Thursday, August 24, 2023

What I Learned From Inside the Class of 2024 Seniors' Vote

This article originally appeared earlier today at Talk of Fame Two 

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame asks a former player, coach, GM ... someone connected to the game ... to serve as a consultant to its committees. This week, it had historian and colleague John Turney serve as the consultant to the seniors committee for the Class of 2024. It was a first for Turney, and he was asked to relate what he experienced. This is his story.)

It was a surprise. And an honor.

When I was contacted earlier this month by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I was asked to be an advisor to the seniors committee meeting that would narrow a list of 12 semifinalists to three -- with those three presented to the Hall's 50-member board of selectors next January.

I didn't know what to say.

After all, advisors had almost always been Hall members, players, coaches or contributors. So this would be one of those unusual times that an outsider would provide information to the committee "in the room"... or, more accurately, "on the Zoom," as it were.

I would be sitting in a chair that had been filled previously by Chuck Noll, Jack Youngblood, Dave Robinson, Bob St. Clair, Bill Polian and countless others. 

Clearly, this was a prank, right?

Since the 1990s, I've done research for voters who asked for data or a quote from one of the volumes in my library to help with their presentations. It was informal -- just a football fan helping a presenter. This, however, was different. I was to prepare and comment on all 12 candidates and people I respected would be watching.

So, it was daunting.

The discussions we had were confidential, as are the cutdown votes. But there are a few things I can say about what I learned:

First, the voters have a thankless job.

No matter which three players emerged, there would be nine fan bases angry with them. And sure enough, that happened. Terms like "robbed", "snubbed", "disgrace" and "joke" were slung around on Twitter (X), all referring to the nine players not fortunate to make the final three.

Yet, year-in and year-out, voters do what they're asked. They meet, go through a lengthy process, choose the finalists and take the abuse and insults. Then, they return to do it all over again the next year.

That is not easy. It takes thick skin.

Second, the process was orderly.

In retrospect, it makes sense. And I should have known. But as a newbie, I really wasn't sure what to expect. What I found is that Hall-of-Fame officials ran the meeting much like any business conference you've attended.

There was a roll call and welcome. Then a reading of the purpose of the meeting in the verbiage of the by-laws. The voting process was covered, with the notation that an accounting firm will do the tallying - not the Hall of Fame. Then, the rules of the meeting -- such as how long speakers have to present candidates (five minutes is recommended), the order of the presentations and so on -- were articulated. 

There was even a point-of-order question raised and answered by Hall officials. 

Third, the voters were clearly skilled writers and presenters.

Though styles differed in terms of narratives, these are 12 voters who made a living writing and broadcasting about pro football, and their experience sometimes dates back to before anyone heard of a dial-up connection or a website.

Among them were journalists who work ... or worked ... at newspapers, and all can tell more than a story. They can cite the familiar "who, what, when, where and why' of that story and include the data necessary to support an argument.

Of course, they have no choice. They're allotted just five minutes to make their case.

However, there's unlimited time afterward for discussion with others - a give-and-take as a candidate's merits are dissected.  Supporting speeches or endorsements by other committee members can occur to augment the presenter's case. Plus, questions can be asked and points rebutted. 

Fourth, voters' access to former players and coaches allows them information unavailable to fans/critics.

Fans may complain when their favorite candidate is, as they perceive, "snubbed." And they may post on Facebook or Twitter (X) the basics of why that candidate should be in the Hall -- things most football fans know.

But that information is perfunctory, a jumping-off point to get a conversation started. Afterward, the presentation goes where the fan cannot. He can't get on the phone with a Hall-of-Fame coach or player and ask about a particular individual or field off-the-record comments.

The Hall-of-Fame voter can. And does.

Remember, not all comments are necessarily positive. But because of voters' experience and access, their presentations were thorough and thoroughly vetted.

Fifth, it struck me how cordial and professional the voters were. 

These were people who had known each other for a while. So, when someone would ask a pointed question about another's candidate, it wasn't taken personally.

Finally, the voters were open to outside information.

I opened by saying I respected these people and that I would do my best to put aside personal preferences and provide equally strong information for all candidates .. plus, make sure that, when statistics were presented, they were done in an apples-to-apples fashion.

For example, I informed the committee that I distinguished between consensus All-Pro (a player who made a majority of major All-Pro teams in a given year), first-team All-Pro (made at least one, but not a majority), and second-team All-Pro which, in my view, is a slightly lesser honor. I also said that, when comparing statistics, I do it on a per-game basis for players with careers in different eras.

Things like that.

My perception was that my input was accepted and not seen as interloping, and I was made to feel welcome. I have no idea if I did well or not -- that's up to the voters and the Hall -- and I fully admit to being nervous and occasionally speaking too quickly. But that's just my reaction to a situation like this. 

I also have no idea if the Hall will continue this practice. But I do know that it was a privilege to be invited. I also know that, having seen what this process is like from the inside, the results were reached in good faith and through sincere diligence.

And that's all that can be asked - the critics be damned.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Maxie Baughan, Eagles' and Rams' Outside Linebacker—R.I.P.

 By John Turney 
Sunday, August, 20, nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Maxie Baughan died of natural causes at the age of 86. 

Buaghan was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960 and immediately won the starting right linebacker position and helped the Eagles beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game in his rookie season. 

He was also the runner-up for the NFL  Rookie of the Year award.

Prior to entering the NFL he'd been an All-American center and linebacker at Georgia Tech and was named to that school's Georgia Hall of Fame and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as well.

He played for the Eagles from 1960-65 and was voted All-Pro by the New York Daily News (NYDN) in 1961 and 1964 and by the Associated Press (AP) in 1964 as well. He also was voted to the Eastern Conference Pro Bowl teams five times in his six seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.

In 1966 he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. New Rams head coach George Allen valued experience and leadership and coveted Baughan so he sent a third-round pick and two players to the Eagles for the veteran linebacker. Allen had also traded for Steelers linebacker Maxie Baughan and coaxed Rams linebacker Jack Pardee out of a one-year retirement, totally revamping the Rams linebacker corps. 

Baughan started five years for Allen at right linebacker and was the defensive signal caller for the defensive unit. The Rams' defense, with Baughan calling the plays, was among the best in the NFL in his five years there allowing the fewest points in pro football, the second-fewest yards, the second-fewest rushing yards and having the second-most sacks and creating the second-most turnovers.

With the Rams Baughan went to four more Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro in 1966 (NEA), 1967 (UPI) and was second-team in 1968 and 1969 (AP, NYDN).

After the 1971 season Allen was fired by the Rams but then quickly rehired in the Nation's Capital. Among the first orders of business was to rebuild his linebacking unit as he'd done with the Rams. 

Allen sent a slew of draft picks to the Rams for a defensive lineman plus Baughan, Pattious and Pardee and a few other Rams players.

However, Baughan didn't suit up for Allen that year but Pottios and Pardee did

Baughan went back to his alma mater, Georgia Tech and coached a couple of seasons but in 1974 was back in the NFL as a player/coach for George Allen, with an emphasis on coach. But when injuries depleted the teams' linebackers Baughan did suit up in games late that year, playing in a couple and even recording a tackle at age 36.
After that year he retired for good and became the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Colts from 1975-79 and then the Detroit Lions from 1980-82.

He was hired to be the head coach at Cornell and stayed there for five years posting winning records in 1986 and 1988 finishing second and tied for first respectively in the Ivy League standings. The 1988 first-place finish was Cornell's first Ivy League championship since 1971.

After being fired at Cornell he returned to the NFL as a linebackers coach for the Vikings, Buccaneers and Ravens and had a hand in coaching Hall-of-Famers Derrick Brooks and Ray Lewis among others in his final stint in the NFL.

In his NFL career, he was credited with 24-1/2 sacks, 18 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. He played in 147 games, starting 143.

In total he was a first-team All-Pro four times, second-team All-Pro three seasons and of course went to nine Pro Bowls.

George Allen noted that while Baughan was not as physically gifted as some linebackers he made up for it with savvy and toughness, "I remember games where no one thought he could play but he not only played but performed as well as ever."

Allen added, "Maxie couldn't overpower blockers but he could outwit them and outlast them. He never gave up on a play and ended up getting back into plays he seemed out of."

He is a member of the Pro Football Researcher's Hall of Very Good and has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to the Georgia Tech and College Halls, he is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, both the Georgia and Alabama Sports Halls of Fame and the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame.

Yesterday Baughan was presented to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of twelve seniors committee finalists for the Class of 2024 but he fell short, not emerging as one of the three players who will be presented to the 50-member voting committee next January.

According to press reports Baughan is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dianne; his sons Max, Mark and Matt; and eight grandchildren.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Buddy Parker Chosen as Coach/Contributor Nominee for HOF Class of 2024

By John Turney 
In a mild surprise, Buddy Parker -- best known as coach of the 1950's Detroit Lions that beat Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns in back-to-back NFL title games -- is on the verge of joining the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame. He was chosen Tuesday as the Hall's coach/contributor finalist for the Class of 2024, with the announcement made Wednesday afternoon.

Parker, who also coached the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Cardinals, was one of 12 candidates in a field that included seven head coaches -- and while he was considered a contender, he was not the favorite.

New England owner Robert Kraft was.

Parker will now be considered for election when the Hall's board of 50 selectors meets in January to choose next year's class. If he gains 80 percent of the vote ... a virtual certainty ... he will be enshrined in Canton.

Sixty years after he last coached.

"Of all the coaches I have seen in pro football history," said former NFL GM Upton Bell, son of Hall-of-Famer Bert Bell, "Buddy Parker was one of the greatest."

Remarkably, this is only the second occasion that Parker has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist. He was one of eight coaches considered for the Centennial Class of 2020 but was not chosen. Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher were. Parker was also one of 12 semifinalists last year in the first year of the coach/contributor category, but he didn't advance to the final four. 

His election marks the second consecutive upset in the newly created category. A year ago, former coach Don Coryell was chosen after Kraft was considered the favorite.

However, Parker's election is not surprising to those who study and follow NFL history. In fact, in two separate "Judge and Jury" columns from the Talk of Fame Two the past six months, seven historians were asked to pick the next coach for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Five chose Parker.

Parker coached the Lions for six seasons (1951-56), going 50-24-2 (including playoffs) with Detroit winning the 1952 and 1953 NFL championships. Dating back to 1933, it marked only the third time in NFL history that a team won consecutive championships. And it was under the guidance of a head coach who took the team from Motor City to a third straight NFL title game a year later -- this time losing to the Browns.

It was his only loss to Cleveland and Paul Brown. He was 4-1 against them, including 2-1 in championship games.

"He's the one guy who had Paul Brown’s number,” said Bell, “and I consider Paul Brown the greatest innovator and coach of all time. “

Parker led the Lions from mediocrity to champions and vastly improved the Steelers in his time there. But he was one of the NFL's premier defensive innovators, too, utilizing zone defenses and nickel defenses in new ways in the 1950s. He also helped to popularize the 4-3 defense, moving Joe Schmidt from left linebacker to the middle.

The Lions went on to win the 1957 NFL title with George Wilson, Parker’s offensive coordinator, as head coach parlaying Parker's squad to a third championship in six years. While Wilson coached the team, it was Parker who built it -- acquiring quarterback Tobin Rote immediately prior to the season and just before Parker abruptly resigned.

Parker joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957 and led them for eight seasons. He was 51-47-6 and never reached the playoffs, let's put that into context: His winning percentage for those eight years was .519; the winning percentage for the Steelers the previous eight years was .438, and for the eight years after, it was .335.

Parker made a difference.

While coaching the Steelers, he converted a dominant pursuit defensive tackle in "Big Daddy" Lipscomb into a dominant pass-rushing one -- seeing the potential the big man would have in disrupting NFL passers.

He had an overall NFL record of 107-76-9 and a winning percentage of .585 that exceeds Hall-of-Fame coaches Chuck Noll, Bill Parcells, Marv Levy, Hank Stram, Weeb Ewbank, Dick Vermeil, Sid Gillman, Don Coryell and Tom Flores.

The Texas native was an assistant coach in the NFL from 1944-48 and in 1950. As a player, he spent two seasons with the Lions (1935-36), where he won an NFL title, followed by seven seasons with the Cardinals.

Parker died in 1982 at the age of 68 in Kaufman, Texas.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Recalling the NFL’s Best Offensive Tackles of the 1970s

 By Joe Zagorski 
Every football coaching staff realizes that a stalwart offensive tackle can bring your offense success.  Whether it be through his ability to stop a charging defensive end from destroying your pass pocket, or by walling off an outside linebacker from getting close to a running back, an offensive tackle who is adept at his craft can indeed be advantageous to a team’s offensive production. 

Offensive tackles represent the outside bookends to every offensive line. True, there are no real statistics that can be attributed directly to offensive tackles, except for quarterback sacks permitted and team rushing yardage gained.  Nevertheless, during the 1970s, the NFL saw many exemplary offensive tackles who exemplified the strength and the power of their respective teams. Below is a list of just some of them who stood out the most, and they are listed in random order, not in any best-to-worst order. 

Ron Yary was a 14-year offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings.  He played his final year in pro football (1982) for the Los Angeles Rams. Yary was named All-Pro in seven consecutive seasons from 1971 to 1977. He also was named to seven Pro Bowl squads during that time, and he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s. 

While he was with the Vikings, Yary experienced winning 11 division titles. He also was a member of all four of Minnesota’s trips to the Super Bowl.  Yary’s physical stature and strength (he was 6-foot-5, and he weighed 255 pounds) made him a difficult obstacle for opposing defensive ends to get past along the line of scrimmage.  He missed only two games during his pro career due to injury, and he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
Rayfield Wright (6-6, 270) was a 13-year offensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys from 1967 to 1979. He played his 14th and final year in pro football in 1980 as a practice squad member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Wright was a veritable man-mountain at right offensive tackle for the Cowboys.  

Known as the “Big Cat,” Wright played in sixth NFC Championship games and five Super Bowls, winning two of them (Super Bowl VI and Super Bowl XII). He was also a member of six straight Pro Bowl teams.  Wright was named to six straight All-Pro squads, and he experienced 10 division titles as a member of the Cowboys. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

George Kunz (6-5, 257) was one of the most outstanding blockers of the 1970s. He split his 12-year career evenly between the Atlanta Falcons (1969-1974) and the Baltimore Colts (1975-1980). You knew what you were going to get with Kunz. He was as steady as they came. 

He would practically remove any vestige of success from the opposing defensive end that he faced on a weekly basis. Kunz earned All-Pro recognition five times and played in seven Pro Bowls. He started 126 of the 129 games that he played.  He was a vital member in helping the Colts to return to their winning tradition from 1975 to 1977.  

Art Shell of the Oakland Raiders was another in the line of huge offensive tackles. He stood 6-5 and weighed 265, and he had the strength of a bear. He presented a most difficult problem for opposing defensive ends, as they tried to get around him. In Super Bowl XI, he kept veteran Minnesota defensive end Jim Marshall from making one single tackle in that game.  

Shell played 15 years in the NFL from 1968 to 1982, and all with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s, and he was a member of three winning Super Bowl teams. Shell appeared in eight Pro Bowls, and he achieved All-Pro recognition four times during his career.

Leon Gray (6-3, 256) was another one of those unheralded offensive tackles who did not distinguish himself until he got to the pros. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1973, then released and picked up by the New England Patriots. While at New England from 1973 to 1978, Gray was overshadowed by his fellow linemate, Hall of Fame offensive guard John Hannah. Despite that fact, Gray proved himself to be one of the best offensive tackles in the game. 

Thanks in large part to his efforts, the Patriots became one of the best-rushing teams in the league. In 1978, they ran for an NFL-best 3,165 yards.  Gray was traded to the Houston Oilers in 1979 and played there for three seasons.  He was vital in leading the Oilers to the 1979 AFC Title Game. Gray played two more years in pro football with the New Orleans Saints from 1982 to 1983. He achieved All-Pro designation from 1978-1980, and he played in four Pro Bowls.
Like Leon Gray, Stan Walters (6-6, 275) also played for more than one team. The durable Walters began his career in Cincinnati and played there from 1972 to 1974. Then in 1975, he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he remained until his retirement from pro football following the 1983 season. Walters did not receive as many honors as those offensive tackles listed above. 

Nevertheless, he was a steady and reliable anchor who was an outstanding run blocker and a very efficient pass blocker. Walters typically faced some of the quickest defensive ends in the league.  Dallas Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin listed Walters as “…the best I ever went up against.” Walters helped the Bengals win a division title in 1973, and he helped the Eagles to playoff berths in four consecutive years, and to the NFC Title in 1980. He was named to one All-Pro team and two Pro Bowls during his career.

Norm Evans (6-5, 250) was another offensive tackle during this era to play for more than just one team.  He represented a steady and reliable influence on the Miami Dolphins' offensive line for over a decade.  But he began his pro football career as a 14th-round draft selection of the Houston Oilers in 1965. He then became the only player in the sport’s history to be selected in two expansion drafts. He was chosen by the Miami Dolphins in 1966. Evans stayed in Miami for 10 seasons, then he was selected by the expansion Seattle team in 1976, where he remained until his final year in the NFL in 1978. But it was in Miami where Evans experienced his greatest successes.  

Like most offensive linemen, Evans did not get a lot of credit for his efforts. But he was a vital cog in helping to seal off opposing defensive linemen from penetrating the Dolphins’ backfield. Miami had one of the strongest running attacks in the league during the early 1970s, and it was their ground game that led the way to three straight Super Bowl appearances (1971-1973) and two straight Super Bowl victories (1972 and 1973). Evans served as a reliable component to the success of the Dolphins’ running backs during that era. He played in two Pro Bowls during his career.
There may have been several other great offensive tackles who played in the NFL and who have not been listed here. But these have been listed to inspire and recognize the natural debates that arise whenever fans wish to discuss the merits and achievements of all pro players. Men like Yary, Wright, Kunz, Shell, Gray, Walters and Evans represent just some of the great offensive tackles who played pro football during the 1970s.


Joe Zagorski is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Pro Football Researchers Association. His upcoming book, The 2,003-Yard Odyssey: The Juice, the Electric Company, and an Epic Run for a Record, is scheduled to be released by Austin-Macauley publishers later in 2023.

Friday, August 11, 2023

What to Make of Cowherd's 'Small Hall' and First-Ballot Takes

by John Turney  
It happens every year.

Canton's Hall of Fame Weekend stirs up conversations among fans, players and media, all with their takes on the institution that honors the best of the best players in NFL history.

And so it is that Colin Cowherd, host of "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" on Fox Sports Radio and Fox Sports, entered the arena this week, calling not for more Hall of Famers.

But for fewer.

"I am one of those," he said, "where the Hall of Fame would have far fewer members. It does not matter if it is the broadcasting Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the 'Football Hall of Fame', the Baseball, Basketball Hall of Fame. They are all watered down. ... The minute you water it down and you put them in with all-time greats it feels lesser-than."

Fair enough. We all have our views on the Pro Football Hall of Fame and whether it should be a "small Hall" or a more inclusive one. Reasonable people can disagree. But then Cowherd went on.

"To me," he said, "there are 10 players in the NFL right now that are first-ballot Hall of Famers."

And he named them:

Patrick Mahomes—"Mahomes ... if he retired today ... he's a Hall of Famer."

Aaron Rodgers—"I think Aaron Rodgers, who I always like better than Brett Favre, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer."

Travis Kelce—"Kelce could retire today, he’s in. So is his brother, Jason."

Trent Williams—"Trent Williams may be the best left tackle ever .. he is on a shortlist"

Jason Kelce—"Arguably the best center in the history of the league."

Aaron Donald—"Aaron Donald, second best interior defensive lineman I’ve ever seen to Reggie White ... and it's close."

Myles Garrett and Von Miller—"Myles Garrett and Von Miller -- they just look different and play different."

Bobby Wagner—"Bobby Wagner is a nine-time All-Pro. He’s a Hall of Famer ... a tackling machine"

Justin Tucker—"Every other kicker, at some point, becomes unstable ... a little bit of a head case ... you’re not sure. He is the automatic in a position with no automatics"

"To me," Cowherd said, "these are the Hall of Famers currently playing."


OK, first things first: It's a good list. But are they all first-ballot candidates, as he contends? 

I don't think so.

First, there's one clear omission. It's Dallas guard Zack Martin. Martin will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  However, to be fair, Cowherd may have gotten some pushback here because in a later interview with Mark Schlereth, he said he "may be missing the interior offensive lineman for the Cowboys."

Not "may be." He did.

So how about the rest of his predictions?

Mahomes? Cowherd is right.

Travis Kelce? Right again.

Aaron Rodgers? Correct.

Trent Williams? That's a maybe. 

It's not a "maybe" on his being the best left tackle in history as Cowherd contends. In a world that includes Anthony Munoz, it's a "no." As far as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, let's remember that the 6-5, 320-pound tackle has been a first-team AP All-Pro just twice in his career and an AP second-team All-Pro one other year.

Included in the dossiers that the Pro Football Hall sends annually to voters are all the major All-Pro teams, including the PFWA and The Sporting News. They would bolster Williams' case. Because Williams was a first-team Sporting News All-Pro three times, that makes him a five-time All-Pro -- twice consensus -- in the eyes of the Hall of Fame. 

So, how does that compare to other first-ballot left tackles? 

Munoz was a consensus All-Pro seven times and 11 times overall. Jonathan Ogden was a first-time All-Pro in seven seasons, with five of them considered consensus All-Pro years. Walter Jones was a consensus All-Pro five times and six times overall. The Class of 2023's Joe Thomas was an eight-time All-Pro, with six consensus.

While All-Pro (and Pro Bowl selections) are not the only criteria voters weigh, they seem to be a starting point ... and Williams falls short in comparison. He no doubt will pass the voters' "eye test" and receive a surfeit of praise from opposing edge rushers.

But so did Munoz, Ogden, Jones and Thomas. 

Judging by Cowherd's parameters, if Williams suffered a career-ending now, he's no first-ballot lock. Of course, if he plays a few more years at his current level, his first-ballot possibilities improve.

Let's move on to Jason Kelce.  This is a tough one, and it's likely ... but not a slam dunk. Dwight Stephenson or Mike Webster fans would challenge Cowherd's contention that Kelce is the best-ever center. And, in terms of being inducted immediately? Remember: When we're talking centers, only Jim Otto and Jim Langer made it to Canton in their first years of eligibility. 

Cowherd is right about Aaron Donald, though the statement about Reggie White as an interior defensive lineman is curious. White did play some inside -- as a nose tackle in Buddy Ryan's 46 defense and as a defensive tackle in some nickel packages ;; and played a couple of years as a 3-4 defensive end. But most people consider him a defensive end -- and some as the best-ever at that position.

Nonetheless, Donald is a first-ballot lock. Cowherd nailed this one.

Myles Garrett. Again, if the premise is that his career ended now, the answer would be "no" on his first-ballot chances. He simply needs to do more. Six years and 74-1/2 sacks in a hypothetical short career won't put him in on anyone's first ballot. When he does more -- in, maybe, five more years, with 50 more sacks and four or five more Pro Bowls (he's been to four) -- then we can talk.

It is, however, fair to say he's on schedule to get there.

With Von Miller, Cowherd is probably right. Two rings for Miller will help, but remember: Derrick Thomas and DeMarcus Ware were not first-ballot inductees, as odd as that may seem. If we play out this exercise and 2022 was his final year, Miller's "eye test" would probably take him over the top.

Bobby Wagner. Cowherd is correct. 

Calling Wagner a "nine-time" All-Pro does reveal that he (more likely his staff) doesn't distinguish between first and second-team All-Pro. Even so, Wagner has done enough and should get his Gold Jacket right away.

Justin Tucker is another tough one. 

In his commentary, Cowherd nailed Tucker as the complete package: Accurate, great leg and clutch. But if Tucker's career ended now? It's hard to say what voters might do with a kicker with just 11 years in the NFL.

What might help his case is that Jan Stenerud, the first specialist enshrined in Canton, was a first-ballot choice in 1991. However, Stenerud played 19 seasons, and Morten Andersen 25. They're the only two kickers in the Hall.

Then there's Adam Vinatieri. He'll almost certainly joins them in Canton, though not necessarily as a first-ballot choice. He had 24 seasons to his credit.  For Tucker to join Stenerud as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he'd likely have to play at least another five or six seasons. 

Clearly, there are more current players who will be enshrined in Canton, but they may have to wait years ... as will some on Cowherd's list. The twin Cams, for example — Cam Jordan and Cam Heyward -- almost certainly will be Hall of Famers, but not as pure pass rushers (one as edge; the other as interior). Both defend the run well.

Still, they're unlikely first-ballot candidates. 

Russell Wilson is another possibility. He had a rough year in 2022, but assuming he were to stop playing today, he has a solid shot at the Hall ... though, again, not on his first try.

There are others on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory, with Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt the most prominent of those Cowherd mentioned. He has as good a case as Garrett -- six years, 77-1/2 sacks and three first-team All-Pro seasons -- and, like Garrett, must maintain his current level a few years longer.

Others that Cowherd mentioned are relative newbies in the league -- Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, Nick Bosa, Micah Parsons, Fred Warner and Patrick Surtain II. All have a long way to go, but, as Cowherd said, they're obvious standouts.

Overall, Cowherd did a credible job, so there's no reason to knock him. He identified most of the players with cases for instant immortality, with the exception of Zack Martin. Plus, his view on a smaller Hall is not uncommon.

However, the only voice that matters is the Hall's, and recent classes have been maxed out. There are no open slots as there were with the board of selectors 25-30 years ago. So, while Cowherd's suggestion is intriguing, a "small hall" isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Two Games in Two Days—Isiah Robertson and Jack Youngblood

by John Turney 
Jack Youngblood at LDE, Isiah Robertson at LLB
in the College All-Star Game in Chicago, 1971
Aaron Rodgers didn't make his New York Jets' debut in last week's Hall-of-Fame game, but that's no big deal. He hasn't played a preseason game since 2018 when he was with Green Bay. But when Rams' rookie defensive end Jack Youngblood suited up for the 1971 Hall-of-Fame contest, it was news.

The reason: He played the night before in the College All-Star Game in Chicago against the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Colts.


But he wasn't the only one. Teammate Isiah Robertson also played two games in consecutive days -- joining Youngblood to play the Houston Oilers at Canton's Fawcett Stadium. 

The Rams won, 17-6, but that's not the story.

Youngblood and Robertson were.

That they even made it to Canton was impressive. They'd spent part of the previous evening on Chicago's Rush Street, joining teammates at the city's night spots after pushing the Colts to the finish line and falling to a 24-17 defeat.

The All-Stars were praised by some of the Colts' veterans, as well as the media, with Youngblood one of those cited. He played so well that he finished third in voting for the game's MVP. Also mentioned was Houston's rookie quarterback, Dan Pastorini.

But it was Youngblood's linemate, Richard Harris, who won the award. He and the rest of the Rams' defense spent most of the evening in the Colts' backfield, then hit the town afterward to enjoy their freedom and celebrate their performance.

"We went up one side of Rush Street and down the other," Youngblood said.

That should've been the end of the story. But it wasn't. After going to bed early that morning, Youngblood and Robertson were awakened by Rams' administrator and former player Tank Younger and hauled to the airport to meet the team in Canton.

" 'Butch' (Robertson) asked why we couldn't go directly to Los Angeles", recalled Youngblood, "He didn't see why we needed to go to Ohio for one day."

But they did.

The pair of first-round draft picks slept on the flight until they touched down in the Canton-Akron airport and were whisked to Fawcett Stadium. There, they were dropped off and told by rookie coach Tommy Prothro that they would play that day ... on special teams.

Two games in two days.

The bleary-eyed Youngblood and Robertson didn't play much --only on special teams to cover kicks and punts -- because Rams' coaches thought it was something they could do without practicing with the specialty units. Blocking on returns or for kick protections, however, might present problems.

"All 'Butch' and I did," said Youngblood, "was run down and try to tackle the guy with the ball."

They must have done all right. No kicks were returned for scores, and there were no major breakdowns in the 10 or so plays  where they participated. By contrast, Pastorini -- who was the College All-Stars' leading rusher 24 hours earlier -- didn't play for Houston.

Jerry Rhome and Lynn Dickey did, handling all the snaps as Houston's quarterbacks.

Since the inception of the Hall-of-Fame game in 1962, there have been 188 Hall-of-Famers on rosters of teams that played in the annual event, though all didn't play in the game.

In 1971 there were six.
Youngblood (left) and Robertson (right)
in their rookie season in Dallas
On the Oilers' roster were Ken Houston and Charlie Joiner. The Rams' future Hall-of-Famers were Deacon Jones, Tom Mack, Merlin Olsen, and Jack Youngblood. Olsen, who was coming off postseason right knee surgery didn't play.

Youngblood, who was coming off a game and night on the town, did. 

Prior to the contest, the Hall's Class of 1971 was inducted, and it was one of the strongest ever. Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi led a field that included Andy Robustelli, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Bill Hewitt and Frank “Bruiser” Kinard.

Legends all.

When Saturday's Class of 2023 is introduced, it will include seven inductees who participated in the Hall-of-Fame game --Ronde Barber, Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko, Ken Riley, Zach Thomas, DeMarcus Ware ... plus Don Coryell, who coached.

It will not, however, include anyone who played twice in two days.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Oddity—Both of the Rams' John Johnsons Signed With the Rams Twice

 By John Turney 
Johnnie Johnson (L) and John Johnson III (R)
In 1980 The Rams drafted safety Johnnie Johnson and in 1989 re-signed him for the playoffs run after being released by the Seattle Seahawks, the team he'd signed with in Plan B free agency.

Today they signed John Johnson III after losing him to free agency to the Cleveland Browns in 2021. Johnson III was a third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Both were rookie starters at strong safety and played very well. Johnson was a consensus All-Rookie selection and Johnson III made ESPN's All-Rookie team selected by Mel Kiper, Jr.

Though technically not the same name—Johnnie versus John but close enough for rock and roll. 

However, Rams fans are hoping the recent Johnson signing will work out better than the last, or at least last longer. In 1989 Johnson was 33 and was only signed because of injuries in the Rams' secondary. 

Johnson III is being signed to be a leader among a young group of safeties and is hoped, anyway, to bring stability and leadership to the defense. He certainly brings experience.

Career stats—

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Michael Dean Perry—The Dominant Perry Brother

By John Turney 
Michael Dean Perry's older brother, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, got far more attention than he did. "The Fridge" had size, charisma, and a coach who would occasionally play him at fullback.

Not to mention a Super Bowl ring, too.

However, the younger brother was the better NFL player. He was an All-Pro defensive tackle who played for Cleveland and Denver Broncos, had a cup of coffee with the Kansas City Chiefs and, for some reason known only to voters, can't get the attention of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Never was that more evident than when the Hall-of-Fame seniors committee's list of 12 semifinalists was released last week. Perry's name wasn't on it. Nor was it on its semifinalist list of 31, either. So, what's new? Hall-of-Fame voters have never seriously considered Perry. He wasn't a semifinalist as a modern-era candidate, and he's gotten no traction as a senior. Hopefully, that changes in the future.

It should, and here's why: Even though he didn't have huge sack numbers (he ended his career with 61), Perry was a superb pass rusher, drawing double-and-triple teams. When he played with the Browns, they didn't have elite edge rushers who required extra attention or another interior rusher who was an elite pass rusher.

Michael Dean Perry was the Browns' pass rush, and we have the proof.

In 1993, a company called STATS, LLC., (now Stats Perform) introduced a bundle of unique statistics, including something called "stuffs" -- their name for a tackle for loss on a play other than a sack. But those numbers didn't find their way into mainstream articles or player bios, so they drew little attention. Plus, they didn't cover players prior to 1993.

However, it's easy to reproduce what STATS did and backdate what it called "stuffs." And when you do (and researchers have), it reveals something intriguing about Michael Dean Perry. It confirms what people saw -- namely, that he was in the backfield spilling running backs for losses as often, if not more, as anyone in football.

He was a supreme run stuffer. In his second year he had 11-1/2 of the so-called stuffs. The next year he had another 11-1/2. In 1991, it was 10-1/2. All three years he was third in the NFL. In 1993, he had a career-high 14 stuffs, and in his 10 NFL seasons he totaled 78.

So how does that compare to his contemporaries who are in -- or on their way into -- the Hall of Fame? Let's take a look: 

-- Cortez Kennedy— 58, with a high of 14.

-- Warren Sapp— 61-1/2, with a high of 8-1/2.

-- John Randle— 44, with a high of 8.

-- Bryant Young— 82, with a high of 9.

-- Aaron Donald— 83, with a high of 13-1/2.

Perry had such rare quickness for a man of his size (6-1, 285 pounds) that football insiders ranked his take-off up there with Alan Page, Mike Reid, Sam Adams and Aaron Donald. In short, among the best of the best. Perry's anticipation allowed him to penetrate the line of scrimmage and make plays that most defensive tackles could not.

"Quickness is my best asset," Perry said. "It is not something you learn. It's God-given." 

So people noticed.

Perry was a first-team Sporting News (TSN) All-Pro five consecutive years, and that's significant. TSN's All-Pro team was the only one that wasn't a poll of sportswriters. It was determined by players, coaches and NFL personnel execs -- and still is. Furthermore, its All-Pro team is listed in the NFL's official encyclopedia, giving it the same imprimatur as the AP, PFWA, NEA and others.

What TSN's All-Pro team illustrated was that people connected to the NFL respected Perry's game.

And why not? In all, Perry was first-team All-Pro in 1989 (AP, PFWA, NEA, TSN), 1990 (AP, PFWA, NEA, TSN), 1991 (TSN), 1992 (TSN) and 1993 (TSN). He was also second-team All-Pro in 1994 (AP) and second-team All-AFC in 1995 (UPI) and 1996 (UPI), which means he had some sort of postseason honor in every season but his first and last.

And remember: He was All-Rookie in his first.

In 1989 he was the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. It was his first year as a starter when he totaled 71 tackles, including the 11-1/2 stuffs. He also had seven sacks, deflected seven passes, forced a pair of fumbles, recovered two and led the team in pressures with 49.

All as an interior rusher. Plus, he drew 16 holding penalties. 


"And who knows how many more they didn't call or didn't see," said his offensive-line coach, John Teerlinck.

Offensive linemen couldn't block him from his cocked defensive tackle position -- something Browns' coach Bud Carson had done in previous stops with Joe Greene and Joe Klecko. Carson tinkered with it the following year, allowing Perry to flop sides, and the results speak for themselves: He had 86 tackles, two more forced fumbles and led the team in pressures again. But he also had 11-1/2 sacks, as well as another 11-1/2 run stuffs -- producing a rare double-digit finish in both categories.

Perry, Carson said, had "reached another dimension" in his game.

Unfortunately, so had the Browns, and it wasn't a good one. Carson was fired after the 1990 season. So his attacking, 4-3 stunting scheme was gone, and successor Bill Belichick's read-and-react 4-3 was in. Though not stylistically suited for two-gapping, Perry still performed at a high level ... even though he wasn't always happy about the new defense. 

"Anyone—offensive or defensively—wants to play in a scheme where they are used properly," he said. "Don't take away my attributes; that is getting off the ball, penetrating, causing chaos and making plays."

Then, realizing it was no good to quarrel with his head coach, he added, "Sometimes you have to sacrifice individual goals to aid the team."

In 1993, Belichick gave Perry some relief by signing massive Jerry Ball to play over the center so that Perry could be "used properly". His career-high 14 stuffs and six sacks were the result, evidence that ... at least in this case ... the player may have been right and the coach wrong.

The reviews were glowing:

-- Pro Football Weekly's Joel Buchsbaum, always plugged into NFL scouts, wrote that Perry was "the quickest defensive interior lineman in football."

-- Another annual publication with credible sources called Perry "an utter terror inside in a 4-3 front, using superb explosion and instincts to consistently beat his man off the ball."

-- The following year the same publication wrote that "(Perry is the) owner of the quickest two first steps in football. He has no peer in shooting the guard/tackle gap. On occasion, he reaches the ball carrier before the handoff ... his swim-and-spin moves are state-of-the-art."

However, the knee issues that troubled him early in his NFL career became more of an issue as his career wore on. Perry gutted through them, undergoing surgical procedures but still missing little time. In seven seasons with Cleveland, he missed only three games.

Unprotected and unclaimed in the 1995 expansion Perry was a Browns' cap casualty in 1995 subsequently signing a three-year, $7.2-million contract with the Broncos and giving them two solid years. But injured knees didn't allow him to play at his usual level in the final year of his deal, and he was waived the last week of the 1997 season -- thus missing out on a Super Bowl ring when Denver won its first Lombardi Trophy.

It wasn't one knee injury that short-circuited Perry's decline. It was a series of less severe ones that became chronic and eventually ended his career after 10 seasons.
Hall-of-Famers with shorter careers that ended abruptly by injuries have been given a pass by voters lately, with Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley and Tony Boselli examples. Maybe for candidates like Perry, who had chronically bad knees, the same lens can be applied for longevity.

All I know is that in his 10 years, he was a five-time All-Pro (twice consensus), six-time Pro Bowler and an AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He was the complete player. Few, if any, defensive tackles of his era tackled more running backs behind the line of scrimmage, and he routinely drew double-and-triple teams -- as well as holding calls -- on pass plays.

Perry is in the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame and the State of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. That's because he was a two-time All-ACC selection, a 1987 All-American selection and that year's ACC Player of the Year. Not just the top defensive player, but the top player in the conference regardless of position.

Now it's time the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters take a closer look at the better of the football-playing Perry brothers and one of the quickest defensive tackles in pro football history.

Career stats—
Stats from NFL Gamebooks