Thursday, July 11, 2024

Washington Commanders Add Gold Pants

 By John Turney 

This week the Washington Commanders have added gold pants to their uniform kits. 
Thank goodness. 

Previously they had white and burgundy that could be matched with the white and burgundy (red) jerseys—

Okay, not great unis -- one issue is no stripes on any of them -- but if they used just what is show then it would be the best they could do. The problem is when they matched the red with white pants it didn't work.
If you want numerals other than white you need them to match the pants (with the non-monochrome option). It lacks balance ... 

They corrected it so the red over white may be over. Of course, they could still do it but with the gold option the pants match the numerals and make them pop. It also adds balance to the design concept.

It is not as top-heavy as they are with the white pants. 
Still not in love with the uniform set but they did fix one of the problems. Adding stripes to the pants would have been even better -- but we'll take one step at a time.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Will Eric Allen Advance in Hall-of-Fame Voting?

 By John Turney 

After an 18-year wait, former cornerback Eric Allen this year was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's modern-era class for the first time. And that's good. But he should have been there earlier.

The reason? Simple. His case is compelling.

A six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Allen was the complete package for a cornerback. He was confident. He was aggressive. He was productive. And he was versatile, someone who could, as Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson once said, "play tight or play off" opponents.

Woodson should know. He teamed four seasons in Oakland with Allen, who also spent seven years with the Eagles and three with New Orleans.

"He wasn't afraid to challenge receivers," said former Philadelphia teammate Andre Waters. "He wasn't afraid to go for the interception. The guy is phenomenal. He's a smart player, he's aggressive and he's a hitter. He's a good cover guy, and he has speed."

Allen's Hall-of-Fame case begins with longevity. Not only did he play 14 years in the NFL; he was a starter for all 14 -- the proverbial starter from the "cradle to the grave." In all, he played in 217 games, with 214 starts, and he played them all at cornerback.

Significant? I think so. Of the Hall-of-Famers who played cornerback most of their careers and went to five or more Pro Bowls -- i.e., Darrell Green, Charles Woodson, Ronde Barber, Rod Woodson and Champ Bailey -- only Green and Bailey never played safety. Barber and the Woodsons did at varying times.

Allen was remarkably durable, too, missing only seven games in his career. Of the 22 cornerbacks enshrined in Canton, only five missed fewer, with a sixth (Dick LeBeau) tying Allen. And the other 16? They missed anywhere from 11 to 37 games with an average of 23 missed games.

Then there's the productivity. Allen had 54 interceptions in his career, including eight returned for touchdowns. The man knew what to do with the football when he got his hands on it. One season he returned four interceptions for TDs, a league record broken only last year. In another, he had three.

Among NFL players who were primarily cornerbacks, he ranks 13th in interceptions and is tied for eighth in career interceptions returned for scores. He's also the 18th player to score twice on interceptions in the same game.

In short, Allen's "numbers" put him among the elite all time as do his season honors.

"I know what kind of impact I had," he said when he joined the "Eye Test for Two" podcast earlier this year. "My numbers speak for themselves. From probably 1989-92, there was not a better corner than me."

The Philadelphia Eagles chose Allen in the second round of the 1988 draft out of Arizona State where he was All-Pac-10 and part of three bowl teams. That includes the 1986 squad that defeated Michigan, 22-15, in a Rose Bowl where he had an interception. It was one of 15 in his collegiate career, including eight as a senior.

As a pro, he immediately impressed then-Eagles' coach Buddy Ryan, who installed him as his starting right corner. The move paid dividends, with Allen named All-Rookie that year and first-team All-Pro his second, a season where he went to the first of six Pro Bowls.

He made second-team All-Pro twice more -- in 1991 and 1993.

Incredibly, he wasn't first-team All-Pro in 1993 when he intercepted six passes and took four to the house, tying the then-NFL record. Nevertheless, he was voted NFC Player of the Year by writers who covered NFC teams for UPI. It was about as good a year as one can have and NOT be a first-team All-Pro.

"Eric Allen," Pro Football Weekly's Joel Buchsbaum wrote after that season, "might be the best cornerback in the NFL."

Allen leveraged that success into a big-money contract with New Orleans, where he went to his final Pro Bowl despite few interceptions. But there was a reason. Saints' coach Jim Mora told the press that opponents weren't challenging Allen and that he couldn't have been more pleased with his play.

In 1998, he was again a free agent, this time signing with the Oakland Raiders, where in 2000 he proved he still had "it" -- producing another monster year, with six interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Then, after the following season, he retired, leaving a legacy worthy of Hall-of-Fame consideration.

He had more career interceptions (54) than Ronde Barber (47) or Darrell Revis (29), cornerbacks enshrined a year ago, and more pick-sixes than all but seven players in league history. 

His six Pro Bowls are more than Barber, Herb Adderley, Jimmy Johnson, Mel Blount, Emmitt Thomas, Dick LeBeau and Ken Riley and as many as Ty Law, a recent Hall inductee.

And remember that NFC Player of the Year Award? That's rare for any corner to win. In fact, only seven have been either an NFL or NFC/AFC Defensive Player of the Year -- Mel Blount, Mike Haynes, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and two not enshrined in Canton.

Lester Hayes and Eric Allen.

That's the roll call. Seven corners who rose above all other defensive players to be the best in the league or their conference. Yet, despite all that, it took 18 years for Eric Allen to make the Final 15 roll call for Canton. Worse, he wasn't even a semifinalist until 2021. 

But that was three years ago. At least now he has the Hall's attention. That's the good news. The bad: The clock is ticking. Eligible for the Classes of 2025 and '26, Allen has only two more years to be elected as a modern-era player. But if that doesn't happen, he moves to the seniors' category where the pool is so deep with Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates it can take decades to emerge. 

So, now the question: Will Eric Allen's case be similar to those of cornerbacks Everson Walls and Albert Lewis, All-Pros who made the Final 15 in their last years of modern-era eligibility? Each failed to be inducted. Or will it be strong enough to convince voters to prevent him from suffering a similar fate? 

The difference, of course, is where Walls and Lewis had only one try, Allen could have two more. That's why 2025 should offer a clue. If he advances into the Top 10, it's encouraging. If he doesn't, as happened this year, it's not. All I know is that Eric Allen has what it takes to be a Hall-of-Famer, and it would be a shame to send him to the seniors' committee.

He deserves better.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

The Best Defensive End Duos With Neither Enshrined in Canton

By John Turney 

A couple of weeks ago on (formerly Twitter) I found myself in a discussion with some followers on top defensive end duos ... that is, duos that didn't have either player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We bounced some names around and got many of them -- the usual suspects, if you will. But after giving it more thought, I realized we missed a few.

So today I'm here to finish the discussion with a more complete list.  Now before we get started, a few ground rules:

-- Omitted are recent duos where one or both individuals have modern-era eligibility. So that makes players of this century ineligible. They can be addressed at a later date.

-- A minimum of four years as a starting pair is required to be considered.

-- Pairs where one edge rusher was an end and the other an outside linebacker in base defense ... but an end in pass-rush packages ... are not included. I limited it to hand-in-dirt guys on all downs.

I only looked at the years together and if they were All-Pro or named to Pro Bowls, their sack totals (noting that before 1982 sacks were not official) and team success -- both in winning, especially Super Bowls. I also considered if the tandems were part of defenses that could stop the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks.

With those caveats, here are my top 15:

Rank, name (left end listed first), team, seasons as a duo

15 (tie). William Fuller and Sean Jones—Houston Oilers, 1990-1993.

William Fuller (#95) and Sean Jones (#96)

Fuller and Jones combined for 113-1/2 sacks from 1988-93, but that counts two years they weren't starting together. After he arrived in Houston, Jones spent the first two years primarily as a third-down rusher. The Oilers played a 3-4 scheme, but in nickel defense they used four defensive linemen, with Jones coming off the bench.

But from 1990-93, Fuller and Jones were bookends ... and good ones at that. However, in an era with Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Chris Doleman, Richard Dent, Charles Haley and others, All-Pro and Pro Bowl slots were hard to secure. So these two gained little notice on that front.

Still, Fuller went to a Pro Bowl in 1991 and Jones in 1993.  Both signed elsewhere in 1994, breaking up the duo after just four years as starters and six together. Had they been paired longer, they'd be higher on my list,

15 (tie). Art Still and Mike Bell—Kansas City Chiefs, 1981-85, 1986.

Art Still and Mike Bell (#99)

These two never really got to reach their potential, but they were as talented as any on this list, though only in one year (1984). Injuries and off-the-field incidents (Bell served prison time on drug charges) got in the way the other seasons.

Both were second-overall draft picks (Still in 1978 and Bell in 1979) and teammates from 1979-87 but only started six of their seasons as a matched set. However, they still combined for 85-1/2 sacks in years where they predominantly started together and over 100 when they were teammates but not full-time starters as a pair. 

Had the stars aligned for them, they might be more near the top of this list. 

14. Eddie Edwards and Ross Browner—Cincinnati Bengals, 1980-86.

Eddie Edwards (#73) and Ross Browner (#79)

These two played in a 3-4 defense when they were ends. However, for their first two years as teammates Edwards played inside and Browner was an end. Interestingly, in that alignment the pass rusher (Edwards) was on the left side and Browner, more of a power guy but the better pass rusher, was on the right.

In the years they were paired, Browner averaged just under seven sacks a year and Edwards just over nine. Browner had one 10-sack season and Edwards had three.

"Fast Eddie" and Ross never won an invitation to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, and the only time Edwards was noticed was in 1981 when UPI voters made him second-team All-AFC -- the year the Bengals advanced to Super Bowl XVI.

13. Bob Dee and Larry Eisenhauer—Boston Patriots, 1961-67.

Bob Dee (#89) and Larry Eisenhauer (#72)

Largely forgotten, this was probably the best duo of defensive ends in the early AFL.  But their production does not match some of the pairs that came later.

Dee was a four-time AFL All-Star and Eisenhauer three, but it was the latter who gained more All-AFL selections. He made first-team three times, while Dee's top honor was second-team.

12. Barney Chavous and Lyle Alzado—Denver Broncos, 1973-75, 1977-78.

Barney Chavous (#79) and Lyle Alzado (#77)

They played mostly in a 3-4 defense, but early in their careers -- when the Broncos still used a 4-3 scheme -- Alzado often played defensive tackle. Additionally, Alzado essentially missed the entire 1976 season. So those factors put them lower on my list. 

Both were extremely good vs. the run, and both were solid pass rushers, especially Alzado. Their peak was during the early "Orange Crush" years, including 1977 when the Broncos won the AFC championship and faced the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. 

Alzado was first-team All-Pro in 1977, second-team in 1978 and a Pro Bowler both seasons. Chavous never went to a Pro Bowl nor was All-AFC, but he was one of the best players never to gain all-star notice.

11. Dave Pureifory and Bubba Baker—Detroit Lions, 1978-82. 

Dave Pureifory (#75) and Bubba Baker (#60)

Pureifory was a compact (6-1, 255) left end whom Jackie Slater said was one of the best players he faced. The "Tasmanian Devil" gave the Hall-of-Fame tackle fits because he could get so low that he took away his leverage.

And it wasn't only Slater. In his 63 starts in Detroit, Pureifory produced 36 sacks, with a high of 11-1/2 in 1981. 

As for Baker, there are few better pure pass rushers in NFL history. From his rookie year through his last as a Lion, Baker took down 74 quarterbacks including 23 in 1978 -- which would be a league record if the NFL officially tracked sacks then. 

Bubba was All-Pro that year and went to the first of three Pro Bowls. The work of Pureifory went unnoticed by All-Pro and Pro Bowl voters.

10. Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant—Seattle Seahawks, 1982-89. 

Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant (#72)

Like Browner and Edwards, these two were 3-4 ends, with roles a bit unorthodox: Green was the sack man and Bryant the run stuffer.

Green averaged 10 sacks a year and Bryant six.

Bryant's biggest honor came in 1984 when he was second-team All-AFC and produced more than 10 sacks (14-1/2) for the only time in his career. On the other hand, Green drew some form of "all" notice in 1983-87, including two Pro Bowls.

The Seahawks were a playoff team four times during their paired tenure.

9. Charles Mann and Dexter Manley—Washington Redskins, 1984-89.

Charles Mann (#71) and Dexter Manley (#72)

They were a matched set for six years in Washington, where they won a Super Bowl ring in 1987. In their six seasons as a pair, Manley averaged 12-1/2 sacks a year and Mann 9-1/2.

Manley was All-Pro once and a Pro Bowler once (1986). Mann went to three Pro Bowls in that span and was second-team All-Pro in 1987.

The dynamic Mann was an excellent all-around end, while Manley, who ran a 4.5 40 was the "sack man," with a high of 18-1/2 in his All-Pro season.

8. Ike Lassiter and Ben Davidson—Oakland Raiders, 1965-69. 

This pair dominated the AFL in the late 1960s. Davidson was cast off from a c

Ike Lasster  (#77) and Ben Davidson (#83)

ouple of NFL teams before arriving in Oakland, while Lassiter was acquired in 1965 to join him.

In six seasons together, Lassiter averaged (unofficially) 12.3 sacks a season and Davidson 8.3, and both were huge contributors to the single-season record of 67 sacks the Raiders had in 1967.

"Big Ben" was an All-AFL pick in 1967, a second-teamer in 1965 and went to three AFL All-Star Games. Lassiter's highest "all" was second-team All-AFL which he received three times 1966 (AP), 1968 (UPI) and 1969 (AP, UPINEA). 

Amazingly, when he had a personal-high of 17 sacks in 1967 he wasn't All-AFL or second-team All-AFL and wasn't even invited to an AFL All-Star game. In short, he was shut out in a year when he may have been the AFL's top defensive end.

7. Fred Cook and John Dutton—Baltimore Colts, 1974-78.

Fred Cook (#72) and John Dutton (#78)

Had these two spent more time together, they'd rank higher. But, after five years in Baltimore, Dutton felt he was underpaid and, following a holdout, was traded to Dallas.

Both were drafted in 1974 -- Dutton in the first round, Cook in the second -- and both started immediately. Their rookie years were ordinary, but from 1975-77 they were the elite edge rushers of the Colts' "Sack Pack," a defense that led the NFL in sacks those three years.

Cook was second-team All-AFC in 1976 and first-team All-AFC in 1977, but it was Dutton who gained the most recognition. He was All-Pro in 1976, second-team the year before and went to the Pro Bowl all three years of the Pack's reign of terror.

In 1975, Dutton and Cook put the NFL world on notice by combining for 33-1/2 sacks. Though opponents paid more attention to them the following season, they still totaled 24 sacks.

Dutton was a big, powerful end, while Cook was someone with so much quickness that coaches Ted Marchibroda and Maxie Baughan compared him to Deacon Jones. They should know. Marchibroda had been a Rams' assistant coach and Baughan a teammate in the late 1960s.

6. Gerry Philbin and Verlon Biggs—New York Jets, 1965-70.

Gerry Philbin (#81) and Verlon Biggs (#86)

Boy, were these guys good! Like Davidson and Lassiter, they were elite defensive ends in the latter half of the AFL's existence.

Philbin was on the all-time AFL team and a two-time All-AFL performer. Biggs was an All-AFL pick in 1966 and second-team a couple more times. However, Biggs went to three AFL All-Star games and Philbin just two.

The pair applied the pressure on Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl III, helping the Jets nail down the 16-7 upset that put the AFL on the map after years where the rival league was considered inferior to the NFL.

Their unofficial sack numbers were terrific, with Biggs averaging 9.8 sacks a season and Philbin 9.6 when they were a duo. Not only that but from 1968-70, their last three seasons together, they were part of a dominant run defense that allowed just 90.6 yards a game.

At 6-2, 245, Philbin was undersized but compensated for it with intensity, hustle and determination. Biggs was huge for his era, weighing around 275 pounds on a 6-4 frame -- a size difference that frustrated Philbin, who once remarked that, were he that big, "people would have to pay me to let them live." 

5. Vern Den Herder and Bill Stanfill—Miami Dolphins, 1972-76.

Vern Den Herder (#83) and Bill Stanfill (#84)

The"No Name Defense" actually had some pretty big names, and two of them were Bill Stanfill and Vern Den Herder. They started as a pair from 1972-76, though Stanfill missed time with injuries the final two years.

Stanfill was All-Pro in 1972 (AP) and 1973 (PFWANEA), second-team in 1974 (PFWA, NEA) and a Pro Bowler all three years. Den Herder was All-AFC in 1972 but caught the eye of Paul Zimmerman in his 11-sack 1975 season when "Dr. Z" put him on his personal All-Pro team.

In their five seasons together, they combined for six double-digit sack years (in 14-game seasons, no less), with Stanfill's 18-1/2 in 1973 the high.

4. Paul Wiggin and Bill Glass—Cleveland Browns, 1962-67.

Paul Wiggin (#74) and Bill Glass (#80)

This pair might surprise some, but they started together from 1962-67 and helped the Browns win an NFL title in 1964. In six seasons together, they combined for 118 sacks and five Pro Bowls.

Glass reached second-team All-Pro status three times in an era when defensive ends were competing for slots with Hall-of-Famers Gino Marchetti, Willie Davis and Deacon Jones. Yet, for most fans (especially younger ones), they were ... and still are ... under-the-radar players. They're all but forgotten when great duos are mentioned, but they put on pass-rush clinics every Sunday.

Wiggin went on to be an NFL coach and was famous for showing his players films of pass-rush moves and techniques. Teaching pass rushers was his passion. Conversely, when Jack Youngblood entered the NFL in 1971, teammates Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones handed him canisters to study. Youngblood recounts that those films included not just Deacon but other ends like Marchetti, Davis ... and Bill Glass.  Yes, Bill Glass.

He was a technician. Wiggin was the teacher of techniques. And they were good, worthy of this ranking.

3. Tommy Hart and Cedrick Hardman—San Francisco 49ers, 1971-77.

Tommy Hart (#53) and Cedrick Hardman (#77)

This was an excellent pair of non-Hall-of-Fame ends from 1971-77, though you could count part of 1970. After beginning his rookie year as a rotational player, Hardman became a starter later in the season. Then he and Hart were a dynamic duo from then on. 

Hampered early when then-coach Dick Nolan had them playing the Flex Defense on run downs, the two excelled when it came time to rush the passer. Their best year together was 1976 when defensive-line guru Floyd Peters arrived, installed a rush-first mentality and created the "Gold Rush" defense that led the NFL with 61 sacks (still the single-season team record). 

Hart and Hardman combined for 28-1/2 sacks that year. In 1972 they combined for 27 sacks. In their eight years together Hardman averaged 12 sacks a season; Hart nine. Hart was All-Pro in 1976 and Hardman was second-team All-Pro in 1971 (PFWA) and 1975 (NEA).

2. Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Harvey Martin—1975-78, 1980-83.

Ed Jones (#72) and Harvey Martin (#79)

They were together for a decade and paired as starters for eight. When Jones was the first overall draft pick in 1974, he became the Cowboys' right defensive end in passing situations and Martin the left. But in 1975 both were starters, with Jones moving to the left side and Martin to the right, and both flourished. 

At first, Martin was the star, voted second-team All-Pro in 1976 and everyone's All-Pro and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1977. He was also co-MVP of Super Bowl XII, a 27-10 win over the Denver Broncos. But when the 1980s rolled around -- after he'd taken a year off to be a pro boxer -- it was "Too Tall" who was the All-Pro and gained the most attention. 

Martin was the better pass rusher, while Jones excelled vs. the run. Martin had 20 sacks in 1977 and in two other seasons 14-1/2 in each-- reflecting how elite he was as an edge rusher. Jones didn't produce double-digit sacks until after Martin retired. Even if he didn't, he was adept at batting down passes -- which can happen when you stand 6-9. 

1. L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White—Pittsburgh Steelers, 1971-78.

L.C. Greenwood (#68) and Dwight White (#78)

These were the bookends on the "Steel Curtain" defensive line for three of the four Super Bowl champions. The only reason they didn't make it four straight was that White was injured for part of the 1979 season and lost his starting job.

They each played in 18 playoff games and were an integral part of the Steelers' success in the 1970s. Though they didn't produce a lot of sacks, they were excellent pass rushers. It's just that the Steelers had tackles named "Mean" Joe Green and Ernie "Fats" Holmes who could take down passers, too.

Greenwood and Holmes were fine two-way ends, playing the run and pass, and were part of a defense that crushed opposing NFL running games. White made first- or second-team All-AFC from 1972-75 and went to the Pro Bowl in 1972 and 1973 ... making the all-star event one year before Greenwood's first visit.

However, Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. He also could make a case as Defensive MVP in Super Bowls IX and X had there been such an award. He was that dominant in those games.

Greenwood has also been a six-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of the 32 players listed, he probably has the best chance of getting a bust in Canton.


That's it, the top 15 ... well, 16. The final two tied. I just could not leave either off the list.

So who's missing?

Here are my honorable mentions, though it's not a complete list: Packers' Clarence Williams and Alden Roche; Ben Willams and Sherman White of the Bills; Tony Cline and Horace Jones from the early 1970s' Raiders; and another pair of Packers who followed Williams and Roche -- Mike Butler and Ezra Johnson.

All were good but lacked in something -- usually longevity -- that put them a notch below the top defensive-end duos.

Monday, July 1, 2024

The Meteoric Rise and Fall of One of Pro Football's Most Promising Corners—Monte Jackson

By John Turney 
You start your pro football career by making the All-Rookie team, and by your second season, you're everybody's All-Pro and one of the best at your position. Then, in your third year, you're a second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the second straight time.

Next stop: superstardom. Right? Not so fast.

Welcome to the sad story of Rams' and Raiders' cornerback Monte Jackson.

His first three years were similar to Hall-of-Fame cornerbacks Herb Adderley, Lem Barney and, roughly, "Night Train" Lane. They were also better than almost everyone who came before or since. But then it all stopped. The next six years he never made another All-Pro team, never went to a Pro Bowl and sometimes didn't start.

So what happened? Nobody knows.

His first three seasons, the 5-11, 189-pound Jackson was one of the league's most promising newcomers. But then something happened. By his fourth year he was disgruntled, demanding a trade that eventually happened. He was dealt to the Oakland Raiders where he proceeded to sink so deep into mediocrity that the ABC Monday Night Football crew mentioned it.

"Monte Jackson," Howard Cosell told America, "once considered, perhaps, as good a cornerback as there was in the league."

Hall-of-Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who shared the booth with Cosell, agreed, saying, "Not only was he considered that, Howard," Tarkenton said. "He was."

Key word: was.

"But he hasn't been that for the Raiders," said Tarkenton.

Nobody could have foreseen such a rapid decline when Jackson began his career with the Rams. Needing to upgrade their athleticism, they chose the speedy San Diego State star in the second round of the 1975 draft and, midway through that season, plugged him into the right-cornerback position after the starter was hurt.

Result? Not only was he a consensus All-Rookie pick; the Newark Star-Ledger's Dave Klein named Jackson to his second-team All-NFC. That may not sound like a big deal, but it was. Klein was part of a clique of writers who sought player evaluations by talking to teammates, opponents and coaches to gauge the league's elite players. 

Other writers in that group were Paul Zimmerman (then of the New York Post, and, later, Sports Illustrated); Murray Olderman of the Newspaper Enterprise Association; Larry Felser of the Buffalo News; Cliff Christl of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and a lesser-known but astute writer named Peter Pascarelli of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

But it was in 1976, Jackson's second season, that he became nationally known. And for good reason. Playing right cornerback most of the time (he sometimes moved to strong safety in the Rams' nickel defense among other spots), he was a menace. In the opener in Atlanta, for instance, he intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown -- the first of three that season.
Monte Jackson in Rams nickel defense as strong safety

Jackson as an off-ball linebacker in another version of nickel defense

Jackson as a slot cornerback in another variation of the nickel defense

By season's end, he totaled ten interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Both led the NFL. For that, he was named to every major All-Pro team and was Football Digest's Defensive Back of the Year. He was king of the mountain among NFL corners, with a better year than future Hall-of-Famers Roger Wehrli, Mike Haynes, Mel Blount, Ken Riley, Lem Barney and Emmitt Thomas.

The next year he wasn't challenged as much, mostly because quarterbacks were rightfully wary. Nevertheless, he still intercepted five passes playing essentially the same roles -- corner in base defense and strong safety in nickel -- until injuries caused some reshuffling. Then, Jackson became a full-time cornerback.

He wasn't a consensus All-Pro as in 1976, but he did get attention -- making the Pro Football Writers' team and playing in his second Pro Bowl. But then ... poof! ... the lights began to dim.
His descent began in the months preceding the 1978 season when Jackson held out for more money and asked for a trade. He wanted to be sent to his adopted hometown of San Diego or to the New York Giants, where he could play with his brother, Terry. Though newly-named Rams' coach Ray Malavasi tried to talk him into staying, it didn't work. Jackson simply wanted out.

So the Rams accommodated him ... sort of.

He was traded, but not to the Chargers or Giants. He was sent to the Oakland Raiders in what was known as the "Lawrence Welk Trade" -- as in, "Ah one, and ah two, and ah three," referring to the first, second and third-round draft picks the Rams gained from the Raiders. With two future Pro Bowlers at cornerback in Pat Thomas and Rod Perry, Rams' GM Don Klosterman felt the club was in position to make a move. Plus, he had second-year pro Nolan Cromwell to play nickel safety.

So he pulled the trigger on a deal that netted one of the highest bounties ever for a cornerback. In 1983, the Raiders sent first, second and sixth-round picks to New England for Hall-of-Famer Mike Haynes. Then, in 2019, Jacksonville received two first-round picks and a fourth for Jalen Ramsey. 

Raiders' owner Al Davis coveted cover corners, and his own right cornerback, Hall-of-Famer Willie Brown, was 38 and entering his final year. Davis wanted a high-quality replacement ... a star ... and he thought he found one in Jackson.

He did not. Jackson was not only not the player he'd been in Los Angeles; he would never be a star in Oakland.

When he first arrived, the Raiders found he was out of shape, dropping to 180 pounds -- or 15 pounds under his normal playing weight -- and lacked his usual strength. Nevertheless, he soon was starting in place of Brown, though not playing as he did in L.A.

No problem, 1979 would be better, right? Wrong.

Jackson spent the offseason lifting weights to gain weight and strength. This time, however, he showed up at camp weighing a whopping 225 pounds, and reporters called him "fat." The weight gain coincided with a newly painful knee, an injury that dated back to college and probably kept him from being a first-round pick.

The media thought the pain stemmed from excess weight; the Raiders suggested it was all "in Jackson's head." Finally, the Raiders' medical staff diagnosed a cartilage tear and scheduled Jackson for arthroscopic surgery. However, the procedure revealed something worse: He had a congenital knee defect that could not be corrected.

When he returned to the lineup, he was beaten repeatedly on the field by opponents and off it by the Oakland media. 

The knee continued to bother him during the Raiders' Super Bowl season of 1980, and though he reported to camp at his ideal weight of 195 pounds ... too light, too heavy or just right ... it didn't matter. He still struggled to cover receivers he once blanketed with ease.

By November, he lost his job to another former Ram, Dwayne O'Steen, who would never be on anyone's All-Pro ballot. And when he did get on the field, it was in sub-defenses where he wasn't even the nickel back. Granted, he played in the Raiders' 27-10 victory in Super Bowl XV, he contributed little. 

Eventually, he got his right cornerback position back, but it wasn't until October, 1981, a full year after he was benched for O'Steen. Result? No change. The former All-Pro was "just a guy," with the 1982 strike year another of obscurity. In their fifth year with Jackson, Raiders' coaches were perplexed. They simply didn't know what made him tick.

"(He has) all the physical tools to be a great player," the team's secondary coach said, who added that Jackson's "understanding of his position rivaled that of anyone I ever coached."

He also said he was never sure Jackson wanted to be a Raider. 

He probably didn't. Just as he didn't want to be a Ram. So the Raiders surrendered, sending him back to the Rams for Pat Thomas, who by then had knee issues of his own. Failing to make the final cut, Jackson nevertheless was re-signed by L.A. when starting cornerback cornerback Kirk Collins pulled a hamstring in Week 4.

Collins had been having his own breakout year -- not unlike Jackson's in 1976 -- with five interceptions to open the season. And, not unlike Jackson, he seemed headed for stardom. But a routine medical check-up revealed throat cancer, and, sadly, he died the following year. 

Jackson, meanwhile, was worse in his second bow with the Rams than he was at any time with the Raiders and was waived after five games. Turning to the USFL, he practiced four days in January, 1984, with the New Jersey Generals before walking away, reportedly because he didn't think he could make the team.

So, what went wrong in Oakland? How did a career with so much promise, so much potential, end up so diminished? Even his fellow Rams' teammates don't know. They marveled at his abilities but weren't sure he loved the game.

It's possible he enjoyed weight-lifting more. He and Rams' strongman running back Cullen Bryant liked to lift together. But he probably went too far in 1979 when he became musclebound with the Raiders, something that could've contributed to his lack of productivity that year.

"He could bench press 395 (pounds)", said Hall-of-Fame defensive Jack Youngblood. "That's amazing for a guy who was his size. Let me tell you, he was a strong kid. And he could run."

Another part of his demise in Oakland may have been what he was asked to do by the Raiders' coaches. Basically, they wanted him to play what he called "aggressive and unrelenting" football. One problem: That wasn't his game.

"I'm not a physical corner," he told the San Francisco Examiner's Frank Cooney in 1979. "I like to play off my man, play soft give him a cushion. I like to let the quarterback throw the ball because I feel they are going to make mistakes, and I am going to get some interceptions. 

"But here they like you to play close and harass them and discourage them from throwing the ball. So I had to fit my style of play into Oakland's, and it's not been easy."

No matter what the reason was, it derailed a career that, for the first three years at least, was superb as anyone's out there. With Malavasi as his defensive coordinator, Monte Jackson could cover wide receivers, tight ends, running backs ... anything coaches asked or demanded.

Yes, his ball skills could have been much better (Rams' coaches ascribed five dropped interceptions to him in 1976 ... think about what might have been!), but no one in the NFL intercepted more passes in his two All-Pro seasons. Plus, no one returned more picks for scores.

So while the Monte Jackson who played with the Raiders is probably worth forgetting, the Monte Jackson who played with the Rams is well worth remembering. 

That Monte Jackson was a great player.