September 30, 2012

1951: 49ers Upend Browns in Season-Opening Game

The Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers were formed as part of the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and became fierce rivals during the league’s four-year existence. The Browns were the dominant team, winning the AAFC title in each season, while the 49ers were the second-best club, toiling in the same division as Cleveland for the first three years and, when the league did away with divisions in 1949, they met in the Championship game. Both were absorbed into the NFL in 1950, although the results in that first season were very different: Cleveland continued to be a dominant club, winning the league title, while the 49ers sank to 3-9. The clubs met late in the year in Cleveland and the Browns won handily.

On September 30, 1951 the Browns took on the 49ers in the opening week of their second NFL season. Games between the two teams had typically been big draws during the AAFC years, and there were 52,219 in attendance at Kezar Stadium.

San Francisco, under Head Coach Buck Shaw, had added many promising rookies to a solid core that included mobile lefthanded QB Frankie Albert and FB Joe Perry. However, star HB Johnny Strzykalski was out with an injury.

The Browns were a star-studded club under the direction of innovative Head Coach Paul Brown. Players like QB Otto Graham, ends Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, and OT/PK Lou Groza were well-established performers and used to winning. Cleveland had some injury problems as well coming into the opening game, and they were without DT Chubby Grigg and LB Hal Herring.

Some rain fell, mainly during halftime, and it certainly appeared gloomy for the home crowd when Cleveland scored quickly in the first quarter, going 89 yards in just three plays. Graham threw short passes to Speedie and Lavelli before connecting with HB Dub Jones near the sideline, who ran untouched to the end zone to complete the 81-yard play.

The 49ers responded with a 49-yard drive in 13 plays that ended at the Cleveland one, where HB Verl Lillywhite was stopped short on fourth down. However, the Browns were unable to move offensively and San Francisco got the ball back in good field position following a punt by Horace Gillom. The 49ers tied the score, going 41 yards in just two plays. HB Pete Schabarum, subbing for the injured Strzykalski, ran for 16 yards and then Frankie Albert connected with rookie end Billy Wilson for a 25-yard TD.

Gordie Soltau missed on a 38-yard field goal attempt during the second quarter when the 49ers lost ground after reaching the Cleveland 16. Lou Groza also failed on a 42-yard field goal attempt for the Browns. With time running out in the half, Albert moved the Niners from their own 40 to the Cleveland 34 and Soltau was successful from 42 yards with two seconds left on the clock. The 49ers went into the intermission with a 10-7 lead. The Browns lost another starter during the second quarter when LB Tony Adamle suffered an ankle injury.

Early in the third quarter, Groza missed a 37-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the score. When the Browns got the ball again, Graham was intercepted in 49er territory by LB Norm Standlee, and he returned it to his own 29. The 49ers proceeded to drive 71 yards, highlighted by a 34-yard run by Lillywhite that followed a 15-yard sack of Albert by Cleveland DE Len Ford, and ending with a six-yard touchdown carry by Joe Perry. Groza finally was successful on a 40-yard field goal try, but the Browns were down by 17-10 after three quarters.

There was some controversy in the fourth quarter when San Francisco LB Pete Wisman intercepted a Graham pass, fumbled on the return, and recovered at the Cleveland 8. The Browns questioned whether Wisman had regained possession. Perry followed up with another six-yard scoring run to clinch the contest by a final score of 24-10. It was the first time the Browns had ever lost a season-opening game.

The 49ers outgained Cleveland by 344 yards to 227, with 236 of that total via rushing while the Browns were held to 55 yards on the ground. San Francisco also led in first downs by 18 to 11, although the 49ers turned the ball over four times against two suffered by Cleveland.

Verl Lillywhite had a big day running the ball for the 49ers, gaining 145 yards on 17 carries that included several runs for significant yardage.

Meanwhile, Otto Graham, under a heavy rush for most of the game, completed 18 of 30 passes for 222 yards and a TD but gave up the two interceptions that led to scores and was also sacked six times. The normally-reliable Lou Groza was successful on just one of four field goal attempts. On the upside, Dub Jones (pictured below), thanks to the long scoring reception early in the game, gained 143 yards on 5 catches.

Buck Shaw described the contest as San Francisco’s “greatest game, even better than the 56-28 rout of the Browns two years ago.”

Paul Brown refused to speak to reporters after the game and locked the door to the locker room before speaking to his players.

While eyebrows were raised around the league regarding Cleveland’s defeat, it did not prove to be a sign of decline. The Browns didn’t lose another regular season contest, going 11-1 to again top the American Conference and return to the NFL title game. However, their title-winning streak spanning five years in two leagues finally came to an end as they lost to the Rams for the league championship.

The opening victory for the 49ers was followed by alternating wins and losses until, after a tie in their ninth game, they finished strong with three straight wins to end up in a tie for second in the National Conference with Detroit at 7-4-1. By that point, Frankie Albert had been supplanted by Y.A. Tittle as the starting quarterback, with favorable results.

Verl Lillywhite, who saw action in the defensive backfield as well as at halfback, ended up rushing for 397 yards on 67 carries for a very healthy 5.9-yard average. Joe Perry, as usual, led the club in rushing with 677 yards on 133 attempts (5.0 avg.). Billy Wilson, who scored in his first regular season game for the 49ers, caught 18 passes for 268 yards (14.9 avg.) and three touchdowns overall. It was a preview of much bigger years to come.

Otto Graham recovered to have another All-Pro year, throwing for 2205 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt with a completion percentage of 55.5 – all second-ranking figures in the NFL. Dub Jones continued to be an effective receiver out of the backfield, catching 30 passes for 570 yards (19.0 avg.) and five touchdowns to go along with his team-leading 492 rushing yards on 104 attempts (4.7 avg.) and seven TDs. Along with Graham, he was a consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl selection.

September 29, 2012

2002: Green & Gonzalez Star as Chiefs Upset Dolphins

In their second season under Head Coach Dick Vermeil, the Kansas City Chiefs were 1-2 on September 29, 2002 as they hosted the Miami Dolphins. QB Trent Green (pictured above) had been considered a disappointment after coming over from the Rams with great expectations as the club went 6-10 in 2001. All-Pro TE Tony Gonzalez and RB Priest Holmes brought great talent to their positions. Defense was a concern, and while the team had scored 94 points in its first three contests, it had also given up 103.

Miami, coached by Dave Wannstedt, had been to the playoffs in each of the preceding five seasons. Coming off an 11-5 record in ’01, they were off to a 3-0 start and benefiting from the performance of RB Ricky Williams, who had been obtained during the offseason from New Orleans and seemed finally ready to play to his full potential (394 rushing yards in the first three contests). QB Jay Fiedler was competent and WR Chris Chambers was coming off a promising rookie year.

Things started out well for the Dolphins as WR Albert Johnson returned the opening kickoff 49 yards and they drove 52 yards in four plays. Fiedler tossed a pass to Williams that gained 29 yards to the Kansas City one and the quarterback took it up the middle himself for the last yard and the early lead.

The Chiefs responded with a solid 73-yard drive in 11 plays that featured Green passing to Gonzalez for 30 yards in a third-and-six situation to the Miami 38. Green completed three other passes, including the nine-yard touchdown throw to Gonzalez. With Morten Andersen’s extra point, it was a tie game.

It didn’t stay that way for long. On the second play of Miami’s next possession, Williams fumbled and LB Marvcus Patton recovered for the Chiefs. Green tossed a pass to Gonzalez for a short gain but, following two incompletions, Andersen booted a 50-yard field goal to make it 10-7.

The Dolphins came right back with a methodical drive of 12 plays that covered 56 yards and extended into the second quarter. Fiedler completed all six of his passes and Olindo Mare kicked a 42-yard field goal to again tie the score. However, KC came back quickly as Green threw to Gonzalez once more for a 32-yard gain on first down and Priest Holmes finished the four-play series with a 25-yard touchdown carry. In a span of 1:21, the Chiefs were back in front at 17-10.

Four plays into the next series, Fiedler was intercepted by CB Eric Warfield and Kansas City capitalized four plays after that with another Green TD pass, this one to WR Johnnie Morton from eight yards out. The teams traded punts before Williams took off on a 30-yard carry into KC territory and the Dolphins added three points on a Mare field goal from 29 yards.

Following a short possession by the Chiefs, Miami put together another scoring drive of 49 yards in nine plays. Fiedler was successful on seven throws and, on the last play of the first half, Mare kicked a 25-yard field goal to narrow Kansas City’s lead to 24-16.

The Chiefs added points on their first possession of the third quarter, going 80 yards in seven plays that culminated in Green going yet again to Gonzalez for a 42-yard touchdown. But Miami responded quickly as Fiedler threw to WR Oronde Gadsden for 20 yards and Chambers for 38 on back-to-back passes. The four-play series covered 77 yards and ended with Williams running for a three-yard touchdown. Kansas City was ahead by 31-23.

The teams traded punts but the Chiefs were in Miami territory at the end of the period primarily thanks to a Green pass to Holmes that gained 24 yards. Early in the fourth quarter, Green connected with Gonzalez for a six-yard touchdown and, with the successful PAT, a 38-23 lead.

Once again the Dolphins responded quickly, going 63 yards in five plays. WR James McKnight started things off with a 19-yard carry on an end-around play and Fiedler threw to Gadsden for 21 yards. Following a 12-yard keeper by Fiedler, he tossed a six-yard TD pass to FB Rob Konrad and another successful extra point again made it an eight-point contest at 38-30.

Miami got the ball back at its 29 after a short Kansas City possession, but on the third play Fiedler was intercepted by safety Greg Wesley, who returned it 42 yards to the Miami 16. Holmes ran the ball three times and Andersen kicked a 24-yard field goal to make it 41-30.

Two plays after the kickoff, Wesley again intercepted a Fiedler throw and the Chiefs again capitalized two plays after that with Green throwing his fifth scoring pass of the game, of three yards to TE Billy Baber that was set up by a 17-yard completion to Gonzalez. It proved to be game-clinching. Any last hopes for the Dolphins were snuffed out when Wesley picked off a Fiedler pass for the third time on the next series and Kansas City won impressively by a score of 48-30.

The teams combined for 849 yards of offense with the Chiefs gaining the most (450 to 399) while Miami had more first downs (28 to 25). The Dolphins turned the ball over five times, however, while KC suffered none.

Trent Green completed 24 of 34 passes for 328 yards with the five touchdowns and no interceptions. Priest Holmes gained just 52 yards on 23 carries that included a TD and also caught 6 passes for 63 yards. Tony Gonzalez (pictured below) was the receiving star with 7 catches for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

For the Dolphins, Jay Fiedler was successful on 29 of 45 throws for 310 yards and a TD while also tossing four interceptions, which were especially devastating in the second half. Ricky Williams ran the ball 14 times for 66 yards and a touchdown and had 60 more yards on a team-leading 7 pass receptions. Chris Chambers gained 102 yards on 6 catches.

The big point total proved to be nothing unusual for the Chiefs as they went on to be the highest-scoring team in the NFL with 467 points. However, giving up too many points assured that they failed to win consistently and Kansas City ended up on the bottom of the AFC West at 8-8. Still, the stage was set for a major improvement in 2003. Miami came back to win its next two games, but then lost three straight on the way to a 9-7 finish for third place in the AFC East and out of the postseason for the first time since 1996 – a dry spell that would last until 2008.

Trent Green improved greatly from his 2001 performance, ranking fourth in the league in passing (92.6 rating) while throwing for 3764 yards and 26 touchdowns. He led the NFL in yards per attempt (7.9) and his interceptions dropped from a league-leading 24 in ’01 to 13.

Even though his numbers were down from those of previous years, Tony Gonzalez was still considered to be the best all-around tight end in the league and earned a fourth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl by catching 63 passes for 773 yards (12.3 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Priest Holmes ran for a career-high 1615 yards and also earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as he led the league in touchdowns (24) and scoring (144 points).

September 28, 2012

MVP Profile: Mel Blount, 1975

Cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 27
6th season in pro football & with Steelers
College: Southern
Height: 6’3”    Weight: 200

A third-round draft choice in 1970, Blount was most notable on kickoff returns as a rookie but worked his way into the lineup by his third year. A master of the bump-and-run, he became a key member of the vaunted defense as Pittsburgh won its first Super Bowl following the ’74 season.

1975 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 11 [1]
Most interceptions, game – 2 at Cleveland 10/5, vs. Kansas City 11/16, at NY Jets 11/30
Int. return yards – 121 [11]
Most int. return yards, game – 47 (on 1 int.) at Houston 11/24
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 8
Yards – 139
Average per return – 17.4
TDs – 0
Longest return – 23 yards

Postseason: 3 G
Sacks – 0
Interceptions – 1
Int. return yards – 20
Int. TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns – 3
Yards – 64
Avg. Return – 21.3
TDs – 0

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

Steelers went 12-2 to finish first in the AFC Central while leading the conference in fewest points allowed (162). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Baltimore Colts (28-10), AFC Championship over Oakland Raiders (16-10), and Super Bowl over Dallas Cowboys (21-17).

Blount followed up with another Pro Bowl season in 1976, the second of an eventual five. He also received consensus first-team All-NFL recognition again in 1981 and at least some consideration in four other seasons. Fast, physical, and durable, he played for 14 years and missed only one game due to injury. He ended up intercepting 57 passes and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1989.


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 2/6/14]

September 27, 2012

1959: Packers Edge Bears in Vince Lombardi’s Debut as Head Coach

On September 27, 1959 the Green Bay Packers not only kicked off a new regular season but a significant new chapter in the franchise’s history. Of course, no one knew at the time how significant that chapter would be, but the team’s new head coach and general manager, Vince Lombardi, was highly regarded and brought a new attitude to Green Bay.

The Packers had once been one of the league’s better clubs, regularly contending and winning six NFL Championships. But the last of those titles had come in 1944, six years before the club’s founder and original coach, Curly Lambeau, resigned. The decade of the 1950s had not been a good one, with just two break-even seasons and a dreadful 1-10-1 record under Ray “Scooter” McLean in ’58. There were whispers that the league’s last small-city Midwestern team would not survive much longer. Lombardi, most recently the offensive coach of the New York Giants, was brought in to restore the franchise to respectability and was granted the necessary authority to reshape the club.

Lombardi had talent to work with, including veteran Pro Bowl center Jim Ringo to anchor the offensive line, end Max McGee, and DT Dave Hanner. There were promising young players available to develop that included QB Bart Starr, FB Jim Taylor, G Jerry Kramer, OT Forrest Gregg, and LB Ray Nitschke. The underachieving Paul Hornung was penciled in to become an option halfback, in the manner of Frank Gifford of the Giants. Through trades, DT Henry Jordan, DE Bill Quinlan, and G Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston were added, as well as 34-year-old veteran safety Emlen Tunnell from New York to lend leadership to the defensive backfield. A five-year veteran quarterback, Lamar McHan, was also obtained to start ahead of Starr.

There were 32,150 fans in attendance for the opening game at Green Bay’s City Stadium. The Bears, coached by owner George Halas, were seven-point favorites and were coming off an 8-4 record in 1958. Chicago was known for its running game, featuring FB Rick Casares and HB Willie Galimore, on offense and a tough defense that included DE Doug Atkins, linebackers Bill George and Joe Fortunato, and DB J.C. Caroline.

The Bears scored first with a 46-yard field goal by John Aveni late in the second quarter. Meanwhile the Packers, with McHan at quarterback, managed to drive inside the Chicago 20 on four occasions through the first three quarters but came up empty each time.

Paul Hornung, the team’s placekicker as well as halfback, missed two field goal attempts, from 19 and 14 yards, that were both wide to the left. A third attempt never got away due to a bad snap from center. The fourth drive was thwarted by an interception.

On the third play of the fourth quarter, Aveni kicked his second field goal from 42 yards out to make it 6-0 in favor of Chicago. However, thanks to Max McGee’s punting with the wind behind him, the Packers were able to put points on the board during the final period.

Midway through the fourth quarter, a 54-yard punt by McGee was fumbled by DHB Richie Petitbon after he had returned it nine yards. The ball was recovered by Jim Ringo at the Chicago 26. From there, Jim Taylor and Hornung alternated carries until Taylor ran five yards for a touchdown on the sixth play of the drive. Hornung’s extra point put the Packers up by one.

With 2:21 left on the clock, McGee, helped by a 30 mph wind at his back, punted 61 yards to pin the Bears down at their two yard line, where the kick went out of bounds. Shortly thereafter, Dave Hanner tackled Bears QB Ed Brown in the end zone for a safety as he searched for an open receiver. It was enough to seal the upset 9-6 win for Green Bay. The new coach was carried off the field by his players after Ringo handed him the game ball (pictured at bottom).

It was a stunning triumph for the Packers, matching their victory total of 1958. Chicago’s well-regarded running game was held to just 75 yards and two first downs by the surprisingly tough Green Bay defense, where the line play was outstanding and linebackers Bill Forester, Tom Bettis, and Dan Currie played notably well. Green Bay led in total yards (262 to 164) and first downs (16 to 10). Each club turned the ball over twice and was penalized five times.

Jim Taylor (pictured above) led all rushers with 98 yards on 22 carries and Paul Hornung added 61 yards on 19 attempts. Lamar McHan completed just 3 of 12 pass attempts for 81 yards while Hornung threw two option passes and was successful on one for 20 yards. No Packer caught more than one pass, with Max McGee gaining 61 yards on his to lead the club.

Chicago quarterbacks Zeke Bratkowski and Ed Brown combined for 10 completions in 23 attempts. Rick Casares gained 29 yards on 11 carries and Willie Galimore was right behind with 28 yards, also on 11 attempts, and led the team in receiving yards with 37 on three pass receptions. Flanker Jim Dooley caught 4 passes for 36 yards.

“We planned the game the way the defense played it,” explained Vince Lombardi. “Just before the kickoff we went over our defense again. It was a team effort.”

Lombardi also reminded the players before the game “about the great football tradition here” and told them “we have a chance to do something about it.”

“We were not up to par,” summed up George Halas regarding the Bears. “We made mistakes.”

The opening-week win for the Packers was the first of three straight before a five-game losing streak (including a 28-17 loss to the Bears in Chicago) dropped their record to 3-5. However, the emergence of Bart Starr as starting quarterback was part of a four-win rally to close out the season at 7-5 and a tie for third place in the Western Conference with the 49ers. The Bears recovered to end up at 8-4 and second in the conference.

Paul Hornung led the NFL in scoring with 94 points as he emerged as a major point-producer – he also led the team with 681 yards on the ground. Jim Taylor lost time due to burns sustained during a home kitchen accident but showed his potential with 452 rushing yards.

The basis was laid for the Packers to win their first of three straight Western Conference titles the next year and five league championships overall under Lombardi. To say the least, more than respectability was achieved.

September 26, 2012

1999: Defense and Special Teams Propel Seahawks Over Steelers

Coming into the 1999 NFL season the Seattle Seahawks had not finished with a winning record in nine years and they had last qualified for the postseason in 1988. After two straight 8-8 records, Head Coach Dennis Erickson was dismissed in favor of Mike Holmgren, who had won two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl in Green Bay.

Among changes for the Seahawks was the insertion of 27-year-old Jon Kitna (pictured above) as the starting quarterback. A backup in his first two seasons, Kitna was largely untested, having appeared in nine games and gotten his most extensive action in the World League of American Football. There was established talent on offense as well, however, in veteran RB Ricky Watters and WR Joey Galloway.

The Seahawks lost their opener to Detroit and just squeaked by the Bears in Week 2. On September 26 they faced a big test as they traveled to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Seattle was 1-5 overall at Three Rivers Stadium and the Steelers had won big just two weeks earlier, moving the ball with ease in a 43-0 blowout of Cleveland, and improved to 2-0 with a close win at Baltimore.

Under Head Coach Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh had made it to the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, including an AFC title in 1995, before dropping to 7-9 in ’98. The Steelers had an effective ground game featuring “The Bus”, RB Jerome Bettis, and the defense was tough. The biggest question remained at quarterback, where Kordell Stewart was as inconsistent as he was an impressive athlete.

It was the home-opening game for the Steelers and there were 57,881 fans in attendance at Three Rivers Stadium. It didn’t take long to deflate their enthusiasm. The Seahawks scored the first two times they touched the ball – without running a play from scrimmage.

Kordell Stewart’s second pass of the game was deflected off the hands of WR Will Blackwell and intercepted by Seattle safety Merton Hanks, who returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. Just two minutes later, RB Charlie Rogers fielded Josh Brown’s high 62-yard punt at his six yard line and ran down the sideline for a 94-yard touchdown. Seattle was ahead by 14-0 with only 3:20 run off the clock and the home crowd booing.

On their first offensive play, the Seahawks proved they could move the ball effectively when Jon Kitna connected with WR Mike Pritchard for a 51-yard gain. It set up a 45-yard Todd Peterson field goal and the score remained 17-0 at the end of the opening period.

It was all anticlimactic from there. Peterson kicked three field goals in the second quarter, from 51, 41, and 26 yards, the last following an interception by safety Jay Bellamy. The ineffective Steelers, error-prone and dominated by Seattle’s defense, didn’t make it inside the Seattle 38 until the third quarter.

Kordell Stewart was pulled at halftime and replaced by backup QB Mike Tomczak, although he fared little better. Two drives inside the Seattle 25 came up empty when Tomczak tossed interceptions, snuffing out any comeback hopes for the home team. Kris Brown finally got the Steelers on the board in the fourth quarter with a 33-yard field goal and, after Peterson kicked his club-record fifth field goal from 38 yards out, Tomczak threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to WR Troy Edwards. It did little to soften the blow of losing badly to Seattle by a score of 29-10.

While they didn’t score any offensive touchdowns, the Seahawks had the most total yards (341 to 272) and first downs (16 to 15). The Steelers turned the ball over five times, all on interceptions, to two suffered by Seattle.

Jon Kitna completed 18 of 29 passes for 265 yards, and while none were for touchdowns, none were intercepted either. Ricky Watters ground out 98 yards on 29 carries. Mike Pritchard caught 6 passes for 90 yards and WR Sean Dawkins gained 105 yards on his 5 receptions.

For the Steelers, Kordell Stewart was successful on just 7 of 14 throws for 61 yards with no TDs and three interceptions while Mike Tomczak went to the air 27 times and completed 14 for 159 yards and a TD with two picked off. Jerome Bettis was held to just 39 yards on 11 rushing attempts. Troy Edwards led the receivers with 6 catches for 72 yards and a TD and WR Courtney Hawkins contributed 5 receptions for 63 yards.

“That was huge for us,” said Jon Kitna of the big win. “We talked all week about wanting to start fast. And it didn’t matter if it was on offense or defense.”

“I thought our quarterback performance was very bad,” summed up Bill Cowher.

Seattle won again the next week and six times in the next seven games before closing out the season with six losses in the final seven contests. Still, it was good enough for a 9-7 record and first place in the AFC West. The Seahawks lost to Miami in the Wild Card playoff round.

Pittsburgh lost its next two games on the way to a dismal 6-10 record and fourth place finish in the AFC Central. Kordell Stewart’s struggles at quarterback continued and he lost his starting job for the last six games and was used as a wide receiver.

Jon Kitna had a promising but uneven season, throwing for 3346 yards and 23 touchdowns, but of his 16 interceptions, 10 came in the last six regular season contests and he was picked off twice in the playoff game.

Todd Peterson had a good year kicking the ball, setting a club record with 16 straight successful field goals on his way to booting 34 in 40 attempts. Charlie Rogers led the NFL with a 14.5-yard average on his 22 punt returns – the 94-yard return against the Steelers was his lone touchdown.

September 25, 2012

2005: Eagles Overcome Injury to Kicker to Edge Raiders

The health of its placekicker is only occasionally a concern for a NFL team. On September 25, 2005 it became a major issue for the Philadelphia Eagles in their game against the Oakland Raiders.

David Akers (pictured above) had been an outstanding placekicker for the Eagles since joining the club in 1999, first just handling kickoffs and long field goal attempts, and in 2000 taking the job over completely. From that time through the 2004 season, he had booted 139 field goals to make him the franchise’s career leader in that category and his 83.2 percent success rate put him among the all-time leaders in NFL history up to that point. The left-footed Akers had been selected to the Pro Bowl on three occasions.

Coming into the Week 3 contest against the Raiders, however, the star placekicker was having hamstring problems and the Eagles had taken the precaution of signing PK Todd France to the practice squad. They did not activate him, however, when Akers appeared to be healthy during pre-game warmups.

The Eagles, NFC Champions in 2004 and 1-1 thus far in ’05, had players other than Akers battling injuries. Most significantly, star QB Donovan McNabb was suffering from chest and groin injuries. And while there had been off-field controversies in the offseason, Philadelphia, under seventh-year Head Coach Andy Reid, still had a fundamentally sound team that included RB Brian Westbrook and flamboyant WR Terrell Owens on offense and a tough defense anchored by MLB Jeremiah Trotter and FS Brian Dawkins.

As for the visiting Raiders, coached by Norv Turner for the second year, they were coming off of two straight losing seasons – including a 5-11 record in ’04 – after having been AFC Champions in 2002. Their major offseason moves were to acquire talented but controversial WR Randy Moss and RB LaMont Jordan, as well as pass-rushing DE Derrick Burgess, who was signed away from the Eagles. Still, they were 0-2 after two weeks of play.

There were 67,735 fans in attendance at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, and what they saw initially was not promising. The Eagles kicked off to start the game, and upon booting the ball Akers crumpled to the ground in obvious pain. Philadelphia was flagged for being offside and Akers had to kick off again, with the same result – including an offside penalty on the Eagles. After the placekicker was helped to the sideline, backup TE and long snapper Mike Bartrum finally got off a successful kickoff, but it was short and, following a 21-yard return by CB Chris Carr the Raiders had outstanding field position at the 50 yard line.

It didn’t take long for Oakland to make the most of it. In four plays, most notably a 36-yard pass completion from QB Kerry Collins to TE Courtney Anderson, the Raiders scored a touchdown on an eight-yard Collins throw to Jordan. Following a three-and-out possession by the Eagles, the Raiders again moved into scoring position, with the biggest play being a Collins pass to Moss for 22 yards. However, a 49-yard field goal attempt by Sebastian Janikowski hit the left upright and was unsuccessful.

The teams traded punts, but the Eagles offense finally came alive as McNabb completed five consecutive passes, including 23 yards to WR Greg Lewis and 13 yards to Owens. But on a first down play at the Oakland 17, McNabb was intercepted by DT Warren Sapp to end the threat. The first quarter ended with the Raiders leading by 7-0.

That was how it remained until midway through the second quarter when the Eagles, taking over at the Oakland 49 following a punt, drove to a touchdown on an 18-yard run by Brian Westbrook in six plays. With Akers unavailable, LB Mark Simoneau came in to attempt the extra point, but the low kick was blocked (it actually struck one of the Philadelphia linemen) and the visitors remained in front at 7-6.

Following another Bartrum kickoff, the Raiders proceeded on a long 10-play drive that covered 51 yards. Janikowski was successful on a 28-yard field goal try with under a minute remaining in the half, and Oakland took a 10-6 lead into halftime.

The Eagles put together an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive to start the third quarter. McNabb (pictured below), who had been clearly struggling with his injuries in the first half, was in rhythm as he completed seven short passes, including a four-yard touchdown pass to Owens. Capping things off was Akers successfully kicking the extra point and the Eagles were in front by 13-10.

Later in the period Philadelphia put together another scoring possession. Starting deep in their own territory at the 10 yard line, the Eagles made a big play in a third-and-one situation as McNabb threw to Westbrook out of the backfield, who proceeded to gain 62 yards to the Oakland 19. Four plays later, McNabb connected with Westbrook again on a shovel pass for a five-yard TD and, with Akers again making the extra point, the Eagles stretched their lead to 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

Oakland’s offense, which had struggled during the third quarter, came alive when, on the first play of the final period, Collins threw to Anderson for a 32-yard gain to the Philadelphia 16. The Eagles were able to keep the Raiders out of the end zone, however, and Janikowski kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game.

It seemed as though Philadelphia might score again when McNabb threw to Westbrook for a 37-yard gain on the first play after the ensuing kickoff to move the ball into Oakland territory. But the Raiders got a break when TE L.J. Smith fumbled after catching a 17-yard pass. Safety Derrick Gibson recovered for Oakland at his own two and the Raiders proceeded to move the ball effectively down the field. Collins was successful on seven straight passes, with three of them to LaMont Jordan for 33 yards. But the drive stalled at the Philadelphia 19 and Janikowski was wide on a field goal attempt.

The Eagles were forced to punt following a short series and the Raiders, taking over at their 35, again moved into scoring territory, this time converting key third downs along the way. In a third-and-15 situation, Collins threw to Moss for 31 yards to get into Eagles territory and, facing a third-and-10 play, he connected with Anderson for 17. A 27-yard pass to WR Doug Gabriel was good for a touchdown, and following the extra point, the game was tied at 20-20 with 2:17 showing on the clock.

Taking over at his 20 following a touchback on the kickoff, McNabb completed back-to-back throws to Westbrook that totaled 30 yards to get to midfield. A 13-yard completion to Lewis converted a key third-and-nine situation. A 10-yard penalty backed the Eagles up, but McNabb went to Owens twice for 29 yards. After advancing to the five yard line, and with just 12 seconds left on the clock, Akers came out to attempt a 23-yard field goal. It was successful and he again fell to earth afterward, but there was celebration as Philadelphia came away with a 23-20 win.

The Eagles outgained Oakland (365 yards to 344) and had more first downs (26 to 18). They also turned the ball over twice, as opposed to no turnovers suffered by the Raiders, but Oakland was penalized 13 times at a cost of 94 yards while Philadelphia was flagged on 9 occasions for 70 yards. In addition, while effective through the air, the Raiders had more rushing attempts (22) than yards (21).

Donovan McNabb completed 30 of 52 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns with one intercepted. Brian Westbrook (pictured at right) gained 68 yards on 13 carries that included a TD and also accumulated 140 yards on 6 pass receptions, including another score. Terrell Owens caught 9 passes for 80 yards and a TD. Most significantly, David Akers was able to kick two second half extra points and the game-winning field goal.

For the Raiders, Kerry Collins was successful on 24 of 42 throws for 345 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Courtney Anderson caught 5 passes for 100 yards and Randy Moss had 5 receptions for 86 yards. LaMont Jordan was stifled by the Eagles defense, gaining just 19 yards on 16 carries, but he also pulled in 5 passes for 53 yards and a TD. WR Jerry Porter had 5 catches as well, for 40 yards.

“You know its going to hurt for one second and then the game is over,” said David Akers of the climactic field goal. “My whole leg hurts right now.”

Akers missed the next four games and Todd France filled in, connecting on six of seven field goal attempts and all five extra points. In 12 games, Akers was successful on 16 of 22 field goals and all 23 of his extra points. Akers remained with the Eagles for five more seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice more before moving on to the 49ers and more record-breaking performances.

The Eagles made it to 3-1 before faltering. Donovan McNabb was lost for the year after nine games and Terrell Owens was suspended after seven as injuries and controversy erupted. After reaching the NFC Championship game in the previous four seasons, and winning in ’04, Philadelphia sank to 6-10 and placed last in the NFC East. The Raiders failed to improve, ending up at the bottom of the AFC West with a 4-12 tally.

September 24, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Billy Sims, 1980

Running Back, Detroit Lions

Age: 25 (Sept. 18)
College: Oklahoma
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 210

Highly recruited after gaining 7738 rushing yards in high school, Sims was initially hampered by injuries at Oklahoma but broke out as a junior to rush for 1762 yards and 20 touchdowns to win the 1978 Heisman Trophy, While he followed up with 1509 yards and 22 TDs in ’79, he finished second in the Heisman voting but was taken by the Lions as the first overall pick of the 1980 NFL draft and moved directly into the starting lineup.

1980 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 313 [3]
Most attempts, game - 30 (for 126 yds.) vs. Baltimore 11/16
Yards – 1303 [5]
Most yards, game – 157 yards (on 27 carries) vs. Minnesota 9/28
Average gain – 4.2 [15]
TDs – 13 [1, tied with Earl Campbell]
100-yard rushing games – 5

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 51       
Most receptions, game – 11 (for 96 yds.) vs. San Francisco 11/2
Yards – 621
Most yards, game - 96 (on 11 catches) vs. San Francisco 11/2
Average gain – 12.2
TDs – 3

All-Purpose yards – 1924 [3, 1st in NFC]

TDs – 16 [1]
Points – 96 [9, tied with Matt Bahr & Tony Franklin]

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

Lions went 9-7 to finish second in the NFC Central while finishing third in the NFL in rushing (2599 yards).

Sims went to the Pro Bowl the next two seasons, following up his outstanding rookie year with 1437 rushing yards, 451 pass receiving yards, and 15 TDs in 1981 and 981 total yards during the strike-shortened ’82 season. He was back over a thousand yards in 1983 (1040) and caught 42 passes, but after getting out of a contract that would have had him jumping to the USFL’s Houston Gamblers and instead re-signing with the Lions, he suffered a major knee injury during the ’84 season that finished his career. Over the course of five years and 60 games, he rushed for 5106 yards while averaging 4.5 yards per carry, caught 186 passes for another 2072 yards, and scored a total of 47 touchdowns.


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 2/6/14]
[Updated 11/28/14]

September 23, 2012

1979: Bucs Dominate Rams in Key Early Showdown

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been regarded as something of a joke when they lost all 14 of their games during the inaugural season of 1976 and a total of 26 straight before finally entering the win column in the last two contests of ’77. They had risen to 5-11 in 1978, but had collapsed in the second half of the year after a promising start. Still, by 1979 Head Coach John McKay’s team was ready to contend and won its first three games. QB Doug Williams had shown promise as a rookie in ’78 and, if he lacked polish and consistency, he was also displaying the ability to make big plays. Third-year RB Ricky Bell was proving why the Bucs had taken him first overall in the 1977 draft and he was joined in the backfield by rookie HB Jerry Eckwood. Most significantly, the defense had come together to become one of the best units in the NFL. Anchored by DE Lee Roy Selmon, it was tough against the run and pass.

On September 23 the Bucs faced their toughest test to date against the visiting Los Angeles Rams. LA had been a regular contender throughout the decade and had won the NFC West for six straight seasons, first under Chuck Knox as head coach and now Ray Malavasi. The Rams also boasted a strong defense and a conservative offense directed by QB Pat Haden. They were 2-1 coming into the contest with the Buccaneers, having lost their opening game but winning the next two.

Things did not get off to a promising start for the fans at Tampa Stadium. On the second play of the game, Eckwood fumbled and CB Pat Thomas recovered for the Rams at the Tampa Bay 39. However, the LA offense could gain a total of just two yards against the inspired Buccaneers defense and the Rams were forced to punt.

The Rams blew another opportunity on their next series when they drove to the Tampa Bay 26 but Frank Corral missed a field goal attempt. However, following the missed field goal try, Rams LB Jim Youngblood intercepted a Doug Williams pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. Corral missed the extra point attempt but Los Angeles held a 6-0 lead after a quarter of play.

Things changed decisively in the second quarter as the Buccaneers scored three touchdowns. The first was set up when NT Bill Kollar recovered a fumble by Rams HB Lawrence McCutcheon at the LA 27. Three plays later, the Bucs capitalized when Williams connected with WR Larry Mucker for a 15-yard TD.

The next scoring drive was helped along when, after stopping the Bucs at their own 24, Pat Thomas was flagged for roughing punter Tom Blanchard. LA gave away more territory on the next play when Williams threw an incomplete pass but the Rams were called for a personal foul, advancing the ball to the Tampa Bay 46. Two plays later, Willams completed a pass to WR Morris Owens at the LA 28 and a roughing the passer penalty put the ball on the 14. Three plays after that Ricky Bell ran through the middle of the line for a five-yard touchdown and, with the successful PAT, it was 14-6 in favor of the Buccaneers.

The Rams failed to score when Corral missed another 47-yard field goal in a driving rain – one of several heavy showers during the game that drenched the already-wet field. Tampa Bay drove 70 yards in six plays, capped by a Williams pass to TE Jimmie Giles down the middle of the field for a 29-yard touchdown. The Bucs went into halftime with a 15-point lead.

The second half was anticlimactic as neither team scored again. Tampa Bay’s defense completely stymied the Rams, with linebackers Dewey Selmon (Lee Roy's brother, pictured at top), Richard Wood, David Lewis, and Cecil Johnson performing notably well. The Buccaneers had another opportunity to pad their lead in the fourth quarter, advancing to the LA 15, but Neil O’Donoghue’s 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked. It wasn’t needed as Tampa Bay won by a score of 21-6.

On a day when the defenses dominated, the Buccaneers led in total yards (249 to 186) and first downs (15 to 11). The Rams turned the ball over four times, to three by Tampa Bay, and hurt themselves with five penalties that cost 61 yards (and came primarily on the second scoring drive by the Bucs).

Doug Williams completed only 5 of 20 pass attempts, but they were good for 101 yards and two touchdowns, keeping in line with the young quarterback’s big-play ability. He gave up the one interception, which directly led to LA’s only score. Ricky Bell (pictured at left) ran the ball 18 times for 69 yards and a TD and Jerry Eckwood accounted for 59 yards on 22 carries. The five pass completions were each to different receivers – Jimmie Giles, with his 29-yard scoring reception, led the team in yards.

For the Rams, Pat Haden was successful on 13 of 27 passes, but for just 64 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. FB Elvis Peacock led the running game with 47 yards on 6 carries while HB Wendell Tyler was right behind at 43 yards on 7 attempts. Lawrence McCutcheon, who gained just 9 yards on 8 carries, had the most pass receptions with 5, although for just 9 yards. TE Charle Young had the most receiving yards, with 28 on two receptions. Only three catches were made by wide receivers, gaining a total of 19 yards.

Tampa Bay made it to 5-0 before being upset by the Giants. The Bucs slumped during the second half of the season but still won the NFC Central with a 10-6 record. The Rams, on the other hand, finished strong after getting off to a 4-5 start and once again topped the NFC West at 9-7, by which time Vince Ferragamo had replaced the injured Haden at quarterback. The two teams faced each other again in the NFC Championship game in which LA got its revenge in another defensive struggle before succumbing to the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

Doug Williams continued to be a low-percentage passer, completing just 41.8 percent of his 397 throws for 2448 yards with 18 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Ricky Bell had his best year, rushing for 1263 yards on 283 carries (4.5 avg.) and scoring 7 TDs – adding in passing yards, he had 1511 yards from scrimmage and nine total scores.

Defense continued to carry the Bucs, as the unit gave up the fewest yards (3949) and points (237) in the league. Lee Roy Selmon was selected to the first of six straight Pro Bowls and was also chosen as NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

September 22, 2012

1974: Steelers and Broncos Play to Tie in First NFL Regular Season Overtime Game

Among several significant rules changes in effect for the 1974 NFL season was the introduction of overtime for regular season games that were tied after the regulation four quarters. However, unlike the postseason, where overtime was already in use and had yielded some memorable results, the overtime for the regular season contests would be limited. If the score was still even after one extra 15-minute period it would end as a tie.

Overtime wasn’t necessary for any of the opening week games in ’74, but on September 22 the new rule came into effect for the first time in a contest at Denver between the Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Broncos, coached by John Ralston, were coming off the franchise’s first winning record (7-5-2) in ’73 but had lost their Week 1 contest to the Rams. 35-year-old QB Charley Johnson made the passing game formidable and eighth-year RB Floyd Little was still effective. It was hoped that the first draft choice from 1973, RB Otis Armstrong, would contribute more in his second year, while third-year TE Riley Odoms had already emerged as a key factor in the offense. The defense included rising stars in DE Lyle Alzado, DT Barney Chavous, and SS Bill Thompson.

Pittsburgh, in Head Coach Chuck Noll’s sixth season, was a tough defensive team with an offense still struggling to excel. A surprise coming into the ’74 season was the replacement of 1970’s overall first draft pick, Terry Bradshaw, at quarterback by Joe Gilliam (pictured above), a strong-armed African-American at a time when black signal callers were a rarity. The Steelers had made it to the playoffs the previous two years and were looking to move up. They had won their opening game against the Colts by a 30-0 score.

The fans at Mile High Stadium witnessed an exciting first quarter. There were 37 plays from scrimmage in all with the Broncos maintaining possession for most of the period. It started off when Denver’s Jim Turner squibbed the opening kickoff, which WR Jerry Simmons recovered for the Broncos. After driving to the Pittsburgh 39, Denver was forced to punt, but Billy Van Heusen pinned the Steelers down at their one yard line. The Steelers went three-and-out and punted in turn, giving the Broncos excellent field position.

On Denver’s first play following the punt, Charley Johnson fired a pass to Otis Armstrong for a 45-yard touchdown. The Steelers came right back, however. On the fourth play of their next series, Gilliam threw a screen pass to RB Steve Davis that, using downfield blocking effectively, was turned into a 61-yard TD. Roy Gerela’s extra point made it 7-7 at five minutes into the opening period.

Armstrong returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the Denver 42. A second down pass to Floyd Little gained 18 yards and shortly thereafter Johnson, just getting his pass away over the hands of a Pittsburgh linebacker, hit WR Haven Moses at the four yard line. Two plays later, Moses finished off the drive with a touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone and the Broncos retook the lead.

On Pittsburgh’s next play from scrimmage, Gilliam threw to WR Frank Lewis who fumbled when hit hard by CB Calvin Jones. LB Mike Simone recovered for the Broncos and ran to the Denver one, where he was brought down by OT Jon Kolb. Rookie FB Jon Keyworth powered in for another Denver TD. While there were still five minutes left in the period, the first quarter scoring was over and the Broncos held a 21-7 lead.

In the second quarter, the Steelers put together an 87-yard drive that culminated in Gilliam scoring on a quarterback sneak. That was it for the first half scoring as Denver went into halftime leading by 21-14. Pittsburgh had the edge in total offense at the half (193 to 165) but suffered from dropped passes and a total of eight penalties that cost 66 yards.

Early in the third quarter, the Steelers tied the game following a third-down interception of a Johnson pass. Johnson suffered a severe shoulder sprain on the play, forcing him out of the game, and backup Steve Ramsey went the rest of the way. On the ensuing series, FB Franco Harris made a big catch for Pittsburgh at the Denver 13 and Davis finished the drive with a one-yard run followed by the tying extra point.

Another good Van Heusen punt forced the Steelers to start their next possession at their 9, and after getting out to the 38, Davis fumbled after catching a screen pass and Lyle Alzado recovered for Denver. Two plays later, Armstrong made an outstanding 32-yard run up the middle to the Pittsburgh three. Ramsey threw to Riley Odoms for a touchdown to put the Broncos back in front.

Gilliam hit on passes of 38 yards to WR John Stallworth, nine yards to TE Randy Grossman, and 10 yards to Lewis as the Steelers drove to another score. Davis ran for a one-yard touchdown and Gerela’s extra point made it 28-28.

Ramsey gave up an interception to LB Marv Kellum that gave the Steelers the ball at the Denver 16. Pittsburgh took the lead shortly thereafter when RB John “Frenchy” Fuqua scored from a yard out to make it 35-28.

It looked like big trouble for the Broncos when Ramsey turned the ball over again, this time on a fumble at his own 32 that Pittsburgh DE L.C. Greenwood recovered. However, after completing four passes, including a 17-yarder to Grossman to advance the ball to the Denver 14, Gilliam was sacked on a play that also drew a holding penalty and a pass intended for Stallworth bounced off the receiver’s hands as he was hit and was picked off by LB Tom Jackson at the 11, who proceeded to make a big return to the 50.

Armstrong caught a pass to get to the Pittsburgh 38, ran for 15 yards, and then caught another pass for a 15-yard touchdown. The extra point tied the game at 35-35.

With the score tied in the fourth quarter, the Steelers made it to midfield but were stymied by the Denver defense. However, on their next possession inside the last minute of regulation Gilliam passed the Steelers from the Denver 42 to the eight yard line. With five seconds left on the clock, Roy Gerela attempted a 25-yard field goal to win, but Barney Chavous and Bill Thompson broke through the line to block the kick and send the contest into overtime.

In the overtime period, the Steelers again drove to midfield but a sack by Tom Jackson moved them back and a third-and-22 pass was intercepted by DB John Rowser at the 35. Thanks to outstanding running by Armstrong, the Broncos drove into field goal range, but Jim Turner’s 40-yard attempt was wide to the right.

The Steelers had one last shot, getting the ball back at their own 16 yard line with 50 seconds remaining in the extra period. Coach Noll proved unwilling to take any chances, however, as Pittsburgh passed once and ran two running plays to exhaust the remaining time. The three-hour and 49-minute contest concluded as a 35-35 draw.

“I don’t think either team deserved to lose and neither team did,” summed up Denver’s Coach Ralston.

The teams combined for 160 plays that yielded 816 yards, with Pittsburgh accumulating the most (484 to 332) and also leading in first downs (33 to 20). The Steelers also turned the ball over four times, to three suffered by Denver, and penalties continued to be a problem as they committed 12 at a cost of 91 yards to 7 flags thrown on the Broncos for 61 yards. The Steelers converted 7 of 18 third downs, however, while Denver was only successful on one of 11.

Joe Gilliam provided plenty of excitement with his deep drops and rifled passes, going to the air 50 times and completing 31 for 348 yards with a touchdown and two intercepted. Franco Harris rushed for 70 yards on 20 carries and also led the club in pass receiving with 9 catches for 84 yards. Likewise, Steve Davis was at his best as a receiver out of the backfield – while he ran for two short TDs, he gained just 16 yards on 6 attempts but had 5 pass receptions for 58 yards and another score.

Otis Armstrong (pictured below) was the biggest star on offense for the Broncos as he rushed for 131 yards on 19 carries and caught 5 passes for 86 more yards plus two TDs. Charley Johnson completed 6 of 15 passes for 129 yards with two touchdowns and one interception before having to leave and Steve Ramsey added 6 completions in 12 attempts for 62 yards, also with two touchdowns and an interception. Haven Moses gained 61 yards and scored a TD on his three pass receptions.

The Steelers lost to Oakland the following week but then won five straight on their way to a 10-3-1 record that topped the AFC Central. They advanced to the Super Bowl where they attained the first NFL Championship in franchise history. Denver ended up second in the AFC West at 7-6-1.

Despite the impressive early showing, Joe Gilliam didn’t last as the starting quarterback for the Steelers – he was backing up Terry Bradshaw by the end of the season. He completed 45.3 percent of his 212 passes for 1274 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Otis Armstrong had an outstanding year for the Broncos, leading the NFL in rushing with 1407 yards on 263 carries (5.3 avg.). He scored 9 TDs and also 38 passes for 405 more yards and three additional touchdowns. His 1812 yards from scrimmage also led the league.

There was just one other regular season overtime game in 1974, which was settled in overtime. It would be 1976 before another game ended in a tie in the NFL. 

September 21, 2012

MVP Profile: Y.A. Tittle, 1961

Quarterback, New York Giants

Age:  35 (Oct. 24)
14th season in pro football, 12th in NFL and 1st with Giants
College: LSU
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 195

While drafted by the NFL’s Detroit Lions in 1948, Tittle instead signed with the Baltimore Colts of the AAFC. He had an immediate impact, leading the league in yards per attempt (8.7) and throwing for 16 TDs against 9 interceptions. After another year in the AAFC, Tittle and the Colts joined the NFL in 1950, and he led the league in pass completions (161) although the team went a dismal 1-11 and folded. Picked up by the 49ers in ’51, he gradually took over from Frankie Albert as the starting quarterback and was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1953, ’54, and ‘57 seasons. In 1957 the 49ers tied for first in the Western Conference and Tittle also received MVP consideration. He suffered through an injury-plagued season in 1958 and, and while he bounced back with a Pro Bowl year in ’59, by ’60 found himself in competition with the up-and-coming John Brodie. With Head Coach Red Hickey committing to a shotgun offense for 1961, Tittle was dealt to the New York Giants in the preseason.

1961 Season Summary
Appeared in 13 of 14 games, started 10 of them
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 285 [6]
Most attempts, game – 41 at Washington 10/1
Completions – 163 [6]
Most completions, game – 24 at Washington 10/1
Yards – 2272 [7]
Most yards, game – 315 at Washington 10/1
Completion percentage – 57.2 [3]
Yards per attempt – 8.0 [6]
TD passes – 17 [5]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Washington 11/5, vs. Philadelphia 11/12, vs. Pittsburgh 11/19
Interceptions – 12 [12, tied with John Brodie]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at Dallas 10/15
Passer rating – 85.3 [4]
300-yard passing games – 3
200-yard passing games – 5

Attempts – 25
Most attempts, game – 4 (for 1 yd.) at Washington 10/1, (for 7 yds.) vs. Pittsburgh 11/19, (for 4 yds.) at Cleveland 11/26
Yards – 85
Most yards, game – 34 (on 3 att.) vs. Washington 11/5
Yards per attempt – 3.4
TDs – 3

TDs - 3
Points – 18

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship at Green Bay)
Pass attempts – 20
Pass completions – 6
Passing yards – 65
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 4

Rushing attempts – 1
Rushing yards – -4
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: UPI, Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: NY Daily News
Pro Bowl

Giants went 10-3-1 to finish first in the Eastern Conference while ranking second in the NFL in points scored (368) and touchdowns (46, tied with the Eagles). Lost NFL Championship game to Green Bay Packers (37-0).

Tittle continued his career revival in New York, receiving MVP, All-Pro, and Pro Bowl recognition after each of the next two seasons and tossing over 30 TDs (33 and 36) in back-to-back years in 1962 and ’63. The Giants won the Eastern Conference in all three, but came up short in the title games after each. The team collapsed in 1964, Tittle’s last season. He retired as NFL career leader in pass attempts (3817), completions (2118), and yards (28,339). The Giants retired his #14, and Tittle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971.


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 2/6/14]

September 20, 2012

1970: Revenge-Minded Vikings Beat Chiefs

The 1969 pro football season – the last in which the NFL and AFL existed as separate entities – ended with the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs handily defeating the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. Much was said about how Kansas City Head Coach Hank Stram’s complex offense had been too much for Minnesota’s vaunted defense to handle. 

On September 20, 1970 the two teams opened the new season of the merged league at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. There were some changes – most notably, fiery Vikings QB Joe Kapp was holding out (he would not return to the team, joining the Boston Patriots instead), but Head Coach Bud Grant’s club retained the tough defense anchored by the line of ends Carl Eller and Jim Marshall and tackles Alan Page and Gary Larsen (pictured above #59 LB Lonnie Warwick, #88 Alan Page, #77 Gary Larsen, #60 LB Roy Winston, #81 Carl Eller). The Chiefs still had the same veteran core that included QB Len Dawson and WR Otis Taylor on offense and a star-filled defense that featured DT Buck Buchanon, MLB Willie Lanier, OLB Bobby Bell, and FS Johnny Robinson.

There was a capacity crowd of 47,900 on a rainy afternoon at Metropolitan Stadium. DB Charlie West started things off well for Minnesota as he returned the opening kickoff 49 yards to his own 47. The Vikings got into KC territory but a penalty combined with a sack of QB Gary Cuozzo by Buchanon drove them back and forced a punt.

Following a 65-yard punt by Jerrel Wilson that landed at the Minnesota three, the Vikings put together a long 15-play drive that ended with a 20-yard field goal by Fred Cox on the first play of the second quarter.

The Vikings got more points just three plays later. Kansas City HB Mike Garrett fumbled when hit by Carl Eller and Jim Marshall picked it up and rumbled 24 yards before tossing a lateral to LB Roy Winston at the KC 14, who took it the rest of the way for a touchdown and 10-0 lead.

The Chiefs came back with a big play as Dawson passed to Otis Taylor for a 59-yard touchdown. However, the Vikings embarked on another time-consuming drive, going 48 yards in 13 plays. With 47 seconds left in the half, and following two pass interference penalties on the Chiefs, HB Dave Osborn powered over from a yard out for a touchdown.

Minnesota controlled the ball effectively in the first half, running 41 plays to just 17 for the Chiefs and taking advantage of mistakes to build a 17-7 halftime lead. This was despite Len Dawson completing his first 12 passes as the Vikings simply kept the ball out of his hands for large stretches of time.

Kansas City came out throwing in the third quarter and Dawson completed five straight passes. The Chiefs ended up with a 28-yard field goal by Jan Stenerud, but were otherwise shut down the rest of the way.

In an eventful portion of the third quarter, Alan Page pulled the ball away from Kansas City FB Robert Holmes, but the Chiefs regained possession two plays later when FB Bill Brown fumbled and DT Curley Culp recovered. However, on the next play, the ball was turned over again when SS Karl Kassulke intercepted a Dawson pass. CB Jim Marsalis returned the favor a snap later when he intercepted Cuozzo’s pass intended for WR Gene Washington.

In the final period, RB Oscar Reed scored another TD for the Vikings that was set up by FS Paul Krause’s interception and 40-yards return to the KC 7. Cox capped the scoring with a 40-yard field goal and Minnesota ended up with a convincing 27-10 win.

The Chiefs, who had played with such precision in the Super Bowl, made costly mistakes, turning the ball over four times (to three by Minnesota) and committing untimely penalties. While the Vikings barely outgained them (220 yards to 218), Minnesota had 17 first downs to just 8 for Kansas City, only one of which came on the ground.

Gary Cuozzo turned in a workmanlike performance, completing 12 of 20 passes for 100 yards, although with two interceptions. Of Minnesota’s committee of running backs, 10th-year veteran Bill Brown led with 55 yards on 17 carries. TE John Beasley caught three passes for 41 yards and WR Bob Grim also had three receptions, for 19 yards.

For the Chiefs, Len Dawson (pictured at right) was successful on 18 of his 27 throws for 164 yards with a TD and two interceptions. With the one long scoring play, Otis Taylor gained 100 yards on his 5 catches. FB Wendell Hayes, also heading a running-game-by-committee, ran for 22 yards on 7 attempts while Mike Garrett was held to 16 yards on 7 carries and had the damaging fumble.

“It happened eight months ago,” said Bud Grant in reference to the Super Bowl defeat, “but they’ve been shoving it down our throats ever since. We couldn’t say anything because that’s the price you pay when you lose.”

“If they would have gotten ahead, they probably would have tried more of their razzle-dazzle,” said Vikings LB Roy Winston. “We were better prepared this time and Kansas City was not fortunate to get ahead.”

“You can’t score unless you have the ball,” summed up Hank Stram from the losing side.

The Vikings went on to win the NFC Central with a 12-2 record, identical to their 1969 tally. However, they didn’t reach the Super Bowl again, falling to the 49ers in the Divisional round. Kansas City also failed to repeat, missing the postseason altogether by posting a 7-5-2 record and placing second in the AFC West.

Minnesota’s defense was the top-rated in the NFL and accounted for a total of five touchdowns during the season. Carl Eller and Alan Page (who recovered seven fumbles) were consensus first-team All-Pros and were joined as Pro Bowl selections by Gary Larsen and Karl Kassulke.