March 31, 2010

1974: Warfield, Csonka, and Kiick Sign with the WFL

The Miami Dolphins had barely finished celebrating a second consecutive championship when the stunning announcement was made on March 31, 1974 that three key members of the offense, FB Larry Csonka, HB Jim Kiick, and WR Paul Warfield, had been signed by the Toronto Northmen of the newly-organized World Football League. They would not play in the WFL until 1975, as each was in their final contract year with the Dolphins for ’74.

It was a major coup for the new league that would sign several significant NFL players to contracts, some that would take effect in the first season (QB Virgil Carter by the Chicago Fire, RB Charlie Harraway by the Birmingham Americans, DT John Elliott by the New York Stars), others that, like the three Miami stars, would take effect in 1975 (TE Ted Kwalick and RB Calvin Hill by The Hawaiians, QB Daryle Lamonica by the Southern California Sun), and still others that would never occur at all due to the league’s demise (QB Ken Stabler by the Birmingham Americans for 1976).

Unlike most of the new league’s franchises, Toronto, owned by media executive John Bassett, had strong and stable financial backing. A joint contract was negotiated for the trio and totaled $3 million over three years, with Csonka getting $1.4 million, Warfield $900,000, and Kiick $700,000.

The team never played in Toronto, however - the introduction of legislation by the Canadian parliament that would have banned the WFL from fielding teams in Canada forced the relocation of the franchise to Memphis. Renamed the Southmen (not a popular nickname with the locals, who preferred to refer to the team as the “Grizzlies” due to the bear logo on the helmet), the club had the best record of the chaotic 1974 season at 17-3, winning the Central Division but losing to Florida in the first round of the playoffs.

The Dolphins, who had won the Super Bowl following the 1972 and ’73 seasons, went 11-3 in again winning the AFC East but lost in a thrilling divisional playoff game to Oakland. In their last season in Miami, Csonka had his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl-year as he gained 749 yards rushing; Warfield caught 27 passes for 536 yards (a 19.9-yard average gain), also gaining Pro Bowl recognition, in his case for the seventh straight year; and Kiick, a reserve at this point, gained 274 rushing yards and caught 18 passes while splitting time at halfback with Benny Malone and Mercury Morris.

Joining the Southmen (or “Grizzlies”) in 1975, the Miami trio at least had the good fortune of joining a stable club coming off of a winning season. However, the health of the league as a whole wasn’t good – financially rickety during the ’74 season, the lack of a television contract made the situation even more untenable and the WFL folded on October 22 after thirteen weeks.

Kiick was the star of the season opening game, scoring three touchdowns that included the game-winner with 38 seconds remaining. He also gained 106 yards rushing in a win over The Hawaiians and ended up outgaining Csonka with 462 yards on 121 carries with nine touchdowns; he also caught 25 passes for 259 yards and another TD.

Csonka had a high of 114 yards rushing in the club’s second game but missed time due to injury during the season. He ended up gaining 421 yards on 99 rushes with one TD and caught five passes for 54 yards and a score (holdover RB Willie Spencer led the club with 581 yards on 100 carries).

Warfield caught 25 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns, second on the team to WR Ed Marshall, who had 31 catches for 582 yards.

After the demise of the WFL, all three players returned to the NFL in 1976. Csonka spent three nondescript seasons with the New York Giants before returning to the Dolphins for one last, solid year in 1979 (837 yards rushing with 12 TDs). Kiick went to the Denver Broncos, where he gained just 114 yards rushing and caught 10 passes in ’76; he appeared in four games for the Broncos and Redskins in 1977, his last season, running the ball only once and catching two passes. Warfield returned to his original club, the Cleveland Browns, and played two seasons in which he caught 58 passes for 864 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Dolphins went 10-4 in 1975, but missed the postseason for the first time since 1969 (the year before Don Shula took over as head coach). They dropped to 6-8 in ’76 but rebounded to a 10-4 mark in 1977 and returned to the postseason in ’78. During that period, Don Nottingham, Norm Bulaich, and Leroy Harris took the place of Csonka at fullback. In Warfield’s absence, WR Nat Moore emerged as a productive receiver, along with Duriel Harris and, to a lesser extent, Freddie Solomon.

The abbreviated 1975 season in the WFL provided a footnote to the Hall of Fame careers of Csonka and Warfield, and was a last hurrah for Kiick. As gate attractions for the doomed WFL, they also provided something of a last hurrah for the league as well.

March 30, 2010

List of the Day: Best Passing Yardage Seasons, 1950s NFL

Johnny Unitas

TOP 10
1- Johnny Unitas, 1959 Baltimore Colts
2899 yards, 193-367, 52.6 %, 32 TD, 14 INT

2- Bill Wade, 1958 Los Angeles Rams
2875 yards, 181-341, 53.1 %, 18 TD, 22 INT

3- Otto Graham, 1952 Cleveland Browns
2816 yards, 181-364, 49.7 %, 20 TD, 24 INT

4- Otto Graham, 1953 Cleveland Browns
2722 yards, 167-258, 64.7 %, 11 TD, 9 INT

5- Norm Van Brocklin, 1954 Los Angeles Rams
2637 yards, 139-260, 53.5 %, 13 TD, 21 INT

6- Norm Van Brocklin, 1959 Philadelphia Eagles
2617 yards, 191-340, 56.2 %, 16 TD, 14 INT

7- Johnny Unitas, 1957 Baltimore Colts
2550 yards, 172-301, 57.1 %, 24 TD, 17 INT

8- Bobby Layne, 1958 Detroit Lions/Pittsburgh Steelers*
2510 yards, 145-294, 49.3 %, 14 TD, 12 INT

9- Bobby Thomason, 1953 Philadelphia Eagles
2462 yards, 162-304, 53.3 %, 21 TD, 20 INT

10-Norm Van Brocklin, 1958 Philadelphia Eagles
2409 yards, 198-374, 52.9 %, 15 TD, 20 INT

Bill Wade

Otto Graham

Norm Van Brocklin

Detroit Lions: Bobby Layne, 1951
2403 yards, 152-332, 45.8 %, 26 TD, 23 INT

Green Bay Packers: Tobin Rote, 1954
2311 yards, 180-382, 47.1 %, 14 TD, 18 INT

New York Yanks: George Ratterman, 1950**
2251 yards, 140-294, 47.6 %, 22 TD, 24 INT

San Francisco 49ers: Y.A. Tittle, 1954
2205 yards, 170-295, 57.6 %, 9 TD, 9 INT

Chicago Bears: George Blanda, 1953
2164 yards, 169-362, 46.7 %, 14 TD, 23 INT

New York Giants: Charlie Conerly, 1957
1712 yards, 128-232, 55.2 %, 11 TD, 11 INT

Chicago Cardinals: Jim Hardy, 1950
1636 yards, 117-257, 45.5 %, 17 TD, 24 INT

Washington Redskins: Eddie LeBaron, 1957
1508 yards, 99-167, 59.3 %, 11 TD, 10 INT

Dallas Texans: Frank Tripucka, 1952***
769 yards, 86-174, 49.4 %, 3 TD, 17 INT

* Layne appeared in 2 games with Detroit, 10 with Pittsburgh
** Yanks folded following 1951 season
***Texans played in 1952 only

Bobby Thomason

Bobby Layne

Tobin Rote

Charlie Conerly

March 28, 2010

List of the Day: Best Rushing Seasons, 1950s NFL

Jim Brown

TOP 10
1- Jim Brown, 1958 Cleveland Browns
1527 yards, 257 att., 5.9 avg., 17 TD

2- Jim Brown, 1959 Cleveland Browns
1329 yards, 290 att., 4.6 avg., 14 TD

3- Rick Casares, 1956 Chicago Bears
1126 yards, 234 att., 4.8 avg., 12 TD

4- Joe Perry, 1954 San Francisco 49ers
1049 yards, 173 att., 6.1 avg., 8 TD

5- J.D. Smith, 1959 San Francisco 49ers
1036 yards, 207 att., 5.0 avg., 10 TD

6- Joe Perry, 1953 San Francisco 49ers
1018 yards, 192 att., 5.3 avg., 10 TD

7- Eddie Price, 1951 New York Giants
971 yards, 271 att., 3.6 avg., 7 TD

8- Alan Ameche, 1955 Baltimore Colts
961 yards, 213 att., 4.5 avg., 9 TD

9- Rob Goode, 1951 Washington Redskins
951 yards, 208 att., 4.6 avg., 9 TD

10-Jim Brown, 1957 Cleveland Browns
942 yards, 202 att., 4.7 avg., 9 TD

Rick Casares

Joe Perry

Eddie Price

Chicago Cardinals: Ollie Matson, 1956
924 yards, 192 att., 4.8 avg., 5 TD

Los Angeles Rams: Dan Towler, 1952
894 yards, 156 att., 5.7 avg., 10 TD

Green Bay Packers: Howie Ferguson, 1955
859 yards, 192 att., 4.5 avg., 4 TD

Pittsburgh Steelers: Tom Tracy, 1959
794 yards, 199 att., 4.0 avg., 3 TD

Philadelphia Eagles: Frank Ziegler, 1950
733 yards, 172 att., 4.3 avg., 1 TD

Detroit Lions: Bob Hoernschemeyer, 1951
678 yards, 132 att., 5.1 avg., 2 TD

New York Yanks: Zollie Toth, 1950*
636 yards, 131 att., 4.9 avg., 5 TD

Dallas Texans: George Taliaferro, 1952**
419 yards, 100 att., 4.2 avg. 1 TD

*Yanks folded after 1951 season
**Texans played in 1952 only

Alan Ameche

Ollie Matson

"Deacon" Dan Towler

March 26, 2010

1984: Panthers Defeat Gamblers as Hebert Outduels Kelly

The Houston Gamblers, new to the United States Football League in its second season, quickly established themselves as an offensive force. With rookie QB Jim Kelly leading the “run-and-shoot” attack, the Gamblers broke out to a 3-1 record. On March 26, 1984 at home in the Astrodome they took on the reigning USFL champions, the Michigan Panthers, in a battle for supremacy in the Central Division.

The Panthers were off to a solid 4-0 start as they sought to defend their league title. Head Coach Jim Stanley’s team was ably directed by QB Bobby Hebert, who in combination with WR Anthony Carter provided a devastating aerial attack. The defense included the 1983 league leader in sacks, LB John Corker, as well as DE Larry Bethea, NT David Tipton, LB Kyle Borland, and SS David Greenwood.

The upstart Gamblers scored first, with Kelly connecting with WR Scott McGhee on a nine-yard touchdown pass. Michigan responded with a one-yard run by RB John Williams for a touchdown later in the quarter. Early in the second quarter, Houston scored again on another nine-yard pass play, this from Kelly to WR Richard Johnson. The Panthers narrowed the score on a 22-yard field goal by Novo Bojovic and then took the lead just before the half thanks to an 11-yard pass from Hebert to Carter.

Michigan pulled away with three third quarter touchdowns, two on Hebert touchdown passes of 72 yards to WR Derek Holloway and 19 yards to RB Linnie Patrick, who also scored on an 11-yard run. In the meantime, Houston scored a touchdown on a 63-yard pass play from Kelly to slotback Clarence Verdin. However, the Panthers led by 38-21 after three quarters, a margin that proved too much for the Gamblers to overcome.

The final score was 52-34 as Michigan scored twice more in the final period, with Hebert hitting Carter on a touchdown pass play that covered 55 yards and Patrick running for a TD from 14 yards out. Houston’s backup QB Todd Dillon combined with WR Greg Moser for a 65-yard touchdown and RB Todd Fowler ran four yards for the final score of the game.

Bobby Hebert set a then-USFL record with 444 passing yards as he went to the air 37 times and completed 26 of his throws. Four produced touchdowns, as against none intercepted. By comparison, Jim Kelly (pictured below) completed 18 of 23 passes for 298 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. Between Kelly and Dillon, the Gamblers still piled up plenty of passing yards with 423.

Michigan had two hundred-yard pass receivers, as Derek Holloway pulled in 6 catches for 133 yards with a score and Anthony Carter grabbed 5 for 111 with two TDs. WR Ricky Sanders led Houston with 7 receptions for 76 yards, while Greg Moser had the most receiving yards with 83 on three catches, including the 65-yard touchdown.

The Panthers also outran the Gamblers, 116 yards to 43. Top rusher was Linnie Patrick, with eight carries for 48 yards; Jim Kelly actually led Houston with 27 yards on four runs.

The Panthers stayed undefeated through the first six games, but Anthony Carter broke his arm and the passing game was not as effective. Carter’s loss was a major turning point as the club then lost four straight contests and nine of the last 13. Hebert suffered a knee injury that limited his mobility, in addition to no longer having his best target available. While he still threw for 3758 yards and 24 touchdowns, he also tossed 22 interceptions and ended up the tenth-ranked passer in the league. The loss of David Greenwood in the secondary later in the season put a hole in the defense as well.

Jim Kelly threw more interceptions than Hebert, with a league-leading 26, but he also threw 44 touchdown passes as well as topping the USFL with 5219 yards, 370 completions, and an average of 8.89 yards-per-pass. Richard Johnson and Ricky Sanders both topped 100 passes, with 115 and 101, respectively.

The Panthers, with a 10-8 record, ended up in second place and earned a wild card spot behind Houston, the division champions at 13-5. Both teams lost in the first round of the postseason, as Michigan was defeated 27-21 by the Los Angeles Express in a marathon game that lasted into a third overtime period. Houston was upset by Arizona, 17-16.

March 24, 2010

List of the Day: Best Pass Receiving Seasons, AAFC


1- Mac Speedie, 1947 Cleveland Browns
67 rec., 1146 yds., 17.1 avg., 6 TD

2- Mac Speedie, 1949 Cleveland Browns
62 rec., 1028 yds., 16.6 avg., 7 TD

3- Mac Speedie, 1948 Cleveland Browns
58 rec., 816 yds., 14.1 avg., 4 TD

4- Al Baldwin, 1948 Buffalo Bills
54 rec., 916 yds., 17.0 avg., 8 TD

5- Al Baldwin, 1949 Buffalo Bills
53 rec., 719 yds., 13.6 avg., 7 TD

6(tied)- Billy Hillenbrand, 1948 Baltimore Colts
50 rec., 970 yds., 19.4 avg., 6 TD

6(tied)- Fay King, 1948 Chicago Rockets
50 rec., 647 yds., 12.9 avg., 7 TD

8- Dante Lavelli, 1947 Cleveland Browns
49 rec., 799 yds., 16.3 avg., 9 TD

9- Alyn Beals, 1947 San Francisco 49ers
47 rec., 655 yds., 13.9 avg., 10 TD

10(tied)-Lamar Davis, 1947 Baltimore Colts
46 rec., 515 yds., 11.2 avg., 2 TD

10(tied)-Alyn Beals, 1948 San Francisco 49ers
46 rec., 591 yds., 12.8 avg., 14 TD

Los Angeles Dons: Joe Aguirre, 1948
38 rec., 599 yds., 15.8 avg., 9 TD

Brooklyn Dodgers: Saxon Judd, 1946
34 rec., 443 yds., 13.0 avg., 4 TD

New York Yankees: Bruce Alford, 1948
32 rec., 578 yds., 18.1 avg., 3 TD

Miami Seahawks: Lamar Davis, 1946*
22 rec., 275 yds., 12.5 avg., 2 TD

* Seahawks played only in 1946

Dante Lavelli

1- Mac Speedie, 1947 Cleveland Browns
1146 yds., 67 rec., 17.1 avg., 6 TD

2- Mac Speedie, 1949 Cleveland Browns
1028 yds., 62 rec., 16.6 avg., 7 TD

3- Billy Hillenbrand, 1948 Baltimore Colts
970 yds., 50 rec., 19.4 avg., 6 TD

4- Al Baldwin, 1948 Buffalo Bills
916 yds., 54 rec., 17.0 avg., 8 TD

5- Dante Lavelli, 1946 Cleveland Browns
843 yds., 40 rec., 21.1 avg., 8 TD

6- Mac Speedie, 1948 Cleveland Browns
816 yds., 58 rec., 14.1 avg., 4 TD

7- Dante Lavelli, 1947 Cleveland Browns
799 yds., 49 rec., 16.3 avg., 9 TD

8- Chet Mutryn, 1948 Buffalo Bills
794 yds., 39 rec., 20.4 avg., 5 TD

9- Ray Ramsey, 1947 Chicago Rockets
768 yds., 35 rec., 21.9 avg., 8 TD

10-Lamar Davis, 1948 Baltimore Colts
765 yds., 41 rec., 18.7 avg., 7 TD

San Francisco 49ers: Alyn Beals, 1949
678 yds., 44 rec., 15.4 avg., 12 TD

Los Angeles Dons: Joe Aguirre, 1948
599 yds., 38 rec., 15.8 avg., 9 TD

New York Yankees: Bruce Alford, 1948
578 yds., 32 rec., 18.1 avg., 3 TD

Brooklyn Dodgers: Saxon Judd, 1946
443 yds., 34 rec., 13.0 avg., 4 TD

Miami Seahawks: Lamar Davis, 1946*
275 yds., 22 rec., 12.5 avg., 2 TD

* Seahawks played only in 1946

March 23, 2010

1959: Rams Trade 9 Players to Cardinals for Ollie Matson

On March 23, 1959 the Los Angeles Rams swung one of the most celebrated trades in pro football history, sending nine players (including two draft picks) to the Chicago Cardinals for the great all-purpose running back, Ollie Matson.

The 6’2”, 220-pound Matson had certainly been an outstanding player in his six seasons with the Cardinals, appearing at halfback, fullback, in the defensive backfield, and as a record-breaking kick returner. He gained 3331 yards rushing on 761 carries for a 4.4-yard average and 24 touchdowns – his highest season total was 924 yards in 1956. He also caught 130 passes for 2150 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and another 16 TDs. Matson returned 86 kickoffs for a 28.5-yard average and record six touchdowns, leading the league with a 35.5 average in ’58. Returning punts, he averaged 10.9 yards on 48 returns with three more TDs. Adding in 51 yards on three interception returns, he had accumulated 8459 all-purpose yards, twice leading the NFL in that category. Honors included selection to the Pro Bowl after all six seasons and consensus first team All-Pro honors after four of them.

For all of Matson’s heroics, the Cardinals had not done well on the field. From 1952 through ’58 (and excluding 1953, when Matson missed the season due to military service), the team went a combined 22-48-2 with just one winning record (7-5 in ’56). The opportunity to deal their star for a big package of players was not one to disregard.

The Rams gave up OT Ken Panfil, DT Frank Fuller, DE Glenn Holtzman, DT Art Hauser plus 1959 draftees RB Don Brown, RB Larry Hickman, and end John Tracey along with two picks in the 1960 draft (second and fourth rounds). The deal, swung by GM Pete Rozelle (the future NFL commissioner), proved to be disastrous for the Rams, but didn’t lift the Cardinals into contention either.

The trade was certainly considered a good one for the Cardinals at the time. The key players sent to Chicago were Fuller and Panfil. Fuller (pictured at left), a four-year defensive tackle in LA, went to the Pro Bowl in 1959 and remained with the Cardinals until the end of his career in 1963, proving to be the best of the acquisitions. Panfil had been with the Rams for three seasons and started at right tackle – he also went to the Pro Bowl with the Cardinals in ’59 but played only one more full year before suffering a cracked kneecap in a 1961 preseason game that effectively ended his career as he appeared in just four contests in ‘61 and ’62. Glenn Holtzman had been a starter on the Rams defensive line, but never played in another regular season game. Art Hauser was another four-year veteran with the Rams who had missed the 1958 season and appeared in just two games with Chicago before being sent to the Giants.

Of the rookies in the deal, Larry Hickman lasted one season and gained 18 yards rushing on five carries and caught one pass. John Tracey did little as a tight end with the Cardinals before being moved to linebacker in his second season – he ended up starring at that position, but with the AFL’s Buffalo Bills. Don Brown didn’t play for the Cardinals due to injury.

The choices in the 1960 draft were used to take G Mike McGee out of Duke, who played three seasons with the Cardinals, and Marquette end Silas Woods, who didn’t make the club.

Overall, the team’s record was a disappointing 2-10 in 1959, the franchise’s last year in Chicago before relocating to St. Louis in ’60. With the move came greater competitiveness on the field as the Cardinals went 6-5-1 in 1960 and 7-7 in ’61. However, they would not become contenders until after the impact of the Matson deal had largely passed.

Matson played well for the Rams, gaining 863 yards to finish third in rushing in 1959. But the team that had contended with an 8-4 record in ’58 dropped to 2-10 and a last place finish. They would remain a losing team until the arrival of George Allen as head coach in 1966. Matson became a target of controversy as the club lost games and the deal that had brought him to Los Angeles was viewed as the chief reason for the downfall. It didn’t help that, particularly after Bob Waterfield replaced Sid Gillman as head coach in 1960, his production dropped off significantly.

Waterfield moved Matson to safety late in the 1960 season, but he was moved back to offense in ‘61 and used as a slot back and blocking fullback. While he caught 29 passes for 537 yards, he ran the ball only 24 times for 181 yards. The situation worsened in 1962 as Matson, typically quiet and classy, complained about the way he was being used and ended up being benched for much of the season.

Matson’s numbers in the three seasons following his solid 1959 showing were 88 rushes for 351 yards (4.0 average) with three touchdowns, 47 catches for 684 yards (14.6 average) and four scores, a 4.1-yard average on 15 punt returns and 23.2 average on 25 kickoff returns. They were hardly the statistics anticipated when Matson was dealt for at such a huge price, but he couldn’t be blamed for multiple errors by the front office (the Matson trade wasn't the only questionable move made by the Rams in the late 50s) and misuse by his coaches.

Matson was dealt to Detroit and played sparingly in 1963, but resurrected his career with the Philadelphia Eagles at age 34 in ’64, where he proved to be a valuable backup at halfback for the final three seasons of his Hall of Fame career.

March 21, 2010

1946: Kenny Washington Signs with LA Rams

On March 21, 1946 the Rams, newly moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland, signed former star UCLA tailback Kenny Washington to a contract. More than adding a player to the roster, the significance was that he was black, and no African-American had played in the NFL since 1933. By the time the ’46 season got underway, Washington would have a black teammate and the Cleveland Browns of the new All-America Football Conference (AAFC) would have two African-American players.

Between 1920 and 1933, there had been a total of 13 African-American players in the NFL. They included Paul Robeson, a former Rutgers All-American who played end and tackle with Akron (1921) and Milwaukee (1922) and who is far better remembered for his career as an entertainer and political activist. They also included tackle Duke Slater, who played for ten seasons and received second team All-Pro recognition after six of them, and Fritz Pollard, a 1920 All-Pro back who co-coached the Akron Pros in 1921 and, for at least one game, the Hammond Pros in 1925.

But after 1933, when tailback Joe Lillard played for the Chicago Cardinals and tackle Ray Kemp for the Pittsburgh Pirates, there were no black players in the league. The color line was apparently unofficial and, for years afterward, unacknowledged, but was certainly real.

Washington had been a huge star as a college tailback, coincidentally enough in the same backfield with Jackie Robinson, who would integrate major league baseball in 1947. At 6’1” and 195 pounds, he had the necessary size as well as speed for pro football, and also, in those days when versatility was far more essential, could pass and kick. When he first came out of UCLA in 1940, he drew interest from the Chicago Bears, but nothing came of it. Thus, he was relegated to playing in the Pacific Coast Football League, where he injured both knees.

By 1946, Washington was a 28-year-old back with two bad knees. However, the commission that operated the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the newly-relocated Rams would be playing, insisted that he be given a tryout. In May, 31-year-old end Woody Strode, who had also come out of UCLA, was also signed, thus giving the Rams two black players going into the season.

With the condition of Washington’s knees a significant question mark, Head Coach Adam Walsh initially used him at quarterback, with unimpressive results. He was shifted to fullback, where he played well until reinjuring a knee. His numbers in 1946 were thus limited – 114 yards on 23 carries (although that resulted in a healthy 5.0 average yards per rush), six pass receptions for 83 yards, and one completion in eight passing attempts for 19 yards. However, he had a much better year in 1947, gaining 444 yards on 60 carries for a formidable 7.4 average gain and that included a 92-yard touchdown run, the longest in the NFL that season. He played one more season in ’48 and ended up with a career total of 859 yards on 140 rushes (6.1 yards per carry) with 8 touchdowns while catching 15 passes for 227 yards and a TD.

Woody Strode played one season with the Rams, catching four passes for 37 yards, before moving north to Canada. The two African-American players in the AAFC, FB Marion Motley and G Bill Willis(pictured at right), had greater impact. They were key players with the Browns, who dominated the league in all four of its seasons before moving to the NFL. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The process of integrating pro football was slow, with the AAFC initially outperforming the NFL. By 1949, the rival league, with seven teams, had 11 black players while the NFL had five spread across 10 clubs. However, as more of the African-American players had a significant impact, the process moved along – not always evenly or easily. But it started with Kenny Washington and three other players breaking pro football’s color line in 1946.

March 20, 2010

1964: Eagles Trade Tommy McDonald to Cowboys

Following the 1963 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles were a team in transition. They had a new owner, 36-year-old Jerry Wolman, and a new head coach/general manager, Joe Kuharich. Having finished in last place in the Eastern Conference in both 1962 and ’63, Kuharich decided a makeover of the team was in order, and he made several significant trades. The first major deal, on March 20, 1964, sent star flanker Tommy McDonald to the Dallas Cowboys for all-purpose kicker Sam Baker, DT John Meyers, and offensive lineman Lynn Hoyem.

The trade certainly generated plenty of controversy among Eagles fans. Since joining the club in 1957 as a third round draft choice out of Oklahoma, McDonald had become one of the most potent deep threats in the NFL. His statistics were formidable – 287 receptions for 5499 yards (a 19.2-yard average) with 66 touchdowns, including two thousand-yard seasons and four consecutive in which he scored at least 10 TDs. He was selected to five Pro Bowls and had received first or second team All-Pro recognition on four occasions.

Moreover, he was charismatic with an effervescent personality and had become a fan favorite. At 5’9” and 178 pounds, he was generally considered to be the smallest player in the NFL during his career, yet he was an intimidating force as he raced past opposing defenders while often making spectacular catches. When hit, he had a habit of bouncing up quickly, showing toughness and a lack of fear. Few receivers were more effective at running crossing routes.

Trading McDonald was a bitter pill for the fans, and it wasn’t helped that many questioned whether the Eagles had received equal value for the 29-year-old receiver (he would be 30 by the start of the ’64 season). Sam Baker was the best-known of the three players Philadelphia received from the Cowboys. Both a placekicker and punter, he had played under Kuharich when he was head coach at Washington and had led the league in field goals kicked in 1956 (17) and scoring in ’57 (77 points). After two years in Cleveland, Baker had moved on to Dallas for two years, where it was reported that his off-field carousing had worn out his welcome with Head Coach Tom Landry. A proven performer at age 35, with nine years of NFL experience, he had been twice selected to the Pro Bowl (1956 and ’63).

John Meyers, a 6’6”, 275-pound defensive tackle, was 24 years old and had been with the Cowboys for two years. He was considered to be a quality reserve. 25-year-old Lynn Hoyem, at 6’4” and 253 pounds, had backed up at center and guard and was expected to do the same for the Eagles.

All three players filled clear needs that the team had, and contributed. Baker stayed for six seasons and made the Pro Bowl twice while also leading the NFL in field goal percentage in 1966 (72.0 %, on 18 of 25 attempts). Meyers moved into the starting lineup and played for four years. Hoyem also stayed for four seasons in his utility role on the offensive line.

As for McDonald, the Cowboys moved him from flanker to split end. While Dallas already had an outstanding flanker in Frank Clarke, veteran split end Billy Howton had retired following the ’63 season. In upgrading the receiving corps for young QB Don Meredith, they also traded with Pittsburgh for another veteran deep threat, Buddy Dial. McDonald went on to have what, for him, was a rather mediocre season as he caught 46 passes for 612 yards (just 13.3 yards-per-reception) with only two touchdowns (one of them coming against the Eagles in Philadelphia).

With speedy rookie Bob Hayes joining the Cowboys in 1965, McDonald was traded to the Rams where he caught a career-high 67 passes for 1036 yards and nine TDs. He was selected to the Pro Bowl one last time and, after another year in Los Angeles followed by brief stints in Atlanta and Cleveland, McDonald retired after the 1968 season.

The McDonald deal to Dallas was arguably not the most controversial of the trades swung by Joe Kuharich in the 1963-64 offseason; the one made a few days later that sent QB Sonny Jurgensen to Washington for QB Norm Snead raised even more eyebrows and generated fierce debate long afterward. McDonald was something of a disappointment in Dallas, although he proved with the Rams that he still could be an effective receiver. But none of the players received could replace the excitement and spirit that he had provided the Eagles and their fans.

March 18, 2010

1984: Kelvin Bryant Leads Stars Past Invaders in 28-Point Second Half

At halftime of the March 18, 1984 USFL game between the host Philadelphia Stars and visiting Oakland Invaders at Veterans Stadium, it appeared that a significant upset was in the making. The Invaders, 0-3 coming into the contest and having failed to score in the previous 12 consecutive quarters, held a 7-0 lead on the 2-1 Stars, who had come within two points of the league championship in ’83.

The second half proved to be a different story as Philadelphia’s offense pulled out of its funk and scored touchdowns the first three times they had the ball. Star RB Kelvin Bryant, who had been held to 40 yards on 10 carries in the first half, scored touchdowns of four and two yards on his way to a 133-yard second half rushing total. QB Chuck Fusina threw for the last two scores, on passes of 25 yards to WR Scott Fitzkee and 35 yards to WR Tom Donovan. In the end, it was a comfortable 28-7 win for Head Coach Jim Mora’s team.

Philadelphia rolled up 234 rushing yards, 173 of that total accounted for by Bryant. Fusina completed 19 of 31 passes for 260 yards with the two touchdowns and an interception. WR Willie Collier led the Stars in receiving, with 6 catches for 95 yards. The defense held the Invaders to nine first downs, with 76 rushing and 140 net passing yards. LB George Cooper recorded a sack, while CB Garcia Lane picked off a pass.

For Oakland, QB Fred Besana completed 13 of 28 passes for 153 yards and an interception. RB Arthur Whittington was the top runner with 62 yards on 16 carries. WR Gordon Banks was the standout among the receivers with 5 catches for 99 yards.

The Stars had quickly emerged in the USFL’s first season as one of the best-balanced clubs, and after barely losing in the title game to the Michigan Panthers it was anticipated that they would again be strong contenders. They more than fulfilled expectations in 1984, going 16-2 over the course of the season to win the Atlantic Division and cruising through the postseason to win the league championship.

Kelvin Bryant, achieving All-League honors for the second season, ranked second in the USFL with 1406 rushing yards. Chuck Fusina might not have been the most highly regarded quarterback in the league, but he nevertheless led the circuit in passing in ’84 with a 104.7 rating that included a 64.9 completion percentage, 3837 yards, 31 TD passes, and just 9 interceptions. They operated behind a solid offensive line that featured OT Irv Eatman and the Oates brothers – center Bart and tackle Brad. Defensively, they had All-League performers in DT Pete Kugler, LB Sam Mills, safety Mike Lush, and Lane at cornerback.

In a roller coaster ride of a year, Oakland endured nine straight losses to open the season, turned around and won seven consecutive games to pull into playoff contention in the mediocre Pacific Divison, but dropped the final two contests to drop back into last place at 7-11. Fred Besana suffered through an injury-riddled year, and couldn’t duplicate his solid 1983 performance. Gordon Banks was a standout at wide receiver (61 catches, 937 yards), but the offensive line play was inconsistent, allowing the immobile Besana to be sacked too many times, and the defense was especially poor against the run.

March 17, 2010

1993: Bengals Trade Boomer Esiason to Jets

Boomer Esiason had a distinguished career with the Cincinnati Bengals after being drafted out of Maryland in the second round in 1984. In nine seasons through 1992, he had completed 56.2 % of his 3378 passes for 25,671 yards with 174 touchdowns against 129 interceptions. Esiason was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and in 1988, his most accomplished year, was named NFL MVP by the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America while leading the NFL in passing and directing the Bengals to the AFC Championship.

However, in the last couple of seasons things had not gone quite so well for Esiason and the Bengals. After winning the AFC Central with a 9-7 record in 1990, Cincinnati went a combined 8-24 in finishing last in ’91 and ’92. Esiason’s performance had suffered as well, and questions arose regarding the condition of his arm, although he insisted the problem was more with the team around him. When new Head Coach David Shula started rookie QB David Klingler in four games in 1992 in place of Esiason, it was clear that change was coming.

On March 17, 1993 the Bengals traded Esiason to the New York Jets for a third round pick in the ’93 draft (used to take Steve Tovar from Ohio State, who started at middle linebacker for over three seasons). The deal was part of a housecleaning that included OT Anthony Munoz, WR Tim McGee, and TE Rodney Holman. For the Long Island native it was something of a homecoming and it also reunited Esiason with Bruce Coslet, head coach of the Jets who had been offensive coordinator in Cincinnati during his best seasons.

The Jets had gone 4-12 in 1992 with second-year QB Browning Nagle and Coslet was feeling pressure after a three-year tenure that had produced a combined record of 18-30. While Nagle was considered to be a good prospect, he had experienced difficulty with the offense and Esiason provided a ready solution. General Manager Dick Steinberg had swung several deals in the offseason for proven veterans on both offense and defense that included all-time great safety Ronnie Lott, DE Leonard Marshall, CB Eric Thomas, and RB Johnny Johnson.

The result for the Jets in 1993 was an 8-8 record. Esiason started off well and, after ten games, had completed 193 of 298 passes (64.8 %) for 2446 yards with 14 TDs against 7 interceptions. The team’s record was 6-4. But after suffering a neck injury, his performance dropped off significantly; in the last six games he completed 95 of 175 passes (54.3 %) for 975 yards with just two touchdowns and four interceptions. The offense encountered significant problems scoring points – after never scoring fewer than 10 points in those first ten games, they scored in single digits in five of the last six and were shut out by the Oilers in the season finale.

Esiason was still selected to the Pro Bowl, and overall he achieved career highs in passing attempts (473) and completions (288), and his completion percentage (60.9) was his best to date. But Coach Coslet was fired and replaced by defensive coordinator Pete Carroll.

In his remaining two seasons in New York, Esiason’s numbers deteriorated, but he wasn’t helped by the dropoff in quality around him. The Jets went a combined 9-23 under Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite. After a year in Arizona, Esiason returned to Cincinnati for one last season in 1997.

The Bengals failed to prosper with David Klingler at quarterback. Prone to being sacked and sore-shouldered after an injury in his third season, Klingler was nowhere near the productive passer he had been in college operating in the University of Houston’s pass-oriented offense. Cincinnati’s record with him at quarterback was a dismal 4-20. It marked the continuation of the dry spell that began in 1991 as the club finished as high as .500 only once between 1990 and 2003.

March 15, 2010

List of the Day: Best Passing Yardage Seasons, AAFC


Otto Graham

TOP 10
1- Otto Graham, 1949 Cleveland Browns
2785 yards, 161-285, 56.5 %, 19 TD, 10 INT

2- Otto Graham, 1947 Cleveland Browns
2753 yards, 163-269, 60.6 %, 25 TD, 11 INT

3- Otto Graham, 1948 Cleveland Browns
2713 yards, 173-333, 52.0 %, 25 TD, 15 INT

4- George Ratterman, 1948 Buffalo Bills
2577 yards, 168-335, 50.1 %, 16 TD, 22 INT

5- Y.A. Tittle, 1948 Baltimore Colts
2522 yards, 161-289, 55.7 %, 16 TD, 9 INT

6- Glenn Dobbs, 1948 Los Angeles Dons
2403 yards, 185-369, 50.1 %, 21 TD, 20 INT

7- Bud Schwenk, 1947 Baltimore Colts
2236 yards, 168-327, 51.4 %, 13 TD, 20 INT

8- Y.A. Tittle, 1949 Baltimore Colts
2209 yards, 148-289, 51.2 %, 14 TD, 18 INT

9- Frankie Albert, 1948 San Francisco 49ers
1990 yards, 154-264, 58.3 %, 29 TD, 11 INT

10-Glenn Dobbs, 1946 Brooklyn Dodgers
1886 yards, 135-269, 50.2 %, 13 TD, 15 INT

George Ratterman

Y.A. Tittle

Chicago Rockets/Hornets: Sam Vacanti, 1947
1571 yards, 96-225, 42.7 %, 16 TD, 16 INT

New York Yankees: Spec Sanders, 1947
1442 yards, 93-171, 54.4 %, 14 TD, 17 INT

Miami Seahawks: Marion Pugh, 1946*
608 yards, 55-118, 46.6 %, 5 TD, 12 INT

*Seahawks played in 1946 only

Frankie Albert

March 13, 2010

1983: Stallions Defeat Invaders in 1st USFL Overtime Game

On March 13, 1983 the Oakland Invaders hosted the Birmingham Stallions at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in the second week of the young USFL’s season. It was the home opener for the Invaders, who had won at Arizona the previous week, while Birmingham lost a close contest at home to the Michigan Panthers.

With a crowd of 47,344 in attendance, the Invaders recorded the only score of the first half on a one-yard run by FB Ted Torosian. However, the Stallions took a 14-7 lead with two third quarter touchdowns, a 46-yard pass play from QB Reggie Collier to WR Ron Frederick and a one-yard run by RB Ken Talton.

Oakland QB Fred Besana (pictured above) threw a 26-yard TD pass to WR Wyatt Henderson to tie the score. Invader PK Kevin Shea missed a field goal that could have won the game in regulation, and for the first time in the USFL’s young history, the game went into overtime.

Birmingham QB Bob Lane, who relieved Collier, led a 48-yard scoring drive in the “sudden death” period, plunging over from a yard out for the winning touchdown and a final score of 20-14. The key play had been a pass from Lane to RB Earl Gant that surprised the Invaders defense on third-and-one at the Oakland 28 yard line and covered 25 yards for a first-and-goal at the three.

The placekicker, Shea, was the goat for Oakland as he missed all four of his field goal attempts, including the one that would have won the game in the fourth quarter plus another in overtime. Wasted was a 19-of-30, 270-yard passing performance by Besana, the surprising star who had played behind Steve Bartkowski in college at California but, after failing to latch on in the NFL, had lately been playing semi-pro football for the Twin Cities Cougars of the California Football League.

Oakland won the statistical battle, with 127 rushing and 222 net passing yards to 92 and 188 yards, respectively, for the Stallions. Torosian was the leading rusher for the Invaders, with 48 yards on 12 carries, with HB Arthur Whittington, an ex-Raider, right behind at 41 yards on 13 attempts. Wyatt Henderson had the most receptions, with 5 (for 73 yards), while 34-year-old TE Raymond Chester, another ex-Raider, accumulated the most receiving yards with 78 on four catches.

Between them, quarterbacks Collier and Lane completed 11 of 24 passes for 197 yards with Collier’s TD pass and two interceptions tossed by Lane. Ken Talton led the Stallions in rushing with 44 yards on 18 carries. Ron Frederick, Earl Gant (pictured at left), and WR Greg Anderson all caught three passes apiece, with Frederick’s 80 yards leading the club.

Both teams went on to compile 9-9 records, which was good enough to win the weak Pacific Division title for the Invaders while the Stallions finished at the bottom of the Central Division.

Fred Besana was one of the league’s top passers, leading the USFL in completions (345), completion percentage (62.7), and yards (3980). Not a mobile quarterback, he was also sacked the most times (71) – in the game against Birmingham, he was hauled down six times, with a resulting loss of 46 yards. He wasn’t helped by the generally poor play by the offensive line.

The two ex-Oakland Raiders, Arthur Whittington and Raymond Chester, had solid years. Whittington led the club with 1043 rushing yards and caught 66 passes. Chester was the top receiver with 68 catches in his final pro season.

Despite the dreadful placekicking performance against the Stallions, Kevin Shea completed the season and put up respectable numbers with 19 field goals out of 32 attempts that included 12 of 17 from inside the 40.

Birmingham’s two rookie quarterbacks went through their share of growing pains. Reggie Collier, the more heralded of the two coming out of Southern Mississippi, suffered through an injury-plagued season. Lane, from Northeast Louisiana, saw the most action. As he did in this game, Ken Talton led the Stallions in rushing with 907 yards; Earl Gant was second with 530.

For the Stallions, the overtime win was the first of two during the ’83 season – they would not play in any more during the remaining two years of the franchise’s existence. Oakland would appear in two more – one of which, in 1985, ended up being the only tie game in USFL history.

March 11, 2010

1984: Sam Harrell Runs for 200 Yards & Scores 4 TDs as Gamblers Defeat Blitz

The Houston Gamblers, new to the United States Football League in 1984, had established themselves as a potent passing team in the first two weeks of the season. Rookie QB Jim Kelly had thrown for a combined 538 yards and three touchdowns as the club lost a narrow 20-17 verdict at Tampa Bay and handily defeated the San Antonio Gunslingers, 35-7. In their third game, on March 11 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, it was RB Sam Harrell making headlines as he became the league’s first 200-yard rusher and scored four touchdowns in a high-scoring battle won by the Gamblers, 45-36.

There were just 7808 fans in attendance as the two offenses piled up 81 points, the most in any USFL game thus far. Harrell scored on runs of 7, 53, and 2 yards as he amassed an even 200 yards on 20 carries; he also scored on a 13-yard pass from Kelly. The young quarterback hit WR Ricky Sanders for a 61-yard TD that opened the scoring in the first quarter and WR Greg Moser from 33 yards in the third quarter. In the end, Kelly completed 13 of 26 passes for 229 yards with three touchdowns against a lone interception. Sanders was Houston’s top receiver with 4 receptions for 119 yards.

Chicago’s QB Vince Evans, formerly of the NFL’s Bears, had a big statistical day as he completed 22 of 36 passes for 371 yards with a touchdown and an interception; he also ran for two scores. TE Gary Lewis led the Blitz receivers with 7 pass receptions for 105 yards. The running game was not nearly as effective as Houston’s, accumulating 91 yards on 26 attempts – leading ground gainer was Larry Canada with 35 yards on 11 carries.

“This is the greatest game I’ve ever played, that I’ve ever had in my life,” said Harrell afterward. It was certainly the highlight of his season – he gained a total of 697 yards on 120 carries, averaging an impressive 5.8 yards-per-carry and scoring 14 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 25 passes for 304 yards and two more scores in a year in which he missed several games due to a broken leg. He was part of an effective running tandem with Todd Fowler, who was ultimately the club’s leading rusher with 1003 yards.

The 6’2”, 225-pound Harrell had been chosen in the 11th round of the 1980 NFL draft out of East Carolina by the Minnesota Vikings, but he missed all of that season due to a hip injury and saw extremely limited action in ’81 and ’82. Released during preseason in 1983, he signed with the Gamblers and started the first eight games of ’84 until sidelined by the injury.

Head Coach Jack Pardee’s team remained committed to the innovative “run-and-shoot” passing game that allowed Jim Kelly to lead the league in attempts (587), completions (370), yards (5219), yards per attempt (8.9), and touchdown passes (44) – on the downside, he also led in interceptions (26). The Gamblers ended up with two hundred-catch receivers in wide receivers Richard Johnson (115) and Ricky Sanders (101).

Houston ended up with a 13-5 record to win the Central Division, but lost to Arizona in the first round of the playoffs. The Blitz, who were the remnant of 1983’s Arizona Wranglers team (the franchises had switched locations), were the mirror opposite, going 5-13 and ending up at the bottom of the same division.

March 9, 2010

List of the Day: Best Rushing Seasons, AAFC


Spec Sanders

TOP 10
1- Spec Sanders, 1947 New York Yankees
1432 yds., 231 att., 6.2 avg., 18 TD

2- Marion Motley, 1948 Cleveland Browns
964 yds., 157 att., 6.1 avg., 5 TD

3- John Strzykalski, 1948 San Francisco 49ers
915 yds., 141 att., 6.5 avg., 4 TD

4- John Strzykalski, 1947 San Francisco 49ers
906 yds., 143 att., 6.3 avg., 5 TD

5- Marion Motley, 1947 Cleveland Browns
889 yds., 146 att., 6.1 avg., 8 TD

6- Chet Mutryn, 1947 Buffalo Bills
868 yds., 140 att., 6.2 avg., 9 TD

7- Chet Mutryn, 1948 Buffalo Bills
823 yds., 147 att., 5.6 avg., 10 TD

8- Joe Perry, 1949 San Francisco 49ers
783 yds., 115 att., 6.8 avg., 8 TD

9- Spec Sanders, 1948 New York Yankees
759 yds., 169 att., 4.5 avg., 9 TD

10-Lou Tomasetti, 1948 Buffalo Bills
716 yds., 134 att., 5.3 avg., 7 TD

Marion Motley

Johnny Strzykalski

Brooklyn Dodgers: Mickey Colmer, 1948
704 yds., 164 att., 4.3 avg., 6 TD

Baltimore Colts: Bus Mertes, 1948
680 yds., 155 att., 4.4 avg., 4 TD

Los Angeles Dons: John Kimbrough, 1947
562 yds., 131 att., 4.3 avg., 8 TD

Chicago Rockets/Hornets: Bob Hoernschemeyer, 1949
456 yds., 133 att., 3.4 avg., 2 TD

Miami Seahawks: Pres Johnston, 1946*
165 yds., 30 att., 5.5 avg., 2 TD

*Seahawks played in 1946 only

Joe Perry

John Kimbrough

March 7, 2010

1967: Vikings Trade Fran Tarkenton to Giants

Following a 1966 season that was the worst in franchise history, the New York Giants had a need for a capable quarterback. The Minnesota Vikings and their erratic but talented quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, were ready to part ways. On March 7, 1967 a deal was struck that sent Tarkenton to the Giants for four draft picks (two first- and two second-round choices spread across three seasons).

Tarkenton was an original Viking, having been selected in the third round of the 1961 draft out of Georgia. Even as a rookie, it didn’t take him long to push veteran George Shaw aside as the starting quarterback. From the beginning, he showed a distinctive style of play, especially in being quick to abandon the pocket and scramble for time. Considering the lack of quality of the offensive line in this expansion season, it made sense and Head Coach Norm Van Brocklin showed tolerance.

Van Brocklin, a good but stubborn coach, had not been at all mobile during his great career as a pro quarterback and made an effort to alter Tarkenton’s style of play in the next few seasons, to no effect. To be sure, while he might have been overly quick to scramble and improvise, his performance was solid – he went to the Pro Bowl following the 1964 and ’65 seasons and was the third-ranked passer in the league in ’64 as the Vikings finished with their first ever winning record at 8-5-1. While many questioned the wisdom of the 6’0”, 190-pound quarterback’s willingness to run out of the pocket so often, he didn’t lose any time to injury during his first six seasons.

Van Brocklin had valued Tarkenton enough to veto a trade to the Eagles for Sonny Jurgensen after the 1963 season. While he couldn’t alter his quarterback’s style of play, he did have success in teaching him how to read defenses. But there was friction between the two strong-willed individuals, and the antagonism spilled out when on various occasions the head coach accused his young quarterback of playing selfishly and showboating. While Tarkenton could make exciting things happen through his scrambling, Van Brocklin believed that less improvising and a more conventional approach could yield better results.

After peaking in ’64, the Vikings dropped to 7-7 in 1965 and 4-9-1 in ’66. The situation between head coach and quarterback became untenable during the 1966 campaign. After leading Minnesota to an upset of the Green Bay Packers, Tarkenton followed up with a five-interception performance in a loss to Detroit. Van Brocklin benched Tarkenton in favor of fourth-year backup Ron VanderKelen the next week in a loss to the Rams, and two weeks later Bob Berry, in his second season, was given the start at home against the expansion Atlanta Falcons. Much was made at the time of Tarkenton being benched for a game that was being broadcast back to his native Georgia, although it was unlikely that that had played a factor in Van Brocklin’s thinking.

Following the season, Tarkenton demanded to be traded and was accommodated with the deal to the Giants. In the meantime, Van Brocklin abruptly resigned as head coach, to be replaced by Bud Grant, who had been successful in the Canadian Football League. The feuding had resulted in the departure of both of the antagonists.

Meanwhile in New York, the Giants had struggled since winning three consecutive Eastern Conference titles from 1961-63 (and losing the ensuing NFL title games) while the outstanding veteran quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, set records. The aging team crashed in 1964, Tittle’s last, forlorn season. While veteran Earl Morrall was acquired from Detroit and led the team to a respectable 7-7 finish in ’65, he suffered a broken wrist during the 1966 season. Gary Wood and Tom Kennedy proved inadequate as fill-ins as the Giants went 1-12-1.

Tarkenton had a Pro Bowl season in 1967, passing for 3088 yards and 29 touchdowns as the Giants, who had far too many holes to fill to contend, improved to 7-7. A particularly productive target was WR Homer Jones, who caught 49 passes for 1209 yards for a 24.7 yards-per-catch average and 13 touchdowns. In five seasons in New York, Tarkenton was selected for the Pro Bowl four times and led the team to a 9-5 record in 1970 – the club’s best between 1963 and 1985. He was traded back to Minnesota following the 1971 season.

The Vikings stumbled badly out of the gate in ’67 as VanderKelen proved inadequate as the starting quarterback. However, Joe Kapp, a CFL veteran, joined the club early in the season and took over the job. With Kapp’s scrappy leadership, a good running game, and an outstanding defense, Bud Grant’s team made it to the postseason for the first time in 1968 and won the NFL championship in ’69 (although they lost to the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl).

The draft choices obtained for Tarkenton were used to pick HB Clint Jones from Michigan State (1st round in ’67, second overall pick), HB Bob Grim from Oregon State (2nd round in ’67), OT Ron Yary from USC (1st round in ’68, first overall pick), and G Ed White from California (2nd round in ’69).

Yary and White became mainstays on the offensive line, with Yary garnering six consecutive consensus first team All-Pro selections and going to seven Pro Bowls on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and White going to the Pro Bowl three times (and once more with the Chargers). Jones was a useful halfback and good kickoff returner. Grim, who was converted to wide receiver, had a Pro Bowl season in 1971 when he caught 45 passes; ironically, he was part of the package sent to the Giants in the trade that brought Tarkenton back to the Vikings.

March 6, 2010

1983: Blitz Wins USFL Debut as George Allen Returns to Washington

March 6, 1983 marked opening day for the new United States Football League (USFL), and the Washington Federals hosted the Chicago Blitz at RFK Stadium. It was something of a homecoming for Blitz Head Coach George Allen, who had coached the NFL Redskins from 1971-77.

Allen was the most prestigious of the new league’s head coaches, and thus he and the Blitz received a fair amount of attention prior to the USFL commencing its first spring season. After initially gaining notoriety as the defensive assistant for the Bears under George Halas when they won the 1963 NFL title, Allen had gone on to his first head coaching job with the Rams. Taking over a franchise that had posted six consecutive losing seasons prior to 1966, he immediately turned the team’s fortunes around and ended up with a 49-19-4 record before departing following the 1970 season. From there it was to Washington and a 69-35-1 tally that included a NFC championship in 1972. Hard-working and intense, he also was an outstanding motivator whose teams typically played with great spirit and enthusiasm.

Allen left Washington to return to the Rams for the ’78 season, but never made it through the preseason as he was replaced by Ray Malavasi. He retreated to the broadcast booth until taking on the challenge of coaching a new team in a start-up league. His arrival in Chicago heralded great expectations and, as Allen had done with the Rams and Redskins, a strong nucleus of veteran players was assembled.

QB Greg Landry (pictured below left), a 14-year NFL veteran, guided an offense that included the team’s two most significant rookie signings, WR Trumaine Johnson and RB Tim Spencer. The defense was filled with experienced players, most notably defensive ends Karl Lorch (WFL and Redskins) and Junior Ah You (CFL), DT Joe Ehrmann (Colts and Lions), LB Stan White (Colts and Lions), CB Virgil Livers (Bears), and safety Luther Bradley (Lions). Even punter/placekicker Frank Corral (Rams) was an experienced pro.

Chicago met expectations in the opener, easily defeating the Federals, 28-7. Landry directed the typically conservative but effective offense (a signature of Allen’s teams), completing 19 of 27 passes for 251 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. The rookie WR Johnson made an immediate impression, catching 11 of those passes for 158 yards and a score. Spencer led the running attack with 69 yards on 17 carries. On defense, Bradley picked off two passes and Ah You and Ehrmann each recorded a sack.

The Blitz outrushed the Federals, 143 yards to 36 (rookie RB Craig James gained 34 of those yards on 14 carries), and outpassed them 213 to 172. Washington had only three first downs in the first three quarters, didn’t score until the fourth quarter, and was forced to punt nine times.

Speculation that Chicago was the USFL’s dominant team grew to a fever pitch, although Allen attempted to calm the inflated expectations. “I don’t feel that we’ll dominate the league in any manner,” was his response, and it was proven so the following week when the Blitz gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter to blow a 29-12 lead over the Arizona Wrangers, who won 30-29.

At the end of the year, Chicago had a 12-6 record and the wild card spot in the playoffs (their record matched that of the Michigan Panthers in the Central Division, but the eventual-champion Panthers won the division title by sweeping the season series between the teams). They lost to the Philadelphia Stars in the Semifinal round. Washington, by contrast, went 4-14 and ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

The Blitz scored the most points (456) and had the third-ranked offense as well as top-ranked defense in the USFL. Trumaine Johnson topped the league with 81 catches for 1322 yards and Luther Bradley led in interceptions with 12. Allen was criticized for his offense’s predictability, and for sitting on late leads that made them vulnerable to opponents staging comebacks. However, the team suffered key injuries, losing Landry to a foot injury twelve weeks into the campaign as well as some key offensive linemen. But for the outsized expectations (and monetary losses that led the franchise to exchange locations with the Wranglers for 1984), it was a respectable showing and did nothing to damage a coaching career that landed Allen in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

March 4, 2010

List of the Day: Best Pass Receiving Seasons, 1940s NFL

Tom Fears

1- Tom Fears, 1949 Los Angeles Rams
77 rec., 1013 yds., 13.2 avg., 9 TD

2- Don Hutson, 1942 Green Bay Packers
74 rec., 1211 yds., 16.4 avg., 17 TD

3- Bob Mann, 1949 Detroit Lions
66 rec., 1014 yds., 15.4 avg., 4 TD

4- Jim Keane, 1947 Chicago Bears
64 rec., 910 yds., 14.2 avg., 10 TD

5- Jim Benton, 1946 Los Angeles Rams
63 rec., 981 yds., 15.6 avg., 6 TD

6(tied)- Don Looney, 1940 Philadelphia Eagles
58 rec., 707 yds., 12.2 avg., 4 TD

6(tied)- Don Hutson, 1941 Green Bay Packers
58 rec., 738 yds., 12.7 avg., 10 TD

6(tied)- Don Hutson, 1944 Green Bay Packers
58 rec., 866 yds., 14.9 avg., 9 TD

9- Bill Chipley, 1949 New York Bulldogs
57 rec., 631 yds., 11.1 avg., 2 TD

10-Tom Fears, 1948 Los Angeles Rams
51 rec., 698 yds., 13.7 avg., 4 TD

Don Hutson

Bill Chipley

New York Giants: Bill Swiacki, 1949
47 rec., 652 yds., 13.9 avg., 4 TD

Washington Redskins: Bob Nussbaumer, 1947
47 rec., 597 yds., 12.7 avg., 4 TD

Chicago Cardinals: Mal Kutner, 1947
43 rec., 944 yds., 22.0 avg., 7 TD

Pittsburgh Steelers: Val Jansante, 1948
39 rec., 623 yds., 16.0 avg., 3 TD

Boston Yanks: Hal Crisler, 1946*
32 rec., 385 yds., 12.0 avg., 5 TD

Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers: Perry Schwartz, 1941**
25 rec., 362 yds., 14.5 avg., 2 TD

* Yanks played from 1944-48
**Brooklyn folded after 1944 season

Bill Swiacki

1- Don Hutson, 1942 Green Bay Packers
1211 yds., 74 rec., 16.4 avg., 17 TD

2- Jim Benton, 1945 Cleveland Rams
1067 yds., 45 rec., 23.7 avg., 8 TD

3- Bob Mann, 1949 Detroit Lions
1014 yds., 66 rec., 15.4 avg., 4 TD

4- Tom Fears, 1949 Los Angeles Rams
1013 yds., 77 rec., 13.2 avg., 9 TD

5- Jim Benton, 1946 Los Angeles Rams
981 yds., 63 rec., 15.6 avg., 6 TD

6- Mal Kutner, 1947 Chicago Cardinals
944 yds., 43 rec., 22.0 avg., 7 TD

7- Mal Kutner, 1948 Chicago Cardinals
943 yds., 41 rec., 23.0 avg., 14 TD

8- Jim Keane, 1947 Chicago Bears
910 yds., 64 rec., 14.2 avg., 10 TD

9- Don Hutson, 1944 Green Bay Packers
866 yds., 58 rec., 14.9 avg., 9 TD

10-Don Hutson, 1945 Green Bay Packers
834 yds., 47 rec., 17.7 avg., 9 TD

Mal Kutner

Boston Yanks: Don Currivan, 1947*
782 yds., 24 rec., 32.6 avg., 9 TD

Washington Redskins: Hugh Taylor, 1949
781 yds., 45 rec., 17.4 avg., 9 TD

Philadelphia Eagles: Pete Pihos, 1948
766 yds., 46 rec., 16.7 avg., 11 TD

New York Giants: Gene Roberts, 1949
711 yds., 35 rec., 20.3 avg., 8 TD

Pittsburgh Steelers: Elbie Nickel, 1949
633 yds., 26 rec., 24.3 avg., 3 TD

New York Bulldogs: Bill Chipley, 1949**
631 yds., 57 rec., 11.1 avg., 2 TD

Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers: Perry Schwartz, 1940***
370 yds., 21 rec., 17.6 avg., 3 TD

* Yanks played from 1944-48
** Bulldogs records for 1949 only
***Brooklyn folded after 1944 season

Hugh Taylor

Pete Pihos

Elbie Nickel