Thursday, June 29, 2023

Ross Browner—Worth Remembering

By John Turney 

Ross Browner is someone we shouldn't forget. No, he never made All-Pro or was voted to a Pro Bowl. In fact, the only postseason honors he received in the NFL was making the 1978 All-Rookie team.

His individual recognition came during his college career at Notre Dame. 

While in South Bend he was an All-American in 1976 and 1977. He won the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) in 1976 and the Lombardi Trophy (outstanding college lineman) in 1977 and was voted the UPI Lineman of the Year in both seasons.

He even won the Maxwell Award as the top player in college football, a rarity for a lineman. Since, he won the award only one other lineman has received it, Hugh Green in 1980.

Browner was that good as a collegian. 

He also set most of the school's individual records for defensive linemen such as tackles and tackles for loss plus others. 

Browner was the proverbial "everyone's All-American."

And his play didn't go to waste - the Fighting Irish won national championships in both 1973 and 1977.

All that landed in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The NFL was a different story. He was very good but not dominant like Lee Roy Selmon or Randy White, two players who won similar awards in the same era.

His NFL career mostly took place in Queen City.

The Cincinnati Bengals took him eighth overall in the 1978 draft and immediately plugged him in at right defensive end. There he stayed for the next nine seasons, except for a five-game stint in the USFL between the 1985 and 1986 NFL seasons.

The Bengals traded Coy Bacon, the man who occupied the right end spot in 1976 and 1977 to Washington and Browner was expected to be a blindside rusher. 

His coach said about him, "He can run like a deer, he's strong and a high-intensity player - he does not watch the parade go by."

He was noted for being an extraordinary athlete - with the same coach saying if the Bengals had a team  decathlon "he'd win most of the events."

Browner, who had three brothers who played in the NFL, didn't become an NFL star. He was a solid, steady, reliable player. 

In 1980 new coach Forrest Gregg hired Hank Bullough off of the Patriots' staff to be his defensive coordinator. With Bullough came the 3-4 defense which was what they'd been running for years.

At first, there was talk of playing Browner as an outside linebacker in the new scheme but ultimately he remained at right defensive end.

This meant a different role for Browner.  He'd led the team in sacks in his first two seasons in the 4-3 but he wouldn't lead the club again until 1985. 

His role as a defensive end changed. He'd have to push a blocker back, read the play, then make a move to the ball carrier. The read-first allowed the linebackers to flow to the ball carrier.

No longer could Browner just take off and then read. He had to be more disciplined but Browner adapted as did the rest of the front seven. 

The offense, led by Ken Anderson, gets a lot of the credit for the Bengals' success in the early 1980s credit but the defense wasn't along for the ride. 

The new 3-4 worked well.

From 1980 through 1984, their first five years in the 3-4, no team allowed fewer rushing yards than did the gang at Riverfront. 

No, that is not a misprint. In the first half of the 1980s, the Bengals stopped the run better than the Bears, not the Cowboys, not the Raiders - better than everyone.

Bet you didn't know that. Few do.

Teams just didn't run on the Bengals back then.

In 1981 the Bengals fought through the playoffs and made it to Super Bowl XVI, losing to the 49ers (Browner got a sack on Joe Montana) and to the playoffs the next year.

The offense sputtered the year after that but the defense remained strong, ranking first in 1983 and then the team went into a transition. Gregg and Bullough were out and Sam Wyche and Dick Lebeau were in.

Browner was his usual solid self for the next few years. Feeling underpaid he signed with the Gamblers in the USFL but returned to the Bengals quickly.

Waived in 1987 by the Bengals (to make room for first-round pick Jason Buck) Forrest Gregg, then with the Packers, signed him to be a backup lineman. That lasted a year then the Pack let him go. He signed a contract with the Rams for the 1988 season but didn't make the team.

It was time to hang 'em up.

For his career he played 138 games, starting 123. While a Bengal he averaged 68 tackles, just under eight sacks, two passes defensed and two forced fumbles per sixteen games. He had a career-high of ten sacks in 1981 and career-highs of tackles (74) and forced fumbles in 1984.

Early last year complications from contracting COVID-19 ended his life way too early. The popular and respected former Golden Domer was praised by teammates and coaches, both college and pro.

He was the kind of guy, one who people respected. Browner was the kind of player every team needs - not everyone can be All-Pro - guys who play good football whether they get recognition or not. Grinders.

Browner is someone worth remembering. 

Career stats—

Top Seasons by Rams Running Backs

 By John Turney 
The Rams' franchise spans 86 years and three cities - Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis - and it includes some of the league's most productive and decorated running backs.

Halll-of-Famers Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Ollie Matson and Jerome Bettis are among them. So are Steven Jackson and Todd Gurley, Tank Younger, Deacon Dan Towler, and Lawrence McCutcheon. There league MVPs, All-Pros, Offensive Players of the Year, and league leaders in rushing, TDs and yards from scrimmage.

And, of course, Gold Jackets.

But who had the best single season? Not the best career; the best career year? You're about to find out.

I've compiled a list of the top 20, taking one season from each player and then ranking it. The criteria are more than just rushing yards. That would be too easy. More is included, like receiving, ball security and postseason honors allowing us to compare players with their peers. With a franchise that began in 1937, a great rushing total in the 1940s wouldn't make the top 100 in 2022.

A historical perspective and a bit of the eye test also help rank players' seasons. So here goes ...

20. Ollie Matson, 1959—The Rams traded nine players to get Matson, and in his first year, a miserable 2-10 season, he gained 854 yards, ran for six touchdowns and had a 5.4 yards-per-rush average.

He was a second-team All-Pro (UPI). It was not a stellar year, but it was his best as a Ram and good enough to crack the top 20.

19. Willie Ellison, 1971—Ellison gained exactly 1,000 yards. His 247 yards rushing against New Orleans set a then-NFL record and a 138-yard game in Atlanta accounted for two-fifths of that total.  But he had seven games of under 50 yards rushing, so his 1,000-yard season ranks lower than some on this list with fewer yards.

Still, he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Week for his record-setting day, a second-team All-NFC selection and was voted to the Pro Bowl.

18. Jim Bertleson, 1973—After a solid rookie seaso, the man Texas coach Darrell Royal called the "finest football player" he ever coached stepped it up in 1973. He went to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement and complemented Lawrence McCutcheon in his breakout year. He ran for 854 yards of the 2,925 that the Rams gained rushing that year. He was also a solid punt returner.

17. Les Josephson, 1967—"Josey" rode the bench in George Allen's first year in Los Angeles after having played quite a bit in his previous two. But the next year he won the starting halfback job and had 800 yards rushing and 400 yards in receptions.  He was also a Pro Bowler on the NFL Western Conference squad.

One of the hardest runners in Rams' history, he tore his Achilles the next season and never repeated the production of his career year.

The Rams went 11-1-2, reached the playoffs for the first time since 1955 and Josephson got his 800 yards despite not having a 100-yard game. He ws the definition of a "solid running back."

16. Cullen Bryant, 1980—Drafted to play safety, Bryant was quickly moved to running back and, just as quickly, kept getting bigger and bigger. On a team with strong guys, he may have been the strongest.

He was a great blocker but not an explosive runner when he finally became a starter in 1978. The 4.5 speed that allowed him to be an excellent kick returner was long gone, as was his ability to keep his weight at 225 pounds. He was listed at 238 pounds but may have been heavier.

But in 1980 something happened. The Rams finally began to throw the ball well after a decade of opponents ganging up to defend likely running plays. For the first time in years, they had to account for passing strikes downfield. Rams' halfbacks kept getting hurt, so that position was by committee. But Bryant was the constant, the mainstay, the unsung hero of the Rams' offense that year.

He led the team in rushing and receiving and escorted other backs as the Rams led the NFL in rushing with 2,999 yards. With the Rams' elite offensive line and Bryant's lead blocking, the club had six games of 215 rushing yards.

That doesn't happen without the steadying influence of Bryant, who had an 800-yard, 50-catch season with a 4.4 rushing average -- far above the 3.7 career average he had prior to 1980. How, you may ask, can Bryant's 1980 be included when Cleveland Gary's 1,125-yard, 52-catch year is not? Didn't Gary have over 300 more rushing yards and essentially the same number of receptions?

Good questions. But Bryant was more vital, and this list isn't only about stats; it's about recognizing seasons with impact. A year like this deserves to be recognized.

15. Greg Bell, 1988—Bell was never spectacular, but he did have two good seasons with the Rams after going to Anaheim in the Eric Dickerson trade. The Rams acquired a pile of picks and blew most of them, but they gained some return on Bell.

In 1988 he scored 18 times, including 16 rushing TDs (he led the NFL in both), and ran for 1,212 yards. Bell also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 1989.

14. Wendell Tyler, 1981—Tyler was a bright spot on a team that had a miserable season, running for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also caught five scoring passes to total 17 TDs from scrimmage, second to only Chuck Muncie that year.

Worth noting: He accomplished this in a season where his offensive line was depleted because of injuries. Only All-Pro center Rich Saul played all 16 games. The other starters missed 28 games, with backup center Doug Smith having to play guard and tackle.

Tyler had a similar year in the 1982 strike-shorted season, one that impressed Bill Walsh so much that he traded for him in 1983 to pair with his new rookie fullback, Roger Craig. There, the former UCLA Bruin had three good seasons and got himself a Super Bowl ring.

13. Tank Younger, 1954—Younger was a great two-way player, a running back on offense and a linebacker on defense.

As a running back, he was part of the "Bull Elephant" backfield that the Rams sometimes used. It deployed three 225-pound running backs (Dick Hoerner, Paul "Tank" Younger and "Deacon" Dan Towler), and the Rams used it when they wanted to pound opponents.

Essentially, the "Bull Elephant" presented a three-fullback offense and was not an every-down offense. The Rams would contrast it with three halfbacks when they wanted to open up their offense. 

By 1954, though, Younger was a cog in the offense, not part of a gimmick backfield. In his career year, he outgained Towler, one of the NFL's top running backs for three years on fewer carries.

Younger led the NFL with a 6.7 yards-per-carry average and was a second-team All-Pro despite missing the final four games. Against the Bears in Week 5, he tore up the Monsters of the Midway with 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

12. Ron Waller, 1955—As late as the 1980s, Los Angeles-based writers would still mention Waller's rookie season of 1955. No, the numbers aren't that impressive, but he passed their eye tests.

Waller was a quick, elusive back that Sid Gillman used to the fullest, but injuries kept him from sustained success. In his initial season, though, he was first-team All-Pro by UPI and second-team All-Pro on the other two major wire service teams - AP and NEA was a also Pro Bowler.

A good kick returner, he led the NFL in all-purpose yards which includes returns as well as rushing and receiving yards.

11. Charles White, 1987—Usually when a player leads the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns, is a consensus first-team All-Pro, All-NFC and goes to the Pro Bowl, he'd be high on any list. But because it was a strike season, he gets moved down a little to 11th.

He was also the PFWA Comeback Player of the Year.

To White's credit, his best game was a 213-yard outing in St. Louis that was not against replacement players. In non-scab games, he still rushed for over 1,000 yards-- a credit to the NFL's best run-blocking offensive line.

10. Jon Arnett, 1958—The "Jaguar," Arnett was the second overall pick of the 1957 draft out of USC. He was a local golden boy - born and raised in L.A. -- and was a big deal in his day. He became what the Rams hoped Waller would be.

In his second NFL season, he had his best year on a pretty good 8-4 team when Gillman used the Jaguar as a runner, receiver and returner. He was fifth in the NFL in rushing, 10th in receiving, first in punt return average, ninth in kick return average and second in all-purpose yards.

Though the numbers aren't eye-popping by the standards of later generations, they were excellent given how backs were used in the 1950s. The wire services agreed, naming him a consensus first-team All-Pro, while coaches voted him to his first Pro Bowl.

Arnett was fast and elusive, and Gillman sometimes lined him up as a receiver, usually in the slot but occasionally outside. Listed at 197 pounds, he was closer to 205, so he had more beef than often thought.

9. Dick Bass, 1962—In his career year, Bass became the first Rams' player to run for 1,000 yards, and he did it on a 1-12-1 team. His 1966 season was considered when he helped coach George Allen take the Rams out of the NFL's basement, but in 1962 he did more with less.

He was first-team All-Pro (UPI) and second-team, according to AP and NEA. His 1,033 yards rushing ranked third in the NFL, as did his 5.3 yards per attempt. He also caught 30 passes, including two for scores. Prior to his career year, most of his impact was as the NFL's leading kick returner, something a Rams' player wouldn't do again until 1981.

Bass was a short (5-9), compact fullback, built low-to-the ground like a manhole cover. His best game was against the Bears in December when he ran for 169 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

8. Johnny Drake, 1940—Nicknamed "Zero," Drake was the first Rams' running back to be a consensus first-team All-Pro when he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (he did it the year before, too) and was second in rushing.  He even stopped and popped two touchdown passes.

For the first five years of the Rams' existence, "Zero" Drake was the best player on the Cleveland Rams.

7. Dan Towler, 1952—Towler was the featured ball carrier this season, leading the NFL in rushing and rushing TDs for an offense that was passing the NFL silly in the late-1940s and early 1950s. He also averaged 5.7 yards a carry, was a consensus All-Pro and was named to the second of his four Pro Bowls. From 1951-54, only Hall-of-Famer Joe Perry ran for more yards, and no one had more rushing TDs than the 1950 25th-round draft pick.

6. Jerome Bettis, 1993—As a rookie, he didn't exactly explode onto the NFL scene. It took time.

In his first month, Bettis averaged 39.5 yards rushing per game and 3.9 yards a carry. But after that, his numbers jumped to 105.9 per game, including five yards a pop, with Better named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 212 yards in Week 15.

Bettis was the consensus NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, a first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. His 1,429 yards still rank fifth in team history for a single season.

5. Lawrence McCutcheon, 1974—The only knock on "Clutch's" '74 season is that he wasn't used in short-yardage and goal-line situations. "Touchdown Tony" Baker did that.

Other than that, it was a tremendous year.

McCutcheon was the Rams' fullback (he didn't move to halfback until 1976) and their best offensive player. He had seasons when he had more rushing yards, TDs or a better yards-per-carry average, but 1974 was his best year.

He was first-team All-Pro on a team chosen by players (NEA) and second-team on the AP and PFWA teams picked by the media. He was also All-NFC and went to his second Pro Bowl.

His 1,109 yards rushing ranked fourth in the NFL, and his 4.7 yards-per-attempt were fifth. He also had a career-high 39 receptions for 408 yards and 1,512 yards from scrimmage, which was second in the NFL.

It's hard to compare yardage totals from players in a two-back era to those in the one-back period, roughly the early 1980s to now. In previous generations, fullbacks and halfbacks split carries more evenly. Rather than one having 350-400 carries, he might have 225 with the other getting 150-175.

The numbers may not be as impressive as others on this list behind McCutcheon, but he was as important to the Rams as anyone ahead of him.

4. Steven Jackson, 2006—No Rams' running back ever ran harder than Jackson. Others ran hard, no doubt, but Jackson was a beast -- even on a mediocre 2006 team when he was a second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. One writer even gave him an Offensive Player-of-the-Year vote.

He was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December when he rushed for 597 yards, caught 27 passes and scored ten times. He set career-highs in nearly everything that season, including an NFL-best 2,334 yards from scrimmage second-best in Rams history.

Jackson had 1,528 yards rushing (fifth in the NFL) and 90 receptions (seventh in the NFL), both notable franchise figures. His rushing total is fourth-best in Rams' single-season history, while no running back has ever caught more passes.

3. Todd Gurley, 2017—He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns to the Rams to their first winning season since 2003.

In 15 games, he ran for 1,305 yards, had 788 yards in receptions and averaged 12.8 yards per catch - better than some wide receivers.  He was the AP and PFWA Offensive Player of the Year, runner-up in the MVP voting, a consensus All-Pro and a first-time Pro Bowler.

Three times he was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week -- in Week 4s, 15 and 16. In Week 15, he ran for four touchdowns and 152 yards in a 42-7 demolishment of the Seahawks. One week later, he caught 10 passes for 158 yards in a win over the Titans. He was also twice named NFC Offensive Player of the Month.

His 2018 season was also considered. That was the year he scored two more touchdowns and left a couple more on the table by choosing to run out the clock instead of score. But, in a close call, 2017 is the pick.

2. Eric Dickerson, 1984—Rushing for an NFL-record 2,105 yards is an incredible feat. To do it when your passing offense offers little help makes it more incredible.

In his career year, he was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week twice (Weeks 10 and 15), a consensus All-Pro, and a Pro Bowler. He was the NFC Player of the Year and runner-up in the MVP voting (Dan Marino's monster year took the prize).

Twice he ran for over 200 yards and a third time he came close, finishing with 191 yards. His 2,244 yards from scrimmage led the NFL and is the third-highest in club history, while he also tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 14.

If there was a knock, it was only that Dickerson was a fumbler. He had 14 in 1984 and averaged 11 a season with the Rams. Nevertheless, they were 10-6 in 1984. Without Dickerson, they'd have been more like 4-12.

1. Marshall Faulk, 2000—Faulk's 1999 season was tempting with the Super Bowl ring, 1,000 yards rushing and another 1,000 receiving ... as was 2001. In fact, he probably had the three best individual seasons by a Rams' running back - in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Any of the three could top this list.

In 2000 he was a four-time Offensive Player of the Week, the consensus MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, consensus All-Pro, All-NFC and a Pro Bowler. In October and December, the NFL named him the NFC Offensive Player of the Month.

He scored a team-record 26 touchdowns to lead the NFL, 18 rushing (leading the NFL and tying the club mark) and eight more on receptions. Twice he ran for more than 200 yards, four times he had 85 or more receiving yards and five times he scored three or more touchdowns -- three of them part of four-TD days.

He also led the NFL in yards per rush and, best of all, never fumbled.

He was also one of the best-ever backs at pass protection. When he wasn't breaking big runs or making catches, he kept blitzers off of Kurt Warner. In 2000 he was the best player in the NFL, and it was the best season by a Rams' running back. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Nick Lowery - A Case for the Hall of Fame

By John Turney  
Morten Andersen and Jan Stenerud are the only two pure placekickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Adam Vinatieri would most certainly get it. Current Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is on pace. If he sustains it he should also have an excellent shot at induction.

But what Hall-of-Fame voters are missing is that one kicker ... Nick Lowery is that name. Only those who really look at kicking analytics know this but once understood there is no doubt that Lowery is qualified.

Jan Stenerud was the first pure kicker inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The reason was that he was ahead of his time, that he was someone who was better than even the good kickers of his time and that gave his teams an edge.

One voter said as much, that Stenerud was a weapon. He was right.

Though it was not studied at the time that assertion proves true. When you compare Stenerud's kicking percentages overall and at the various distances (1-19 yards, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50+) he was better than the league average in his era.

Andersen was, too. He also had perhaps the most expensive leg of all time and he lasted forever and holds a pile of records. His place in Canton is deserved.

Adam Vinatieri's eventual case will be made on his clutch kicks that made the difference in winning Super Bowls and losing them for Belichick, Brady & Co.

Tucker's will be based on his accuracy. He's the most accurate of all time, to date, and compared to his peers he stands out as well but more on that in a second.

So, why should Lowery be mentioned with the four kickers who are often cited as the best ever?

Because when you compare what they did in terms of accuracy in their respective eras - and they were all great - Nick Lowery was better.

Author Rupert Patrick, in his book "A Statistical History of Pro Football: Players, Teams and Concepts" published his groundbreaking work which had a lengthy section on kickers. 

Patrick, who passed away prior to the publication of his opus, was a member of the Pro Football Researcher's Association and was the organization's 2019 winner of the Ralph Hay Award for lifetime achievement in pro football research, developed metrics that accurately compare kickers in their eras called PAL and PAL2 -- Points Above the Average, the latter more detailed than the others.

Roughly speaking, those two metrics compare the total number of points any given kicker achieved over what an average kicker would have scored on the same number of kicks.

The names previously mentioned - Stenerud, Andersen, Vinatieri and Tucker all score high (as do Lou Groza and others) but Lowery scores higher.

He's first in both.

The bottom line is that he's more accurate than the average kicker by a higher margin than all other kickers.

Wrote Patrick, "It was a bit of a surprise that the top career PAL score belonged to Nick Lowery; when I was compiling the data for this project I figured the career leader would either be Gary Anderson or Morten Andersen based on sheer longevity, and neither of them would have lasted very long if they weren’t outstanding kickers. The reason Lowery finished first by a big margin is that he never really had a bad season until the final season of his career."

As for PAL2, the more detailed version, Patrick added, "Nick Lowery tops this list and I don’t see anybody taking the top spot from him anytime soon."

His prediction was right, though Tucker has a chance but is not there yet.

Want more stats?

In 2017 Chase Stuart of Football Perspective, an excellent analytics site, developed his own metric that measures kicking accuracy - a kickers field goal percentage above the expected percentage broken down by ten-yard increments.

Stuart wrote then, "It's not much of a question as to who is the best kicker ever. Until presented with evidence to the contrary, that honor belongs to Nick Lowery."

Why? Because Lowery's kickers were accurate at a rate higher than expected compared to his peers. In Stuart's metric Lowery is the best ever.

Explains Stuart, "Lowery’s expected field goal rate was 70.5 percent, while his actual was 80.0 percent, so he was successful an extra 9.5 percent of the time he lined up to kick. That’s remarkable. In short, Lowery was the most valuable field goal kicker in NFL history."

But wait, you say that was six years ago, what about Tucker, what has he done since then?

Obviously, he's far above average, how could he not be? Current calculations show Tucker is 6.95 percent above expected - excellent but still behind Lowery.

That is two independent sources coming up with the same thing - when comparing kickers in their own era Nick Lowery is number one all-time.

Patrick and Stuart are certainly qualified as experts on the subject, no one has done more in-depth studies.

Didn't Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians write, "By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established."?

Not only was Lowery the most accurate kicker of his era. He kicked outdoors, facing difficult weather elements at Arrowhead Stadium and later in the Meadowlands. Come November things could get nasty in both those stadiums.

In his career, Lowery only kicked 10 percent of his attempts indoors compared to 56 percent by Andersen and 41 percent by Vinatieri, which includes retractable-roof stadiums which were usually closed. 

Only Tucker is in a similar boat as Lowery having tired 94 percent of his outdoors.

To be fair is worth noting Lowery had one advantage, playing 14 games in Denver. Andersen and Vinatieri play nine in the Mile High City and Tucker just three. 

Lowery probably should have been the all-decade kicker of both the 1980s and 1990s, he led both decades in field goal accuracy.

Morten Andersen got those first-team honors and Gary Anderson was second-team slot in both decades. Eddie Murray shared the second-team slot with Anderson on the 1980s team.

And while basic kicking accuracy statistics were available the voters seemingly ignored them because Lowery was more accurate overall and at longer distances than all those players. 

And looking back using the Patrick and Stuart models Anderson and Murray trail Lowery significantly.

Losing out to Andersen and Anderson/Murray is likely a major reason Lowery has been overlooked. 

All-Decade teams matter to many voters.

But he got his share of recognition anyway.

Lowery was first-team All-Pro in 1981 (NEA), 1985 (APNEA), 1988 (NEA) and also 1990 (APNEAPFWATSN).  

He also got postseason recognition in 1986 when he was voted second-team All-AFC (UPI) and in 1992 when he was voted to his final Pro Bowl.

Some of the most astute writers of the time also saw Lowery's greatness and gave him their seal of approval in a few other years. 

In 1992 Lowery was picked as All-Pro by then- and future Hall-of-Fame voters Paul Zimmerman (Sports Illustrated), Gordon Forbes, (USA Today), Larry Felser(Buffalo News), and Rick Gosselin, columnist (Dallas Morning News).

Gannett's Joel Buchsbaum, Pro Football Weekly's personnel guru, named him second-team All-Pro in 1982 and 1986. 

In total that is seven years "above the line" - a year that he received some sort of All-pro recognition.

The German-born Lowery was always active in charitable work and in 1993 he was honored for it being voted the NFLPA's Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award which is kind of cool because growing up Lowery was the Supreme Court Justice's next-door neighbor.

He led the NFL in field goal percentage three times. In four separate seasons, he had or tied for the longest field goal in the NFL (Jan Stenerud four times, Morten Andersen three times, Adam Vinatieri and Justin Tucker once).

All this does not definitively say Lowery was better than all these other great kickers. It does, however, definitively say he should be in the conversation with the others.

Be he never is. That needs to change.

It was not an easy road for Lowery, as it never is for kickers, but even by those standards, it was a lesson in perseverance.

He tried out for the New York Jets in 1978 but didn't make the team. he got signed by New England and played a little before again being cut.

The next year he tried out for Cincinnati, Washington, Baltimore, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and San Diego.

All fails, but in 1980 Lowery finally stuck, replacing his idol - Jan Stenerud - as the kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

He went on to break most of Stenerud's club records.

Lowery also set a few NFL records (since broken) along the way. He was the first player to score 100 points in six consecutive seasons and also set the record for most 100-point seasons (ten). In 1980 he set the record for most games with two field goals of 50 or more yards (he tied his own record twice more).  In his career, he held the record for the highest career field goal percentage and retired as having kicked the most-ever field goals.

Lowery once said of his kicking feats, "I did it by focusing on one kick at a time. That is the only way to do it."

May the same be true for Hall-of-Fame voters. Vinatieri's and Tucker's cases will be made in due time but now they should focus on one kicker at a time and Lowery should be the guy.

His accomplishments are worthy of a hearing. It's time it happened.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Paul Younger: "It's Time to Grab Grass and Growl"

By TJ Troup 
Mr. John Turney and I relish writing stories on men who played the game that displayed versatility. Looking up the definition of the word versatile in a number of dictionaries we learn that being versatile is "able to adapt to many different functions" "turning easily from one to another various tasks". . . and versatile comes from a Latin word that meant moving around. 
These definitions sure help to define Paul "Tank" Younger

Paul was not drafted by the Rams in 1949 as he joined the team as a free agent. Scouting is essential to each team putting talented athletes on the field, and Los Angeles was the best at doing so. Younger is joing a team that played strong football at times in '48 yet would never be considered a contender in '49 since the Cardinals and Bears were so damn good in '48. 

Clark Shaughnessy has strong beliefs in how to advance the football both running and passing. Formations, motion, blocking assignments, and intricate pass patterns must be mastered if you play for this man. He was in his own vast world of x's & o's....and seemingly cared very little for the men that played for him. Winning can solve any issues with personalities, but you have to win. 

Studying film of Younger and the '49 Rams is fascinating. Opening night in Coliseum and the lowly Detroit Lions lead Los Angeles till late in the fourth quarter, but the Rams found a way to win to start the season on the right note. 

How did Paul Younger do in his first game you ask? 

He started at right halfback, and on the second play from scrimmage he "hit the center for a gain of two". He starts many games, but not all, and he carries the ball in ten of the twelve games, but he is not featured in the offense. 

Evaluating him during his rookie year is very easy; he is a willing blocker, runs hard, and when the ball is thrown to him on simple flare, circle, or up route patterns he catches the ball. The whirlwind 6-0 start is fading as the Bears have caught fire and on the last Sunday of the season can win the conference with a win over the Cardinals (Lujack's greatest game), and a Redskin upset win in the Coliseum. 

Paul does not start but does play some on offense in the Rams masterful 53-27 demolition of Washington. Will digress for a brief moment to share the following: this game should be shown on the NFL Network in their "Classic Games" series. Waterfield and Van Brocklin are pinpoint accurate in shredding the porous Redskin secondary, while Slingin' Sam comes off the bench to pass for over 300 yards in his 13th campaign. Could, but won't go hours on who started, and how well each Ram defender played, yet to sum up the Ram defense. 

While they were only a decent defense statistically, they were opportunistic, taking the ball away, and much more cohesive than in '48. The mudbowl loss to a powerful Eagle team leads to the following for 1950. Shaughnessy is dismissed, and the roster as strong as it was in '49 is even better in 1950. From a cultural standpoint the Rams have joined the Browns in being open to having African-American players. Los Angeles adds Woodley Lewis, Bob Boyd, and Deacon Dan Towler to the team. Though Gerry Cowhig was an adequate left linebacker in the Rams 5-3-3 defense in '49 he is replaced at left linebacker. 

So, if Younger is now on defense, who is gonna carry the ball?

 Already having Hoerner, Smith, and Kalmanir, with the edition of Glenn Davis and Towler the Rams have depth and talent in the backfield. Since Hirsch lost his job at left halfback during the '49 season, he is moved to right end to replace Bob Shaw (traded to the Cardinals for Reinhard). 

So much has been written about Los Angeles and their prolific scoring machine in 1950 how much ink does the defense receive? While the Ram defense was not the best, they were again opportunistic in taking the ball away, and now have two young stalwart linebackers. 

Don Paul improved during '49, and is even better in '50, while the best left linebacker in football without a doubt is Paul Younger. When you look at his defensive stats you come away with the feeling he did very little, and was not around the ball much, but you would need to study hours of film to see his strengths. 

Trust me, Younger is impressive. 

He handles the strongside sweep well due to his quickness, and speed. He has the size to fend off any blocker, and the athleticism to take the proper angle to take down a ball carrier. Watched him take the right end, when aligned tight or flexed in man coverage at times, and run step for step with him. 

A back going in motion and running up the sideline, no problem—he has the instincts and athleticism to stay with a halfback. Rarely is Younger sent on a red dog, and though he is excellent in pursuit you do not see him dashing across the field making tackles. Paul patrols his area and is disciplined enough to stay in his assigned area. Younger carries the ball a few times during the year, but he is now a defensive player. 

The heartbreaking loss to a powerful Cleveland team just motivates these young men even more for the '51 campaign. The 1951 National Conference race still stands the test of time as one of the best (if not the best). 

The Bears will again be contenders and have suddenly become a major Ram rival. Though the New York Yanks will fall in '51, and the Packers are still struggling with an identity (and talent) there are two new kids on the block that have to be reckoned with. 

Buddy Parker has built the Lions into a team that can win, and Buck Shaw has the 49ers improved on both the offensive and defensive line, and added to key ingredients. A passer in Tittle (he rotates in with Albert much like Van Brocklin does with Waterfield), and a nasty difference-maker in Hardy Brown at 5-3 MLB. 

For the eighth consecutive year the Rams have beaten the Lions on the road at Briggs and with a record of 3-1 journey to Kezar. There have been games historically that need to be discussed since the strategy impacted the game overall (and we still see the effects today)....and October 28th, 1951 is one of them. Buck Shaw ably assisted by Phil Bengston realizes they cannot stop this Ram offense in a standard defense. 

Have watched this game film over and over, and still learn from it. San Francisco aligns in the standard 5-3-3 defense, but has two halfbacks with speed at the outside linebacker position. This becomes cutting-edge coverage due to the depth of the pass drop, and the responsibilities...sometimes zone, sometimes man, and sometimes combination. 

Hardy Brown in long-yardage situations at times aligns seven yards from the line of scrimmage, and then drops to the hole ala Jack Lambert. San Francisco also aligns in a 5-2-4. Final score 49ers 44 Rams 17. Since the Bears continue to win (now 4-1), the Lions are 2-2-1, and the suddenly resurgent Niners are now 3-2. Folks, we have a race on our hands! 

Game of the Week for November 4th will be in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the Niners travel south to take on the Rams. Can you spell budding r-i-v-a-l-r-y! Hampton Pool must have an answer to the Niners defense. Smith, and Davis both have outstanding quickness and speed, but are small, and not sure if they have ever blocked anyone. 
Younger (#13) on the tackle
Hampton Pool has the answer and it is Paul "Tank" Younger. He does not carry the ball much in the rematch, but when he is in on offense he can lead Towler on strongside sweeps with the help of fullback Dick Hoerner. 

Believe writer Frank Finch coined the term "Bull Elephant" backfield. Ok, Niners put those little guys in at outside linebacker and see what we run at you. Clarity is always a goal, and in this game the Rams do NOT run the power sweep over and over. Los Angeles gets the lead and the threat of seeing the bull elephants sends the message to the 49er sideline. 

The Rams have the premier deep threat in pro football in '51 in Hirsch, yet a balanced attack of run/pass is always optimal. Final: Los Angeles 23 San Francisco 16. The Rams crush the Cardinals and Yanks, and the best strongside linebacker in football is Tank Younger. 

Who was the best two-way player in the NFL in the early '50's? Nomellini with the 49ers? Bednarik with the Eagles? Connor with the Bears? 
How many minutes do these men play in a game? 

We will never know, yet the three above-named men sure stood out, and they are joined by a man who at times played 45 minutes of the game (he also is involved in the kicking game)....Mr. Paul "Tank" Younger. 

Am not advocating that the Tank be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but he is a pioneer. The first and best African-American outside linebacker, and can be sent into the game on offense and contribute at a high level. The Washington Redskins upset the Rams at Griffith Stadium, and no Ram defender plays well as the "Skins ran the ball down the Rams' throats. 

Los Angeles will again be featured in the Game of the Week on December 2nd. 

Going to Wrigley to play the Bears and Halas can be a nightmare, but the Rams are up to the task, and explode late in the game to win convincingly 42-17. The famous photo was taken at Wrigley that day of Waterfield, Hoerner, Towler, and Younger. 
Bull Elephant Backfield - Deacon Dan Towler #32, Dick Hoerner #31, Tank Younger #13, Bob Waterfield #7
The Bull Elephants, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the best receiver in football, and a usually sturdy defense (at times the secondary struggles). Beat the Lions at home on December 9th and the conference crown is yours. 

Ooooooopps! Buddy Parker and his pride of Lions play resilient red zone defense (Waterfield makes 5 of 7 field goal attempts), and upset Los Angeles 24-22. Younger again plays a strong game at left linebacker, and plays plenty on offense, but the race comes down to the last weekend. 

Four teams can win the conference crown, and we start with San Francisco again beating the Lions; thus they tie for second. 

The Chicago Bears again stumble against the Chicago Cardinals to finish 7-5 and 4th, and with their impressive win over the Packers the Rams again go to the title game. Los Angeles earned the championship with big plays and strategy that bordered on cutting edge. The 1951 Los Angeles Rams might be the best 8-4 team in NFL history. 

Tank Younger will earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and play a masterful game at left linebacker in the National Conference 30-14 win over the American Conference. The league manual lists Younger starting at right halfback on offense, and no doubt he started at left linebacker...thus is he the first and only African-American to start both ways in the Pro Bowl? The season of '52 is another interesting chapter in Rams' history. 

The slow start, the eight-game win streak, a defense that seemed to score or set up a score every week, and again Los Angeles goes to the playoffs (under a different coach). Younger plays stellar defense, but not as much as in 50 & 51, as he plays more on offense (carries the ball 63 times in '52). He intercepts opening day in Cleveland and recovers a Texan fumble in rainy and windswept Dallas to demonstrate he is still around the ball. Younger is again voted to the Pro Bowl. 

Younger is now a full-time offensive player in 1953, and again is selected for the Pro Bowl. Los Angeles is 5-1 at mid-season, but falters as they lose games to the Bears and Niners, and tie the lowly Cardinals. Beating the champion Lions twice is not enough, and no playoffs for this talented team. 

Younger does not play outside linebacker in 1954 (he should have)as the Rams' defense allows 49 more points than in '53. The Tank rumbles and rolls in '54 as he gains 610 yards rushing in just eight games (has three straight one-hundred-yard rushing performances). 

The highlight was his eye-popping performance against the Bears in the Coliseum in October. The Bears after two disastrous seasons have found an offense with rookie Harlon Hill, and a resurgent rushing attack, but if you want a rushing attack...well give the ball to #35 of the Rams (Younger wore #13 early in his career). 

Griffin recovers a Bear fumble and the first play for the Rams is the Tank rumbling for 23 yards. He also has 16 and seven-yard runs before he crashes over from the two. Next Ram possession Younger fumbles the ball to the Bears ....yes he does lose the ball once in a while. The score is tied at 21 at the half and Younger has gained 79 yards on 11 carries. 

The Rams' first possession of the third quarter he first loses three on a sweep, then is stopped for no gain. Will Sherman intercepts Blanda, but the Tank fumbles again. The Bears take the lead, and Younger being the champion he is...responds with gains of 9 and 6 before a Statue of Liberty play thunders for 22 to set up his second touchdown. 

Early in the 4th quarter, Los Angeles drives 79 yards to score as Younger gained 46 yards on three carries. Though the Bears score late to make the score seem close at 42-38 this is Paul's greatest offensive performance; 27 carries for 186 yards.

Later in the season, a three-game winning streak has the Rams as the only team that can catch the Lions, but they lose to the Bears and the Colts. Coach Pool is dismissed, and Tank will play for a fourth coach in what will be his seventh season in '55. Younger was not chosen for the Pro Bowl in '54 due to injury. He again is instrumental in helping the Ram offense move the chains in '55 as Los Angeles wins the division over the Bears. 

Younger returns to the Pro Bowl as he gained 644 yards rushing and continued to be an excellent lead blocker for rookie Ronnie Waller. Younger still contributes in both 1956 & '57 but the Rams are not a premier team anymore. 

The last game of '56 he blocks for Tommy Wilson as he sets a new league record for yards gained rushing in a game, and from the sideline in Cleveland in '57 he watches rookie Jim Brown tie Wilson's record. Paul Younger is traded to the Steelers and Buddy Parker in 1958. He joins Bobby Layne in the backfield and winning takes place in Pittsburgh (this is new for this franchise). 
When given the ball Younger is the best Steeler fullback in years, and on October 26th against the Giants, Layne focuses on a coverage flaw in the Giant secondary and completes 5 passes to the big man (he still has retained some of his speed) for 109 yards including a 51-yard gainer. Saturday afternoon December 13th and Pittsburgh takes on a team they always beat in the Chicago Cardinals. 

The snow and cold do not bother Layne as he directs a Black & Gold attack that gains over 600 yards of offense. Orr, McClairen, and Tracy all gain over 100 receiving as Layne shreds a porous Cardinal secondary. This will be Younger's last game, and the Tank goes out with style as he pounds out 106-yard rushing on just 13 carries. 
Younger (#35) with Steelers
Tomorrow is Paul Younger's birthday...and this is a tribute to a man who displayed durability, versatility, and class his entire career.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Flank Clarke—Unknown Star

By John Turney 
Trivia question: From 1961 through 1964, who led the NFL in touchdown receptions?

Hall-of-Famer Tommy McDonald? Wrong.

Raymond Berry, the Colts' Hall-of-Fame split end? Uh-uh.

All-Pro Del Shofner? Incorrect.

How about Hall-of-Fame tight end Mike Ditka? He'd just exploded on the NFL scene. Nope.

Well, then, who?


In his first four years as a starter, Dallas Cowboys' receiver Frank Clarke caught 38 touchdown passes, or five more than the next NFLer. What's more, only Art Powell had more in the pass-happy AFL with 40, while Houston's Charley Hennigan tied Clarke with 38.

So why don't more people know about Frank Clarke? Another good question. He joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 and was hurt in the franchise's initial season. But from 1961-64 he averaged 49 catches, 942 yards, 9-1/2 touchdowns and 19.2 yards per catch.

He was even an All-Pro once. Yet he's a relative unknown. The question is: Why?

Well, the Cowboys weren't America's Team in their nascent years, so that's part of it. He also didn't sustain productivity much past 1964, when Dallas was starting to win. So that's part of it, too. Plus, he didn't have a notable start to his career.

Clarke was a fifth-round choice in the 1956 draft when the Cleveland Browns took him as a "future" pick. But in his three seasons as a Brown he didn't play much. When Dallas chose him in the 1960 expansion draft, he was hurt early and missed almost half the games.

Nevertheless, when he finally got on the field he stretched it. In limited action in his three years in Cleveland and first one in Dallas (from 1957-60) he caught 19 passes for 502 yards (a 26.4-yard average) and three touchdowns.

A prototype end of his era, he was 6-1, 210 pounds and fast ...and he proved it when he had the chance, leading the NFL in yards per catch in 1961-62 and touchdown catches with 14 in 1962.

As a flanker his first few seasons in Dallas, Clarke put up gaudy numbers. Then he was moved to split end in 1964 to make room for McDonald, whom Dallas acquired to replace the retiring Billy Howton. However, Howton was a split end and McDonald a flanker. So Clarke was the one moved.

With the arrival of Bob Hayes in 1965, there was another change. Rather than move Clarke back to flanker, the Cowboys switched him to tight end and sent starter Pettis Norman to the bench. Though Clarke had 41 catches and was second on the team in TD catches, it was clear he was out of position.

And so the experiment lasted only a year.

In 1966 Norman got his position back and Clarke became his backup, while Hayes and flankers Pete Gent and Buddy Dial were the primary outside threats. He played the same role in 1967, but with even less playing time with the arrival of Lance Rentzel, and after the season called it a career at the age of 33.

So, now, one more question: Who moves an All-Pro outside receiver to tight end? Clarke was 215 pounds by that time, and while tight ends weren't huge, 215 pounds was still light for the position. To be fair, Dallas played more formations (even single-back) than others, so Clarke sometimes was in the slot. But make no mistake; He was usually on the line and often blocking -- even pass blocking - and not in a pass pattern.

Perhaps coach Tom Landry wanted a speed advantage at all receiving positions. Even at 30, Clarke would've been one of the fastest tight ends, while Hayes -- an Olympic gold medalist -- was by far the fastest split end and Dial, who was just 28, still had speed and averaged 21.6 yards per catch.

Only Gent didn't have elite speed.

In any event, Clarke went from someone who caught more touchdowns than his peers to an afterthought in the Cowboys' offense.

Then he was gone.

Clarke had been a trailblazer as the first African-American player to letter at the University of Colorado. As a single-wing end, he averaged 26.6 yards a reception and had seven touchdowns on 20 catches in his two seasons in Boulder.

He played in two bowl games, the first vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl after the Tigers initially refused to play because Colorado had two black players, Clarke and John Wooten. To their credit, Colorado officials refused to back down and showed up in Miami, cowering Clemson into playing.

Then the Buffalo proceeded to win the game.

Clarke was a trailblazer in sports media as well. He was the first black sports TV anchor in the Dallas media and the first black analyst for CBS. He later spent years in pursuit of higher consciences and serenity, living and leading a commune life.

He was a complex man. But on the field, he got it done.

His 14 TD catches were a Cowboys' single-season record until 2007 when Terrell Owens broke it, but it's important to remember that Owens played 15 games of a 16-game season, while Clarke played 14. Clarke also caught touchdown passes in seven consecutive games, a franchise mark tied by Hayes, Owens and Dez Bryant.

For four seasons in the 1960s, Frank Clarke had the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL and the second-most in pro football. He had the second-most receiving yards in the NFL and fifth most in pro football, too, and was second in the NFL in yards per catch and fifth in the AFL-NFL combined.

The legacy of Frank Clarke lives on. His name should, too. Frank Clarke is worth remembering.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Best-ever Seasons by Dallas Cowboys Quarterbacks

By John Turney 
Roger Staubach
art credit: Merv Corning
The first priority for NFL quarterbacks is winning, and few have been as successful as those who played for the Dallas Cowboys.

Granted, they don't have a surfeit of post-season honors or glitzy numbers as some of the others. No Dallas quarterback, for instance, has ever been an Associated Press first-team All-Pro or AP MVP, and there's never been a Run-and-Shoot or Air Coryell passing attack in Big D. But Dallas quarterbacks know how to win -- with two of them, Hall-of-Famers Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, winning the trophy that matters most.

The Lombardi.

So, which Dallas quarterback had the best-ever season in the team's history? That's why I'm here with my Top Ten list.

Now, before we get started, a couple of things to know: First, the Cowboys' franchise has had remarkable stability at the position, so only a dozen or so qualify. Second, and most important, I evaluated a mix of stats, postseason honors, team success, intangibles and the ever-familiar "eye test" to compile their best seasons -- with only season one per customer.

Got it? Let's begin:

10. Eddie LeBaron, 1962—Playing for an expansion team is a nightmare for quarterbacks, even for an experienced one like LeBaron.Your line can't block,, and your receivers can't catch. It's an uphill battle to execute a series of plays properly.

LeBaron did his best, and in year three (1962) he actually did well. 

He played in the Pro Bowl and led the NFL with a 95.2 passer rating. Though it wasn't how the NFL determined passing leaders then, the league did go back and crown the winners once the passer rating was established. Under the formula used in 1962, LeBaron was third in the league in passing.

In either case, it was excellent. He threw 16 touchdowns, had nine interceptions, completed 57.2 percent of his passes and averaged 8.65 yards per attempt. 

Obviously, quarterback wins aren't a statistic, per se, so there will always be anomalies -- and the '62 Cowboys may be first in that department. In a truly unique approach, LeBaron and Don Meridith rotated that year under center.

Once it was by half, but just once. When both were healthy, they'd rotate by play. They'd carry the call in, run it, then exit while a sub would do that same thing all over again. Nine years later, coach Tom Landry implemented the scheme with Roger Staubach and Craig Morton ...but only for a single game.

It wasn't successful. In 1962 he did it for the entire season. 

Regardless of how and when he reached the field, when LeBaron was on it he made a lot of plays. His season is worthy of the No. 10 spot on this list.

9. Quincy Carter, 2003—He only had one chance to start all 16 games for Dallas, and that was 2003 when he won 10 times and was runner-up as the AP Comeback Player of the Year.

But Bill Parcells cut him the following preseason, with Carter moving on to the Jets and CFL before bouncing around a few indoor football leagues. Almost a decade later, Parcells said that Carter had personal issues and couldn't handle the pressure as quarterback of America's Team.

"Some people just can’t fight the pressure to succeed," he told ESPN. "They just can’t fight it. It’s too much on them once the bar gets up a little bit. It’s too much. I don’t know all the problems or the demons exactly, but that’s what eventually took him down."

It's too bad. Carter was a good quarterback.

8. Drew Bledsoe, 2005—Brought in to replace 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde after Dallas was 6-10 in 2004, he led the Cowboys to a 9-7 record -- completing 60.1 percent of his passes and throwing for 23 touchdowns. He led the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives (Tom Brady was second in both) and twice was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Not bad.

7. Craig Morton, 1969—When Morton took over for Meredith, he excelled -- leading the team to a 11-2-1 finish and throwing 21 touchdown passes. He also led the NFL in yards per attempt and yards per completion and was the NFL Offensive Player of the Week once.

6. Dak Prescott, 2021—Dak still has time to move up the list, but, to date, his best overall year was 2021 when he threw for 37 touchdowns and, after returning from a severe injury, led the Cowboys to the playoffs. He was 11-5 as a starter but lost to the 49ers in the Wild Card round.

He was second in the AP NFL Comeback Player-of-the Year voting, twice was the NFC Player of the Week, ranked fifth in completions, fourth in touchdown passes and eighth in yards per attempt.

5. Tony Romo, 2014—Though Romo had other years with better numbers, 2014 is the pick. He was 12-3 as a starter, won a playoff game and set a career-high with 34 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions.

Third in the AP NFL MVP voting, he was second-team All-Pro and went to his fourth Pro Bowl. Injuries derailed the rest of his career.

4. Danny White, 1981—White could never get the Cowboys over the hump ,leading them to NFC Championship Games in 1980, 1981 and 1982 ... but falling short each time. His best season was 1981 when Dallas met San Francisco for the conference championship ... game known for "The Catch" ... and barely fell short.

Following Dwight Clark's game-winning TD, White drove the Cowboys to a potential game-winning score by throwing an absolute dart to Drew Pearson. But a game-saving tackle by Eric Wright prevented a probable touchdown, and White fumbled away the contest on the next play when he was sacked by Lawrence Pillers.

That sums up Danny White's career in two plays.

He was second-team All-NFC in 1981, eighth in passer rating and touchdown passes and first in lowest interception percentage.

3. Don Meredith, 1966—The Cowboys fell a game shy of the Super Bowl, losing to Green Bay, but "Dandy Don" was marvelous -- setting career-highs for completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, lowest interception percentage and passer rating. Voted the NFL's Player of the Year by the Maxwell Club, he was a second-team All-Pro and chosen to his first Pro Bowl.

Don Meredith
art credit: Merv Corning
In Week Two he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Week when he threw five touchdown passes in a 52-7 win over the Giants. Three weeks later, he threw for five more scores in a 56-7 win against the Eagles.

In the NFL Championship Game, Meredith had the Cowboys on the brink of victory, but under heavy pressure by Hall-of-Fame linebacker Dave Robinson, threw a fourth-down interception in the end zone, killing Dallas' chances. Nevertheless, it was a tremendous season in terms of team success, statistics and postseason honors.

2. Troy Aikman, 1992—Aikman's highest personal postseason occurred in 1993 when The Sporting News made him All-NFL (by a vote of NFL players) and was chosen All-Pro by Sports Illustrated (by Paul Zimmerman), USA Today (by Gordon Forbes) and the Buffalo News (by Larry Felser). Zimmerman, Forbes and Felser were all Hall-of-Fame voters. Additionally, he guided the Cowboys to their second-straight Super Bowl win. 

Troy Aikman
art credit:  Merv Corning
But that is his second-best season. His career year was 1992.

The Cowboys were 13-3, and Aikman was voted to the Pro Bowl. What made the season remarkable, however, was his postseason play. Cruising through three playoff games, he completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 795 yards and eight touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception and had a passer rating of 126.4.

Demolishing the Bills in the Super Bowl XXVII, Aikman threw four touchdowns, completed 73.3 percent of his passes and was named the game's MVP. He demonstrated uncanny accuracy as a passer, delivering tight spirals downfield to lead Dallas to its first Super Bowl win in nearly 20 years.

1. Roger Staubach, 1971—Like Aikman, he achieved the ultimate goal by winning the Super Bowl and turning "Next Year's Champions" into 1971's champions. But it was not without adversity. 

For the first month-and-a-half of the season, he split time with quarterback Craig Morton - once rotating on every play in a 23-19 loss in Chicago on Halloween.

Talk about a horror show.

The following week, Landry finally committed to the former Heisman Trophy winner, and the Cowboys didn't lose another game  -- including a 24-3 win over the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI where Staubach was the game's MVP.

That season, he was 13-0 as a starter, including the playoffs, and the NFL's leading passer. It was still two years before the current rating formula, but it didn't matter. Under the formula used then or under the current one, he was No. 1. He also led the NFL in lowest interception percentage (1.9 percent) and yards per attempt (8.92). 

But Staubach won with more than his right arm. His scrambling bedeviled defenses, too. Countless times he converted first downs by running around and through defenses that thought they had him sacked. He finished the season with a career-high 343 yards rushing and an average of 8.4 yards per rush average.

He was named runner-up for the league MVP, was second-team All-Pro (NEA, PFWA), went to his first Pro Bowl and was chosen NFC Offensive Player of the Year by the Kansas City Committee of 101 and The Sporting News.

Staubach had other outstanding seasons, especially in the late 1970s when he had better statistics, but his first year as a starter was the best-ever season by a Cowboys' quarterback. 

Detroit Lions Reveal New Lid

 By John Turney 

Today the Detroit Lions unveiled a new alternate helmet that will be paired with their "Detroit Pride" grey uniforms. It is done in conjunction with the 90th anniversary of the franchise.

The color is Honolulu blue and has a grey facemask.

It's okay. The logo is classic but does not belong on a helmet. The color is excellent and the grey facemask is smart.

It does spruce up the grey uniforms by giving some contrast to the kits. 

It is hard to tell from the reveal photos a few years ago and today's but the trim and stripes on the grey uniform appear to be a different shade of blue, but could also be the lighting at Ford Field that makes it appear that way.
For something that will only be worn once in a while, it's a "no harm, no foul" situation. This helmet takes a D uniform and takes it to a C-.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Bob "Boomer" Brown—R.I.P.

By John Turney 
Bob Brown was more than a Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman. He was a legendary figure.

Don Shula called him the NFL's best-ever tackle. Gene Upshaw said he was "the most intimidating." George Allen said "at his best, no one was better." Carl Eller called him "my most feared competitor."

Brown passed away last Friday from complications of a stroke suffered in April, with his death announced by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was 81 and is survived by his wife Cecelia and son Robert Jr.

"On the field," said Hall-of-Fame president Jim Porter in a prepared statement, "he was as fierce an opponent as any defensive linemen or linebacker ever faced. He used every tactic and technique – and sometimes brute force – to crush the will of the person across the line from him. And took great pride in doing so."

Brown played a decade in the NFL for three teams - the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders -- and was voted to six Pro Bowls and the NFL's 1960s All-Decade team.

He was a first-team All-Pro in 1965 (AP, NEA), 1966 (AP, UPI, NEA, PFWA), 1968 (AP, UPI, NEA, PFWA), 1969 (AP, UPI, NEA, PFWA), 1970 (AP, NEA, PFWA), 1971 (NEA) and 1972 (PFWA). He was a second-team All-Pro twice—1964 (AP) and 1967 (AP, UPI).

He only failed to receive postseason honors in his final season of 1973. In a vote taken by the NFLPA, Brown was voted the NFL's best offensive lineman in 1969-70 by his peers. A 1966 poll of NFL media members produced the same result.

Bottom line: Bob Brown was elite. He was also smart, huge, athletic, competitive and, yes, "intimidating," as Upshaw said.

The second overall pick of the 1964 NFL draft (by Philadelphia) and the fourth of the '64 AFL draft (Denver), Brown turned down a $125,000 offer by the Broncos to play in Philadelphia because he believed the NFL was the better league ... and because he thought he had superior NFL talent.

"Boomer," as he was called, was not going to take the easy way out.
He hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, attending Cleveland East Tech, and from there was a top student at Nebraska. Graduating by the time he entered the NFL, he earned his master's degree while playing pro football - at the University of Pennsylvania.

So he was smart.

In fact, he was so smart that, as an undergraduate, he realized counselors weren't steering him to courses with enough credits to graduate in four years. They were, he believed, more interested in football than his education. So he took extra units each semester, maintaining a B+ average throughout.

As I said, smart.

The former All-American became an immediate starter in Philadelphia at right tackle. He had had massive size (6-4, 270 pounds) and was credited with a 4.4-second time in the 40 ... and that is not a misprint.


As a pro, he quickly added more size and strength. At over 300 pounds, he began a self-styled weight program that was ahead of its time. His military press was between 385-412 pounds, with Brown remarking that the "American record is 412 pounds."

The results were there for everyone to see ... and feel.

"He hit like a tank," said an Eagles' scout.

"Bob Brown was probably my most feared competitor," said Eller, "He would strike out at you. His intent was to do bodily harm. He wanted to inflict pain."

And he did, belting opposing linemen with repeated shots to their bodies with his powerful forearms. Not only did he hit like a tank; he hit with ill intent. 

"My philosophy is not to accept the blows, but to deliver them," Brown once told Sports Illustrated. "There are some choice areas like the spleen, when I can get at it."

While with the Eagles, he broke a thumb and had to wear a padded cast to protect it. However, he had trainers keep the thumb in a cast for the rest of his career so he could use it as a weapon. If a defensive end used a pass-rush technique exposing his ribs - like an inside "swim move" - Brown would jab the thumb into his opponent's midsection, often hurting him.

Veterans warned rookies about the danger, but they didn't always listen.

In 1971, Brown broke rookie Jack Youngblood's ribs that way. Two years later, he damaged Cardinals' rookie Andy Dorris's rib cage. Another unnamed rookie tried to beat Brown by going through, not around him. He quickly learned. It was a mistake.

"That rookie was like a head of cabbage," Brown told the media. "All head, no butt, and I ate him."

As a Ram, Brown's duals with Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Deacon Jones were legendary, not only in games but in practice. For two years they honed each other's skills by going head-to-head in practice ... the best vs. the best. It was so competitive that Rams' coaches sometimes had to stop them for fear that one would get hurt.

That was smart, too.

After leaving the Rams and tired of being head-slapped by the Deacon, Brown replaced his helmet screws with longer, sharpened ones that protruded -- causing a serious safety hazard for any hand that struck them ... as Jones later found out. Unaware of what Brown had done, Jones delivered a head slap and wound up with a hole in his left hand, leaving an ugly scar.
Maybe that's why, as a rookie in 1964, Brown was nicknamed "Barbed Wire" by the Eagles' trainer. Though the name didn't catch on, the message did: "Stay away from the man unless you want to suffer."

Yes, "Boomer" was nasty from Day One.

When he was traded to the Raiders, Brown wanted to let the rest of the tough-guy team know who was boss. So, on the first day of camp, he began warmups by throwing forearm after forearm at a goalpost at one end of the practice field. 

Boom! Boom! Boom! After a few shots, the goalpost broke and came down, and Brown's message was delivered. 

He later admitted he sawed the post the night before so it would break more easily. Yep, "Boomer" was smart. He made his point but didn't break his arm doing it.

"I am not a finesse lineman like some of them in the league," he said. "There is nothing fancy about me. I am about as fancy as a 16-pound sledgehammer."

But he was good. No, he was more than good. He was a great lineman, as Hall-of-Famers attest:

-- John Madden called him the "most devastating football player I've ever seen." 

-- “At his best, no one was better than big Bob Brown," said George Allen, “To do what Brown does requires great quickness, strength and self-confidence. Few men have such a combination of assets.”

-- Don Shula called him a better blocker than the great Jim Parker and considered Brown the best-ever NFL tackle, "He was a great - and I mean great - football player," Shula said.

-- Dick Stanfel said no one worked harder than Boomer, adding that "there is not an ounce of complacency in his entire body."

-- "Everything about Brown is bigger than life," said Chargers' great Ron Mix. "His size, his talent, his intelligence, his sensitivity. He's one of a kind." 

If there was a weakness, it was only with sore knees that were an issue for several years. In fact, they were such a concern that the risk of playing poorly led Brown to retire at 32 when he still "could play." He didn't want to age like the proverbial gunfighter who lost his skills and wound up "face down in the dirt." 

He played in 126 games, starting 124, and was voted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame 11 years later in what he called "the greatest thrill of my athletic career."

Heaven's football team just gained a great tackle, but here's hoping he didn't pound down the Pearly Gates as he did goalposts. Even they might not withstand the pounding of "Boomer" Brown.