Tuesday, January 30, 2024

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "We're Not Going Out Like This"

By TJ Troup 
When the Chiefs scored the first touchdown last Sunday afternoon, thought well they have a 75% chance to win the game, and they did! When the Lions scored the first touchdown last Sunday afternoon, thought well the Niners now have a 25% chance of winning, and they did. 

The rest of this column will not be a scouting report, but thoughts on each team. 

When Dick Vermeil stepped down as coach after 2005 the Chiefs went 38-74 until Andy Reid took over. Is there any doubt he has proven his acumen as a coach? Reid's record in his last fifteen games in the playoffs is 13-2! 
Andy Reid
We all can evaluate the players, and surmise what the Chiefs game plan will be, yet from the game last Sunday at half-time Kelce had 9 catches for 96 yards! 

Thought is it possible if they needed him to continue his ability to get open and catch the ball, he might be the first tight end to have 18 catches for 200 yards?

Possibly the 49ers might want to come up with a coverage to at least limit him on Super Bowl Sunday? 

Three penalties called on Kansas City, and none for defensive holding or pass interference. Now that is one helluva job by the young men in the Chiefs secondary or we have officials that missed a few penalties. Does that continue in the Super Bowl? 

After reading my narrative today, you will be able to surmise that I want the 49ers to win and believe they will. 

Last Sunday McCaffrey had 10 carries for 29 yards in the first half, and 10 carries for 61 yards in the second half. The Lions gained 148 rushing in the first half, and 34 in the second half. San Francisco made the correct and necessary half-time adjustments last Sunday, will they be able to do that in the Super Bowl? Would relish hearing from all of you who you believe are the "key" player or players for each team, and why? 

Watch Fred Warner play and you see why he is All-Pro, and as the game unfolds will be watching to see how he defends the run and if he drops into coverage towards Kelce? 
Kyle Shanahan needs to have his game plan force Kansas City into untenable match-ups, so when he hoists the silver trophy he can finally look his dad in the eye. His statement to his team at half-time last Sunday is the title of today's narrative, and his players responded. 

The last time San Francisco won a Super Bowl their quarterback was Steve Young, and that man is now 62 years old, is this the time for the Niners to again be champions? 

Over the years have been humbled and honored to be interviewed by the folks at NFL Films, and tomorrow night on "NFL Films Presents" will be a segment on the "Playoff Bowl", a Rozelle masterpiece of public relations where he had the two second place teams from each conference play in Miami. .
1962 NFL Playoff Bowl
Yes, I did watch all ten of the games, and some of them were worth watching. My personal favorite came after the '62 season when the Steelers in black helmets for the first time played the Lions. Enjoy the Super Bowl

Monday, January 29, 2024

Broncos' Gradishar on Verge of Hall-of-Fame Election

By John Turney 
Randy Gradishar (#53)

In a couple of days, we find out if one of the great Hall-of-Fame injustices will be remedied, and I think you know what I'm talking about: The omission of Denver Broncos' legendary inside linebacker Randy Gradishar from Canton.

One of three senior finalists, Gradishar is among nine hopefuls hoping to hear their names called at Thursday night's NFL Honors ceremony in Las Vegas, site of Super Bowl LVIII, when the Hall's Class of 2024 is announced.

It's been a long wait for Gradishar, who last played an NFL game in 1983 and was first eligible for Canton in 1989. Four times he's been a finalist, twice as a modern-era candidate (once he made the final 10) and twice as a senior -- in the 2020 Centennial Class and this year.

Usually, senior candidates are voted in by the full board of 50 selectors, but it's never a guarantee. The last time a senior candidate failed to be elected was 2012 when Dick Stanfel was turned down, but he was enshrined four years later. With only four rejected this century, it seems as if Gradihar's wait will be over soon.

And it should be. Why? There are a myriad of reasons.

In the mid-1970s, NFL teams began to migrate from 4-3 defenses to 3-4 lineups in a move so popular that within 10 years only a few stuck with four-man lines. That's significant because in 1977 Gradishar was a third-place finisher for AP Defensive Player of the Year - the first time a 3-4 inside linebacker finished that high. One year later, he was the first to win it outright.

Since then, there's been only one other - Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis, in 2003.

Seventeen times a linebacker has been the AP Defensive Player of the Year, including three recipients who won more than once (Lewis, once as a MLB, Mike Singletary and Lawrence Taylor). But only two were named as 3-4 inside linebackers, and Gradishar was the first by 25 years.

That's significant, too, because Lewis was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2017, while Gradishar has never been elected. He was a finalist in 2003 when he survived the first cut from 15 to 10, but he fell short. He had another shot in 2008 but again fell short.

The purported reason? Lack of longevity.

It seems that voters believed he didn't play long enough, even though he played 10 years. With an injured knee in college, Gradishar wondered if he could last a handful of years in the NFL and so set a personal goal to play for a decade. When he got there, he promised himself, he would retire.

Goal set. Goal met.

But that was then. This is now, and now longevity isn't something that keeps Hall-of-Fame worthy players out of Canton. Voters elected six players with seven-year careers, including four modern-era inductees, and chosen others in the eight-to-11-year range. So, Gradishar's 10 years cannot ... and should not ... be held against him.

Not anymore they can't.

In light of that, it's time for the Hall's board of selectors to take a long, hard look at Randy Gradishar's case and do the right thing by electing him. His candidacy is built on extensive selections to All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams, favorable comments from coaches and players, impressive statistics and his role leading one of the best defenses of his era—the Orange Crush ... which, by the way, has no members with a bust in Canton.

How strong is the totality of Randy Gradishar's Hall-of-Fame case? See for yourself:


There's the DOPY award for openers. Hall-of-Fame linebackers who didn't win one include Zach Thomas, Sam Mills, Harry Carson, as well as outside guys Rickey Jackson, Robert Brazile and quite a few others.

In all-star teams accepted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Gradishar was a five-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. Thomas and Jackson went to the same or fewer number of Pro Bowls.


Pro Football Weekly personnel analyst Joel Buchsbaum was someone who had the ear of NFL scouts and coaches. He would talk to them regularly, glean information, then rate players, both college and pro.

One confidante was Bill Belichick, who said upon Buchsbaum's untimely death, "Joel was a personal friend, and we were close because we were honest with each other ... (he) produced an incredible amount of accurate information … We tried to hire Joel in Cleveland."

Buchsbaum was also close with Al Davis, Bobby Beathard and Ernie Accorsi. The point? Joel was connected. What he wrote mattered, even to this day. And what he wrote about Gradishar was telling.

"Randy Gradishar may be the smartest and most underrated (linebacker) ever," he said. "Had rare instincts, was faster than Lambert and very effective in short-yardage and goalline situations. The fact that he is not in the Hall of Fame is a shame and may be attributed to the fact he was a sure tackler but not a lights-out hitter or look-at-me type of player.

"Gradishar isn't the flashiest player in the league, but I have seen enough film of him to know he's the best ... Take him out of the Orange Crush, and it would be the Orange Fizz."

Then he added this: "Superior diagnostician with exceptional strength, balance, tackling form and very good lateral mobility. Not as flashy or brutal as some ILBs but means almost as much to Denver's defense as Walter Payton does to Chicago's offense."

The praise continued over the years.

"Randy Gradishar is the most valuable defender in football," Buchsbaum said later. "As good as Dick Butkus ever was, but not as brutal. Steve Nelson is similar to Gradishar but not as great. Harry Carson is the most talented but the least consistent. Lambert is excellent, but the Steelers defense is predicated on the middle linebacker making all the plays.

"(Gradishar) is the most dominant defender in the AFC when healthy. Although not as brutal as Butkus or Bergy, he's strong at the point of attack, does a superb job of playing off blocks and getting to the ball, gets good depth on his pass drops and is consistently excellent."

Then came this from Buchsbaum in 1982: "While not as physical as Lambert, he has good range and uncanny anticipation and is superb in goalline situations ... Perhaps the most instinctive linebacker in football, he has great anticipation and feel."

Finally, in December, 1983, Buchsbaum made one of his final comments: "Made his last season one of his best. Gradishar was always Johnny-on-the-spot and played as though he was in the opposition’s huddle.”

It wasn't just Buchsbaum taking and organizing thoughts of people in the know. There were others, like Mike Giddings, founder of Proscout, Inc. (PSI), an independent NFL scouting company that graded and evaluated every NFL player for over 45 years.

According to PSI's yearly grades, Gradishar was one of the top 10 NFL linebackers in seven of 10 years. Furthermore, Giddings rates him and Ray Lewis as the PSI-era best-ever "at the combination of neutralizing and operating in space."

Translation: Lewis and Gradishar were the top two players at taking on a guard and neutralizing a block. But they could also cover backs and tight ends at an elite level.

Some other PSIisms that appear in Gradishar's file (with the color blue the highest grade):

 "Can cover the Y-Flat ... (Only other ILB who could do that was Lambert)" ... Blue in diagnosis, fit in action ... Zone stop curl---Broncos asked Gradishar to do what no other ILB could do. No one! ... Averaged 16 tackles in 20 plus "looks." Remember: "Eye in the sky does not lie ... Pursuit: Blue. Neutralize: Blue. Athletic: Blue (ranks at top. Could have been fullback in NFL) ... No peer leaping to meet ball carrier or lead blocker—over low dip charge. Goalline) ... Best-ever search & flow vs runs.

"Physically a 30 defense is a hell of a lot harder on ILB than 40 defense. Ray Lewis got hurt one year into the transition from 40 to 30 defense. Lambert - two years. Carson - one year. Gradishar did not get hurt in nine years at ILB."

Broncos' defensive coordinator Joe Collier confirmed Gradishar's prowess in the defensive low red zone, saying that he was "probably the best short-yardage, goal-line type of middle linebacker in the history of the NFL."

Even though Buchbaum suggested he wasn't as physical as Lambert, Gradishar wasn't shy about delivering a crushing blow, and there are more than a few examples.

"One time I asked Walter Payton who gave him the hardest shot in his career," said Hall-of-Famer Dan Hampton. "He told me one name - Gradishar. He was well-respected in Chicago."

He was respected in Dallas, too, at least by Hall-of-Famer running back Tony Dorsett. In his book "The Truly Great", author Rick Korch related a story of a Dorsett encounter with Gradishar.

"I ran a pass pattern and was wide open," Dorsett told Korch, " but Danny White did not see me. I go back to the huddle and tell Danny, 'I’m wide open.' I ran the same route again, but this time I was almost decapitated. My eyes were only partially open when I hit the ground. Trainers and doctors came running on the field." 

It was Gradishar who delivered the blow.


What's so puzzling about Gradishar's absence from Canton is that he led one of the best defenses of the era - the unit known as the "Orange Crush." From 1975-83, the years Gradishar was the heart and soul of a defense that ranked third in fewest rushing yards allowed and second in fewest yards per rush.

You didn't run on Randy & Co.

They allowed the fewest touchdown passes, the second-fewest touchdowns from scrimmage, the seventh fewest total yards allowed and fourth fewest points. In short, it wasn't easy to move the ball or score on the Broncos.

There were a handful of great defenses from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, yet there isn't one player from the Orange Crush in the Hall of Fame.

It's time for that to change.


In his career, Gradishar intercepted 20 passes, had 19-1/2 sacks, recovered 13 fumbles, forced 11 and scored four defensive touchdowns. Together, that's a total of 68-1/2 - let's call them "splash plays" - for an average of 6.9 a season.

So, what were the seasonal average of "splash plays" for other contemporary Hall-of-Fame, off-the-ball linebackers? Well, Brian Urlacher averaged 7.2 and Jack Lambert 7.0, both ahead of the Broncos' linebacker.

Ray Lewis averaged almost the same (6.7), while Sam Mills checked in at 5.5, Zach Thomas 5.0, Harry Carson 4.5, and Mike Singletary 4.3, -- all fewer than Randy.

And what about more recent linebackers? Likely Hall-of-Famers Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis averaged 6.4 and 6.1, respectively, while Bobby Wagner, who is still active, averages 5.4 "splash plays" a season.

Big-time players make big-time plays. Randy Gradishar was one of them.


Gradishar was always the Broncos' leading tackler and ended his career with a pile of them, no matter the source.

Tackles kept by coaches and those taken from NFL gamebooks always differ. That's just the way it is. So, to put all of the recent middle/inside linebackers on an even playing field, I decided that using gamebooks as the only source for tackles makes the most sense.

And that's what is done here. Coaches' figures are not used.

What follows, then, are the tackles - per 16 games - for the same group of players mentioned in the "splash-play" section, with tackles defined as solos plus assists.

Player—Number of tackles per 16 games

Jack Lambert—156

Luke Kuechly—153

Zach Thomas—150

Randy Gradishar—148

Bobby Wagner—145

Ray Lewis—144

Harry Carson—143

Patrick Willis—136

Brian Urlacher—119

Sam Mills—112

Mike Singletary—107

Gradishar is fourth, but he's only eight tackles a season behind Lambert -- evidence that, as PSI noted, he was "always around the ball ... a 90 percent tackler every season, including his last."

Of course, what matters is where and how the tackles occur. The Broncos' defense was elite vs, the run - their 3.6 yards-per-rush attests to that. Making tackles five yards beyond the line of scrimmage was not happening in Denver as it was with teams allowing 4.2 or 4.3 yards ... and Randy Gradishar was a primary reason.

"I really think Gradishar anticipates and reacts to the ball carrier better than any linebacker in the league," said Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle and former NBC broadcaster Merlin Olsen. "I never saw a linebacker who made so many initial stops. It seemed like he was always first to the ball and was a solid hitter.

"Some linebackers would sometimes fall on the piles and get their number called. But in the games Dick (Enberg) and I did, it was always 'Randy Gradishar on the tackle.' And they'd get up, and he'd be the last one getting up."


Besides the scouting commentaries, others have spoken about Gradishar both during and after his career. A drum roll, please:

--- Hall-of-Fame receiver Steve Largent: "Randy Gradishar absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I'm surprised he is not in already."

Former Hall-of-Fame voter Gordon Forbes: “Quickest inside linebacker in the league. Leader of the Broncos' Orange Crush flow to the ball; won’t be denied; played hard on every down which distinguishes him from the good ones."

--- Former coach Chuck Knox: "Randy was a great linebacker, and he certainly belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was tough, smart and played every down all out."

--- Quarterback Joe Theismann: "Randy Gradishar was a prototype inside linebacker. The Orange Crush defense carried the Denver Broncos to great records and their first Super Bowl. And the heart and soul of that great defense was Randy."

--- Hall-of-Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure: "Without a doubt, Randy Gradishar should be in the Hall of Fame ... He was, along with Jack Lambert, the best linebacker that I ever played against. He had a nose for the ball, could play the run as well as the pass and played angles better than anyone who played the game. In short yardage, he made the Broncos the best in that category in the '70s and '80s."

--- Hall-of-Fame videographer Steve Sabol: "Randy Gradishar's ... range separated him from others at his position. (He was) a sure and determined tackler; he was also an excellent pass defender. He had special qualities in terms of intelligence, preparation, and athletic ability, and his play anticipation was the best in football. He had a great ability to square his body into the ball carrier at the moment of impact, which made him an incredible performer on third-or-fourth-and-short."

Few players draw as much acclamation as Gradishar, but those endorsements haven't yet swayed voters who remain unconvinced. It's time for that to change. Gradishar's accomplishments are Hall-of-Fame worthy, and 10 seasons of stellar play should be sufficient for election.

It is ... and has been ... for others.

From the eye test to the stats, to postseason honors and the success of the Orange Crush, the case is as solid as they come. For a decade, Randy Gradishar demonstrated Hall-of-Fame quality play at linebacker. Maybe longevity once hurt his candidacy, but today's zeitgeist is in line with what the Roman philosopher, Lucious Seneca, believed.

"It is quality, not quantity, that matters," he said.

Randy Gradishar was quality personified. On Thursday we find out if the Hall's Board of Selectors agrees.

Four Rams Make the 2023 PFWA All-Rookie Team—One Short of the Most Ever

By John Turney 
In 1974, the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) asked its members to select an All-Rookie team, and nothing unusual there. Other organizations did the same thing. But the PFWA outlasted them, asking members this week to choose another All-Rookie team.

Appropriately, for a 50th anniversary squad it was one to remember: 

That's because four members of the Los Angeles Rams were picked -- just the sixth time four or more players from one team were selected and a reflection of how special the team's 2023 draft was. Those players are wide receiver Puka Nacua, guard Steve Avila, defensive tackle Kobie Turner and edge rusher Byron Young
Puka Nacua
In the 50 years of the PFWA award, only one team had more, and that was the 1998 Indianapolis Colts with five. That group was led by Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning wide receiver Jerome Pathon, guard Steve McKinney, defensive tackle Larry Chester, and kicker Mike Vanderjagt.

But only five others had as many all-rookie choices as the Rams: The 1977 Miami Dolphins, the 1996 Patriots and Dolphins and the 1999 Colts.
Peyton Manning
That's it.

The Dolphins' rookie class was composed of defensive end A.J. Duhe, nose tackle Bob Baumhower, outside linebacker Kim Bokamper and safety Vern Roberson. Duhe, Baumhower and Bokamper became integral parts of the famed "Killer Bees" defense in the early 1980s, a unit that took them to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi Trophy. Roberson, a safety out of Grambling, played only one season for Miami and then one more for the 49ers before he was out of the league.
Kim Bokamper
Who else?

In 1996, New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells expertly filled his grocery bag, while Jimmy Johnson, in his first year in Miami, began the post-Shula rebuild of the Dolphins by picking a solid quartet of players. The All-Rookie players selected by Parcells were wide receiver Terry Glenn, safety Lawyer Milloy, defensive tackle Devin Wyman and kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Only Wyman didn't do much in the NFL, playing just two years.

However, Glenn caught 90 passes in the 1996 regular season, plus a dozen more in the playoffs. After that, he was injured for much of his career, playing 16 games just three times in his 11 seasons. Milloy ended up playing 15 NFL seasons, was a starter in 14 and made four Pro Bowls. 
Adam Vinatieri
Then there's Vinatieri, who will be in the Hall of Fame some day. He's one of the most clutch kickers in the history of the league, with his foot providing the margin of victory in Bill Belichick's first three Super Bowl wins.

Middle linebacker Zach Thomas, 1,000-yard running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener and special teamer Larry Izzo were Jimmy Johnson's All-Rookie haul. Thomas has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Izzo became one of the best special teams players in NFL history -- for the Patriots. 

In 1999, one year after choosing Manning & Co., the Colts hit on Hall-of-Fame running back Edgerrin James, linebacker Mike Peterson, punter Hunter Smith and returner Terrence Wilkins (who also started 11 games as a wide receiver). All were chosen to the PFWA's All-Rookie squad.

James led the NFL in rushing and not only was All-Rookie that season but also a consensus All-Pro who helped the Colts flip their record from 3-13 to 13-3.

This year's Rams are exceptional in that Nacua and Turner received strong support for the PFWA's Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year before losing to two Texans -- quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson. Nevertheless, they were named finalists this week for the Associated Press Offensive and Rookie of the Year awards. 

In any other year, Nacua would have been the OROY. The rookie out of BYU set numerous rookie receiving records, including most receptions and yards. Turner, who sang the National Anthem at Monday's Los Angeles Kings hockey game, provided more music to the ears of Rams' fans by tying future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Aaron Donald's rookie sack record.

Consider that good company for a third-round pick many Rams fans felt was drafted too high.

Darren Woodson—Moving Closer to Hall of Fame Induction

 By John Turney 
After seven years as a semifinalist, former Dallas Cowboys' safety  Darren Woodson finally took a step -- no, more like a leap -- toward Canton last year when he was a first-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's Class of 2023. This year he's made his second straight Final 15.

He deserves to be there.

A key contributor to the Cowboys' three Super Bowl teams in the 1990s, Woodson was a four-time first-team All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler and such a complete player that Sports Illustrated in 1994 described him as "the most productive player on the best defense in the NFL."

The Cowboys led the league in total defense in 1992. The following year, they led it in fewest points allowed. In 1994, they led it in total defense again.

Woodson was one reason why. 

He was unique for a defensive back of that era. At 6-feet-2 and 220 pounds, he possessed rare speed (sub-4.4 40-yard time) for a player that size. He was built like a small linebacker, had the straight-line speed of many cornerbacks and was a sure tackler.

In fact, he was always among the team leaders and retired as the Cowboys' all-time leading tackler.

Former Cowboys' defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt took full advantage of Woodson's size-speed combination, positioning him in several spots within Wannstedt's scheme. He played strong safety in base. He sometimes lined up over the slot receiver. He shifted to a linebacker spot in the Cowboys' nickel, with Bill Bates serving as the middle linebacker and Woodson glued to running backs in man-to-man coverage.

He wasn't the first NFL safety to play multiple roles in a secondary. Prior to him, players like the Steelers' Donnie Shell of the Steelers and the Rams' Nolan Cromwell served similar functions, but they were smaller -- perhaps 190 to 200 pounds or so. Woodson had 20-30 pounds on them.

"Darren Woodson, to me, was a beast," Hall-of-Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher once said. "My favorite player of all time."

Woodson was a precursor to safeties that are all over the league now. Hybrid types like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James or even Tyrann Mathieu. There are too many to count, really. But there is no doubt about his impact.

Woodson's style of play is the norm in today's NFL.

"Darren is the total package," Wannestedt's successor, Dave Camp, told Sports Illustrated in 1996. "He has a combination of size, speed, and lateral movement that is rare in a strong safety. In fact, he covers one-on-one so well he could be a corner. He is the kind of guy coaches like to build a team around."

About that same time Joel Buchbaum, Pro Football Weekly's professional football analyst, ranked Woodson as the NFL's top strong safety, and Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones concurred. He made Woodson the highest-paid safety in league history.

A linebacker in college, Woodson was shifted to defensive back after Dallas made him a second-round draft pick in 1992. Spending his rookie year as a nickelback and dominating on special teams (making All-Rookie), Woodson took over at strong safety in his second season and was a vital cog in defending the Cowboys' 1992 Super Bowl crown.

A couple of years later, he was part of a secondary that featured defending Defensive Player-of-the-Year Deion Sanders and Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown. But it was Woodson's contributions that were invaluable to the Cowboys' third Super Bowl victory in four years.

That secondary was a strength of the Dallas defense that from 1992-97 allowed the fewest points and the fewest yards in that span. It also allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL, the second-fewest passing touchdowns and the fifth-lowest defensive passer rating.

Sanders is in the Hall, a first-ballot choice in 2011. So is pass rusher Charles Haley. But no other member of that Cowboys' defense has made it to Canton without a ticket.

Woodson is close. 

Granted, it took him 15 years of eligibility to become a finalist, but that's not the point. His case was finally discussed by voters last year and it will be interesting to see what happens this year. 

One issue Woodson may have is timing. There have been a lot of safeties voted in recently. Including senior committee nominees and Centennial Class selections, there have been 11 since 2017 inducted into the Hall of Fame—LeRoy Butler, Steve Atwater, John Lynch, Donnie Shell, Cliff Harris, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, Johnny Robinson, Bobby Dillon and Kenny Easley.

Some voters may feel the safety backlog has been cleared and hesitate to support another so quickly. They shouldn't. Woodson's post-season honors compare favorably to some of the most notable inductees.

He was first-team All-Pro as many times as Butler, Polamalu, Harris, and Easley (four each) and more times than Shell (three times), Lynch, and Atwater (twice each). And he has more Super Bowl rings than all of them except Shell. 

He does have fewer interceptions than any, but his total (23) is just one behind Atwater and three behind Lynch. So that shouldn't be an issue. What should be is this: Darren Woodson is on par with those 11 safeties.

Now it's up to voters to make Woodson's induction a Dirty Dozen.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Hall-of-Fame Worthy Players of the 1940s and 1950s Who are Still Waiting

By John Turney

Last summer, I picked a team of pre-World War II players who had the most deserving cases for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now, I'm fast-forwarding through the next 30 years to choose a team covering a span from the beginning of World War II up until the AFL-NFL merger.

It's an era that began with two-way players and ended with a platoon system made possible when free substitution became permanent in 1949 ... or about midway through the careers of many of these players.

If someone's career began before the war or bled into the first few years of the 1960s, he qualified for my team. I wanted to be flexible and group players in the eras they were dominant. So I did. But, as you can see, there are no full offensive and defensive squads here; just a dozen players that excelled in their eras.

Call it journalistic license. I call it my Dirty Dozen. Let's see who they are.


Jim Benton—In 1945, the season his Cleveland Rams won the NFL title, Benton had one of the best years of any receiver in any era with 1,067 receiving yards in a 10-game season. But he missed a game, so his per-game average was 118.6 yards -- the fifth-best of all time. He was a two-time All-Pro and a two-time second-team All-Pro.
Jim Benton 
Ken Kavanaugh—A deep ball threat (he had a career average of 22.4 yards per catch), Kavanaugh was twice an All-Pro, a 1940s' all-decade selection and part of three NFL championship teams.
Ken Kavanaugh
Gene Brito—A defensive end who played some offense, Brito was a consensus All-Pro four times and played in five Pro Bowls. Plus, he was a 1954 all-conference choice in the CFL when he went north for a better paycheck. Among this group, he has one of the top two cases for induction into the Hall.
Gene Brito

Al Wistert—Yes, him again. I've written about him several times before. "Ox" may be the most honored player without a bust in Canton. He was a consensus All-Pro five times and six overall, as well as an all-decade choice. He was a key blocker for Steve Van Buren, who retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, and the owner of two NFL championship rings.
Al Wistert
Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb—"Big Daddy's" 10-year NFL career crept into the 1960s, but he's included anyway. Right after the 1962 NFL season, his life was cut short by an accidental drug overdose -- one many think may not have been self-induced. 

A defensive tackle, Lipscomb was a consensus All-Pro with the Baltimore Colts in 1958-59 and was on the Player's All-Pro team (released by the Newspaper Enterprise Association) in 1960 and 1961 -- making him a four-time All-Pro. He was a dominant run defender on the two Colts' NFL title teams, then developed into a great pass rusher with the Steelers.
Gene Lipscomb

Dick Barwegen—Playing eight seasons, Barwegan was a four-time All-Pro and member of the 1950s' all-decade team. He was a four-time consensus All-Pro and a second-team selection a few times, as well. 
Dick Barwegen
Riley Matheson—"Snake" has been a truly forgotten player. A World War II-era player, he was a six-time All-Pro (five consensus) and played for the 1945 NFL champion Cleveland Rams. His best years occurred when so many young men were in the military that the NFL was talent-depleted, so he failed to gain the recognition he deserves. But there are plenty of Hall of Famers who excelled during the war, including Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman.

It may be time to take another look at some of these players. Wistert's case reportedly was hurt because he didn't serve in the war, with some early Hall voters using that as a reason not to induct him. 


Charley Brock—Brock didn't get a lot of "alls," but he was a fine center and linebacker for the 1940s' Green Bay Packers. He played for two NFL title teams and was an all-decade choice. Brock had a knack for causing turnovers, including interceptions. And, while no stats are available, reports then had him responsible for a significant number of forced fumbles.
Charley Brock

Frankie Albert—Albert twice led the All-American Football Conference in touchdown passes and was the AAFC's co-MVP (with Otto Graham) in 1948. However, his teams could never get past Graham's Browns, even though they had a winning season in each of his years in the AAFC. But Albert wasn't alone. A lot of teams couldn't get past the Browns.
Frankie Albert

Ward Cuff—Cuff's career began before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, but he really didn't fit that group. So he was omitted from my pre-WWII team. He fits better here.

Cuff was one of the last great wingbacks, a position in the old single-wing offense. The Giants also used a variant of the single-wing called the "A-formation," and Cuff was vital in both. His value was as an all-around player -- blocker, runner, receiver and defender -- and he was the most prolific kicker of his time.

He was an  All-Pro in 1941 and 1943-44 and second-team a few other seasons. He's someone who cannot be judged by stats alone. 
Ward Cuff
Tank Younger—Younger was a fullback and linebacker most noted for being one-third of the Rams' so-called "Bull Elephant" backfield. But even though he was a fine runner, blocker and receiver, he was better as a defensive player 

He was All-Pro in 1951 and second-team in both 1952 and 1954. Only his final season was based on his running alone.  
Tank Younger (left) and Dan Towler (right)

Dan Towler—"Deacon" Dan was another Rams' running back and another one-third of the "Bull Elephants." He was the NFL's leading rusher once and an All-Pro three times. He and Younger have championship rings from the 1951 season.

In Towler's six NFL seasons, only Hall-of-Famer Joe Perry rushed for more yards, and no one ran for more touchdowns.

Note: The All-Pro teams cited are all accepted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and are included in "Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the NFL".

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "The Real Winner Was the Game Itself"

By TJ Troup 
John Brodie (left) and Greg Landry (right)
The divisional round of the playoffs was not only entertaining, but we saw some performances that happen when outstanding players take the field in games of real meaning.....you know? Like lose and go home for the season. 

Mr. Eric Goska has already detailed the Packers vs. Niners game from his historical perspective, and without further ado, am going to go back in history to one of those rivalries that have really enjoyed watching. 

San Francisco from 1950 through 1964 beat Detroit 14 times, lost 15 times, and one tie. Since then the Niners have won 24 of the 36 times they have played in the regular season. 

Twice these teams have met in the playoffs; the first the legendary Lion comeback at Kezar in 1957, and the second the hard-fought 49er victory during the 1983 play-offs. The game that I am going to showcase though is the season-ending game in 1971. 

The Lions had earned a wild card berth the season before by winning down the stretch, which included a Monday Night Football victory on the road over the Rams. Since the Rams had won earlier in the day in Pittsburgh, the Lions could help Los Angeles by knocking off the Niners at Candlestick and put the Rams in the playoffs. Los Angeles had beaten San Francisco twice in the regular season, yet needed help to win the division, and as such we have these two strong teams continuing their rivalry. 

The Lions in '71 had one of the best offensive teams in the league and finished third in scoring. San Francisco finished sixth in the league in the fewest points allowed, and though at times inconsistent on offense, the Niners offensive still had plenty of firepower. 

Steve Sabol's outstanding show "This Week in Pro Football" saved this game for the last part of the highlights, and though there are only 10 plays shown in the highlights (sure wish there would have been more), having the play-by-play—thank you Mr. Nick Webster— sheds light on how the game unfolded, and of course finished. 
Lem Barney on the interception return
Lem Barney overcame injury and was back at his left corner post and intercepts Brodie on the first drive. Detroit gains enough yardage that Erroll Mann is able to kick a 31-yard field goal. San Francisco responds with a 70-yard drive in nine plays. Dick Witcher made a key reception on third down and then caught Brodie's touch pass in the corner of the end zone. San Francisco 7 Detroit 3. 
Ron Jessie
Ron Jessie is open deep and Greg Landry rifles the ball to the speedy receiver for 51 yards, and the Lions are marching goalward as the quarter ends. Landry scores from the five on the first play of the second quarter ... wait, a flag is on the ground—Yarbrough is guilty of holding ... the naughty Lion used his paws, thus Mann again kicks a field goal. The Niners move to the Detroit thirty-two-yard line, and on 4th down, Gossett drills home a field goal. San Francisco 10 Detroit 6. 

Detroit is forced to punt, and is time for Brodie to exploit rookie corner Al Clark. Clark had started a handful of games at left corner when Barney was injured, but he is at right corner today as grizzled savvy veteran Dick LeBeau will miss his only game of the season. Gene Washington had built a synergy with Brodie in his three years in the league and that continued as JB completed passes of 14 and 32 yards to the Pro Bowl wide receiver. 

Brodie flips a pass to fullback Ken Willard who makes a diving catch. San Francisco now leads 17-6. Playing for pride, and being a strong offensive team Detroit drives 80 yards in 12 plays as Altie Taylor with his own unique style of cutback running dashes 14 yards to score. Half-time and San Francisco leads 17-13. 
Steve Owens scores a touchdown

The Lions gained 98 yards rushing in the first half as the strong offensive line under the tutelage of Chuck Knox opened the holes. Detroit takes the second-half kick-off and proceeds to drive 60 yards in eight plays with the aid of two major penalties against the 49ers. Steve Owens who would become the first Lion to gain over 1,000 rushing in a season bucks over from the one. Detroit 20 San Francisco 17. 

Will the Niners again respond you ask? Is there a bridge in San Francisco? Brodie directs his men 66 yards in seven plays, and pitches the pigskin to Washington behind Clark in the endzone for the go-ahead score. San Francisco 24 Detroit 20. 

The Lions go 74 yards in nine plays and on second and six on the six ... Landry lofts the ball over Mel Phillips to allow Charlie Sanders to do what he does best, leap and make a spectacular catch. Detroit 27 San Francisco 24. 

The Niners cannot move and punt, and as the quarter comes to a close the Lions face a third and 13 situation. Charlie Sanders gains 13 on the catch but is inches short, and the Dick Nolan-coached defense of San Francisco stonewalls Landry on 4th down. 

The 49ers have to only drive 40 yards, but takes nine plays to do so. Third down and eight on the ten-yard line, and the Lions have blanketed the Niner receivers, but Brodie sees an opening and the veteran quarterback who was part of the team in the loss to Detroit in '57 trundles 10 yards for the go-ahead score. San Francisco 31 Detroit 27. 

The Lions cannot move and Weaver punts to Bruce Taylor on the fifteen-yard line. San Francisco has an offensive line coach in Dick Stanfel that still ranks as one of the best ever, and he is also the offensive coordinator. The Niners drive 61 yards on 12 rushing plays that eat up 4:35 of the clock, but on 4th down Brodie and Vic Washington collide on the handoff and lose four yards. 

Detroit has one last chance. Landry's pass over the middle is pilfered by the Fudge Hammer (Frank Nunley) and Ken Willard runs out the clock on three carries. San Francisco will meet the "Over-the-Hill Gang" in the divisional round of the playoffs. 

We can only hope that the game Sunday afternoon comes close to this one. 
Hall-of-Fame linebacker Dave Wilcox

This is Championship Sunday, bet you folks knew that? Time for one of those stats that I keep track of since the merger began. 

The first team that scores a touchdown in the AFC title games for the last 73 years has won 39 and lost 14, while in the NFC the team that scores the first touchdown has won 39 and lost 13-—basically, the team that scores the first touchdown wins 75% of the time! Do you think you will hear that stat before the games on Sunday? Let me know if you do. 

Final thoughts on the two games. Have stated more than once my high regard for Roquan Smith, and he was just awesome last week against the Texans. Fred Warner is truly an All-Pro. Two games and the two best inside linebackers in pro football. Butkus, and Nitschke are smiling down from linebacker heaven....oh, God does not send linebackers to heaven? 

Ok, Butkus and Nitschke are laughing from the gates of hell. 

Enjoy the games.