Friday, May 6, 2022

1950 New York Yanks: "Thinking Back Again...Looking Way Back Then . . . "

By TJ Troup  
New York Yanks (light blue) versus the New York Giants (red)
Still firmly believe that you do not write without having something to say. When the finished manuscript of "The Seven Seasons that Changed the NFL" was sent to the publisher, oh, you know the manuscript by the title of The Birth of the Modern 4-3 Defense felt that if nothing else at least now folks would know who played what position, and how well for those seven years. 

The reason that the book covered 1953 through 1959 was simple------had enough film to evaluate the players and team overall. Would have relished doing the entire decade, yet since there is not enough film available to write about the adventures of each team every week, went with what I had. Still firmly believe that I am a former player and coach, and that writing is secondary to my ability to dig deep and research. 

Over the years have relished getting to know men who really can write about this game of passion! How long is the list? Can I supply names? Oh yeah, but that is not what today's saga is about. Though listening, reflecting, and re-writing have been accomplished in the past, there have been times publishers wanted me to write about football the way they wanted it. 

My short fuse and legendary temper convinced me that there must be a forum for me to write and have had the good fortune to find that forum here at the Journal for my friend John Turney. Have decided that this year many if not all of my titles will be song lyrics. Fifty years ago in the spring of '72 a band from Los Angeles called the "Eagles" came on the airwaves with "Take it Easy". 

There was another band that spring that delivered some catchy tunes in a similar genre...."Pure Prairie League" with talented Craig Fuller. The opening strains of "Tears" would rocket up the country charts today, and thus the title from one of Craig's songs from that album. Ok, you have the title, now how about the subject you ask? 

Ready, here goes... 

When the AAFC ended after the 1949 season, the NFL and Bert Bell decided to add three teams from that league. Mr. Joe Horrigan tells us very succinctly on page 97 of Total Football; "(A)fter five financially unsuccessful seasons, Boston Yanks owner Ted Collins requested that the NFL cancel his Boston franchise and issue him a new one to operate in New York City. 

The league granted the new franchise only after Collins agreed to stipulations made by the New York Giants, in whose protected territory Collins would operate. It was agreed that the Giants would have first choice of all home-game dates and Collins would pay 25k annually for the right to operate in New York. Collins's new team, the Bulldogs, continued to play to empty seats, however. 

Then in 1950, as part of the merger between the All-America Football Conference and the National Football League, Collins purchased the assets of Dan Topping's AAFC Yankees, including player contracts and the lease for Yankee Stadium. The merger provided that the Giants had first choice of six players from the Yankee's roster, but even without the best Yankee players, Collin's team renamed the Yanks, was much improved. Quarterback George Ratterman and a number of fine runners gave the Yanks an exciting offense. Still, the team went virtually unnoticed in New York". 

 First off, where did the Bulldog players go? Five Bulldogs earned a spot on the Yanks roster, and of the five starting right corner Joe Golding contributed the most. Thirty Bulldogs did not play for anyone in 1950, while four were able to sign on with other teams. Thirty-five men suited up for the Yanks in '50 and sixteen of them are in their last or only season in the NFL. 

When you go to Pro Football Reference you should be able to quickly see what position, or positions each man played. Alas, unless I send it to them the listing will remain flawed, or in a harsher tone.....just damn flat wrong! Would relish stating a detailed evaluation of each man, but just not enough film. So, you are going to get what I have. 

DEFENSE: The Yanks would almost always align in a 6-2 defense with mostly man coverage from the secondary. Noticed I stated "almost".  The Yanks would drop their defensive ends into coverage, mostly man yet sometimes an area or zone. Many times all eight men would charge ahead, or red dog. 

Possibly Red Strader realized he did not have the talent on defense to stop the strong offenses he would face, and he felt let us attack, and let the chips fall where they may. Barney Poole was usually the right defensive end, though as the season progressed he did play some on the left. Lean quick combative Jack Russell was the nominal starter at left defensive end. Earning plenty of playing time at defensive end are Bruce Alford, and Big John Yonakor. 

Sports Illustrated in 1995 issued "Special NFL Classic Edition" and on page 11 shows Doak Walker luggin' the leather off left tackle with Yonakor in pursuit on Thanksgiving day at Briggs. 
The two main defensive tackles are Martin Ruby on the left, and Nate Johnson on the right. The two defensive guards are John Clowes, and Joe Signaigo. Jim Champion and Bob Kennedy earned their letter at linebacker, but the three men who got the bulk of the playing time are Duke Iverson, Ed Sharkey, and Joe Domnanovich(a holdover from the Bulldogs). Saw all of them make plays, but also saw all of them easily blocked. 

The one constant trait by the Yanks front eight was they just did not shed blocks very well. During the first six wins of the season, the Yanks allowed 159 yards a game rushing. During the five losses they were destroyed to the tune of 291 yards allowed rushing. How many games is a team going to win when the opponent gains just under 300 yards a game on the ground? Rookie Bennie Aldridge played some offense, yet he was basically a corner who played both corner positions. Joe Golding was fast, savvy, and intercepted seven times during the campaign. Saw him chase down runners taking the proper pursuit angle more than once on film. 

Pete Layden began the year as the starting left corner, but as the year progressed Aldridge got more playing time. The safety for this team was the remarkable Spec Sanders. A couple times during the year he came in on offense and delivered what we now know as the halfback option pass, but since he was a tailback in the AAFC he just did what he had done many times. 

On page 12 of the 1964 NFL League Manual it states most consecutive games passes intercepted. Listed at six are Night Train Lane, Will Sherman, and Jim Shofner (never did this). This is 100% WRONG/INCORRECT and still have the memo from Elias stating they had made an error. Seymour Siwoff came "unglued" when I stated this on Steve Sabol's show "NFL Films Presents". Three men intercepted in six straight games before the Night Train. 

Spec Sanders did not intercept on opening day against the Niners, but then pilfered 13 passes the rest of the season. He did not intercept against Green Bay on October 19th, thus he did intercept in the final six games of the season, earned a Pro Bowl berth, and then retired. Sanders was an adequate tackler, yet his strong suit was obvious...read the quarterback, break on the ball, and intercept. Very similar in style to Paul Krause. Sanders would be my choice for defensive MVP. The Yanks as a team ranked fifth in the category of the defensive passer rating with a mark of 53.8 (the league average was 52.9). 

OFFENSE: Brad Ecklund was a determined center who was selected for the pro bowl, and he was the leader of the offensive line. John Wozniak played both guard positions, while Clowes, Johnson, and Ruby manned the tackle spots. Who played the most is anyone's guess, and while none of them would rank with the league's best, they all were capable. 

The other guard was Joe Signaigo who earned some All-Pro recognition. Joe was quick on the trap and counter plays, and was capable pulling on sweep plays. George Ratterman led the league in touchdown passes, and after seven games Ratterman had a passer rating of 82.3, which would have led the league if he could have maintained that pace. 

Since the Yanks were 6-1 and in first place, a case could have been made that GR would have been in the running for player of the year ahead of Graham, Waterfield, Van Brocklin, and Layne, but he faded down the stretch with a passer rating of 41.2. When Ratterman was rifling the ball to his excellent receiving corps on target the Yanks won, and when he misfired they did not. Zollie "tugboat" Toth began the year as a force running between the tackles. Willing, hard-hitting, and aggressive, he did earn a Pro Bowl berth, yet he also faded down the stretch during the campaign. 

Thus, at times, when Ratterman strode to the line of scrimmage for the snap from center he had three Black running backs behind him. Sherman Howard would come in at fullback to join right halfback George Taliferro and left halfback Buddy Young. Howard was an excellent receiver out of the backfield, elusive on kick returns, and an effective blocker for his size, and filled in at right corner at times. George Taliaferro had speed, toughness, was a capable receiver, and an exceptional passer(more on that later in the saga). 
Buddy Young
Buddy Young was short, had a fat belly, and galloped when he ran. Buddy Young was also very quick, and more important could accelerate instantly, and was also an effective receiver. Why is this the first time all you folks will read that this is the first African-American trio in an NFL backfield? Research is more than putting on a pot of coffee, and looking at old stat sheets much more. These three men helped Ratterman move the ball effectively time and time again. Howard and Taliaferro are the first African-American duo to score both rushing and receiving in the same game in NFL history. 

George Taliaferro tackled by Tank Younger
The starting left end is lanky rookie Art Weiner, and he was the deep threat every quarterback needs/relishes. Deceptive speed, long strides, and in some ways similar to Jim Benton in that he judged the ball well in flight. When the Yanks beat the Bears to move into first place with a record of 6-1 Art Weiner had 13 catches for 343 yards. He was still productive down the stretch, but when a team fades to third place, not much is going to be written about you. The starting right end week in and week out was Dan Edwards. A very capable route runner, his best asset was his ability to adjust to the ball in flight. Saw him on film make "circus" catches where he dove full out and latched onto the ball inches above the ground. Though he could not maintain the pace of Tom Fears, he did lead the league for awhile, and did finish second. Watching him astound the fans in the Coliseum at the first Pro Bowl game is a treat since he is the FIRST receiver in league history to gain over 100 yards receiving in the pro bowl. He would be my choice for team offensive MVP. 

THE GAMES: Possibly could write something about each game, yet will focus on three. Thursday night October 12th in Yankee Stadium against San Francisco. The 3-1 Yanks are behind in the fourth quarter. A rainy night before only 5,740 folks, and though Weiner and Edwards have combined to catch 12 passes for 146 yards...Ratterman keeps calling plays for his "three streaking Negro ballcarriers" and they deliver in the comeback victory. Spec Sanders sealed the deal with a late fourth quarter interception. 

 One week later on a Thursday night at Yankee Stadium the Yanks take on the Packers. New York is ahead 7-0 and the Packers had the ball on their own fifteen. Poole rockets in from right defensive end, and blasts Rote...the sack-fumble combination. Jack Russell storming in from the left eventually grabs hold of the pigskin for a three-yard fumble return score. Early in the second quarter after a Jack Russell sack of Christman; Fritsch of Green Bay booms home a 52-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, Christman finds Teddy Cook open on a crossing pattern for 17 yards and a touchdown. 

The Packers next possession:  Baldwin latches onto a Christman pass, but is hit and fumbles. A hustling Poole grabs the ball, and with time winding down in the half Ratterman pitches a strike to Weiner on an out pattern. Art turns up the sideline and outruns the Green Bay pursuit. 21-10 at the half. Yanks first possession of the second half and Ratterman sends Buddy Young in motion to the left, and then flips a flare to him. The touchdown is listed as 69 yards, but since they caught the ball behind the line and then motored, faked, and dashed into the end zone—the play seemed longer. 

Tobin Rote lofts a long pass to Baldwin for 85 yards, and the Packers look to fight their way back into this game when Rebel Steiner intercepts Ratterman. Green Bay fails on 4th and goal from the New York eight, but when the Commanche Kid Billy Grimes returns a punt to the Packer thirty-three early in the 4th quarter the Packers believe they can pull this one out. Fundamental mistakes by Green Bay put them in a hole and on a 2nd and ten play from their own eight-yard line Christman telegraphs a pass over the middle. Duke Iverson pilfers the pigksin and dashes 10 yards to score at the 6:13 mark of the fourth. Very late in the game Christman has the Packers again in the "redzone", but Golding intercepts. 

Five out of six but since four of the victories are over Green Bay and San Francisco, we still are unsure of just how strong a team is New York. Well youngsters we are about to find out. Though the Bears have the lead early, the Yanks rally as New York gains 276 yards on just 10 completions. Two weeks later in the rematch the Bears gain revenge. Many historians would state emphatically that the Eagles against the Browns opening night was the game of the year, and while significant for many reasons, the game of the year is going to be in Yankee Stadium on November the 19th between the visiting Rams of Los Angeles and the Yanks. 
George Taliaferro
 Since I have the complete play-by-play, and some film of the game, could easily turn this into a "war and peace" version, yet hat is not going to happen. Details? Oh yeah, plays explained? Oh yeah! Captains Jack Russell and George Ratterman win the coin toss, and Sherm Howard returns the opening kick-off 40 yards. Yanks struggle running against the Ram defense, and Spec punts. Ram attack begins with Waterfield throwing every down until Sanders intercepts and returns to the Los Angeles forty-five. A sack on first down, and on second down rookie right corner Woodley Lewis intercepts and returns to the New York fourteen-yard line. 

Ed Sharkey intercepts Waterfield to get his team out of a hole. The Yanks move into Ram territory on strong running, but Chet Adams misses on a 34-yard field goal attempt. Los Angeles moves 80 yards in ten plays. Right end Crazy Legs Hirsch on a beautifully conceived middle screen dashes down the left sideline for 36 yards. Fears cut block near the sideline is a classic. New York continues to try and run the ball, but Tank Younger who is simply the best left linebacker in the league is not going to allow the slippery Yank ball carriers to continually make first downs. 

Ratterman attempts to throw deep, but Tom Keane intercepts on the Los Angeles thirty-four. As the quarter comes to a close the Rams have the lead and Waterfield has already completed 7 of 14 for 107 yards. Sure looks like a career day for "Buckets". The teams trade possessions in the second quarter, and at one point Waterfield misses a 21-yard field goal. John Rauch in at quarterback for New York, and he lofts a pass up the right sideline to fullback Tugboat Toth. 

Not sure what Tank Younger's responsibility was on the play, but Toth is wide open and motors 60 yards before Keane knocks him out of bounds. Ratterman finishes the drive with a quarterback sneak, and we are tid at 7. Los Angeles has the best offense in the league, and Waterfield continues to strafe the Yank secondary. He completes four straight, but the drive ends with Martin Ruby blocking Waterfield's field goal attempt. 
George Ratterman
Ratterman gives the ball right back to the Rams as Lewis intercepts. Glen Davis gains 42 on back-to-back plays, but Waterfield's extra point attempt hits the crossbar. 13-7 Los Angeles. Surprisingly Red Strader goes for it on fourth down deep in his own territory, and Ratterman's pass to Young is incomplete, thus Waterfield boots hom a field goal from the 37 with 10 seconds left. At the half Rams 16 Yanks 7. 

New York's defense stops the Rams, and the Yank attack is a strong mixture of run and pass—the eleven play drive ends with New York in a very creative wing formation, and Ratterman pitching a strike down the middle of the field to fullback Sherm Howard for 15 yards and a touchdown on a circle route. The Rams respond with an impressive drive of their own. A statue of liberty run by Vitamin T Smith for 25 sets up Dick Hoerner's dipsy doodle pitch play sweep right for 32 and a touchdown. The Yanks punt, and with Norm Van Brocklin now at the controls it is time to exploit the Yank secondary as the Dutchman completes a post/corner route to Hirsch for 58. 

Martin Ruby sacks Van Brocklin, but the Rams have all the tools in the tool box. Smith on a reverse heads left, and he is left handed. The diminutive halfback stops and throws back across the field to Fears for 11 to set up another Bob Waterfield field goal attempt. It's good from 31 to up the ante to 26-14. A fine run by Taliaferro and Ram penalty position the Yanks in Ram territory, but Ratterman again misfires and Keane intercepts. Hoerner carries the ball for Los Angeles, and ultra-aggressive linebacker Ed Sharkey is kicked out of the ballgame. A naughty New York Yank! Los Angeles begins a drive that culminates early in the 4th quarter with Hoerner pushing in from 4 yards out. 33-14 at 00:56 of the 4th quarter. A promising Yank drive again is derailed with a Ratterman interception(Lewis), and a penalty on Naumetz of the Rams nearly gets him kicked out of the game. Getting hostile out there!. 

The Rams must punt, and an unblocked Martin Ruby thunders in from right tackle and blocks the punt. The ensuing mad scramble in the end zone results in Bruce Alford clutching the ball for a precious seven points. First and ten Los Angeles on their own thirty-six, and here comes Hoerner bouncing his off tackle right run to the outside, and behind superb blocks from Smith and Thompson goes 64 to score. Los Angeles 40 New York 21 at the 4:13 mark of the quarter. 

The Yanks come right back as Ratterman goes to Mr. Reliable...Dan Edwards back to back receptions of 31 and 16 give New York hope. Hoerner fumbles and defensive guard Joe Signaigo recovers. Taliaferro takes a reverse from Young, and lofts a long high tight spiral to left end Art Weiner. Weiner has run a deep crossing route, and though Williams of the Rams gets a hand on the ball, the rookie twists and grabs the ball one handed for a 50-yard touchdown. 

Los Angeles 40 New York 35 at the 7:48 mark. Can they do it? Knock off the powerful Rams at home before over 45,000 and move back into first place? Hoerner fumbles again, and d-tackle Paul Mitchell pounces on the ball. Ratterman passes and Tom Keane again intercepts. This is the second time in Ram history that Ram teammates have intercepted three times in a game. Los Angeles eats up clock on the 46-yard drive, and Waterfield puts the game out of reach with his third field goal. 

THE AFTERMATH: The Yanks and Rams gained over 1,000 yards in total offense. This game demonstrates we are in a new era of football. Creative formations, and plays, and especially with a new league standard set that of combined passing attempts per game. The Yanks and Rams combined to record 57 first downs, the most ever in a league game at the time. New York would now tailspin to a four-game losing streak as the defense is destroyed in back-to-back road losses to the Lions and Giants. They would end on a high note with a humiliation of the hapless Colts in which they outgain Baltimore by over 300 yards on the ground to finish 7-5 in third place. The story of the '51 Yanks needs to be told another day, but in 1950 they could have captured the imagination of Pro Football fans everywhere if they could have held onto first place and played the Browns for the title.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remembering Ralph Kercheval: NFL & Horses

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films

Ralph Kercheval, halfback, Kentucky

Today PFJ looks back at one of the more unique stories of one of the NFL’s best two-way players who had a better career in another sport. With this being Kentucky Derby weekend we take a look back at the career of Ralph Kercheval.

Kercheval was born on December 1, 1911, in Salt Lick, Kentucky (Bath Co.), a town about fifty miles east of Lexington. All of his life Kercheval never strayed too far from his bluegrass roots. He had a passion for sports and horses. He would make one passion help the other achieve his life’s work.

In 2001 (July 12th) I was fortunate enough to interview Kercheval at his home in Lexington. He talked about growing up playing football, especially his special skill of kicking. “I must have kicked the ball a million times as a kid,” recalled Kercheval. “I practiced in all my spare time. Sometimes we’d play football all day. I did more kicking when I was between the ages of 10 and 15 than any other time.”

After making a name for himself on the gridiron in high school, Kercheval went to play football at the University of Kentucky. In Lexington Kercheval was a triple threat star, gaining a reputation of being one of the best kickers/punters in the country. It was also there that he met a Wildcat legend in John “Shipwreck” Kelly. The two would reunite in the NFL.

Ralph Kercheval, punting, Univ. of Kentucky

After playing one year with the New York Giants, “Shipwreck” Kelly joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1933. The following year Kelly reached out to Kercheval to see if he was interested in playing pro football. This was before the NFL Draft was founded, so Kelly had the inside track to sign Kercheval. The fellow Kentucky star agreed to come to Brooklyn and play for the Dodgers.

NFL CAREER:

The 6-1, 190-pounder Kercheval played 7 seasons (74 games) with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His biggest problem was his team’s lack of success, as the Dodgers went just 29-41-7 during his time there with only one winning season in 1940 (8-3-1). He scored 10 total TDs (4 rush., 5 rec., 1 INT ret.) and scored 186 career points.

He made only one First-team All-Pro selection and that was by the Boston Post in 1935. He was named Second-team All-Pro in 1935 by Green Bay Press-Gazette and New York Journal, and in 1936 by Collyers Eye. He was also named Honorable Mention by the NFL in 1935-1936.

In the end, Kercheval's NFL career was mostly known for his kicking prowess.

Ralph Kercheval (#1), ball carrier, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1939

KICKING:

During his time in the NFL Kercheval gained a reputation as one of the league’s best kickers. He was just a notch below his contemporaries Ward Cuff (Giants), Jack Manders (Bears), and Glenn Presnell (Spartans-Lions). He converted 31 career FGs and 33 XPs, making 86% of his extra-point attempts….6 times he finished in Top 5 in FGs made, including leading the league in 1938 with five.

     “I got Ralph Kercheval to come to Brooklyn. He was a halfback, but his real greatness was in kicking the football. He could punt, he could placekick. He was the best kicker ever to play the game. Hell, he could fart the football farther than these guys can kick it today,” said “Shipwreck” Kelly to author Richard Whittingham for his book What a Game They Played.

Ralph Kercheval, kicking, Dodgers, 1939
(Courtesy, Time magazine)

Kercheval seemed to thrive under pressure kicking, since he’d practiced so much growing up. “You’re not exactly fresh after playing both ways for 50 minutes,” recalled Kercheval. “One advantage I had over some punters was the fact pressure situation never bothered me. You see punters who are terrific in practice but experience trouble in games.”


In 1939 Kercheval was a part of NFL history.
October 22, 1939
First Televised NFL Game
Eagles at Dodgers, Ebbets Field

One of the major moments in the career of Ralph Kercheval, although he might not have known it then, was playing in the first ever televised game in NFL history.

13,000 fans inside Ebbets Field took notice of some of the bulky TV cameras. Roughly 1,000 TV sets in New York City would’ve had the opportunity to tune into the game. Allen Walz, a former Golden Gloves champ and NYU football star, did the play-by-play that day for W2XBS.

 “We were told about it,” said Kercheval. “Just said, ‘boys forget it. You are going to be on camera…we saw some people all before the game to set up in various places. At the end of the grandstand, where one of the field goals happened to be, they had a camera all set up. So we were aware of it.”

After a 7-7 halftime tie, Kercheval became the star of the game, kicking 3 field goals in the second half, from 44, 38, and 45-yards, to help the Dodgers to a 23-14 victory.

HORSE TRAINER: 

But playing in the NFL wasn’t Kercheval’s ultimate dream. He used the money he made playing pro football to finance his true passion- being a horse trainer. “After seven years that was enough for me, because football was primarily so I could be in the horse business,” said Kercheval. He bought a farm in Louisville and began training horses. Over the next four decades Kercheval trained horses including a stint at the famous Vanderbilt ranch. He would train several top racing horses but one stood out among the rest.  

NATIVE DANCER:

Kercheval would go on to train a once-in-a-lifetime horse. His name was Native Dancer. “He was such an outstanding horse,” recalled Kercheval. “I don’t think there’s ever been another horse quite like him. There’ve been an awful lot of wonderful horses but he was just an outstanding horse.”

Native Dancer ran in 22 races and won 21 of them. His only lost was in the 1953 Kentucky Derby in an upset. Native Dancer got so upset that he went out and won the Preakness and Belmont to narrowly miss out on the Triple Crown. 

Native Dancer

In 1954 the horse graced the cover of TIME magazine and made him even more popular with his races on television. The horse would go down as one of the greatest racehorses of all time. 

Native Dancer
(Courtesy: Time

During my visit with Ralph in 2001 his wife of fifty years, Blanche, joined us. She was very charming as she took care of her dear husband. They were a perfect match. After he got back to Jersey after the interview, Blanche sent me a sweet thank you note. 

Ralph Kercheval, 2001 NFL Films interview

Ralph Kercheval and his wife Blanche

 Although Kercheval was a decent NFL player during the two-way era he will be more know for his career with the ponies. During our interview, he reflected on his time in the NFL. “It was a lot of fun,” said Kercheval. “I wouldn’t have played if it hadn’t been fun. But I played pro football because I loved to play the game.” 

As the Kentucky Derby goes off this Saturday, I'll choose to remember Ralph Kercheval and Native Dancer. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Pro Football Journal All-1970s Underrated

By John Turney
To make this team these players cannot have been selected to the Official NFL All-Decade Team or be in the Hall of Fame but they can have been selected All-Pro or been voted to Pro Bowls. Their careers can have spilled over from the 1960s a bit and into the 1980s (a bit). Mostly, they are 1970s players who were, in our view, somewhat overlooked in the annals of history. 

Also note that this is not some definitive list, anyone could make their own list with totally different players and it would be just as valid, but we like ours. So, enjoy—
Offense
QB—Bert Jones
Defense
Specialists
Ret—Terry Metcalf
ST—Rusty Tillman

There were several centers to choose from but we went with Bob Johnson who was tall (6-5) and solid his entire career. Doug Wilkerson was one of the naturally strongest guards in the NFL and one of the fastest. He was good in pass protection and could pull and lead sweeps as well as any of the guards of his era. We picked Bob Young over Ed White because we'd put White more with a 1975-85 underrated team but they were similar strong-men players.  
Bob Chandler
Bob Chandler was the ideal possession receiver and Harold Jackson was a great deep threat but also could work underneath, he was not a one-trick pony. Raymond Chester started the decade as a Pro Bowler (1970-72) and ended it as one (1979). 

Bert Jones will always be underrated because injuries just ruined his career. In terms of talent, we think he was right there with John Elway and Aaron Rodgers (arm, legs, brains—the whole package). 

Chuck Foreman and Lydell Mitchell were dual threats, running and receiving who could get you 1,000 yards on the ground and catch 50-60 passes as well. 

Lyle Alzado
Cedrick Hardman
Alzado cheated. We suspect he's not the only one that did in the 1970s. And 1980s. And beyond. He was a good run defender and a guy who could also get to the quarterback. Hardman led the NFL in sacks in the 1970s though he was not all the conscientious about stopping the run.

Sherk was the NEA Defensive Player of the year n 1976 was always in on a lot of tackles and came back from a knee injury in 1977 to play well in 1978 and 1979 (12 sacks that year). Larry Brooks gave some of the best guards (Gene Upshaw and John Hannah) tough times. He was devastating at the point of attack and pursued well and could get good inside pressure as well. 
Jerry Sherk

Larry Brooks
Bill Bergey could get into holes and make stops and could also show up in coverage and pick off passes and had that proverbial "nose for the football". Van Pelt was a tall, athletic linebacker who was always playing his guts out for the Giants. Villapiano was making a lot of big plays for the Raider defenses in the 1970s, picking off passes, and making big hits. He was someone who was always noticeable.

Lemar Parrish was someone teams avoided throwing at because he had the ability to wreck a game plan. He was smart, somewhat of a gambler, a poor man's Deion Sanders in a way. He was also an excellent returner in his first few years. Willie Buchanon toiled for some poor Packers teams and came back from a couple serious injuries and still was productive. As coverage goes, he was as good as any.

Smart and tough describes Jake Scott. He was great with the Dolphins then was still very fine finishing off his career with Washington. Bill Thompson never had a bad year including when he began as a cornerback in 1969 through 1981, just a smart, steady, coach-on-the-field type.

John James was in the shadow of Ray Guy but he had a good net average and got his punts off quickly enough to avoid having too many blocked. Fritsch had a good average and had a good leg and seemed to make a lot of clutch kicks.

Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and Rick Upchurch overshadowed Terry Metcalf who could take both a kick or a punt back on you and was an excellent receiving back as well. Several special teams demon could have been picked, all of them are underrated but we went with Tillman. He was a key to George Allen's special teams in the 1970s and later became one of the best-ever special teams coaches in the NFL, most notable with the Seahawks. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Did Stats, LLC., Change the Definition of "Stuffs"— Or Did ESPN?

By John Turney 

In 1992 Stats, Inc., as it was known then, introduced a statistic called "stuffs". Simply put it was a tackle for a loss on a run play. Stats, LLC., (STATS) as they are now known tracked store plays ever since. 

For years ESPN used those stats on their online player profiles. Here is the Aaron Donald page screengrab—

We've highlighted the "STF" or "stuff" column for 2015 and 2021. You'll notice that his career-high is 16 in 2021. Next is 13 in 2015. Well, not so fast.

In 2021 either STATS changed their definition to include tackles for no gains (and for pass plays for no gain and for a loss) or ESPN is using another source for stuffs. We don't know which. 

Here are the 2015 plays in question. You can see the ones for losses total 13.5 (The above chart shows 13, we think that is a rounding thing for the chart). But if you add in the tackles for no gain, using the method that STATS used the total would be 17—

For 2021 the plays in question total 10.5 (using the STATS method for stuffs) that were for a loss. But if you add in the tackles for no game it totals 16—the career-high in the ESPN bio above—

The point? Simple. You cannot always compare stat totals in the same bio unless you know how they were kept and some of the media outlets don't let you know when changes were made.

Using the old method (counting tackles made in the backfield only Donald's 2021 total is 10.5 stuffs, not 16. If you use the "new" method his career-high is 2015, not 2021.

it does not matter which method is used, whether one considered a "stuff" to be for no gain and for losses or for just losses, it just matters that they all be counted consistently.

Don't get us started on NFLGSIS's tackles for loss, that is confusing. 

SO, when someone tells you Aaron Donald had 16 stuffs in 2021, they are right. But they are also telling you something that puffs up his total in relation to previous seasons. And this applies to all the ESPN bios found online. Someone, we suppose, just decided that plays for no gain count as a stuff and didn't go back and conform all the previous years to that same standard.

That makes it confusing. It does not take away the terrific play by Donald in 2021 (or any year) it doesn't matter in the abstract if his career-high in stuffs in 2015 or 2021 but if you are going to count things it only makes sense to count the consistently. 
 
If anyone knows the source ESPN is using for their bios, please let us know. We'd love to get further information to sort this out—If STATS is the provider and they changed or if ESPN is using their own inhouse stats (ESPN Sports & Information) to populate their bio charts.

Now, a discussion for another day is how Donald was credited with 46 assisted tackles in 2021 when his career-high before this year was 26. Bottom line: Tackle stats are hard to trust.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

1947: "Kicking the Dirt on the Fire"

By TJ Troup 
During the 55 games played in 1946, NFL teams combined to gain 15,736 yards passing—an average of 286 yards a game. The NFL increased the number of games played in 1947 to twelve, thus a 60 game season. 

Passers pitched the pigskin all over the field during this remarkable year and gained 21,670 yards—an average of 361 yards a game and a 75-yard per-game increase! Never before had the league shown such an increase in passing yardage. How and why did this happen? 

Yes, teams still did run the ball, and a prime example was in Green Bay where the Packers attempted at least 50 running plays in both games against the Lions. When did that ever happen before? Having studied the stats and watched game film of all the teams, and of course, the men who threw the ball came away with the following; ready? 

Here goes...

The T-formation was used with more frequency, and with the use of motion and alignments with three receivers to one side of the field defenses did not have skilled pass defenders to stop, or even limit the passing game. Though all the teams still aligned in either a 6-2 or 5-3 defense; much more often you saw defenses attempt to combine some form of hybrid zone coupled with man coverage. 

Many defensive coaches had never seen these offensive alignments, and when you add to that the confidence level by passers and receivers as they controlled this territorial game via the air lanes...the passing game was not only here to stay, but would continue to evolve. 
The passer rating became part of the NFL statistically in 1973, yet we can evaluate the passers by using this valuable tool. The 1946 leader was Sid Luckman with a mark of 71.0. He tied Bob Waterfield for the league lead in touchdown passes with 17. Luckman ranked third in '47 with a mark of 67.7, but he threw for an impressive 24 touchdowns. 
The Bears had a history of using backs as receivers, and that continued in '47 as George McAfee shined in catching the ball. Luckman had two outstanding ends in Ken Kavanaugh, and Jim Keane. The Bears were the only team in the league to have both ends catch at least one pass in every game. Luckman in October threw for over 300 yards in back-to-back games—unheard of for that era. Back to the key question of who did lead the league in passer rating? 
Why none other than Slingin' Sammy Baugh with a mark of 92.0 He ranked sixth in '46 with a mark of 54.2, so why such an improvement? Clark Shaughnessey joined the Redskins as an offensive advisor, and though we don't know how well they worked together; there is no doubt that Sam took to this new improved version of the T-formation, and we have Baugh finding an ever better receiver out of the backfield than Steve Bagarus was in 1945 in Bob Nussbaumer. Bob caught at least one pass in every game, and demonstrated an ability to run every type of "underneath" pass pattern to get open. Nussbaumer finished second in the league with 47 receptions. 
Rookie Hugh Taylor exploded on the scene on opening day with 212 yards on 8 receptions, and though he could not sustain that kind of production he forced defenses to focus on him when he was in the game. The rest of the ends on Washington were plodding slow, yet Sam got them the ball. The rest of the backs also caught passes here and there as Baugh set three new league records. When the Redskins lost to Green Bay on October 19th Baugh completed passes to NINE different Washington receivers! There is no way he would do that the next week against the defending league champion Bears right? Right? Ten different Redskin receivers caught passes in the 56-20 loss. 

Washington was the first team to have five different players have a 100-yard receiving game in a season. Taylor caught at least one pass in all ten games he played, and to finish off Washington, and this is amazing; on Wednesday, November 26th when the weekly league leader stats came out, Washington had five men (Nussbaumer, Saenz, Taylor, Duckworth, and Poillon) among the league leaders, five of the top ten in the Eastern Conference! 

Watching film of Sam throwing the ball is a joy to behold but he was not the only passer to have success in 1947. Tommy Thompson directed the Philadelphia Eagle attack with aplomb, and when you have a runner like Van Buren thundering through defenses; the opposition just might not be ready for a pass. 
Black Jack Ferrante and Neil Armstrong shared the left end position. They played well, yet the key was rookie right end and future Hall of Famer Pete Pihos. During a five-game stretch at one point in the season the Eagles gained just 540 yards passing on 39 completions, yet in each of those games there was at least one completion for a minimum of 35 yards! 

Thompson and the Eagles usually threw short, but every game they burned an opponent with a big passing play to augment the potent Philadelphia running attack. When you set team records passing you should be remembered by the folks that cheer for that team.....yet Clyde LeForce is rarley mentioned in Lion history. Rookie LeForce shared the quarterback position with veteran Roy Zimmerman in a vastly improved Detroit air attack.

Zimmerman's best game by far came against the Giants as he completed 9 out of 10 for 143 yards. The next week Roy was awful, and LeForce takes command under center. He is the first Detroit Lion to ever throw for over 300 yards in a game, as Clyde was masterful against Washington in November. In that game he also threw four touchdown passes, thus now with 18 TD passes the Lions had set another team record (the old record was 16 in set in 1944). Detroit, for first time in team history, threw for over 2,000 yards as a team, old record was 1,674, so they bettered the mark by almost 800 yards. John Greene came on strong as the season progressed, and gained over 100 receiving in the loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving. 

The Packer defense focused on the veteran receiver in the December game, and with Zimmerman sharing time with Margucci at quarterback in the league finale Ralph Heywood latched onto 5 passes for 128 yards. Bob Snyder in his lone season as head coach of the Rams fielded a team that was strong on young talent in many areas, yet the foundation was built upon quarterback Bob Waterfield and left end Jim Benton. 

Benton led the NFL in receiving yards for the past two years, but now in his last campaign he discovered he was very popular with defenders around the league since everywhere he went on a pass route there were linebackers and defensive halfbacks waiting for him. Though he caught passes in every game but one; he was not near as productive as the two previous seasons. Not once all year did a Ram catch passes for over 100 yards. Possibly the lack of production by Benton was a cause of Bob Waterfield's less than stellar season? 

During a seven-game stretch he had a passer rating of 17.5—yes, youngsters you read that correctly. Jim Hardy came off the bench and had a few decent performances, but otherwise, the Ram passing game was average at best. Halfback Jack Banta weaved his way through the New York Giant defense for 64 yards—this is the only time a Ram receiver gained over 50 yards on a pass play all year. Owner Dan Reeves reached the conclusion that Snyder's offense was not well suited for his "franchise" quarterback. Since Shaughnessy spiced up the Redskin air attack, Reeves hired him to replace Snyder, and hopefully spark some life into the Los Angeles air game. 

Indian Jack Jacobs saved his best for last during 1947 as he completed 26 of 55 for 319 yards against the Lions and Eagles in December. Ranking among the league leaders in receiving all year were ends Goodnight & Luhn...in fact, Goodnight caught at least one pass in every game, and Luhn would have joined him, but was shut out by the vastly improved Cardinal secondary in October. Seemed like Indian Jack only focused on them as the game against the Lions in late October showed. The record-setting Green Bay running attack ground the Lions into the turf—maybe that is why it is called the ground game? That afternoon Luhn & Goodnight caught all seven of Jacobs completions. Luhn & Goodnight both had 100-yard receiving games during the year. 

The defending Eastern Conference champion Giants started Niles at tailback to begin the season. He showed he just did not have the talent to succeed in the NFL. Coach Owen shifted athletic Frank Reagan to tailback against Washington in October as the New York passing attack showed some life, but the next week against Boston the Giants gained only 120 yards on 13 completions, and the Mara family pulled the trigger on a blockbuster in season trade. 
Former league rushing champion Bill Paschal went to Boston, and the Yanks heralded "pitcher" Paul Governali came to New York. Though the Giants lost to the Eagles in November Paul pitched passes through the Philadelphia defense for 341 yards! The highlight of the season though for New York and Governali was his performance against the 'Skins in December as he gained 255 yards on just 12 completions, with four going for touchdowns. 

Many men got an opportunity to catch the ball for the Giants during the campaign but New York did not have a 100-yard receiver all year. When Governali left Boston the number one question was simply, who now plays quarterback for us? Boley Dancewicz played well in the loss to the Lions early in the season, thus he was thrust into the triggerman role, and the youngster sure had his moments. When your team gains 26 yards rushing on 24 attempts you are going to lose. 

Ok, there are some teams that take a while to become productive running the ball...oh, the Yanks are not one of those teams? The upset win over a powerful Eagle team brought the 'Skins to Boston on the last day of November. 

Having the beautiful color film shot from classic angles is a joy to watch, yet the real joy was viewing Don Currivan set a league record. He switched jersey numbers that afternoon and he gained 181 yards on just three catches. Currivan's burst of speed took him by the Burgundy and Gold in victory for the Yanks. 

Currivan did not catch a pass on opening day, so he caught at least one in the final 11 games of the year, but much more important, he had a nine-game streak where he caught 18 passes for 680 yards, averaging 37.7 a catch! 

Lanky Hal Crisler was the key target early in the year, and he caught passes in ten of the twelve games; thus Dancewicz had two fine ends to pass to. 

When you look at the receiving leaders section of the weekly leaders page the league puts out...you can't help but notice that the NFL made errors on Currivan's weekly production. Can this crusty old warhorse/researcher figure out which games? Just not sure, yet takes nothing away from the new lethal passing combination of Dancewicz to Currivan. Bet you knew that.

Dr. Jock Sutherland knew he could and would have success with his single-wing attack in the Steel City. The trade of Dudley to Detroit meant someone else was going to play tailback in Pittsburgh. Johnny "Zero" Clement was effective and productive luggin' the leather, yet his passing was a key reason why Pittsburgh was going to earn a playoff berth. 

Exhaustive film study of the single-wing tells us that the formation can have multiple alignments, and become a nightmare for defenses with misdirection, and passes thrown against unsuspecting defenders. Clement was a much more accurate passer than his predecessor Bill Dudley, and when you have him firing the ball on wingback reverses, and tailback rollouts..the Steelers finally have a varied and productive offense. Will the Black and Gold run the ball? Is a blast furnace in Pittsburgh hot? Blocking backs, fullbacks, wingbacks and of course, ends got the chance to latch onto the pigskin. 

Through the first nine games of the year with the exception of the blowout loss to the Rams the Steelers had their fair share of long gainers each week with their air attack. Val Jansante was an excellent left end for Pittsburgh, but no Steeler receiver will ever gain over 100 yards receiving for Dr. Jock...just not going to happen, but Jansante did catch at least one pass in every game. When Johnny Clement got hurt early in the Bear game, the passing game struggled. 

Walt Slater had completed a few passes when he played tailback substituting for Clement all year, but he could not carry the load. Gonzalo Morales completed just 8 of 27 for 78 yards and threw four interceptions in the back-to-back losses to the Bears and Eagles. One more victory and the Black & Gold earn a playoff berth. Slater gains 68 yards on his five completions in the regular-season win over Boston, and he also gains 70 yards rushing. He just was not Johnny Clement. 

Looking at the season stats of the Chicago Cardinals during almost any year in the early '40s would quickly tell you this is not a very talented team. Enter a coach with a plan—Mr. Jimmy Conzelman. Executing that plain in the T-formation was Paul Christman. Joe Ziemba's outstanding book details the growth for Christman in '45 & '46. Chicago now has two teams that truly believe they are going to be champions. Who are those teams you ask? Why the defending champion Bears, and the new kids on the block from the southside...the Cardinals. 
The balanced Cardinal offense demonstrates over and over all year they can run the ball, and they sure can pass the ball. The Lions and Cardinals had a few games of offensive futility in years past, but opening day off the bench rookie Ray Mallouf completes 5 of 7 for 110 yards. Very impressive when you add to that—the starter Paul Christman threw for over 300 yards as Chicago set a team record for yards passing in a game. Billy Dewell and Mal Kutner will be among the league leaders in receiving all year. 

Five times in '46 a Cardinal gained over 1000 yards receiving in a game, and they matched that in 1947. Dimanchef and Trippi were fine receivers out of the backfield or in motion and then running a pass route, but the offense centered around Christman getting the ball to his two very talented ends. Since this is still single platoon football we have men who will catch a touchdown pass, and intercept in the same game. How many times in 1947 you ask? Eleven times, and twice Kutner accomplished this feat. We even had two men do it in the same game when Compagno of the Steelers and Pritchard of the Eagles accomplished the "double". 

Sport Reference had decided to keep me on retainer, and my first project for them in 2022 is to list every individual pass attempt for the entire league, Yes folks it is possible to list all 2,991 passing attempts, and accomplished. There is always the possibility of an error, yet have double-checked my "work", and with the valuable resources I have...a story can be written from the stats. Would relish questions and comments from any and all of you out there in football land.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

1966 Pro Football Journal All-Rookie Team

 By John Turney 
From 1961 to 65, then in 1967, and then from 1969 on there was some form of an All-Rookie team from the United Press International, the Oakland Tribune, Football Digest, and later the Pro Football Writers of America and others. 

However, no teams—that we are aware of—exist in 1966 and 1968. So, Pro Football Journal decided to fill in the holes.

The Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News was Tommy Nobis and the UPI Rookie of the Year was Johnny Roland.

Here is the 1966 iteration—
Pro Football Journal
1966 All-Rookie
Offense
C Fred Hoaglin, Cle
G Bob Kowalkowski, Det
G Tom Mack, LA
T Doug Davis, Min
T Willie Young, NYG
WR Ben Hawkins, Phi
WR Dick Witcher, SF
TE Milt Morin, Cle
QB Randy Johnson, Atl
RB Johnny Roland, StL
RB Willie Asbury, Pit
Defense
E Willie Townes, Dal
E Gary Pettigrew, Phi
T Walt Barnes, Was
T Don Davis, NYG
MLB Tommy Nobis, Atl
LB Don Hansen, Min
LB Jeff Smith, NYG
DB Ken Reeves, Atl
DB Brig Owens, Was
DB Ernie Kellermann, Cle
DB Bob Riggle, Atl
Specialists
K Charlie Gogolak, Was
P David Lee, Bal