August 31, 2011

1934: First College All-Star Game Ends in Scoreless Tie

August 31, 1934 marked the first installment of an annual preseason football event that lasted until 1976 when the reigning NFL Champions, the Chicago Bears, took on a team of College All-Stars at Soldier Field in Chicago. The All-Stars were chosen in a poll conducted by the Chicago Tribune with the assistance of 105 other newspapers.

The contest was the idea of sportswriter Arch Ward, creator of major league baseball’s All-Star game the previous year (and later a prime mover of a significant rival to the NFL, the All-America Football Conference) and was played on behalf of Chicago Charities. While it was anticipated that the pro champions would dominate the All-Stars, it was a great publicity vehicle for the National Football League at a point when college football was still dominant and the professional game sought wider acceptance.

There were 79,432 fans in attendance for the Friday night contest. College rules were used for the most part, although the goal posts were on the goal line, as was the case in the NFL at that time. An impressive ceremony opened the proceedings as the lights were turned off and each All-Star was introduced while running in a single spotlight onto the field, accompanied by his college team’s fight song.

The All-Stars, coached by Noble Kizer of Purdue, got off to a fast start in the first quarter when Iowa HB Joe Laws (pictured at left) intercepted a pass by Bears QB Carl Brumbaugh and returned it to the Chicago 38 yard line. Laws ran twice around left end to get the ball to the 21. HB Beattie Feathers from Tennessee got inside the 20 but, on his next carry, fumbled and LB Ookie Miller recovered for Chicago on the 16, ending the scoring threat.

In the second quarter, it was the turn of the Bears to move into scoring position as they completed consecutive passes that brought them to the All-Star nine yard line and also brought the spectators to their feet. However, star end Bill Hewitt fumbled a lateral from HB Gene Ronzani and Notre Dame tackle Ed Krause recovered.

The All-Stars once again threatened as Michigan HB Herman Everhardus guided them to the Chicago 27, but once more they fumbled it away when back Fred Hecker of Purdue lost the ball and the Bears recovered.

The All-Stars had the longest gain of the game when FB Mike Mikulak of Oregon returned the kickoff to open the second half 45 yards. They again came close to getting on the board, but Washington end Bill Smith barely missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.

In the fourth quarter, the Bears intercepted a pass and had good field position at their own 45. HB Johnny Sisk ran for six yards to take the NFL champs into All-Star territory. HB Red Grange then threw a pass to Sisk that covered 25 yards, but the drive stalled and the Bears again came up empty.

Later in the final period, Chicago end Wayland Becker blocked a punt and the Bears took over at the All-Star 19. However, when the Bears attempted to go for a quick scoring strike, Laws intercepted HB George Corbett’s pass on his goal line. Everhardus (pictured below) punted the ball 50 yards to again pin the pro champs back.

With time running out, Nebraska HB George Sauer intercepted a pass and returned it 20 yards to the Chicago 36. Smith attempted another field goal, this time from 42 yards, but missed and the 0-0 duel came to an end.

The All-Stars outgained the Bears on the ground (136 yards to 62) and also had more first downs (6 to 3). Joe Laws was the most consistent runner for the All-Stars while Michigan center Chuck Bernard played notably well on the line.

“They were better than we thought they would be,” said Chicago’s Head Coach George Halas. “You can't beat that Notre Dame running attack.”

As would be the case throughout the series, several of the players who had notable performances for the All-Stars went on to play pro football. The Bears benefited from the presence of Beattie Feathers, who became the NFL’s first thousand-yard rusher with 1004 in an impressive rookie season. Joe Laws played 12 seasons and George Sauer three for the Green Bay Packers.

While the games were often competitive in the early years, gradually the pro teams tended to dominate the contests. They won 31 times, to 9 for the All-Stars, and there were two ties. Eventually, the College All-Star Game fell victim to pro teams complaining about their top prospects missing time in training camp and being exposed to injury, athletes themselves becoming less willing to jeopardize big contracts through potential injury, and the predictable domination of the pro clubs. But for many years, it served as the annual kickoff to the preseason and a vehicle for the top players coming out of college to show what they could do against pro competition.

August 30, 2011

Past Venue: Luna Bowl

Cleveland, OH

Year opened: circa 1912
Capacity: 20,000

Luna Park Stadium
Luna Bowl (unofficial)

Pro football tenants:
Cleveland Panthers (AFL), 1926
Cleveland Bulldogs (NFL), 1927

Postseason games hosted:

Other tenants of note:
John Carroll Univ. (college football)

Notes: Constructed as part of Luna Park, an amusement park. A separate baseball park was adjacent to the football stadium. Stadium also used for soccer.

Fate: Destroyed by fire in 1929. Following the closing of the amusement park, a housing development was built on the site.

August 28, 2011

1974: Injunction Removes Matuszak, but Texans Beat NY Stars

The Houston Texans had the oldest and most veteran-laden team in the World Football League’s 1974 season, but that did not bring them a great deal of success. By the time of their Week 8 matchup against the visiting New York Stars on August 28, the Texans were just 2-4-1. The solid defense had performed well until just the week before, against the Stars at Downing Stadium, when they were blown out by a score of 43-10. The offense had difficulty putting points on the board and had yet to score more than 15 points in a game.

Houston’s defense was to be further bolstered by the addition of 6’8”, 282-pound DE John Matuszak, who had jumped from the NFL Oilers to the Texans during the preceding week. An All-American at Tampa and the number one overall draft choice in 1973, he had played in a preseason game with the Oilers and practiced the two days before leaving camp suddenly and announcing the next day that he had joined the Texans. He indicated that he had found a loophole in his contract with the Oilers that allowed him to sign and play immediately with the Texans – a point of dispute with the NFL club that would lead to a bizarre situation during the game.

New York, in the meantime, had won five straight games, including the big win over the Texans the previous week, after losing the first two.

There were 10,126 fans in attendance for the Wednesday night contest at the Astrodome. They saw yet another ex-NFL veteran, safety Richmond Flowers, return the opening kickoff 30 yards. They also saw the home team get the first big break of the game when safety Joe Green recovered a fumble at the New York 17 yard line. Shortly thereafter, QB Mike Taliaferro threw a six-yard touchdown pass to TE Willie Frazier. The action point attempt failed, but the Texans led by 7-0 (in the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and were followed by an action point, which could not be kicked).

Early in the second quarter, Taliaferro was intercepted by New York CB Larry Shears, who returned it 48 yards. Following the defensive series by Houston, Harris County sheriff’s deputies entered the field at the Astrodome looking for Matuszak and handed him a temporary injunction ordering him not to play for the Texans. Matuszak had been escorted down the sideline by owner Steve Arnold.

“I didn't have time to read the court order and evaluate it,” the flashy owner of the Texans said, “but God, it looked real. And I didn't want to go to jail.”

Matuszak waved the papers at the stunned and silenced crowd and then received a roar of approval as he made his way to the bench and watched the remainder of the game from there (pictured at top). Moses Lajterman proceeded to kick a 34-yard field goal for New York following Matuszak’s removal from the contest and the score remained 7-3 at the half.

Early in the fourth quarter, Taliaferro threw a second scoring pass, this time to a wide-open WR Rick Eber for a 25-yard TD. Later, with just over two minutes remaining, the Stars scored when QB Tom Sherman connected with WR Kreg Kapitan for an 11-yard TD. The two again combined for the lone successful action point of the game.

New York got the ball back with less than a minute remaining but, having no time outs left, couldn’t get into field goal range before time ran out. Houston held on to win, 14-11.

The Texans outgained New York (327 yards to 205) and had more first downs (18 to 13). There were just three turnovers, with Houston giving the ball up twice, but a total of 10 penalties, with 11 committed by the Texans.

Mike Taliaferro completed 11 of 20 passes for 182 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. FB Mike Richardson led the Texans in rushing with 83 yards on 18 carries. Rick Eber caught four passes for 81 yards and a TD.

For the Stars, Tom Sherman was successful on 12 of 29 throws for 119 yards with one TD and none intercepted. RB Ed White rushed for 42 yards on 9 attempts. Kreg Kapitan and WR Tommy Spinks each caught five passes, with Kapitan gaining 54 yards to 50 for Spinks.

In all, John Matuszak appeared in five plays for Houston, and was outstanding during that brief period. The sheriff’s deputies had intended to serve the papers before the teams took the field, but Oilers owner Bud Adams said they had left too late to get to the stadium on time (at least one account indicated that the deputies got lost in the Astrodome).

In another twist, Stars GM Bob Keating protested the game afterward because Houston dressed 39 players instead of the league limit of 37.

“Terry Cole and Paul Zaeski were the extra players dressed by (Head Coach) Jim Garrett of the Texans,” said Keating. He further indicated that the problem was caused when Houston picked up DT Bill Yost and WR Billy Walik prior to the game and did not declare them active or inactive. Nothing came of the protest and the result stood.

Matuszak was left behind the following week when the team went to Hawaii, as the hearing on the court order was set for September 5. In the end, he never played again for either the Texans or the Oilers. Unappreciative of his antics, the NFL club dealt the big defensive end to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he lasted two seasons while having off-field issues with drugs and alcohol. He was traded again, this time to Washington, but never made it to the regular season after running afoul of Head Coach George Allen (when asked by reporters why Matuszak had been cut, the coach responded, “Vodka and Valium, the breakfast of champions.”). Picked up by the Oakland Raiders, the player known simply as “The Tooz” finally achieved some level of the success that had been anticipated for him and was part of the team that won the Super Bowl following the 1980 season (his next to last).

By the time the WFL season ended, neither the Texans nor Stars were in their original location (or under the same ownership). The Texans moved to Shreveport, Louisiana (and were renamed the Steamer) less than a month after hosting the Stars and finished at a disappointing 7-12-1 and tied for third place in the Western Division with the Portland Storm. Shortly thereafter, the Stars shifted to Charlotte, North Carolina and became the Charlotte Hornets. From their promising beginning, they ended up at 10-10 and second in the Eastern Division.

August 27, 2011

1948: Sanders Leads Yankees to Win Over Brooklyn

The All-America Football Conference kicked off its 1948 season with games in Brooklyn and Chicago on August 27. The contest in Brooklyn featured the league’s two New York City-based teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. Both operated out of single-wing offenses, but the similarities ended there.

The Dodgers had struggled during the AAFC’s first two seasons, losing money while posting identical 3-10-1 records. The franchise had been purchased by the baseball Dodgers at the suggestion of Branch Rickey, the pioneering major league executive who hoped to prove equally adept at operating a pro football team. The Dodgers had a new head coach, Carl Voyles, and a star rookie tailback in Bob Chappuis from Michigan to join holdover Bob Hoernschemeyer.

The Yankees had been much more successful under Head Coach Ray Flaherty, who had led the NFL Redskins to championships, dominating the Eastern Division in 1946 and ’47 while posting a combined 21-5-2 regular season tally. They had lost the league championship game in both instances to the Cleveland Browns, but were a talented team that included small (5’5”, 170-pound) but quick HB Buddy Young, ends Jack Russell and Bruce Alford, and most significantly, tailback Orban (Spec) Sanders (pictured above), an all-around talent who led the AAFC in rushing in each of the first two seasons, including 1432 yards and 19 touchdowns in ’47.

There were 16,411 fans in attendance at Ebbets Field for the game played on a Friday night in 92-degree heat. That it felt far more like baseball than football weather was enhanced by those in attendance who were listening to the game between the baseball Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds on portable radios.

Brooklyn outplayed the Yankees in the first half, although both teams appeared sluggish in the heat. Chappuis and Hoernschemeyer led the passing attack, but the Dodgers managed to score only once, on a 17-yard Lee Tevis field goal in the second quarter to hold a 3-0 lead at halftime.

New York’s offense came alive in the third quarter, and it was Sanders who keyed the rally. Four minutes into the second half, he gained 27 yards on consecutive carries, including an eight-yard run for a touchdown as he powered into the end zone with DB Carl Allen on his back.

Following Brooklyn’s next possession, the Yankees moved the ball to their 40 yard line and Sanders ran off tackle and went untouched for a 60-yard TD. In sudden fashion, New York had taken a 14-3 lead and control of the game.

While Sanders keyed the offense and with the game still in the third quarter, rookie tailback Tom Casey came up with the most sensational play of all when he returned a punt an AAFC-record 94 yards for a touchdown. Harvey Johnson followed with his third extra point of the game, giving him a total of 43 straight to break his own prior record of 42.

There was no further scoring, but the three-touchdown outburst in the third quarter was more than enough to propel the Yankees to a 21-3 win.

New York outgained the Dodgers, 333 yards to 233, with 250 of that total coming on the ground. The Yankees also accumulated 15 first downs, to Brooklyn’s 11. Spec Sanders carried the ball just 11 times, but gained 147 yards and scored two touchdowns.

The opening win was not a prelude of another division-winning season for the Yankees, however. They lost their next four games, by which point the highly-regarded Flaherty was gone and replaced by Red Strader. While the team rallied somewhat in the second half of the year, it could not overcome the 2-6 start and finished in third place at 6-8 – still only a game behind the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Colts, who tied for the division title at 7-7 (the Bills won the playoff, thus earning the dubious honor of being the team thrashed by the undefeated Browns in the title game).

Despite Branch Rickey’s efforts, the Dodgers finished last with their worst record of all, 2-12. The baseball Dodgers sold the franchise back to the league, and it was merged with the Yankees for the AAFC’s last season in 1949.

Running into injury problems over the course of the season, Spec Sanders didn’t lead the league in rushing in ’48, but finished fourth with 759 yards on 169 carries that included nine TDs. Adding in 918 passing yards, Sanders generated 1677 yards of total offense to rank seventh in the league (just behind Brooklyn’s Chappuis with 310 yards on the ground and 1402 through the air for a total of 1712). A knee injury knocked him out of the 1949 season, but he returned to play for the New York Yanks of the NFL in 1950 and, as a defensive back, led the league with 13 interceptions.

August 26, 2011

MVP Profile: Len Dawson, 1962

Quarterback, Dallas Texans

Age: 27
6th season in pro football, 1st in AFL & with Texans
College: Purdue
Height: 6’0” Weight: 190

Highly regarded coming out of college, Dawson was taken in the first round of the 1957 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After sitting on the bench and throwing just 17 passes in three years, he was dealt to Cleveland, where he backed up Milt Plum for two seasons. He requested his release from the Browns and joined his former backfield coach at Purdue, Hank Stram, who had gone on to become the head coach of the AFL’s Dallas Texans. Stram worked intensively with Dawson, rusty from his years as a reserve, and he took over as the team’s starting quarterback.

1962 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 310 [4]
Most attempts, game – 33 at Buffalo 12/2
Completions – 189 [3]
Most completions, game – 19 vs. NY Titans 10/21, vs. Houston 11/4
Yards – 2759 [3]
Most yards, game – 306 at Boston 10/12
Completion percentage – 61.0 [1]
Yards per attempt – 8.9 [1]
TD passes – 29 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 3 on six occasions
Interceptions – 17 [6]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Denver 12/9
Passer rating – 98.3 [1]
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 7

Attempts – 38
Most attempts, game - 5 (for 59 yds.) vs. Buffalo 9/30, (for 18 yds.) vs. San Diego 12/16
Yards – 252 [18]
Most yards, game – 59 yards (on 5 carries) vs. Buffalo 9/30
Yards per attempt – 6.6
TDs – 3

TDs – 3
Points – 18

Postseason: 1 G (AFL Championship at Houston)
Pass attempts – 14
Pass completions – 9
Passing yards – 88
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 0

Rushing attempts – 5
Rushing yards – 26
Average gain rushing – 5.2
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFL Player of the Year: Sporting News
1st team All-AFL: League, AP, UPI
AFL All-Star Game

Texans went 11-3 to finish first in the AFL Western Division while leading the league in points scored (389) and touchdowns (50, tied with Houston). Won AFL Championship over Houston Oilers (20-17).

The resurrection of Dawson’s career in 1962 paid off significantly for his team. The Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs in ’63 and, while they failed to retain their AFL title, Dawson again led the league in TD passes (26). By the rating system then in use, he led the league in passing three times over the next five years (by the modern system, he led it in all five). He also led in completion percentage five straight times, TD passes twice (although not when he had his career high of 30 in 1964), yards per attempt twice, and, further testimony to Dawson’s efficiency as a passer, four times in percentage of TD passes. The team won AFL championships in 1966 and ’69, losing in the inaugural Super Bowl following the first and winning Super Bowl IV (the last prior to the merger of the two leagues). Dawson missed time to injury in that 1969 season but was behind center in the postseason. He remained with the Chiefs through 1975, at age 40, and retired with 28,711 passing yards, 239 TD passes, and an 82.6 passer rating. The Chiefs retired his #16 and Dawson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1987.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/14/14]

August 24, 2011

1982: Ken Stabler Joins the Saints

Following the 1981 NFL season, there were plenty of doubts that QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler had much, if any, of a pro football career left. At age 36, he was the most accurate passer in NFL history for anyone who had thrown at least 1500 career passes, with a completion percentage of 60.3. But with bad knees that were getting even worse with age and following a largely ineffective season with a declining Houston Oilers team, he was released. To make matters worse, published reports had linked Stabler to a known gambler and he was briefly under investigation by the league.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle gave clearance for teams to approach the wily lefthanded quarterback, and the very next day, August 24, 1982, he signed with the New Orleans Saints, reuniting him with former Oilers Head Coach Bum Phillips.

Phillips had been coaching at Houston when Stabler arrived in a celebrated trade with Oakland for veteran QB Dan Pastorini in 1980. It seemed like a huge acquisition at the time - after taking over as the starting quarterback for the Raiders in 1973, Stabler had been exciting and successful, gaining selection to the Pro Bowl four times, twice garnering MVP recognition (the second while leading the 1976 Raiders to an NFL Championship), and leading the league twice each in completion percentage and TD passes and once in passer rating.

The Oilers were a strong team that had lost the AFC Championship games following the 1978 and ’79 seasons to the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, and were looking for an upgrade at quarterback to push them over the top. Alas, it was not to be as Stabler threw more than twice as many interceptions (28) as touchdown passes (13). Still, with star RB Earl Campbell pacing the running attack, and while utilizing a double tight end offense after another Raider stalwart, TE Dave Casper, was obtained during the season to pair with TE Mike Barber, the Oilers made it into the playoffs with an 11-5 record. However, they fell in the Wild Card round to, ironically, the Raiders (where an injured Pastorini had been supplanted at quarterback by a resurgent Jim Plunkett), costing Phillips his job.

With Ed Biles as head coach in ’81, the aging club dropped off to 7-9. Stabler had briefly retired during the preseason but came back when his replacement, Gifford Nielsen, suffered a shoulder injury. Often in conflict with his new head coach, Stabler suffered through the difficult year that culminated in his release. From there, he sought a rebirth in New Orleans.

The Saints had an aging quarterback of their own, 33-year-old Archie Manning, as well as his longtime backup, Bobby Scott. But Dave Wilson, the player they had taken with the first choice in the supplemental draft out of Illinois to be their quarterback of the future, underwent knee surgery, creating an opening.

The arrival of Stabler meant the departure of QB Craig Bradshaw, brother of Pittsburgh’s star QB Terry Bradshaw, who was cut along with WR Ike Harris while Wilson and FS Tom Myers were put on injured reserve. Scott would later also be placed on injured reserve and was released after the season – he would resurface in the USFL.

“I've never walked on the field when I thought I was going to be a backup quarterback,” said Stabler following his signing. “I may wind up being one, but I'm not taking that approach.”

He was not a backup in 1982, beating out Manning, who was dealt to Houston during the strike-shortened season. The team was 1-1 when the strike occurred and won its first two games when play resumed before losing three straight that included a 29-of-43, 333-yard performance by the veteran quarterback against Tampa Bay. Still, they won the finale and, even with a 4-5 record, barely missed the postseason.

Stabler provided not only passing proficiency but leadership to the offense, which was damaged by an injury to RB George Rogers, who had led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 1981. “The Snake” completed a healthy 61.9 % of his passes for 1343 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. While his 7.1 yards per attempt and 71.8 passer rating were both less than his career averages, they were improvements over his numbers with the Oilers, as was his interception percentage of 5.3.

While there was speculation that the battle-worn veteran would retire, he was back for another season with the Saints in 1983. A knee injury in the season-opening game hobbled him further, and the numbers dropped off – he threw twice as many interceptions (18) as TD passes (9) and his passer rating dropped a full ten points to 61.4. However, the team went 8-8 for only its second .500 finish, helped along by an improving defense.

The Saints dealt for QB Richard Todd from the New York Jets in the offseason, and while “The Snake” saw some action, he was largely a backup in 1984, his last year. Altogether in New Orleans, Stabler completed 57.2 % of his passes for 3670 yards with 17 touchdowns, but also 33 interceptions. The team broke even at 11-11 in his starts, which was an improvement for the perennially losing Saints, and his veteran leadership proved stabilizing. It was not an altogether bad postscript to Stabler’s outstanding career, but he no longer had enough left physically to lift the Saints further.

At the time of his retirement, Stabler ranked second all-time in pass completion percentage at just under sixty percent (59.85). While his TD passes (194) were outnumbered by his interceptions (222), he passed for a total of 27,938 yards and, most importantly, had an overall regular season record of 96-49-1 as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

August 22, 2011

Past Venue: Crosley Field

Cincinnati, OH

Year opened: 1912
Capacity: 29,603, up from 25,000 at opening

Redland Field, 1912-33
Crosley Field, 1934-72

Pro football tenants:
Cincinnati Celts (APFA), 1921
Cincinnati National Guards (OVL)*, 1928-29
Cincinnati Reds (NFL), 1933-34
Cincinnati Bengals (AFL), 1937; (Independent), 1938; (APFA), 1939; (AFL), 1940-41

*Ohio Valley League

Postseason games hosted:

Other tenants of note:
Cincinnati Reds (MLB – NL), 1912-70
Cincinnati Tigers (baseball Negro leagues), 1934-37
Cincinnati Buckeyes (baseball Negro leagues), 1942
Cincinnati Clowns (baseball Negro leagues), 1943, 45

Notes: Bengals (not related to current NFL franchise) joined second AFL, and upon that league’s demise continued as an independent minor league team in ’38 and joined the minor league American Professional Football Association in 1939 before becoming a member of the third AFL in 1940. Hosted one home game of NFL Portsmouth Spartans, 1931. National Guards of the minor league Ohio Valley League also played home games at Carthage Fair Grounds in 1929. Stadium renamed for Powel Crosley Jr., who bought baseball’s Reds in 1934.

Fate: Demolished in 1972, site became an industrial park.

[Updated 2/16/15]

August 20, 2011

MVP Profile: Barry Sanders, 1991

Running Back, Detroit Lions

Age: 23
3rd season in pro football & with Lions
College: Oklahoma State
Height: 5’8” Weight: 203

Following a Heisman-winning season as a junior, Sanders chose to forego his last year of eligibility and turn pro. Taken by the Lions in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft (third overall), he had an immediate impact, rushing for 1470 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was not just Rookie of the Year but went to the Pro Bowl and was a consensus first team All-Pro. Sanders followed up with a league-leading 1304 yards in 1990 and again was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl participant. He made up for lack of size with outstanding elusiveness and running instincts.

1991 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 15 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 342 [2]
Most attempts, game - 32 (for 143 yds.) vs. Miami 9/15
Yards – 1548 [2]
Most yards, game – 220 yards (on 23 carries) at Minnesota 11/24
Average gain – 4.5 [12]
TDs – 16 [1]
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 8

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 41
Most receptions, game – 9 (for 76 yds.) vs. Minnesota 10/6
Yards – 307
Most yards, game - 76 (on 9 catches) vs. Minnesota 10/6
Average gain – 7.5
TDs – 1

All-purpose yards – 1855 [2, 1st in NFC]

TDs – 17 [1]
Points – 102 [11, tied with John Kasay]

Postseason: 2 G
Rushing attempts – 23
Most rushing attempts, game - 12 vs. Dallas, NFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 113
Most rushing yards, game - 69 vs. Dallas, NFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 4.9
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 9
Most pass receptions, game - 5 vs. Dallas, NFC Divisional playoff
Pass receiving yards - 45
Most pass receiving yards, game - 30 vs. Dallas, NFC Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 5.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Player of the Year: Bert Bell Award
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Lions went 12-4 to finish first in the NFC Central, reaching the postseason for the first time since 1983 and with the club’s best record since 1962. Won NFC Divisional playoff over Dallas Cowboys (38-6). Lost NFC Championship to Washington Redskins (41-10).

Sanders rushed for 1352 yards in 1992 and maintained his excellence over a career of ten years before abruptly retiring after the 1998 season. He led the league in ground-gaining four times, including a 2053-yard total in ’97, and never failed to gain a thousand yards – his lowest total was 1115 in 1993, when he missed five games due to injury, his only extended loss of playing time. Sanders was selected for the Pro Bowl following all ten seasons, was a consensus first-team All-Pro six times, and with his exciting, often-improvisational running style was a highlight film regular. He retired with 15,269 rushing yards and scored a total of 109 touchdowns. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2004.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]
[Updated 11/28/14]

August 18, 2011

1989: Bears Trade Jim McMahon to Chargers

The Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers swung a trade on Friday morning, August 18, 1989, the eve of a preseason game between the clubs, in which QB Jim McMahon was dealt for a conditional 1990 draft pick (it ended up being a second round choice, used to take LB Ron Cox from Fresno State). McMahon himself received a brief wakeup call that morning from Head Coach Mike Ditka informing him of the deal.

McMahon, just days short of his 30th birthday, had been a colorful and controversial character in Chicago. He had also been a winner with the Bears, who went 49-17 with him behind center, including 35 of his last 38 regular season starts, and 3-2 in the playoffs, including a huge win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

However, the 6’1”, 195-pound quarterback also was injury-prone, missing time with a lacerated kidney in 1984 as well as shoulder, knee, and hamstring ailments. He had rotator cuff surgery in 1987. As impressive as his overall starting record had been, it represented a total of 66 out of 101 games the Bears played from 1982 through ’88 (excluding the postseason).

In 1988, he started the first nine games but sprained his knee against the Patriots and didn’t play again until the postseason. He did not start, but appeared in, the “Fog Bowl” win against the Eagles and then started the next week in the NFC Championship game, a 28-3 loss to the 49ers.

A college star at Brigham Young, McMahon was drafted in the first round by the Bears in 1982 and, while he didn’t have the strongest arm, he threw well on the run, had considerable savvy as a play caller, and exhibited a toughness that won the respect of his offensive teammates. However, he was also outspoken, often outrageous, and frequently critical of Coach Ditka.

“Outrageousness is nothing more than a way to wake people up,” was how the maverick quarterback justified his behavior, from wearing headbands that were unapproved by the NFL to mooning a helicopter full of reporters during Super Bowl week. However, the unpredictability was put to good use on the field, where his ability to surprise defenses served him well.

The trade was not completely unexpected, as overachieving veteran Mike Tomczak had played well when McMahon was out and Jim Harbaugh, a rookie in ’88, was waiting in the wings.

“I think he (Ditka) believes he can win with anybody,” McMahon, reacting to the transaction, said at a news conference. “It's his coaching that gets it done, so now, I don't have to deal with that anymore,”

Ditka said that while he liked McMahon and respected him, “My feeling is Jim needs a change of scenery. I think he'll be happier starting for the Chargers and being in a class organization.”

“The Bears are going in a different direction,” player personnel director Bill Tobin added. “Our quarterback situation is healthy.”

The Chargers, for their part, were in need of a starting quarterback. Hall of Famer Dan Fouts retired after the 1987 season and the team had stumbled along at 6-10 in ‘88 with Mark Malone, a disappointment in Pittsburgh who fared no better in San Diego, and journeyman Babe Laufenberg starting. Second-year QB Mark Vlasic led the Chargers to two wins, but was still recovering from a knee injury and had been placed on the physically-unable-to-perform (or “PUP”) list. The week prior to the trade for McMahon, Malone, free agent David Archer, and rookie Billy Joe Tolliver had all been ineffective in a dismal preseason loss to the Cowboys. Malone was immediately released to make room for the newcomer.

McMahon was inserted into the preseason game at Soldier Field the day after the trade. He was behind center for San Diego’s first possession of the second half and received a rousing ovation from the 60,167 fans, but after completing a pass to RB Barry Redden for a first down, he misfired on his next two throws and gave way to the rookie, Tolliver.

The wily veteran started the season for the Chargers, and the results were disappointing. In the season-opening game, San Diego lost by a 40-14 score to the Raiders as McMahon had a 7-for-19, 91-yard performance. However, in Week 2, he completed 27 of 45 passes for 389 yards and two TDs (as well as three interceptions) in a loss to the Oilers. Suffering from an assortment of nagging injuries and with a mediocre supporting cast, in particular a substandard line, McMahon appeared in 12 games and started 11 of them. While there were some successes, the Chargers were just 4-7 in those starts, and Tolliver guided the team the rest of the way to another 6-10 finish. The gritty veteran completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 2132 yards with 10 touchdowns and an equal number of interceptions. He averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and was sacked 28 times.

Off the field there was more controversy, the low point coming when, in response to an unwanted question, McMahon blew his nose on a reporter. Following the season, a new general manager, Bobby Beathard, took over and, once it became apparent that the fragile and quirky quarterback wouldn’t be starting, would cost too much money, and couldn’t be traded, McMahon was released in April and signed on with the Philadelphia Eagles to back up Randall Cunningham.

Things did not go so smoothly for the Bears in 1989, either. After winning their first four games, they lost DT Dan Hampton to a knee injury, which had a profound effect on the defense. Chicago promptly lost three straight, winning just twice more the rest of the way, and dropped the last six games to finish at 6-10, the club’s first losing record since Ditka’s initial year as head coach in 1982.

Tomczak started the season at quarterback, but proved to be inconsistent and gave way to Harbaugh, who showed toughness and mobility, although also a penchant for taking sacks. Together, they threw for 3262 yards and 21 touchdowns, but with 25 interceptions.

The Bears rebounded to 11-5 in ’90, with an improved Harbaugh at quarterback, and had one last winning season under Ditka in 1991 before dropping to 5-11 in ’92.

McMahon became embroiled in further controversy in Philadelphia, not of his own making this time, when Head Coach Buddy Ryan benched Cunningham for a series in a postseason loss to Washington. The rusty backup, who had thrown just nine passes all year, tossed three incompletions and Cunningham returned to the game, but not without repercussions (the playoff defeat was the last straw in the ongoing battle between Ryan and owner Norman Braman, who fired the brash coach shortly thereafter).

McMahon got his chance to start in ’91 when Cunningham was lost for the year to an injury in the season-opening game. He played well…when he played. Again, McMahon proved too brittle to go the distance. After one more year as a backup, he started for the Vikings in 1993 before finishing out his career with Arizona and Green Bay. Backing up the durable Brett Favre with the Packers, McMahon earned a second Super Bowl ring in 1996 before retiring.

August 17, 2011

Past Venue: Busch Memorial Stadium

St. Louis, MO
aka Busch Stadium

Year opened: 1966
Capacity: 60,292

Civic Center Stadium, 1966
Busch Memorial Stadium, 1966-81
Busch Stadium, 1981-2005

Pro football tenants:
St. Louis Cardinals (NFL), 1966-87
St. Louis Rams (NFL), 1995

Postseason games hosted:

Other tenants of note:
St. Louis Cardinals (MLB – NL), 1966-2005
St. Louis Stars (NPSL/NASL), 1967-74

Notes: Served as home to Rams after they relocated from Los Angeles while domed stadium was still under construction. Grass surface was replaced with AstroTurf in 1970, but was restored to grass field in 1996. In order to reconfigure field from baseball to football, two 8000-seat sections could be moved so that they were parallel to each other. Stadium owned by MLB Cardinals.

Fate: Demolished in 2005, the site is partially occupied by the new baseball stadium.

August 15, 2011

1958: Second Quarter Surge Propels College All-Stars to Defeat of Lions

The 25th College All-Star Game on August 15, 1958 featured the Detroit Lions, defending NFL champions, against an All-Star team coached for the first time by former all-time great quarterback Otto Graham, who would direct the collegians from the sideline for eight straight years and ten times overall.

The Lions, coached by George Wilson, were a tough defensive club with two star quarterbacks to choose from in Bobby Layne and Tobin Rote, plus FB John Henry Johnson, ends Jim Doran and Steve Junker, and a line anchored by OT Lou Creekmur.

The All-Stars had the usual array of future pro stars that included ends Charlie Krueger of Texas A&M and Jim Gibbons of Iowa, tackles Lou Michaels of Kentucky and Mississippi’s Gene Hickerson, and Idaho guard Jerry Kramer. The players who would have the most impact on the outcome were Illinois HB Bobby Mitchell (pictured above), DB Bobby Joe Conrad from Texas A&M, and Michigan State QB Jim Ninowski.

There were 70,000 fans at Chicago’s Soldier Field for the Friday night game. The Lions were 14-point favorites, but the crowd cheered loudly for the All-Stars. It looked like another night of domination by the pro champions, however, when Detroit took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in 10 plays, capped by Rote throwing a 24-yard scoring pass to Doran.

On the last play of the first quarter, HB Jim Pace of Michigan caught a pass from Rice QB King Hill and took off for a 57-yard gain to the Detroit three yard line. The Lions defense pushed the All-Stars back to the 11 and Conrad was successful on a 19-yard field goal attempt.

On the next All-Star possession in the second quarter, Mitchell put them ahead in stunning fashion as he gathered in a pass from Ninowski and took off down the sideline on an 84-yard touchdown run. Later in the period Ninowski again tossed a short pass to Mitchell that was turned into yet another exciting TD, this time covering 18 yards.

With two seconds remaining in the half, Conrad kicked his second field goal, of 44 yards, capping the 20-point second quarter explosion by the All-Stars. Not only did the Lions take a beating during the period, falling behind by 20-7, but to add insult to injury, when they went into their locker room at halftime, they found that the power was out and were forced to stay outside.

Things didn’t get any better in the second half for Detroit as Rote, swarmed by a group of All-Star defenders led by Michaels and Iowa DT Alex Karras (a future star for the Lions), was tossed for a safety that made the score 22-7. The safety seemed to reignite the Lions, however, and they drove to a nine-yard touchdown by HB Gene Gedman. The All-Stars responded with a scoring possession of their own, as Conrad kicked his third field goal to start the fourth quarter, from 24 yards.

With the Lions playing catchup, Bobby Layne went to the air and was intercepted by G Chuck Howley from West Virginia, who returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. Conrad kicked a fourth field goal and Detroit scored a late, meaningless touchdown when HB Ralph Pfeifer plunged into the end zone with 30 seconds to play. The final score was a convincing 35-19 win for the All-Stars.

The 35 points scored were a record for the All-Stars, one of 11 records they set during the course of the game, including 16 pass completions, 293 yards through the air, 10 first downs by passing, and Conrad’s 44-yard field goal as he tied a record for most in a game.

Conrad (pictured below) ended up with 15 points between the field goals and three PATs, and also played well on defense. His kicking performance was especially remarkable because he had never attempted a field goal during his college career.

The Lions were held to a humiliating three rushing yards, to 179 by the All-Stars, and they also had fewer passing yards (193). Still, Detroit accumulated 22 first downs, to 11 for the collegians.

Jim Ninowski completed 14 of 20 passes for 243 yards. Bobby Mitchell caught 5 passes for 145 yards and the two TDs. Defensive halfback Jim Jones of Washington intercepted three of Bobby Layne’s passes.

“We got the breaks and I’ve said all along that’s what you need for a chance against a pro team,” said a jubilant Otto Graham afterward. “I still say a pro team should win this game. But those runs by Jim Pace and Mitchell gave us the momentum we needed.”

“Mitchell drove the Lions’ defense nuts,” said Northwestern’s Ara Parseghian, an assistant coach for the All-Stars. “They had to change defenses five different times to try to cover him.”

Summing up for the Lions, Coach Wilson said, “It comes down to the same old story. We didn’t block, we didn’t tackle. They were keyed up, found out that they could score on us, and then there was no stopping them.”

The Lions, who traded Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh after the second game, suffered through a dismal 1958 season in defense of their title. They dropped off to a 4-7-1 record and a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.

Bobby Mitchell continued to dazzle against NFL defenses as he rushed for 500 yards on just 80 carries for the Cleveland Browns in ’58, teamed in the same backfield with star FB Jim Brown. He would go on to put together a Hall of Fame career as a halfback with the Browns and flanker for the Redskins.

Jim Ninowski was also a rookie with the Browns, but saw little action behind QB Milt Plum and ultimately had a less impressive career, playing with the Lions, Redskins, and Saints, as well as two stints in Cleveland, between 1958 and ’69.

Bobby Joe Conrad intercepted four passes for the Chicago Cardinals as a rookie, but was less successful as a placekicker than he had been in the All-Star Game, succeeding on just 6 of 17 field goal attempts in ’58. He shifted to offensive halfback in 1959 and later starred at flanker, leading the NFL with 73 catches in 1963 and grabbing a total of 422 passes for 5902 yards and 38 touchdowns over 12 years (all with the Cardinals except the last, in 1969, with Dallas).

August 14, 2011

MVP Profile: Terrell Davis, 1998

Running Back, Denver Broncos

Age: 26 (Oct. 28)
4th season in pro football & with Broncos
College: Georgia
Height: 5’11” Weight: 200

Unheralded coming out of college, Davis was taken by the Broncos in the 6th round of the 1995 NFL draft and emerged to rush for 1117 yards and catch 49 passes. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 1996 and ’97 seasons in which he rushed for 1538 and 1750 yards, respectively. Davis led the NFL with 15 rushing TDs in 1997 and was MVP of the Super Bowl win over Green Bay.

1998 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 392 [2]
Most attempts, game - 31 (for 136 yds.) vs. Jacksonville 10/25, (for 162 yds.) vs. Oakland 11/22
Yards – 2008 [1]
Most yards, game – 208 yards (on 30 carries) at Seattle 10/11
Average gain – 5.1 [1]
TDs – 21 [1]
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 11

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 25
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 76 yds.) vs. Jacksonville 10/25, (for 45 yds.) vs. Kansas City 12/6
Yards – 217
Most yards, game - 76 (on 5 catches) vs. Jacksonville 10/25
Average gain – 8.7
TDs – 2

Total Yards – 2225 [3]

TDs – 23 [1]
Points – 138 [3]

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 78
Most rushing attempts, game - 32 vs. NY Jets, AFC Championship
Rushing yards – 468
Most rushing yards, game - 199 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 6.0
Rushing TDs – 3
100-yard rushing games – 3

Pass receptions – 4
Most pass receptions, game - 2 vs. Atlanta, Super Bowl
Pass receiving yards - 69
Most pass receiving yards, game - 50 vs. Atlanta, Super Bowl
Average yards per reception – 17.3
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
1st team All-AFC: Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Broncos went 14-2 to finish first in the AFC West with the conference’s best record and led the AFC in total offense (6092 yards), rushing (2468), touchdowns (62), and scoring (501 points). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Denver Broncos (38-3), AFC Championship over New York Jets (23-10), and Super Bowl over Atlanta Falcons (34-19).

After rushing for 6413 yards in four years, crowned by the 2000-yard ’98 season, Davis gained just 211 yards on the ground in 1999 as he sustained a major knee injury in the fourth game. Returning in 2000, he struggled, appearing in only five contests and rushing for 282 yards. Davis ran for 701 yards in one last injury-riddled season in 2001. For his career, he gained 7607 yards on 1655 carries and added another 1280 on 169 pass receptions.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

August 12, 2011

Past Venue: RFK Stadium

Washington, DC
aka DC Stadium

Year opened: 1961
Capacity: 46,000, down from 56,692 when Redskins played there

District of Columbia Stadium, 1961-68
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, 1969 to date

Pro football tenants:
Washington Redskins (NFL), 1961-96
Washington Federals (USFL), 1983-84

Postseason games hosted:
NFC Divisional playoff, Redskins 16 Packers 3, Dec. 24, 1972
NFC Championship, Redskins 26 Cowboys 3, Dec. 31, 1972
NFC First Round playoff, Redskins 31 Lions 7, Jan. 8, 1983
NFC Divisional playoff, Redskins 21 Vikings 7, Jan. 15, 1983
NFC Championship, Redskins 31 Cowboys 17, Jan. 22, 1983
NFC Divisional playoff, Redskins 51 Rams 7, Jan. 1, 1984
NFC Championship, Redskins 24 49ers 21, Jan. 8, 1984
NFC Divisional playoff, Bears 23 Redskins 19, Dec. 30, 1984
NFC Wild Card playoff, Redskins 19 Rams 7, Dec. 28, 1986
NFC Championship, Redskins 17 Vikings 10, Jan. 17, 1988
NFC Divisional playoff, Redskins 24 Falcons 7, Jan. 4, 1992
NFC Championship, Redskins 41 Lions 10, Jan. 12, 1992

Other tenants of note:
Washington Senators (MLB – AL), 1962-71
George Washington Univ., 1961-66
Washington Whips (USA/NASL), 1967-68
Washington Darts (NASL), 1971
Washington Diplomats (NASL), 1974-81
D.C. United (MSL), 1996 to date
Washington Freedom (WUSA), 2001-03
Washington Nationals (MLB – NL), 2005-07
Washington Freedom (WPS), 2009 to date

Notes: First major league stadium to be specifically designed for both football and baseball. Used as venue for FIFA World Cup, 1994. Also hosted soccer matches for 1996 Summer Olympics and 2003 Women’s World Cup.

Fate: Still in use.

August 11, 2011

1950: Justice & LeBaron Lead College All-Stars to Win Over Eagles

The 17th installment of the College All-Star Game on August 11, 1950 was notable for being the first to be televised nationally across a network of 29 stations. However, not much of a contest was anticipated.

The reigning NFL champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, had won the previous year by a decisive 38-0 score and, having repeated as league champions, were 14.5-point favorites coming into the game. Coached by Earle “Greasy” Neale and featuring the running of HB Steve Van Buren on offense as well as a stingy defense, the Eagles were a solid veteran club.

The College All-Stars, coached by Eddie Anderson of Holy Cross, had an outstanding group of players that included many who would go on to star in the NFL. At quarterback was the undersized (5’7”) Eddie LeBaron of the College of the Pacific. Linemen included ends Gordie Soltau of Minnesota and Notre Dame’s Jim Martin and Leon Hart, tackle Lou Creekmur from William & Mary, and Minnesota’s tackle Clayton Tonnemaker and center Leo Nomellini. And while Heisman-winning HB Doak Walker of SMU was in the backfield, it was another halfback, North Carolina’s Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice (pictured above), who would have the most notable impact on the game.

There were 88,885 in attendance at Soldier Field for the Friday night game - even at that number, it was the lowest crowd total since the game was played at Northwestern University in 1944, and while the game was blacked out on Chicago-area television, there were writers who blamed the broadcast for hurting attendance.

The All-Stars scored first, on their second possession, putting together a seven-play, 54-yard drive in the opening quarter that was highlighted by runs of 31 and 12 yards by Justice and that ended with 230-pound FB Ralph Pasquariello of Villanova scoring from the one yard line.

In the second quarter, the All-Stars got a break when DB Hall Haynes of Santa Clara recovered a fumble by Eagles HB Clyde “Smackover” Scott at the Philadelphia 35. From there, LeBaron, fading far back to evade Eagles tacklers, fired a pass to Justice that went for a 35-yard touchdown, with Oklahoma end Jim Owens throwing a key block along the way. That put the All-Stars improbably ahead by 14-0 with less than five minutes remaining in the half.

There was no scoring in the third quarter as the NFL champs had difficulty moving the ball against the fired-up All-Star defense. Finally, in the fourth quarter the Eagles got on the board. Starting at their 43 yard line, QB Tommy Thompson completed a pass to FB Joe Muha that covered 20 yards. A few plays later Van Buren plunged into the end zone from a yard out and, with Cliff Patton’s successful extra point, the score was 14-7.

The All-Stars responded with a scoring drive of their own. Taking over at their 17, Justice took a handoff and, reversing field, ran for a 28-yard gain to the 45. LeBaron passed to North Carolina end Art Weiner to get to the Philadelphia 20. After the diminutive quarterback ran the ball to the 15, the drive stalled, but Soltau, who had kicked both of the extra points, was successful on a 24-yard field goal attempt that essentially put the game away. The last gasp for the Eagles ended with an interception of a Thompson pass by Cornell DB Hillary Chollet at the All-Star three yard line. The College All-Stars came away with the 17-7 win, their first in three years.

The All-Stars outgained the Eagles on the ground, 221 yards to 85, although the Eagles led in first downs, 14 to 8. While the All-Stars intercepted three Philadelphia passes without surrendering any of their own, they also fumbled the ball away three times, to one suffered by the Eagles.

The MVP for the All-Stars was Charlie Justice, who gained 133 yards on just nine carries, including runs of 47, 31, and 28 yards, and had the one touchdown reception. Eddie LeBaron played impressively at quarterback, running well and making effective use of pitchouts to his backs. While he completed just two of 9 pass attempts, they were big ones and covered 75 yards, including the one TD.

For the Eagles, Tommy Thompson completed 15 of 28 passes for 131 yards and was intercepted three times. Steve Van Buren was held to just 32 yards on 13 carries.

“Little LeBaron’s pitchouts to both the right and left were the plays that beat us,” said Greasy Neale afterward. “The All-Stars were keyed awfully high. We didn’t run our plays good at all, and we weren’t thinking too good, either.”

“It was the greatest All-Star team I ever saw,” summed up NFL Commissioner Bert Bell afterward.

LeBaron (pictured at left) left to report for active duty with the Marines the day after the game, but would join the Washington Redskins in 1952. Despite his small size, the ball-handling skill that he showed against the Eagles served him well as a pro, and he lasted 11 seasons with the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. One of LeBaron’s teammates in Washington was Justice, who went directly to the NFL in 1950 and played four seasons.

The sluggish performance by the Eagles proved to be a harbinger of things to come. After winning three consecutive Eastern Division titles and two league championships, they dropped to 6-6 in 1950.

At this point in the series, the win over Philadelphia was the sixth, against nine losses, for the All-Stars, and there had been two ties. It would not remain competitive for much longer as the All-Stars won just three more of the remaining 25 games before the series ended in 1976.

August 9, 2011

MVP Profile: Phil Simms, 1986

Quarterback, New York Giants

Age: 32 (Nov. 3)
7th season in pro football & with Giants
College: Morehead State
Height: 6’3” Weight: 214

Chosen by the Giants in the first round of the 1979 NFL draft, Simms showed ability when given the opportunity to start as a rookie, but also was plagued by injuries in his first four years, virtually missing the entire 1983 season altogether. However, he won back the starting job in ’84 and passed for 4044 yards and 22 touchdowns. In 1985, he earned a Pro Bowl selection while throwing for 3829 yards and another 22 TDs as the Giants reached the postseason.

1986 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 468 [10]
Most attempts, game – 45 at Dallas 9/8
Completions – 259 [10]
Most completions, game – 27 at San Francisco 12/1
Yards – 3487 [8]
Most yards, game – 388 at San Francisco 12/1
Completion percentage – 55.3 [16]
Yards per attempt – 7.5 [9]
TD passes – 21 [7, tied with Dave Krieg]
Most TD passes, game – 3 at Dallas 9/8, at Washington 12/7, vs. Green Bay 12/20
Interceptions – 22 [4, tied with Dan Fouts & Jay Schroeder]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at Seattle 10/19
Passer rating – 74.6 [14]
300-yard passing games – 4
200-yard passing games – 10

Attempts – 43
Most attempts, game - 5 (for 10 yds.) at Philadelphia 11/9, (for 20 yds.) vs. Denver 11/23
Yards – 72
Most yards, game – 28 yards (on 4 carries) vs. New Orleans 9/28
Yards per attempt – 1.7
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points - 6

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 58
Most attempts, game - 25 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 38
Most completions, game - 22 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 494
Most yards, game – 268 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
TD passes – 8
Most TD passes, game - 4 vs. San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff
Interceptions – 0

Rushing attempts – 11
Most rushing attempts, game - 7 vs. Washington, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 38
Most rushing yards, game - 25 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Average gain rushing – 3.5
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: NEA

Giants went 14-2 to win NFC East with the conference’s best record. Won Divisional playoff over San Francisco 49ers (49-3), NFC Championship over Washington Redskins (17-0), and Super Bowl over Denver Broncos (39-20).

Tough and a good leader, Simms continued to direct New York’s ball-control offense, still passing for over 3000 yards on three more occasions (including his last year, 1993, when he had 3038 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time). An injury kept him out of the 1990 postseason that ended in another championship, and he played behind Jeff Hostetler for much of the 1991 and ’92 seasons. Simms was cut following the ’93 season due to the salary cap, and retired having thrown for 33,462 yards and 199 touchdowns. His #11 was retired by the Giants.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

August 7, 2011

1974: Blazers Take Control in Second Half to Beat Chicago

The August 7, 1974 World Football League game between the Florida Blazers and Chicago Fire featured two clubs that had started the season off well. The host Fire was 4-0 and coming off of a 53-29 dismantling of The Hawaiians the previous week in Honolulu. Coached by Jim Spavital, known for building good offenses in the CFL, the team featured NFL veteran Virgil Carter at quarterback, two solid wide receivers in James Scott and Jack Dolbin, and rookie RB Mark Kellar out of Northern Illinois.

The Blazers were 3-1 and, befitting a club coached by a former star linebacker, Jack Pardee, featured a tough, veteran defense. The backfield in particular had lots of experience, consisting of cornerbacks Miller Farr and Billie Hayes and safeties Rickie Harris, W.K. Hicks, and Chuck Beatty, all of whom had seen action in the NFL. The offense was guided by QB Bob Davis (pictured above), most prominently of the New York Jets in his previous pro stints, and had veteran running backs in A.D. Whitfield and Jim Strong, along with rookie star Tommy Reamon. Florida had yet to put more than 18 points on the board in any game thus far, but except for a one-point loss to the Houston Texans in the last contest, it had been enough.

The attendance was 31,193 at Soldier Field – all paid, according to Chicago owner Tom Origer, which was not an insignificant point since it had recently been revealed that several highly-attended WFL games in the early going had been padded by the distribution of free tickets.

The Blazers took the lead in the first quarter when safety Rod Foster returned a punt 86 yards, followed by a successful pass for the action point. Chicago responded as Kellar scored a three-yard touchdown that was set up by his 20-yard burst up the middle on the previous play, but the action point was missed when a pass attempt was deflected by Farr. Florida went up 16-7 when Reamon plunged for a one-yard TD, which was also capped by a Bob Davis pass for the action point.

However, Virgil Carter came back with two TD passes for the Fire, including a 54-yard completion to Dolbin and a one-yard pass to Scott. The second was helped along by a 20-yard pass to Scott and capped a possession that benefited from good field position following a short punt from their own end zone by the Blazers. All three of their action point attempts failed, but Chicago was ahead 21-16 at halftime.

It seemed as though the Fire had the momentum going into the second half, but, aided by a couple of big plays by the special teams and defense, Florida’s offense came alive.

CB Leonard Bryant put the Blazers back in front when, with Chicago punting from its own 42, he blocked Chuck Ramsey’s kick and picked it up downfield to run six yards for a touchdown. The action point attempt was unsuccessful, but Florida was back in front.

Less than two minutes later, LB Billy Hobbs intercepted a Carter pass that was thrown under heavy pressure from DT Mike McBath and DE Ernie Calloway and returned it 30 yards for a TD. Bob Davis added a pass to WR Matt Maslowski for the action point.

The contest was pretty well decided at that point as the Florida defense completely shut down the Fire the rest of the way. RB Dickie James capped the scoring for the Blazers with touchdown runs of 6 and 64 yards, and they added an action point after one of them. The final score was a very convincing 46-21 verdict for Florida.

The Fire led in first downs (20 to 18) and had 330 total yards to Florida’s 372 (which included 227 on the ground). Most significantly, the opportunistic Blazers intercepted three passes and recovered four fumbles.

Bob Davis completed 10 of 17 passes for 152 yards with no TDs or interceptions. Thanks to the long touchdown run, Dickie James had 100 yards on just 7 carries with two TDs. Jim Strong gained 49 yards on 15 attempts and eventual league rushing leader Tommy Reamon ended up with 46 yards on 15 carries that included a TD. Matt Maslowski gained 74 yards on three catches, one of which was good for 56 yards.

Virgil Carter (pictured at left), who had been leading the WFL in passing, threw for 224 yards, but completed just 11 of 30 passes with two TDs while also tossing two interceptions as he was harried by Florida’s pass rush. Mark Kellar rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. James Scott caught 4 passes for 104 yards and a TD while Jack Dolbin contributed three receptions for 84 yards and a score.

“The game was a complete turnabout from last week,” said Jack Pardee, referring to the 7-6 loss to Houston. “Bob Davis had plenty of time to pass. We had the blocking advantage because of Chicago's three-man defensive line.”

“I blame myself,” said Jim Spavital. “We made every possible mistake out there tonight. Special teams really let us down with the punt return and the blocked field goal.”

The Blazers continued to be a strong team on the field, if not financially, and ended up winning the Eastern Division with a 14-6 record. With creditors snapping at their heels, they made it to the WFL Championship game (the World Bowl) before succumbing to the Birmingham Americans. Chicago dropped off significantly after the promising start, largely due to the loss of key players to injuries, including Carter, Kellar, and Scott. The Fire ended up in third place in the Central Division at 7-13.

August 6, 2011

Past Venue: Anaheim Stadium

Anaheim, CA
aka Edison International Field of Anaheim, Angel Stadium

Year opened: 1966
Capacity: 69,008, up from 43,204 at opening and 45,050 currently

Anaheim Stadium, 1966-97
Edison International Field of Anaheim, 1998-2003
Angel Stadium of Anaheim, 2003 to date

Pro football tenants:
Orange County Ramblers (ContFL), 1967-68
Southern California Sun (WFL), 1974-75
Los Angeles Rams (NFL), 1980-94

Postseason games hosted:
ContFL Championship, Orlando 38 Ramblers 14, Dec. 10, 1967
WFL First Round playoff, Hawaiians 32 Sun 14, Nov. 21, 1974
NFC Wild Card playoff, Giants 16 Rams 13, Dec. 23, 1984
NFC Divisional playoff, Rams 20 Cowboys 0, Jan. 4, 1986

Other tenants of note:
California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels (MLB – AL), 1966 to date
California Surf (NASL), 1978-81

Notes: Owned by City of Anaheim and operated by the MLB Angels. Continental Football League's Orange County Ramblers also played home games at Santa Ana Bowl and La Palma Stadium. To accomodate Rams, stadium was fully enclosed, thus adding approx. 23,000 seats for football. Signature feature for many years was a 230-foot scoreboard support shaped like the letter A which was moved to the parking lot when the venue was enclosed and was the source of the stadium’s nickname, “The Big A”. Beginning in 1996, under ownership of the Disney Corporation and no longer used for football, part of the structure was torn down and replaced with the California Spectacular display that includes a simulated mountainside with streams and geysers.

Fate: Still in use for baseball.

[Updated 2/3/14]
[Updated 10/11/15]

August 4, 2011

MVP Profile: Clem Daniels, 1963

Halfback, Oakland Raiders

Age: 26
4th season in pro football, 3rd with Raiders
College: Prairie View
Height: 6’1” Weight: 220

Daniels, who had been injury-prone in college, signed as a free agent with the AFL’s Dallas Texans in 1960 and was a reserve defensive back that first year. Released prior to the ’61 season, he was signed to Oakland’s taxi squad and activated for eight games, playing well (5.0 avg. gain on 31 carries for 154 yards and 13 catches for another 150) for the lackluster team. Daniels moved into the starting lineup in 1962 and rushed for 766 yards and gained 318 more yards on 24 pass receptions while the Raiders went 1-13.

1963 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 215 [2]
Most attempts, game - 31 (for 122 yds.) at Kansas City 11/8
Yards – 1099 [1]
Most yards, game – 200 yards (on 27 carries) vs. NY Jets 10/20
Average gain – 5.1 [3]
TDs – 3 [13, tied with five others]
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 4

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 30
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 90 yds.) vs. San Diego 12/8
Yards – 685 [13]
Most yards, game – 172 (on 3 catches) vs. Buffalo 9/15
Average gain – 22.8 [1]
TDs – 5 [11, tied with four others]
100-yard receiving games – 2

Pass attempts – 1
Pass completions – 1
Passing yards – 10
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 0

All-Purpose Yards – 1784 [2]

TDs – 8 [10, tied with Jack Kemp & Keith Lincoln]
Points – 48 [17, tied with Jack Kemp & Keith Lincoln]

Awards & Honors:
AFL Player of the Year: Sporting News
1st team All-AFL: League, AP, NEA, NY Daily News, UPI
AFL All-Star Game

Raiders went 10-4, a dramatic improvement under new Head Coach Al Davis, and finished second in the AFL Western Division. In the league as a whole, they were second in total offense (4513 yards), points scored (363), and TDs (48).

Daniels had over 800 yards rushing in each of the next three seasons (with a high of 884 in 1965) and continued to catch the ball well out of the backfield. He was an AFL All-Star after each of those years and received consensus first-team All-AFL recognition in 1966. A broken leg ended his 1967 season nine games (and 575 rushing yards) into it (thus costing him an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl), and the Raiders, deep in younger running backs, waived him prior to the ’68 season. He went unclaimed by the remaining AFL teams and signed with the NFL 49ers, where he sat on the bench for his final year. With 5101 yards in the AFL, Daniels ended up being that league’s all-time leading rusher.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

August 2, 2011

1975: Bell Spoils Calvin Hill’s Debut with Hawaiians

The World Football League’s Honolulu-based team, The Hawaiians, had started poorly in 1974 but improved throughout the course of the eventual 9-11 season. The team had used rookie Norris Weese at quarterback until veteran Randy Johnson, cut by the NFL’s Giants, came aboard at midseason. While WR Tim Delaney led the WFL in pass receptions with 89, the running game ranked last among the clubs that made it through the full season.

Several NFL veterans had been signed to contracts prior to the ’74 season, but other than Johnson, who only became available because the Giants released him, the club had to wait until 1975 to avail themselves of their services. Two of the players they had signed, San Francisco TE Ted Kwalick and Vikings WR John Gilliam, were allocated to other teams by the league (Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively). But RB Calvin Hill (pictured above), who had gained 5009 rushing yards in six years with the Dallas Cowboys, joined the Hawaiians for the ’75 season and it was anticipated that he would substantially upgrade the running attack. However, the team had lost Johnson as the quarterback, who jumped back to the NFL with the Washington Redskins.

On August 2, 1975 The Hawaiians traveled to Philadelphia where they opened the regular season against the Bell before a sparse crowd of 2732 fans at Franklin Field on a 94-degree Saturday night.

The Bell had undergone a change in head coach after Ron Waller, who guided the club in 1974, abruptly resigned during the preseason. After assistant Joe Gardi took over for an exhibition win over Portland, former Packers great Willie Wood was named to the position the Tuesday prior to the season-opening contest. Wood thus became the first African-American head coach of a major league pro football team in the modern era (some 14 years before Art Shell was hired in the NFL; Fritz Pollard had coached in the early 1920s).

Philadelphia scored first on a 37-yard field goal by Bob Cooper. The Hawaiians responded with a 72-yard drive that was capped when Hill caught a pass from QB Rick Cassata for a 13-yard touchdown. With a successful pass for the action point, they led 8-3 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, colorful Bell QB Jim “King” Corcoran threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kwalick that was followed by RB J.J. Jennings running successfully for the action point. The Bell took an 11-8 lead into halftime.

In the third quarter, Corcoran threw a pass to WR Ron Holliday that went 15 yards in the air but was turned into a 55-yard touchdown when Holliday evaded three tacklers and ran down the right sideline for the score, although the action point attempt failed. Cooper followed with a 35-yard field goal to give Philadelphia a comfortable 21-8 lead after three quarters.

The Hawaiians narrowed the margin in the fourth quarter on a two-yard carry by RB Clayton Heath. The action point attempt failed but the Bell now led by just six points with plenty of time remaining.

The Hawaiians again moved into Philadelphia territory, but in a key defensive play by the Bell, Hill was stopped short at the Philadelphia 30 in a fourth-and-two situation. With time running out, The Hawaiians inserted backup QB Sonny Sixkiller into the game and advanced to the Bell 16 yard line with the help of a pass interference call and three offside penalties. With no timeouts remaining, Sixkiller threw to WR Tim Delaney in the end zone for an apparent game-winning score, but a holding penalty nullified the play and give Philadelphia the 21-15 win.

The Hawaiians had more first downs (23 to 16) while outrushing the Bell, 245 yards to 119; Philadelphia gained more net passing yards (154 to 84).

Calvin Hill ran for 155 yards on 32 carries and Clayton Heath added 68 yards on 17 attempts that included a TD. Rick Cassata completed just 7 of 19 passes for 61 yards with a TD and three interceptions while Sonny Sixkiller connected on both of his passes for 23 yards. Hill and Heath also each caught three passes, with Hill leading the club with 30 yards. Tim Delaney had 26 yards on his two catches.

For the Bell, King Corcoran was successful on 13 of 25 passes for 155 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. J.J. Jennings, who had been a league co-MVP with Memphis in ’74, ran for 57 yards on 11 carries to pace the rushing attack. Ron Holliday had five catches for 100 yards that included the long TD.

“Wow, if people wanted excitement, they certainly got their money's worth tonight,” said Willie Wood (pictured at right), a winner in his first game as a pro head coach. “Our guys really held them down at most crucial points although those offside penalties almost gave me heart failure.”

Neither team did particularly well in the WFL’s abbreviated second season that ended in October with the abrupt folding of the league. Both ended up with 4-7 records, which meant a last-place finish in the Eastern Division for the Bell at the point that the plug was pulled; the Hawaiians tied for fourth with the Portland Thunder.

The opening game performance was the best for Calvin Hill as he went down with a knee injury shortly thereafter and ended up with just 218 yards on 49 carries. He returned to the NFL with Washington in 1976, where he played for two seasons before moving on to the Cleveland Browns for four years. While still an effective role player, he never ran the ball more than 80 times in a season or exceeded his post-WFL high of 301 yards with the Redskins in ’76. As a receiver out of the backfield, he did catch as many as 38 passes with the Browns in 1979.

As for Willie Wood, he got another pro head coaching opportunity with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, becoming that league’s first black head coach.