February 29, 2012

MVP Profile: Joe Montana, 1989

Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

Age: 33
11th season in pro football & with 49ers
College: Notre Dame
Height: 6’2” Weight: 195

Lightly regarded coming out of college for his slight build and seemingly weak arm, Montana was taken by the 49ers in the third round of the 1979 NFL draft. After seeing scant action as a rookie backing up Steve DeBerg, he moved into the starting lineup during the ’80 season and led the league in completion percentage (64.5). An excellent fit in Head Coach Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, Montana broke out in 1981, passing for 3565 yards and 19 TDs and again placing at the top in completion percentage (63.7) as he achieved selection to the Pro Bowl. The team also prospered, going 13-3 and winning the Super Bowl. While the 49ers slumped in the strike-shortened ’82 season, Montana led the NFL in pass attempts (346) and TD passes (17). He had three straight Pro Bowl years from 1983 to ’85 and the 49ers went 33-13 during his starts (4-2 in the postseason) and won another NFL title in 1984. It seemed as though his career might come to an end when he had back surgery in 1986, but Montana only missed half the season and achieved consensus first-team All-Pro status as well as a return to the Pro Bowl in ’87, when he passed for a career-high 31 touchdowns. However, the 49ers were upset in the playoffs and he faced a challenge from younger backup Steve Young. Montana came back strong in a 1988 season that ended with a game-winning drive in the Super Bowl.

1989 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 13 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 386 [16]
Most attempts, game – 42 vs. Green Bay 11/19, at LA Rams 12/11
Completions – 271 [11]
Most completions, game – 30 vs. Green Bay 11/19, at LA Rams 12/11
Yards – 3521 [8]
Most yards, game – 458 at LA Rams 12/11
Completion percentage – 70.2 [1]
Yards per attempt – 9.1 [1]
TD passes – 26 [4]
Most TD passes, game – 5 at Philadelphia 9/24
Interceptions – 8
Most interceptions, game – 2 at Tampa Bay 9/17, at LA Rams 12/11
Passer rating – 112.4 [1]
400-yard passing games – 2
300-yard passing games – 4
200-yard passing games – 10

Attempts – 49
Most attempts, game - 9 (for 21 yds.) at Tampa Bay 9/17
Yards – 227
Most yards, game – 40 yards (on 3 carries) vs. New England 10/22
Yards per attempt – 4.6
TDs – 3

TDs – 3
Points - 18

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 83
Most attempts, game - 30 vs. LA Rams, NFC Championship
Pass completions – 65
Most completions, game - 26 vs. LA Rams, NFC Championship
Passing yardage – 800
Most yards, game - 297 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
TD passes – 11
Most TD passes, game - 5 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Interceptions – 0

Rushing attempts – 5
Most rushing attempts, game - 2 vs. Minnesota, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Rushing yards – 19
Most rushing yards, game - 15 vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Average gain rushing – 3.8
Rushing TDs – 0

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

49ers went 14-2 to win the NFC West and gain top seed in the conference for the postseason while leading the league in total yards (6268) and scoring (442 points). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Minnesota Vikings (41-13), NFC Championship over Los Angeles Rams (30-3), and Super Bowl over Denver Broncos (55-10).

Montana had another MVP season in 1990, throwing for a career-high 3944 yards, but the 49ers fell short of a third consecutive NFL title when they were beaten in the NFC Championship game by the Giants. An injury suffered in that game caused Montana to miss all of 1991 and virtually all of ’92 (he appeared in one game) and the team committed to Young as the starting quarterback. Montana moved on to Kansas City, where he had two productive seasons and was chosen for one last Pro Bowl (his 8th) in 1993. He retired following the ’94 season with the second-highest passer rating in NFL history (92.3) as he threw for 40,551 yards and 273 TDs as well as compiling a record of 117-47 as a starting QB (16-7 in the playoffs). Known for his coolness under pressure and admired for his class, Montana’s #16 was retired by the 49ers and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2000.


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 2/9/14]

February 27, 2012

Past Venue: Sun Devil Stadium

Tempe, AZ

Year opened: 1958
Capacity: 71,706, down from 74,865 at highest when Cardinals played there, up from 30,450 at opening

Sun Devil Stadium, 1958-96
Sun Devil Stadium, Frank Kush Field, 1996 to date

Pro football tenants:
Arizona Wranglers/Outlaws (USFL), 1983-85
Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals (NFL), 1988-2005

Postseason games hosted:
USFL Semifinal playoff, Wranglers 35 Express 23, July 7, 1984
Super Bowl XXX, Cowboys 27 Steelers 17, Jan. 28, 1996

Other tenants of note:
Arizona State University (college football), 1958 to date

Notes: Hosted annual Fiesta Bowl, 1971-2006. Hosts annual Insight Bowl, 2006 to date. Hosted one home game of NFL San Diego Chargers, 2003. Playing surface was named Frank Kush Field in 1996 for the long-time Arizona State football coach. First football game was Arizona State vs. West Texas State, 1958. First pro football game at stadium was 1975 preseason contest, New York Jets vs. Minnesota Vikings. Constructed between two buttes that provide a natural setting.

Fate: Still in use.

February 25, 2012

MVP Profile: Pat Harder, 1948

Fullback/Linebacker, Chicago Cardinals

Age: 26
3rd season in pro football & with Cardinals
College: Wisconsin
Height: 5’11” Weight: 205

Chosen in the first round of the 1944 NFL draft (second overall) by the Cardinals, Harder joined the club in ’46 after completing military service. A straight-ahead power runner who also blocked well, he proved to be a good complement to halfbacks Elmer Angsman and, from ’47, Charley Trippi. He also kicked five extra points as a rookie and added field goal kicking in 1947, leading the league with 7 in 10 attempts for a 70 % success rate, which also topped the NFL, and was the top scorer with 102 points. He was a second-team All-NFL selection by Pro Football Illustrated in 1946 and a first-team choice by Pro Football Illustrated, the New York Daily News, and UPI in ’47 as the Cardinals won the NFL title.

1948 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 126 [6]
Yards – 554 [6]
Yards per attempt – 4.4 [9]
TDs – 6 [4, tied with Charley Trippi]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 13
Yards – 93
Yards per catch – 7.2
TDs – 0

Field goals – 7 [2]
Field goal attempts – 17 [1]
Percentage – 41.2 [3]
PATs – 53 [1]
PAT attempts – 53 [1]
Longest field goal – 35 yards at LA Rams 10/31

TDs – 6 [16, tied with four others]
Field goals – 7
PATs - 53
Points – 110 [1]

Postseason: 1 G (at Philadelphia, NFL Championship)
Rushing attempts – 11
Rushing yards – 30
Average gain rushing – 2.7
Rushing TDs – 0

Field goals – 0
Field goal attempts – 1

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: UPI, Chicago Herald-American, Pro Football Illustrated, NY Daily News
2nd team All-NFL/AAFC: Sporting News

Cardinals went 11-1 to win the Western Division while leading the NFL in total offense (4694 yards), rushing yards (2560), and scoring (395 points). Lost NFL Championship to Philadelphia Eagles (7-0).

Harder again received first-team All-NFL recognition in 1949 from UPI and the New York Daily News as he rushed for a career-high 554 yards and led the league in scoring for the third straight year with 102 points. The team was going into decline, however, and after a Pro Bowl year in ’50 he threatened to retire unless traded. Harder was dealt to the Detroit Lions, a team on the rise, and continued to be a valued contributor at fullback. When HB/PK Doak Walker was lost to injury in ’52, Harder again handled the bulk of the placekicking and booted a career-high 11 field goals for the NFL Champion Lions, again gaining selection to the Pro Bowl. By 1953, however, bad knees forced his retirement. In eight years, he rushed for 3016 yards and 33 TDs, caught 92 passes for another 864 yards and 5 TDs, kicked 35 field goals and 198 extra points, and scored 531 points.


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 2/9/14]

February 24, 2012

1985: Kelly Passes for 574 Yards as Gamblers Defeat Express

The opening week United States Football League contest between the Houston Gamblers and Los Angeles Express on February 24, 1985 featured two of the most highly-regarded young quarterbacks in the league. Houston’s Jim Kelly (pictured above) had a remarkable rookie season in 1984, throwing for 5219 yards and 44 touchdowns. The Gamblers, coached by Jack Pardee and utilizing a run-and-shoot offense, went 13-5 and only a first-round loss to Arizona in the playoffs could put a damper on the outstanding year.

Steve Young of the Express joined the club after the ’84 season was already underway and, while not putting together the spectacular numbers that his fellow rookie did in Houston, nevertheless performed capably and had a positive effect on the offense. LA was 2-3 and having difficulty generating points when the mobile lefthander out of Brigham Young took over, but rallied to finish at 10-8 and gain a spot in the postseason in the weak Pacific Division (and defeated Houston in the first head-to-head encounter between the two quarterbacks). Following a triple-overtime win over the defending-champion Michigan Panthers in the first round of the playoffs, LA had finally succumbed to the Arizona Wranglers.

There was a typically sparse crowd of 18,828 in attendance at the LA Memorial Coliseum for the untelevised game. The Gamblers took the early advantage as Kelly threw two one-yard touchdowns to WR Ricky Sanders in the first quarter to build up a 13-0 lead (the extra point attempt was missed following the second of the TDs). The Express responded with two field goals by Tony Zendejas, of 26 and 48 yards, in the second quarter and the score was 13-6 at halftime.

Zendejas added a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter, and then Young connected with WR JoJo Townsell for a 64-yard touchdown. RB Kevin Nelson ran for a two-yard TD and the Express, aided by Houston turnovers, was ahead by 23-13 after three quarters.

LA appeared to put the game away in the fourth quarter when safety Troy West intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, making the score 33-13 with less than ten minutes to play. However, two plays from scrimmage later Houston narrowed the gap in lightning fashion as Kelly threw to WR Richard Johnson for a 52-yard touchdown.

The Express played conservatively, trying to run out the clock, and the Gamblers got the ball back at the LA 43 following a poor 16-yard punt by Jeff Partridge with the clock down to 4:05. This time it took five plays to drive to another Kelly scoring pass as he connected with WR Vince Courville from 20 yards out. With the successful extra point it was now a six-point game at 33-27.

LA managed only a running play and two incomplete passes in its next series. Following another punt, the Gamblers had possession with just under two minutes to go. They only needed 40 seconds to cover 84 yards and cap their furious comeback as Kelly found Sanders open over the middle, beating West (who had two interceptions in the game and returned one for a score) for a 39-yard touchdown. Toni Fritsch kicked his fourth extra point of the game to provide a one-point margin.

Still, there was time on the clock for LA to attempt to drive into field goal range, and Zendejas had been successful on all four of his attempts. But Young was intercepted by LB Mike Hawkins to nail down the 34-33 win for Houston.

The Gamblers rolled up 585 total yards, with only 25 of that total on the ground, on a mere 8 carries. The Express ran the ball 20 times, but for just 49 yards while gaining a total of 267. Houston also had the edge in first downs (26 to 12), although the Gamblers hindered themselves by turning the ball over five times, to just one by LA.

Jim Kelly completed 35 of 54 passes for 574 yards and 5 touchdowns. In doing so, he not only surpassed Bobby Hebert’s USFL record of 444 yards, but Norm Van Brocklin’s NFL record of 554 and was just 12 yards short of Sam Etcheverry’s 586 yards with Montreal of the CFL in 1954. It was the second time Kelly had tossed five TDs in a game, tying the league record that he shared with four others.

Three Houston receivers gained over a hundred yards, led by Richard Johnson with 174 on 11 catches, including one score, and followed by Ricky Sanders with 9 receptions for 108 yards and three TDs and RB Sam Harrell’s 105 on 6 catches. Harrell led the almost non-existent running attack with 16 yards on four carries.

For the Express, Steve Young (pictured at right) was successful on 13 of 27 passes for 255 yards with a TD and an interception and was the leading rusher with 27 yards on five carries. JoJo Townsell gained 104 yards on his two catches, including the one long touchdown, while WR Duane Gunn had four receptions for 42 yards.

“I've been in some comebacks before, but never anything like that,” said Kelly. “Pulling out that win was the best feeling I ever had in my life.”

“He's a great quarterback; that's a great offense,” summed up Steve Young, whose own efforts had come up short.

“I got too conservative in the fourth quarter,” lamented Express Head Coach John Hadl.

It was the beginning of another outstanding year for Houston and Jim Kelly. While the second-year quarterback out of Miami missed several games due to injury, he still led the USFL in pass attempts (567), completions (360), yards (4623), touchdowns (39), and passer rating (97.9). The Gamblers finished third in the Western Conference with a 10-8 record but were the league’s highest-scoring club with 544 points. They qualified for the postseason but once again lost in the first round, falling to Birmingham by a 22-20 score.

They were far ahead of the Los Angeles Express, who finished at a miserable 3-15 and wound up the year playing at Pierce College’s small venue while unsuccessfully seeking new ownership. It was a tough season for Steve Young as well, who threw for 1741 yards with 6 TD passes and 13 interceptions and rushed for 368.

With the demise of the USFL, both quarterbacks made their way to the NFL. Kelly played for Buffalo, the team that had his rights after drafting him in the first round in 1983, and led the Bills to four straight AFC titles – although the club fell short in the Super Bowl after each. Young went to Tampa Bay and was then dealt to the 49ers, where he was a backup on two Super Bowl-winning squads, was the starting quarterback when San Francisco won the NFL Championship in 1994, and led the league in passing six times. They both eventually ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – the USFL performances were just the opening chapter.

February 22, 2012

1962: Wally Lemm Leaves Oilers for Cardinals

On February 22, 1962 Wally Lemm, who had guided the Houston Oilers to the AFL Championship in ’61, quit to become head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. The 42-year-old Lemm signed a one-year contract in succeeding Frank “Pop” Ivy, who resigned with two games left in the season.

Lemm had started out more inclined to write about football then coach it. He graduated from Carroll College, where he was a halfback on the football team, with a journalism degree. Following service in World War II in which he commanded a torpedo boat, he became an assistant coach under Hugh Devore at Notre Dame in 1945. It was a quick jump to head coach at Waukesha High School in ’46 and then back to the college level. Lemm was an assistant coach for three years at Lake Forest College, as well as head basketball coach, before becoming head coach in 1954. The team won the conference title in his first year and he left after compiling an 11-4-1 record. From there it was on to Montana State and again, in his first season, his team won a title, gaining the Rocky Mountain Conference championship with an 8-1 tally.

In 1956, Lemm moved to pro coaching for the first time, serving as a defensive assistant for the then-Chicago Cardinals. The team, under Head Coach Ray Richards, had its first winning season in seven years and the defense was a big part of it as the unit intercepted 33 passes and allowed only nine touchdowns. However, in keeping with a pattern in which he didn’t stay in one place for long, Lemm returned to Lake Forest College as head coach in ’57 and came away with another conference title.

After returning to the Cardinals as an assistant in 1959, he moved to the Oilers of the new AFL in ’60. Houston won the first AFL Championship under Head Coach Lou Rymkus, but Lemm resigned to go into the sporting goods business. When the Oilers got off to a 1-3-1 start in 1961 and it was apparent that Rymkus was losing control of the club, owner Bud Adams hired Lemm to take over.

His coaching methods were rather unconventional for the time and made him unpopular with some of his peers. Lemm was low-key and took a relaxed approach with the players and kept the offense, in particular, as simple as possible in order to eliminate the potential for errors. His attitude was summed up in his statement that “football is supposed to be fun and if you treat the players like adults they will usually respond like adults. The game is not really simple anymore because the defenses change so much, but we try to keep it as clear, straightforward and pleasurable as we can.”

The philosophy worked in Houston. The intense Rymkus had sown dissension among the players, but Lemm relaxed the atmosphere. He also returned veteran QB George Blanda to the starting lineup and installed Willard Dewveall at tight end. The defense was simplified and Fred Glick replaced Charlie Milstead at safety, where he had been badly overmatched in the team’s defeats. The results were spectacular – the Oilers went 10-0 the rest of the way and repeated as AFL champs.

Lemm had initially agreed to a contract extension but was frustrated with the front office alignment in Houston despite the team’s success, and with the excuse of being able to work closer to home (he lived in Libertyville, Illinois), he accepted the offer to coach the Cardinals.

While there were rumors that the Oilers were interested in Sammy Baugh or former Dallas Cowboys assistant Babe Dimancheff to replace Lemm, in the end they hired Ivy, making it a straight swap of coaches (he lasted two seasons).

The Cardinals, all-too-typically a losing team, went 6-5-1 in 1960, the first year in St. Louis, and were 7-7 in ’61. Injuries played a key role in the team’s failing to show greater improvement, in particular the loss of star HB John David Crow for virtually the entire year. Canadian Football League legend Sam Etcheverry had moved south of the border after an outstanding nine-year career to take over at quarterback, but his arm was worn out and he was no longer the player he had been in the CFL.

Lemm didn’t have the same initial success as he did in his college stops and with the Oilers. St. Louis dropped to 4-9-1 in 1962. However, the seeds were planted for future success. Etcheverry started the year at quarterback but was replaced by second-year QB Charley Johnson, who showed promise and had outstanding receivers in fleet split end Sonny Randle and dependable flanker Bobby Joe Conrad. Crow was back at halfback and there was a good stable of young backs developing. The defense gave up too many points, but there was young talent in the backfield with 22-year-old CB Pat Fischer and 24-year-old FS Larry Wilson.

In the draft for the 1963 season, the Cards had two first round draft choices and used them to shore up the defense, adding safety Jerry Stovall from LSU and Purdue DE Don Brumm. The team dramatically improved to 9-5. Johnson had an outstanding year at quarterback, setting club records with 3280 passing yards and 28 TDs. Despite again losing Crow to injury for virtually the entire season, Bill Triplett was shifted from defensive back to offensive halfback and was a good replacement, running for 652 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry and catching 31 passes for 396 more. Perennial backup Joe Childress became the starting fullback and led the team with 701 rushing yards and grabbed 25 passes. Conrad led the NFL with 73 pass receptions, for 967 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Randle gained 1014 yards on his 51 catches and scored 12 times. Rookie TE Jackie Smith contributed 28 receptions for 445 yards. The line, built around C Bob DeMarco and G Ken Gray, was also improved.

The defensive line was augmented by the addition of Brumm and Stovall proved to be an asset in the backfield, along with Jimmy Burson. The linebacker corps, anchored by MLB Dale Meinert, was a good one. Jim Bakken, who had originally joined the team as a reserve defensive back, proved to be a reliable placekicker (and would for the next 15 seasons in St. Louis).

The stage was set for the Cards to contend in 1964 and they battled the Browns to the wire, ending up second in the Eastern Conference at 9-3-2. Indeed, they went 1-0-1 against Cleveland and won three of their first four and all of their last four contests - only a midseason slump prevented them from finishing on top. The team was well balanced. Johnson passed for 3045 yards, although he threw more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (21). Conrad had another Pro Bowl year (61 catches, 780 yards) but Randle missed considerable time with a shoulder injury - backup WR Billy Gambrell performed admirably in his place. Jackie Smith continued his development at tight end with 47 receptions for 657 yards. Triplett was out for the year at halfback due to a bout with tuberculosis, but Crow was back and led the club with 554 yards rushing. On defense, the small (5’9”, 170) but aggressive Fischer intercepted 10 passes and the club ranked second in the league with 25 overall.

The success did not continue as anticipated in 1965, however. After getting off to a 4-1 start, they lost eight of their last nine games to sink to 5-9. The line and receivers were still outstanding, but Johnson, who started out well, was plagued by injuries and seemed to regress. Injuries also struck among the running backs, and they were lacking the clutch play of Crow, who had been dealt away to the 49ers. On defense, the linebacker corps was still a strength but the line failed to rush opposing passers effectively and Wilson and Stovall missed time in the backfield.

The failure to meet expectations meant the end of the line for Lemm in St. Louis. He left with an overall record of 27-26-3 and returned to the Oilers as head coach in 1966 (including Ivy, they had gone through three head coaches since ‘62). While the Cards had some good seasons under his successor, Charley Winner, they were never able to win a division title. Houston, with Lemm back at the helm, utilized a conservative offense and outstanding defense to win the Eastern Divison in ’67, but was decimated by Oakland in the AFL Championship game. It was Lemm’s last hurrah as a pro head coach, and he quit for good following the 1970 season, citing health issues. His overall pro record was 64-64-7 and he was 1-2 in the postseason, with the one AFL title to his credit.

February 20, 2012

Past Venue: Gilmore Stadium

Los Angeles, CA

Year opened: 1934
Capacity: 18,000

Gilmore Stadium, 1934-52

Pro football tenants:
Los Angeles Bulldogs (AFL and other), 1936-46

Postseason games hosted:
PCPFL Championship, Bulldogs 38 Tacoma 7, Jan. 19, 1947

Other tenants of note:
Hollywood Stars (minor league baseball), 1939

Notes: Hosted NFL All-Star Game, Jan. 14, 1940 & Dec. 29, 1940. Extra seating was added to bring stadium capacity up to 21,000 for the second NFL All-Star Game. Los Angeles Bulldogs played as an independent pro club in 1936, were part of the second American Football League in 1937, returned to exclusively independent play in ’38, were with the American Professional Football League in 1939 and the Pacific Coast Professional Football League from 1939-46. Also used by minor league baseball Hollywood Stars while neighboring Gilmore Park was under construction. Used for midget car racing, 1934-50, as well as boxing and other sports. Stadium constructed by Earl Gilmore, president of A.F. Gilmore Oil Company.

Fate: Demolished in 1952 and CBS Television City was constructed on the site.

February 19, 2012

MVP Profile: Warren Moon, 1990

Quarterback, Houston Oilers

Age: 34 (Nov. 18)
13th season in pro football, 7th in NFL & with Oilers
College: Washington
Height: 6’3” Weight: 210

Despite leading his college team to the Rose Bowl, NFL clubs showed little interest in giving Moon an opportunity at quarterback in 1978 and he signed with Edmonton of the CFL. He thrived in Canada, leading the Eskimos to five straight Gray Cup titles. Having gone undrafted by any NFL team, he signed with Houston in ’84, who had hired Hugh Campbell, his coach in Edmonton. Mobile and with a good arm, he still had difficulty in his first few seasons in the NFL, leading the league by throwing 26 interceptions in 1986. Campbell was replaced by Jerry Glanville, who switched to a run-and-shoot offense in 1987. Moon thrived in the pass-heavy scheme, the team made the playoffs in ’87, ’88, and ’89, and he was selected to the Pro Bowl following the latter two seasons.

1990 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 15 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 584 [1]
Most attempts, game – 52 at Atlanta 9/9
Completions – 362 [1]
Most completions, game – 31 at Atlanta 9/9
Yards – 4689 [1]
Most yards, game – 527 at Kansas City 12/16
Completion percentage – 62.0 [2]
Yards per attempt – 8.0 [3]
TD passes – 33 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 5 vs. Cincinnati 10/14, at Cleveland 11/18
Interceptions – 13 [14, tied with Randall Cunningham, Jeff George & Steve Walsh]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at Pittsburgh 9/16
Passer rating – 96.8 [2]
500-yard passing games – 1
300-yard passing games – 9
200-yard passing games – 13

Attempts – 55
Most attempts, game - 7 (for 25 yds.) at San Diego 9/30, (for 4 yds.) vs. Buffalo 11/26
Yards – 215
Most yards, game – 35 yards (on 5 carries) vs. San Francisco 10/7
Yards per attempt – 3.9
TDs – 2

TDs – 2
Points - 12

Awards & Honors:
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: AP
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Oilers went 9-7 to finish second in the AFC Central and qualified for the postseason as a wild card while leading the NFL in total offense (6222 yards) and passing yards (4805) and finishing second in points (405) and touchdowns (49). Lost AFC Wild Card playoff to Cincinnati Bengals (41-14), which Moon missed due to injury.

Moon had another big year in 1991, again leading the NFL in pass attempts (655), completions (404), and yards (4690), although also in INTs (21). He played another two seasons with the Oilers, always getting to the Pro Bowl, but the team came up short in the postseason. Moving on to Minnesota in 1994, he had two more 4000-yard seasons in three years and, in ’95, tied his career-high with 33 TD passes. 1995 also marked the last of eight straight Pro Bowl selections - he achieved one more with Seattle in ’97 where he had one last big year at age 41 with 3678 yards and 25 TD passes. After one more season with the Seahawks, he went to Kansas City as a backup for his last two years before retiring. Overall in the NFL he passed for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns, which ranked third and fourth, respectively, at the time – a testament to his productivity despite not reaching the league until he was 27. In the CFL, he threw for 21,228 yards and 144 TDs. His #1 was retired by the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2001, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2006.


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 2/9/14]

February 18, 2012

2002: Jon Gruden Becomes Head Coach of Buccaneers

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it had been a difficult search for a head coach following the dismissal of Tony Dungy in mid-January of 2002, and one that made them an object of derision due to its almost madcap nature. Finally, on February 18, they completed a deal with the Oakland Raiders and signed Jon Gruden to be Dungy’s successor.

Dungy had easily been the most successful head coach in franchise history, with the Bucs going to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, but owner Malcolm Glazer and his two sons who were involved with the organization, Joel and Bryan, felt the club had underachieved in 2000 and 2001, losing in the Wild Card round to Philadelphia for an early exit from the postseason after each.

The Bucs supposedly had a deal in place with Bill Parcells prior to the firing of Dungy, but were turned down by the coach who had led the Giants to two NFL Championships and the Patriots to an AFC title. GM Rich McKay appeared to have a deal struck with Baltimore assistant Marvin Lewis, but the Glazers rejected it, alienating McKay.

Gruden was interested but still under contract to the Raiders for another year. In initial negotiations with Oakland’s managing general partner, Al Davis, they could not agree on compensation. Right up to the weekend before the deal was finally struck, the Glazer brothers were in negotiations with Steve Mariucci to become head coach and general manager (Mariucci was also still under contract to the 49ers for two more years).

Even before Mariucci called to turn down the offer, the Glazers, anticipating a refusal, had reopened negotiations with Oakland for Gruden. In the end, Tampa Bay gave up its first and second round draft picks for 2002, first round pick for 2003, and second round pick for 2004 plus $8 million spread over three years.

“We let Jon make the decision. If he wanted to go, we'd let him, provided we got our demands,” said Al Davis.

Gruden was given a five-year deal, reportedly worth $3.5 million per season. He had ties to Florida, as his father had been an assistant coach and scout with the Buccaneers and lived in Tampa. Younger brother Jay was player-coach of the Arena Football League’s Orlando Predators.

At 38, Gruden was the NFL’s youngest head coach (he turned 39 prior to the 2002 season). His record with Oakland was 40-28, including division titles following the previous two seasons. He led the Raiders to the AFC Championship game following the 2000 season, losing to the eventual-champion Ravens, and Oakland went to the AFC Divisional round in ’01, falling to the Patriots. While Davis had offered a contract extension during the season, Gruden’s agent made clear that his client would not stay beyond his current deal.

An offensive specialist who started in pro coaching under Mike Holmgren in San Francisco and Green Bay before becoming the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, it was hoped that he would improve that unit. Dungy had made the defense strong, but the offense had been lacking. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose signature was the Tampa-2 scheme (a slight variation on the Cover-2), and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli were kept in place by the new head coach.

Intense and animated, Gruden contrasted significantly with his predecessor in both temperament and expertise. He utilized a modified version of the West Coast offense and was known for his good results with quarterbacks, most recently Rich Gannon in Oakland, who had gone from journeyman to All-Pro under Gruden’s guidance.

In Tampa Bay, the quarterback who elevated his game was Brad Johnson, a 34-year-old veteran who had once gone to the Pro Bowl with the Redskins and was in his second season with the Bucs. He held off the challenge of newcomer Rob Johnson to earn a second trip to the Pro Bowl with 3049 yards passing and 22 TD passes to just 6 interceptions. While not possessing a strong arm, he was highly accurate – ideal for Gruden’s offense – and very savvy in his ability to read defenses and make good decisions. He missed three games due to injury but showed toughness as well.

6’4”, 212-pound WR Keyshawn Johnson was the club’s top receiver (76 catches, 1088 yards) and Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius were dependable possession receivers. TE Ken Dilger caught 34 passes and was a good blocker. Pro Bowl FB Mike Alstott ran for 548 yards and caught 35 passes and was a solid power runner, especially late in games. RB Michael Pittman struggled with injuries and rushed for 718 yards but was an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, gathering in 59 passes for 477 more yards.

The defense remained highly effective and ranked at the top of the NFL. DT Warren Sapp and DE Simeon Rice (15.5 sacks) anchored the line and were consensus first-team All-Pros. So was LB Derrick Brooks, the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, who was selected to the Pro Bowl for the sixth time. Cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, FS Dexter Jackson, and SS John Lynch were an excellent unit in the backfield.

In the end, Gruden achieved his goal as the Buccaneers won the NFC South with a 12-4 record, easily beat the 49ers in the Divisional playoff round, and defeated their playoff nemesis, the Eagles, a club they lost to for the fourth straight time during the regular season, by a 27-10 score at Philadelphia to achieve the NFC title. Ironically enough, the AFC representative in the Super Bowl was Oakland.

The Raiders elevated offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to head coach following Gruden’s departure. The veteran-laden team topped the AFC West for the third straight year at 11-5. But the league’s most productive offense proved no match for the top-ranked defense as the Bucs intercepted five passes and pounded Oakland by a score of 48-21.

The NFL title was a crowning achievement for Gruden and the Bucs, but did not lead to lasting success. Expected to contend once again in 2003, the team sputtered to a 7-9 record and followed that with a 5-11 tally in ’04. Injuries were a big factor, and so was the decline of Brad Johnson, who passed for 3811 yards and 26 touchdowns in ’03, but also was intercepted 21 times. Mike Alstott had a lesser, injury-plagued year, Keyshawn Johnson was less of a factor (particularly after clashing with Gruden), and while the defense was still solid, the offense regressed. It was more of the same in 2004, with Brad Johnson giving way to Brian Griese at quarterback, WR Joey Galloway replacing Keyshawn Johnson following a trade with the Cowboys, and the defense shedding Sapp and Lynch.

Tampa Bay returned to the postseason in 2005 by topping the NFC South with an 11-5 record thanks to an influx of young talent on offense. Rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams got off to a sensational start on the way to gaining 1178 yards on the ground and third-year QB Chris Simms grew into the starting role. But the Bucs lost in the first round of the playoffs and fell back to 4-12 in ’06.

Gruden’s last two seasons in Tampa Bay ended with 9-7 records, the first of which earned a division title but again ended with a Wild Card round loss in the postseason. The arrival of veteran QB Jeff Garcia as a free agent helped, but the talented Cadillac Williams was dogged by injuries and once more it was the defense carrying the team.

Gruden was given a contract extension, but didn’t survive when the Bucs missed the playoffs in 2008. He was let go, along with his hand-picked GM, Bruce Allen. His overall regular season record was 57-55 and Tampa Bay went 3-2 in the playoffs – with all three wins coming in 2002. Moreover, after ’02 the Buccaneers went 45-51 in the regular season (including 9-17 in December) and 0-2 in the postseason. In seven years, the team put together four winning records and qualified for the playoffs three times. Despite the coach’s reputation for developing productive offenses, that was the platoon that was plagued by inconsistency.

As a postscript, the Raiders suffered even more following Gruden’s departure. Following the 2002 AFC Championship season, the team went into steep decline with seven straight losing records before going 8-8 in 2010.

February 16, 2012

Past Venue: Three Rivers Stadium

Pittsburgh, PA

Year opened: 1970
Capacity: 59,000

Three Rivers Stadium, 1970-2001

Pro football tenants:
Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), 1970-2000
Pittsburgh Maulers (USFL), 1984

Postseason games hosted:
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 13 Raiders 7, Dec. 23, 1972
AFC Championship, Dolphins 21 Steelers 17, Dec. 31, 1972
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 32 Bills 14, Dec. 22, 1974
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 28 Colts 10, Dec. 27, 1975
AFC Championship, Steelers 16 Raiders 10, Jan. 4, 1976
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 33 Broncos 10, Dec. 30, 1978
AFC Championship, Steelers 34 Oilers 5, Jan. 7, 1979
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 34 Dolphins 14, Dec. 30, 1979
AFC Championship, Steelers 27 Oilers 13, Jan. 6, 1980
AFC First Round playoff, Chargers 31 Steelers 28, Jan. 9, 1983
AFC Divisional playoff, Bills 24 Steelers 3, Jan. 9, 1993
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 29 Browns 9, Jan. 7, 1995
AFC Championship, Chargers 17 Steelers 13, Jan. 15, 1995
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 40 Bills 21, Jan. 6, 1996
AFC Championship, Steelers 20 Colts 16, Jan. 14, 1996
AFC Wild Card playoff, Steelers 42 Colts 14, Dec. 29, 1996
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 7 Patriots 6, Jan. 3, 1998
AFC Championship, Broncos 24 Steelers 21, Jan. 11, 1998

Other tenants of note:
Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB – NL), 1970-2000
Univ. of Pittsburgh (college football), 2000

Notes: Owned by the City of Pittsburgh and operated by the Pittsburgh Stadium Authority. Two banks of ground level seats could be moved to reconfigure the venue for football. Constructed almost precisely on the site of Exhibition Park, which had been home to the MLB Pirates from 1891-1909. Named for its proximity to the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to form the Ohio River at the “Golden Triangle”. Originally had Tartan Turf, which was replaced by AstroTurf in 1983.

Fate: Demolished in 2001

February 14, 2012

MVP Profile: Parker Hall, 1939

Tailback/Defensive Back, Cleveland Rams

Age: 23 (Dec. 10)
1st season in pro football
College: Mississippi
Height: 6’0” Weight: 205

An All-American at Mississippi in 1938, Hall was taken in the first round of the 1939 NFL draft by the Rams. He moved directly into the lineup in Cleveland’s single-wing offense.

1939 Season Summary
Appeared in all 11 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 208 [1]
Completions – 106 [1]
Yards – 1227 [2]
Completion percentage – 51.0 [1]
Yards per attempt – 5.9 [7]
TD passes – 9 [2]
Interceptions – 13 [2, tied with Ace Parker, Darrell Tully & Frank Patrick]
Passer rating – 57.5 [5] (Ranked 1st in system used at time)

Attempts – 120 [6]
Yards – 458 [5]
Yards per attempt – 3.8 [8]
TDs – 2 [11, tied with sixteen others]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 1
Yards – -16
TDs - 0

Punts – 58 [1]
Yards – 2369
Average – 40.8 [5]
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 80 yards

TDs – 2
Points – 12

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: Joe F. Carr Trophy
1st team All-NFL: UPI, PFWA, INS, Chicago Herald-American, NY Daily News
2nd team All-NFL: League, Collyers
NFL All-Star Game

Rams went 5-5-1 to finish fourth in the Western Division, their first .500 season.

Hall’s subsequent performances never again approached his MVP rookie season. He passed for 1108 yards with 7 TDs and 16 interceptions in 1940 and led the league by tossing 19 interceptions in ’41. He was picked off 19 times again in 1942 while throwing just 140 passes. Hall went into the military for the next three years and played service football. In 1946 he joined the San Francisco 49ers of the new All-America Football Conference (AAFC) but saw scant action as a T-formation quarterback behind Frankie Albert and retired.


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 2/9/14]

February 12, 2012

Past Venue: Shibe Park

Philadelphia, PA
aka Connie Mack Stadium

Year opened: 1909
Capacity: 33,608, up from 23,000 at opening. Approximately 39,000 with extra seating added for football.

Shibe Park, 1909-53
Connie Mack Stadium, 1953-76

Pro football tenants:
Philadelphia Eagles (NFL), 1940-57

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Eagles 7 Cardinals 0, Dec. 19, 1948

Other tenants of note:
Philadelphia Athletics (MLB – AL), 1909-54
Philadelphia Phillies (MLB – NL), 1938-70

Notes: Hosted Pro All-Star Game, Dec. 27, 1942. In addition to the years listed above, hosted one Eagles home game in 1934. Hosted some home games of combined Phil-Pitt team (“Steagles”), 1943. Hosted one game each season of NFL Frankford Yellow Jackets, 1925 and ’26. Hosted two home games of AFL Philadelphia Quakers, 1926. Hosted forbidden game between NFL Pottsville Maroons vs. Notre Dame All-Stars that cost the Maroons the league title, 1925. Major league baseball’s first steel-and-concrete stadium. Stadium’s fa├žade was of French Renaissance style and there was a tower on the southwest corner that contained the offices of the MLB Athletics, topped by a domed cupola where Connie Mack had his office. Named for Ben Shibe, owner of the A’s at the time of construction. Renamed for Connie Mack following his retirement. MLB Phillies bought the stadium in 1954 when the A’s were sold by the Mack family and moved to Kansas City. Extra seating was added in the right field area to better accommodate football. Also hosted boxing and soccer matches.

Fate: Damaged by fire in 1971 and demolished in 1976, the Deliverance Evangelistic Church was built on the site.

February 11, 2012

1992: Falcons Trade Brett Favre to Packers

On February 11, 1992 the Green Bay Packers traded a first round draft choice to the Atlanta Falcons to acquire QB Brett Favre. They still retained a first round pick – this was an additional choice, the 17th overall, which had been acquired from the Eagles.

“At first I was shocked, but now I feel like it is a great opportunity to come in and play, how soon I don't know,” said the 22-year-old Favre. “I wasn't playing, that was the only thing disappointing about Atlanta. I enjoyed the players and coaching staff. Now I have to start over again. Hey, that's the NFL.”

“The opportunity to acquire Brett Favre, in my opinion, easily outweighed the unknown quantity that might have been available to us in the 17th pick in the first round of this year's draft,” Packers general manager Ron Wolf explained. “This also gives us an opportunity to get started earlier on the 1992 season with a young quarterback.”

Favre led Southern Mississippi to two bowl wins, set school passing records of 8193 yards and 1234 attempts, and was MVP of the 1991 East-West Shrine Game. He had been taken by the Falcons in the second round of the ’91 draft, which was considered to be a steal at the time as scouts were already impressed with his size (6’2”, 220), strong arm, and overall skills.

During the preseason, he completed 14 of 34 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He was activated for three regular season games and had no completions in five attempts, with two of them intercepted. Furthermore, there were questions regarding his maturity and off-field lifestyle.

The Falcons, coming off a 10-6 record and operating out of a version of the run-and-shoot offense called the Red Gun, were committed to five-year veteran Chris Miller as the starting quarterback and Head Coach Jerry Glanville liked brash Billy Joe Tolliver as the backup, making Favre expendable in the third spot.

Green Bay, 4-12 in 1991, had a new head coach in Mike Holmgren (as well as a new general manager in Wolf), most recently the offensive coordinator with the highly-successful San Francisco 49ers. The starting quarterback that he inherited from predecessor Lindy Infante was Don Majkowski, the league’s passing yardage leader in 1989 who had struggled with a rotator cuff injury and erratic play in the two years since. The team also had veteran backup QB Mike Tomczak, who saw considerable action in ’91, and rookie ninth-round draft pick Ty Detmer, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Brigham Young.

Majkowski started the season behind center and the Packers lost their first two games. Favre was brought into the contest during that second loss, at Tampa Bay, with Green Bay down by 17-0 at the half. It was a tough trial-by-fire for the young quarterback, who caught a pass that was batted back to him for a seven-yard loss and ended up completing 8 of 14 throws for 73 yards with one intercepted in a 31-3 defeat. But when Majkowski was knocked out of action the next week against the Bengals, the result was much better as Favre stepped in and rallied the team from a 17-3 deficit to a 24-23 win, tossing two fourth quarter touchdown passes. From there he took over as the starting quarterback and quickly grew into the role. When it was all over, the Packers were 9-7, barely missing the playoffs, and Favre was selected to the Pro Bowl after completing 64.1 % of his passes for 3227 yards while tossing 18 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions. He also displayed the toughness that would become a trademark as he played despite a shoulder separation.

It was not an easy relationship between Favre and Holmgren – the head coach wanted his quarterback to be disciplined and play within the system. The gregarious Favre preferred to take a gunslinger approach and improvise. But over the next six seasons, from 1993 until ’98, after which Holmgren moved on to Seattle, the Packers accumulated a 66-30 regular season record, made the playoffs each year, and won two NFC Championships and one Super Bowl. Favre received MVP honors three years in a row (1995-97), when he was also a consensus first-team All-NFL selection, and was chosen for three more Pro Bowls (of an eventual 11). After Holmgren left, Favre remained with the Packers for ten more years - never missing a start on his way to a record 297 straight - and while there were no more championships, Green Bay qualified for the postseason after five of them.

As for the Falcons, they traded the draft choice they received for Favre to the Cowboys, who used it to draft DB Kevin Smith out of Texas A & M. Atlanta did get another first round pick - the 19th overall, from Dallas - and went with RB Tony Smith from Southern Mississippi. Kevin Smith started at cornerback and played eight years for the Cowboys, intercepting 19 passes. Tony Smith was a bust for the Falcons, playing for three years while used primarily as a kick returner.

Moreover, Atlanta went the opposite direction of the Packers, dropping to 6-10 in ’92. Chris Miller played well but suffered a season-ending knee injury halfway through the year and the team turned to Billy Joe Tolliver and 33-year-old veteran Wade Wilson the rest of the way. Beyond any problems at quarterback, the running game was poor and the defense even poorer. A year later, both Glanville and Miller were gone. While the Falcons would have some success during the period that Favre was in Green Bay, including winning a NFC title in 1998, the success was far more sporadic (four postseason appearances, none in consecutive seasons).

February 9, 2012

MVP Profile: Lenny Moore, 1964

Halfback, Baltimore Colts

Age: 31 (Nov. 25)
9th season in pro football & with Colts
College: Penn State
Height: 6’1” Weight: 190

Taken in the first round of the 1956 NFL draft by the Colts, Moore rushed for 649 yards on just 86 carries as a rookie, led the league in yards per carry (7.5), and was chosen for the Pro Bowl. While he never carried the ball more than 98 times in any of his first six years, he was highly effective when he did, leading the NFL in yards per carry three more times. He was perhaps even more effective as a pass receiver, often lining up out wide as a flanker, and was a formidable offensive weapon for the Colts, leading the league in yards from scrimmage in 1957 (1175) and twice gaining over 900 receiving yards in a season as he achieved consensus first-team All-Pro honors in four consecutive years (1958-61) and five straight Pro Bowl selections (1958-62). He also had over a thousand yards from scrimmage in five consecutive years (1957-61) with a high of 1536 in Baltimore’s first championship season of 1958. In the meantime Moore, nicknamed “Spats” for the manner in which he taped up his football shoes, was shifted full-time to halfback in 1961. In ’62, injuries limited his effectiveness and in 1963 he played in only seven games and saw limited action. It appeared that his days with the Colts were numbered, but he wasn’t traded during the offseason and started the 1964 season as backup to Tom Matte at halfback.

1964 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 157 [10]
Most attempts, game - 18 (for 71 yds.) vs. Green Bay 10/18
Yards – 584 [9]
Most yards, game – 86 yards (on 13 carries) vs. LA Rams 10/4
Average gain – 3.7
TDs – 16 [1]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 21
Most receptions, game – 4 (for 71 yds.) vs. San Francisco 11/1, (for 33 yds.) at Chicago 11/8
Yards – 472
Most yards, game - 107 (on 3 catches) vs. Minnesota 11/15
Average gain – 22.5
TDs – 3
100-yard receiving games – 1

All-purpose yards – 1056

TDs – 20 [1]
Points – 120 [1]

The 20 touchdowns set a NFL single-season record.

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship at Cleveland)
Rushing attempts – 9
Rushing yards – 40
Average gain rushing – 4.4
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 2
Pass receiving yards - 4
Average yards per reception – 2.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, NEA, UPI, NY Daily News
1st team All-Western Conference: Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Colts went 12-2 to finish first in the Western Conference while leading the NFL in team offense (4779 yards), scoring (428 points), and touchdowns (54). Lost NFL Championship game to Cleveland Browns (27-0).

Moore gained 878 yards from scrimmage in 1965 (464 rushing, 414 receiving) and played another two years, although he carried the ball just 105 times (for 431 yards) and caught 34 passes as his playing time diminished. Following his retirement after the 1967 season, he had gained 5174 yards rushing on 1069 carries (4.8 avg.) and caught 363 passes for 6039 more yards (16.6 avg.) while accumulating a total of 113 TDs, which ranked second all-time. He totaled 12,449 all-purpose yards. The Colts retired his #24 and Moore was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1975.


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 2/10/14]

February 8, 2012

1965: Cards Trade John David Crow to 49ers for Abe Woodson

On February 8, 1965 the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers made a straight-up swap of two seven-year NFL veteran players. Going from the Cardinals to the West Coast was HB John David Crow and heading to St. Louis was Abe Woodson, a cornerback who was more prominently known for his ability at returning kicks.

Crow (pictured at right) was dissatisfied at his playing time in ’64 and had requested a trade. An All-American at Texas A & M and winner of the 1957 Heisman Trophy, he was taken in the first round of the 1958 NFL draft by the then-Chicago Cardinals (second overall). A knee injury caused him to miss a significant portion of his rookie season, but he broke out in ’59 with a Pro Bowl year in which he rushed for 666 yards and caught 27 passes for 328 more. In 1960, the franchise’s first season in St. Louis, Crow had his greatest year as he set a team single-season rushing record with 1071 yards and led the NFL in yards per carry (5.9) and yards from scrimmage (1533) thanks to an additional 462 yards on 25 catches. On the downside, he also led the league in fumbles (11), an issue that would crop up again in his career, but he was a highly regarded runner with good size (6’2”, 220) who had speed as well as power and didn’t shy from contact.

Crow suffered a broken leg in the 1961 preseason and, when he returned five games into the schedule, was injured again. He carried the ball just 48 times for 192 yards. Healthy in ’62, he had a third Pro Bowl year as he rushed for 751 yards and 14 touchdowns, but also fumbled 14 times and dropped numerous passes. In 1963 he was sidelined again by a knee injury that required surgery, running for 34 yards on 9 attempts.

When he came back in ’64, there was a crowded situation at running back. While HB Bill Triplett, who played well in Crow’s place in 1963, was out due to a bout with tuberculosis, Crow was shifted to fullback while Joe Childress started at halfback, and there were young players like Willis Crenshaw and Bill “Thunder” Thornton getting playing time. Crow led the team in rushing with 554 yards on 163 attempts and caught 23 passes for 257 more, but he felt that he was not getting enough carries and took his complaint to the front office, threatening to retire if he wasn’t sent elsewhere.

The 49ers were coming off a 4-10 record in 1964, putting them at the bottom of the Western Conference, and the running game was one of the big problems. FB J.D. Smith and HB Don Lisbon both were lost for much of the year with injuries and a rookie free agent, HB Dave Kopay, led the club with just 271 rushing yards.

Woodson (pictured below), the player San Francisco was forced to give up, played collegiately at Illinois and was also a Big 10 champion sprinter and hurdler. Drafted by the 49ers in the second round in 1957, he had to fulfill a military commitment before reporting to the club during the ’58 season. He led the NFL in kickoff returning in 1959 with a 29.4 average and scored on a 105-yard return. It marked the beginning of five straight years in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl, and he was a consensus first-team All-Pro in ’59 and ’60. Woodson led the league in punt return average in the latter year (13.4) and again led the league in kickoff returns in 1962 and ’63 with averages of 31.3 and 32.2 per return, respectively – in ’62 he also set a season record with 1157 yards on his 37 kickoff returns. Overall, he was the NFL career leader in kickoff return yards (4873) at the time, averaging 29.4 yards per return with five touchdowns. He averaged 9.0 on 105 punt returns for another 949 yards and two more TDs. As a cornerback on defense, he intercepted 15 passes.

“In order to get a player of Crow’s ability, you have to give something comparable,” said San Francisco GM Lou Spadia, admitting he had been reluctant to part with Woodson.

Crow expressed great satisfaction. “Being traded to the 49ers feels real good. I’m real excited about it. I wish the season started next week because I’m ready to go,” he said.

Crow, who turned 30 prior to the 1965 season, proved to be a good acquisition for San Francisco. It helped that he was put in tandem with rookie FB Ken Willard - both of them earned Pro Bowl honors. Willard led the team with 778 yards rushing on 189 carries (4.1 avg.), ranking fourth in the NFL, and caught 32 passes for 253 yards while scoring a total of 9 touchdowns (five rushing, 4 on passes). Crow contributed 514 yards on 132 attempts and gained 493 yards on 28 pass receptions for an impressive 17.6-yard average. He, too, accounted for 9 TDs (7 on passes, two on the ground). The offense in general was far more potent and the 49ers improved to 7-6-1.

The combination of Crow and Willard continued to do well with similar numbers in 1966 and ‘67. Willard, the tough power-runner, took some of the burden off of Crow and likely helped to keep him healthy and productive, especially when compared to the injury-plagued years in St. Louis.

The team went 6-6-2 and 7-7, respectively, and Head Coach Jack Christiansen was replaced by Dick Nolan. Willard had his best year in 1968, with 967 yards rushing, but Crow was moved out to tight end in what proved to be his final season – he caught 31 passes for 531 yards (17.1 avg.) and five touchdowns. Overall, in four years in San Francisco, Crow rushed for 1474 yards on 370 carries (4.0 avg.) and five TDs and pulled in 120 passes for 1738 yards for a 14.5 average and 18 touchdowns. He also fumbled only seven times during that period, with five of them in his first year on the club in ’65. By comparison, during that same period Willard ran the ball 776 times for 3018 yards (3.9 avg.) and 22 TDs and had 133 pass receptions for 1078 yards (8.1 avg.) and 7 scores (he went on to play another five years in San Francisco before ending his career, ironically enough, with the Cardinals in 1974 – his career rushing yardage total was 6105).

As for Woodson in St. Louis, who turned 31 shortly after the trade, the results were not so good. He was strictly a reserve in a good defensive backfield and handled the bulk of the kick returning in 1965. However, he placed 14th in kickoff returns, with 27 for a 24.6 average, and his 18 punt returns netted just 7 yards for a 0.4 average. Supplanted by halfbacks Johnny Roland and Roy Shivers in ’66, Woodson returned no kicks, although he intercepted four passes while starting in the defensive backfield. He retired, having played a total of nine seasons. His career kickoff return yardage record, which he increased to 5538 while with the Cardinals, lasted until 1972 when it was first exceeded by Ron Smith, but Woodson’s record of having led the NFL in kickoff returns three times has endured.

February 6, 2012

Past Venue: Ebbets Field

New York, NY (Brooklyn)

Year opened: 1913
Capacity: 32,000, up from 25,000 at opening.

Ebbets Field, 1913-60

Pro football tenants:
Brooklyn Lions (NFL), 1926
Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers (NFL), 1930-44
Brooklyn Eagles (AFA)*, 1937-38
Brooklyn Dodgers (AAFC), 1946-48

*American Football Association

Postseason games hosted:

Other tenants of note:
Brooklyn Dodgers (MLB – NL), 1913-57
Manhattan College (college football), 1932-37
Brooklyn Eagles (baseball Negro leagues), 1935
Long Island University (college football), 1939-40
Long Island University (college baseball), 1959

Notes: Hosted one home game of APFA New York Brickley Giants, 1921. Designated to be home field for AFL Brooklyn Tigers (1936), but the only home game was switched to Yankee Stadium before franchise was shifted to Rochester. Site of first televised pro football game, Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1939. Stadium was owned by MLB Dodgers and named for Charlie Ebbets, the club’s owner at the time of construction. Venue was originally constructed without a press box, which was added in 1929. Frequently hosted college and high school football games until 1953, when MLB Dodgers ended the practice because damage to the field was outpacing rental income. Also hosted soccer matches, track & field, and boxing.

Fate: Demolished in 1960 and replaced by apartment buildings (Ebbets Field Apartments).

[Updated 2/16/15]

February 4, 2012

2007: Colts Overpower Bears in Super Bowl XLI

The Indianapolis Colts had been to the playoffs for four straight years prior to the 2006 season, but had come up short in their efforts to reach the Super Bowl. Under Head Coach Tony Dungy, and with star QB Peyton Manning (pictured at right) directing the offense, the Colts had twice been defeated by the Patriots in the postseason, once in an AFC Championship game. But on February 4, 2007 they faced the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, having beaten New England for the AFC title.

In addition to Manning, the Colts had an outstanding wide receiver tandem in Marvin Harrison (95 catches, 1366 yards, 12 TDs) and Reggie Wayne (86 catches, 1310 yards, 9 TDs) and versatile TE Dallas Clark. Rookie RB Joseph Addai rushed for 1081 yards and caught 40 passes and backup Dominic Rhodes added 641 yards on the ground and 36 pass receptions. Defense had been a problem during the regular season, however, in particular against the run and most notably in a bad late-season loss to the Jaguars. In fact, after starting off at 9-0, Indianapolis went 3-4 to finish at 12-4, still best in the AFC South, but cause for concern heading into the playoffs. The defense tightened up in postseason wins over the Chiefs and Ravens in which they gave up a total of 14 points before defeating the Patriots 38-34 in the conference showdown.

The Bears, under third-year Head Coach Lovie Smith, utilized a formula typical of successful seasons in that franchise’s long history – a conservative offense combined with an outstanding defense. In his first full year as the starting quarterback, Rex Grossman was inconsistent, as indicated by 23 TD passes and 20 interceptions. RB Thomas Jones (1210 yards) led a productive running attack that also included RB Cedric Benson (647 yards). Catching the ball was 33-year-old possession WR Muhsin Muhammad, big-play WR Bernard Berrian, and dependable TE Desmond Clark. The defense suffered after losing SS Mike Brown and DT Tommie Harris during the course of the year, but still contained All-Pro MLB Brian Urlacher and Pro Bowl OLB Lance Briggs. An additional weapon on special teams was rookie DB Devin Hester, who returned five kicks for touchdowns during the regular season (three punt returns, two kickoff returns).

Adding to the overall significance of the occasion was the fact that both coaches, Dungy and Smith, were African-Americans, thus assuring that for the first time a Super Bowl-winning team would have a black head coach.

There was a steady rain falling at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, with 74,512 in attendance. They didn’t have to wait long for excitement as Chicago’s Hester ran the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown (pictured below). The defense got a takeaway on the first Indianapolis possession, with SS Chris Harris intercepting a Manning pass on a third-and-13 play. The Bears couldn’t capitalize on the turnover, however, going three-and-out.

Following a punt into the end zone for a touchback, the Colts started their next series at the 20 yard line and proceeded to drive 80 yards in eight plays. Manning had three short completions and a long one to Wayne that covered 53 yards for a TD. The extra point had to be aborted when the snap was mishandled, allowing the Bears to hold onto a 7-6 lead.

Indianapolis, squibbing the kickoff to keep it away from Hester, got the ball right back as TE Gabe Reid fumbled and the Colts recovered at the Chicago 34. But they turned it over on the next play when Manning and Addai muffed a handoff and the Bears recovered. Thomas Jones took off on a 52-yard run and shortly thereafter Grossman connected with Muhammad for a four-yard touchdown. Robbie Gould’s successful PAT put the Bears up by eight points at 14-6.

Neither offense could move for the remainder of the first quarter but the Colts commenced a drive on the final play of the period that went 63 yards in eight plays and ended with Adam Vinatieri’s 29-yard field goal to reduce the Chicago margin to 14-9. Following another three-and-out possession by the Bears, Indianapolis took over at its 42 after the ensuing punt. Manning threw to Harrison for 22 yards and then to Clark for 17 and, suddenly, the Colts were at the Chicago 19. Dominic Rhodes ran four times, with a short pass interspersed, the last carry resulting in a one-yard touchdown. This time the extra point was successful and the Colts took the lead by 16-14.

The Bears again had another short possession, punted, and the Colts got to the Chicago 43 with less than two minutes remaining in the half before TE Bryan Fletcher fumbled after catching a pass and the Bears recovered – only to fumble the ball back to Indianapolis on the next play. Vinatieri was wide on a 36-yard field goal attempt and the turnover-filled first half ended with the Colts still up by two.

The third quarter started off with a long, 13-play drive by Indianapolis that went 56 yards and took up 7:34. Manning completed six passes (two of them despite falling while throwing) and Joseph Addai ran five times for 25 yards and caught four of the throws for another 27. Vinatieri capped the possession with a 24-yard field goal and the Colts extended their lead to five points at 19-14.

Following another short series by the Bears, Rhodes took off on a 36-yard run for the Colts and, after driving to the two yard line, Vinatieri added another three points with a 20-yard kick to make it 22-14. Helped by an unnecessary roughness penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Chicago started its next possession at the Indianapolis 40 and a six-play drive resulted in a 44-yard field goal by Gould.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Bears were down by just five points. However, after a punt by the Colts and a 22-yard pass completion to Muhammad, Grossman went deep and was intercepted by DB Kelvin Hayden, who returned it 56 yards for a touchdown. While there was still 11:44 remaining on the clock, for all intents the game was over.

Grossman gave up another interception on Chicago’s next possession and the Bears had to turn the ball over on downs at their own 47 on the following series. The Colts kept the ball on the ground and chewed up time, and the game ended with the Bears in their own territory on offense. Indianapolis was the NFL Champion by a score of 29-17.

The Colts outgained Chicago (430 yards to 265), but were especially effective on the ground (191 yards). The Bears hurt themselves with five turnovers, to three by Indianapolis in the sloppy conditions.

While he did not have a big statistical day, Peyton Manning was the game’s MVP as he completed 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards with a TD and an interception. Joseph Addai (pictured below) ran the ball 19 times for 77 yards and caught 10 passes for another 66 yards. Dominic Rhodes had 113 yards on 21 carries that included a touchdown. Marvin Harrison had 5 receptions for 59 yards and, while Reggie Wayne caught just two passes, they gained 61 yards and included a score.

For the Bears, Rex Grossman was successful on 20 of 28 throws for 165 yards with a TD, but had two intercepted. Thomas Jones rushed for 112 yards on 15 carries thanks to the season-high 52-yard carry. Desmond Clark was the team’s top receiver with 6 receptions for 64 yards. Devin Hester had the game-opening 92-yard kickoff return, but other than a three-yard punt return, the Colts were able to keep the ball away from him for the remainder of the contest.

“Peyton is a tremendous player, a great leader,” Coach Dungy said of his quarterback. “He prepares, he works, does everything you can do to win games and lead your team. If people think he needed to win a Super Bowl, that is just wrong. This guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest ever to play.”

About being the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl, Dungy added, “It feels great. I thought about that as I was on the podium - being the first African-American coach to win it. I have to dedicate to some guys before me - great coaches I know could have done this if they had gotten the opportunity. Lovie and I were able to take advantage of it. We certainly weren't the most qualified.”

The Colts returned to the postseason in 2007 but were upset by San Diego in the Divisional round – they lost to the Chargers again in the Wild Card playoff following the ’08 season before winning another AFC Championship in 2009. Chicago dropped to 7-9 in ’07 and didn’t return to the playoffs until 2010.

February 3, 2012

MVP Profile: Lou Groza, 1954

Offensive Tackle/Placekicker, Cleveland Browns

Age: 30
9th season in pro football & with Browns
College: Ohio State
Height: 6’3” Weight: 235

Groza saw little college action before going into the military during World War II, but Paul Brown signed him for the Browns of the new AAFC for 1946. In his first season, he was used primarily as a placekicker who backed up on the offensive line, and he led the league in field goals (13), extra points (45), and scoring (84 points). But he became a starting tackle during the ’47 season and excelled there, if not as visibly as he did with his kicking. With Cleveland joining the NFL in 1950, Groza led the league in field goals (13) and field goal percentage (68.4), kicked the game-winning field goal in the NFL title game, and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first of six straight seasons. He again led the league in field goals in 1952 (19) and ’53 (23) and was successful on 88.5 % of his attempts in the latter year. The best placekicker of his era, “The Toe” also continued to be an outstanding tackle. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro in 1952 and ’53.

1954 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Field goals – 16 [1]
Most field goals, game - 3 at Chi. Bears 11/14, at NY Giants 11/28
Field goal attempts – 24 [2]
Field goal percentage – 66.7 [1]
PATs – 37 [3]
PAT attempts – 38 [3, tied with Les Richter]
Longest field goal – 44 yards vs. Detroit 12/19

Field Goals – 16
PATs – 37
Points – 85 [3]

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship vs. Detroit)
Field goals – 0
Field goal attempts – 0
PATs – 8
PAT attempts – 8

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI, NY Daily News, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Browns went 9-3 to finish first in the Eastern Conference while finishing second in the league (by one point) in scoring (336 points) and touchdowns (41, tied with the Rams) while leading in field goals (16). Won NFL Championship over Detroit Lions (56-10).

Groza again was a consensus first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 1955, led the NFL in field goals in 1957 (15) and was named to the Pro Bowl in ’57, ’58, and ’59 for a total of 9 in all. 1959 marked his last season as a tackle and he retired for a year in 1960 due to a back injury. He returned as strictly a placekicking specialist in 1961 and led the league in field goal pct. that year (69.6) and again in 1963 (65.2). He finally retired for good following the 1967 season at age 43 and after a total of 21 years (four in the AAFC, 17 in the NFL). At the time, he was the NFL career leader in games played (216), scoring (1349 points), field goals (234), and extra points (641). Adding in his AAFC totals, he played in 268 games, scored 1608 points, and kicked 264 field goals and 810 extra points. The Browns retired his #76 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1974.


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 2/10/14]

February 1, 2012

2004: Patriots Edge Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII

Super Bowl XXXVIII on February 1, 2004 matched the New England Patriots, champions of the AFC after compiling a league-best 14-2 record, against the Carolina Panthers, representatives of the NFC following an 11-5 regular season in 2003. The teams had been in radically different places just two years earlier – while the Patriots were coming out of nowhere to win their first title, the Panthers had gone a dreadful 1-15.

New England had risen to prominence under Head Coach Bill Belichick and had uncovered a major talent in QB Tom Brady (pictured above). Unheralded coming out of Michigan in 2000, Brady replaced veteran Drew Bledsoe during the ’01 season that ended in a championship and was continuing to develop into an elite quarterback. The nondescript but effective receiving corps was led by wide receivers Troy Brown and Deion Branch. Running backs Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk both ran for over 600 yards (642 and 638, respectively) while Faulk added 48 pass receptions for another 440 yards. The tough defense contained All-Pros in DT Richard Seymour, CB Ty Law, and SS Rodney Harrison, plus Pro Bowl DE/LB Willie McGinest and a solid group of linebackers that included Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi. New England won a close Divisional playoff game against Tennessee and then defeated the Colts, with Brady’s quarterback archrival Peyton Manning, for the AFC title.

Carolina was coached by the defensive-minded John Fox, and defense was the source of the team’s rise. The front four was especially effective with ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers and tackles Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. The conservative offense was guided by QB Jake Delhomme (pictured at left) and benefited from the presence of ex-Redskins RB Stephen Davis (1444 yards) and rookie backup DeShaun Foster. Eighth-year veteran WR Muhsin Muhammad (54 catches, 837 yards) was paired with rising star Steve Smith (88 catches, 1110 yards). The Panthers won the NFC South to make the playoffs for the second time in their nine-year history, beat Dallas in the Wild Card round, just got past the Rams in overtime in their Divisional game, and earned a trip to the Super Bowl with a 14-3 win over the Eagles in the NFC Championship game at Philadelphia.

There was a crowd of 71,525 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium that witnessed a slow-developing contest. The Panthers didn’t manage so much as a first down until their fourth possession, late in the first quarter. New England, starting its first series on the Carolina 46, got pass completions by Brady to Branch for 16 yards and Troy Brown for 12, but after getting to the 13 yard line, the normally-dependable Adam Vinatieri missed a 31-yard field goal attempt. For the rest of the opening period, the Patriots couldn’t move the ball effectively either despite winning the battle for field position. Carolina’s defense played its part, especially in one key instance when LB Will Witherspoon dropped Brown for a loss of ten yards on a third-down end-around play that took the Patriots out of field goal range.

New England finally put together a long 13-play, 57-yard drive in the second quarter, methodically moving down the field, but again came up empty when Vinatieri’s 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked by DE Shane Burton. The Patriots got a break four plays later when Delhomme fumbled while being sacked by Vrabel and Seymour recovered at the Carolina 20. Brady capped the four-play series with a five-yard touchdown pass to Branch to end the longest opening scoring drought in Super Bowl history.

With just over three minutes remaining in the first half, the Panthers offense gained possession at their 10 yard line, and having been dominated in total yardage by a margin of 125 to -7, it seemed like another fruitless series until Delhomme completed a third-and-five pass to WR Ricky Proehl for 13 yards. Following the two-minute warning, Delhomme completed two more throws, to Muhammad for 23 yards and back to Proehl for 15 to penetrate into New England territory. Three plays later, and facing a third-and-ten situation, Delhomme threw to Steve Smith for a 39-yard touchdown and, with John Kasay’s extra point, the score was tied at 7-7.

The Patriots came right back on a 78-yard drive over six plays that featured a Brady pass to Branch for a 52-yard gain to the Carolina 14. Brady capped the series with a five-yard scoring toss to WR David Givens to again put New England up by a touchdown. On the last play of the half, after the squibbed kickoff was returned 12 yards by TE Kris Mangum and Stephen Davis ran for 21 yards, Kasay booted a 50-yard field goal and it was 14-10 going into the intermission.

Following a halftime that included a notorious wardrobe malfunction and concluded with New England LB Matt Chatham tackling a streaker on the field, the teams resumed play in much the same way that they started the game – trading punts after short possessions. Again it was the Patriots taking the initiative as they got the ball at their own 44 following a Carolina punt with 4:37 to go in the period. On an eight-play drive that was highlighted by Brady completions of 16 yards to Branch and 33 to TE Daniel Graham, Antowain Smith ran for a two-yard TD early in the fourth quarter and the Patriots extended their margin to 21-10.

The Panthers again came alive on offense with Delhomme throwing passes to Muhammad for 13 yards and Steve Smith for 18 and 22 and DeShaun Foster running for a 33-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the margin at five points, and it seemed as though the Patriots would add to their lead when they went 64 yards in 10 plays that included three Brady pass completions and a 23-yard run by Kevin Faulk to the Carolina 10. But facing a third-and-goal situation, Brady threw off-balance and was intercepted by CB Reggie Howard, and three plays later Delhomme connected with Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown. In stunning fashion, the Panthers were in front by a score of 22-21, although another try for a two-point conversion was unsuccessful.

There were now just under seven minutes to play, and New England again drove down the field. Brady completed six passes in the 11-play series, the last to Vrabel, inserted on offense as a tight end, for a one-yard touchdown. Faulk successfully ran for two points and the Patriots were back in front at 29-22.

Steve Smith’s 37-yard kickoff return was negated by a penalty, and the Panthers had to start the next possession at their 19. Delhomme, who had started the game so poorly, was now unstoppable as he succeeded on five of his six passes, including 19 yards to Muhammad and 31 yards to Proehl. The last was for 12 yards and a touchdown to Proehl and, with Kasay’s successful extra point, the game was tied at 29-29.

New England started the next series at its 40, thanks to Kasay booting the kickoff out of bounds, with the clock down to 1:08. After an incomplete pass, Brady connected with Brown for 13 yards and, following a timeout and a 10-yard penalty, hit Brown again for 13 yards to the Carolina 44. A four-yard completion to Graham got the ball to the 40 and then Brady found Branch for 17 yards to the 23. From there, Vinatieri (pictured below) re-burnished his credentials as a clutch kicker by booting a 41-yard field goal, and the Patriots were champions for the second time in three years by a score of 32-29.

The combined 37 points in the fourth quarter were the most in any quarter of Super Bowl play to date. New England outgained the Panthers by 481 yards to 387 and also accumulated more first downs, 29 to 17. Each team turned the ball over once. Delhomme was sacked four times, twice by Vrabel, while the Panthers failed to record any sacks.

Tom Brady, the game’s MVP, completed 32 of 48 passes for 354 yards with three touchdowns and the one interception. Deion Branch caught 10 of those throws for 143 yards and a TD and Troy Brown contributed 8 for 76 yards. Antowain Smith led the ground game with 26 carries for 83 yards and a score.

For the Panthers, Jake Delhomme missed on eight of his first nine pass attempts but rallied from there, completing 16 of 33 throws for 323 yards and three TDs with none intercepted. Muhsin Muhammad (pictured at right) caught 4 passes for 140 yards and the long touchdown, Steve Smith gained 80 yards and scored a TD on his 4 receptions, and Ricky Proehl also caught 4, for 71 yards with a score. Stephen Davis rushed for 49 yards on 13 attempts and DeShaun Foster added 43 yards on just three carries thanks to his scoring run.

“Nobody makes all of them. But if you've got to have one kick with everything on the line, he's the one you want kicking it,” Bill Belichick said of Adam Vinatieri, who was successful on just one of three field goal attempts, but connected when the game was on the line – just as he had against the Rams two years before. “It was an awesome kick. It was a great kick. That's the game. That's what Adam's here for.”

The Patriots went on to make it three championships in four years in 2004, again going 14-2 and defeating the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Carolina slumped to 7-9 in ’04 but returned to the playoffs in 2005 and made it to the NFC Championship game before succumbing to the Seahawks.