June 30, 2012

1965: NFL Awards Franchise to Atlanta for ‘66



On June 30, 1965 the NFL granted a franchise to Atlanta, moving into the Deep South for the first time and outmaneuvering the rival American Football League to do so. Originally, it had appeared that the AFL would be putting a club in Atlanta, and Commissioner Joe Foss had stated as much. The President of Cox Broadcasting Company, Leonard Reinsch, was to be the owner (he had also looked into the possibility of moving the Denver Broncos to Georgia). However, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle acted quickly to line up an ownership group headed by insurance executive Rankin Smith that paid $8.5 million for the franchise. The new Atlanta Stadium was secured for Smith’s group, and the chastened younger league was forced to look elsewhere (settling on Miami).

It was a major coup for the city that had also lured major league baseball’s Braves from Milwaukee and generated much initial fan excitement. A radio station contest came up with the name Falcons for the new team and 45,000 season tickets were sold within a few weeks of becoming available. Former player and scout Gene Cronin was chosen as director of player personnel while Norb Hecker, defensive backfield coach under Vince Lombardi in Green Bay, became the first head coach.

A draft of veterans from the other NFL clubs brought mostly marginal talent, since each team was able to protect its best players. The draft of college players was more promising as the Falcons were able to pick at the top and bottom of the first five rounds, as well as the top of the remaining rounds, giving them 25 choices in all. With the first overall choice, they took LB Tommy Nobis (pictured at top), the Outland Trophy winner out of Texas.

The Falcons were placed in the Eastern Conference for the ’66 season, but because the league now had an uneven number of teams with 15, they played each of the other NFL teams one time apiece (a so-called swing schedule, as opposed to the usual arrangement of playing a home-and-away series with each conference opponent).



It had been anticipated that Dennis Claridge, who had thrown a total of one pro pass as backup to Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski in Green Bay, would be Atlanta’s first starting quarterback. However, rookie Randy Johnson (pictured at right), their second pick at the end of the first round out of Texas A&I, gained the job instead and performed reasonably well while completing 43.7 % of his passes for 1795 yards with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Another ex-Packer, HB Junior Coffey, was the club’s rushing star with 722 yards on 199 carries (3.6 avg.) and four TDs. He teamed with FB Ernie Wheelwright, formerly of the Giants, who added 458 yards on the ground, but neither had breakaway speed and depth behind them was lacking. 29-year-old flanker Alex Hawkins, a long-time reserve and special teams standout with the Colts, was Atlanta’s leading receiver with 44 catches for 661 yards (15.0 avg.) and two scores. TE Billy Martin, who split time with ex-Card Taz Anderson, pulled in 29 passes, one more than starting split end Vern Burke. Center Frank Marchlewski showed promise and starting guards Dan Grimm and Ed Cook and tackles Don Talbert and Errol Linden did reasonably well, although once again, depth was an issue.

On defense, Nobis stepped into the lineup at middle linebacker and had an immediate impact, gaining Rookie of the Year honors and selection to the Pro Bowl. But while OLB Marion Rushing was effective on the strong side, the weak side linebacking – held down by over-the-hill veterans Bill Jobko and Larry Morris – was lacking. The line was undistinguished and contained the team’s oldest player, 35-year-old DE Sam Williams. Starting cornerbacks were Lee Calland and Ron Smith, better known for his kick returning. FS Bob Riggle did well in tandem with SS Jerry Richardson, who led the club with five interceptions.

Lou Kirouac handled the bulk of the placekicking and was successful on just half of his field goal attempts (9 of 18) and missed five of 24 extra point tries. Punter Billy Lothridge was better, averaging 40.7 yards on his 73 kicks.

The Falcons lost their first nine games but won three of their last five to finish on a reasonably high note – and ahead of the 1-12-1 Giants (the team they defeated for their first regular season win). Not surprisingly, the team ranked at the bottom of the league in total offense (3536 yards) and scoring (204 points) while giving up the most points (437). Still, fan support was enthusiastic, and there were hopes for improvement in ’67 based on the club’s improved play in the late season.

Instead, the club regressed and won just one game. Coach Hecker failed to survive a third year at the helm in 1968, giving way to Norm Van Brocklin, previously the head coach in Minnesota following his Hall of Fame career as a quarterback. The Dutchman guided the Falcons to their first winning record in 1971, but they would not appear in the postseason for the first time until 1978. 

June 28, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Warrick Dunn, 1997

Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers



Age: 22
College: Florida State
Height: 5’9”    Weight: 176

Prelude:
A three-time thousand-yard rusher in college who could also catch the ball out of the backfield, Dunn was chosen by the Bucs in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft (12th overall). With great speed and elusiveness, but considered too small to be an every-down back, he proved to be the ideal complement to second-year RB Mike Alstott, a classic fullback.

1997 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 224 [20]
Most attempts, game - 24 (for 130 yds.) at Detroit 9/7, (for 120 yds.) at NY Giants 11/30
Yards – 978 [17]
Most yards, game – 130 yards (on 24 carries) at Detroit 9/7
Average gain – 4.4 [10]
TDs – 4
100-yard rushing games – 5

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 39       
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 106 yds.) vs. Miami 9/21
Yards – 462
Most yards, game - 106 (on 6 catches) vs. Miami 9/21
Average gain – 11.8
TDs – 3
100-yard receiving games – 1

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 6   
Yards – 129
Average per return – 21.5
TDs – 0
Longest return – 30 yards

Punt Returns
Returns – 5   
Yards – 48
Average per return – 9.6
TDs – 0
Longest return – 25 yards

Scoring
TDs – 7
Points – 42

Postseason: 2 G
Rushing attempts – 36
Most rushing attempts, game - 18 vs. Detroit, NFC Wild Card playoff, at Green Bay, NFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 136
Most rushing yards, game - 72 vs. Detroit, NFC Wild Card playoff
Average gain rushing – 3.8
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 5
Most pass receptions, game - 3 vs. Detroit, NFC Wild Card playoff
Pass receiving yards - 34
Most pass receiving yards, game - 34 vs. at Green Bay, NFC Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 6.8
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: Sporting News
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
Pro Bowl

Buccaneers went 10-6 to finish second in the NFC Central and qualify for the postseason as a wild card. Won NFC Wild Card playoff over Detroit Lions (20-10). Lost NFC Divisional playoff to Green Bay Packers (21-7).

Aftermath:
Dunn followed up his outstanding rookie season with his first of an eventual five thousand-yard rushing totals in 1998 (1026). The ground total dropped to 616 yards in 1999, but he led the team with 64 pass receptions, for 589 yards. He was selected to a second Pro Bowl in 2000, rushing for 1133 yards and gaining 1555 yards from scrimmage, and caught 68 passes in ’01 (although he averaged only 2.8 yards per carry rushing), after which he moved on to the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent. After gaining 1304 yards from scrimmage in 2002, he was limited to 11 games by injury in ’03 but bounced back to have three straight thousand-yard rushing seasons, including a career-high 1416 at age 30 in 2005. He also achieved a career-best 1636 yards from scrimmage and was chosen to a third Pro Bowl. Dunn played for Atlanta thru 2007 and finished up with one last year back in Tampa Bay in ’08, running for 786 yards and catching 47 passes. Overall, he rushed for a career total of 10,967 yards on 2669 carries (4.1 avg.) and caught 510 passes for 4339 yards, giving him 15,306 yards from scrimmage - which ranked 14th in NFL history up to that point - and 64 touchdowns.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/8/14]

June 26, 2012

MVP Profile: Michael Vick, 2010

Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles



Age:  30
8th season in pro football, 2nd with Eagles
College: Virginia Tech
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 215

Prelude:
Vick came out of college early and the Atlanta Falcons traded for the first overall draft choice in 2001 to get him. Brought along slowly as a rookie, he displayed an outstanding throwing arm and quick release, as well as tremendous running ability, but also plenty of rough edges. Taking over the starting job in 2002, Vick passed for 2936 yards and 16 TDs, rushed for 777 yards with a league-leading 6.9 yards per attempt, and was selected to the Pro Bowl while the Falcons, coming off of three straight losing seasons, went 9-6-1 and qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card. A broken leg limited him to five games in ’03, but Vick rebounded with two straight Pro Bowl seasons and the Falcons advanced to the NFC Championship game in 2004. While he became the first quarterback to rush for a thousand yards in 2006 (1039), his attitude and willingness to learn the fine points of his position came into question, and it all came crashing down when his involvement in a dog-fighting ring led to his suspension and eventual imprisonment – he was cut loose by the Falcons and missed two full seasons as a result. Signed by the Eagles to back up veteran QB Donovan McNabb in his return to pro football in 2009, Vick looked rusty and was typically used on Wildcat plays. With McNabb traded after the season, it was anticipated that Vick would back up Kevin Kolb in 2010, but when Kolb was knocked out of the opening game, Vick played well and was named the starter by Head Coach Andy Reid.

2010 Season Summary
Appeared in 12 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 372
Most attempts, game – 44 at Chicago 11/28
Completions – 233
Most completions, game – 29 at Chicago 11/28
Yards – 3018 [20]
Most yards, game – 333 at Washington 11/15, at Chicago 11/28
Completion percentage – 62.6 [11]
Yards per attempt – 8.1 [4]
TD passes – 21 [16]
Most TD passes, game – 4 at Washington 11/15
Interceptions – 6
Most interceptions, game – 2 at Dallas 12/12
Passer rating – 100.2 [4]
300-yard passing games – 3
200-yard passing games – 10

Rushing
Attempts – 100
Most attempts, game - 11 (for 103 yds.) vs. Green Bay 9/12, (for 34 yds.) vs. NY Giants 11/21
Yards – 676
Most yards, game – 130 yards (on 10 carries) at NY Giants 12/19
Yards per attempt – 6.8 [1]
TDs – 9 [9, tied with Brandon Jacobs]
100-yard rushing games – 2

Scoring
TDs – 9
2-pt PAT – 1
Points – 56

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff vs. Green Bay)
Pass attempts – 36
Pass completions – 20
Passing yardage – 292
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 1

Rushing attempts – 8
Rushing yards – 32
Average gain rushing – 4.0
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
NFL Player of the Year: Bert Bell Award
NFL Comeback Player of the Year: AP
Pro Bowl

Eagles went 10-6 to finish first in the NFC East while leading the conference in scoring (439 points) and touchdowns (49). Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to Green Bay Packers (21-16).

Aftermath:
The Eagles underachieved in 2011 and Vick suffered through an injury-plagued season, although he ended up passing for 3303 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 589 yards, becoming the all-time rushing leader among NFL quarterbacks (5219 yards to date).

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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 2/8/14]

June 23, 2012

1960: Cowboys Obtain Eddie LeBaron from Redskins



On June 23, 1960 the expansion Dallas Cowboys obtained veteran QB Eddie LeBaron from the Washington Redskins for 1961 first and sixth round draft choices.

LeBaron had announced his retirement following the 1959 season in order to pursue his legal career, but indicated that he would be willing to play again provided that he was traded to Dallas, where he was setting up practice. He had gone to law school at George Washington University and received his degree in 1958.

Also involved in the deal were C Frank Kuchta, formerly of Notre Dame, who was sent by the Redskins to Dallas for ex-Maryland star tackle Ray Krouse, a nine-year veteran who had played the last two years for the Colts. Neither played beyond 1960, and Kuchta was with the new American Football League’s Denver Broncos rather than the Cowboys.

LeBaron had been surprisingly successful in the NFL, despite being only 5’7” and weighing 168 pounds. After starring at the College of the Pacific, which he had entered at age 16, he was taken by the Redskins in the 10th round of the 1950 draft. With a strong arm and outstanding ball-handling ability, he had proven himself in the college ranks and helped engineer an upset of the NFL Champion Eagles in the College All-Star Game. But pro football would have to wait due to a military commitment in the US Marines. He came back a decorated veteran of the Korean War and joined the Redskins in 1952 – the legendary Sammy Baugh’s final year.

The diminutive quarterback took over for the all-time great as a rookie, also handling the team’s punting. LeBaron displayed great daring for a mediocre team that went 4-8. He completed 96 of 194 passes (49.5 %) for 1420 yards with 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Following the ’53 season, and unhappy under Head Coach Curly Lambeau, he jumped to Calgary of the CFL where he played for his college coach, Larry Siemering. Returning to the Redskins in 1955 (Lambeau had been replaced by Joe Kuharich), he was selected to the Pro Bowl following a year in which the club went 8-4 and finished second in the Eastern Conference.

While Washington’s best record since 1945 proved to be an aberration, LeBaron continued to play well for a losing team. Known as “The Little General”, he was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1957 and ’58 seasons, averaging 9.0 and 9.4 yards per attempt, respectively, and leading the NFL in passing in the latter season (under the passer rating system then in use). In seven years with the Redskins, LeBaron threw for 8068 yards with 59 touchdowns and 88 interceptions. He also drew praise for his motivational ability and leadership – traits certainly attractive to an expansion team.

The 1960 Cowboys, under defensive-minded Head Coach Tom Landry, were the usual first-year assortment of up-and-coming young players and veterans either past their prime or of little interest to other teams. A promising rookie quarterback had been obtained in the person of Don Meredith, a local product out of Southern Methodist, but he was strictly a work in progress and spent the first year seeing scant action and learning from LeBaron.

The fledgling Cowboys had a veteran corps of receivers that included Pro Bowl TE Jim Doran, flanker Billy Howton, and split end Fred Dugan. However, the running game was mediocre, in addition to the offensive line. LeBaron passed for a respectable 1736 yards with 12 touchdowns, although he also gave up 25 interceptions. Dallas finished up at 0-11-1.

The Cowboys were an improved team in 1961, going 4-9-1. The addition of rookie HB Don Perkins out of New Mexico, who rushed for 815 yards and earned selection to the Pro Bowl, helped the offense. While Meredith saw increased action at quarterback, LeBaron was still the primary starter and threw for 1741 yards with more TDs (14) than in ’60 and far fewer interceptions (16). The 31-year-old Howton, who was closing in on Don Hutson’s career pass receiving record, had 56 catches for 785 yards and four touchdowns, although flanker Frank Clarke created a greater stir with his 22.4-yard average gain and 9 TDs on 41 receptions for 919 yards.

In 1962, Meredith threw more passes for the Cowboys (212 to 166) and in some instances alternated with LeBaron. But in his next-to-last season, the savvy veteran performed well, with a 57.2 completion percentage and 8.7 yards per attempt while compiling 1436 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time. He spent the ’63 season as Meredith’s backup before finally leaving the NFL for a full-time legal career. LeBaron would eventually return to pro football as general manager of the Atlanta Falcons for ten years (1977-87). Adding in his four-year stint with Dallas, his passing totals were 898 of 1796 throws (50.0 percent) for 13,399 yards with 104 TDs against 141 interceptions.

Despite his small stature and not playing for contending teams, LeBaron was a well-regarded quarterback who showed great skill as a leader and play-caller. Although he typically couldn’t see over the linemen in front of him once the play started (and his receivers couldn’t see him either), he was adept at rolling out and was an effective passer. He also was generally regarded as the best ball-handler of his era. In Dallas, he made it possible for Don Meredith to be brought along slowly.

As a postscript, the Redskins used the 1961 draft choices they obtained for LeBaron to choose QB Norm Snead out of Wake Forest in the first round and Illinois DB Joe Krakoski in the sixth. While Snead initially showed great promise and played a total of 16 seasons in the NFL, he failed to achieve his potential in three years with Washington and was dealt to Philadelphia in a celebrated trade for Sonny Jurgensen. Krakoski was with the Redskins for one year and intercepted four passes, but was waived prior to the ’62 season and went on to play for Oakland in the AFL.

June 19, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Tony Dorsett, 1977

Running Back, Dallas Cowboys



Age: 23
College: Pittsburgh
Height: 5’11”  Weight: 192

Prelude:
Dorsett had a brilliant college career, receiving All-American recognition in all four years and culminating in Pitt winning a national championship and the star running back winning the 1976 Heisman Trophy. The Cowboys traded for Seattle’s second overall pick in the first round of the ’77 NFL draft to get Dorsett. He spent most of his rookie season backing up HB Preston Pearson until being inserted into the starting lineup for the last four games.

1977 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 208 [12]
Most attempts, game - 23 (for 206 yds.) vs. Philadelphia 12/4
Yards – 1007 [9]
Most yards, game – 206 yards (on 23 carries) vs. Philadelphia 12/4
Average gain – 4.8 [3]
TDs – 12 [2]
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 2

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 29       
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 48 yds.) vs. Detroit 10/30
Yards – 273
Most yards, game - 48 (on 5 catches) vs. Detroit 10/30
Average gain – 9.4
TDs – 1

Passing
Pass attempts – 1
Pass completions – 1
Passing yards – 34
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 0

Scoring
TDs – 13 [2]
Points – 78 [9, tied with Nat Moore & John Smith]

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 51
Most rushing attempts, game - 19 vs. Minnesota, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 222
Most rushing yards, game - 85 vs. Chicago, NFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 4.4
Rushing TDs – 4

Pass receptions – 4
Most pass receptions, game - 2 vs. Chicago, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Denver, Super Bowl
Pass receiving yards - 48
Most pass receiving yards, game - 37 vs. Chicago, NFC Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 12.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: UPI, NEA
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
NFC Rookie of the Year: Sporting News

Cowboys went 12-2 to finish first in the NFC East with the conference’s best record while leading the NFL in total yards (4812) and touchdowns (42, tied with Oakland). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Chicago Bears (37-7), NFC Championship over Minnesota Vikings (23-6), and Super Bowl over Denver Broncos (27-10).

Aftermath:
The 1000-yard rushing season as a rookie proved to be the first of eight in his initial nine years with the Cowboys (missing out only during the strike-shortened 1982 campaign). He had a career-high of 1646 rushing yards in 1981, when he was a consensus All-NFL selection, and he received at least some All-NFL or All-NFC recognition five times and was selected to the Pro Bowl on four occasions. His career highs for pass receiving were 51 catches for 459 yards in 1984.  Dorsett was with the Cowboys for 11 seasons, eventually splitting time with Herschel Walker, and finished his career in 1988 with the Denver Broncos. At the time of his retirement, Dorsett’s 12,739 rushing yards ranked second all-time. He also caught 398 passes for another 3554 yards and scored a total of 91 TDs. In 17 postseason games, he rushed for 1383 yards. Dorsett was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1994.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/8/14]

June 17, 2012

MVP Profile: Jim Kelly, 1984

Quarterback, Houston Gamblers



Age: 24
1st season in pro football
College: Miami (FL)
Height: 6’3”    Weight: 215

Prelude:
A star in college, Kelly missed most of his senior year due to a shoulder separation but was still taken in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was also chosen by the Chicago Blitz of the new USFL, who traded his draft rights to the Houston Gamblers. Kelly signed with the new team in the second-year league and also benefited from the extra time to recuperate while awaiting the spring ’84 season. He immediately became the starting quarterback as a rookie, directing Houston’s run-and-shoot offense.

1984 Season Summary
Appeared in all 18 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 587 [1]
Most attempts, game – 50 vs. Los Angeles 4/30
Completions – 370 [1]
Most completions, game – 37 vs. Los Angeles 4/30
Yards – 5219 [1]
Most yards, game – 380 vs. Los Angeles 4/30
Completion percentage – 63.0 [2]
Yards per attempt – 8.9 [1]
TD passes – 44 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 5 at Pittsburgh 5/12
Interceptions – 26 [1]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at Oakland 4/16, vs. San Antonio 6/18
Passer rating – 98.2 [3]
300-yard passing games – 9
200-yard passing games – 17

Rushing
Attempts – 85
Most attempts, game - 9 (for 65 yds.) vs. San Antonio 6/18
Yards – 493
Most yards, game – 65 yards (on 6 carries) vs. New Jersey 3/18, (on 9 carries) vs. San Antonio 6/18
Yards per attempt – 5.8 [3]
TDs – 5

Scoring
TDs – 5
2-pt conversions – 1
Points - 32

Postseason: 1 G (First Round playoff vs. Arizona)
Pass attempts – 34
Pass completions – 23
Passing yardage – 301
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 2

Rushing attempts – 8
Rushing yards – 59
Average gain rushing – 7.4
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
USFL MVP: League
USFL Rookie of the Year: Sporting News
1st team All-USFL: League

Gamblers went 13-5 to finish first in the Central Division while leading the USFL in passing yards (5311), scoring (618 points), and TDs (79). Lost USFL First Round playoff to Arizona Wranglers (17-16).

Aftermath:
While Kelly missed several games due to injury in 1985, he still led the USFL in pass attempts (567), completions (360), yards (4623), TD passes (39), completion percentage (63.5), and overall passing (97.9) and the team again reached the postseason. With the end of the league, Kelly joined the Bills for the 1986 season and threw for 3593 yards and 22 TDs. He went to the Pro Bowl for the first of five times in ’87 and Buffalo made it to the postseason in 1988. In 1990 he led the NFL in passing (101.2) and the team won the AFC title, barely losing the Super Bowl. It was the first of four straight conference championships, marred by the failure to win any of the resulting Super Bowls. Kelly proved to be a tough competitor and savvy field general. He retired following the 1996 season having passed for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns with an 84.4 rating in the NFL along with 9842 yards and 83 TDs in the USFL. The Bills retired Kelly’s #12 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2002.

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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 2/8/14]

June 15, 2012

1984: Big Plays Propel the Express Past the Invaders



The Los Angeles Express were atop the United States Football League’s Pacific Division with a 9-7 record coming into their June 15, 1984 contest against the Oakland Invaders. Head Coach John Hadl’s team had started off slowly but benefited from the arrival of heralded rookie QB Steve Young (pictured above). The mobile lefthander out of Brigham Young brought a jolt to an offense that averaged just 10.7 points per game in the first five outings. He was further helped by the offensive line play of G Gary Zimmerman and C Mike Ruether. While not well supported by the LA fans and with unstable ownership, the Express was playing well and had won four straight games coming into Week 17.

Oakland, however, had a seven-game winning streak on the line, which was all the more remarkable because the Invaders had started off the season with nine straight losses. Head Coach John Ralston was let go after three weeks and Chuck Hutchison lasted five before owner Tad Taube hired Charlie Sumner to take over. The offense scored just 82 points during those first nine losing games, but the emergence of RB Eric Jordan, combined with a defense that didn’t give up a lot of points, turned things around. Injury-plagued QB Fred Besana benefited from the improved running attack. The Invaders were 7-9 but just two games behind Los Angeles with two to play.

Attendance was typically sparse at 14,794 for the Friday night showdown at the Memorial Coliseum. Oakland started off impressively, going 71 yards in 16 plays in its opening possession. Besana completed five of six passes and the result was a 26-yard field goal by Kevin Shea, who was coming off a poor performance the previous week against Michigan in which he missed all three of his field goal attempts.

It was still 3-0 at the end of the opening period, but on the first play of the second quarter, Young tossed a short pass to RB Mel Gray, who ran 76 yards untouched down the left sideline for a touchdown that gave LA the lead.

The Invaders responded by going from their 23 to the LA 14 in six plays. However, a holding penalty followed by a sack of Besana by DT Lee Williams that cost an additional 12 yards forced them to settle for a field goal, with Shea connecting from 47 yards to make it a one-point game.

While Oakland was leading in time of possession, the Express again struck quickly on their next series. On the fourth play, Young kept the ball and dashed 47 yards up the middle for a TD that resulted in a 14-6 score. That remained the tally at the half.

Oakland scored in the third quarter thanks to a 15-yard, 70-play drive that ended with Jordan running in for a TD on a one-yard sweep. However, the Express retained the lead when the Invaders went for a two-point conversion and Besana’s pass was broken up by DB Darrell Pattillo.

LA failed in an opportunity to increase its margin on an ensuing series when RB Kevin Mack was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-one play. But the Express got the ball back and came through with yet another big play, this time when Young passed to WR Malcolm Moore for a 44-yard gain to the Oakland 32. A few plays later, Young was stopped three yards short of a first down at the Oakland 14 but LB Gary Plummer was penalized for unnecessary roughness. With the ball moved to the 7, Gray ran in for a touchdown on the next play and the score was 21-12 with 9:37 remaining in the game.

The Invaders were far from done and came back with a five-play, 74-yard drive that resulted in a 30-yard TD pass from Besana to TE Brian Williams. They were again just two points down, but the Express put together a drive that was extended twice by fourth down conversions on runs by Mack. With less than two minutes to play, Tony Zendejas kicked a 37-yard field goal for the Express that extended the lead to what would prove to be a vital five points.

Now down to 1:35 in the contest, Oakland regained possession and nearly pulled the game out. The Invaders, starting from their own ten yard line, reached the LA nine with the clock down to seven seconds, but two passes by Besana were batted down to preserve the 24-19 win for the Express.

Oakland outgained the Express (370 yards to 334), had more first downs (25 to 14), ran off 18 more plays, and dominated time of possession (33:18 to 26:42), but LA won with big plays in a game in which there were no turnovers.

Steve Young was highly efficient throwing the ball, completing 14 of 16 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown - he also ran the ball 8 times for 82 yards and the long TD. Mel Gray rushed for 44 yards on five carries and led the receivers with 82 yards on four catches, scoring a total of two TDs. Malcolm Moore also caught four passes, for 70 yards.



For Oakland, Fred Besana was successful on 23 of 35 throws for 256 yards and a touchdown. Eric Jordan (pictured at left) gained 88 yards on 13 carries and scored once. Brian Williams had 8 pass receptions for 91 yards and a TD.

Los Angeles clinched a playoff spot with the win and, with Young sitting out the finale, lost to Arizona but finished atop the Pacific Division with a 10-8 record. In their first playoff game, the Express defeated Michigan in an epic contest that lasted into the third overtime period, but they fell to the Wranglers in the Western Conference Championship game. For Oakland, the loss ended the improbable winning streak and, losing again in the last game, the Invaders ended up at 7-11 and at the bottom of the division.

Appearing in 12 games, Steve Young completed a healthy 57.7 percent of his passes for 2361 yards with 10 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. He also ran the ball 79 times for 515 yards (6.5 avg.) and seven TDs.

Eric Jordan, who was such a key performer during Oakland’s winning streak, ended up rushing for 744 yards on 135 carries (5.5 avg.) and scored six touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 140 yards. 

June 13, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Domanick Davis, 2003

Running Back, Houston Texans

(Later known as Domanick Williams)



Age: 23 (Oct. 1)
College: LSU
Height: 5’9”    Weight: 216

Prelude:
Chosen by the Texans in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft, it was not anticipated that he would be an every-down back as a pro. He started off his rookie year backing up veteran RB Stacey Mack but moved into the lineup and demonstrated surprising power to go along with his speed and receiving ability.

2003 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 238 [19]
Most attempts, game - 27 (for 129 yds.) vs. NY Jets 10/19
Yards – 1031 [15, tied with Eddie George]
Most yards, game – 129 yards (on 27 carries) vs. NY Jets 10/19
Average gain – 4.3 [20]
TDs – 8 [13, tied with Deuce McAllister, Stephen Davis & Correll Buckhalter]
100-yard rushing games - 4

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 47       
Most receptions, game – 9 (for 70 yds.) vs. NY Jets 10/19
Yards – 351
Most yards, game - 70 (on 7 catches) at Tennessee 10/12, (on 9 catches) vs. NY Jets 10/19
Average gain – 7.5
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 3
Yards – 61
Avg. – 20.3
TDs – 0

Scoring
TDs – 8
Points – 48

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: League/Pepsi

Texans went 5-11 to finish fourth in the AFC South.

Aftermath:
Concerns about his durability in a full-time role ultimately proved justified, although Davis improved on his numbers in 2004, rushing for 1188 yards and 13 TDs and catching 68 passes for 588 yards and another score for a total of 1776 yards from scrimmage. However, a knee injury shut down his 2005 season with 976 yards on the ground and 337 through the air on 33 pass receptions in 11 games. He wouldn’t be back – injuries cost him all of ’06 and he was released by the Texans in March 2007 (by which time he had changed his last name from Davis to Williams). In his short but productive career, Davis rushed for 3195 yards on 770 carries (4.1 avg.) and 23 TDs and caught 154 passes for 1276 yards (8.3 avg.) and five more touchdowns.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/8/14]

June 11, 2012

MVP Profile: Leroy Kelly, 1968

Halfback, Cleveland Browns



Age: 26
5th season in pro football & with Browns
College: Morgan State
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 200

Prelude:
An unheralded player out of a small college, Kelly was taken by the Browns in the eighth round of the 1964 NFL draft (and was completely ignored by the AFL). He saw scant action on offense in his first two seasons, with star FB Jim Brown and HB Ernie Green starting in the backfield. As a kick returner, he led the NFL in punt returning in 1965 (15.6 avg.). The sudden retirement of Brown just prior to the opening of training camp in ’66 opened up a spot for Kelly in the backfield as he became the starting halfback and Green was shifted to fullback. The virtually-unknown Kelly rose to the occasion, nearly leading the league in rushing with 1141 yards while having the best yards-per-carry average (5.5), catching 32 passes for 366 more yards, and scoring a total of 16 TDs. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro and gained selection to the Pro Bowl. Kelly followed up by winning the league rushing title in 1967 (1205 yards), again with the highest average gain-per-carry (5.1). His 1487 yards from scrimmage also led the NFL and he was again a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl choice.

1968 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 248 [1]
Most attempts, game - 30 (for 130 yds.) at Baltimore 10/20
Yards – 1239 [1]
Most yards, game – 174 yards (on 27 carries) at San Francisco 11/3
Average gain – 5.0 [2]
TDs – 16 [1]
100-yard rushing games - 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 22       
Most receptions, game – 3 (for 29 yds.) vs. Atlanta 10/27, (for 104 yds.) vs. New Orleans 11/10, (for 35 yds.) vs. NY Giants 12/1
Yards – 297
Most yards, game - 104 (on 3 catches) vs. New Orleans 11/10
Average gain – 13.5
TDs – 4
100-yard receiving games – 1

Passing
Pass attempts – 4
Pass completions – 1
Passing yards – 34
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1   
Yards – 10
TDs – 0

Punt Returns
Returns – 1   
Yards – 9
TDs – 0

All-Purpose yards – 1555 [2]

Scoring
TDs – 20 [1]
Points – 120 [1]

Postseason: 2 G
Rushing attempts – 33
Most rushing attempts, game - 20 vs. Dallas, Eastern Conf. Championship
Rushing yards – 115
Most rushing yards, game - 87 vs. Dallas, Eastern Conf. Championship
Average gain rushing – 3.5
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 5
Most pass receptions, game - 3 vs. Baltimore, NFL Championship
Pass receiving yards - 73
Most pass receiving yards, game - 46 vs. Dallas, Eastern Conf. Championship
Average yards per reception – 14.6
Pass Receiving TDs - 1

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

Browns went 10-4 to finish first in the Century Division while ranking third in the NFL in rushing yards (2031), scoring (394 points), and TDs (49). Won Eastern Conference Championship over Dallas Cowboys (31-20). Lost NFL Championship to Baltimore Colts (34-0).

Aftermath:
While Kelly never again had a thousand-yard rushing season, he remained productive, gaining over 800 yards in three of the next four years as well as over a thousand yards from scrimmage. In all, he was selected to six straight Pro Bowls through 1971. His career ended in 1974 as a member of the WFL’s Chicago Fire, gaining 315 yards on the ground and catching 8 passes for 128 more yards. Upon leaving the NFL, he ranked fourth all-time with 7274 rushing yards and sixth in touchdowns with 90. Kelly also caught 190 passes for 2281 yards and gained 12,329 total yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1994.

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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 2/8/14]

June 9, 2012

1993: Marcus Allen Signs with Chiefs



On June 9, 1993 the Kansas City Chiefs signed 33-year-old free agent RB Marcus Allen to three one-year contracts. Allen joined another established veteran, QB Joe Montana, who had come to the Chiefs via trade from the 49ers earlier in the offseason.

Allen had played 11 seasons for the Los Angeles Raiders and was ranked 12th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list following the ’92 season. Having won the Heisman Trophy at USC in 1981, he was taken by the Raiders, newly moved from Oakland to LA, in the first round of the NFL draft and led the league in yards from scrimmage (1098) and rushing touchdowns (11) in the strike-shortened ’82 season. When the Raiders won the Super Bowl following the 1983 season, Allen was the game’s MVP with a then-record 191 yards rushing, and in the four seasons from 1984 through ’87 he was selected to the Pro Bowl. He also received MVP honors in 1985 as he led the NFL with 1759 rushing yards and caught 67 passes for 555 more yards, adding up to a league-leading total of 2314 yards from scrimmage.

A versatile back who excelled both at running the ball and catching it out of the backfield, the 6’2”, 210-pound Allen had been one of pro football’s best backs in his first six seasons. But beginning with the arrival of RB Bo Jackson in 1987, who split his time between major league baseball and pro football, Allen became less of a factor in the Raiders’ offense. To be sure, injuries played a role in Allen’s decline, but even after Jackson’s career came to an end in the 1990 postseason, he found himself backing up other running backs (including over-the-hill former stars Roger Craig and Eric Dickerson) due to a bitter feud with LA’s managing general partner, Al Davis. In 1991 and ’92, he carried the ball just 130 times and publicly accused Davis of trying to wreck his career. In a parting shot after the season, Davis referred to Allen as an “asterisk” in Raiders history.

Having Montana on the team was a selling point for Allen to sign with Kansas City.  “You’d have to be crazy not to take advantage of an opportunity to play with Joe Montana,” he said. “I want to go to the Super Bowl and Kansas City does, too. Hopefully, I can help them get there.”

The Chiefs had become a revitalized franchise with the arrival of President/GM Carl Peterson and Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer in 1989. Having had just two winning seasons and one postseason appearance in the 14 years between the end of the Hank Stram coaching era and the arrival of Peterson and Schottenheimer, Kansas City had put together four straight winning records and three consecutive trips to the playoffs from ’89 through 1992. However, the Chiefs had yet to make it beyond the Divisional playoff round, and it was hoped that adding the two accomplished veterans would get the team deeper into the postseason.

“The last couple of years I haven’t had much enthusiasm, and it showed in my play,” said Allen at the time of his signing with Kansas City, alluding to the conflict with Al Davis. “Believe me, there’s a lot left. You’ll see.”

Allen proved during the 1993 season that he did indeed have something left. When young RB Harvey Williams had difficulties in the early going, the savvy veteran moved into the starting lineup and rushed for 764 yards on 206 carries (both figures his most since the ’88 season) and caught 34 passes for another 238 yards. He tied for the AFC lead with 15 touchdowns and led the entire NFL in rushing TDs with 12. It earned Allen selection to the Pro Bowl for the first time in six years. While he might have lost a step, he was still a solid all-around back and fit well in Kansas City’s offense.

With Montana and Allen in the lineup the Chiefs won the AFC West in ’93 with an 11-5 record and advanced to the conference title game before losing to Buffalo. That would prove to be the postseason high-water mark for Kansas City during the period in which Montana, who retired following the 1994 season, and Allen were with the club.

In all, Allen played another four seasons for the Chiefs, rushing for a total of 3698 yards (of a career total 12,243) with a high of 890 in 1995 and pulling in 141 catches for 1153 yards (he retired with 587 receptions, the most for a running back up to that time). Even as a backup in 1997, his last year at age 37, he still rushed for 11 touchdowns, giving him a career total of 145 (123 by rushing). While there were no Super Bowl appearances, Kansas City did make it to the playoffs in three of those four years (four of five overall). It was also no doubt satisfying for Allen that the Chiefs posted a 9-1 record against the Raiders during his tenure with the team.

As a footnote, Marcus Allen was ultimately enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, part of the Class of 2003.

June 7, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Greg Cook, 1969

Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals



Age:  23 (Nov. 20)
College: Cincinnati
Height: 6’3”    Weight: 212

Prelude:
Personally scouted by Cincinnati Head Coach Paul Brown, Cook, a record-setting local collegiate talent, was chosen by the Bengals in the first round of the 1969 AFL/NFL draft (fifth overall). With ideal size and mobility combined with a strong arm, quick release, and great poise, he earned a spot in the starting lineup during the preseason and the results remained impressive at the start of the regular season. However, a shoulder injury suffered in Week 3 against the Chiefs would prove to be the beginning of the end for Cook’s career.

1969 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 11 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 197 [9]
Most attempts, game – 30 at Denver 12/14
Completions – 106 [9]
Most completions, game – 19 at Denver 12/14
Yards – 1854 [8]
Most yards, game – 327 vs. San Diego 9/21
Completion percentage – 53.8 [2]
Yards per attempt – 9.4 [1]
TD passes – 15 [4]
Most TD passes, game – 4 at Houston 11/9
Interceptions – 11 [9, tied with Pete Liske, John Hadl & Rick Norton]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Boston 11/16
Passer rating – 88.3 [1]
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 4

Rushing
Attempts – 25
Most attempts, game - 4 (for 33 yds.) vs. Boston 11/16, (for 21 yds.) at Buffalo 11/30
Yards – 148
Most yards, game – 33 yards (on 3 carries) vs. San Diego 9/21, (on 4 carries) vs. Boston 11/16
Yards per attempt – 5.9
TDs – 1

Scoring
TDs – 1
Points – 6

Awards & Honors:
AFL Rookie of the Year: UPI, PFWA

Bengals went 4-9-1 (with all four wins coming in games started by Cook) to finish fifth in the AFL Western Division.  

Aftermath:
Playing through a torn rotator cuff and detached bicep, Cook fatally damaged his career and became one of the great “what if” stories in pro football history. Multiple surgeries cost him the next three seasons and he returned to throw just three passes in 1973 before quitting for good. His 9.4 yards per attempt in ’69 remain a record for a rookie passer.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/8/14]

June 5, 2012

MVP Profile: Bert Jones, 1976

Quarterback, Baltimore Colts



Age:  25
4th season in pro football & with Colts
College: LSU
Height: 6’3”    Weight: 212

Prelude:
Son of former Cleveland HB Dub Jones, Bert Jones received his first exposure to pro football as a ball boy for the Browns. Achieving All-American status as a senior at LSU, he was taken by the Colts in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft (second overall). Jones had a rough rookie season with a team in disarray and was involved in a quarterback controversy as he split time with Marty Domres in ’74. Under new, offensive-minded Head Coach Ted Marchibroda in 1975, Jones gained the starting job and broke out with 2483 yards, a 59.0 completion percentage, and 18 TD passes to just 8 interceptions (for a league-low 2.3 percentage). The team started slowly but gained momentum in the second half of the season and won the AFC East with a 10-4 record. An outstanding passer with mobility and strong leadership skills, Jones appeared to be developing into an elite quarterback.

1976 Season Summary
Appeared in and started all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 343 [6]
Most attempts, game – 32 vs. NY Jets 11/28
Completions – 207 [6]
Most completions, game – 22 vs. NY Jets 11/28
Yards – 3104 [1]
Most yards, game – 301 vs. Cincinnati 9/19
Completion percentage – 60.3 [3]
Yards per attempt – 9.0 [3]
TD passes – 24 [2]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Cincinnati 9/19, at San Diego 11/7, vs. NY Jets 11/28, vs. Buffalo 12/12
Interceptions – 9
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Cincinnati 9/19
Passer rating – 102.5 [2]
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 8

Rushing
Attempts – 38
Most attempts, game - 7 (for 20 yds.) at Miami 11/22
Yards – 214
Most yards, game – 41 yards (on 5 carries) at Dallas 9/26
Yards per attempt – 5.6
TDs – 2

Scoring
TDs – 2
Points – 12

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Divisional playoff vs. Pittsburgh)
Pass attempts – 25
Pass completions – 11
Passing yardage – 144
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 2

Rushing attempts – 2
Rushing yards – 3
Average gain rushing – 1.5
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, NEA
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA
1st team All-AFC: AP, UPI
Pro Bowl

Colts went 11-3 to finish first in the AFC East while leading the NFL in total yards (5236), passing yards (2933), scoring (417 points), and TDs (51). Lost AFC Divisional playoff to Pittsburgh Steelers (40-14).

Aftermath:
Jones had another strong year in 1977, leading the NFL with 224 completions while passing for 2686 yards and 17 TDs. The Colts won a third straight division title but suffered a tough overtime loss to the Raiders in the Divisional round of the playoffs. However, shoulder injuries caused Jones to miss most of the 1978 and ’79 seasons – he saw action in just seven games and the team collapsed. While he returned in 1980 and passed for a career-high 3134 yards, the Colts were no longer a strong team and went 7-9. After passing for 3094 yards and 21 touchdowns with a 2-14 club in ’81, Jones, actively battling the front office, was traded to the Rams but appeared in just four games due to a major neck injury and retired. For his injury-shortened career, he passed for 18,190 yards with a healthy 56.1 completion percentage and 124 TDs to 101 interceptions. He also rushed for 1429 yards on 247 carries (5.8 avg.) with a high of 321 in 1975.

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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 2/8/14]