Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Score Two for the Cincinnati Bengals

By Clark Judge 

Ken Anderson (L) and Ken Riley (R)

Score two for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Former Bengals’ cornerback Ken Riley and quarterback Ken Anderson are two of the 12 senior finalists revealed Wednesday for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2023, and, yes, that’s a big deal. The reason: Only one player, former tackle Anthony Munoz, represents the Bengals in Canton.

One.

Now that number may be doubled. That’s because unlike previous years, the Hall will propose three candidates for induction in each of the next three years. The past two years it was one per annum.

Of the two Bengals, Riley seems the more attractive candidate for two reasons: 1) He was a senior runner-up two years ago when Drew Pearson was elected, and 2) he ranks fifth in all-time interceptions, tying him with Charles Woodson. Woodson was a first-ballot enshrinee in 2021.

Furthermore, of the top seven NFL leaders in career interceptions, only one has not been inducted. Ken Riley, come on down.

Of course, Riley will have competition … and not just from Anderson. Take a look at the 12 senior finalists, and tell me who doesn’t belong:

  • QB Ken Anderson, (1971-86).
  • LB Maxie Baughan, (1960-70, 1974).
  • LB Randy Gradishar, (1974-83).
  • LB Chuck Howley, (1958-59, 1961-73).
  • TB/DB/HB, P Cecil Isbell, (1938-42).
  • DT Joe Klecko, (1977-88).
  • OL Bob Kuechenberg, (1970-83).
  • S Eddie Meador (1959-70).
  • LB Tommy Nobis (1966-76).
  • CB Ken Riley, (1969-83)
  • WR Sterling Sharpe, (1988-94).
  • CB Everson Walls, (1981-93).

Now, a handful of observations:

DEFENSE MATTERS

Eight candidates, or three-quarters of the field, come from that side of the ball, with linebacker (four) the most popular position. The competition there will be stiff, with Maxie Baughan, Chuck Howley, Randy Gradishar and Tommy Nobis the choices.

HISTORY DOESN’T

Cecil Isbell

Only one finalist, former Packers’ star Cecil Isbell, played all or most of his career before 1960. Isbell was one of two pre-‘60s’ finalists among the 25 semifinalists named earlier this month. Former Packers’ end Lavvie Dilweg, a first-team All-Pro his first five seasons, was the other. He didn’t make the next cut.

SURPRISE AT WIDE RECIEVER

Sterling Sharpe is one of the 12, and while that might not seem like an upset, this marks his first appearance as a Hall finalist. Sharpe has the resume for Canton (five Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro designations and 18 TDs in one season), but a short career (seven years) and no championships may have contributed to voters’ previous disinterest. Not anymore. He was the only one of six receiver candidates chosen, outlasting Dilweg, Stanley Morgan, Otis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson (also a return specialist).

WHERE ARE THE OFEENSIVE LINEMEN?

There’s one: Miami’s Bob Kuechenberg. So what happened to Joe Jacoby, Mike Kenn, George Kuhn and Chris Hinton? Nothing, that’s what. All didn’t make the cut, yet all are Hall-of-Fame worthy. In fact, Jacoby was a three-time modern-era finalist (2016-18) and a Top 10 finisher in 2016.  But he couldn’t crack this group. Kuechenberg did, and hallelujah. The guy was an eight-time modern-era finalist and should’ve been elected to Canton years ago.

 NO LOVE FOR CENTENNIAL CLASS FINALISTS

There were 20 named to the Centennial Class of 2020, with 10 inducted. That meant 10 were not. Of that group, five – or half—aren’t among the Class of 2023 finalists. They are Dilweg, running back Roger Craig, offensive lineman/linebacker Ox Emerson, halfback Verne Lewellen and offensive and defensive lineman Al Wistert. Lewellen, Wistert and Emerson didn’t even make the first cut.

WHAT’S NEXT

The seniors committee will meet virtually on Aug. 16 to consider all 12 candidates, with three chosen for the Class of 2023. That doesn’t mean they’ve been elected. It simply means they will be presented to the Hall’s 49-member board of selectors when it convenes in early 2023. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

SENIOR CANDIDATES: "Those Days Are Gone Forever, Over A Long Time Ago"

By TJ Troup 
Buddy Parker
Mr. John Turney's article on the Senior Candidates has inspired me to give my take on who I would select. Coaches Buddy Parker and Don Coryell are always worth discussing. What Parker accomplished as an assistant with the Cardinals, and his departure to Detroit tells two tales. Look at the Cardinals record in 1953, and then look at the Lions? Parker's book is the most enlightened of his generation of coaches, and believe is a must read. 

Studying film of the Lions in the late '40s and then during Parker's time in Detroit is eye-opening! The trades, the draft, and a very important key—how they were coached tells us Parker provided leadership, direction, and understood strategy. The Pittsburgh Steelers could always be counted on to win a game or two that they probably should not have, and lose games they should have won before Parker. The Black & Gold became a formidable team under Parker, and film study shows they were also fun to watch. He just could not complete his goal of a title for Art Rooney, and of course, did not end well with the direction Pittsburgh was headed to in 1965. 

Overall he is a Hall of Famer to me. We all have opinions on players no matter what position they played, and yes have mine, BUT the two positions always feel the most comfortable discussing are defensive back, and linebacker. Ken Riley might be chosen for the Hall of Fame, but he would not even make my team...yes I know he had 65 interceptions. 

Everson Walls maximized his talents and helped every team he played for, yet there are many defensive backs more deserving. Lester Hayes in 1980 had a season for the ages and a couple other years where he played solid football, but overall he is not a Hall of Famer. 

The most deserving is Eddie Meador. Name a defensive back who led the league in opponent fumble recoveries, and retired as the leading interceptor in that teams history? His versatility since he played both corner and safety; coupled with his knack for a key takeaway, and his tackling ability place him above all the other candidates. 
Eddie Meador
Oh, almost forgot his contributions on "special teams", he was the Captain of the Rams defense. So what you state? Look who was on the field with him on those Ram defenses. Put the voters in a room with me for an hour, just an hour, and will put the film on, and then possibly the voters might see Eddie as the Hall of Famer he is. 

 Chuck Howley and Clay Matthews were outstanding no matter which outside linebacker position they played. When you play as well as Matthews did for so long ......he should have been enshrined years ago. Howley overcame injury early in his career and kept improving to become one of the two lynchpins in the Dallas defense (Lilly being the other) that ranked among the league's best for a decade. Don't care how many Cowboys are in the Hall....he is deserving. 
Randy Gradishar
Finally, my number one choice. Randy Gradishar was an elite player for many seasons and reasons. Savvy, instincts, physical gifts, and durability are all traits that any coach would want in his linebackers, yet what separates Gradishar from the rest was his ability to defend both the pass and run consistently. He just did not miss as a tackler, and based upon film study and what I learned from Billy Thompson Randy had pass defense responsibilities no other inside linebacker ever had before or since. 

 Responding to past Journal stories, for Peirce; Lavelli was consistent, productive, and a fine receiver, yet Mac Speedie was the better end. For Mr. Wolf, in response to his question concerning former 49ers Shaw, Albert, and Wilson—though all of these men had their moments, none of them are worthy of the Hall of Fame, and thanks Brian for your continued support. Writing this with the song Pretzel Logic playing in the background....just one damn cool song by Steely Dan.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The 1952 San Francisco 49ers: "Got My Finger Right On Your Pulse, Pounding Just Like A Drum"

By TJ Troup 
Art Credit: John Richards

The title for the saga on the Niners of '52 comes from a Georgia Satellites song. Not sure how many drummers could hit the skins like Mauro M. San Francisco lost twelve of their first eighteen games after joining the NFL in 1950. Down the stretch in '51 San Francisco beat the Lions twice to finish a strong 7-4-1. Thirty-seven men took the field for the Niners in '52; with eight men in their last year, and six in their only year. 

This is a team that already has a core of solid players, and has five key rookies joining the team. The Niners open at home in Kezar against Detroit, and outplay the Lions in a convincing 17-3 victory. Since the Lions have now scored just 30 points in their last three losing performances against the Niners....let's start with the San Francisco defense. 

So, who lined up where? Possibly the reason that sources that attempt to list the starters have never studied film? San Francisco under the guidance of Phil Bengston the defense usually aligned in a 5-3-3, yet that is not the only defense the Niners played. Strong, rangy Ed Henke from his stand-up stance started each week at left defensive end. He shed blocks well, and was very capable in pursuit. He was an excellent pass rusher and earned a Pro Bowl berth for his outstanding season. Doak Walker stated Henke was the best left defensive end in football. 

Pro Football Archives lists that Ray Collins did not start in any of the eight games he played. Collins started opening day at left d-tackle, and though he did not play every week, he did start in other games. Collins was not much of a pass rusher, but he was a rock in defending the run. Al Carapella, and Don Campora (he plays some o-tackle also) will also play at left d-tackle, and also right d-tackle. They are very similar in style, and are more than adequate at defending running plays. 

When Visco Grgich is injured early in the year—Bob Momsen takes his place at middle guard. The former Detroit Lion is one of the unsung heroes of the 49er defense as he demonstrates he is capable as a pass rusher, and excellent at jamming up the middle on running plays. Leo the Lion Nomellini plays both left and right defensive tackle, and while he is still learning the subtle nuances of d-line play he has the amazing physical traits all coaches want. Lightning quick for a big man, and relentless when he is on the field on defense he is headed for stardom. 

The first week in November of 1952 we are going to elect a new president here in America, and only one 49er cannot vote in the election. Why you ask? Charley Powell is only 20 years old. Powell may lack experience, but he is fast, athletic and motivated. Powell played in more than the seven games listed by PFA, and he did start at right defensive end during the campaign though he also would fill in for Henke on the left side. Rookie Pat O'Donahue lacks size, yet he also starts at right defensive end. He is active, and disruptive on the edge. 

At times the Niners would line up with Jim Powers at left corner as San Francisco was in a 5-2-4 defense. Powers would move to right outside linebacker in the 49er 5-3-3. Powers was a willing run defender and tackler. He was an adequate pass defender. Rex Berry's versatility was key to any success for the Niners on defense. When Powers is at left corner, Rex is the left safety, and when Powers is at right linebacker Berry moves to left corner. Tenacious, quick, and he has learned his lessons quickly. Berry played the ball well in flight, and was outstanding in pursuit. 

Jimmy Cason was the nominal starter at safety in the 5-3-3, or the right safety in the 5-2-4. Cason was adequate in all facets of secondary play. Sam Cathcart filled admirably for Cason at times during the year. Lowell Wagner was deserving of consideration for a trip to the pro bowl. Some folks believed he was the best corner in the league, and he played his best football against the Lions and Bears (five interceptions). San Francisco finished sixth in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 56.3 (league average was 57.7). 

Don Burke was the left linebacker in the 5-3-3, but usually played right linebacker in the 5-2-4. Burke was able in pursuit, and an excellent tackler. When evaluating Hardy Brown as a Colt and Redskin in 1950 was surprised at how ineffective he was. During the 1951 season he was dramatically improved, yet the main question to be answered in the city by the bay is simple...could Hardy Brown be a difference maker in the NFL at 196 lbs? His unique style of tackling known as the "Tulsa Hump" could take an opponent out of the game, and put him on the injured list. 

Film study shows him delivering a blow with each of his shoulders depending on his pursuit angle. Quoting Mickey Herskowitz in his must read book The Golden Age of Pro Football "Hardy Brown didn't make the Hall of Fame, but teammate Y.A. Tittle called him pound for pound, inch for inch, the toughest football player I ever met...he was so tough he was damn near illegal". He did not red dog often in 1952, and his pass defense skills are adequate at best. What Brown did do is force fumbles, make big hits, and energize his teammates. He was quickly becoming a folk hero, and his continued improvement sent him to Los Angeles for the pro bowl. Hardy is the Niners defensive MVP. 

 Frankie Albert is in his final season, and shares the quarterback position with talented passer Y.A. Tittle. Though different in style, both men are successful in leading the 49ers down the field to score. They both contributed during the five-game win streak to begin the season. Tittle had a passer rating of 82.1 for that five-game stretch, while Albert was even better at 107! Albert's passing efficiency the last seven games of the year was a dramatic drop-off to (50.5), and he was not alone as Tittle was also not as efficient since his passer rating for the last seven games was (57.7). Buck Shaw's offense needed to be balanced both run and pass, and the stats prove San Francisco was not. 

Albert was still superb at fakes, the roll-out, finding the open receiver on the move while delivering the pass with "touch"! Tittle could zip the ball into tight windows, was also a master at the roll out though his was the opposite direction (right). Though both men had running ability, they knew their job was to complete passes, and lead this team. 

The 49er offense has plenty of variation in their formations, and as such Wilson will be in tight many times, he will also split out. Wilson latches on to 23 passes, and is very effective in the red zone as he would down block, and quickly release to the flat. 

Diminutive J.R. Boone would align as a flanker, and did start at left end. He did carry the ball as a halfback, but his real value was as a receiver. Sure-handed and very quick, and as such a nightmare to tackle in the open field...Boone was productive and effective when called upon. 

Gordy Soltau started till late in the season at left end. His long strides, and ability to find open areas gave Albert and Tittle the target they craved. Soltau ranked among the league leaders in receiving all year. Gordy made the difficult catch look easy, was a willing blocker,and as such earned a pro bowl berth. 

Billy Wilson was the right end, and opening day Bill Jessup started at left end, and caught passes in the first two games, then injured was replaced on the roster for a few games by Al Endress. When Jessup was healthy again he played in the game against the Rams at Kezar.  

The line splits each team uses is an indicator of the type of running game that team will use. Since the Niners have larger splits than most teams they also create lanes for opposing pass rushers, and as such San Francisco allowed more sack yardage then most of the teams in the league with 396 yards. Stability was key as we see the same men each week at the same positions. 

Left offensive tackle was rookie strongman Bob Toneff. Powerful on the drive block, but at times struggled at pass blocking. He did earn some All-Pro recognition. Nick Feher began the year at left guard, but when injured early in the campaign was replaced in the starting line-up by rookie Jerry Smith. Since he played so well while Feher was healing, Nick was not able to regain his starting post though he did play plenty during the year. Smith was adept at the drive block and could pull when asked. 

Pro bowl bound Bill "Tiger" Johnson was outstanding in dealing with the different styles of middle guards around the league. Johnson's fist fight with George Connor of the Bears earned him league wide respect. Pete Wismann played some center, long snapped, and even some linebacker during the year. Stumpy pugnacious Bruno Banducci was the starting right guard. 

Though the NFL had adopted two platoon football in 1949, here we are three years later and we still have men that play both ways. Much has been written about who logged the most snaps during a game, there is no doubt Leo Nomellini in 1952 would rank in the top three. His technique, strength, and powerful explosion at the snap are whey he could have easily been lineman of the year in the NFL. Though we know the legendary names of 49er running backs for this decade; we will start with the men who got playing time. 

The tragic illness of Norm Standlee brought his career to an end, and as such Johnny Strzykalski and Ben Aldridge will fill in at fullback. Bob White earned his letter, yet Joe Arenas is the left halfback most of the time when the Niners align in a fullhouse backfield. Joe "The Jet" Perry will rank among the league leaders in yards gained from either his fullback or split back position. Was anyone quicker out of his stance than Perry? Joe was effective on sweeps, and draws, yet his forte is on the trap play, or off tackle due to his ability to explode into the secondary. 

A sparse crowd in Dallas the second week of the season sees their Texans get crushed by San Francisco 37-14. The 49ers continue their road trip by heading to the motor city to face a Lion team seeking revenge. Since both the teams were considered contenders, and have the complete game film lets take an indepth look at this game with a then record crowd of 56,822. Neither team scores in the first quarter, but the tempo has been set by the Niner defense. 

Hardy Brown, Henke, and Nomellini with help from their friends stuffs every Detroit running play. On the Lions second possession we see Henke and Nomellini at their best when pillaging the pass pocket. Early in the second quarter San Francisco drives goalward on a mixture of run and pass plays. Perry goes off tackle to the right behind a crushing Nomellini block to set up Billy Wilson's touchdown. 

Later in the quarter the 49ers have gained field position and drive 48 yards to score. Near the goal line San Francisco goes into a fullhouse "T", and runs repeatedley. When in doubt run off tackle right behind Leo, and McElhenny scores. The second half is much the same. Albert scores on a sneak, and in the 4th quarter Don Burke grabs an errant tipped Dublinski pass and trundles 35 yards for a touchdown. 

All three Lion quarterbacks got sacked in the game, and the Detroit running attack by committee gains 15 yards on 13 carries. Bobby Layne will not ever, ever give up, and when he bolts up the middle on a draw play in the 4th quarter he is met by Hardy Brown and the Tulsa Hump. Just too damn bad that ESPN or the NFL Network knows this play exists—since it takes us back to high school football in Fort Worth and Dallas. Oh yeah, Layne gets knocked right on his ass. The famous quote of "you are not part of the NFL till you beat the Bears" is about to come to fruition. 

The 40-16 victory at Wrigley is famous since it is the coming-out party for Hugh McElhenny. When he returns a Curly Morrison punt 94 yards for a touchdown he has now gotten the attention of everyone around the league. The Bears punt team in early '52 had Conner, Blanda, Sprinkle, and Turner. How many rookies have ever returned a punt for a touchdown with four future Hall of Famers coming at them? 

San Francisco drove 80 yards for the first score in the first quarter, and the drive began with McElhenny gaining 19 yards. The Niners played well in the first half, but there is no let up in the second half of this statement game. Frankie Albert gives the game ball to McElhenny and calls him the "King of the Halfbacks" thus his nickname for the rest of his career. McElhenny gains 103 rushing, and 122 on punt returns. 

After four games McElhenny has gained 668 all purpose yards and is on pace to set a new record since the "Commanche Kid" Billy Grimes of the Packers had gained 613 in his first four games in 1950 when he gained 1,896 all purpose yards. The return match with Dallas is a game that would intrigue everyone who relishes the pass rush as this record setting game has quarterbacks going down for 151 yards. Both Marchetti and Nomellini record sacks in this game, and since Leo played right offensive tackle they faced each other many times during the game. Wow! 

The painful loss at home to the Bears sends the 49ers off and winging to New York to play the Giants. Thanks to the incredible filming done by Winik films we see some great footage. Tittle passing from his endzone to McElhenny flanked right on a slant where he beats Menasco and dashes, and weaves for 77 yards until Tunnell can haul him down. The stalwart efforts of the Giants front seven stopping the 49er ground game. New York wins to stay in contention, yet San Francisco is still much alive in the National Conference. 

The come from behind victory over the Redskins keeps San Francisco in first place. McElhenny scored on a 46 yard run in the 4th quarter. San Francisco at 6-2 controls their own destiny and rookie sensation McElhenny has gained 589 yards rushing on just 70 carries! He ranks third in the league though Price and Towler have carried the ball much more. 

Sunday November 23rd in the Los Angeles Coliseum the Rams know they must win to stay alive in the National Conference. The article written by Walt Daley of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin is entitle "McElhenny—Rookie of the Year??" details aspects about Hugh. Buck Shaw claims " McElhenny's prowess as a broken field runner is the result of rather uncanny split-vision". When the Rams take the return match at Kezar we have Niners in a tailspin at 6-4. 

Still at home the 49ers face a much improved Pittsburgh Steeler team. The dominant Black & Gold victory eliminates San Francisco from contention. Before telling the tale of the last game of the year let's take a look at the kicking game in San Francisco. Frankie Albert continued to punt well in the twilight of his career, and as the holder on place kicks would pass. Soltau made half of his field goal attempts. 49er punt coverage was adequate unless they were kicking to Lewis or Christiansen. Arenas and Boone returned punts, yet McElhenny was the key man again in both categories. 

Now at 6-5 and facing a Packer team that also was in contention at 6-3, but now 6-5...one of these teams finishes with a winning record. The impressive 24-14 win ends the season on a high note, yet what could have been? Sport Magazine named McElhenny player of the year, yet no doubt even with an impressive rookie class around the league he is no doubt the rookie of the year. 

Murray Olderman's terrific book The Running Backs has a bio on each of the greats, and the chapter on McElhenny has his favorite play. Described by Coach Buck Shaw the quarterback reverse pivots, and tosses wide to the right halfback McElhenny called 49 Quick Toss. Shaw states "In my 38 years of coaching college and pro football, McElhenny was the greatest open field runner I ever coached or saw in action". 

 Steve Sabol had a diner built inside of NFL Films years ago and in one corner were portraits of Elvis and McElhenny otherwise known as Kings Corner. RIP Hugh McElhenny.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Giving Odds For The Coach/Contributor Hall of Fame List

 By John Turney 
For this exercise we give the odds as "Pretty Good"; "Decent"/"Fair"; "Poor/Low" with some exceptions that are self-explanatory. 

COACH/CONTRIBUTOR (29)

K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr.: In his 54 years as Founder, Owner, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the Titans/Oilers franchise, Adams was an enduring figure in the NFL.
Odds—Fair

Roone Arledge: Television industry executive and producer whose creativity, leadership and technical innovations revolutionized the presentation of both news and sports.
Interesting name—Fair

C.O. Brocato: A scout for 40 years with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans.
Odds—Low

Don Coryell: An innovative coach whose “Air Coryell” offense produced some of the most dynamic passing attacks in NFL history.
Now that the category may include coaching AND contributions, that is to say, voters can in theory interpret it that way his odds go up in our view. Odds—Pretty good

Otho Davis: Served as associate athletic trainer for the Baltimore Colts in 1971 and the head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1973 to 1995.
Odds—Poor

Ralph Hay: Owner of the Canton Bulldogs from 1918-1922 and hosted the NFL’s formational meeting in his automobile dealership in downtown Canton.
Odds—Fair

Mike Holmgren: Head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1992-98 and the Seattle Seahawks from 1999-2008.
His name is picking up momentum but still in our view he's lower in the queue than some other coaches. Odds—Fair

Frank “Bucko” Kilroy: Worked in player personnel and scouting for the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. He was the Patriots’ general manager from 1979 to 1982 and vice president from 1983 to 1993.
He's been in the mix for a while, but still, he never can make it over the top. Odds—Fair

Eddie Kotal: Scout for the Los Angeles Rams from 1947-1961 and was one of the first to scout Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Very interesting name. Did a lot of good in the day. Odds—Decent

Robert Kraft: Owner, Chairman and CEO of the New England Patriots since 1994. His teams have won six Super Bowls.
He's getting closer and closer the further behind his legal troubles are in the rear view mirror. Odds—Pretty good. 

Rich McKay: General Manager, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1994-2003; general manager, Atlanta Falcons, 2003-08; president/CEO, Atlanta Falcons, 2008-present.
Low in the queue. Odds—Poor

John McVay: Joined the 49ers in 1979 as the team's director of player personnel and spent 21 seasons with the Club, ultimately presiding over five Super Bowl-winning seasons as vice president/director of football operations.
Odds—Low

Art Modell: Owner of the Cleveland Browns from 1961-1995 and Baltimore Ravens from 1996-2011.
Was close to induction in the modern list for the Hall of Fame which was hard to do in the old format which had coaches and owners competing with players. Still, he's fallen out of favor in recent years. Odds—Fair

Clint Murchison Jr.: Founder of the Dallas Cowboys (1960) and owner through 1983.
Another interesting name. Odds—Low

Buddy Parker: Head coach of the Chicago Cardinals (1949), Detroit Lions (1951-56) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1957-1964).
Has been gaining momentum as a coach who won a pair of NFL titles and was an innovator as a defensive coach. Odds—Pretty good

Carl Peterson: President, General Manager and CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989-2008.
Odds—Low

Dan Reeves: Head coach of the Denver Broncos (1981-1992), New York Giants (1993-96) and the Atlanta Falcons (1997-2003).
A lot of wins but four Super Bowl losses. Maybe will get in someday. Odds—Fair

Lee Remmel: A sportswriter and columnist for the Green Bay Press-Gazette for 29 years, Green Bay Packers director of public relations from 1974 to 2004 and Packers historian from 2004-07.
Odds—Low

Art Rooney Jr.: Employed with the Steelers since 1961, from 1964 through 1986, worked in the Steelers’ Scouting Department. Currently a Steelers Vice President and member of the Board of Directors.
Odds—Low

Marty Schottenheimer: Head coach of the Cleveland Browns (1984-88), Kansas City Chiefs (1989-1998), Washington Redskins (2001) and the San Diego Chargers (2002-06).
Like Dan Reeves, a lot of wins but unlike Reeves no Super Bowl appearances, Odds—Low

Jerry Seeman: Line Judge, Head Linesman, Referee and Director of Officiating from 1975-2000.
Odds—Low

Mike Shanahan: Head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders (1988-89), Denver Broncos (1995-2008) and the Washington Redskins (2010-13).
Two Super Bowl wins but seems to us to be low in the queue. Odds—Low

Clark Shaughnessy: Head coach of the Los Angeles Rams from 1948-49 and longtime assistant coach for the Washington Redskins from 1944-47 and Chicago Bears from 1951-1962.
Like Don Coryell as a duel coach/contributor candidate seems like his odds go up. Odds—Fair

Seymour Siwoff: Owner and President of Elias Sports Bureau, the official statisticians of the NFL, from 1952-2019.
If you like numbers Siwoff is your guy. Anything that has to do with statistics started with him. Still, he does not seem to be getting any Hall of Fame traction. Odds—Low

Amy Trask: CEO of the Oakland Raiders from 1997-2013.
Interesting name as a groundbreaking pioneer but her on-field results were not spectacular, Odds—Low

Jim Tunney: NFL official from 1960-1991. Worked as a Field Judge from 1960-67 and a Referee from 1968-1991.
There is no way two officials will go in back-to-back years but someday Tunney has a shot at the Hall of Fame. Odds—Low

Jack Vainisi: Scout for the Green Bay Packers from 1950-1960 as well as Business Manager from 1959-1960.
Deserves a long look but this year will likely come up short. Odds—Low

Lloyd Wells: Scout for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1963-1974. First full-time African American scout in the NFL.
Also deserving but likely not his year. Odds—Fair.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Remembering Rozene Supple, George Richards and Birth of Detroit Lions

 LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films

George A. Richards, Lions owner, 1934-1940

Today we take a look back at a very unique and important women in NFL history.

On Wednesday July 13, 2022, Rozene Supple passed away at her home at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, California. She was 97 years old.

Supple was the daughter of George A. Richards the original owner of the Detroit Lions.

While doing research for my biography on Joe F. Carr, the former NFL President (1921-1939) I was fortunate to interview Supple. On December 4, 2009 I sat down with her at her home in Palm Springs to talk about her famous father and his purchasing the Portsmouth Spartans and moving the franchise to the Motor City.

The 85-year old Supple spent nearly two hours chatting about her father. I learned more than I ever could about the man who not only owned the Lions but created a legacy that is still felt in Detroit, especially with his creation of the Lions Thanksgiving Day game tradition. During that visit you could feel the pride and love she had for her father.

George Arthur Richards was born on (March 19, 1888) in Crete, Illinois to his parents, James W. and Stella Richards. The son of an insurance agent, young George lost his father at a young age and would be raised by his single mother. She would be a single mom to seven children- Ralph, Helen, Horace, Clarinda, Florence, George, and Stella. Eventually she would work as a trained nurse to help support her family.

Richards began his working career at a very early age, first becoming a shoe salesman working on commission. Then he would bounce around working in Columbus, Ohio and then in Detroit as a special superintendent for a tire manufacturing company.

George Richards, circa 1908

In 1911 he became a very successful salesman for a tire company, which gradually developed into him running his own automobile dealership. Richards eventually sold his auto franchise to General Motors for a reported $100,000 to go into the emerging radio industry. The flamboyant Richards invested in two 50,000-watts stations in Detroit (WJR radio) and Cleveland (WGAR). In 1937 he would add KMPC of Hollywood, California, and his empire would be called the Richards Stations. “He always loved football,” said Rozene Supple. “I think he really missed never having gone to college because he really got enthusiastic about Michigan and Michigan State. I think his dream was to have a football team. But radio was his real interest. That’s what paid the bills.”

In 1934 Richards was an established star in the radio industry, and WJR in Detroit was the city’s most popular station, nicknamed “the Good Will Station.” Richards was intrigued by the offer to own a franchise and felt honored that Carr would seek him out to invest. “My father was a rather small, five-feet-eight, but vocal man,” says Supple. “He always enjoyed sports, so it was a perfect fit for him.”

At the 1934 winter meeting NFL President Joe F. Carr sought out H. G. Salsinger, the esteemed sports editor of the Detroit News, who was covering the meetings. Carr knew that pro football had failed four times in Detroit before. The Heralds (1920); Tigers (1921); Panthers (1925–1926), led by Jimmy Conzelman; and Benny Friedman’s Wolverines (1928) all tried to capture the fancy of the Motor City but couldn’t. Even with that track record, Carr still considered it a prime location for an NFL team. It was the perfect spot for the struggling small-town Portsmouth Spartans.

Carr met with Salsinger, who was well respected in the city when it came to his knowledge of sports. His connections would be vital in finding an investor. Salsinger was receptive to the idea to help the league, so President Carr commissioned him an agent. Salsinger returned to Detroit and started to put together a committee of influential sportsmen, but they were still missing a key investor who would put up the money to buy the Spartans. While having lunch at the Detroit Athletic Club, Salsinger’s   group saw Leo Fitzpatrick, an executive at WJR radio in Detroit. The group thought Fitzpatrick’s boss was the perfect man to invest—he had money and was a big football buff. Fitzpatrick listened to the proposition, liked it, and promised to relay the information to his boss - G. A. Richards.

Richards was a fan of the NFL and had the financial means to support a franchise. It was a perfect combination. Carr then arranged for Richards to meet with Spartans executive Harry Snyder in Detroit to discuss the compensation for transfer. “It did not take much persuasion for me to enter the pro game,” Richards said in October of 1934. At this time, Richards was forty-five years old and a millionaire. 

George Richards, Lions owner, circa 1936

On March 23, one day after returning from Detroit, Snyder traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to confer with Carr on the negotiations relative to the transfer of the Spartans to Detroit. In his office Carr heard the terms in detail and announced that the agreement would be completed in ten days, because the Spartans shareholders had to officially sign off on the deal. On April 5 the stockholders met in the Shelby auditorium and agreed to sell. Richards and his syndicate agreed to purchase the Spartans for $15,000, which included the contracts of head coach Potsy Clark and all the players. He also agreed to pay off the remaining $6,500 (Lions media guide says $7,952.08) debt of the Portsmouth owners. Richards not only had an NFL franchise, he had an experienced, well-stocked, well-coached team.

Richards announced that the franchise’s front office would include William Alfs, a local Detroit attorney, as vice president; Cy Huston, who operated billiard halls and bowling centers in Ann Arbor and Detroit, as general manager; and P. M. Thomas, an executive at WJR radio, as secretary-treasurer. He then revealed that the team would play its home games at University of Detroit stadium (capacity 25,000). It was also announced that the new franchise would drop the Spartans nickname. Just like George Halas did in Chicago, Richards honored the city’s baseball team, the Tigers, by choosing the ball team’s more ferocious counterpart and named the squad the Detroit Lions. A team spokesperson would say, “The lion is monarch of the jungle and we hope to be the monarch of the league.”

Young Rozene grew up going to Lions games. Sometimes she would sit on the bench to watch the action. One photo that made the Detroit newspapers shows her sitting next to the children of coach Potsy Clark wearing a football helmet and sideline jacket. Rozene would witness the Lions early history in Detroit. She saw the rivalry against the Chicago Bears.

Rozene Supple, in middle, at Lions game, Potsy Clark's daughters on left and right

“He always admired George Halas, but the Bears were notoriously dirty men,” said Supple. “They didn’t have referees calling everything. They had a tackle named George Musso. Well Musso used to put aluminum bands on his wrists and tape them up. Bang! Teeth all over the place. One time Ace Gutowsky, our fullback, took the ball on a kickoff. I was sitting on the bench. He didn’t’ care where he went except for Musso. He put his head down, they used to call him the human battering ram. He put his head down and hit Musso right in the stomach. Knocked him out. It took about six guys to carry him off.”

In 1935, their second season in Detroit, the Lions defeated the New York Giants, 26-7, to win the NFL championship. “Oh he was just full of himself. He just thought that was the greatest,” recalled Supple. Because of that championship the city of Detroit was now a football town. The failures of the past were now in the rear view mirror.

Supple cherished her relationship with some of the Lions players. She kept a small blue autograph book with signatures of all the players. Even after seventy years she has kept the autograph book, showing me the signatures. “Oh, I loved them all and some of their wives were neat too,” recalled Supple.

In 1940 George Richards was forced to sell the team due to health issues. He permanently resided in California, where Rozene would spend the rest of her life.

Rozene Supple, high school, circa 1940

Over the past few decades Supple and her husband Ric supported the arts in Palm Springs. They owned several radio stations and became heavily involved in operated the Camelot Theatre – which became the center of the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

During my time interviewing Rozene Supple I learned much about her father and the early days of the NFL. It was a trip that I’ll always remember.

Rozene Supple with her husband Ric

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Commenting on the Senior Semi-Finalists List

By John Turney 

Explanation of "Odds"—"Pretty Good" is highest followed by "Decent" then "Fair" and finally "Poor/Low".

Ken Anderson: Quarterback (1971-1986)
A four-time pro-bowler who started at quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1971-1986.
Comment:  Anderson had some great years and great statistics, but had some so-so years as well. He's the only modern passer in the list of 25, so that helps. Odds—Fair

Maxie Baughan: Linebacker (1960-1970, 1974)
A nine-time Pro-Bowler, Baughan played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles (1960-65), the Los Angeles Rams (1966-1970) and the Washington Redskins (1974).
Comment:  A lot of Pro Bowls, but with so many good linebackers in this list of 25, it has to hurt him. He's a worthy player but seems like he'd be in the back of the queue. Odds—Poor

Mark Clayton: Wide Receiver (1983-1993)
Five-time Pro-Bowler who played 10 seasons with the Dolphins (1979-1992) and one season with the Green Bay Packers (1993). 
Comment:  Seems like someone who had a good career, but not quite Hall of fame-worthy. Odds—Poor

Roger Craig: Running Back (1983-1993)
A do-it-all running back, Craig was the first NFL player to total 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season and won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. He spent eight seasons with the 49ers (1983-1990), one with the Los Angeles Raiders (1991) and two with the Minnesota Vikings (1992-93).
Comment:  A worthy candidate who was a major cog in the 49ers offense in the 1980s. Tailed off some at end of his career, but many great backs did as well showing the difficulty of painting greatness in that position a long career. Odds—Decent

LaVern Dilweg: End (1926-1934)
A star defensive end turned politician, Dilweg was named first-team All-Pro for his first five seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He played for the Milwaukee Badgers (1926) and the Green Bay Packers (1927-1934).
Comment:  With only two "super seniors" (a term we use for pre-WWII players) and three senior slots Dilweg may have a better chance than casual fans may give him. Would be a good fit to recognize players that were overlooked in the distant past. Odds—Pretty good

Randy Gradishar: Linebacker (1974-1983)
Centerpiece of the “Orange Crush Defense,” Gradishar played all 10 seasons as linebacker for the Denver Broncos, seven of which were Pro Bowl-caliber years.
Comment:  Inexplicably overlooked over the years, A Defensive Player of the Year on a defense that has no one in the Hall of Fame. Could be his year. Odds—Pretty good

Lester Hayes: Cornerback (1977-1986)
Known as “The Judge,” Hayes was a five-time Pro Bowler for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, spending his entire 10-year career with the organization.
Comment:  Was a great player at his peak, like Gradishar a Defensive Player of the Year. But seems to be behind Ken Riley in the queue. Odds—Fair

Chris Hinton: Guard/Tackle (1983-1995)
Named to seven Pro Bowls and recognized as a two-time first-team All-Pro, Hinton played with the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (1983-89), Atlanta Falcons (1990-93) and the Minnesota Vikings (1994-95).
Comment:  A fine player who is just now getting some Hall of Fame buzz but would likely be rated behind the other tackles on this list of 25 semi-finalists, Odds—Low

Chuck Howley: Linebacker (1958-59, 1961-1973)
Being the only player on a losing team to win Super Bowl MVP (Super Bowl VI), Howley received six Pro Bowl selections and five first-team All-Pro selections while playing for the Chicago Bears (1958-59) and the Dallas Cowboys (1961-1973).
Comment:  Paul Zimmerman always considered Howley an all-time great. Howley seems like someone who got lost in the process over the years. Seems like someone who will soon get his due, maybe even this year. Odds—Pretty good

Cecil Isbell: Tailback/Defensive Back/Halfback (1938-1942)
Of Isbell’s five playing years with the Green Bay Packers (1938-1942), he had four Pro Bowl appearances. 
Comment:  The man who threw the passes to Don Hutson. Another "super senior" and will perhaps battle Dilweg on the voters' ballots. Just guessing but we think Dilweg may have the edge. Odds—Fair 

Joe Jacoby: Tackle (1981-1993)
During his 13-year tenure with the Washington Redskins (1981-1993), Jacoby won three Super Bowls and was named to the Pro Bowl for four consecutive years (1983-86).
Comment:  Probably the best blocker on the "Hogs"—Washington's offensive line. Was close to being voted into the Hall from the modern list being in the top ten but could not break through. Seems like he'd be at or near the top of the queue among the tackles on this list. Odds—Decent

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson: Wide Receiver/Kick Returner/Punt Returner (1974-1980, 1982-88)
During his 14-year NFL career (Houston Oilers, 1974-1980; Atlanta Falcons, 1982-87; Washington Redskins, 1988), Johnson accumulated three Pro Bowl selections and is most famously known for his endzone celebrations.
Comment:  Good to see a return man on the list. We don't think he has much of a chance of being one of the three that emerge but he deserves recognition for his achievements. Odds—Low

Mike Kenn: Tackle (1978-1994)
A former first-round draft pick, this University of Michigan product played his entire 17-year career with the Atlanta Falcons and racked up five Pro Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro selections. 
Comment:  Always overlooked was a great tackle and was All-Pro eleven years apart (1980 and 1991) and plenty of honors in between was was a 17-year starter, not just 17 years of playing. Odds—Fair

Joe Klecko: Defensive End/Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle (1977-1988)
A member of the famed “New York Sack Exchange,” this defensive powerhouse had four Pro Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro honors in his 12-year NFL career, all spent with the New York Jets. 
Comment:  Has gotten some support recently. He's was a versitle type making All-Pro as a defensive end and nose tackle and the Pro Bowl as an end, tackle, and nose tackle. He will likely show well again. Odds—Decent

Bob Kuechenberg:  Guard/Tackle/Center (1970-1983)
A member of the Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame and a six-time Pro Bowler, Kuechenberg spent the entirety of his 14-year career as a member of the Dolphins.
Comment:  Another fine lineman who was a prototype blocker in his day. Players like John Hannah and Joe DeLamielleure say that "Kuech" was who they studied to learn how to improve their game. Odds—Decent

George Kunz: Tackle (1969-1978, 1980)
One of the premier offensive linemen of his generation. Kunz was named to the Pro Bowl seven times in his career and received three first-team All-Pro honors. He won Offensive Lineman of the Year in back-to-back years (1976, 1977). He played for the Atlanta Falcons (1969-1974) and the Baltimore Colts (1975-1980).
Comment:  According to some 1970s defensive ends Kunz was in the class of the top tackles of that era but for the first part of his career was playing for a less-than-stellar Falcons team. Helped turn around the Colts in their playoff run of 1975-1977. Still, hard to see him breaking through but he has a shot, he has support. Odds—Decent

Jim Marshall: Defensive End (1960-1979)
After starting his NFL career with the Cleveland Browns, Marshall was traded to Minnesota, where he would play the next 19 seasons without missing a game. Marshall’s 282 consecutive games played are the most by a defensive player, and his streak is 58 games longer than the next closest defensive lineman. A member of the Vikings famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive front, Marshall earned two Pro Bowl selections.
Comment:  A Viking fan favorite. He was a wildman, and an ironman. He's hurt by his lack of post-season honors though. Voters have known about his consecutive game streak all along but never making First-team All-Pro is a problem. Odds—Low

Clay Matthews Jr.: Linebacker (1978-1996)
Matthews made four Pro Bowl appearances for the Cleveland Browns in the 1980s. He led the NFL in forced fumbles in 1983 and earned a place in the Browns’ Ring of Honor. He finished his career with the Atlanta Falcons, where he became the oldest player to record a sack in NFL history at the age of 40 years, 282 days.
Comment:  Will likely get into the Hall someday, but is likely lower in the queue than a couple of the other linebackers who have been waiting longer. Odds—Fair

Eddie Meador: Cornerback (1959-1970)
Meador played his entire career with the Los Angeles Rams, where he earned selection to two first-team All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls. He is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. He finished his career with 46 interceptions, which remains a Rams franchise record.
Comment:  A solid Hall of Fame candidate who has been overlooked and one who does have some support. However, in a group of 25 that is so deep it is hard to see him breaking through. Odds—Poor

Stanley Morgan: Wide Receiver (1977-1990) 
Morgan posted the most yards per reception (19.2) in NFL history among players with more than 500 career receptions and he made four Pro Bowls with the New England Patriots. He is still New England’s all-time leader in receiving yards (10,352). He played his final NFL season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Comment:  In our view, he is in the same category has Clayton. A fine career and deserves a long look but in the group, he does not stand much of a chance. Odds—Poor

Tommy Nobis: Linebacker (1966-1976)
Nobis was the first player the expansion Atlanta Falcons drafted and played his entire career in Atlanta. He won NFL Rookie of the Year, played in five Pro Bowls, selected first-team All-Pro (1967) and is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
Comment:  He's had chances in the senior committee before. The question is doe his honors (one First-team All-Pro) stack up against Gradishar and Howley? Nobis was stuck on a poor team but he was well known in his era. Odds—Decent

Ken Riley: Cornerback (1969-1983)
Riley played his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals and recorded 65 career interceptions, more than any other player not already in the Hall of Fame and the most by a player who saw action exclusively at cornerback. He was named first-team All-Pro in his final season.
Comment:  Riley has the stats, no doubt. The question is if that is the entire story? Like Jim Marshall, he lacks post-season honors with just on First-team All-Pro and no Pro Bowls on his resume. Still, he's been close to being the senior committee nominee before. Odds—Pretty good. 

Sterling Sharpe: Wide Receiver (1988-1994) 
Sharpe made five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro teams during his seven-year career with the Green Bay Packers. His 18 touchdown receptions in his final season is still good for third best all-time.
Comment:  Interesting name. With his career being shortened by an severe injury he falls in the the Terrell Davis/Tony Boselli, etc. type of category where he's seen with slightly different criteria—not his career numbers but his "peak" and his peak was excellent. Odds—Fair

Otis Taylor: Wide Receiver (1965-1975) 
Taylor won a Super Bowl IV ring with the Kansas City Chiefs, earned two Pro Bowl selections, two first-team All-Pro selections, an AFL All-Star selection and won two AFL Championships during his 10-year career. He led the AFL in touchdown receptions in 1967 and the NFL in receiving yards in 1971.
Comment:  Taylor had maybe four, maybe five great years. He was the key receiver for the great Chiefs years in the late-1960s and early-1970s. The question is how many Chiefs deserve to go in? There are a lot already. Odds—Poor

Everson Walls: Cornerback (1981-1993) 
Playing most of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, Walls made three first-team All-Pro teams, four Pro Bowls and led the NFL in interceptions three times while in Dallas. He finished his career with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns and helped New York to victory in Super Bowl XXV.
Comment:  And interesting player. Has the stats, the honors, the ring. He did make the modern-era Final 15 one time but could not push through. But for some reason stands behind Ken Riley in the cue though he has just eight fewer interceptions in an era where shorter, quicker passes were being thrown. Odds—Fair

Monday, July 11, 2022

Almost Defeating the Undefeated

By Joe Zagorski 
The Cleveland Browns had an exemplary season in 1972, but practically none of their long-time fans ever talks about it anymore. That is unfortunate because that team managed to fight back against numerous injuries all year long to make the NFL playoffs with a 10-4 record. Despite not going any further than the first round of the postseason tournament, however, Cleveland supporters nationwide would still be talking in a glowing fashion about the Browns’ 1972 season today…if it were not for just one game.  

Cleveland’s Christmas Eve visit to the Orange Bowl to play the undefeated Miami Dolphins was somewhat akin to David taking on Goliath. That is the way it appeared before the opening kickoff of that contest. All the numbers and all the facts were firmly held in Miami’s favor. The only factor that one might have pointed to ever so slightly where Cleveland had an edge was at the quarterback position. The Browns were led by Mike Phipps, a strong-armed three-year veteran signal-caller from Purdue University. The Dolphins were led by Earl Morrall, a journeyman quarterback who was filling in for injured starter Bob Griese. Morrall would go on to play for six different teams in his 23-year pro career.  You do not stay in the league that long without having some talents and abilities.  Morrall had done an admirable job in keeping Miami’s unblemished record intact since he entered the team’s offensive huddle in the fifth week of the 1972 season.  

Cleveland thus had an edge as far as youth and athleticism was involved at the quarterback position.  But the Dolphins had the edge at the same position when the subject of experience was discussed.  This game would prove in the end that experience would prevail.

But before that individual matchup between primary positions would play out, another element that was often seen in tight football games would once again show up to make a vibrant statement. That element was the special teams. The Dolphins surged to a 7-0 first-quarter lead when rookie Miami defensive back Charlie Babb stormed in from punt return formation and blocked a Don Cockcroft punt. Babb dove on the dribbling ball at Cleveland’s 8-yard line, and after discovering that no Browns player was pursuing him, strolled into the end zone amidst a convoy of teammates.  A Garo Yepremian field goal increased the Miami cushion to 10-0 by halftime. 

Things were going according to plan for the Dolphins. It was a plan that they had been able to pull off for most of their games in 1972: Establish an early lead, control the ball, and dominate on defense.  Despite the success of this formula, however, Miami head coach Don Shula had to be feeling some concern.  Earl Morrall had managed to throw for only 12 yards in the first half. Moreover, the Dolphins offense had only one first down through the air in the first half, and by the final gun, would manage to convert on only one third down in the entire game. 

Cleveland added to Shula’s concern by showing some resolve in the second half. Mike Phipps had a tremendously tough day when throwing against the Miami zone defense, but he somehow managed to direct his team to a touchdown in the third quarter. Phipps rolled out to his right, and after discovering that Miami’s defenders had his receivers covered, sprinted for the corner of the end zone. Phipps allowed Dolphins linebacker Mike Kolen to overrun him on the play, then lunged for the flag while breaking an attempted tackle by Miami defensive end Vern Den Herder. Phipps’ 5-yard scoring run gave Cleveland a new life, and the whole team responded with inspired play. Cleveland’s defense managed to hold Miami fullback Larry Csonka to a mere 32 yards on 12 carries, a key element in giving the Browns at least a chance to stay close to the Dolphins.  
Midway through the fourth quarter, Cleveland’s offense began another march toward the Miami goal.  Browns wide receiver Fair Hooker ran a flag pattern and found himself all alone as he ran to the sideline. Phipps withstood a strong Miami pass rush and just as he was hit, he lofted the ball to Hooker.  The Cleveland pass-catcher slowed down to cradle the ball, then skipped one yard inside the end zone flag for the touchdown. Hooker’s score and the ensuing extra point gave the Browns a shocking 14-13 lead with just eight minutes remaining in the game. 

But the Dolphins did not achieve an undefeated record in 1972 by accident. They proved their determined mettle by conducting a seven-play, 80-yard drive to the winning score. The key man on this drive was wide receiver Paul Warfield, himself a former player for the Browns. Warfield caught two key passes on the drive, one in which he was leveled by Cleveland defensive backs Ben Davis and Thom Darden and still managed to hold on to the ball. A few plays later, Warfield drew a pass interference penalty from Cleveland linebacker Billy Andrews, which resulted in another Dolphins first down.  Finally, Warfield’s catch of a deep pass down the middle over Davis led directly to the winning score.  Reserve halfback Jim Kiick culminated the clutch drive with an 8-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Cleveland defense.  

One final Browns offensive surge ended when Miami linebacker Doug Swift intercepted his second pass of the game, and the fifth overall that the Dolphins picked off against Mike Phipps. Miami prevailed...or rather, survived, 20-14, in one of the tightest contests that they had played all year. 

In the aftermath of this game, it is easy to speculate and determine the most obvious reason for Cleveland’s loss. Had Mike Phipps been able to limit his interceptions to three (instead of the five that he was responsible for), it is a distinct possibility (and maybe even probability) that the Browns would have upset the Dolphins on this day. And what an upset it would have been! For the past 50 years, Miami has been rightfully lauded as having the only perfect season in modern NFL history.  On December 24, 1972, the Cleveland Browns came oh so close to changing that narrative and defeating the undefeated.

Sources Used:
Zagorski, Joe.  The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football’s Most Important Decade.  Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2016.

Joe Zagorski is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Pro Football Researchers Association.  He has written five pro football books and numerous articles on the sport and its players.  He is currently writing a book on former Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame offensive guard Larry Little.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Al Wistert, Ox Emerson Snubbed

 By Clark Judge 
Al Wistert
The Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday announced its senior semifinalists for the Class of 2023, and it’s not the 25 who made it that caught my attention. It’s two who didn’t.
Linemen Al Wistert and Ox Emerson.

Maybe you heard of them. Maybe you haven’t. It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that they belonged on this list and were excluded. The reason? Ask the 12 members of the Hall’s Seniors Committee. They’re the ones who voted them off the island.

Wistert and Emerson each played on dominant NFL teams. Both won NFL championships. Wistert was an eight-time All-Pro; Emerson was named six times. And both were all-decade choices. 
So what’s missing? You tell me. I’m still looking.

An offensive and defensive tackle Wistert was a captain on a Philadelphia Eagles team that won back-to-back NFL championships (1948-49), the top blocker for the NFL’s record-setting runner, Hall-of-Famer Steve Van Buren and an All-Pro eight of his nine NFL seasons. He also started on a unit that five times led the league in rushing defense.
Ox Emerson
A guard and defensive lineman, Emerson was the top blocker on a 1936 Detroit Lions team that set an NFL rushing record of 2,885 yards in one season (of 12 games, no less), a mark that wasn’t broken until 1972 by the unbeaten Miami Dolphins. He was also a top defender on a 1934 Lions’ club that allowed the third-fewest points in NFL history.

Oh, yeah, both were among 20 finalists for the Centennial Class of 2020, too.

So they checked all the boxes needed for entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, if their resumes were in front of modern-era selectors today, one or both might be first-ballot choices.
Yet neither made the first cut for the Class of 2023.

That’s as appalling as it is shocking. With three senior finalists in line for each of the Hall’s next three classes, I thought one or both a virtual certainty to be among the next nine nominated. Now I know they have no chance, and not because they’re not qualified.

But because they’re as forgotten as they are gone. 

Look at the list. Of the 25 semifinalists, only two – the Packers’ Lavvie Dilweg (1926-34) and Cecil Isbell (1938-42) played prior to 1958. Now push that a step farther. Of the 25 semifinalists, all but seven (Dilweg, Isbell, safety Eddie Meador, linebackers Chuck Howley, Maxie Baughan and Tommy Nobis and defensive end Jim Marshall) played the bulk of their careers after 1970.

So it’s a modern-era senior class. Pre-‘60s’ candidates need not apply.

When Wistert and Emerson were excluded from the Centennial Class of 2020, historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal considered their omissions a gross oversight. However, he held out hope that these two “super seniors,” as he called them, would gain another shot.

“They deserve nothing less,” he wrote.

He’s right. They do. But Thursday’s returns speak volumes. They won’t get it.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

NFL ACTION '72!

By Jeffrey J. Miller


I was eleven years old in 1972, on the very cusp of the age range targeted by a promotional campaign sponsored by the combined forces of the National Football League and Dallas-based Sun Oil Company.  And though some readers might have been born too late to take part or remember the campaign, and still others might have been a bit too old to take part, the stamp collecting craze that ensued left an indelible imprint on thousands of football fans of my demographic group.   


That fall, Sun Oil, better known as Sunoco to the average motorist of the day, introduced a promotion that had kids (as well as the occasional grown-up) endeavoring to accumulate the entire collection of 624 NFL player stamps and paste them into one of two collector books.  With each fill-up at the neighborhood Sunoco station, customers would receive a sealed pack of nine stamps, though sometimes an attendant could be cajoled into giving more.  The kid would hurriedly tear off the ends that sealed the pack to see which nine players he or she had just acquired.  Sometimes a pack contained several needed stamps, but as time passed and her or his collector book became more filled, the odds of finding needed stamps grew smaller. 


 
      
There were 26 teams in 1972, the third year since the AFL-NFL merger.  Each team was represented by 24 stamps, representing a full offensive squad of 12 players and a corresponding number on the defensive side.  The photography used was gorgeous, with bright colors and sharp graphics.  Most of the stamps depicted players in game action, though a few head shots were used.  What made this collection especially appealing was the fact that the team logos were clearly visible on the players’ helmets.  This was in stark contrast with the football cards issued by Topps at the time.  Since Topps had a licensing agreement was with the Players Association but not the league, the logos were hastily airbrushed from the photos. 





There was a classic commercial which featured Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, which is interesting in hindsight since the Dolphins’ historic undefeated season was that very same year.   


Two different books were available to collectors.  The first was the budget priced 56-page book for 89 cents, which contained a review of the previous year’s Super Bowl and stamp pages for every NFL team.  The deluxe version, at $2.49, was a lavish 128 pages with team histories and photos of each team’s notable players.  Each book came with six 24-stamp sheets (144 stamps) to get the collector started.  The rest of the collection would have to be acquired at the gas station or via trade with the kids’ friends.  Though it was important to gather the entire collection, there were many notable Only-Issues, Rookies and Hall of Famers, including Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson, Alan Page, Bart Starr, Bob Lilly, Dick Butkus, Herb Adderley, and many more.  And where else is one going to find a (Saints CB) D’Artagnan Martin or (Oakland WR) Drew Buie card?  This was it!




There was an 82-piece supplement to the original 624-stamp collection released later that fall.  It featured players who had been recently acquired, traded, whatever.  It's not exactly clear how these pieces were supposed to fit into the collector books, but they were available in short supply, and are now extremely hard to find.


I still have my original book, along with a couple of others I picked up over the years.  They are pretty beat up, and only one is complete.  Every once in a while, I will be looking for something in my archive closet and come across them but have not spent much time looking at one in years.  That changed recently while I was looking for a book on eBay and a couple of these books came up on my feed.  Curiosity got the better of me and I ventured down the rabbit hole.  Sealed copies of the books were going for astronomical prices (in my opinion) but after thinking about it, I figured such copies must be extremely rare.  After all, where would somebody find them?  However, I came across a guy who actually had a few sealed deluxe versions for $35!  Not too hefty.  I do not know why, but my impulses got the better of me and I ordered one.  It arrived a week later.  It was sealed and, as a long-time vinyl record collector well aware of how much a sealed item depreciates after removing the shrink wrap, I decided to open it up and bask in its pristine glory.  I was glad I did!  This book really belongs in my vast football library.  What a great time capsule, on par with the “Football Stars of 1969” type books published by Pyramid Books and other houses back when I was a kid.  Plus, the photography was outstanding.  

Two of my original stamp books.  Yeah, pretty beat up!

I clearly did a pretty poor job of attaching the stamps.


I am now thinking I would like to try to relive a childhood adventure and fill a clean book.  I have ordered another copy to keep sealed and will begin the journey of gathering untorn packets of stamps until I have completed the task.  This one will be filled neatly—stamps cleanly separated from each other and placed squarely into the book with no yellowing tape or wrinkling glue.  I will post updates of my progress.

I am also very interested to hear from others who collected these stamps as a kid.  Do you still have your books?  How far did you get in collecting the entire lot?