July 31, 2012

1974: Matthew Reed Rallies Americans Past Wheels

The participants in the World Football League game on July 31, 1974 in Ypsilanti, Michigan were teams moving in different directions.

The Detroit Wheels were coached by former Eastern Michigan Head Coach Dan Boisture, and the team played its home games at that college some 35 miles from the Motor City (the NFL Lions were able to block them from Tiger Stadium). The team suffered from financial difficulties right from the start and signed only three draft picks. They did draw heavily on young veterans with CFL experience, and one of them, Bubba Wyche, was the starting quarterback. After being blown out in the opening game at Memphis, they lost a close contest to Florida and then failed to hold a lead against The Hawaiians. At 0-3, Coach Boisture made clear that he considered the Week 4 contest to be a must-win for his team.

The visiting Birmingham Americans, coached by Jack Gotta, were 3-0, having won two close games to start the season and then most recently coming off a high-scoring 58-33 win at Memphis. However, veteran QB George Mira had a sprained ankle and would be sitting out the game against the Wheels. So, too, would ex-Redskins FB Charley Harraway, who had gotten off to a slow start and was now sidelined with a leg injury.

Taking Mira’s place was first-year QB Matthew Reed (pictured above). The 22-year-old Reed, an imposing 6’4” and 225 pounds, had been an outstanding college quarterback at Grambling but had failed to make it with the NFL Bills, who drafted him in the tenth round in 1973, and Saints.

There were just 14,614 fans present at Rynearson Stadium for the Wednesday night game. The hard-throwing Reed came out passing early, going for long bombs that fell incomplete while being blitzed heavily by the Detroit defense, hoping to take advantage of his inexperience.

Detroit got on the board when Bubba Wyche threw to newly-acquired TE Bruce Cullen for a 20-yard TD, although a running attempt for the “action point” failed (in the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and were followed by an “action point” that could not be kicked).

Late in the first half, and five minutes after the Wheels scored, Reed finally connected on a long pass play, hitting WR Dennis Homan for a 59-yard gain that set up an Earl Sark field goal of 27 yards with 14 seconds left on the clock. The score was 7-3 in favor of the Wheels at the half.

In the third quarter, Birmingham went 72 yards in five plays to score again. Homan made another big catch, diving to pull in the ball for a 29-yard gain, and RB Carl Bartles plunged in for a one-yard touchdown to finish the drive. Reed successfully passed for the “action point” and the Americans were ahead by 11-7.

At 4:42 into the fourth quarter, Sark booted a 36-yard field goal to extend Birmingham’s lead to 14-7. However, Detroit came back in stunning fashion when RB Jessie Mims took a pitchout and ran down the left sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. Wyche successfully converted the “action point” with a pass to RB Bill Sadler to put the Wheels in front at 15-14.

Following a short Birmingham possession that ended with a punt, it was Mims making another big play for the Wheels as he broke two tackles on the way to a 64-yard gain. That set up a 29-yard field goal by Eric Guthrie with 3:49 left in the game, and it appeared that Detroit might finally break into the win column.

Reed had the hot hand on the ensuing Birmingham drive, however, throwing to WR Alfred Jenkins for 14 yards, to TE Ted Powell for 32, and Homan for 12 yards to get the ball to the Detroit 9. Rolling out on an option play, the quarterback kept the ball and covered the nine yards, plowing over two defenders at the goal line for the winning touchdown with 2:12 left on the clock. The “action point” attempt failed, but Birmingham still came away the winner by a score of 21-18.

The Americans gained more yards (340 to 326) while Detroit led in first downs (18 to 13). Birmingham lost two fumbles and the Wheels turned the ball over once on an interception. Detroit was penalized seven times, for a loss of 50 yards, as opposed to two flags thrown on the Americans.

Matthew Reed completed just 8 of 21 passes, but they were good for 207 yards and he gave up no interceptions. Dennis Homan accounted for 4 catches for 110 yards. RB Paul Robinson led the rushing attack with 48 yards on 16 carries.

“We were flat early,” said Jack Gotta of his team’s offense. “I think it was rather obvious Matthew Reed was a little tight when he started. He had some problems early, but he stuck in there like they (the rest of the team) all did.”

For the Wheels, Jessie Mims rushed for 128 yards on just 9 carries. Bubba Wyche was successful on 19 of 32 throws for 190 yards and had one intercepted – he also ran for 30 yards on four carries. WR Jon Henderson pulled in 6 catches for 84 yards.

Detroit also suffered major injuries when WR Hubie Bryant and TE Dennis Macholz missed the second half due to leg injuries and CB Floyd Priester had to be carted off the field with a concussion on Birmingham’s winning score.

Typical of the Wheels, they played hard but came up short. They would go on to lose another close contest to the Americans at Birmingham the following week and a total of 10 straight before finally winning. With meager fan support and a lack of financial resources, the club failed to complete the season and folded with a 1-13 record.

Birmingham fared better, placing second in the Central Division at 15-5 and winning the only WFL Championship. Matthew Reed split time with George Mira and passed for 1345 yards and 11 touchdowns while also rushing for 176 yards and three TDs on 40 carries.

July 29, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Rueben Mayes, 1986

Running Back, New Orleans Saints

Age: 23
College: Washington State
Height: 5’11”  Weight: 201

Lightly regarded coming out of college, Mayes was taken in the third round of the 1986 NFL draft as one of three running backs that the team took with its five available picks in the first three rounds, behind Dalton Hilliard. Nevertheless, the Canadian native moved past Hilliard and into the starting lineup in Week 5. Despite an Achilles tendon injury that nagged him all year, he proved to be a surprise star with his quick acceleration.

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

Attempts – 286 [7]
Most attempts, game - 33 (for 157 yds.) vs. New England 11/30
Yards – 1353 [4]
Most yards, game – 203 yards (on 28 carries) vs. Miami 12/7
Average gain – 4.7 [3]
TDs – 8 [10, tied with five others]
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 6

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 17       
Most receptions, game – 3 (for 7 yds.) vs. Washington 10/5
Yards – 96
Most yards, game - 25 (on 2 catches) vs. New England 11/30
Average gain – 5.6
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 10
Yards – 213
Most yards, game – 55 (on 3 ret.) vs. Green Bay 9/14, (on 2 ret.) at Atlanta 12/14
Avg. – 21.3
TDs – 0
Longest return – 34 yards

All-Purpose yards – 1662 [7]

TDs – 8
Points – 48

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

Saints went 7-9 to finish fourth in the NFC West.

Mayes bypassed the Pro Bowl in order to have surgery on the injured Achilles tendon as quickly as possible after the season, and while he came back with another Pro Bowl year in 1987 (917 rushing yards in the strike-interrupted season), he suffered a severe knee injury that again required off-season surgery. A contract dispute resulted in a holdout and Mayes split time with Hilliard in 1988 and another Achilles tendon injury cost him all of the ’89 season. He came back to run for 510 yards in 1990 but was barely used in the last few games. Moving on to Seattle, he saw scant action and his career came to an end in 1991. The promising rookie season proved to be the high point for Mayes, and he ended up rushing for a total of 3484 yards on 866 carries (4.0 avg.) with 23 touchdowns and catching 57 passes for 401 yards (7.0 avg.) and no scores.


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]

July 25, 2012

MVP Profile: Kurt Warner, 2001

Quarterback, St. Louis Rams

Age:  30
7th season in pro football, 4th in NFL & with Rams
College: Northern Iowa
Height: 6’2”    Weight: 220

An undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa who failed to catch on with the Green Bay Packers in 1994, Warner played for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League and earned another shot at the NFL with the Rams, who allocated him to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe for the spring 1998 season. He made the Rams as the third string QB in ’98 and was expected to back up new arrival Trent Green in 1999, but a season-ending injury to Green during the preseason thrust Warner into the starting lineup. The result was a remarkable year in which the obscure quarterback led the league in completion percentage (65.1), yards per attempt (8.7), TD passes (41), and passing (109.2) and the Rams won the Super Bowl. Injuries shortened his season in 2000, but Warner still led the NFL in completion percentage (67.7) and yards per attempt (9.9).

2001 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 546 [7]
Most attempts, game – 47 vs. New Orleans 10/28
Completions – 375 [1]
Most completions, game – 30 at New England 11/18
Yards – 4830 [1]
Most yards, game – 401 at New England 11/18
Completion percentage – 68.7 [1]
Yards per attempt – 8.8 [1]
TD passes – 36 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 4 vs. Miami 9/30, at Atlanta 12/2, at New Orleans 12/17
Interceptions – 22 [3, tied with Aaron Brooks & Jon Kitna]
Most interceptions, game – 4 vs. New Orleans 10/28
Passer rating – 101.4 [1]
400-yard passing games – 1
300-yard passing games – 9
200-yard passing games – 15

Attempts – 28
Most attempts, game - 6 (for 3 yds.) at New England 11/18
Yards – 60
Most yards, game – 19 yards (on 4 carries) vs. San Francisco 12/9
Yards per attempt – 2.1
TDs – 0

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 107
Most attempts, game - 44 vs. New England, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 68
Most completions, game - 28 vs. New England, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 793
Most yards, game - 365 vs. New England, Super Bowl
TD passes – 4
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. Green Bay, NFC Divisional playoff
Interceptions – 3
Most interceptions, game - 2 vs. New England, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 9
Most rushing attempts, game - 4 vs. Green Bay, NFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 8
Most rushing yards, game - 6 vs. New England, Super Bowl
Average gain rushing – 0.9
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Rams went 14-2 to win NFC West and gain top playoff seed in conference while leading the NFL in total yards (6690), passing yards (4663), points scored (503) and touchdowns (62). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Green Bay Packers (45-17) and NFC Championship over Philadelphia Eagles (29-24). Lost Super Bowl to New England Patriots (20-17).

Following three outstanding seasons, a hand injury in 2002 greatly hampered Warner’s effectiveness and he lost his starting job in 2003. After a year with the New York Giants, in which he paved the way for rookie QB Eli Manning, Warner moved on to the Arizona Cardinals and revived his career. He led the Cardinals to an NFC Championship following the 2008 season and retired after another productive, division-winning year in 2009. Warner left the NFL as the fifth-rated passer all-time (93.7 rating) and having thrown for 32,344 yards with 208 TDs and a 65.5 completion percentage. While his career was marked by abrupt ups and downs, his regular-season won-lost record as a starting quarterback was 67-49 (9-4 in the postseason).


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]

July 22, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Kevin Mack, 1985

Fullback, Cleveland Browns

Age: 23
College: Clemson
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 212

A member of the 1981 national championship team at Clemson, Mack joined the Los Angeles Express of the USFL for the spring 1984 season and rushed for 330 yards on 73 carries (4.5 avg.). Waived by the Express and taken by Cleveland in the first round of the 1984 NFL Supplemental draft, he signed with the Browns and was considered a NFL rookie when he joined the club for the 1985 season. The power-running Mack moved into the starting lineup and teamed up effectively with RB Earnest Byner.

1985 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 222 [18]
Most attempts, game - 21 (for 94 yds.) vs. Buffalo 11/17
Yards – 1104 [10]
Most yards, game – 130 yards (on 16 carries) at San Diego 9/29
Average gain – 5.0 [5]
TDs – 7 [18, tied with seven others]
100-yard rushing games – 3

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 29       
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 49 yds.) at San Diego 9/29
Yards – 297
Most yards, game - 85 (on 5 catches) vs. New England 10/6
Average gain – 10.2
TDs – 3

TDs – 10 [11, tied with thirteen others]
Points – 60

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Divisional playoff at Miami)
Rushing attempts – 13
Rushing yards – 56
Average gain rushing – 4.3
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
Pro Bowl

Browns went 8-8 to finish first in the AFC Central. Lost AFC Divisional playoff to Miami Dolphins (24-21).

The combination of Mack and Earnest Byner that became the third NFL running back duo to each gain a thousand yards in a season in 1985 was less effective in ‘86, as both had injury problems and they only were paired together for a total of seven quarters. Mack’s shoulder injury slowed him early but he came back strong in the second half of the season and ended up rushing for 665 yards and 10 TDs. In the strike-shortened ’87 season, Mack ran for 735 yards and caught 32 passes, earning a second Pro Bowl selection as the team made it to the AFC title game for the second straight year. But injuries limited him to 11 games and 485 rushing yards in 1988 and injuries combined with a league suspension following a drug arrest held him to four games and 130 yards in ’89. Mack returned to form and was a bright spot on a 3-13 team in 1990, rushing for 702 yards and catching a career-high 42 passes for 360 more. He ran for 726 yards and caught 40 passes in ’91 but was showing clear signs of wear and, after a 543-yard season in 1992, he appeared in four games and rushed for 33 yards in 1993, his last year. Overall, Mack was considered one of the top power runners in the game, if not a particularly adept blocker, and rushed for a total of 5123 yards and 46 touchdowns with a 4.0 average per carry, along with 197 pass receptions for 1602 yards and another 8 TDs in nine seasons with the Browns.


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]

July 20, 2012

MVP Profile: Rod Woodson, 1993

Cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 28
7th season in pro football & with Steelers
College: Purdue
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 200

An outstanding athlete coming out of college (he was a champion hurdler as well as football star), Woodson was chosen by the Steelers in the first round of the 1987 NFL draft (10th overall). He held out and got a late start in the strike-interrupted ’87 season, and was used as a nickel back and kick returner, but swiftly developed into a star at cornerback and was team co-MVP in 1988. Woodson was a consensus first-team All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl for the first time in ’89. With his outstanding speed, leaping ability, and body control, he became a regular Pro Bowl participant through 1992 and was again a first-team All-Pro selection in 1990 and ’92, a season in which he recorded a career-high six sacks and 100 tackles. He also compiled 20 interceptions in his first six years, led the NFL in kickoff returning in 1989 (27.3 avg.) and ran two kickoffs and two punts back for TDs.

1993 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 2
Most sacks, game – 1 at LA Rams 9/12, at Cleveland 10/24
Interceptions – 8 [3]
Most interceptions, game – 2 vs. San Francisco 9/5, at Atlanta 9/27, vs. New Orleans 10/17
Int. return yards – 138 [2]
Most int. return yards, game – 63 (on 2 int.) vs. New Orleans 10/17
Int. TDs – 1 [2, tied with many]
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 2
Tackles – 95

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 15
Yards – 294
Most yards, game – 65 (on 4 ret.) at Denver 11/21
Average per return – 19.6
TDs – 0
Longest return – 44 yards

Punt Returns
Returns – 42 [2]
Yards – 338 [8]
Most yards, game – 54 (on 4 ret.) vs. Cincinnati 9/19
Average per return – 8.0
TDs – 0
Longest return – 39 yards

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Wild Card playoff at Kansas City)
Sacks – 0
Interceptions – 0

Punt Returns – 3
Yards – 18
Avg. Return – 6.0
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns – 3
Yards – 66
Avg. Return – 22.0
TDs – 0

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

Steelers went 9-7 to finish second in the AFC Central and qualify for the postseason as a Wild Card. Lost AFC Wild Card playoff to Kansas City Chiefs (27-24).

In 1994, Woodson was again a first-team All-Pro for the fifth time in six seasons and was selected to his sixth straight Pro Bowl. But it appeared his career might be over due to a severe knee injury suffered in the first game of the ’95 season. Remarkably, he returned to play for the Steelers in the Super Bowl following that season and was again selected for the Pro Bowl in 1996. He moved on to the 49ers in ’97 and then to the Baltimore Ravens in 1998, where he was shifted to free safety in ’99 and played well enough to once again gain selection to the Pro Bowl. It was the first of three straight such selections with the Ravens, who also won the Super Bowl following the 2000 season largely due to their outstanding defense. With the Raiders in 2002, Woodson was a consensus first-team All-Pro for the sixth and last time, and also went to the Pro Bowl for the last of 11 times at the age of 37. He finished up with Oakland in 2003, having intercepted 71 passes, the third most in NFL history, 12 of which were returned for touchdowns, a league record. Woodson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.


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). Also includes Associated Press NFL Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

[Updated 2/8/14]

July 18, 2012

1974: Huarte TD Passes Lead Memphis Over Storm

The Thursday night nationally-televised World Football League game on July 18, 1974 featured the Memphis Southmen hosting the Portland Storm. The Southmen (or “Grizzlies”, as the locals preferred to call them) had won their opening game handily over the Detroit Wheels the week before while Portland had been trounced by the Philadelphia Bell.

Owned by Canadian businessman John Bassett Jr., the franchise was originally slated to play in Toronto, but legislation introduced in the Canadian Parliament that banned US-based pro football leagues from that nation caused the team to be moved to Memphis. Prior to the move, Bassett had made the biggest preseason splash for the new league by signing three stars from the NFL-champion Miami Dolphins – FB Larry Csonka, HB Jim Kiick, and WR Paul Warfield – to contracts for the 1975 season. That was, of course, a year away and they were not available for ’74, but Head Coach John McVay’s team still boasted some promising talent, including rookie QB Danny White and RB J.J. Jennings and young veterans such as RB John Harvey.

Starting at quarterback was 31-year-old John Huarte (pictured above), who had been a career backup in pro football since winning the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame in 1964. He had been taken in the sixth round of the ’65 NFL draft by the Eagles and second in the AFL draft by the New York Jets. Huarte signed with the Jets but found himself quickly overshadowed by another rookie quarterback who had been taken in the first round, Joe Namath. He spent time on New York’s taxi squad before being dealt to the Patriots, where he saw scant action over the course of two years. He moved on to the Eagles, Chiefs, and Bears, retiring from the NFL in 1973 having thrown a career total of just 48 passes (his one TD pass came with Philadelphia in ‘68). However, Huarte decided to take another shot at pro football with the new league.

The Portland Storm was the last of the WFL franchises to set up shop, having originally been slated to play in New York City (where a different ownership group ended up with a team). Dick Coury, previously an assistant with the NFL Denver Broncos, became head coach and the roster drew heavily from the Pacific Northwest.

There were 31,088 fans in attendance at the Liberty Bowl on an 87-degree night. They had reason to cheer early on as the Southmen scored in spectacular fashion in their first possession on a Huarte pass to wide-open rookie WR Jack Ettinger that covered 42 yards. Huarte successfully threw for the action point (touchdowns were worth seven points in the WFL, followed by an action point that could not be kicked) and the home team was ahead by 8-0.

However, after that electrifying beginning neither squad was able to score again during first half. Portland tied the game with just over six minutes left in the third quarter when QB Greg Barton threw to WR Sam Dickerson for a 29-yard touchdown. The successful action point made it 8-8. Dickerson, a rookie out of USC, had been activated from Portland’s taxi squad the day before the game.

The winning touchdown for the Southmen was set up later in the period when CB David Thomas intercepted a Barton pass and returned it to the Portland 17. Huarte passed to WR Ed Marshall for a 14-yard TD and again successfully threw for the action point.

Thomas intercepted another pass at the Portland 34 in the fourth quarter but Memphis failed to add to its lead when an attempt to convert a fourth-and-one situation at the 12 came up short and the Storm took over on downs. The Southmen held on to win the low-scoring contest by a score of 16-8.

Memphis outgained the Storm (346 yards to 220) and had significantly more first downs (22 to 12). Portland was also hurt by turning the ball over four times, to two fumbles lost by the “Grizzlies”.

John Huarte was good on 15 of 24 passes for 197 yards and the two touchdowns with none intercepted. John Harvey rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries while J.J. Jennings added 63 yards on his 20 attempts. TE Gary Shirk caught 5 passes for 62 yards and Jack Ettinger, thanks to the long scoring pass, gained 64 yards on his two catches.

For the Storm, Greg Barton completed 11 of 23 throws for 163 yards and a TD but also was picked off twice. HB Marv Kendricks ran for 75 yards on 17 attempts. Sam Dickerson pulled in 4 passes for 98 yards and the team’s lone touchdown.

“Huarte’s experience and cool really showed up,” said Coach McVay. “Our receivers and the defensive team really played a great game.”

The former Heisman Trophy winner’s performance was indeed the biggest story of the night. Huarte went on to have his best pro season, leading the WFL in yards per attempt (8.2) while completing 154 of 294 passes for 2416 yards with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Memphis put together the league’s best record, topping the Central Division at 17-3, although the Southmen were upset by the Florida Blazers in the second round of the playoffs. The Storm was 7-12-1 to tie for third in the Western Division. 

The long scoring pass in the first quarter was the only touchdown of the year for Jack Ettinger, who caught just 7 passes for 167 yards. Ed Marshall, who scored the game-winning TD, had a far more significant season, accumulating 60 receptions for 1159 yards and a league-leading 19 touchdowns – adding his 11 action points, he led the WFL in scoring with 144 total points. Likewise, David Thomas, with the two key interceptions in the second half, led the WFL in that category with 10 and was named to the league All-Star Team by The Sporting News. 

July 16, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Robert Jones, 1992

Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Age:  23 (Sept. 27)
College: East Carolina
Height: 6’2”    Weight: 236

Jones was taken in the first round of the 1992 NFL draft (24th overall) and stepped immediately into the starting lineup at middle linebacker to replace departed veteran free agent Jack Del Rio. While lacking ideal size, he made up for it with speed and aggressiveness, although he regularly came out of the game on passing downs.

1992 Season Summary
Appeared in 15 of 16 games
(Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20)

Sacks – 1
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 0
Tackles – 108

Postseason: 3 G
Sacks – 0
Interceptions – 0
TD – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI

Cowboys went 13-3 to finish first in the NFC East while leading the NFL in rushing defense (1244 yards/ 77.8 yards per game) and ranking second in fewest points allowed (243). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Philadelphia Eagles (34-10), NFC Championship over San Francisco 49ers (30-20), and Super Bowl over Buffalo Bills (52-17).

Following a good but somewhat erratic rookie season, Jones lost his starting job in 1993. He regained it in ’94, thanks to the defection of Ken Norton Jr. to the 49ers as a free agent, and led the Cowboys in tackles but continued to lack consistency. Following one more year in Dallas, Jones signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent in 1996 and, exhibiting the same problem with uneven play, lasted two seasons before moving on to the Miami Dolphins, where he recorded a career-high five sacks in ’98 and played three years before finishing his career with Washington in 2001. Overall, while fast and good enough to start during most of his 10-season career, Jones never fully lived up to his first draft choice – or Rookie of the Year – potential.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), 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). 

July 15, 2012

1984: Stars Throttle Wranglers for USFL Title

The Philadelphia Stars were a team on a mission during the 1984 United States Football League season. Head Coach Jim Mora’s squad had gone 15-3 in the league’s inaugural ’83 campaign but lost a closely-fought title game to the Michigan Panthers by two points. The Stars were just as efficient and dominating during the ’84 regular season, going 16-2. QB Chuck Fusina (pictured above) led a conservative but potent offense centered around RB Kelvin Bryant and an outstanding line anchored by OT Irv Eatman and C Bart Oates. The “Doghouse Defense” was, if anything, even better than it had been the previous year and featured All-League honorees in DT Pete Kugler, LB Sam Mills, CB Garcia Lane, and FS Mike Lush. The club had beaten the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions to advance once again to the USFL Championship Game.

Their opponent on July 15, 1984 was the Arizona Wranglers, under Head Coach George Allen. The veteran-laden club that had (for the most part) played as the Chicago Blitz in ’83 was similar to the Stars in having a ball-control offense and rugged defense. 37-year-old QB Greg Landry no longer had a strong arm but still had plenty of savvy behind center and the running game boasted two thousand-yard rushers in Tim Spencer (1212) and Kevin Long (1010). WR Trumaine Johnson was a top receiver (90 catches, 1268 yds., 13 TDs). The defense ranked first overall and contained DE Karl Lorch, DT Kit Lathrop, and LB Ed Smith. However, Arizona’s road to the postseason had been more difficult – the Wranglers started off slowly but won their last four games to finish second in the Pacific Division at 10-8 and qualify as a Wild Card. They won two closely-fought games over the Houston Gamblers and Los Angeles Express to make it to the title game.

There was a crowd of 52,662 on hand at Tampa Stadium for the second USFL Championship game. The Stars took control from the start, driving 66 yards in 10 plays in the opening series of the game capped by a four-yard touchdown carry by RB Bryan Thomas (pictured below). Following a three-and-out possession by Arizona, Philadelphia again put together a long scoring drive that took nine plays to travel 54 yards. Fusina scored on a quarterback sneak from a yard out and, while David Trout missed the extra point attempt, Philadelphia was ahead by 13-0 after a quarter of play.

Fusina completed his first ten passes and the Stars’ offense moved methodically down the field, but in the second quarter turnovers kept the team from scoring again and nearly allowed the Wranglers to get back into the game. Backup TE Ken Dunek, in the lineup in place of injured starter Steve Folsom, fumbled early in the second quarter at the Arizona 43 yard line. The Wranglers recovered and capitalized when Frank Corral booted a 37-yard field goal.

Another Philadelphia drive into Arizona territory was stopped at the Wranglers’ 11 but Trout missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. Just before halftime, an 84-yard drive by the Stars came up empty when Kelvin Bryant, who was hampered by a toe injury, fumbled at the goal line – the play resulted in a touchback. The score remained 13-3 at the intermission although Philadelphia had rolled up 249 yards to just 49 for the Wranglers.

Arizona’s offense came alive in the first series of the third quarter. The Wranglers advanced 40 yards, but facing third-and-three at the Philadelphia 39, Greg Landry’s pass intended for Tim Spencer was broken up by LB Mike Johnson. While a furious Landry shouted at officials that Spencer had been interfered with, the protest was to no avail and Arizona was forced to punt.

Once again the Stars moved smoothly down the field. However, after reaching the Arizona 16, they came up empty once again when Fusina’s third-down pass was tipped by Kit Lathrop and intercepted by Ed Smith, who returned it 37 yards to the Philadelphia 46. It seemed once again that the Arizona offense would put points on the board, advancing to the 23, but the Stars defense held and Corral missed a field goal attempt from 40 yards.

The Wranglers suffered only one turnover, but it served to put the game out of reach. Landry fumbled while being sacked by DE Don Fielder at the Arizona 11 yard line and DT Buddy Moor recovered for the Stars. Seven plays later, Bryant scored from a yard out and Philadelphia took a commanding 20-3 lead with just under ten minutes left in the contest. David Trout capped the scoring with a 39-yard field goal as the Philadelphia defense stifled the Wranglers the rest of the way. The Stars became USFL Champions by a score of 23-3 that easily could have been much larger.

Philadelphia ran 59 running plays, a USFL postseason record, and dominated time of possession by 43:19 to 16:41. They also outgained Arizona by 414 yards to 119 and, while the Stars turned the ball over three times, the Wranglers were only able to take advantage with the lone field goal, while Arizona’s single turnover led to seven points for Philadelphia. Arizona, known for its outstanding pass rush during the regular season, was unable to put pressure on Fusina and did not sack him at all.

Chuck Fusina, the game’s MVP, completed 12 of 17 passes for 158 yards with no TDs and one interception. Kelvin Bryant led the running game with 115 yards on 29 carries that included a touchdown while Bryan Thomas contributed 69 yards on 11 attempts and one TD. WR Tom Donovan caught three passes for 43 yards.

For the Wranglers, Greg Landry was successful on just 6 of 20 throws for 54 yards. No player caught more than one pass, with WR Lenny Willis gaining 16 yards on Arizona’s longest pass completion of the game and Trumaine Johnson gaining 15 on his sole catch. Held to only 72 rushing yards as a team, Tim Spencer led the way with 33 yards on 8 carries.

“There’s no doubt we are the best team in the USFL,” said a triumphant Jim Mora afterward. “There was no denying this team.” Mora further added, “Our goal after losing to Michigan last year was not just to get to Tampa, but to win this game tonight.”

“We had opportunities to get back in the game after a couple of turnovers, but we didn’t take advantage of them,” said George Allen, coaching his last pro game at age 66. “We didn’t play as well as I thought we would, so Philadelphia deserves to win the championship.”

Allen saluted his players by saying, “I’m proud of them even though we lost. They played hard and came back from adversity all season long.”

In the ensuing offseason, the Stars moved to Baltimore (necessitated by the USFL’s plan to shift to a fall schedule for a 1986 season that never happened) and, while not as dominant during the regular season, rallied to win a second straight title in ’85. The Wranglers stayed in place but were merged with the Oklahoma Outlaws for 1985 and went 8-10 to finish fourth in the Western Conference.  

July 13, 2012

MVP Profile: George Blanda, 1970

Quarterback/Placekicker, Oakland Raiders

Age:  43 (Sept. 17)
21st season in pro football, 4th with Raiders
College: Kentucky
Height: 6’2”    Weight: 215

Blanda was chosen by the Chicago Bears in the 12th round of the 1949 NFL draft and, with a very brief hiatus in Baltimore, played for them for ten years. He led the league in passing attempts (362) and completions (169) in 1953, but otherwise was forced to share the quarterback job while handling the placekicking. After two seasons (1957 & ’58) in which he saw scant action at quarterback, he retired. The creation of the new AFL in 1960 pulled Blanda out of retirement, and he led the Oilers to the first league title while throwing for 2413 yards and 24 touchdowns. He followed that up with a 1961 season that started slowly (he was actually briefly benched) but ended up with his winning AFL Player of the Year honors, leading the league in passing yards (3330) and yards per attempt (9.2) as well as tossing a record 36 TD passes (tied by Y.A. Tittle in the NFL in 1963 but not broken until 1984) as the Oilers, following a fortuitous coaching change, went on to win a second AFL title. Blanda was an AFL All-Star after each of the next two seasons and led the Oilers back to the AFL Championship game in ’62 despite being intercepted a record 42 times. He led the league in interceptions thrown for four straight years (1962-65), but also in passing yards in 1963 (3003) and both passes and completions from 1963-65. The team’s record had tailed off badly after ’62, however, and young QB Don Trull was drafted to be Blanda’s replacement. At age 39, Blanda was let go by Houston following the 1966 season and signed with the Oakland Raiders. Seeing scant action as the backup quarterback, he continued to be a reliable placekicker and led the league in scoring with 116 points in 1967. Both his quarterbacking and placekicking came into play in 1970 as he put together a remarkable string of clutch performances during the season.

1970 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 55
Most attempts, game – 13 at Detroit 11/26
Completions – 29
Most completions, game – 7 vs. Pittsburgh 10/25, vs. Cleveland 11/8
Yards – 461
Most yards, game – 148 vs. Pittsburgh 10/25
Completion percentage – 52.7
Yards per attempt – 8.4
TD passes – 6
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. vs. Pittsburgh 10/25
Interceptions – 5
Most interceptions, game – 2 vs. San Francisco 12/20
Passer rating – 79.4

Attempts – 2
Yards – 4
Yards per attempt – 2.0
TDs – 0

Field goals – 16 [18]
Most field goals, game - 3 vs. Cleveland 11/8
Field goal attempts – 29 [14]
Most field goal attempts, game – 4 at San Diego 9/27, vs. Cleveland 11/8, vs. San Diego 11/22
Field goal percentage – 55.2 [18]
PATs – 36 [4, tied with Jim O'Brien]
PAT attempts – 36 [5]
Longest field goal – 52 yards vs. Cleveland 11/8

Field goals – 16
PATs - 36
Points – 84 [15]

Postseason: 2 G
(all passing was in 1 G – at Baltimore, AFC Championship)
Pass attempts – 32
Pass completions – 17
Passing yards – 271
TD passes – 2
Interceptions – 3

Field goals – 1
Most field goals, game – 1 at Baltimore, AFC Championship
Field goal attempts – 2
Most field goal attempts, game – 1 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff, at Baltimore, AFC Championship
PATs – 5
Most PATs, game – 3 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
PAT attempts – 5
Longest field goal – 48 yards at Baltimore, AFC Championship

Awards & Honors:
NFL Player of the Year: Bert Bell Award
2nd team All-NFL: PFWA

Raiders went 8-4-2 to finish first in the AFC West while leading the conference in passing yards (2865). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Miami Dolphins (21-14). Lost AFC Championship to Baltimore Colts (27-17).

Blanda remained a capable backup quarterback and placekicker for the Raiders through 1975, at age 48. He retired as the all-time NFL leader in scoring (2002 points) and field goals (335), as well as seasons played (26 – the record that still stands), and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1981.


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]

July 11, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Bo Jackson, 1987

Running Back, Los Angeles Raiders

Age:  25 (Nov. 30)
College: Auburn
Height: 6’1”    Weight: 222

An outstanding all-around athlete, Jackson rushed for 4303 yards in college and won the 1985 Heisman Trophy. He was chosen first overall in the ’86 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but chose to sign with major league baseball’s Kansas City Royals instead. Returning to the draft pool in ’87, Jackson was taken in the seventh round by the Raiders, who agreed to an arrangement where he would play the full baseball season and then join the NFL season in progress. In the strike-interrupted 1987 season, he didn’t make his first appearance with the team until Nov. 1 but, splitting time with veteran RB Marcus Allen, still managed to make an impression with his outstanding combination of size and speed.

1987 Season Summary
Appeared in 7 of 15 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 81
Most attempts, game - 19 (for 78 yds.) vs. Buffalo 12/6
Yards – 554
Most yards, game – 221 yards (on 18 carries) at Seattle 11/30
Average gain – 6.8 [1]
TDs – 4
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 1

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 16       
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 20 yds.) vs. Denver 11/22
Yards – 136
Most yards, game - 59 (on 4 catches) vs. Buffalo 12/6
Average gain – 8.5
TDs – 2

TDs – 6
Points – 36

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: NEA

Raiders went 5-10 to finish fourth in the AFC West while leading the conference in rushing yards (2197).

Jackson continued splitting his time between baseball and football, gaining 580 yards rushing in 10 games in 1988 and 950 on 173 carries (5.5 avg.) in 11 appearances in ’89. He achieved an unprecedented double-honor of gaining selection to both the major league baseball All-Star game in 1989 and NFL Pro Bowl in ‘90, but a major hip injury suffered in the postseason ended his pro football career after just four abbreviated seasons (his baseball career was also cut short, although he lasted until 1994). Overall with the Raiders, he rushed for 2782 yards on 515 carries (5.4 avg.), scoring 16 TDs, and caught 40 passes for 352 yards (8.8 avg.) and two more scores, and in addition to his Pro Bowl selection was a second-team All-AFC selection by UPI following the 1989 and ’90 seasons.


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]

July 10, 2012

1983: Surging Panthers Overwhelm Invaders in USFL Semifinal Playoff Game

The inaugural season of the United States Football League ended with four teams qualifying for the postseason (three division winners plus a wild card). On July 10, 1983 two of those teams, the Oakland Invaders and Michigan Panthers, met for a Semifinal Playoff game in Pontiac, Michigan.

The Panthers, coached by Jim Stanley, had hardly started out looking like a playoff contender as they lost four straight contests after narrowly defeating the Birmingham Stallions in Week 1. However, veteran talent was brought in to solidify the offensive line and rookie QB Bobby Hebert (pictured above), along with the more-heralded first-year player, WR Anthony Carter out of Michigan, overcame the slow start and began to hit their stride. The defense included the new league’s Defensive Player of the Year, LB John Corker with his 28 sacks, and another star rookie, SS David Greenwood. Michigan caught fire in the second half, winning six consecutive games and 11 of the last 13 to win the Central Division with a 12-6 record and take a great deal of momentum into the postseason.

Oakland was the top team in the Pacific Division, but it was the USFL’s weakest grouping and the Invaders had prevailed with a mediocre 9-9 record. Head Coach John Ralston, formerly of Stanford and the Denver Broncos, had gotten good mileage out of two ex-NFL Raiders on offense, TE Raymond Chester and RB Arthur Whittington. He had also uncovered a surprising star in QB Fred Besana, who had been working in a beer distributorship and playing minor league football before signing with the Invaders and leading the league in passing yards (3980), completions (345), and completion percentage (62.7). However, the Invaders had a leaky offensive line and the immobile Besana thus also led the USFL by being sacked 71 times. Inconsistency on defense was also a problem – definitely a concern in facing an explosive team like the Panthers. Furthermore, Whittington would not be starting due to a disciplinary action after missing a practice – the team officially said he was out with a rib injury, and while he came into the game late in the second quarter, his contribution was negligible.

A USFL-record crowd of 60,237 was present at the Pontiac Silverdome, helped along by free parking and reduced ticket prices, and it was loud and enthusiastic. Nevertheless, Oakland scored first, driving 78 yards in 14 plays that ate up over seven minutes of the first quarter. But after getting a first down at the Michigan two yard line, it took four plays for the Invaders to get into the end zone, with Besana finally sneaking for the last yard on fourth down.

Behind 7-0, the Panthers responded impressively on the next series that stretched into the second quarter as Hebert threw to WR Derek Holloway for a 40-yard gain and RB John Williams ran for a five-yard touchdown. The defense then set up another score when LB Kyle Borland intercepted a Besana pass and the resulting Michigan possession led to a 38-yard field goal by Novo Bojovic.

With the Invaders unable to move the ball effectively against the inspired Michigan defense, the Panthers decided to press their advantage in extending the lead late in the second quarter. In a key gamble, they passed up an easy field goal attempt on fourth down with 11 seconds left in the half and Hebert passed to Carter for a three-yard touchdown that made it a 17-7 contest at the midway point.

Oakland wasn’t out of it yet and on the third play of the second half, LB David Shaw picked off a swing pass by Hebert and ran 19 yards for a touchdown that, with the successful extra point, narrowed Michigan’s lead to 17-14. The Panthers once again responded by scoring, putting together an 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in Hebert keeping the ball himself for a one-yard TD. It was 24-14 with just under ten minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Late in the period, Michigan LB Ray Bentley forced Oakland RB Ted Torosian to fumble and DE Allen Hughes recovered for the Panthers at the Michigan 17. On the ensuing series, the biggest play was a Hebert-to-Carter pass that covered 56 yards. Shortly thereafter, RB Ken Lacy scored on an 18-yard run and the home team was up by 31-14 and firmly in control.

That was it for the scoring until RB Cleo Miller ran for a touchdown from three yards out for the Panthers with a little under two minutes remaining (the extra point attempt failed). Oakland responded with a consolation five-yard scoring pass from Besana to WR Marc Lewis.

Following Oakland’s final touchdown, fans overflowed the field with 25 seconds on the clock and tore down the goal posts. The teams and officials headed to the locker rooms and the game was officially declared complete at 14:35 of the final period. The Panthers came away with a decisive 37-21 win.

Michigan showed a great deal of flair, using laterals and reverses and twice passing up field goal attempts on fourth down to successfully go for touchdowns. While the Invaders held only a narrow edge in first downs (22 to 20), they rolled up significantly more yardage (463 to 321) and held the ball over six minutes longer (32:58 to 26:37). Oakland was further handicapped by turning the ball over four times, against two suffered by the Panthers.

Bobby Hebert completed 18 of 27 passes for 295 yards with one touchdown and interception apiece. Anthony Carter (pictured at right) caught three passes for 78 yards and a TD and Derek Holloway also had three receptions, for 78 yards. TE Mike Cobb contributed three more for 25 yards. However, the team’s leading receiver was RB Ken Lacy, who had 4 catches for 30 yards to go along with his 73 yards on 14 rushing attempts. John Williams compiled 59 yards on his 17 carries. Ray Bentley had a notable game on defense for the Panthers, forcing two fumbles and recovering one.

Fred Besana, playing catch-up for most of the game, went to the air 35 times and completed 23 for 258 yards with the one late touchdown and had two picked off. WR Gordon Banks caught 7 of those throws for 96 yards. Ted Torosian gained just 18 yards on 10 carries that included a fumble and pulled in 7 pass receptions for 46 yards. Of Oakland’s total of 64 yards on the ground, 43 came on two carries by Marc Lewis.

“We could have settled for three there,” said Jim Stanley regarding the decision to pass up the field goal attempt for the pass on fourth down late in the first half. “But this team has worked awfully hard. If I don’t have faith in them, I lose something.”

“We misfired on a couple of turnovers,” said Coach Ralston in defeat. “Against a team like Michigan, you have to play error-free. Our offense moved the ball pretty much like we wanted, but the turnovers killed us.”

The Panthers kept up the momentum, defeating the Philadelphia Stars in the USFL Championship game. Their 1984 season was the mirror opposite of ‘83 as Michigan ran out to a 6-0 start but, thanks to key injuries to Anthony Carter and David Greenwood, slumped in the second half and nosed into the postseason as a wild card team with a 10-8 record. Oakland lost its first nine contests of ’84, turned around and won seven straight, and finished at 7-11.