 10 blocks. Sam Huff and Dick Lynch each blocked three. Patton, Grier, and Scott each got one and one is still unidentified. 

1971 Washington
This era for Washington was known for big special teams plays, in all aspects, and blocked kicks was no exception in 1971 they blocked seven—Ted Vactor led with three and Ron McDole had two Jon Jaqua and Chris Hanburger had one each. We mentioned them because they seemed to have big kick or punt blocks in ket times that won games over a several-year period. 

1986 Chiefs 
Kansas City has thwarted 11 kicks that season (eight were blocked): four blocked punts (three by Albert Lewis), two punter tackles (Lewis and Kevin Ross), two deflected punts (Lewis and Ross), two blocked field goals (Bill Maas) and one blocked extra point (Pete Koch).

Here is the tally, noting how many led to scores—
Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati—Mark Robinson blocked punt, Deron Cherry recovered for TD.
Sept. 21 vs Houston—Pete Koch blocked extra point.
Oct. 5 vs. LA Raiders—Ross tackled punter trying to run.
Oct. 19 vs. San Diego— Albert Lewis blocked a punt that led to a score (deflected). 
Oct. 26 vs. Tampa Bay—Lewis tackled punter trying to run, leading to a score; Ross blocked punt (deflected).
Nov. 2 at San Diego—Bill Maas blocked field goal.
Nov. 16 at Denver—Lewis blocked punt, leading to a TD.
Dec. 7 vs. Denver— Lewis blocked punt, leading to a TD.
Dec. 21 vs. Pittsburgh—Lewis blocked punt and Cherry recovered for TD; Maas blocked field goal and Burruss returned it 78 yards for a TD; 

Then in the playoffs, Lewis blocked another punt. 

This season begs the question "What is a blocked punt?". If the rush is so great that the punter tries to run and he's tackled, it goes as either a sack (if he tried to pass in some way and the scorekeeper detected an attempt, i.e. the punter raised an arm)) or stuff (if no passes is attempted).

But if he's tackled it's really a devastating special teams play, not a defensive player, really. It is to the extent that a punt return team is really a defensive squad, but it makes more sense, as is done here to credit the tackled punter as a semi-block. 

Deflected punts would at least be noted. A punt can be blocked 10 yards deep and dribble past the line of scrimmage but it's then a punt, not a blocked punt. Come on. The definition should be if the rusher gets his hands on the ball enough to affect it and a 1-yard or 15-yard punt is a failure by the punt team. 

Finally, the Chiefs had a good run of blocks through 1990 or so. 

1968 Saints
Twelve for the 1968 Saints and Dave Whitsell (always on teams that blocked kicks—the catalyst) had at least four. Elijah Nevett had two as did Dave Rowe and Mike Tilleman. John Douglass 1. There is one missing, a block but we don't know who got it. Was it Whitsell's fifth? We just don't know at this point but will continue to search.

1960s Rams 
The 1962 Rams has 11 blocks, Eddie Meador had four and Deacon Jones had two and five players had one each. In 1963 the total was 10 blocks, the leader that year was Meader, Henry, McKeever, Pardee all had two. Deacon Jones and Cliff Livingston had one each.

The next season, 1964 the Rams blocked nine with Meador's three leading the way making it a total of 30 blocks in three seasons.

Continuing on with the 1960s the Rams dipped to just three in 1965 (Jones with two). But in 1966 they leaped to eight. Then in 1967, it was six, and in 1968 it was seven. In 1969 it was only two, but adding in 1960 and 1961 the 1960s total for Rams was 64 blocks—an average of 6.4 a season. 

1976-1981 Vikings 
In 1974 the Viking had just two blocks, in 1975 it was four but then they went on a tear—Minnesota blocked 13 kicks in the 1976 regular season—the most we've found. Nate Allen had five, Alan Page had four, Matt Blair had two, and Bobby Bryant and Eller had one. Then in the playoffs, they blocked three more. 

One sidenote:  There are differences in the gamebooks and the Vikings stat sheets likely composed by the coaches. They have Page with five and Allen with three and on other minor differences. That is on the agenda to figure out, sometimes different eyes see different things—the scorekeeper and the coach. My job is to report the facts as they are found.

So, continuing on—In 1977 the Vikes had six more and in 1978 they had nine. 

In 1979 they reached 13 again the second time in four years. The individual totals were Matt Blair five (all PATs), Randy Holloway (two FG and two PAT), and four others had one each.

The Vikings as a team had five each in 1980 and 1981. That's 52 blocked kicks or punts from 1976-81. Pretty heady stuff.  

The Vikings had a good span from 1969-71 with six ('69) six, ('70), and eight ('71), as well. 

*************************
As mentioned there will be more information over time but thought you'd enjoy seeing some of the top single-season or several-season performances that feature some of the best blockers ever.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Larry Grantham—Another Forgotten 4-3 OLBer

 By John Turney 
Larry Grantham
Maybe it is because players with similar roles are too hard to separate but when Chris Hanburger got in it raised questions as to why players like Dave Robinson (a similar player who got in two years later) and Chuck Howley (a similar player) were not in. Steelers fans raised Andy Russell's name. Isiah Robertson and even Phil Villapiano's name has been mentioned in social media and online entities. 

Larry Grantham fits in that mold as well. 

We don't have good tackle numbers for Grantham but we have sacks, picks, and run/pass stuffs, plus with work done by TJ Troup we know he has 19 fumble recoveries as well. 

He has 38½ sacks (more than most in his peer group), 84½ run/pass stuffs, which is high, 24 picks, in the upper end among peers. He has a ring and was part of good defenses, especially from 1968-70. Look them up, they were excellent.

Granthan was extremely small, 6-1, 210, could run well but he's not some superior athlete like a Bobby Bell, Chuck Howley, or Dave Robinson, or even Jack Ham, we won't kid ourselves. But the man could play and made plays. That's what matters. The Hall of Fame is not a player personnel draft it is to award players whose careers rose above the average, to good and very good into the great category.

Since his All-Pros were early in the AFL there is a legitimate question as to the talent level of that league. AFL pundits will raise the valid truism that the AFL won the last two Super Bowls in 1968 and 1969. But that is not the question, it is how good were the 1960-63 AFL leagues?

That is for the experts to figure out. Until then all we can say is compared to his peers in the Hall of Fame and those nearing in (Chuck Howley?) his numbers sure fit, as do his honors (ten post-season honors in first ten years), plus the ring plus the dominant defenses in the late-1960s through 1970.

In 2014 Grantham was voted to the Pro Football Researchers Association Hall of Very Good. Maybe that's where a career like his belongs but with a Hanburger, Robinson, and others in and others like him getting close maybe Grantham, with the new likely senior slot upcoming, deserves to be more than that.

Think about it. 

There will be a more detailed post on Grantham by T.J. Troup in the upcoming days.

Richard Wood—Batman

 By John Turney 
Richard Wood with Batman logo on his elbow pad

Richard Wood was a big-time collegiate player, a three-time All-American at USC (the first in school history). He didn't have great size (6-2, 224 or so) but was fast (4.6 forty) but he had good natural strength and hit,  "like a hammer" according to Coach John McKay.  He was part of national championships in 1972 and 1974 and eventually took his rightful place in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Batman at USC
In 1975 the Jets took him in the third round of the draft and he was, at first, excited to go, "Batman is going to Gotham". And he started a handful of games for the Jets but mostly was a special teamer. However, as the year wore on Wood was not particularly happy with the Jets and in his heart wanted out. It was a team that lacked cohesion and he found it nothing like the camaraderie he became accustomed to at USC. 

That chance to get out came.

The Bucs and his USC coach John McKay traded for him and he played the next nine seasons with the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers—the first six as a starter beginning as a right outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, which may have been his best position. 

In 1977 the Bucs switched to a 3-4 and he became an inside 'backer, and a good one. On his side he was often the "Will" 'backer when the right outside linebacker blitzed. In the Bucs scheme Wood was able to get penetration, often bu "backdooring"  blocker, getting into a backfield and making tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

In fact, no one had more in the NFL in 1978 and 1979 (29). From 1977-81, his five years as the starting weakside linebacker he averaged 114 tackles with 9½ of them run/pass stuffs.  The Bucs defense was solid every year anchored by Lee Roy Selmon and others with the strength of the defense the linebackers. The covered, they hit, tackled, could blitz and scrape—anyone from that era will tell you they were good. Very good. 

In 1982 strongside inside linebacker Cecil Johnson moved to the weakside and Scot Brantley came in as the strong side player. This left Batman in the role as a backup. 

He was not as good against the run as he had been and Brantly and Johnson were better in the base than Johnson and Woods. So, he sat and would fill in and play some passing downs. His NFL career was over.

Wood did catch on with the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL in 1984 and played 16 games for them.

His NFL career arc was not unlike Hugh Green's or Jerry Robinson's. He was incredibly dominant in college but was very good for a while in the NFL before tailing off. Also like those two he's likely be good today in the $ (money backer) role so many teams use, a hybrid LBe/safety kind of guy who maybe lacks some size but has great smarts and quickness and plays in sub-packages roaming the middle or hook areas of the zones. 

We could see him doing that like Green or Robinson or Michael Jackson (of Seattle) or Rod Shoate, Thomas Henderson, Woodie Lowie, or others. They were 4-3 linebackers in a 3-4 era.

Today, putting maybe 10-20 pounds on them, they'd be like Lavonte David or poor men's Derrick Brooks or a Seth Joyner from a past generation. 

As it was Wood had a worthy career and was part of a really good, even great at times, defense. He may not have had the kind of NFL career as he had in college but what he did was pretty good. 

Congrats to Batman. Not bad. 

Career stats—


Aldon Smith and Nick Bosa—Tale of the Tape

 By John Turney 
Aldon Smith (L) and Nick Bosa (R)

There has been a very good Twitter debate this week comparing Aldon Smith and Nick Bosa with, as you can guess, some dissension.

Here is a small sample—

Here are the numbers—

We include pressures from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and Football Outsiders (FO) as well as the 49ers coaches for Smith,

For Bosa, it's PFF, FO, Sports Radar, and the 49ers.

Of course, as per usual, the numbers for those categories don't agree, but player-to-player you can make some surmise about the number of times they are affecting a quarterback's game.

Here are the NFL Combine numbers for Smith—
40 Yard Dash: 4.74 seconds
40 Yard (MPH): 17.26 (MPH)
20 Yard Split: 2.70 seconds
10 Yard Split: 1.66 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: 34.0 inches
Broad Jump: 118 inches
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.50 seconds
Three Cone: 7.19 seconds

and for Bosa—
40 Yard Dash: 4.79 seconds
40 Yard (MPH): 17.08 (MPH)
20 Yard Split: 2.76 seconds
10 Yard Split: 1.62 seconds
Bench Press: 29 reps (225 lb)
Vertical Leap: 33.5 inches
Broad Jump: 116 inches
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.14 seconds
Three Cone: 7.10 seconds

Also keep in mind back when Smith was with the 49ers they used a lot of base 3-4, less nickel, meaning Smith was a 30 OLBer in base and a 40 nickel right end. Bosa is a 40 end—playing DE in both base and nickel. While both are edge players, there are differences in base, and in 2011-12 the 49erswere in base enough for that to matter.

Answer?

Bosa is better versus the run. Smith more of a physical freak in terms of wiry strength is likely a hair better than Bosa in the pass rush physically but Bosa is the far better technician. 

However, the Twitter debaters do point out that Aldon Smith had Justin "Cowboy" Smith next to him and yes, that DOES make a difference, favoring Aldon Smith. He'd grab people to free Smith. 

As a rookie, though Bosa had DeForest Buckner and he was a big help to Bosa but he left in 2020 for the Colts. 

We'd take Bosa based on the tape we've seen. Final answer. 

Clarence Williams and Alden Roche—Bookends for the Pack in the 70s

 By John Turney
Clarence Williams (L) and Alden Roache (R)
Roche's stats
Year         Team      Sacks
1970 DEN 0.5
1971 GB 5.0
1972 GB 4.0
1973        GB 4.5
1974 GB 7.0
1975 GB 3.0
1976 GB 8.5
1977 SEA 3.5
1978 SEA 0.0

Williams' stats
Year      Team      Sacks 
1970      GB             3.5  
1971      GB             6.0 
1972      GB            10.5  
1973      GB             3.0  
1974      GB             7.0  
1975      GB            10.0  
1976      GB             8.0  
1977      GB             3.0

Both Williams and Roche first played in the NFL in 1970, Williams via Dallas and Roache through Denver. Williams was drafted by the Cowboys in the 11th round (283rd overall) of the 1969 NFL Draft. Roache was a higher pick, a  Broncos draftee in the 2nd round (37th overall) of the 1970 NFL Draft. Both were standouts at HBCUs, Williams at Prarie View A&M and Roche at Southern.

Williams was traded will a backup center to Green Bay for Herb Adderley. Roche was acquired by the Packers in a trade that dent Don Horn to Denver and had Denver and Green Bay swap positions in the first round. 

Today these are unknown players to the younger croud, in our view. They were not stars, in was an era where great defensive ends roamed the NFL, especially in the NFC—Hall of Famers like Carl Eller, Claude Humphrey, and Jack Youngblood hogged up most of the Pro Bowl spots leaving few for other players, even someone like "Sweeney Williams" who had double-digit sacks in 1972 and 1975. 

In 1972 Williams even got a nod on Vinny DiTrani's (of The Bergan Record) "Allmost All-Pro" team—a team dedicated to picking under-the-radar players who had great seasons but who may have been overshadowed for one reason or another. 

In 1976 the Packers bookends each had 8 or more sacks on a team that tallied 43—the most since the heydays of Vince Lombardi and his linemen like Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, and Lionel Aldridge. 

However, both players faded after that season and were both out of football by 1979.

The Packers drafted Mike Butler and Ezra Johnson in the first round in 1977 making Williams expendable (he spent that season as a defensive tackle) and Roche expendable. And they were expended for sure. 

But it is good to remember such players once in a while and so we do that today.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Remembering Ox Emerson: Portsmouth Spartans/Detroit Lions Two-Way Guard

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Ox Emerson, Lions Guard

Today PFJ looks back at one of the NFL’s best guards during the Two-Way Era. Gover “Ox” Emerson, who played 8 seasons in the NFL with the Portsmouth Spartans-Detroit Lions (1931-1937) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1938).

The former Texas Longhorn quickly became a stalwart on the Portsmouth Spartans line in 1931 learning Potsy Clark’s single-wing offense. Emerson used good strength, speed, and quickness to consistently beat opponents. On film the 5-11, 203-pound Emerson always showed excellent technique and savvy from his guard position (mainly at right guard), he could also pull from his guard position on end runs and sweeps in the Lions’ offense. In 1935- after naming Ox to First-team All-Pro- the UPI wrote: “Emerson plays guard like an end, big, fast and smart.”

On defense, he was a sure tackler and tough man to block. “(Ox) Emerson, the Detroit guard, is the fastest, ‘slicing’ forward and the hardest to block, that I ever met in football,” once said Link Lyman, former Chicago Bears Hall of Fame tackle. 

Ox Emerson, Portsmouth Spartans, 1932

During the two-way era (before World War II), Ox Emerson was one of the most decorated players at his position, earning First-team All-Pro honors from multiple media outlets, including five straight years by the United Press.

First-team All-Pros:

(5) United Press: 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936

(4) Collyers Eye Magazine: 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935

(3) Chicago Daily News: 1933, 1934, 1935

(1) Green Bay Press-Gazette: 1935

 (1) NFL: 1936

(1) Ray Flaherty: 1936

(1) I.N.S.: 1937

Second-team All-Pros:

NFL: 1934, 1935 (Honorable Mention: 1932, 1938)

Brooklyn Times-Union: 1934

New York Journal: 1935

Collyer's Eye Magazine: 1936

As well as his many First-team All-Pro honors, Emerson was easily selected as a member of the NFL’s 1930’s All-Decade Team at guard—along with Dan Fortmann (Bears), Buckets Goldenberg (Packers) and Russ Letlow (Packers).

Currently, there are 4 Guards from the Two-Way Era in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dan Fortmann, Mike Michalske, Walt Kiesling, and George Musso (who played some tackle). In this chart below are comparisons of the guards in the Hall of Fame and on the All-Decade teams of the 1920s & 1930s.  

Hall of Fame and All-Decade Guards Comparison (1920-1939) First-team All-Pros

Dan Fortmann (HOF, All-Decade) = 6 times

Mike Michalske (HOF, All-Decade) = 5 times

***Ox Emerson (All-Decade) = 5 times

Walt Kiesling (HOF, All-Decade) = 2 times

George Musso (HOF)  = 2 (one each at G-T)

Russ Letlow (All-Decade) = 1 time

Hunk Anderson (All-Decade) = 0

Buckets Goldenberg (All-Decade) = 0

[Note: 1930’s Buckets Goldenberg (No First-team All-Pros; 120 games, 69 starts; did win 3 NFL Champ.) 1930s Russ Letlow (2 Pro Bowls, 1 All-Pro, 2 NFL Champ.)]

Looking at his resume Emerson compares very well to the other Hall of Fame guards of his era.

Ox Emerson, football pose, 1936

Emerson was highly thought of by his opponents during the era he played, especially by the Chicago Bears players from the 1930s—a team that won two championships and lost two during the 1930s. 

In 1999 I interviewed two former Bears players who competed against Ox—George Musso, Bears Hall of Fame tackle-guard (1933-1938, 11 games vs Ox) and Charles “Ookie” Miller, Bears All-Pro center (1932-1938, 15 games vs Ox).

Opponents:

He was an Ox. He was hard to handle. Ox was just a good guard, hard to block,” said George Musso. 

“I played against Ox several times. He’s fast and elusive. Tried to out-smart you. Did a lot of times. I tried to do it myself. I saw what he was doing and I copied him,” said Charles “Ookie” Miller. 

In a 1939 interview with the Associated Press, Bronko Nagurski selected his own All-time Team. At the guard position he choose Mike Michalske and Ox Emerson.

In 1955 Red Grange was asked to name a NFL All-Time Team. His chore was to pick 11 players to win one game. At guard he choose Mike Michalske and Ox Emerson (over Bears Dan Fortmann). (Source: Nashville Banner, Jan. 12, 1955) “Say, there was a guard. Ox Emerson, played for (Detroit). Well, I tried for a long while to figure out how to handle him, but he always fool me,” said Mel Hein in 1939 to Collier’s magazine. (Source: Colliers’, Nov. 4, 1939)

His opponents (Bears, Giants) confirm that Emerson was one of the one-two best Guards to ever play in the Two-Way Era. 

For 7 seasons, Emerson had a huge impact on the success of the Portsmouth Spartans and Detroit Lions- both on offense & defense…Ox was part of a Lions offensive line that helped lead the NFL in rushing twice (1936-37) and finish 2nd two more times (1934-35). 

He blocked for Hall of Fame—NFL-100— halfback Dutch Clark and All-Pros Glenn Presnell, Ernie Caddell, and Ace Gutowsky. “Ox wasn’t very big for a professional guard, he weighed about 195 pounds. But he was so quick and agile that he made a lot of tackles and was hard to block. So, he was in the opponent’s backfield an awful lot. He was very exceptional,” said Glenn Presnell in 1999. Source: 1999 NFL Films interview)

In 1936 the Lions set an NFL record for rushing yards in a season with 2,885 yards (in 12 games), a record that stood until 1972 when the undefeated Miami Dolphins broke it (in a 14-game season; 2,960)…blocked for [Lasted 36 years]. Both teams were heavy run teams as the Lions ran 80% of the time compared to the Dolphins 70%.

Comparison Chart of 1936 Lions vs 1972 Dolphins:

1936 Lions: 80% Run and 20% Pass (total plays = 737 [591 rush. & 146 pass])

1972 Dolphins: 70% Run and 30% Pass (total plays  = 872 [613 rush. & 259 pass])

NFL Record Still Held: Emerson was part of an offensive line that helped the Lions establish a NFL record that still stands today with 426 yards rushing in a single game, Lions vs Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers), on Nov. 4, 1934. (Lions won game, 40-7). That same year Emerson part of a defensive front for the Lions that started the ‘34 season with an NFL-record 7 straight shutouts- Giving up only 59 points that season, number one in the league.

More proof that Emerson excelled on both offense and defense (Two-Way Era). A true team player.

Ox Emerson, football pose, 1932 Green Bay Press-Gazette

Winning Player:

Emerson played on one of the best teams in the NFL during the 1930’s. The Spartans-Lions squads were highly competitive under Potsy Clark. Emerson never had a losing season in 8 NFL seasons (1931-1938) and his teams had an overall record of 59-28-9 (won .678% of games).

*Bears = 68-21-10 (.764%)

Packers = 67-30-3 (.690%)

Lions = 59-28-9 (.678%) (Dodgers one year in 1938)

Giants = 58-34-7 (.630%)

Redskins = 38-34-7 (.527) (only played from 1932-1937)

*Win-Loss records of teams from 1931-1938

In 1932 his Portsmouth Spartans played the Chicago Bears in the famous Indoor Game in Chicago Stadium. Playing without Dutch Clark the Bears lost, 9-0, missing out on being a world champion. Three years later Emerson got another chance at a title. A season that was probably his signature moment in the NFL.

Signature Season/Game:

1935 Detroit Lions, NFL Champions:

In 1935 Emerson missed the first five games of the season with broken vertebrae in his back. The Lions struggled without their top lineman, going just 2-2-1. Ox came back to play the final 7 games with the Lions going 5-1-1 to win the Western Division. “I regard Emerson as one of the greatest linemen I have ever seen perform on a football field. Having him out of our first five games hurt us more than anyone will ever know,” said Lions coach Potsy Clark.

Ox Emerson returns from injury, Detroit News, Oct. 29, 1935

A week later they play in the NFL Championship Game against the Eastern champs- New York Giants- who were looking to win back-to-back titles.

Emerson helped Lions defeat Giants in 1935 NFL Champ. Game. Behind a fierce running game, the Lions only completed just 2 passes (on 5 attempts; 51 yards) and rushed 65 times for 246 yards and 4 TDs. The defense gave up just one TD in a convincing 26-7 victory.

In 1938 Emerson followed Potsy Clark to Brooklyn. The team not quite as talented but still went 4-4-3 (3rd place, eastern). He would retire after the season.

After stepping away from the NFL, Emerson worked for Ford Motor Company and served in World War II. After serving he and his wife Virginia returned to his home state of Texas, where he coached high school football for years- as well as coach at the University of Texas (1951-1956). On November 26, 1998, in Austin, Texas Ox Emerson passed away from pneumonia at the age of 90.

Ox Emerson’s NFL resume has it all:

1)      Elite Player: who was the best at his position during his era (Two-Way Era). Respect from opponents- especially Chicago Bears (best team from the 1930s).

2)      Winner: Won 1 NFL Championship (1935 Detroit Lions) (Never had a losing season in 8 years)

3)      Honors: Named First-team All-Pro five times; NFL 1930s All-Decade Team

4)      Stats: Helped Lions to establish single-season rushing record in 1936 (12 games) and were ranked 1-2 in rushing for 4 seasons (1934-1937); played great defense.

5)      Signature Moment: In 1935 with Lions at 2-2-1, comes back after a broken back to guide the Lions to the NFL Championship (Lions went 6-1-1 when he returned). 

Here's remembering a great two-way era player, Ox Emerson! 

Ox Emerson, Univ. of Texas, 1929