Friday, February 24, 2023

LYNN CHANDNOIS: "The Noose Tied Tightly Around His Neck"

By TJ Troup 
Lynn Chandnois
There have been many players that displayed versatility in their career, and recently John Turney detailed in his excellent article one of those men in Chet Mutryn. 

Today's narrative is about another of those men who were productive, and therefore successful due to his versatility in his seven-year career—Lynn Chandnois

The title is a quote from Ray Didinger in the chapter on the Steelers' overwhelming victory over the Giants in late November of '52 from his book on the Steelers: Great Teams, Great Years series.

 Assistant coach Walt Kiesling was not only convinced Chandnois was lazy, but he had head coach Joe Bach contemplating letting Lynn go after the '52 season was over. This was his third year in the league, and as always best to start at the beginning of a career that is chock full of twists and turns. 

What kind of twists and turns you ask? Well, stay tuned 'cause here we go. The NFL was about to undergo changes for the '50 campaign, and the Steelers in the draft with the 8th pick took All-American Lynn Chandnois. 

Nine rookies make the team in '50 in Pittsburgh, yet the only other rookie of note was an undersized combative tackle named Stautner. Since the AAFC had closed up shop, the most talented players from that league that were not members of the 49ers, Browns, and Colts were joining the established league . .. therefore the talent level would be even better and deeper in the NFL. 
Ernie Stautner
Since the established teams would soon learn just how powerful the Browns were, and the Giants roster was now chock full of hard-bitten studs, and talented backs the Steelers faced a daunting task. Add to this that the Eagles are two-time defending league champions and you have a recipe for some outstanding match-ups in the American Conference. 

Pro Football Reference only lists 10 men as starters on offense for Pittsburgh in 1950, thus difficult to know how many games the #1 draft pick would start. That dilemma could be solved if there was film available for all twelve games? 

Chandnois is left-handed (a key to the beginning of his career), and is almost always aligned at wing back on the right just outside the flexed right end. Sometimes he would be aligned at tailback with the strength of the formation to the left. Opening day against the powerful Giants at Forbes Field on September 17th is one of those games you have to see to believe. Turnovers, rock 'em sock 'em football, and a final of 18-7 as New York comes out on top. 

Believe that the Steelers set a new standard in that six different men attempted passes in this game? 

If anyone knows of a game where there are seven, please let me know. Chandnois is not one of the passers and plays sparingly. In fact, in the first six games of the year, he carries the ball 30 times, catches just three passes, and attempts only three passes. 

Understanding the single-wing offense is easy, and of course, each of the four backs needs different skill traits, but two traits all four of them must be able to do—block and pass. 

Chandnois is always going to be running to his left with the ball and is going to continue to sweep outside or cut back. October 29th in the rematch with the Browns should be heralded as Marion Motley day (he not only set a record) for how explosive, and powerful he was in the Cleveland victory. 

Chandnois starts and gains 18 yards on his first two carries, and made a spectacular leaping catch of a Joe Geri pass for 35 yards. He gains just seven more yards on his final five carries, but with Pittsburgh so far behind the single-wing offense will pass almost as much as run (36-pass, 40-run). 

Chandnois does not make sharp cuts on his pass routes, he uses his number one skill:  SPEED. As mentioned with his height and jumping ability he has the 35-yard catch on a deep seem route, and he will gain 63 yards on his other two receptions. 

Lanky Joe Gasparella launches a deep ball up the right sideline and Lynn accelerates to the ball and forces the Cleveland defenders to adjust their pursuit angles on his 51-yard reception. The next two weeks the Steelers are victorious over the defending champion Eagles and the pathetic Colts and Chandnois is much more involved in the offense. Not sure why he carried the ball only nine times in the last three games of the year and did not catch a pass? 

He does stand out in one category though as he is among the league leaders in kick-off returns. Chandnois on his return is all about speed and direction as he believes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, no weave, no fake, just take off see the pathway, and GO! 

John Michelosen is not going to change, as Pittsburgh is the only team in the league still in the single wing as we enter the '51 campaign. After four weeks the winless Steelers are already out of the running for the American Conference crown, and Coach Michelosen has won just 17 of the 44 games he has coached. 

The final day of the '51 season at Griffith Stadium is a turning point in Steeler history. Ortmann and Geri have again struggled at tailback and both have gone out of the game against the 'Skins with injuries. 

The Steelers have scored just 163 points in 47 quarters of play when safety Jim Finks enters the game at tailback. 

He proceeds to pass, yes folks pass the Steelers to victory. Someone has to catch those passes, and on the sunkissed snowy field in our Nation's Capital, there are three men in black and gold who do just that—Hank Minarik at left end, Elbie Nickel at right end, and Chandnois flanked—in motion or aligned at wingback. 

Chandnois catches 6 for 102 yards (his first 100-yard receiving game). The Pittsburgh 20-point fourth-quarter rally registers a win for the Steelers. 

Under the heading of strange achievements, Chandnois can list the following:  He is the only player in league history to attempt a pass in all twelve games, and have a 100-yard receiving game. 

Additionally, he leads the league in kickoff return average with a mark of 32.5, but nary a touchdown. He finally scored a touchdown in '51, in fact, he scored six! Two rushing, and four receiving. 

Art Rooney knows change must be made, and returning to Pittsburgh to coach is Joe Bach, and he brings with him Gus Dorais. These two men fashion a passing attack and while the offense is impressive, and more points are on the scoreboard the Steelers have lost four straight close contests. Chandnois is now a right halfback, and with Finks under center. 

Talented second-year man Ray Mathews is the left halfback, with Fran Rogel at fullback. Pittsburgh finishes dead last in team rushing with just 1,204 yards but only a 3.1 average per rush. Mathews and Chandnois gain 613 rushing between them, and both are excellent on sweeps. 

They both run hard on inside running plays, but neither man would be considered a power runner. Jim Finks ties Graham for the league lead in touchdown tosses with 20, and he has weapons to throw to. The aforementioned Mathews, consistent and reliable right end Elbie Nickel, and Chandnois. Lynn latches onto just 6 passes the first six weeks of the season, but as he learns the Bach offense, he also develops a synergy with Finks and catches 22 passes the second half of the year. 
Elbie Nickel
His best game by far is against the soon-to-be champion Lions with eight receptions for 109 yards. Kiesling might have thought that he could convince Joe Bach to let Chandnois go, but when Steve Owen elects to kick off to start the game on November 30th, 1952 Chandnois has his opportunity, and some men when they get that opportunity make the most of it. Right up the middle, using his speed Lynn dashes, and I mean DASHES 91 yards to score. 

Since he had earlier returned an Eagle kickoff 93 yards to score, he would again lead the league in kickoff return average with a mark of 35.2. Pittsburgh has been one helluva hot team down the stretch and with the road win at Kezar the Steelers can finish with a winning record if they can upset the Rams at the Coliseum. 

Have watched the highlights of this game many times; entertaining, and some great players making great plays—Bob Waterfield's last pro game, and rookie right corner Night Train Lane searing his name in the record book. Chandnois gains 51 rushing on 10 carries, and 33 receiving on five short passes in the 28-14 loss. Chandnois has earned his first pro bowl berth, and proven to one and all he is one of the most versatile players in the league. 

One of the categories the NFL keeps track of is all-purpose yardage, and after finishing 6th in '51 with 1,217, he finishes a strong third in '52 with 1,378. 

Joe Bach had to be excited entering the '53 season, but he again faces a challenge that so far he has not been able to overcome, beating Cleveland. Twice he lost one-point decisions to Cleveland in '52 and watching those hard-fought games over and over, there is no doubt Pittsburgh is improved, but these are the classy, poised-under-pressure Browns we are talking about. 

The New York Football Giants collapsed in '53, which opens the door for either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh to challenge the mighty Browns. Road losses to the defending champion Lions, and a tough Eagle team in the first five weeks have Pittsburgh a game over .500 with a rematch with Philadelphia and the two games against Cleveland on the horizon. 

Pittsburgh loses all three and has two win in the last two road games of the season to finish at 6-6. Chandnois again has an outstanding season as he is an integral part of Bach's offense. He gains 470 yards rushing and is 10th in the league in receiving with 43 catches. 

For a moment let's take a look at those ten men, all but one is an end or flanker; Chandnois is the only halfback to be amongst the league leaders. Yes, there are times he is aligned as a flanker, almost always on the right, but since Ray Mathews is flanked to the left much of the time, Lynn is still basically a right halfback. 

Once in a while, you see the Steelers in a T-formation wing set, with a fullback, a version of today's single-back set. Chandnois now has proven he can threaten any and every secondary in the league with his speed, and proven ability to find the open area and he has excellent hands, he just does not drop passes. He must be accounted for whenever Pittsburgh is in a passing situation. 

His compadre on the right Elbie Nickel picks up where he left off at the end of '52 and challenges the legendary Pete Pihos for the receiving championship, and falls just one short with 62 catches. This was once a team that was three yards and a cloud of dust in the single wing and now has the best one-two punch on the right side in the league. 

After scoring 300 points in '52 to finish fourth in the league, Pittsburgh falls to seventh by scoring only 211 points. Chandnois does not repeat as the kick-off return champion, as he finishes second to cat-quick, slippery Joe Arenas of the Niners. Still, anyone who finishes among the top two over a three-year period has proven his skill in that area, and again he goes the distance with a kickoff and again it is against the Giants with a 93-yard return in the Steelers 24-14 win on October 3rd. 

Lynn does not finish third in '53 in all-purpose yardage, he finishes FIRST with 1,593 yards an average of just under 133 yards a game. You would expect him to be selected for the Pro Bowl again, and he was. 

Though the Pittsburgh defense has the best right side in the league with Bill McPeak, Ernie Stautner, and Jack Butler, and bowlegged Dale Dodrill holding fort in at middle guard, there are holes in the Steeler defense since they were ranked dead last in team pass defense efficiency in '53 with a mark of 68.5. Yes this is bad news, yet there is even worse news for the Steelers, and Chandnois entering 1954. Joe Bach's health forces him to retire, and flawed defensive coach Walt Kiesling is named the head man. 

When you win the Heisman trophy, you have proven you are the best in college football, and when you play for the Fighting Irish you know you have faced top-notch competition. Pittsburgh drafts halfback Johnny Lattner #1 in '54, thus Kiesling is telling Chandnois, you are now a backup. 

How talented was Johnny Lattner? 

He gets every chance to showcase his skills, and at times he succeeds. The Steelers running backs share the carries as Rogel, Mathews, Lattner, and . . . Chandnois all carry the ball, but no one except Rogel during the season ever carries the ball more than 11 times in a game. 

Jim Finks is ensconced under center, and with a much improved Ray Mathews joining Nickel as top-notch receivers. Maybe the Steeler offense will be ok under Kiesling? 


Let's look at the facts/stats, and more important the wins. 

After five weeks the Steelers are in first place with a record of 4-1, and the only loss was on the road to Philadelphia on a Saturday night. 

Watching film of the rematch which again was on a Saturday night is just damn enjoyable to watch, oh, not all of you are Steeler fans? Pittsburgh leads 10-7 in the fourth quarter, and with the ball on the Eagle five-yard line Finks does not call on Lattner, he gives the ball to Lynn on his signature play—sweep left, and he does not disappoint. He motors past the Philly defenders inside the flag to salt away the win. This is Chandnois's only touchdown of the campaign. 

After the victory, he carries the ball just six times in the next five games and catches just two short passes. Pittsburgh wins just one of those five games. 


From contenders to .500 with two weeks to go. 

Lattner does not carry the ball in the two games to end the season, and the Steelers lose both of those. Chandnois gets a handful of carries, and against the Giants, in December he is back to being a factor as a receiver with 5 receptions. 

A season so full of promise, with such a strong beginning, the demolition of Cleveland in October. 

The talented skilled offensive weapons, yet Pittsburgh falls to 9th in the league in scoring. Lattner is selected for the Pro Bowl in his only NFL season, yet the big question is, did he deserve to be chosen? Did Kiesling's dislike of Chandnois hamper the team? We can only surmise. 

Every year teams look to strengthen the roster, and every year the Steelers have a boatload of rookies— fifteen in '52, thirteen in '53, eleven in '54, and now entering 1955 a new crop of twelve. 

Some of these men stay awhile and prove themselves true professionals, others, a year or two and gone. Pittsburgh still has proven Black & Gold warriors, men like Stautner, Butler, Dodrill, McPeak, Nickel, Mathews, and Finks. 
Jack Butler
The Steelers finally find a right tackle in rookie Frank Varrichione in '55, and have a pepper pot of a rookie safety in Richie McCabe, and a free agent find in rookie linebacker John Reger. 

Pittsburgh starts strong again in '55 and after five weeks are in first place with a 4-1 record, with the only loss being the controversial one-point loss in the Coliseum to the Rams (Kiesling charged on the field to berate the officials at the gun). 

How often did offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator Tom Landry lose to the same team twice in the first five weeks of the season? Pittsburgh 49 New York 30 in the two wins. 

The main question of course is can we beat the defending league champion Cleveland Browns the second half of the season? Since Lattner is in the air force guess who is back in the starting line-up at right halfback? 

Chandnois is simply at his best early in '55 as he ranked seventh in rushing after the first three weeks of the campaign. He had given his team the lead in that fateful loss to the Rams in the Coliseum with his second rushing touchdown of the game and scored the winning touchdown in the October triumph against the Giants. He is back to returning kickoffs (he shares that role with Sid Watson). 

Pittsburgh finishes in last place in the Eastern Conference in '55. Chandnois scores only once the last seven games of the season. During the back-to-back losses to the Cardinals and Lions at mid-season he carries the ball 24 times for 77 yards, and none after that. 

He misses playing time, and there is no mention of injury. Buddy Parker's Lions own the Steelers, and they beat Pittsburgh every time they play from 1950 through 1956. The game on November 13th is one of those games that NFL Films would have made its signature Game of the Week or Game of the Season in '55. 

The stirring comeback with Finks & Marchibroda firing 47 passes, and gaining 367 yards. Mathews and Nickel, of course, have their moments, but here he is again against Detroit running his routes, and nabbing every spiral in sight; 8 receptions for 108 yards (his last 100-yard receiving game). 

Watson kicked up chalk at the goal line on the final play, but the referee ruled no touchdown in the 31-28 loss. Art Rooney is loyal to all fault, and as such with back-to-back seasons where he won one and lost eleven the second half of the year Walt Kiesling is back in the saddle in '56. 

The only way to explain this is Art himself, and he is loyal to a fault, or he believed that the Steelers could maintain their hot start all the way through the year at least once? Pittsburgh again has a roster makeover with twelve rookies on the team in '56, highlighted by a once-in-a-lifetime talent in Lowell Perry. Chandnois is again at right halfback, and as usual, carries the ball as a runner (44 times in the first five games). 

He is not a factor in the Steeler passing game in '56 as he catches just seven passes in those first five games. Perry is the left end, while an aging Elbie Nickel is still at right end. Ray Mathews continues to threaten opposing secondaries deep, but since Finks is retired, we have a new signal caller in diminutive Ted Marchibroda. 

He just does not have the strong arm that Finks does, and he is learning on the job. Opening day at Forbes against a Washington Redskin team that beat the Steelers twice in '55. When Chandnois fields the Washington kick-off in his endzone (about 6 or 7 yards deep) he does not hesitate, and there he goes, long-striding, intense, straight ahead up the right sideline for 91 yards before the pursuit hauls him down. Four weeks into the season and Lynn has returned 7 kickoffs for 264 yards! 

Since he has Lowell Perry back there with him; the Steelers just might have had the two most dynamic kick-off return men paired together in league history up to that point in time? We are at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland on October 28th, and for the first time in the decade, the Steelers will beat the Browns on the road. 

Yes, this is a Cleveland team minus Otto, and are rebuilding, but a win over the Browns is always welcome. Trailing 13-7 in the second quarter Lynn Chandnois scores the last touchdown of his career as he gives the Steelers the lead. Late in the fourth quarter, he separates his shoulder, and his career is over. Was he healthy enough to return in '57? 

We will never know since new coach Buddy Parker (Kiesling is finally dismissed after his third consecutive losing season) decided that to get the attention of his team he had to make a statement, so he CUT Chandnois, only to respond later after studying film that he made a mistake after he saw how hard he played, and how instrumental he was in any success in the Steeler offense and return game. 

Page 283 of the Neft & Cohen Pro Football: The Early Years has the listing for kickoff returns and it shows Chandnois returned 92 for 2,720 for the best lifetime average at that point in league history of 29.6. 

During the victory over the Browns in October of '56 his final kickoff return was for 27 yards—damn Lynn, if you could have gone 67 instead of 27 you would have finished your career right at 30.0! The Kansas Comet eventually passed Chandnois, yet that tells you how effective he was on the runback.

Football today has backs who catch passes from the slot formation, return kicks, and once in a while carry the ball on a reverse and have to believe Chandnois was ahead of his time and could play today.

Oh yeah, today is his birthday, thanks Mr. Chandnois for the hours of joy you have given me watching you play on film!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Is Justin Jefferson’s 2022 Season the Best-Ever by a Vikings Receiver?

 By John Turney 
Being a consensus All-Pro, and a consensus Offensive Player of the Year ought to seal the deal for being the best-ever season by a Vikings wideout, right?

After all, Justin Jefferson did those things and more.

He led the NFL with 1,809 receiving yards, something no Viking had ever done, and it also set a team record. 

So is it the best?

It would be tough competition - the Vikings have been blessed with quite a few great receivers over the years - Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Ahmad Rashad, and others. 

So, where would Jefferson's 2022 season fall among the career years of those others?

Taking the best season from each great Vikings receiver and ranking them, based not only on stats but taking into account the era they played and also considering post-season honors from both major sources like the Associated Press (AP) and Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) but All-Pro teams picked scribes who are in the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame, here is one take on the top seasons by wide receivers in Skol-land.

The list—

20. Hassan Jones, 1990 - Jones had 810 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, and three 100-yard games. He had been second fiddle to Anthony Carter for a few years and he filled that role pretty well. They'd been to playoffs three previous seasons but the wheels came off in 1990 but Jones kept it together and had a good year. 

19. Bernard Berrian, 2008 - A ninety-nine-yard touchdown catch propelled his yards per catch to 20.1 yards, still the sixth highest in team history among qualifiers and the highest in twenty-one years at the time. He ended the season with 964 yards and seven scores.

18. Bob Grim, 1971 - The Vikings got Grim as part of the bounty from the Fran Tarkenton trade four years earlier and 1971 was the only year he really contributed. 

He caught 45 passes for 691 yards for seven touchdowns and added 127 yards on end-arounds and reverses and went to the Pro Bowl, showing that in football's dead ball era 800 yards from scrimmage could get a wide receiver some recognition. 

After the season he was part of the package the Vikings sent to the Giants for - - Fran Tarkenton.

17. Nate Burleson, 2004 - When Randy Moss went down with an injury in 2004 the second-year wide receiver had to pick up the slack. 

In the five games Moss missed (he actually started two of them but had a total of one target in them), Burleson had two 130-yard receiving games and ended the year with 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns. 

16. Leo Lewis, 1984 - Little Leo was a slot guy, mostly coming off the bench on passing downs, the 5-8, 170-pound Lewis started a handful of games at split end due to injuries to Sammy White. But, during a disaster of a season for the Vikings, he was a bright spot, leading the led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. 

15. Stefon Diggs, 2019 - Diggs' talent level is higher than fifteenth on any list, but in this era 63 catches for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns is decent, but not stellar, though his 17.9 yards per catch is very good for recent years. The next season in Buffalo is when he began to have career years, but he was just getting started in Minnesota.

14. Paul Flatley, 1965 - By the mid-1960s coach Norm Van Brocklin had made the expansion Vikings a fairly competitive team and Flatley was the outside playmaker for those squads. 

He was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1963 and was a Pro Bowler in 1966 but the previous season was his career year. He caught 50 passes from Fran Tarkenton for nearly 900 yards for nearly eighteen yards a catch and nine touchdowns. 

13. Sidney Rice, 2009 - In seven NFL seasons, Rice had only one good one. It was the year Brett Favre arrived and took, with Rice's help, the Vikes to the NFC championship game. Rice's 1,312 yards and eight scores took him to the Pro Bowl.

12. Jake Reed, 1996 - Reed was on the verge of being cut when one of his coaches suggested they get his eyes checked. The doctors found an issue - he needed glasses. Once fitted for them Reed's career was recharged. 

He had four very good seasons in the mid-1990s but lost his starting job in 1998 when a rookie named Randy Moss arrived on the scene. His career year was probably 1996 when he had 1,320 yards receiving and averaged 18.3 yards a catch.

11. Adam Thielen, 2018 - In his career year, Thielen did a very good Wes Welker impression. He caught 113 balls for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns and was voted to the Pro Bowl. 

He dropped just three passes and his catch percentage was 73.9 percent and his first-down-to-target percentage was the highest of his career.  In 2020 he caught 14 touchdowns and that year was considered but he dropped more than double the passes and some other metrics were not as high. 

10. Percy Harvin, 2011 - Harvin's biggest fan, Brett Favre was gone but Harvin stepped up his game. In addition to Harvin's 967 receiving yards he had 345 rushing yards plus he returned kicks for 520 yards. 

Only two players in the history of the NFL have had 900-300-500 in those three categories in the same year.  The other? Lionel James of the 1985 Chargers. 

9. Sammy White, 1976 - White burst onto the scene in 1976 and was the NFL Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler. He had 906 receiving yards (then third-best in team history) and ten touchdown receptions, one short of the team mark. He also caught three more touchdowns in the playoffs, including one in Super Bowl XI.

8. Jerry Reichow, 1961 - In the Vikings' inaugural year former Lion and Eagle flanker caught eleven touchdown passes setting a record not broken by a Vikings receiver until thirty-four years later when Chris Carter caught seventeen. 

Thirty-four years.

In the league opener, a 37-13 shocker over the Chicago Bears, he caught three passes for 103 yards and a score. In the season finale, also against the Bears he caught six for 90 yards and three touchdowns. Apparently, Reichow knew how to beat the Bears' coverages.

For the season, Reichow caught fifty passes for 859 yards and a 17.2 yards per catch average and was one of two Vikings that went to the Pro Bowl. 

For a receiver on an expansion team to put up those kinds of numbers is special.

7. Gene Washington, 1969 - In this era choosing a 39-reception season to be sixth on a list of career years may look odd to some younger NFL fans. 

It is one of those IYKYK (if you know you know) things. In that era, teams like the Vikings (or the Dolphins, Cowboys, Rams, Steelers, and others) did not throw the ball a lot and relied on strong defenses, and a year like Washiington's was noteworthy 

In fact, he was All-NFL according to Pro Football Weekly and the New York Daily News and second-team All-Pro both by the AP and UPI as well as being a Pro Bowler. 

For receiving numbers in the NFL and changing eras context matters.

Consider this:  In 1969 the Vikings only threw 2,498 yards and 24 touchdowns as a team and Washington caught 32.9 percent of the total team passing yards - a higher percentage than Cris Carter's 1,371 yards were for the 1995 Viking passing yardage total. 

Even though the Vikings fell short of winning the Super Bowl, in the playoffs Washington caught eight passes for 219 yards (27.4 average) and a score.

6. John Gilliam, 1972 - Gilliam's story is similar to Washington's but he had four excellent campaigns in the Twin Cities. He played a role for the Vikings that Paul Warfield played for the Dolphins or Bob Hayes did for the Cowboys in their glory days - maybe only catch 40 balls a year but they'd go for over 800 yards and maybe eight touchdowns.  

More importantly,  receivers like Warfield, Hayes, and Gilliam would keep defenses honest, not allowing them to pack the box and stop the running game. Having a deep threat was important and having a great one, and Gilliam was one, was even better. 

When Gilliam arrived and Fran Tarkenton returned in 1972 the Vikings went just 7-7, not what was expected, but they were Super Bowl contenders the rest of Gilliam's tenure but 1972 was probably his best season in purple.

He caught 47 passes for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns and his 22.0 yards per catch led the NFL, he was also a Pro Bowler and his year drew notice from Paul Zimmerman in his pre-Sports Illustrated (SI) days. Then, Dr. Z was writing for the New York Post and he chose Gilliam for his Post All-Pro team.

5. Ahmad Rashad, 1979 - On ABC's Monday Night Football, Howard Cosell had a habit of calling Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Lynn Swann the "Practically perfect wide receiver." When Fran Tarkenton was on the telecast and Rashad was playing he'd retort by saying that Rashad was the "Nearly perfect wide receiver".

Tarkenton was right. Rashad was as talented as anyone in his era. 

In 1979 he set career highs for catches, yards, and touchdowns and was second-team All-Pro and was voted to the Pro Bowl, and like Gilliam, Rashad's career year was noticed by Paul Zimmerman, then with Sports Illustrated, who picked him for his personal All-Pro team. So did Joel Buchsbaum, the talent evaluating guru for Pro Football Weekly, who chose him for the Gannett News Service All-Pro team.

4. Cris Carter, 1995. In 1994, Cris Carter was a consensus All-Pro and in 1995 he was a second-team All-Pro. But the numbers favor the latter season as his career year. The competition at wide receiver was just tougher for the post-season honors.

He tied his career high in receptions (set in 1994) and set highs for yards and touchdowns, leading the NFL with 17. 

Carter was no speedster, but he could run well enough but what he will always be known for is his tremendous hands, the ability to get both his feet down for sideline catches, and his fade routes in the end zone that accounted for so many of his touchdowns. Those are his"things" if you will.

3. Anthony Carter, 1987. For Carter, the announcer that had a pet saying about him was John Madden. On CBS telecasts when the Vikings were playing, he'd say, "If I coached Anthony Carter I'd write myself a note and the note would say, 'get the ball into Anthony Carter's hands at least ten times in this game.'" 

Madden was an Anthony Carter fan.

In 1987 Carter didn't have a 1,000-yard season but it was a strike year, but on a per-game average 1987 was his top season but by just a hair over 1988. But, add in his playoff totals for both seasons and it is not close - 1987 was better in yards per game and it's not particularly close.

He set the team record for yards per reception at 24.3 and was chosen All-Pro by USA Today, was 
a second-team All-NFC pick, and a Pro Bowler. 

He was uncoverable in the NFC playoff game in San Francisco catching ten passes for 227 yards and also carrying the ball once for 30 yards. 

It was a terrific year.

2. Justin Jefferson, 2022 - Nope. Jefferson still has time but he does not yet own the best season by a Norseman wide receiver. 

This year was a great one, though.

As was previously mentioned he led the NFL in yards receiving and in catches. He was the Offensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-Pro, and a Pro Bowl starter. 

His 1,809 receiving yards are almost 200 more than the previous record. And he's only 23. He was plenty of time to overtake the top player on the list.

1. Randy Moss, 2003 - Cris Carter left after the 2001 season so Moss was on his own for the second year and he was in Scott Linehan's offense for the second year as well. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper was terrific in 2000 but had a couple of down years but things clicked in 2003.

Moss had to transform himself into more than just a deep threat, with Carter gone he had to run more underneath routes, go across the middle more, and be a more complete receiver. He also showed more maturity and leadership. 

All of it worked and Moss had his career year with the club.

Moss broke his own team record for receiving yards with 1,632 and tied the team record for touchdown passes held jointly by himself and Cris Carter with 17. 

All the honors followed - consensus All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and was voted the NFC Player of the Year by the Washington Touchdown Club.

He'd had other tremendous All-Pro years before, but in 2003 he put it all together and though the team didn't have the success it had his rookie year (a field goal short of the Super Bowl) it was a year no one could accuse Moss of quitting in a game or a season. He dominated all year. 

It's just too bad the Randy Ratio didn't last. Within two years Moss was traded away from the Vikings to Oakland and a couple of years after that it took a fourth-round pick from Bill Belichick to resurrect his career in New England.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Chet Mutryn and the Marshall Faulk Number

 By John Turney 
Chet Mutryn
The famed Bill James, a pioneer prophet of sports analytics religion, has inspired more than one generation of fans into developing and refining statistics and metrics, and also challenging and reformulating said statistics and metrics. And it has been good for sports. 

The metrics or sabermetrics movement started by James began with baseball, his area of expertise, and has spread to football, basketball and likely every other sport.

James has developed too many metrics to mention but one we find interesting is his Power-Speed number. 

It was intended to measure a baseball player's ability to hit home runs and steal bases. Rather than just adding up the total of home runs and stolen bases and dividing by two and getting a mathematical mean he used the harmonic mean of the two. 

The mathematical mean would not give the desired result.

 A player with 10 home runs and 50 stolen bases and a player with 30 stolen bases and 30 homers would have the same average or mean. As would a player with fifty dingers and ten swipes of bases.
The harmonic mean solves that issue. 

On the website, Baseball Reference succinctly says, about the Power-Speed number, "To do well you need a lot of both".

PFJ's Nick Webster has used the same method for defensive linemen using sacks and tackles for loss to roughly measure performance in playing the pass and the run—to do well one needs a high number of sacks and a high number of tackles for loss on run plays.

Over twenty years ago Stats, Inc., now called Stats Perform (STATS) used the same method to measure running backs that rushed for a lot of yards and had a lot of yards receiving. They called it the "Marshall Faulk Number" and published it in one of their annual publications called the "STATS Pro Football Scoreboard". At the time Faulk was rushing for 1,000 yards and catching passes for near or over that number so they named it after him.

Why it wasn't called the Roger Craig Number we don't know, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught passes for over 1,000 yards in 1985, the first in the NFL to do it. 

Regardless, STATS used the harmonic mean of rushing and receiving totals rather than the mean for the same reasons James did in the Power-Speed number.

Here is a similar example to the home runs and stolen bases graphic—

However, since the turn of the century, we've not seen STATS update their list. 

So we took the liberty of doing so, but also applied the number per scheduled game since schedules have varied over the years from ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, and now to seventeen games. The more games in a season the easier it is to achieve the higher number.

So, Faulk is still at the top but Christian McCaffrey's 2019 season is close. Craig's 1985 season has fallen to sixth. 

There are also names football fans would expect to see as well, all-around backs who run and catch well.

But was is most interesting to us is the player at twenty-six—Chet Mutryn who played for the Buffalo Bills of the AAFC. In 1948 he had 823 yards rushing and 794 yards receiving. When prorated to a 16-game schedule that would produce a Faulk number of 923.7 yards, better, for example, than any season Marcus Allen had in that metric.  

Lenny Moore and Frank Gifford are higher on the list, but they are more well-known. They played in the National Football League, not the All-American Football Conference (AAFC),  and won NFL championships and both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 
Mutryn? Even hardcore fans would have trouble summoning up recollections about him. It's hard to even find a decent photo of Mutryn online.

In many ways, he was typical of many of the players of his era. 

He was a do-it-all star in college and was drafted by the pros, his career was interrupted by WWII, he served in the military, and then returned and played pro football. 

Collegiately he starred at Xavier college in Ohio where he was twice Little All-American and was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame. He was drafted by the Eagles but his Naval service delayed any thoughts of pro football right away, anyway.

After the War, he returned to finish his degree and the Cleveland Browns of the newly formed AAFC acquired him but quickly shipped him to Buffalo to show off his wares. 

Mutryn was a player who could run, catch, block, return kicks and punts with the best of the halfbacks on his era. And like the George McAfees, Bill Dudleys, Whizzer Whites, and others he could throw you a pass or kick the ball if you needed him to.

He played left halfback in the T-formation offense which was the most-utilized scheme of the era. It was a Clark Shaughnessy-developed offense and in it, the backs could run the ball or almost as often motion horizontally into either flat and then turn upfield or sometimes check through the line of scrimmage vertically and then turn horizontally. And if there was time, a route could be up out and up. 

Game films will show teams like the Cleveland Browns, the Los Angeles Rams, the Philadelphia Eagles, and almost everyone but the Pittsburgh Steelers (who still ran the single-wing), doing similar things but Mutryn had the speed to really make it work, to get deep. 

In 1948, his "Faulk Number" season, he helped get the Bills to the playoffs, where they won a game before getting trounced in the championship game by the mightly Browns, and was a consensus All-AAFC. 

Back then there was no award for offensive player of the year but if there were Mutryn would have been a strong contender for it. He tied for the league in rushing touchdowns (with ten), led in yards per reception (20.4), yards from scrimmage (1,617), kickoff return average (26.3), all-purpose yards (2,248), total touchdowns (16), scoring (96 points), and had the longest run (68 yards). 

Yards from scrimmage was not kept as a statistic at the time, it wasn't until much later that Elias Sports Bureau added it to the list of official figures released in the "NFL Record and Fact Book". However, looking back it is interesting to note Mutryn's 1,617 yards from scrimmage would have been a combined NFL-AAFC record until someone named Jim Brown came into pro football and obliterated it again and again.

His 2,288 all-purpose yards, adding yards from scrimmage plus return yardage, again not a thing yet, would have been the pro record until 1962 when the Eagles' Timmy Brown topped it. 

And think about this:  In 1965 Gale Sayers was a rookie, tearing up the NFL running, receiving, returning kicks and punts and being a general menace his all-purpose yardage total was sixteen yards fewer than Mutryn's 1948 total.

It wasn't just about a single season with Mutryn, either. Though his career was just five years he did have other achievements. He was All-AAFC in 1947 and 1949 in addition to his banner 1948 season and after he played a single season in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts (they green and silver franchise than went belly up after the 1950 season) he retired, refusing to play for the Philadelphia Eagles who had obtained his rights.

He finished his pro career with 3,031 rushing yards, 1,850 receiving yards, 1,902 yards on kick returns, and returned punts for 537 yards. At first glance, those numbers don't catch your eye, but he was the first professional player to be part of a 3,000-1,300-1,500-500 club of those respective yardage categories.

And that is important. 

Three years later Hall of Famer Bullet Bill Dudley joined Murtyn in the club. It has been seventy years since Dudley retired and there have only been fourteen more members who have been added to the roster. 

Fourteen. And five are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame - it's a pretty elite group.

Not only are there few new players with those all-around numbers, but Mutryn has the highest yards per rush, yards per reception, and average punt return and has the second-highest kick return average, just one-tenth a yard behind Ollie Matson. 

(click to enlarge)
Perhaps the mostly forgotten Mutryn needs to be remembered a little bit more. And can someone find some good shots of him?

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Billy Hillenbrand—One of the First-Dual Threat Running Backs

 By John Turney 
Bill Hillenbrand of the Baltimore Colts carrying the ball versus the Buffalo Bills
Billy Hillenbrand only played three seasons of pro football but he left his mark on the game, one that few know about. 

He was a University of Indiana legend, once being voted the top gridder in that school's history. As a junior, in 1942, he led the NCAA in punt return yards and punt return average and was a consensus All-America selection. The previous season he got some All-American notice as well.

Hillenbrand served in the Army from 1943-45, during which time he was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants but never played for them. 

When he returned from WWII the Giants offered $7,500 a year but the Chicago Rockets of the upstart All-American Football Conference met his asking price of $10,000 and more to Hillenbrand's liking, offered a three-year contract, so he signed and was off to the Windy City.

In 1946 the Rockets had a crowded backfield with Bob Hoernschemeyer, Elroy Hirsch (who both went on to become NFL stars) and other similar types of players competing for the ball and Hillenbrand carried the ball just fifty times all season which was fifth on the team.

So being stocked at halfback, the Rockets traded Hillenbrand to the Baltimore Colts for a fullback - Bill Daley and a player to be named later.

Charm City turned out to be charmed for Hillenbrand. They played a T-formation rather than the single-wing like the Rockets and could throw the ball, especially in his second year with the Colts when Y.A. Tittle arrived to play quarterback.

In the "T", any of the three backs could motion from the backfield to the flank and run routes outside and it allowed for more wide-open offenses. It was a Clark Shaughnessy, the "Father of the T-formation", signature and it suited the former Hoosier well.

In 1947, Hillenbrand was one of two backs to rush for over 200 yards and catch passes for over 700 yards in the same season - the first time that had ever happened in pro football and both were in the AAFC.

The following season, two more players in the AAFC achieved that but Hillenbrand stepped it up a notch and was the first professional player ever to rush for 500 yards and catch passes for 900 yards in the same season with totals of 510 rushing yards and 970 receiving yards. 

To this day only seven other players in NFL history have matched that feat - Marshall Faulk, who did it twice, Lenny Moore, Roger Craig, Lionel James, Charlie GarnerAustin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey. Note that Hillenbrand played fourteen games, Moore twelve, and all the others played sixteen games.

Hillenbrand hung 'em up after 1948 and became a successful businessman. He will never be known as an all-time great football player, except in Bloomington, but when one can be in a club that includes names like Faulk, Moore, Craig, McCaffrey and others you've achieved something special and it is worth remembering.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Adjusting Receiving Yards for 'Inflation'—Equitable Footing For Past Era Receivers

 By John Turney 
Don Hutson
The NFL's passing game has exploded over the last forty-five years and it means receiving yards are easier to get than in previous generations, relatively speaking.

There are, of course, counterarguments to everything but rule changes allow for linemen to block in ways they could not prior to 1978, and defensive backs cannot defend like they could prior to 1978.

The passing game is much more sophisticated, but so have defensive coverages. Players now get far more reps and are much better athletes than in previous generations. 

But now, they throw a much higher percentage of passes, giving many more opportunities to pile up yardage so it really comes down to how much to adjust for the era. 

One thing is for certain, players of the 1950s played twelve games, from 1978 through 2020 they played sixteen, and in between they played fourteen, so that is one factor that is easy to adjust for.

Greater minds than ours can do a much better job someday but we used 1950-69 as the baseline, an average of passing yards per game from that time, and then made adjustments pre-1950, the 1970s, and then from 1980-2022.

Pre-1950, players (and the only one in the top twenty-five is Don Hutson) gets a fifteen percent increase. It should be a little higher but he was such an outlier it is hard to get a fix.

The dead ball era of the 1970s gets a ten percent bump. Yes, the rule changes took place in 1978 but the yards passing per game began to rise more sharply in 1980. 

From 1980, to adjust for the "inflation" yards are reduced by fifteen percent. Is this about right? Too much? Too little? It is a little too generous strictly going by the numbers but perhaps makes up for the defenders being better, but they are as equal to the task, relatively speaking, as the defenders of the past.

So, if someone wants to debate the inflation rate, we'd gladly concede, tell us the number, use a rolling average, and we'd be all for it. 

However, this is how it shakes out given the parameters we've set out—
Don Hutson played, generally, ten games a season. So the big jump was prorating his yards over fourteen-game seasons. Then the fifteen percent era adjustment was added in. It takes him to fourth all-time.

And of course, Jerry Rice stays at number one. Don Maynard and Charlie Joiner make big jumps and Terrell Owens and Randy Moss drop to six and seven followed by Isaac Bruce.

Essentially, players whose entire careers were played after 1979 keep 74.4 percent of their years which is about equal parts adjusting from sixteen games to fourteen and era adjustment.

Others had to be adjusted differently because they played part of their careers in the 1970s and/or part of their careers in the 1950s with a twelve-game schedule.

Don Hutson got a 49.4 percent increase and 80.2 percent of that is just the conversion from a nine and ten-game schedule to fourteen games. 

So, as a back-of-the-envelope calculation, it does give players from previous generations more equitable footing to be compared to modern players.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Eagles Quarterbacks—The Top Seasons In Franchise History

By John Turney 
Jalen Hurts
In Super Bowl LVII Jalen Hurts proved his worth as a quarterback even though his team fell three points short of an NFL title. He played well. Had the Eagles won he would have been the game's MVP. 

Unfortunately, he made just one error, an unforced one, dropping the football that was picked up and run back for a touchdown by the Chiefs which proved ultimately to be the difference in the game.

The performance capped off a nearly-perfect season for Hurts. 


So, how does his season compare to individual seasons by other Eagles quarterbacks throughout the history of the franchise? 

Taking the only best season from each starting quarterback, their career year if you will, here is an analysis and ranking.

11. Michael Vick, 2010. After being suspended for two seasons for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy Eagles head coach Andy Reid gave Vick a second chance. Vick had served most of that time in federal prison after pleading guilty to his involvement in illegal dog fighting. 

Vick got his chance to start his second year in Philadelphia when Kevin Kolb was injured, and though Vick missed some time himself he had a fine year. He was 8-3 as a starter, threw for 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions and had a 100.2 passer rating. He also ran for 676 yards and nine touchdowns. 

He received the Bert Bell Award which is presented annually to the best player in the NFL by the Philadelphia-based Maxwell Football Club. He was also the consensus NFL Comeback Player of the Year. 

Also, Vick was voted the NFC Player of the Year by the Kansas City Committee of 101, an organization that polls 101 national sportswriters and sportscasters and began giving various awards in 1969. Vick was also second in the AP Offensive Player of the year voting.

10. Nick Foles, 2013 - It was Michael Vick's turn to have someone replace him in 2013. Foles was the guy and all he did was break all sorts of team passing records that still stand all while winning eight of the ten games he started.

He led the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating which was third all-time behind a couple of guys named Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He also showed a knack for completing the long ball. He led the NFL in yards per completion, yards per attempt, and touchdown percentage. 

It was quite a surprising season for an unknown backup.
9. Roman Gabriel, 1973 - The Eagles had just a 5-8-1 record in 1973 they were coming off a miserable 2-11-1 season so five wins was an accomplishment. In fact, they had a chance to be 7-7 but a late Giants field goal allowed them to tie the Eagles and a last-second miss on a field goal attempt cost the Eagles a victory against the Bills.

Gabriel led the NFL in completions, passing yards, and tied for the lead in touchdown passes. He was and was voted to the Pro Bowl and was selected All-pro by legendary Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, who then pick his annual team for the New York Post. Like Vick, he was awarded the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

His 3,219 passing yard total is notable because it was accomplished in what football historians call the NFL's dead ball era. When adjusted for that era and prorated to a sixteen-game season that total is closer to 4,500 yards, give or take, and his 23 touchdowns convert to around 30.

8. Sonny Jurgensen, 1961 - Jurgensen led the NFL in completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes and was an All-pro and a Pro Bowler and a runner-up in the UPI Player of the Year voting. The Eagles were 10-4 but finished a half-game behind the NFL Eastern Conference champion New York Giants. His 32 touchdown passes are still the second-most in team history.
7. Ron Jaworski, 1980 - Jaws top the Birds to the Super Bowl and was not able to finish the season with a victory but it was a good ride, especially thumping the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Championship Game. 

The Eagles were 12-4 and the number one seed in the NFL, Jaworski was All-NFC, a Pro Bowler and third in the AP MVP voting and won the Bert Bell Award, and set career highs in almost every passing category.

6. Carson Wentz, 2017 - In just his second season Wentz was having a great year in 2017 but went down with an injury and didn't get a chance to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Nick Foles had to do that and he won the thing.  In 13 games Wentz set the franchise record for touchdown passes and his 101.9
passer rating is fourth best.

He was second-team All-pro, voted to the Pro Bowl and was another Eagle winner of the Bert Bell Award. He was also third in the voting for the AP MVP award.

5. Donovan McNabb, 2004 - McNabb had many great seasons but 2004 was his best. He set career highs in completion percentage (64.7), touchdowns (31), and passer rating (104.7) and posted 13 wins, also the most of his career. In addition, he was voted the NFC Player of the Year by the Washington Touchdown Club, an organization that had been naming players of the year since 1945.

He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl but like Hurts and Jaworski, he fell short of the proverbial brass ring, losing to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
4. Randall Cunningham, 1990 - Playoff success is not part of Cunningham's resume, at least in Philadelphia but he was a force who could be dominant at times. He had a couple of years that could have been selected but 1990 was his career year.

He completed 271 of 465 passes for 3466 yards that went for 30 touchdowns. He also ran for 942 yards and five scores, accounting for 35 total. He was the PFWA Most Valuable Player and first-team All-Pro (PFWA) as well as the runner-up to Joe Montana in the AP MVP voting.

If he's just had some playoff success in 1990 he'd be ranked higher on this list. Winning matters when judging quarterbacks.

3. Tommy Thompson, 1948 - Who? The man with two NFL Championship rings, one in 1948. Yes, it was a different game back then but consider this:  He threw for 25 touchdown passes that year, to lead the NFL - in twelve games. He was also the NFL's leading passer under the system that was used at the time.

The NFL did not introduce the NFL passer rating until 1973 but has since gone back and applied it to previous years. Thompson's 98.4 rating was not surpassed by any Eagle quarterback until Donovan McNabb's 2004 mark of 104.7 - fifty-six years. That is remarkable when considering how the passing game evolved over that time.

Thompson led the Eagles to the NFL Eastern Conference title and on a snowy day in Philadelphia's Shibe Park beat the Chicago Cardinals to punctuate his career year.

2.  Jalen Hurts, 2022- So close. Just three points short in the Super Bowl and Jalen Hurts would have been hoisting the Lombardi Trophy over his head, not Patrick Mahomes. 

As it was Hurts was the NFC Champion quarterback who had a 14-1 in the regular season, a 16-2 overall record. He was the runner-up in the AP MVP, was second-team All-Pro, All-NFC, and was voted to the Pro Bowl. He checked a lot of post-season honors boxes.

He threw dimes all season, deep, short, and intermediate, and was almost impossible to stop on short yardage. In all he accounted for 35 touchdowns, tying Randall Cunningham's team record, taking 13 into the end zone himself - setting the team record for quarterbacks for rushing touchdowns.

For the season he threw for 3701 yards and completed 66.5 percent of his passes, which is second-best in team annals. Only 1.3 percent of his passes were picked and that is third-best in the record books and his 101.5 passer rating is fifth-best.

It was a unique and special year but does it deserve to be first on this list?  Perhaps, is certainly a close call. But winning does matter and in a close call, it has to be the tie-breaker.
1. Norm Van Brocklin, 1960. In the Dutchman's final season, he led the Birds to the NFL's best record and beat the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Game. It capped his Hall of Fame career. 

That year he was the consensus NFL MVP, a consensus first-team All-pro, and was second in the NFL in passing, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and a number of other passing categories. Basically, he was second in everything, statistically.

He led the Eagles to five fourth-quarter comebacks (including the title game), as per Pro Football Reference

Van Brocklin's 1960 season had statistics, post-season honors, and the championship and it's the top year by an Eagles quarterback.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Did You Know?

By Jeffrey J. Miller

The National Football League did not have an “official” ball until its sixth season.  Apparently, it wasn’t a priority. The league adopted its first official game ball at the league meeting held August 1-2, 1925, at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago.  The balls used at the dawn of the American Professional Football Association (as the NFL was known in 1920 and 1921) were typically the model used in the college game, adopted in 1912. This ball had a circumference on the long axis from 28 to 28 ½ inches when tightly inflated, 22 ½ to 23 inches on the short axis, and weighed 14 to 15 ounces.  Referred to as a “prolate spheroid,” the ball was difficult to grip with one hand, making it hard for players with smaller hands to execute a credible forward pass.  In truth, the ball more closely resembled a watermelon than the football used today. 

During the two-day league meeting in the summer of 1925, the owners gave both Wilson and Spalding the opportunity to present their cases to become the ball supplier of the National Football League. Mr. Wyle of the A.G. Spalding Company presented their ball on August 1. This was the J5 model, which he advised would cost the league $6.75 per unit in lots of 20 dozen or more. These balls would bear a league stamp. Mr. Whitlock of the Wilson Company gave his pitch the next day. The Wilson A5 ball could be provided at a cost of $7.25 each. These footballs came with a new feature—guaranteed shape. As an added incentive, Wilson offered to provide a trophy to the league champions at the end of the season. 

After some deliberation, the owners voted to go with Spalding, and the J5 model became the league’s official ball on August 2, 1925.      

Though the National Football League did not adopt the ball with dimensions approximating those today’s players and fans recognize (28 to 28 ½ x 21 to 21 1/4) until 1934, this action demonstrates that the league’s founders were always looking toward the future and ways to improve their game. 

The Thomas E. Wilson Company took over as the official supplier of NFL game balls in 1941.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Sometimes the Best Trades are the Ones Not Made

 By John Turney 
John Ralston
The day before the Jets' second game of 1976 the club agreed to trade Joe Namath to the Denver Broncos. 

A trade that was never consummated.

In the very early Spring of that year, Namath had requested a trade to the Los Angeles Rams but it was reported by Dave Anderson of the New York Times that Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom was not willing to pay the Jets' asking price or pay Namath's $450,000 salary so that deal went nowhere.

The Jets had Lou Holtz, a rookie coach, and a number one draft choice in Richard Todd, and a new offense that would feature some aspects of an option running game that Namath was ill-suited to. Namath not only had bad knees he had a hamstring injury that had nagged him for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, the Broncos had a coach that was the most successful in franchise history to that point -  John Ralston who had a record of 25-28-3 in his four years in Denver, under .500 but he had delivered the only two winning seasons Bronco fans had enjoyed in sixteen years.

However, Ralson who was a believer in thinking positively and was a certified Dale Carnegie instructor and would send his coaching staff to learning retreats and lecture players on Carnegie principles and it rubbed the players the wrong way. 

What also rubbed some players the wrong way was Ralston would make promises and not keep them and among those was a promise to bring in a "name quarterback". The former Stanford coach, who doubled as the Broncos general manager, was positive he could acquire Jim Plunkett when the Patriots put him on the market in the 1976 off-season. 

He couldn't.

Charley Johnson, the quarterback who'd led the Broncos to most of the Broncos victories during Ralson't tenure was gone. He'd retired to New Mexico.

That left the Broncos with strong-armed Steve Ramsey. Strong-armed and inaccurate and not trusted by the Broncos players. One of them was Lyle Alzado.

One day, early in the 1976 off-season,  Alzado wandered into the office of Mike Giddings, who was the director of pro scouting for the Broncos. It was a new position in the Broncos front office and it is likely that Giddings was the first to act in that capacity for any NFL team, one that focused only on evaluating NFL talent, not collegiate players.

"Pro scout . . .",  Alzado asked incredulously. "What the heck is a pro scout?" Giddings replied, "It's the league, which nobody's doing. Everybody's scouting college."

"Yeah, that's what I thought", Alzado replied, "Okay, pro scout, if you don’t mind, get us a damn quarterback because our guy is gonna kill us. He’s gonna go down, he’s gonna throw an interception, fumble in a crucial game, and he’s gonna kill us. Get us a quarterback."
Lyle Alzado
Giddings, as part of this duties, reviewed films of the 1975 Broncos seasons and gave reports to Ralston and the rest of the Broncos coaching staff with his now fairly well-known color grading system with blue being the top grade, red being next, then orange, then green, and so on. 

According to Giddings, when it came to Ramsey, "I said his grade was an orange or a green and Max Coley who was the offensive coordinator and backfield coach went berserk. How dare you? You don’t know Steve Ramsey. You haven’t been here." 

Giddings found out how committed Coley was to Ramsey. Later, Cooley cooled down and came to him and said, "Ramsey’s my guy, Mike. Sorry."

In the preseason Ramsey completed well under fifty percent of his passes and opened the season with a very poor performance in Cincinnati going 7 of 22 for 97 yards passing and two interceptions and no touchdowns. After seven preseason games and one regular season game, it was clear the quarterback position was a problem for the Broncos.

In week two the Jets traveled to Denver to play the Broncos and before the game, while sitting on one of the benches, two old friends met for a quick conversation—Giddings and Jets general manager Al Ward.

During the talk, Giddings said, "Joe’s gotta be going nuts." adding, "You got an untenable situation at quarterback. And we need a quarterback. This is a damn good Denver team and Ralson's going to get fired if we don’t get a quarterback." 

So, Ward and Giddings began to hammer out a trade for Namath. 

Ward said the Jets needed a receiver badly and the only one they'd take was Haven Moses. Denver had Rick Upchurch and Jack Dolbin so Giddings figured that Ralston would agree to that, at the time both were thought to have upsides. Ward added that the Broncos would probably have to throw in a third-round pick.

Giddings got back to Ward the same day, "After the game, I got him before they got on a plane. I said, “Okay. You got it, except you pay half Joe’s salary You pay 225 and throw in a fourth".

Ward tells him, "Done deal".   

"Can I take it to John (Ralston)? 


Giddings continues, "So, I take it to John. Namath’s coming to Denver, and the only people that know are John and me. However, one other person got involved, Max Coley."

No deal.

Coley told Ralston that he knew Ramsey was better than Namath.

What followed was a good year for the Broncos, their best ever to that point, but one with filled strife. 

In the game that essentially knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs, their fifth loss of the season was against the Patriots in late November.  The Patriots rolled over the Broncos 38-14 and Ramsey was awful. He was 11/28 for 124 yards and threw three picks and was sacked nine times. Ramsey just wouldn't get the ball off and when he did it was nowhere near the target. 

Giddings explained the situation further, "Alzado spent the year on injured reserve, they'd moved him to nose tackle and he got hurt (one of his scouting axioms is 'don't move blues') but he still traveled with the team, they let them do that in those days and Lyle was a leader on that team. Anyway, in the fourth quarter, Alzado comes by and he says, 'I told you. I told you we had to have a quarterback, goddamn you Giddings, why didn’t you get us a quarterback?'"

After the game, the Broncos are traveling to Providence to catch a plane since there was a storm and they couldn't fly out of Boston. Giddings recalls, "We know it’s over (playoff hopes), but we didn’t think that it would be over the way it ended up (in a blowout loss) and Lyle comes up and he taps me and says, 'Hey, Mike. I’m sorry. We know you had a deal for Namath. Thanks for trying'. And how he knew, I don’t know."

The Broncos won their final two games to end the season 9-5 but the players had a revolt against Ralston, the so-called Dirty Dozen who wrote a letter to the team ownership demanding changes they got them. The positive-thinking coach lost his job and became an instructor at the Dale Carnegie Institute in Denver in 1977 and resumed coaching as an offensive coordinator with the Eagles in 1978.

Namath had a terrible year in New York, worse than Ramsey's in Denver. And like Ralston, Holtz lost his job. 

The next year Namath finally ended up in Los Angeles where he wanted to be and didn't do well. The Broncos found another strong-armed quarterback with knees that were not great but not nearly as bad as Namath's named Craig Morton and Haven Moses was part of the beginning of a new era of winning football in Denver.

All's well that ends well. Namath would have been better in Denver than with the 1976 Jets and it could have saved Ralston's job. For a time. But hazarding a guess it could have been just enough to keep Denver in the throws of mediocrity for another year or two. 

Ralston's replacement. Red Miller was what was needed.