Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Patrick Kerney—Worth Remembering

 By John Turney 
After two seasons the Atlanta Falcons must have been worried. Their number one pick from the 1999 draft was not producing. He was approaching "bust" territory. 

The pick was Patrick Kerney.

In his two seasons, (1999 and 2000) despite playing all 32 games and starting 18 he totaled just 5.0 sacks.

He had the measurables—6-5, 275 or so pounds, ran a 4.72 forty at the 1999 NFL Combine, and he did well in all the drills. he had good collegiate film, recording 24 sacks at the University of Virginia where he was All-American by the Football Writer's Association and Second-team All-American by the Associated Press. He was a smart, driven player.

He was seemingly a "can't miss" NFL prospect.

There was a little more to the story. In an interview early in 2001, Kearney said, "I was disappointed in how many sacks I missed (in 2000). I was back there and the quarterback slipped out of my hands. There were at least probably five sacks that I should have had."

That kind of mitigates his second season, in a way. He felt he was getting pressure. In his rookie season, he was not a starter and got limited reps so that explains his 2.5 sacks as a rookie. 

What about his second season when he was a starter and totaled just 2.5 sacks? It was mentioned in the media, especially in the 2001 preseason. In an Associated Press article, it stated, "Atlanta has no sacks for its defensive ends, a problem that carries over from last year when starters Brady Smith and Patrick Kerney combined for just seven all season."

In 2001, finally, Kerney got off the schneid. He had 11 sacks in the first 11 games and finished the season with a dozen. He finally lived up to his draft status.

From 2001-06 he averaged 9 sacks a year for the Falcons with a career-high of 13.0 in 2004 and was rewarded with being voted to the Pro Bowl and was voted Second-team All-Pro by the AP.

Kerney had proven himself and in early 2007 he chose to void the last two years of his contract (which was his option) to show his wares to other NFL teams. he settled for the Seahawks who gave him a six-year $39.5 million deal ($19.5 million guaranteed). Apparently, coach Mike Holmgren liked was he'd seen in Kerney.

The first season with the Seahawks Kerney gave the Seahawks his career year—he totaled 63 tackles, 14.5 sacks, and forced five fumbles and was voted to his second Pro Bowl and was a consensus First-team All-Pro He was also distant second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting to Bob Sanders. No, it wasn't close but at least four writers thought he was the best defensive player in the NFL. 
The success in Seattle was short-lived though. The year after his dominant season he severely hurt his shoulder and his season ended after seven games. In 2009 he was merely average and was also nicked. He'd hurt his elbow among other things. 

He said to the media at midseason that "(H)is body reminded him daily that he was in his 11th season." Kerney also said he was concerned about his 'head" in response to an NFL study conducted at the University of Michigan. "We are in twenty car wrecks a year. It's a violent sport. Everything has its risk and rewards. It's awful what happens to guys, you just hope it does not happen to you."

The following April Kerney retired from football at age 33 reporting that his body had taken a toll to the degree that he could not train properly and without it, he could not perform at a "level acceptable to him."

Kerney finished his career with 82.5 sacks and 19 forced fumbles. No, he wasn't an all-time great but he had a solid career and is worth remembering. 

Career stats—

Monday, August 29, 2022

Cameron Jordan—On Verge of Hall of Fame Career?

 By John Turney 
It is not easy to be voted into the Hall of Fame. It is even harder when you are a lineman especially and offensive linemen but that applies to defensive linemen as well. Skill players just have an easier path. 

If you count the number of so-called skill players (backs and ends) to the number of blockers, tacklers, sackers, and interceptors the latter group is shorted about 100 slots compared to the ratio that is on the field. Because of that, the non-skill guys have to truly stand out. They have to really have impressive resumes in part because they don't have piles of statistics like the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs and because of how the game has evolved those skill player statistics get more and more impressive. There have been some very recent strides made by non-skill players but still, the Hall is out of balance. 

For a player to stand out from among his peers, he has to check a lot of "boxes". Those boxes are the traditional things that non-skill players are often judged by—longevity, post-season honors, available defensive statistics (which can be skewed), perhaps testimonials from peers, and maybe some sort of intangibles. Traditionally voters weigh through those some of all of those things and cast their vote for any given candidate if they think he checks enough boxes.

With that background, we look at Cam Jordan. The 6-4, 287-pound defensive end is going into twelfth season in 2022. He has shown no signs of slowing down having an excellent 2021 season. 

In his eleven seasons he's played 176 games, starting 175, he has 107.5 sacks, and has been voted to seven Pro Bowls. he was First-team All-Pro twice, in 2017 and 2019, and Second-team All-Pro in 2018, and also was voted All-Decade for the 2010s. He's shown a penchant for deflecting passes being credited with 56 in his career and has good pressure numbers from organizations to keep them like Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus

We also think he's appreciated by pro scouts ranking high in his skill sets, so he passes any eye-test as well. In addition to being a good two-way end (plays the run and pass, i.e. is not a one-dimensional player) over the years the Saints have used him in unique ways. One of those things would be chucking the tight end on his side and then dropping into a hook zone to disrupt the third wide receiver on the opposite side who was running a shallow crossing route and doing a good job picking up the crosser.

What is so hard to measure though, is run defense. The only way to know is to watch the player closely and for Hall of Famer voters that is hard to do. They have to cover games—the entire action—and cannot always spare watching one player. 

One opposing lineman said of Jordan, "He's going to take chances on you. He's quick off the ball, athletic and is striving to be the best defensive end there is." Said another, "He's kind of a jack-of-all-trades. he's fast, has a big motor and can rush anywhere along the line."

We've followed Jordan for a long time and we've seen him stack run plays, escape and make tackles on running plays. He's a delight to focus on with the NFL's All-22 package for a variety of reasons we've posted some plays on our Twitter account that caught our eye. He's made a believer out of us as to his skills.

So, with all that does Jordan have a shot at the Hall of Fame? Saints fans would say "absolutely". But is it the case? Maybe. But maybe not yet.

He may need to have at least a couple more years of top-notch play and get rewarded for that play by garnering post-season honors like the Pro Bowl or making All-Pro.

That is easier said than done going forward. In a league full of great edge rushers Jordan may lose some ground. In terms of All-Pro edge players like T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa, Joey Bosa, Micah Parson (now a full-time edge player) and even Maxx Crosby are at the peak of their careers and make being voted All-Pro a challenge for anyone, especially for someone like Jordan who is asked to do a lot of things well especially since he's going to be 33 this season.

Jordan has made the last five Pro Bowls and had an excellent 2021 season so his tank is not on empty but it's only fair to notice that there are a lot of youngsters out there and when looking at a lof of Hall of Fame defensive ends they don't always fare well when they reach Jordan's age at least in terms of post-season honors, with the exception of maybe a Reggie White or a Bruce Smith.

We think, for him to have a great chance for the Hall of Fame, Jordan needs to add a few more seasons and hopefully add to his "honors" and also compile some career sacks. A career total in the 130s would do a lot in our view and to reach that he'd need to keep his current level (his last three seasons he's averaged 12 sacks) for a few years. 

For comparison, in looking at the defensive ends already in the Hall, the average career for those players is 14 seasons, 195 games, three All-Pro seasons, seven Pro Bowls, and 125 sacks (for players with known career totals, whether official or unofficial).  

So, Jordan is right on the cusp compared to the others. So, to enhance his chances he needs to be that so-called "venerable veteran" who can still be productive. If he does that he'd be more seriously considered by Hall of Fame voters five years after he hangs the cleats up than he currently is. 

The Hall of Fame is within his reach but being a linemen he'll have to really stand out. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Norm Van Brocklin's First NFL Touchdown Pass—A Clark Shaughnessy Special

 By John Turney 
In 1949 Rams rookie Norm Van Brocklin was Bob Waterfield's backup. He only played eight games but he did get into the opener—when the game was on the line.  

The Rams were hosting the Detroit Lions, who donned red jerseys and black pants for this tilt.

Late in the game, the Lions were leading 24-17 when Van Brocklin was given the keys to the offense by Rams head coach Clark Shaughnessy and he quickly moved the ball down the field for a game-tying touchdown pass to Elroy Hirsch. 

The and the Dutchman's first touchdown was a classic Shaughnessy play.

The Rams were in the T-Formation and Hirsh, from his left halfback position, motioned to the left flank and runs what was possibly called an "out and up" route (we are not sure of the Shaughnessy terminology). It was a double move that caused the right defensive halfback to bite and with a quick pump fake Van Brocklin let it fly for the score. 

It was not a perfect throw, it was a little behind Hirsch, but when a receiver is that wide open there is room for error. 

But the play, halfback motion, is textbook Clark Shaughnessy.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Cam Heyward—Aware of His Place in History

 By John Turney 
A couple times this camp Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward has commented on lists published in the media that rank NFL players. One of those times was in July when ESPN posted its list of top players including defensive interior linemen. Hayward was ranked fifth. On his Twitter account, Hayward responded "I respect my peers but this list ain’t right".

A month later Heyward to Steelers Wire, "I work too hard to not be No. 1."It’s as simple as that." In 2021 he told FanNation this, "If I can be honest, there are a lot of other players who are really good at my position, but I don't see any reason why they're better than me. That's just me being honest. I feel like I put in the work and I try to be the best d-lineman in the league".

Clearly, Heyward wants his respect.

Early in the 2017 season, we compiled a list of who we thought were top 3-4 defensive ends in history. At that time Heyward was not even considered. After all, through the 2016 season, he averaged just 36 tackles and four sacks, and 9 QB hits per season and only started 52 of the 87 games he played.

Since then, 2017-21, he turned it around and became a dominant player—Averaging 65 tackles, 8½ sacks and 20 quarterback hits a season. Additionally, he was All-Pro three times and went to the Pro Bowl every year. Now he would likely be in our top ten of 3-4 defensive ends.

Of course, these days Heyward plays defensive tackle or defensive interior more than anything since teams play far less base defense than ever and the Steelers are no exception. In previous generations, the 3-4 defensive ends would play either head-up or a slight outside shade on a tackle then on likely passing downs play three-technique. This was true of Howie Long, Richard Seymour, JJ Watt, and other 3-4 greats. 

Heyward does the same it's just that he's a three-technique the majority of the time and only plays on a tackle when the offense runs 21 or 12 personnel. 

The question now is what his legacy will be. Were he to retire now would he make the Hall of Fame? 

Hard to tell. The short answer is probably he will. But it is no lock. Not yet, anyway.

He would be compared to someone like Richard Seymour, himself a three-time All-Pro but went to seven Pro Bowls and owns three Super Bowl rings and Heyward is slightly shy on those fronts. Not far behind—but a little behind.

It may be, that to solidify his place in Canton, Heyward may need to stay are his current level for at least of couple more years doing what he does—disrupting opponents running games and putting inside pressure on quarterbacks. 

It's not expected that Heyward or interior players rack up a lot of sacks, though he does get his share—it is his hurries, pressures, or whatever the preferred term is, that a player like Heyward is judged by. And no matter what the numbers in those categories are the "eye test" clearly reveals that Cam is dominant in that category, he gets good pressure consistently. 

Heyward is going into his twelfth season and is certainly a top-five interior player and though he got an ankle injury in camp he says it will be "fine" and shouldn't affect his season. If so, he should be in the running to again be All-Pro and a Pro Bowler, often the major measurement for linemen when being considered for the Hall of Fame. 

But there will be competition for those All-Pro slots. Aaron Donald has locked down one of the defensive tackle/defensive interior slots for the last seven years. The Titans Jeffery Simmons is coming on strong and will vie for All-Pro, for example, and of course, there are others.

Cam may have done enough to get a Gold Jacket but a few more dominant years will make it a sure thing in our view.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

We Were Wrong—Coach/Contributor Hall of Fame Nominee is Don Coryell

 By John Turney 
Don Coryell
Three days ago we boldly predicted that Robert Kraft would emerge as the Coach/Contributor as selected by that Hall of Fame Committee. We blew it. 

Kraft made it to the cutdown to four (along with Don Coryell, Mike Holmgren, and John Wooten) but it was Coryell who got the ultimate support. Kraft will have to wait at least another year.

Don Coryell came to the NFL in 1973 after twelve seasons at San Diego State University where he never posted a losing season and had a 104-19-2 record, won three national championships, and three bowl games.

His NFL coaching record was 111-83-1 and had a winning percentage of .572 and yes, he was unable to win the big one but it was his mark on the game that will soon be recognized with his posthumous Gold Jacket and Hall of Fame bust. It was Coryell's seventh time as a finalist.

In 1974 Coryell was the NFL Coach of the Year and took the Cardinals to post-season play for the first time since 1948. In five seasons with the Cardinals, he won 43 regular-season games. In the five previous seasons, they won 29. And in the five seasons after he left the Cardinals won 28 games (with the caveat that 1982 was a strike season. 

The same story can be illustrated with the Chargers. They were not very good immediately before or immediately after he coached there. 

This year the Hall of Fame combine to Coaches and Contributor categories and though nothing was specified it may be that Coryell could have benefitted from the change because he could be considered both a coach and a contributor—A kind of "combined" candidate. If so, it would be fitting because it was Coryell's mark on the NFL's passing game that was his calling card.

When Coryell came to the NFL he brought offensive line coach Jim Hanifan with him from San Diego State to teach the Cardinals offensive line a new short-set technique where the offensive linemen would attack defensive linemen aggressively rather than taking passive deep sets. 

It was a new, violent approach. When being taught this way of playing Dan Dierdorf said to his coach, "Are they going to let us play this way?" They did and it worked—no line allowed less pressure and fewer sacks in the NFL than did the Cardinals. 

That set a foundation for the pass protection for Jim Hart who's been a fair quarterback in his first seven seasons but under Coryell was a four-time Pro Bowler and threw for the third-most yards and touchdowns among NFL quarterbacks in that five-year span and the Cardinals went to the playoffs twice (1974-75) and narrowly missed in 1976. Hart was also the UPI NFC Offensive Player of the Year in 1974. 

The Coryell offense moved to San Diego in 1978 and became known as "Air Coryell". In eight of his nine seasons in San Diego, his offense was ranked fourth or better, being number one five times. (With the Cardinals his offense was top five twice). 

His passing game ranked even better—Starting in 1977 through 1985 Coryell's passing offense had these NFL rankings—second, first, first, first, first, first, first, second, and first. His 1974-76 Cardinals offenses were in the top seven as well. 

During his tenure with the Chargers no team passed for more yards (nearly 7,000 yards more than the team that ranked second), scored more points, or gained more yards. 

The Chargers were just ahead of their time. They were the first to have three 1,000-yard receivers in one season and they were the first to have a quarterback throw for 4,000 yards in multiple seasons. 

We could go on and on with the statistical mark on the NFL but it was more of what people said about his influence on football that made the real mark. 

Upon Coryell's passing in 2010 Joe Gibbs stated, "Don is the father of the modern passing game," "He was extremely creative and fostered things that are still in today's game because he was so creative. You look around the NFL now and many teams are still running a version of the Coryell offense."

When the Rams were setting offensive records in St. Louis with the Greatest Show on Turf coach Mike Martz credited Coryell, "It all began with Don, to be honest with you. We just expanded upon what Don did.”

Don Fouts explained that the Coryell offense was a vertical passing game, built on looking deep first and then going elsewhere if the "bomb" was not there. He added that Coryell spread out defenses and "forced teams to defend the entire field."

Again we could go on. 

So, we were wrong in predicting Kraft but pleasantly surprised. Coryell is worthy of this honor (and we expect the committee as a whole will give Coryell the prerequisite 80% "yes" votes early in 2023 to make him part of the Class of 2023. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Aaron Rodgers—500th TD Pass Before His 100th Pick?

 By John Turney 
Like it or not and no matter how many analytics people scream about quarterbacks will also have, as one part of their legacy, Super Bowl wins. It's just the way it is.

Aaron Rodgers has four MVPs but just one Super Bowl win. His statistics are simply amazing but for him to move up the latter and be recognized as perhaps a top-5 quarterback of all-time he needs at least a couple more rings. It's just the way it is.

Among those amazing statistics is his touchdown to interception ratio. He's thrown for 449 touchdowns and has been picked just 93 times for a ratio of 4.8-1—better than Brady, better than Manning, better than everyone. 

Since Rogers is still at the top of his game (the NFL MVP the last two seasons) we wonder if he can make that ratio 5-1. 

Since 2011 Rodgers has averaged 5.5 interceptions per season (3.8 per season in the last four seasons) it is a real possibility that he does not throw his 100th interception until 2023. 

It is also possible that he throws 51 touchdowns to get to 500 before he throws that 100th pick. 

Brady threw his 100th pick in his eleventh season. Manning in his fifth. Drew Brees in his ninth. Rodgers in his eighteenth or nineteenth? It is hard to gage how Ruthian that is, how much distance there is between him and the others in this category. 

Why is this important? That is a matter of opinion but as Bill Belichick told author TJ Troup, "Any statistic that compares touchdown passes to interceptions is useful." So at least to one pretty good coach it matters. 

We don't often cover quarterback statistics there are slews of people who do that. In fact, it is sort of a cottage industry at least on social media. But with an achievement this rare, it is too interesting to ignore.

Tim McDonald—Often Overlooked.

 By John Turney 
We don't know that post-season honors like being voted All-Pro or All-NFC or to the Pro Bowl matter much anymore with Hall of Fame voters. However, to the extent that they still carry some weight, it is worth noting that Tim McDonald was honored in eight seasons—1989-96 with the highest honor being All-Pro in 1989 and 1992. He was First- or Second-team All-Pro six times and went to six Pro Bowls and was First- or Second-team All-NFC eight times.

McDonald totaled 1,115 tackles and picked off 40 passes as a strong safety and scored five defensive touchdowns. His interception total is higher than LeRoy Butler, Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu, Ken Easley, Cliff Harris, John Lynch, and Steve Atwater—Hall of Famers all. 

Apparently, interceptions are very important to the Hall of Fame committee, more so than in the past in our view, so for his position of strong safety forty interceptions is a pretty good number and as mentioned more than many recent Hall of Fame inductees. Maybe it bodes well for McDonald and his chance at being at least discussed for the Hall of Fame. 

Some opponents think he's qualified. Chris Carter astated, "If you compare Tim to the players who they’ve been putting into the Hall recently, he compares favorably."

Ronnie Lott adds this about McDonald, "What made Tim a great player, first of all, is that he had incredible instincts about the game. He had an understanding of what to anticipate on every play. I believe that preparation is 90% of why people get into the Hall of Fame. You get into the Hall of Fame not because of your talent, but because you’re prepared to do something better than everyone else. Tim was that guy."

"When we were scouting film, Tim was always greatly prepared." states Steve Jordan, "You never found him out of place. He was always where he was supposed to be, no matter what defense they were in. He showed his versatility by being able to cover and come down into the box and be an enforcer against the run. He was tough and could bring the wood."

Tight end Wesley Walls is also effusive, "He was like a linebacker in the running game and he was like a cornerback in the passing game. That in itself defines a great safety – someone who can tackle, someone who can cover and be physical. Tim epitomized that. He was one of the best red zone defenders I’ve ever seen. He was just so physical and had the speed and agility to handle an athletic tight end or a receiver or a running back out of the backfield. He probably got lost in the shadow of Ronnie Lott, coming in right after he left, but he was one of the best safeties ever to play football.”

According to Proscout, Inc. an independent scouting service, any player with 5-or-more "blue" seasons (their highest rating) is worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. According to PSI, Tim McDonald registered seven blue seasons (1988, 89, 90, 91, 93, 96, 98), three red (1992, 94, 95) during his 13-year career. Red is the next-highest category after blue.

In comparison, McDonald’s total of 10 blue and red seasons are one less than Troy Polamalu (7 blue, 4 red), even with LeRoy Butler (8 blue, 2 red), more than Steve Atwater (2 blue, 6 red) and John Lynch (3 blue, 3 red). 

Are McDonald's stats, post-season honors, testimonials, and his Super Bowl ring enough for him to make the Hall of Fame semi-final list of 25 or even the Final 15? That remains to be seen. But it seems like he checks enough of the boxes to be considered, inducted even. 

We'll see.

Career stats—
source for tackles—NFL gamebooks

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Picks and Blitzing

 By John Turney 
Players who can "do it all" have been written about since we've followed the game. Often it is about a defensive lineman who can rush the passer and play they run. Or, it can mean a defensive back who can cover and also play the run. It might mean a quarterback who can pass and run. You name it.
Chart: Pro Football Reference
One such duel responsibility might be a player who can be successful as a blitzer and also has enough ball skills in coverage to get some interceptions.

It is interesting to note there have only been four seasons in which a player had six or more sacks and six or more picks and Colt linebacker Stan White has two of them. Rodney Harrison and Dave Duerson are the others. It needs to be noted that prior to 1982 sacks were unofficial but they were gleaned from NFL Gamebooks of that era.

White was a weak-side linebacker (called "Buck") in defensive coordinator Maxie Baughan's terminology and at 6-1, 225 pounds he was not a big one at that. 

He was a 17th-round pick (yes, they used to have that many rounds) out of Ohio State where he had a good collegiate career. It can likely be inferred that his lack of size was the reason he went so late in the draft.

His two "6-6" seasons were in 1975 and 1977 but throw in 1976 for a three-year span total of each statistic he had 18 picks and 18½ sacks. In that 1975-77 set of seasons, the only other NFL player with ten or more sacks/picks was Tom Jackson of the Broncos who had 11 sacks and 13 interceptions so really, no one else was close.

White is no household name but it's an interesting footnote that no one combined blitzing AND coverage better than he did, at least for two seasons.

Interestingly White has another claim to fame. He's third on the all-time list for takeaways among linebackers behind Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Ray Lewis. 

Ham had 53 takeaways totaling 34 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries and Lewis had 51 (31 picks and 20 fumbles recovered). White had 34 interceptions and 15 fell on 15 fumbles for a total of 49 takeaways.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Prediction—Robert Kraft Will Be the Coach/Contributor Nominee for the Hall of Fame

By John Turney 
Often what we want and what we get are two different things. Our preference for this year for the nominee for the coaches/contributor Hall of Fame nominee is Buddy Parker. The coach of the 1950s Lions that won two NFL titles (and the team he assembled won it in 1957 the year he abruptly resigned and went to the Steelers which is a story of another day). 

Parker was an innovator, using zone defenses likely more than anyone, and used nickel defense making use of his talented secondary's call "Chris's Crew" named for Jack Christiansen a Hall of Fame safety and the leader of defensive backs. 

The Lions were worse before Parker got there and after he left. The same is true with his tenure with the Steelers. His six years were better than the previous six seasons and better than the six seasons after he left.

Nonetheless, we think this is the year Robert Kraft is named the nominee. It is a fait accompli that Kraft will be a Hall of Famer. he's waited this long because (in our view) his legal trouble stemming from prostitution charges (that were dropped) from charges against him in a Florida massage parlor (called Three Orchids of Asia) scandal. At that time Kraft was one of the people (there were two dozen more) facing first-degree misdemeanor charges for soliciting prostitution at the parlor. 

One of the incidents involving Kraft was in January 2019.  In December 2020 the charges were dropped since the video of Kraft was ruled inadmissible. 

So, we are over two years removed from all that and that is likely enough distance that it no longer delays Kraft's inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

Kraft has been the owner of the New England Patriots for 28 years and his team has the highest winning percentage in the NFL in that time he's had ten Super Bowl appearances and six wins also the most of any NFL team.

He's been a leader among the NFL owners, served on all the right committees the Hall of Fame voters like to talk about and even gets a lot of credit for being instrumental in ending the 2011 lockout.

So he is certainly as or more worthy than Edward DeBartolo Jr., Jerry Jones, and Pat Bowlen, three recent owners who have been inducted so Kraft certainly belongs. According to media reports he was close to being the nominee for the Class of 2022 but lost a close vote to Art McNally. 

We'd like to see him wait another year so Parker can get the nod but wheels are churning and calls are being made to voters so that it happens this year. We think it is yet another case of "recentism" where new candidates leap to the front of the line at the expense of history and those who have been forgotten. 

To the powers that be it's just too important that this happen now. It can't wait in the name of fairness and equity to earlier contributors like Parker or Coryell and others. 

Due to all that it is our best guess that Kraft will be the guy next week and the people from the past will be delayed and possibly forgotten. They deserve better. 

A 1970s-Type Defensive End Excelling in the 2000s—Aaron Schobel

 By John Turney 
Most informed football fans remember the name Aaron Schobel and may even remember he was a very good player. But how many remember he was about 20-30 pounds underweight for his era?

Schobel was 6-4, 263 pounds and ran a 4.75 forty as the combine. So he has some speed but was not blinding fast so as to compensate for his lack of size. Still, Shobel was a successful pass rusher in an era where he was outweighed by 40-80 pounds week-in and week-out. 

However, from 2007-2009 he was listed at 243 pounds about 20 pounds less than his listed weight in his earlier seasons. 

As a comparison, his height and weight were about the same as Gino Marchetti, Jack Youngblood, and Jim Marshall—star defensive ends of the 1960s and 1970. But in their era they were giving up maybe 10-30 pounds in general, facing tackles who were maybe 255-285 pounds. In the 2000s tackles had grown to 300-320 pounds or even more. Schobel faced an uphill battle his last few seasons.

No, he was not the only smaller defensive end in his era—Hall of Famer Jason Taylor was listed at 245 pounds at a height of 6-6. The Colts Robert Mathis measured 6-2, 245. Both of them had a season of 10 sacks or more from 2007-09. Schobel also garnered a 10-sack season, his final, at the reported 243 pounds. Those are the only three defensive ends to achieve that number in those three seasons. 

Earlier in his career (usually listed in the 263-pound range), he was a Second-team All-Pro in 2006 and went to the Pro Bowl that year and in 2007 he went to the Pro Bowl at his new, lower weight. From 2003-07 only Jason Taylor had more sacks (59.0) than Aaron's 52.0 though, again, only in 2007 was he listed at around the same weight as Taylor. 

If we could talk to Schobel we'd ask him why he dropped the weight, especially after his career year of 2006. There is nothing we could find in old papers or online that reports on the change, other than the different listing. 

2007 roster

Perhaps his biggest fan was Bill Belichick said, "He's got a great motor. He works hard on every play. He's never out of a play. He's got several good moves . . . Even though he's not the biggest guy, he's got explosive power. He's hard for everybody to block."

Schobel played at TCU in the late-1990s and was well-decorated—He was named First-team All-Western Athletic Conference in 1999 and 2000, Second-team All-WAC in 1998, and was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year in his final year as a Horned Frog. He also left as the school's all-time sack leader and forced fumbles (both since broken).

He was a second-round (46th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft and secured a starting job as a rookie and held it through 2009. He ended his career with 78.0 sacks and 21 forced fumbles, not eye-popping numbers but pretty good for a nine-year career and for a guy his size (either at 263 or 243) in the era he played. 

He's worth remembering.

Career stats—

Friday, August 19, 2022

Aidan Hutchinson—Poised For a Great Rookie Season

 By John Turney 
After his first preseason game, Aidan Hutchinson has drawn rave reviews. Now, only a couple more and he embarks on his rookie NFL season.

Hutchinson was the second overall pick in the 2022 draft by the Detroit Lions and has moved into the starting lineup and in the opening preseason game the 6-7, 264-pounder played both end positions and even sunk into an interior position once. It's a preview of what is to come—a player that will play multiple positions on the Lions defensive line and will likely do well.

He's being touted as a possible Defensive Rookie of the Year but a lot has to yet be done for that and will be a story to follow this season since there is plenty of competition with the Jaguars Travon Walker, Kayvon Thibodeaux of the Giants, perhaps one of the top corners drafted or others. This early, before anyone has taken a regular season snap, nothing can be sure. 

One thing is for sure, no matter how well he does this season he will not be able to match the Lions top season by a rookie defensive end, at least in terms of sacks. 
In 1978 rookie Al "Bubba" Baker recorded an unofficial NFL record and also the unofficial NFL rookie record of 23.0 sacks. Baker was the Defensive Rookie of the Year that season and was a consensus All-Pro.

That's a tall order and certainly out of reach even for an extremely talented Hutchinson.

Another thing is certain. Hutchinson, barring injury, will top the sack total of 1995 first-round pick and starter at left defensive end Luther Ellis
That season Ellis was shut out in sacks. He started all 16 games and got skunked. Ellis had a lot going for him that year, he drew some praise from his coaches but he just didn't adjust his game enough to beat NFL right tackles. Still, you'd expect at least a few sacks even if they were pushed to him by the likes of Robert Porcher or Henry Thomas.

The next season Ellis was moved to defensive tackle and he became a pretty good player. After his rookie season, the move made sense. He totaled 6.5 sacks his sophomore season and 8.5 sacks in year three and was solid against the run as an inside and even went to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1999 and 2000. 

A reasonable target for Hutchinson would be Ziggy Ansah's 8-sack season of 2013. The 6-5, 275-pound BYU alum was All-Rookie and drew a lot of praise league-wide for his athleticism. He was a Pro Bowler two seasons later and totaled 14.5 sacks that season.
We will be watching Hutchinson all year and hope to be impressed, the Lions defense is counting on him and he seems to have the goods. Enough to be the second-best Lions rookie defensive end ever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Eternally Stupid Putrid Network: Watch Some Film Before You Write

By TJ Troup 
"Night Train" Lane with the Cardinals
My disappointment with the three senior finalists is NOT the reason for this very short story. Leave it to ESPN to state that Ken Riley has the second most interceptions by a corner in league history to Richard Lane. 
First question, how much film of the Chicago Cardinals in 1954 did you watch? My book, The Birth of Football's Modern 4-3 Defense: The Seven Seasons That Changed the NFL, states "Richard "Night Train" Lane played all four positions, yet he is usually the right safety the first half of the year, and left safety the second half". 

He intercepted 10 passes to lead the league, and of course, I can go back and see how many of the ten passes he pilfered were at corner, and safety, yet no doubt he had more than four at safety, thus Riley had more interceptions as a corner than Lane. 
Ken Riley
Will the laziness at ESPN ever end?

Hall of Fame Senior Nominee—Chuck Howley

 By John Turney 
Art credit: Merv Corning
Yesterday the Hall of Fame Seniors Committee met and picked three nominees that will be submitted to the entire committee before next year's Super Bowl. One of them was Chuck Howley. He will have to get 80% of the full committee to vote "yes" for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame—So it is not a sure thing though it would be unfathomable for him to be voted down. There have only been a few instances that a senior nominee was rejected by the full Hall of Fame Committee.

Here are Howley's partial statistics and his complete post-season honors. 

Howley began his career with the Chicago Bears and he played quite a lot as a rookie and picked off a pass. The next season he severely injured his knee and it kept him out of football for a year. 

In 1961 he got a ring from Dallas, and feeling his knee was sufficiently healed, the Cowboys traded for him and he began thirteen seasons with the star on his helmet.

Howley was always a favorite of famed writer Paul Zimmerman who noted his coverage ability, "Jack Ham was the best pure coverage linebacker, with second place going to...oh, I guess I’d have to say Chuck Howley." 

Howley was a terrific all-around athlete lettering in football, track, wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming at the University of West Virginia where he was named to the All-Southern Conference team three times as a gridder.

He totaled 26 sacks and 25 interceptions in his career and was a First-team All-Pro five times and was either First- or Second-team All-Conference or a Pro Bowler in 1963 and from 1965-71.
Art credit: Merv Corning
In Super Bowl V he was voted the game's MVP though Dallas lost that game to the Colts. The next year, versus Miami he picked off a pass and was a key part of the defense that dominated the Dolphins.

In eleven playoff games, Howley intercepted four passes and had 1½ sacks, and recovered two fumbles taking one of them to the house against the Browns in 1968.

 "I don't know that I've seen anybody better at linebacker than Howley," said Tom Landry. Howley himself said, "I just hope I can be considered the best at my position."

And now as one of the three senior nominees and nearly certain Hall of Fame induction he will always be considered one of the best at his position.

Hall of Famer Senior Nominee—Ken Riley

 By John Turney 
Ken Riley, a collegiate quarterback (at Florida A&M), transitioned well to cornerback in the NFL. He was a fifteen-year starter and intercepted an impressive 65 passes which is still tied for fifth all-time.

He was First-team All-Pro once and a Second-team selection twice, light for a Hall of Famer, but it is probable that his production as an interceptor and the Bengals lack of representation (and an upset fanbase) in the Hall that got him over the top in yesterday's senior committee meeting.

Riley, who passed away in 2020, in all likelihood will be elected by the full Hall of Fame Committee when they vote "yes" or "no" on all three of the 2023 senior nominees. It is not common for a Senior Committee's recommendation to be rejected. So, Riley will take his place among the best-ever at his position and get his Gold Jacket.

Hall of Famer Mel Blount said this about Riley in 2021, "He played it as well as anybody, even including myself,” Blount said. “He played tremendously all of those years. It’s an injustice, not only to the Hall of Fame but to guys like myself who are in the Hall of Fame."

“The Rattler”, Riley's nickname, will soon make his mark with Hall of Fame induction.

Ken Riley's stats and post-season honors—


Hall of Fame Senior Nominee—Joe Klecko

 By John Turney 
Art credit: Duane Potosky

Joe Klecko's versatility was noteworthy. In his four Pro Bowl appearances three of them were at different positions along the defensive line. That ability to excel anywhere along the line likely allowed him to emerge from the Hall of Fame Seniors Committee. That, and some great testimonials from his opponents that added to his Hall of Fame case. 

In 1981 he was All-Pro and a Pro Bowler as a right defensive end. In 1983 and 1984 he was a Pro Bowler as a 4-3 defensive tackle. And in 1985 he was All-Pro and a Pro Bowler as a tilted nose tackle. Additionally, he was Second-team All-AFC in 1978-79 and 1986. In 1978 he was a 3-4 defensive end making four positions he received post-season honors.

In 1981 he was the NEA Defensive Player of the Year and was second in the voting for the AP Defensive Player of the year, second in the voting to Lawrence Taylor. Klecko also led the NFL (unofficially) with 20½ sacks that season as he was a vital cog in the Jets playoff appearances in that season.

The Temple star ended his career with 76 sacks and was a good kick blocker early in his career blocking five placekicks in his first three seasons. In 1985, the season he moved to nose tackle in Bud Carson's 3-4 defense he had 7½ sacks and forced five fumbles, and in an era of great nose tackles he beat them out for All-Pro honors that season.

Klecko was the glue of the New York Sack Exchange, the leader, the one who set the tone for the defense and his fellow linemates—Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam. After he hurt a knee in 1982 Klecko moved inside to defensive tackle and was the one who had to often cover run plays since surpeme pass rusher Mark Gastineau was all about getting to the quarterback and not always conscientious in playing the run.

Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson said Klecko was a "great defensive lineman", and considered him one of the two best interior linemen he had ever faced. Stephenson added, "He was a dominating and devastating lineman. He really was. No one played the game better than him."

High praise.

Here is some more high praise—
All-time great Anthony Muñoz also added praise for Klecko, "In my 13 seasons, Joe is right there at the top of the defensive ends I had to block, up there with Fred Dean, Lee Roy Selmon, and Bruce Smith". Munoz continued, "Joe was the strongest guy I ever faced, He had perfect technique but he was such an intense, smart player."

The praise keeps coming— 
"I think it's time for Joe Klecko to get that nod. I really believe that," said Howie Long. In a lot of ways, Klecko is like Howie Long and Hall of Famer Dan Hampton—versatile guys who played more than one position well. Both Long and Hampton played inside, on the nose and outside as defensive ends. They were complete defensive linemen.

In 1981 Paul Zimmerman wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Klecko's attributes include tremendous quickness off the ball, great strength and a boxer's instinct for knocking away an opponent's hands and beating him to the inside position. And, says Green Bay Coach Bart Starr, Klecko has "something within him that flames very hot."

Klecko stands to almost certainly be inducted to the Hall of Fame after the full committee meets prior to the Super Bowl in 2023. That committee rarely votes down the Seniors Committee nominees.

“Listen, to be elected into the Hall of Fame has to be the piece de resistance in your career,” Klecko told The Athletic in a 2090 article. Now, in all likelihood, Klecko has that final event of his NFL playing days.

Klecko's career stats—

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Story of Len Ford: Rectifying a Diminished Legacy—Part 5

 By Nick Webster 
The Decline
As the 1955 season approached Ford was adding extra unwanted pounds. Having returned from his broken jaw low of just over 200 pounds to 225 for the 1950 Title, he played the better part of 1951 to 1954 in the 245 – 255 Lbs. range. Coming into 1955, Ford was well above that coming into camp. Again, he entered the season nicked up, again with a sore foot bothering him.

The Browns had another successful campaign sending Otto Graham off as an MVP and a champion, winning a title over the Rams. Both the Browns’ offense and defense ranked first in the league in points, though again, the pass rush was less ferocious than in earlier years. The team logged just over a sack per game and Lenny only had three confirmed sacks, though he likely netted double that amount, given what isn’t known from film.

The Browns – along with the rest of the league – are now running a full-time four-man line on defense.  This has eliminated some of Ford’s advantages, he’s back to playing with his fist in the dirt and is more frequently engaging directly with offensive tackles at the snap.

Ford remains first-team All-Pro though he was not a consensus choice for the first time since his injury-shortened 1950. Gene Brito, Andy Robustelli and even Tom Scott picked up first-team spots and the most impactful D-Line play of 1955 was surely that of Gene Brito. Brito notched numerous sacks but more importantly made impactful game-changing plays with a frequency of no other D-Lineman with numerous stuffs and timely forced fumbles. Brito’s play single-handedly won games against the Browns, Eagles and 49ers. A Defensive Player of the Year would have to be selected among Brito, emerging middle linebackers Joe Schmidt and Dale Dodrill, or a defensive back with Jack Christiansen again in the running.  The Washington DC Touchdown Club, admittedly biased, named Brito the NFL MVP – not just defensive Player of the Year – though Otto Graham was accepted as the League’s best, but Brito did receive votes which was rare for a defender, and he tied for fourth in UPI vote tally.

In the summer of 1956, only Darrel Brewster, Carleton Massey, and Ford are considered locks to make the club. Early in camp, Ford is replaced by youngsters, perhaps to save his legs and to get a better look at youngsters as the roster is beginning to turn over. Paul Brown believed, in early August, that Ford was actually better prepared than at the same time a year ago, though his weight is still elevated.

Ford notches a short sack in the first game of the year against the Cardinals, but this is not his best statistical campaign. He’s only known to have had two sacks on the season, though again, he was likely in the mid-to-high single digits if unassigned sacks could be attributed. A mid-season tilt against the Steelers sees Ford and Steeler lineman Bob Goana ejected for fighting. Lenny felt he was being illegally held and kicked at Goana who retaliated with a punch, a melee ensued with Goana and Ford on the turf and numerous Browns running to the rescue. Ford now held an inauspicious and very unofficial record of being tossed out of 3 league games. In the 1970s Joe Greene would join Ford, who would log another ejection in 1958, getting kicked out of four games, putting Lenny in select company. By December, Paul Brown is formally rotating Lenny with Jim Ray Smith, and the rest appeared to improve Ford’s play.  

The Browns’ defense again leads the league allowing just under 15 points per game, though the team flounders with the offense nearly going first-to-worst, unable to replace Otto Graham with George Ratterman or Tommy O’Connell (they finish 11 of 12 in PPG with under 14).

Post-season honors accurately reflect Ford’s diminished performance in 1956 as, for the first time since 1950, he doesn’t make a single First-team All-Pro. The mantle of best D-Lineman has shifted to Andy Robustelli, Gino Marchetti and Gene Brito. Ford did not make the Pro Bowl, and only received honorable mention from UPI and second team honors from the New York Post. The likely defensive Player of the Year, were one awarded, would have been selected from Joe Schmidt or Bill George as the league was entering the age of the star middle linebacker.

For the first time going into 1957, Ford’s status with the team is in question. Ford is the lone D-Lineman who is still around from the 1950 team, he’s older, nicked up, heavier and facing competition from younger talent. There’s even speculation that Lenny will not make the squad. In camp in late August, Paul Wiggin, the Stanford rookie who will be a mainstay for the next decade, is taking considerable snaps away from Ford. Bill Quinlan, back from the Army and down from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the IRFU (to become the CFL), mans the left defensive end spot. Talk around camp turns, however, and would sound familiar to modern ears, Ford is “trimmed down”, “best shape of his life” however, he’s trimmed to around 265, well north of what’s optimal and even that is achieved by way of a rubber shirt.

Lenny holds his starting role and the teams’ pass-rush is better than in prior years, though it’s mostly driven by Quinlan and Bob Gain. Ford has 3.5 known sacks though he’s likely – again – to have been in the mid-single-digits. Lenny posts 1.5 sacks in both the second and third game of the season but his performance stalls down the stretch. The October 27 matchup against the Cardinals sees Lenny and tackle Len Teeuws involved in a melee as the teams were leaving the field at the end of the half by the Comisky first-base dugout.  Lenny may have been lucky the action occurred after the gun sounded and off the field of play or a fourth ejection would likely have come in 1957. Going into December, Lenny is bothered by a sore shoulder and increasingly ceding time to rookie Paul Wiggin. Finally, on December 8 visiting the Lions, Wiggin and Quinan start and right and left end respectively; Ford doesn’t play, missing his first game since 1950. The Browns are again in the title race, boosted by spectacular rookie RB Jimmy Brown, and Paul Brown plays a balancing act of resting players (Ford in Detroit) but keeping them in playing shape, Lenny finishes up as the starter in New York.  Again, there is post-season disappointment and again at the hands of the Lions who won their third title of the decade all at the expense of the Browns.
Len Ford brings pressure on Conerly in his final game as a Brown, but Conerly gets the pass off for a long gain as the aging For is unable to finish

After the season Ford undergoes surgery on his right shoulder at his alma mater the University of Michigan to fix the injury he’s been living with all season long. Lenny is almost shut out of post-season voting but makes Second-team UPI, on reputation alone, again a Pro Bowl visit was not in the offing.

In May of 1958, Ford’s days in Cleveland come to an end, Lenny is traded to the Packers for an undisclosed 1959 draft choice at the time, which would later be their fourth pick.  Paul Brown calls the trade part of the teams’ continuing rebuilding program noting that Lenny, “should be able to help the Packers for a couple years.” Acquiring Packer Coach Scooter McLean says Ford, “still has the speed and finesse to put a lot of pressure on the passer.” McLean notes that he expects “fierce competition” on the D-Line acknowledging however that he’s not 100 percent sure Ford will make the team. The Associated Press notes that, “His last big year was 1954” . 

Ford battled Jim Temp and Nate Borden for his position on the Packers’ squad. When the time rolled around to report Lenny was late to camp, though he was not considered a holdout, an inauspicious start to what will be a challenging stint with the Packers. When Lenny does arrive, he’s “sick” and doesn’t suit up for the first few practices. Lenny has trimmed down however showing up at just 255 while admitting that he would report to the Browns weighing as much as 280 pounds, “I even played at that weight, but it was no good.” After fully sitting out a few days Ford begins participating in light calisthenics, however, days later he finds himself in the hospital saying, “I’ve been feeling terrible, even the medicine doesn’t work.” On exiting the hospital Lenny has slimmed down more, tipping the scales at 251 pounds Ford again deals with nagging injuries during camp with pulled muscles holding him out a few days.
Ford in the ‘Green-and-White intrasquad scrimmage for the Packers and back in his three-point stance

Packer Coach Scooter McLean, a former halfback for the Bears under George Halas, is not the disciplinarian that Paul Brown was, and the team is known for its wild ways; not a good fit for the drinking and partying Ford, nor such partners in crime as Paul Hornung.  An October letter to the Press-Gazette penned by nine fans asked, “(W)hy pay $4.75 to see the Packers on Sunday afternoon when for the price of a drink you can see them any night on the town.” You can understand the famous phone call Bart Starr made to his wife upon meeting Lombardi saying, “we’re gonna’ win now,” in this context.

Ford started the opening game in late September hosting the Bears in City Stadium and logged the team’s only sack, an 11-yard loss, but the Bears prevailed 34 – 20. The following week, Ford was ejected from his fourth league game in the Week 2 matchup against the Lions. Tossed for slugging declining future Hall of Famer Lou Creekmur in frustration after the star continued to hold, the game resulted in a 13 – 13 tie. In Week 3 against the defending champion Baltimore Colts, Ford notched a second sack that was controversially not called a fumble. Per Packer accounts, Unitas was clearly separated from the ball before he hit the ground and there was a clean recovery by rookie Ray Nitschke. Alas, the QB was ruled down. This continued a surprisingly promising start to the year for Lenny, though the Pack lost yet again. From there on out, things deteriorated, Ford only logged half a sack that is known for the remainder of the year and certainly finished with less than five sacks, a disappointing season. Ford admitted that he was playing “quarter-to-quarter.”

Given the difficulty of travel in the era – particularly from remote Green Bay – the team would couple trips to the West Coast at the end of the year. In fact, for the ninth consecutive season, the Pack would travel to the Coast for back-to-back Road games against the two California teams.  In 1958 it was a December seventh tilt in Kezar Stadium against the 49ers followed by a Week 12 closing matchup against the Rams in the Coliseum.

After a bad loss to the 49ers on December 7 the Pack went to Los Angeles to prepare for the season’s final game with just one win and one tie in hand, and rumors that Packer brass was in contact with Curly Lambeau about his returning to the team to replace Coach McLean. The team trained in Brookside Park in Pasadena – the same location Paul Brown had his Browns train when Lenny was there – just a stone’s throw from the Rose Bowl during the week of practice. Lambeau removed his name from consideration publicly but did visit the Pack in camp on Wednesday as speculation turned to the next coach being Blanton Collier, University of Kentucky head coach and former Browns assistant during Lenny’s stint.  

Despite the possibility of being reunited with Collier, mid-week Len Ford said he’ll retire after the finale against the Rams stating, “Circumstances could make me change my mind but right now I’m planning on retiring for good as a player.” A nod to what everyone knew, Ford admitted, “I’m not the football player I was five or six years ago . . . I was faster then and more active.”  Also unspoken, Lenny in far better shape, lighter, and less hooked on the bottle. Astutely, Ford also noted that strategy changes have impacted him, “They used to pull guards out to block against us defensive ends” of course this was when defenses played five-man lines, “which meant that I got a start of two or three steps. With that start, it was easy to just overpower the guard or run around him and just step over the back. Now . . . the tackle plays head-on with us defensive ends. You don’t get those two or three steps anymore”. It turns out Blanton Collier was wrong about moving to a four-man line to get Ford “closer to the QB.” Upon reflection, Ford always played better as a ‘stand-up’ end, even on the five-man line; and his primary pass rush ‘move’ was what would today be called ‘speed-to-power,’ which, as Lenny noted, benefitted from being further from the blocker at the snap.

Finally, on the Friday night before the finale, Ford didn’t come to bed and was first seen walking into practice the following morning. Coach McLean approached him asking where he’d been to which Lenny replied, “I got lost in the fog on the freeway.” Teammate Jim Temp recalled that ‘He obviously got drunk or got some broad. But he was gone’. Scooter’s patience had run out, he had a 1-9-1 record, a team known more for carousing than their play on the field, and an alcoholic aging star showing up late to practice after a full night out. Ford was suspended, the official reason was for ‘breaking training rules’.

The following day in the Coliseum the Packers lined up without Lenny on the line for the first time, the D-Line featured the typical left end Nate Borden at right end, backup Jim Temp replacing Borden at left end and the tackle alignment Hawg Hanner and J.D. Kimmel unchanged. Despite another loss, the Ram game was a surprisingly good Packer showing. After the game, coach McLean said of Ford, “That’s an awful way to finish a great career and he’ll be terribly sorry when he realizes what happened.” The team also refused to pay Ford’s salary for the game $916.66 off his $11,000 annual salary over 12-games.  That would become a matter of contention as the years passed. 

Post Retirement

Post-retirement Ford didn’t meet with the same success as he had on the field. Lenny and his wife divorced in 1959 though they remained close and would often dine together with the children at her home.

In 1960 Ford was fined $150 for a reckless driving charge in Detroit, but this charge and the associated fine were arrived at only after traffic judge George Murphy had reduced the original report of drunken driving.

In December 1961, Ford filed suit against the Packers in Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit to collect the game check from his final game plus $10,000 for damage to his reputation caused by the Packers' releasing him.

Lenny spent his post-football years working at the Considine Rec Center in Detroit as an assistant recreation director. He attended classes in Detroit but he never graduated with the law degree he sought but most of all Ford struggled with alcohol, a problem that had begun during his playing days. A teammate would remark that you could find Lenny in practice as the player with the snow melted around him as he was “sweating out the alcohol.” In 1958, Lenny’s Packer roommate Nate Borden said Len would get up in the morning, pour a water tumbler full of Vodka and drink it right down. Descriptions of him in his post-playing days are sad. People remarked on his lack of drive, his physical decline, and his inability to move forward. In his later days as alcohol took over Lenny was not taking care of himself.  He lost weight and was in poor physical condition, some certainly due to aftermath of rough play, but some due to abuse. Years later in 1980, friend and ex-Dodger pitching great Don Newcombe, himself a recovered alcoholic, would lament, “(H)is life was decimated because of alcohol . . . He became a wino stumbling around in alleys . . . why didn’t somebody find Lenny Ford and help him?”

In February of 1972, Lenny was hospitalized with a heart condition, Ford suffered a heart attack and died shortly after in the Hospital on March 14. Survived not only by his ex-wife, sister, and daughters but sadly also by his mother – his end coming far too soon. Lenny was laid to rest at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland just across the Anacostia River from where he grew up and played as a kid in D.C.  The plaque at his grave reads, somewhat oddly: “Leonard Guy Ford, Jr., 1926 – 1972, Lenny N.F.L., Cleveland Browns, 1950 – 1959”.


Legacy
As early as 1949, Ford was already considered a college great, even drawing mention along with Bob Mann and Bill Hewitt by a first-term Congressman from Michigan’s fifth district – and ex-Michigan Wolverine football great – Gerald R. Ford in a Touchdown Club Speech on January 8, 1949, in Washington, DC.

In Jim Brown’s 1964 autobiography Off My Chest, he rated Ford as the best defender he ever saw, Gino Marchetti second. He was always considered a tough player up there with the likes of Ed Sprinkle, Leo Nomellini, Bulldog Turner, and Hardy Brown.

In 1969 when the NFL revealed its 50th Anniversary Team Lenny was the second defensive end behind Gino Marchetti. The team technically didn’t field 11 players on defense so only one DE one DT, etc. were selected. This structure technically meant that Ford was an honorable mention or Second-team, though he would be First-team on a squad of 11 that had two DEs. When the NFL issued its 75th Anniversary Team in 1994, Gino Marchetti, Deacon Jones, and Reggie White were the three DEs selected with Lenny dropping off.  

Finally, the NFL's 100th Anniversary Team selected in 2019 had DEs Gino Marchetti and Deacon Jones as unanimous selections and Doug Atkins, Bill Hewitt, Lee Roy Selmon, Bruce Smith, and Reggie White closing out the team. Bizarrely, Doug Atkins and Bill Hewitt each completed their careers prior to the selection of the 50th-anniversary team of which Ford was a member, yet somehow, they leap-frogged him on the 100th.

In 1976 Ford was posthumously elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in, at the time, the smallest class the Hall had initiated (tied with 1972’s three-man class) along with Packer fullback Jim Taylor and player/coach Ray Flaherty.  Ford’s family requested that both Morgan State and Michigan be listed on his profile.  Ford was presented for enshrinement by his old high school coach Ted McIntyre and his daughter Deborah accepted on his behalf saying.  “He was guided by the philosophy that winners never quit and quitters never win and if he was alive today, I’m sure he would be a symbol of that wisdom.”  She finished off with, “To my father, who longed for this day . . . Congratulations, Daddy.  You’ve made it”.

A 1977 Pro Football Digest All-Time Team now placed Deacon Jones in the second slot above Ford. Ford was placed in the Hall of Honor at University of Michigan in 1996, the second ‘Ford’ in the Hall, joining former President Gerald Ford.

So where is Lenny’s place in the pantheon of pass rushers?  In our view his peak is on par with the best of all time, as good as that of Gino, Deacon, Reggie, and J.J.; but like J.J. albeit for different reasons that peak was too short to be on the Mt. Rushmore of pass rushers which suites Marchetti, Jones, and White with a great debate for the final spot. Leonard Guy Ford was an all-time great and a marvel to watch but both his athletic peak and his life were unfortunately short making him in many ways a sad cautionary tale.