RSS
 

Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL 100 – Charley Trippi

03 Dec

His name isn’t well known among younger fans of pro football, but the subject of our NFL 100 post today is one of the greats of all time. Playing in an era when rosters were small and there wasn’t the specialization that there is today, Trippi was more than the usual “triple threat” type of player common at the time. He was a “quintuple threat” who could run, pass, catch, punt and play defense. Drafted by the old Chicago Cardinals in 1945 as a “future” pick, Trippi joined the team in 1947, spurning offers from the All America Conference’s New York Yankees and professional baseball to sign with the Cards. He was an immediate success, leading the Cardinals to the 1947 NFL championship. He played mostly as a running back but over his career also played quarterback, defensive back, punter and kick returner. Trippi had been a star in college at Georgia, but like many men at the time his football playing was interrupted by service in the military. Chicago had drafted him with the agreement that he would finish his college career before joining the pros. When he finally joined the team, he completed their “Dream Backfield” along with Paul Christman, Pat Harder and Marshall Goldberg, with Elmer Angsman joining at a later date. The Cardinals won the Western Division title in ’47 and defeated Philadelphia in the championship game with Trippi making the biggest contribution. Wearing basketball shoes on an icy field, he totaled 206 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on a 44 yard run and a 75 yard punt return.

 

Trippi-Charley-6

Charley Trippi racks up yardage

His playing career lasted 9 years. After playing left halfback for his first 4 seasons he moved to quarterback in 1951, then moved back to halfback and later to defensive back, basically doing whatever his team needed him to do. His final season was in 1955, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. In the preseason he was injured while being tackled and suffered a smashed nose, concussion and a protruding bone behind his eye that gave him double vision. He played only 5 games that season and it was the least productive year of his career. His overall play ranked among the best of his generation however, as he was twice named All Pro, twice played in the Pro Bowl, was named to the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1940s and won championships in both college and the NFL. The Cardinal franchise is one the league’s originals, and even being in existence for all 100 years, Trippi is arguably the greatest player in team history. He also served the franchise as an assistant coach from 1957 until 1965, when they were in St. Louis. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968, and at 97 is the oldest living member of the Hall, and also the oldest living former number one overall draft choice.

trippiold

Trippi, 97, the oldest living Hall of Fame member

 

NFL 100 – Joe Greene

02 Dec

In the title for this NFL 100 feature we purposely omitted the nickname of the player, which is “Mean” Joe Greene. It’s a nickname that’s appropriate for his play on the field, but Greene was never fond of it. He felt that it didn’t reflect his true personality. He lamented after his playing days ended that he would be remembered as being mean, or dirty, rather than how he wished to be remembered-as a player who played 13 years and contributed to winning 4 championships, and who set a standard for other players to strive to reach. We can certainly agree with that assessment. Greene, whose given name isn’t even Joe, it’s Charles Edward Greene, picked up the nickname in college at North Texas State, where the team’s defense picked up the nickname “Mean Green” for it’s stingy play. When Chuck Noll took over as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach in 1969, his first draft choice, fourth overall in the first round, was Greene. It wasn’t a popular pick among Steeler fans, who wanted a flashy player to help turn around what was a losing team at the time. Instead they got a little known defensive player from a small school.

Greene changed a lot of minds in a hurry in his first year in the pros. Despite the Steelers continuing their losing ways with a 1-13 record, Greene was a standout, being named Defensive Rookie of The Year and also being chosen to play in the Pro Bowl. It took a couple more years, and some outstanding drafts, to build the Pittsburgh franchise into what Noll was hoping for, but Greene continued his stellar play, eventually being the cornerstone of what would become the “Steel Curtain” defensive unit that dominated the 1970s and led to four Super Bowl wins. Greene insisted that the team had 10 other players who were All Pro caliber on that defense and that he was just another piece of an outstanding unit, but the fact is that over his career, he was rewarded many times over for his individual play. After winning the Defensive Rookie of The Year award, he followed that up by winning Defensive Player of The Year twice, becoming the first player in history to win the award multiple times. He was an eight-time All Pro, a ten-time Pro Bowler, won the NFL Man of The Year Award in 1979, and was chosen for the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1970s, the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and most recently, the league’s 100th Anniversary team. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

 

 meanjoegreene

Mean Joe Greene about to make life miserable for Roger Staubach

Perhaps to somewhat soften his image as “Mean Joe”, Greene made a commercial for Coca Cola during his playing days that saw him limping down the tunnel into the locker room as a small boy offers him his Coke. Greene snarls a little but then accepts the gift, drinking the whole bottle, then tosses his jersey to the boy. It was a poignant ad that is still remembered today, one of the classic sports commercials of all time. Greene’s contributions to the game continued after his playing days ended. He spent 16 years as an assistant coach with the Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals, and worked in player personnel for the Steelers until retiring from the franchise’s front office in 2013. He was married for 47 years before his wife passed away in 2015, and has 3 children and 7 grandchildren, who only know him as “Papa Joe”. Surely his days of being “Mean Joe” are a distant memory now, but Greene deserves to be remembered in NFL annals as one of the greatest defensive players of all time.

mean-joe-coke

“Mean Joe” Greene’s Coca Cola commercial

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Packer Dynasty Begins

28 Nov

This week’s Throwback Thursday feature was easy to identify when a matchup of the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants appeared on the NFL schedule. We’ll travel back to New Year’s Eve of 1961 when these two clubs met for the league championship at Green Bay’s New City Stadium, which would be renamed Lambeau Field at a later date. The frigid 17 degree day made it a classic “Frozen Tundra” type of game that Green Bay would be known for. Flashing back a year to the 1960 title game, the Packers had lost a heartbreaker to the Philadelphia Eagles and in the postgame locker room Packer coach Vince Lombardi, who felt he had cost the team with some dubious decisions, stated to his players that “this will never happen to us again.” The Packers made sure this edict would come true as they soundly defeated the Giants 37-0. Both teams seemed to use the first quarter to shake off their nerves, as normally reliable receivers Kyle Rote of the Giants and Green Bay’s Max McGee both dropped long passes. The quarter ended scoreless but the Pack, behind future Hall of Fame backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, drove the ball inside the Giants’ red zone as time expired. Hornung began the second stanza by scoring on a six yard run to open the scoring. The Giants then came unraveled on their next 2 drives, which ended on Y.A. Tittle interceptions. Bart Starr made the New Yorkers pay for both turnovers, first finding flanker Boyd Dowler for a 13 yard touchdown and then hitting tight end Ron Kramer for a 14 yard score. The Giants then replaced Tittle at quarterback with aging veteran Charley Conerly, who drove the team downfield but couldn’t cash in any points. With their final possession of the half, the Packers used the running of Hornung and a long pass from Starr to Kramer to set up a short Hornung field goal to open up a commanding 24-0 lead.

The second half was an exercise in more futility for the Giants. A fumbled punt led to another Hornung field goal while Starr engineered another long drive that ended with another TD pass to Ron Kramer, stretching the Green Bay lead to 34-0. The Giants went back to Tittle at quarterback in the fourth quarter but his luck didn’t change. The Packers picked him off 2 more times, giving him 4 interceptions on the day. The only scoring of the final quarter was another Hornung field goal. His 19 points scored earned him the game’s Most Valuable Player award, and a shiny new 1962 Chevrolet Corvette. It was just another typical performance from the “Golden Boy”. He had totaled an amazing 176 points for the previous year in 1960, which was a 12 game season. That record stood until LaDainian Tomlinson broke it in a 16 game season in 2006. The convincing victory ushered in a dominant era of football that would see Lombardi’s club win a total of 5 championships in 7 years, earning Green Bay the moniker of “Titletown USA”.

 

61nfltitle

Packer defense smothers Tittle (14) in 1961 title game

 

NFL 100 – Teams of The Decades

27 Nov

It’s been a regular practice in the long history of the National Football League to crown the “Team of The Decade” for each ten year period of the league’s existence. With it’s celebration of the 100th season this year, there’s no better time to rate those teams than now, as the tenth decade of play closes out soon. We might as well start this feature by crowning the New England Patriots as the team of both the 2000s and the 2010s, the “Team of The New Millenium” if you will. They have dominated pro football for almost 20 years and have won 6 Super Bowls since 2000, 3 in each decade. With coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady showing no signs of slowing down, there’s no telling how much further into the millennium they will continue to own the NFL.

Going back to the league’s origins in the 1920s, the NFL actually didn’t stage a championship game at the end of each season, instead just considering whichever team was best in the regular season as the champ. By that standard, the Canton Bulldogs would have to be considered the team of the 1920s. They had the best record, and were therefore crowned champions, in 1922 and 1923. In 1924 the team was purchased by Sam Deutsch, who owned the NFL’s Cleveland Indians franchise. He took the Canton players and their name and they became the Cleveland Bulldogs, and had the best record for a third straight year to claim another title. In 1929, the NFL’s best team was the Green Bay Packers. They would go on to become the “Team of The Decade” for the 1930s, winning 4 more championships in that decade under Curley Lambeau. The Chicago Bears and New York Giants made a case for consideration with a pair of titles each, but the Packers were clearly the dominant franchise. The Bears, under league co-founder George “Papa Bear” Halas, overtook Green Bay in the next decade, winning 4 championships in the 1940s. It was in this dominant decade that the Bears earned their “Monsters of The Midway” nickname.

 

1940sbears

Halas, 1940s Bears, including a Bear mascot, celebrate a title

The 1950s are the most difficult decade to pick a dominant team from. The Cleveland Browns are generally considered to be the “Team of The Decade” for that era, as they appeared in 7 consecutive title games after being absorbed into the NFL from the All America Football Conference in 1950. Paul Brown’s teams won 3 of those games, behind the quarterback play of the great Otto Graham. However, the Detroit Lions could stake a legitimate claim to the title also. With swashbuckling quarterback Bobby Layne leading the way, they won 3 championships in the decade too, and all 3 wins were over the Browns. The Baltimore Colts, with emerging star John Unitas,  ended the decade with back-to-back championship game wins in 1958 and ’59, with the ’59 sudden death overtime win over the New York Giants being considered “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. There’s no argument over who was the “Team of The Decade” for the 1960s. It was the era of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. He transformed the moribund Packer franchise into winners in the late ’50s and they qualified for the title game in 1960, only to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles. He told his team in the locker room afterwards that “this will never happen to us again” and was true to his word. The Packers, with legendary players like Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, Forrest Gregg and Ray Nitschke, won 5 championships over the next 7 years, including wins in the first 2 Super Bowls. Lombardi was such a powerful, dominant figure of the era that when he passed away of cancer in 1970, the Super Bowl trophy was named in his honor.

1960spackers

1960s Packers, from left-Hornung, Taylor, Starr, coach Lombardi (Sports Illustrated photo)

Entering the 1970s, it looked like Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins would dominate the decade as they appeared in 3 straight Super Bowls, winning 2 of them including a perfect 17-0 season in 1972. However, Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers stole their thunder the rest of the decade, claiming a total of 4 championships in a 6 year span. Those teams won with their “Steel Curtain” defense, some hard running from Franco Harris and a passing attack engineered by Terry Bradshaw and a pair of Hall of Fame receivers, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. In the 1980s, the Washington Redskins and the Raiders, playing in Oakland and then relocating to Los Angeles, won a pair of Super Bowls each, but neither could match the mastery of the San Francisco 49ers, easily the “Team of The Decade”. Behind the genius of coach Bill Walsh and the confident play of quarterback Joe Montana, the Niners won 4 titles, the last one with George Siefert as coach. Walsh’s “West Coast” offense was the force that drove those teams, with Montana spreading the ball around to Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, Roger Craig and others, but their defense was also strong, led by players like Ronnie Lott, Keena Turner and Fred Dean.

1980s49ers

The late Bill Walsh, architect of the “Team of The Decade” for the 1980s

Finally, the 1990s brought back into prominence a team that had been a force for over 20 years in the 1960s and ’70s, the Dallas Cowboys. After the man who built the franchise into a powerhouse, Tom Landry, was fired, Jimmy Johnson took the reins and guided the Cowboys to a pair of championships in the ’90s. Johnson left the club but when Barry Switzer led them to a third Super Bowl win in 1995, they became the dominant team of the era and earned the crown as the “Team of The Decade” for the 1990s. The Buffalo Bills accomplished a feat still unmatched when they qualified for four consecutive Super Bowls, but losing all 4 removed them from the conversation as the best of the decade, especially since 2 of the title game losses were to the Cowboys.

 

NFL 100 – Joe Montana

25 Nov

He fell to the third round of the NFL draft in 1979 because he didn’t have a very strong arm and his measurables weren’t up to par with other available quarterbacks that year, but it was this player, Joe Montana, who built a resume that makes him a top candidate as the greatest signal caller of all time. “Joe Cool”, as he became known to his San Francisco 49er teammates, is the subject of our NFL 100 post today. During his college career at Notre Dame he showed flashes of his ability to perform well in high pressure situations. He didn’t become the starting quarterback until part way through his junior season, but prior to that had come off the bench to lead the Irish to comeback wins. His final collegiate game should have gotten noticed by NFL scouts, as he led Notre Dame to a win in the Cotton Bowl against Houston. Playing in frigid conditions, Montana developed hypothermia and left the game at halftime with his team trailing 20-12. He stayed in the locker room and the team medical staff gave him intravenous fluids, covered him in blankets and famously fed him chicken soup. When he returned to play, the Irish had fallen behind 34-12. Montana led a furious comeback and won the game 35-34, in what would be dubbed “The Chicken Soup Game”.

 

MontanaND

Joe Montana at Notre Dame

Despite his heroics at Notre Dame, pro scouts were not impressed with Montana at draft time. He lasted until the end of the third round, with 3 other QBs being picked ahead of him, and with the 82nd choice of the draft, San Francisco’s Bill Walsh finally grabbed him. Walsh and Montana formed a union that would transform the 49er franchise. They became a model organization, winning 4 Super Bowls, (3 under Walsh, 1 under George Siefert) while Montana was the field general. He won multiple league MVP awards, was an eight-time Pro Bowler and became the first player to win the Super Bowl MVP Award 3 times. His heroics in the biggest games were the trademark of his career. Besides having a perfect 4-0 record in Super Bowls, he also threw for 11 touchdowns in those games and was never intercepted. He led the 49ers to some remarkable victories in some of the NFL’s most memorable games, including a late drive in the 1981 NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys when he hit Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone on a play that went down in NFL annals as “The Catch”, and a 92 yard drive in the final 36 seconds in Super Bowl XXIII to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals. Montana’s career heroics earned him a first ballot induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, and even though Tom Brady has since surpassed him in Super Bowl wins, “Joe Cool” is still considered by many to be the most clutch NFL player of all time.

 montana2

Joe Montana in a familiar pose, signaling a touchdown

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Jets Upset The Champs

21 Nov

The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders clash this weekend on the NFL’s schedule, and we’ll travel back to a game played between these 2 former AFL rivals on December 29, 1968 for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. The headline of this post, “Jets Upset The Champs”, was probably more fitting to be used a couple of weeks later after this game, when the Jets stunned the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl, but it actually also applies to this game. It was the AFL’s title game between the defending league champion Raiders and the upstart Jets. The Jets actually entered the game as slight favorites, which seemed odd since Oakland was the defending AFL champion and had defeated the Jets six weeks earlier in the regular season in the famous “Heidi” game. One possible reason might have been that the Raiders had finished tied with Kansas City for the Western Division title and had to play a playoff game with the Chiefs a week earlier to decide who played the Jets for the right to go to the Super Bowl. The game on this day was to be played in cold, windy weather at New York’s Shea Stadium. The quarterbacks, Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica and the Jets’ Joe Namath, struggled with the passing game all day. Both completed less than 50% of their passes. Namath opened the scoring by finding his favorite target, flanker Don Maynard, on a 14 yard pass to give the Jets an early 7-0 lead. Lamonica countered with a 29 yard TD strike to Fred Biletnikoff and the teams traded field goals, with a pair each coming from the Raiders’ George Blanda and New York’s Jim Turner, to forge a 13-13 tie in the third quarter. Namath then found his tight end, Pete Lammons, for a score while Blanda added another Oakland three-pointer, so New York had a 20-16 lead at that point. The Raiders intercepted Namath and took advantage of it by driving to a go-ahead touchdown run of 5 yards by Pete Banaszak. Namath rebounded by leading a 68 yard drive culminating in another short scoring pass to Maynard, and the Jet defense kept Oakland off the board the rest of the game, allowing New York to escape with a hard-earned 27-23 victory. Maynard was the star of the day, grabbing 6 passes for 118 yards and the 2 scores, but Namath’s other top receiver, George Sauer, would contribute 70 yards on 7 catches, and the Jets’ rushing attack, a two-headed monster of Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer, chipped in with 122 hard-earned yards on the ground. Biletnikoff stood out in the losing cause for Oakland, with 7 catches for 190 yards and a TD, while speedster Warren Wells notched another 83 yards on 3 grabs. The two teams gained a combined 843 yards of total offense on the day, a pretty amazing accomplishment in the blustery conditions.

 

jetsraiders68

Namath (12) throws over Ben Davidson (83 in white) to an awaiting George Sauer (83)

 

NFL 100 – Tom Landry

20 Nov

In this year’s celebration of the NFL’s 100th season we’ve highlighted many iconic figures from the league’s history, with many more still to come. Today we showcase the life of an extraordinary man who built, from scratch, the team that became known as “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys. That man is Tom Landry, whose stoic look on the sideline of Cowboy games wearing his trademark fedora was well known from the team’s inception in 1960 until he was unceremoniously dumped by Jerry Jones in 1989. Jones had purchased the franchise and wanted to hire his old college teammate, Jimmy Johnson, as coach. His move turned out to be the right one, as the Cowboys had declined in the 1980s and Johnson wound up leading the team to a pair of Super Bowl wins. Nevertheless, Landry’s legacy was cemented despite the lack of respect he received from Jones. He had built the Cowboys into a model franchise, with an organization that exemplified class and put winning above all else. His team rose from an expansion club in 1960 to a playoff contender by 1966, when they ran off a streak of 7 division titles in an 8 year span. From ’66 until 1985 the Cowboys were a playoff team 18 times, and won 2 Super Bowls in 5 appearances. Landry’s story begins before his Dallas days. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in World War II in honor of his brother, who had been killed in a plane crash while serving. He became a bomber co-pilot and between November of 1944 and April of 1945 completed a combat tour of 30 missions, which included a crash landing in Belgium when his plane ran out of fuel.

 

1stltlandry

1st Lieutenant Tom Landry, US Army Air Corps

As a player, Landry was with the New York Yankees of the AAFC for a season, then joined the NFL’s New York Giants as a defensive back in 1950. He played until 1955, but also was a player/coach in 1954 and ’55, before becoming a full-time member of the Giants’ coaching staff in 1956, holding the position that today would be considered the defensive coordinator. The Giants’ top offensive coach at the time was Vince Lombardi. It was in the job of lead defensive coach with the Giants that Landry’s reputation as an innovator took root. He is credited with inventing the 4-3 defensive alignment that is prevalent in today’s game, with Hall of Famer Sam Huff playing the critical middle linebacker role. Landry’s Giant defensive units were one of the NFL’s best from ’56 to ’59 when he was coordinator, leading to his being hired as the first head coach in Dallas Cowboy history when they entered the league in 1960. Among his innovations in his 29 seasons in Dallas were the invention of the “Flex” defense, which involved players on the defensive line flexing to different positions depending on where they thought the play was headed. That defense was reliant on “gap control”, in which the players were assigned to cover a gap along the line of scrimmage. That philosophy is widespread in the modern game. Although his background was on the defensive side of the ball, Landry’s teams also were innovative on offense. He dusted off the “shotgun” formation which had been used in earlier years but became dormant as defenses began to learn how to counter it, and also implemented the use of multiple shifting and motion to confuse opponents. He was the first to employ a strength and conditioning coach, and to begin assigning assistant coaches to specific positions. The Cowboys were the first team to use a quality control coach, who specialized in studying upcoming opponents on film and did self-scouting of the Cowboys themselves. Of course, innovations only work if a team is winning, and the Cowboys did plenty of that during Landry’s tenure. He was a winning coach and a tremendous organizer, building the Cowboy brand into the widely-known “America’s Team”, a label they proudly embrace today. Landry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, taking his rightful place among other gridiron giants of the 20th century.

 Tom Landry

Tom Landry, always dapper on the Cowboys’ sideline

 

NFL 100 – Slingin’ Sammy Baugh

19 Nov

Last week for one of our NFL 100 features we went back to the league’s roots in the 1920s to highlight Red Grange, an early gridiron star. This week, we’ll travel back again to the leather helmet era, but not quite as far, as we feature a player who began his pro career in 1937 and played into the early 1950s, Sammy Baugh. His contribution was instrumental in the development of the modern game, as he is widely recognized as the player who perfected the art of the forward pass. As the quarterback of the Washington Redskins from ’37 until 1952, he earned the nickname “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh as he set passing records and was consistently ranked among the top quarterbacks. Technically, he was lined up as a tailback or halfback in the Redskins’ offensive backfield formation for the first few seasons, but made his name with his passing prowess and later became the quarterback as the position evolved. He led the Redskins to championships in 1937 and 1942, and led the league in pass completion percentage 8 times, while also being named an All Pro 8 times. He was NFL Player of The Year in 1947 and ’48. In an era where players commonly played both ways, he was no slouch either. He was the team’s punter and also played defensive back. He led the league in punting 5 times and still holds the NFL record for yards per punt average (51.4), a mark he set in 1940. As a defensive back, he had 31 career interceptions and the led the league in that category in 1943 with 11.

 

sammy-baugh

Slingin’ Sammy Baugh looks for an open receiver

Baugh was somewhat of an enigma in the era he played in that was mostly known for featuring the ground game almost entirely with his passing prowess. He pretty much ushered the NFL into the modern era with his successful use of the forward pass, but as stated above, he was a complete football player. Besides being a prolific passer, punter and defender, opponents praised his ability as a runner also. In 1943 he had a season that no other player in history could match as he led the NFL in passing, punting yardage and interceptions. In his rookie year of 1937 he led Washington to the NFL Championship game against the powerhouse Chicago Bears and threw for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns to guide his club to a 28-21 victory. The 335 yards passing in a playoff game was a record that stood until 2012 when Seattle’s Russell Wilson finally broke it. Another memorable day for Baugh came in 1947 when the team declared it “Sammy Baugh Day” in his honor, with the Washington, D.C. Touchdown Club presenting him a new station wagon. He promptly owned the day, lighting up the Chicago Cardinals for 355 yards passing and 6 touchdowns. Baugh retired after the 1952 season and was rightly included in the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1963. He resurfaced as a coach, first for 4 years in college in the late 1950s and then as the first head coach of the New York Titans when the American Football League was born in 1960. He only lasted 2 seasons but was hired for the same job with the Houston Oilers in 1964, with limited success in both spots.

BaughHOF

Hall of Famer Slingin’ Sammy Baugh

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Jinx Is Ended

14 Nov

The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins clash on this week’s NFL schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to opening day of the 1980 NFL season for a memorable game between these 2 AFC East rivals. It was September 7, 1980, and was the beginning of the third year of Buffalo’s rebuild under coach Chuck Knox. Knox had done the unthinkable – trading Bills’ legend O.J. Simpson away and replacing him with a rookie back named Joe Cribbs. He also stocked the Bills’ roster with former players he was familiar with from his days coaching the Los Angeles Rams, like Isiah Robertson, Ron Jessie and Bill Simpson. This game was the first to be played by both teams in the new decade of the 1980s, and Buffalo was more than happy to put the last decade behind them. In an incredible feat, coach Don Shula’s Dolphins had defeated the Bills 20 consecutive times, twice a year for the entire decade of the 1970s.

The teams battled through a defensive struggle in the first half, with the only scoring coming on a 40 yard Nick Mike-Mayer field goal as Buffalo took a 3-0 lead. Miami finally got untracked in the third quarter and went ahead 7-3 when Bob Griese finished a drive with a short touchdown pass to Tony Nathan. It looked like the Dolphins were going to continue their mastery over the Bills at that point, and Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson wasn’t helping matters as he threw 5 interceptions on the day. Buffalo’s defense, however, matched the Dolphins’ defensive intensity and kept the Fish off the scoreboard the rest of the way, intercepting Griese and backup Don Strock 4 times. Safety Jeff Nixon led the way, pilfering 3 passes and also recovering a fumble. Ferguson and the Bills finally found their way in the fourth quarter, putting together a pair of drives that accounted for the only points in that final stanza. Fergy found fullback Roosevelt Leaks for a 4 yard touchdown pass and Cribbs finished off a productive day that saw him rack up 131 yards from scrimmage by scoring from 2 yards out, securing a 17-7 win for the Bills that finally put an end to Miami’s 20 game, and 10 year, dominance over their AFC East rivals. The ending of the game wiped out a decade of frustration for Bills’ fans, and they reacted by storming the field and tearing down the goalposts, probably the only time in football history the goalposts came down on a team’s opening day. Knox was carried off the field by his players like a conquering hero. At the time it appeared that Buffalo’s fortunes would possibly be turning for the good. They won the AFC East and the Dolphins finished 8-8, a rare non-winning season for Shula. The Bills wound up losing to San Diego in the playoffs with Ferguson playing on an injured ankle, but for the Knox era, this one game may have been the crowning moment.

 

chuckknox

Coach Chuck Knox, Buffalo’s conquering hero

 

NFL 100 – Al Davis

13 Nov

In celebrating 100 seasons of the National Football League, one name that cannot be left out is that of one of the game’s most influential, and controversial people, Al Davis. A native of Brockton, Massachusetts who was raised in Brooklyn, he started his career in coaching in the 1950s, working as an offensive line coach at various universities, and also worked as a scout for a year with the Baltimore Colts in 1954. The formation of the new American Football League in 1960 gave Davis his coaching opportunity in the pros, and it was there that he cemented his legacy as an icon of the game. He joined Sid Gillman’s staff as receivers coach in 1960 and parlayed the Chargers’ success into landing the Oakland Raiders head coaching job in 1963. He was an immediate success in Oakland, guiding the previously foundering club to a 10-4 record, good for second place in the AFL’s Western Division, behind the eventual AFL champion Chargers. The Chargers had won the West despite the fact that Davis’ Raiders had beaten them twice. Davis was named AFL Coach of The Year for turning Oakland’s fortunes around. He remained Raiders’ coach for 2 more seasons when, with the AFL now embroiled in a war for survival with the established NFL, he agreed to take the position of AFL commissioner in 1966 when Joe Foss resigned. Foss had quit because he felt the battle with the NFL was a losing one, and the AFL owners felt Davis was a fighter who would work hard to win against the older league.

 

Chargers60 (2)

Davis (2nd from right) with the Chargers’ 1960 coaching staff

The owners wanted a fighter, and they got one in Davis. He implemented a plan where AFL teams would raid their NFL counterparts of their stars, preferably the quarterbacks, by signing those players to “future” contracts. The AFL signed Roman Gabriel of the Rams and John Brodie of the 49ers to those types of contracts, sending the NFL owners into a panic. Unbeknownst to Davis, a secret agreement was reached among a group he wasn’t included in, including NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Dallas executive Tex Schramm and Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. The new agreement was basically a peace treaty merging the 2 leagues, voiding the “future” contracts and establishing a common draft of college players, while also including a plan to play a championship game between the 2 leagues, a game that would grow into the Super Bowl. Also, the 2 leagues would merge into a single entity, the National Football League, with teams divided into the National and American Conferences, in 1970 when the leagues’ separate television contracts were set to expire. Davis was furious with the agreement, feeling that he was undermined in his efforts to “win the war” with the NFL. To appease him, he was offered the position of AFL President since the merger also called for his position as AFL commissioner to be dissolved. He refused the job and eventually returned to the Raiders in an executive role as one of 3 “managing general partners”, with him getting a 10% ownership share of the club. He used a controversial move in 1972 to gain control of the franchise. One of the 3 partners, Wayne Valley, was in Munich for the Olympics, and while he was gone Davis drew up a revised agreement that gave him controlling interest in the team and the other partner signed it. Valley sued to overturn the new agreement but lost his case, since under California law it only took 2 of the 3 partners to validate it. Davis seemed to never get rid of the chip on his shoulder of losing out to Rozelle in the merger fight, and spent a lot of the next few decades fighting Rozelle and the NFL in court over various issues, including the right to move the Raiders to Los Angeles when he couldn’t get a new stadium built in Oakland. Things didn’t work out in L.A. either, and Davis relocated the franchise back to Oakland after 14 seasons, even though the team would be forced to play home games in the same old stadium they had left behind in 1982. The nomadic club will move again, this time to Las Vegas, beginning next season. The half century of fighting with the league in the courts aside, Davis was a genius when it came to the actual football side of things. He built the Raider franchise into one of professional sports’ most successful and popular teams, winning 3 Super Bowls along the way and establishing the “Silver and Black” team colors as well known in fans’ eyes. His mantras of “Commitment To Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby” are still widely associated with the team, even though they fell on hard times in the last few years of Davis’ life.

aldavis

Al Davis flipped off the NFL for most of his football ownership days

As much of a renegade and a thorn in the side of the NFL as Davis was, he was also a visionary in the game and charitable when it came to his Raider “family”. He hired the first African American head coach, Art Shell, the first female front office executive, Amy Trask, and was the second to hire a Latino coach, Tom Flores. He retained close ties with all of his former players, who all returned the love. He was always true to his mantra of “Once A Raider, Always A Raider”. It was common to see old Raiders of the past like George Blanda, Jim Otto or Willie Brown around the team facility or in Davis’ owner’s box on game day. Despite being a maverick who fought the NFL for 50 years or more, the Pro Football Hall of Fame still overlooked all the controversy and inducted Davis into Canton in 1992.