March 31, 2013

MVP Profile: Brett Favre, 1996

Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

Age:  27 (Oct. 10)
6th season in pro football, 5th with Packers
College: Southern Mississippi
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 220

Chosen by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 1991 NFL draft, Favre saw scant action in Atlanta before being traded to Green Bay after one year. There was no question as to the young quarterback having outstanding tools, in particular a strong passing arm, but with new Head Coach Mike Holmgren looking to operate the West Coast offense, he was viewed as a raw talent with questionable maturity who would back up veteran Don Majkowski. However, Majkowski was injured early in the season and Favre nearly led the Packers to the postseason as he passed for 3227 yards and 18 TDs with a 64.1 completion percentage and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He also displayed toughness, playing the last seven games with a separated left shoulder. There were growing pains in ’93 as Favre, a natural improviser, bridled at Holmgren’s efforts at making him more disciplined. He led the NFL by throwing 24 interceptions, but Green Bay made it to the postseason and Favre was again named to the Pro Bowl. While he wasn’t selected in ’94, his numbers improved to 3882 yards passing with 33 TDs against 14 interceptions. In 1995 Favre led the league in passing yards (4413), TD passes (38), and TD percentage (6.7) and was not only selected to the Pro Bowl but was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and received MVP recognition.

1996 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 543 [5]
Most attempts, game – 61 vs. San Francisco 10/14
Completions – 325 [3, tied with Vinny Testaverde]
Most completions, game – 28 vs. San Francisco 10/14
Yards – 3899 [4, 1st in NFC]
Most yards, game – 395 vs. San Francisco 10/14
Completion percentage – 59.9 [9]
Yards per attempt – 7.2 [10]
TD passes – 39 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 4 on five occasions
Interceptions – 13 [17, tied with four others]
Most interceptions, game – 2 vs. San Francisco 10/14, at St. Louis 11/24, vs. Denver 12/8
Passer rating – 95.8 [2]
300-yard passing games – 2
200-yard passing games – 12

Attempts – 49
Most attempts, game - 7 (for 2 yds.) vs. Tampa Bay 10/27
Yards – 136
Most yards, game – 25 yards (on 2 carries) at Minnesota 9/22
Yards per attempt – 2.8
TDs – 2

TDs – 2
Points - 12

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 71
Most attempts, game - 29 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
Pass completions – 44
Most completions, game - 19 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
Passing yardage – 617
Most yards, game - 292 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
TD passes – 5
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship, vs. New England, Super Bowl
Interceptions – 1
Most interceptions, game - 1 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship

Rushing attempts – 14
Most rushing attempts, game - 5 vs. San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 35
Most rushing yards, game - 14 vs. Carolina, NFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 2.5
Rushing TDs – 1

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

Packers went 13-3 to finish first in the NFC Central while leading the NFL in scoring (456 points) and touchdowns (56). Won NFC Divisional playoff over San Francisco 49ers (35-14), NFC Championship over Carolina Panthers (30-13), and Super Bowl over New England Patriots (35-21).

Favre earned MVP honors for a third straight year in 1997 and the Packers were NFC Champions again. He led the NFL in touchdown passes (35) and was a consensus first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection as well. He played through many injuries over the ensuing years to put together a string of 297 consecutive starts that finally ended in 2010. Along the way he had six 4000-yard passing seasons and reached 3000 in 18 years. He also threw 30 or more TD passes nine times. After initially retiring from the Packers in 2007, Favre made a comeback that led to an acrimonious departure from Green Bay and he played with the New York Jets in 2008. A season that started promisingly with the Jets proved disappointing and Favre led the league by tossing 22 interceptions. Again calling it quits, he was lured back by the Minnesota Vikings, finishing up with two seasons there. Overall, Favre left as the all-time NFL leader in pass attempts (10,169), completions (6300), yards (71,838), TD passes (508), and, on the downside, interceptions (336).


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 2/4/14]
[Updated 11/29/14]

March 29, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Chuck Foreman, 1973

Running Back, Minnesota Vikings

Age: 23 (Oct. 26)
College: Miami (Florida)
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 206

Seeking an upgrade at running back, the Vikings took Foreman in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft (12th overall). In college, he had played in the defensive backfield and at wide receiver as well as running back and excelled, setting school records for total yards, scoring, touchdowns, and kickoff return yards.

1973 Season Summary
Appeared in 12 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 182 [19, tied with Emerson Boozer]
Most attempts, game - 23 (for 86 yds.) vs. LA Rams 10/28
Yards – 801 [18]
Most yards, game – 116 yards (on 16 carries) at Chicago 9/23
Average gain – 4.4 [15]
TDs – 4
100-yard rushing games – 3

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 37      
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 53 yds.) vs. Oakland 9/16
Yards – 362
Most yards, game - 62 (on 5 catches) vs. Green Bay 9/30
Average gain – 9.8
TDs – 2

TDs – 6
Points – 36

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 37
Most rushing attempts, game - 19 at Dallas, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 134
Most rushing yards, game - 76 at Dallas, NFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 3.6
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 12
Most pass receptions, game - 5 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
Pass receiving yards - 78
Most pass receiving yards, game - 28 at Dallas, NFC Championship
Average yards per reception – 6.5
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

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

Vikings went 12-2 to finish first in the NFC Central. Won NFC Divisional playoff over Washington Redskins (27-20) and NFC Championship over Dallas Cowboys (27-10). Lost Super Bowl to Miami Dolphins (24-7).

Foreman was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons and received first- or second-team All-NFL honors every year from 1974 to ’77. Outstanding as a receiver out of the backfield as well as a ball carrier, Foreman totaled over a thousand yards from scrimmage in each of his first six years and had over a thousand yards in rushing alone for three straight seasons (1975-77). He led the NFL in pass receptions (73) and NFC in touchdowns (22) in 1975, and was league leader in TDs in 1974 and ‘76. His productivity dropped significantly after 1977 and he finished his career with the New England Patriots in 1980. Overall, Foreman rushed for 5950 yards on 1556 carries (3.8 avg.), caught 350 passes for 3156 more yards, and scored a total of 76 TDs. 


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 2/4/14]

March 27, 2013

1983: Bandits Overcome Stars in USFL Battle of Unbeatens

The United States Football League game at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium on March 27, 1983 featured a matchup of two teams that had started out strongly in the new league’s inaugural season. Both the Philadelphia Stars and Tampa Bay Bandits were unbeaten after three weeks of play.

The Bandits, coached by Steve Spurrier, had an outstanding passing game with veteran QB John Reaves, who had started his pro career as the first draft choice of the NFL Eagles in 1972 (Reaves and Spurrier pictured at right). He had good targets in another veteran pro, WR Danny Buggs, and newcomer Eric Truvillion, the other starting wide receiver. The overlooked defense was a good one and featured NT Fred Nordgren and CB Jeff George.

Philadelphia, under Head Coach Jim Mora, was less flashy on offense, featuring star rookie RB Kelvin Bryant and ex-NFL backup QB Chuck Fusina. The defense was especially tough, with the linebacking corps led by unheralded Sam Mills at its heart.

There was a disappointing crowd of 18,718 on hand at the Vet with a steady rain falling. The Bandits scored on four of their first six possessions to take command. The first touchdown came less than three minutes into the opening quarter and followed the recovery of a Fusina fumble by Jeff George.  Reaves threw to Eric Truvillion from 33 yards out.

The Stars came back to tie the score as Kelvin Bryant ran for a 35-yard touchdown. However, later in the first quarter George struck again as he intercepted a pass by Fusina and returned it 22 yards for a TD.

In the second quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead was narrowed to 14-10 thanks to a 35-yard David Trout field goal. Zenon Andrusyshyn responded with a 43-yard field goal for the Bandits to make it 17-10. Just some two minutes later, Tampa Bay drove to a touchdown with the thanks of a gadget play. Reaves passed to Danny Buggs who picked up 11 yards and lateraled to RB Sam Piatt for another 13 yards to the Philadelphia 12. Four plays later, Piatt ran for a TD from a yard out.

Andrusyshyn booted a 38-yard field goal and, before halftime, the Stars finally scored again when Trout kicked a 37-yard field goal. Nevertheless, the Bandits held a commanding 27-13 lead at the halfway point.

The Stars, minus the injured Fusina, chipped away some more at Tampa Bay’s lead early in the third quarter when Trout connected for another field goal, this time from 27 yards. The Bandits played conservatively on offense and were helped by the defense’s ability to stop the normally-efficient Philadelphia offense, particularly the passing game.

Philadelphia still managed to make it interesting less than five minutes into the fourth quarter when backup QB Jim Krohn tossed a screen pass to Bryant, who proceeded to take it all the way for a 38-yard TD. However, the try for a two-point conversion failed and the Stars never again crossed midfield for the remainder of the contest. Tampa Bay came away the winner by a score of 27-22.

Tampa Bay led in total yards (389 to 295) and had the edge in first downs (18 to 17). Although they fumbled seven times, the Bandits lost just two of them and each team ended up with three turnovers. The Tampa Bay defense recorded five sacks while the Stars got to Reaves just once.

John Reaves completed 16 of 32 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown as well as an interception. Danny Buggs caught 4 passes for 90 yards and, while Eric Truvillion was held to just two receptions, they included the one TD. Sam Piatt ran for 75 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries and RB Greg Boone contributed another 11 attempts for 54 yards.

For the Stars, Kelvin Bryant was the star on offense with 112 rushing yards on 22 carries that included a TD and three catches for 57 yards and another score. Chuck Fusina and Jim Krohn combined to complete just 13 passes in 31 attempts for 177 yards. WR Scott Fitzkee had 6 receptions for 48 yards.

“It was great to win here,” exulted John Reaves. “I was 0-8 as a starter for the Eagles. The adrenaline was really pumping. It was something special. I was really looking forward all week to coming back here.”

“He (Reaves) played extremely well,” said Steve Spurrier of his 33-year-old quarterback. “We didn’t have many plays for him in the second half. We just tried to grind out the clock.”

“Mistakes got us in the hole early and we were never able to get out,” said Jim Mora from the home team’s perspective.

Fortunes changed for the teams as the season progressed. Tampa Bay was crushed by the Chicago Blitz the following week and, two games later, Reaves went down with a broken wrist. While getting good performances from the backup quarterbacks, the Bandits faltered on defense and lost four of their last six games to end up at 11-7, which put them third in the highly-competitive Central Division and out of the playoffs. The Stars, on the other hand, recovered to top the Atlantic Division with a league-best 15-3 record. They made it to the USFL Championship game, where they lost a close contest to the Michigan Panthers.

March 25, 2013

1995: Ricky Watters Officially Joins Eagles

As a transition free agent, RB Ricky Watters had to wait a week after he signed an offer sheet with the Philadelphia Eagles to find out if the San Francisco 49ers, the club he had represented in the Pro Bowl after each of the past three seasons, would match it. On March 25, 1995 he officially switched clubs when the 49ers refused to match Philadelphia’s three-year, $6.9 million offer.

“We’re thrilled to have obtained one of the premier running backs in the NFL,” enthused new Eagles Head Coach Ray Rhodes (also a recent transplant from San Francisco, where he had been the defensive coordinator).

It was the second major off-season signing by the Eagles, who had seen a promising 7-2 start in 1994 degenerate into seven consecutive losses to end up at 7-9. FB Kevin Turner had earlier been signed away from the Patriots in an effort to upgrade the offensive backfield.

Watters was picked in the second round of the 1991 draft by the 49ers out of Notre Dame, where he set the record for longest punt return in that school’s storied history (97 yards). His pro career began inauspiciously when he broke his foot in training camp and ended up spending the season on injured reserve. But he gained over a thousand yards rushing in ’92 and became a significant contributor to the team’s success over three years, capped by a three-TD performance in the Super Bowl victory over San Diego following the ’94 season.

Watters parted the 49ers amid much acrimony – the player criticizing the front office and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan for a lack of respect, the team accusing him of selfishness.  Thus, he came to Philadelphia amid both excitement and wariness. The Eagles were excited by his obvious ability on the field, but there were concerns as to his attitude. It didn’t help when, in his first regular season game in Philadelphia, he gained only 37 yards on 17 carries and displayed an apparent lack of effort in not catching two passes thrown toward him in a dismal loss to Tampa Bay, and when questioned later uttered the words “For who? For what?” that many fans would never forget in spite of an apology and later accomplishments.

And there were accomplishments. After the inauspicious beginning to the 1995 season, Watters went on to gain 1273 yards on the ground and catch 62 passes. He went over the thousand-yard mark all three years that he was with the Eagles, and never caught fewer than 48 passes. He gained a total of 3794 yards rushing on 975 carries for a 3.9-yard average and 31 TDs. His 353 carries in ’96 led the NFL (and set a team record), and the 1411 yards rushing that year were the second-highest total in franchise history to date. Watters had 12 hundred-yard rushing performances for the Eagles, with a high of 173 yards on 25 attempts, including a 49-yard touchdown carry, against the Miami Dolphins in 1996.

An outstanding receiver out of the backfield as well as a workhorse running back, Watters caught a total of 161 passes for 1318 yards, an 8.2 average, and one TD. He had a high of 11 receptions for 90 yards vs. Washington in ’95.

Altogether, Watters gained 5112 yards in total offense in Philadelphia, with a high of 1855 in 1996, when he also scored a career-high 13 TDs. He was a second-team UPI All-NFC selection in 1995 and ’96, and went to the Pro Bowl after both of those seasons as well (he went to the Pro Bowl five times total, including three times as a 49er).

At 6’1” and 217 pounds, Watters was a very physically punishing power runner. He played with a passion and unique style that drew much admiration around the league, and in tandem with change-of-pace back Charlie Garner made the Eagles running game tough to stop. The team finished among the top ten ground-gaining offenses in each of Watters’ seasons there.

And yet there was always the controversy. No amount of carries was enough, and Watters was continually feuding with offensive coordinator Jon Gruden. A high-strung player who was quick to speak his mind on the sidelines and away from the playing field, he drew constant criticism for lacking maturity. His complaints for not getting the ball enough seemed odd during seasons when he was leading the league, or among the leaders, in total rushing attempts, as well as catching a healthy share of passes. While durable and well-conditioned, he tended to wear down with overuse, which also undermined his complaints.

As for the Eagles overall, they reached the postseason in 1995 and ’96, going 10-6 both years to earn Wild Card berths, and after winning a high-scoring contest against the Lions in the first year, didn’t win another playoff game. They dropped to 6-9-1 in 1997 – and would drop further after Watters’ departure.

The relationship between Watters and the Eagles deteriorated both prior to and during the ’97 season, and with promising RB Duce Staley waiting in the wings the team made no attempt to sign him to a contract extension; he left as he came, signing as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. With the Seahawks, he became the first player in NFL history to gain a thousand yards rushing in a season with three different teams. His career came to an end in 2001.

(NOTE: This post is significantly adapted from a profile of Watters that I wrote for as part of the “Greatest Eagles by the Numbers” series)

March 24, 2013

MVP Profile: Terrell Davis, 1996

Running Back, Denver Broncos

Age: 24 (Oct. 28)
2nd season in pro football & with Broncos
College: Georgia
Height: 5’11” Weight: 200

Unheralded coming out of college, Davis was taken by the Broncos in the 6th round of the 1995 NFL draft and emerged to rush for 1117 yards and catch 49 passes.

1996 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 345 [3]
Most attempts, game - 32 (for 154 yds.) at New England 11/17
Yards – 1538 [2, 1st in AFC]
Most yards, game – 194 yards (on 28 carries) vs. Baltimore 10/20
Average gain – 4.5 [7]
TDs – 13 [3, tied with Ricky Watters]
100-yard rushing games – 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 36      
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 42 yds.) vs. San Diego 10/6, (for 37 yds.) at Minnesota 11/24
Yards – 310
Most yards, game - 56 (on 4 catches) at New England 11/17
Average gain – 8.6
TDs – 2

Total Yards – 1848 [6]

TDs – 15 [3, tied with Emmitt Smith]
Points – 90

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Divisional playoff vs. Jacksonville)
Rushing attempts – 14
Rushing yards – 91
Average gain rushing – 6.5
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 7
Pass receiving yards - 24
Average yards per reception – 3.4
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

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

Broncos went 13-3 to finish first in the AFC West with the conference’s best record while leading the NFL in total offense (5791 yards) and rushing yards (2362). Lost AFC Divisional playoff to Jacksonville Jaguars (30-27).

Davis rushed for 1538 yards and led the NFL with 15 rushing TDs in 1997 and was MVP of the Super Bowl win over Green Bay. His crowning achievement came in a 1998 MVP season in which Davis rushed for 2008 yards and 21 touchdowns as the Broncos repeated as champions. But after rushing for 6413 yards in four years, and receiving consensus first-team All-NFL recognition from 1996 to ‘98, Davis gained just 211 yards on the ground in 1999 as he sustained a major knee injury in the fourth game. Returning in 2000, he struggled, appearing in only five contests and rushing for 282 yards. Davis ran for 701 yards in one last injury-riddled season in 2001. For his career, he gained 7607 yards on 1655 carries (4.6 avg.), added another 1280 on 169 pass receptions, and scored 65 touchdowns.


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 2/4/14]
[Updated 11/29/14]

March 22, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Earl Faison, 1961

Defensive End, San Diego Chargers

Age: 22
College: Indiana
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 256

Following an outstanding college career in which he was All-American and All-Big 10, Faison was chosen by the Chargers in the first round of the 1961 AFL draft (seventh overall – he was also drafted by Detroit of the NFL in the fifth round of that league’s draft). He quickly moved into the starting lineup across from DE Ron Nery in a defensive line that also included tackles Ernie Ladd and Bill Hudson and was named “The Fearsome Foursome”.

1961 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – N/A
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 1 at Dallas 9/10, vs. Houston 9/24
Int. return yards – 14
Most int. return yards, game – 8 (on 1 int.) vs. Houston 9/24
Int. TDs – 0

2-pt PAT – 1
Points – 2

Postseason – 1G (AFL Championship vs. Houston)
Sacks – N/A
Interceptions – 0

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

Chargers went 12-2 to finish first in the AFL Western Division while leading the league in total defense (3720 yards), passing defense (2363 yards), and interceptions (49), while ranking second in sacks (42). Lost AFL Championship to Houston Oilers (10-3).

Faison missed half of the 1962 season due to a knee injury, although his performance was still strong enough to gain him second-team All-AFL recognition (UPI) and a spot in the AFL All-Star Game. An outstanding pass rusher who was widely considered the best at his position in the league at a time before sacks were compiled, he was a consensus All-AFL first-team pick in each of the next three seasons, including the 1963 Championship year for the Chargers. Contract problems caused the Chargers to attempt to trade Faison and Ernie Ladd to Houston in 1966, but the deal was voided by Commissioner Joe Foss and he was dealt to the expansion Miami Dolphins during the season, after which he retired. In just six seasons, Faison was a consensus first-team All-AFL selection four times and was selected to five AFL All-Star Games. He went on to become a long-time educator and high school football coach.


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). 

[Updated 2/4/14]

March 20, 2013

1983: Gold Beat Blitz in Wintry Conditions

Coming into the inaugural season of the United States Football League, the Chicago Blitz were widely viewed as the team to beat. They had the league’s best-known head coach in George Allen and many players with plenty of pro football experience, most notably QB Greg Landry and LB Stan White, and had managed to sign two highly-regarded rookies in WR Trumaine Johnson and RB Tim Spencer. They easily overcame the Washington Federals in their opening contest but had been stunned the next week by a late comeback on the part of the Arizona Wranglers.

On March 20, 1983 the Blitz hosted the Denver Gold for their home debut in Chicago. The Gold had far fewer known quantities on the roster but were coached by Red Miller, who had guided the NFL Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance and remained popular among the city’s football fans. They did have a veteran pro quarterback in Ken Johnson, who had spent the previous five seasons in the Canadian Football League. Denver was 0-2 coming into the game at Chicago.

The weather was not cooperative. There was an announced attendance of 29,178 at Soldier Field (likely closer to 22,600) in the snow and wind as temperatures were in the 20s with a wind chill that was far lower. The Blitz made the most of having a 20 mph wind at their back in the first quarter. The Gold had the first possession of the game and punted. The home team then went 51 yards in 11 plays, mostly runs by RB Kevin Long, who gained 29 yards on 6 carries, ending with John Roveto’s 27-yard field goal.

Once again Denver punted and this time it took the Blitz just four plays to go 48 yards and put more points on the board. On a third-and-16 play, Greg Landry threw to WR Lenny Willis for a 42-yard touchdown and, with the successful PAT, a 10-0 lead.

However, just before the opening period ended and following a 36-yard run by RB Harry Sydney, the Gold got on the board when Brian Speelman kicked a 39-yard field goal. A few minutes later, and now in the second quarter, Denver got a break when Chicago’s recently-signed punter, Frank Garcia, fumbled while fielding the snap and the visitors got the ball in good field position (both Garcia and Roveto were covering for the injured all-purpose kicker Frank Corral). The Gold capitalized when Sydney swept to his right for another long gain, this time a 30-yard touchdown carry.

The score remained 10-10 at the half and neither team was able to move the ball effectively on the icy field during the third quarter. A little over three minutes into the final period, the Blitz finally broke the deadlock when Roveto kicked a 38-yard field goal with the benefit of the wind to conclude a six-play, 38-yard series.

The teams traded punts, with the Blitz holding onto a 13-10 margin. The climactic drive by the Gold started at the Denver 30 and was aided on the second play when Ken Johnson rolled out and kept the ball for a 12-yard gain to near midfield. However, it seemed as though the visitors would come up short as they faced a third-and-22 situation from their own 48. Johnson overthrew WR Lonnell Phea but a pass interference call on CB Maurice Tyler gave the Gold a first down at the Chicago 37 with 3:06 left on the clock.

Four plays that included a lateral from Johnson to TE Bob Niziolek that, combined, picked up 16 yards and a pass to Niziolek for 13 more yards gave Denver a first-and-goal at the Chicago three. Sydney ran for two yards on first down, but an incomplete pass followed by a carry by RB Larry Canada that gained nothing set up a fourth down play. Going for the win rather than a potentially game-tying field goal attempt, Johnson rolled out to his left and ran for a touchdown, sliding into the end zone with 18 seconds left on the clock. The extra point attempt was missed but the Gold came away with a 16-13 win.

Chicago easily outgained the Gold (263 yards to 160), had more first downs (16 to 7), and dominated the time of possession (35:06 to 23:54). Denver turned the ball over three times to one by the Blitz. But Chicago simply wasn’t able to translate time with the ball into points on the board and, for the second straight week, failed to nail down a win in the final seconds.

Ken Johnson threw only six passes and completed three of them for 25 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, although he ran for the winning score. Harry Sydney, who had the two big carries in the first half, gained 79 yards on 9 rushing attempts that included a TD. He also caught one of the three completed passes, for three yards, but tossed an interception in one throwing attempt. TE Bob Niziolek had the longest catch of the day for the Gold, of 13 yards, and had another six yards on a lateral.

For the Blitz, Greg Landry completed 7 of 17 throws for 114 yards and a touchdown while also tossing his first interception of the young season. Tim Spencer ran for 82 yards on 20 carries and was closely followed by Kevin Long (pictured below), who had 80 yards on his 23 attempts. Trumaine Johnson caught 4 passes for 58 yards.

 “I feel like the doctor who did everything right only to have the patient die,” said a disappointed George Allen. “I guess you could say it was a tough loss.”

Holding on to late leads would become a chronic problem for the Blitz, although they finished with a healthy 12-6 record and secured a Wild Card berth in the playoffs. They lost to the Philadelphia Stars in the first round – appropriately enough, due to the failure to maintain a late lead. Denver struggled to a 7-11 record, placing third in the Pacific Division, and Coach Miller was dismissed along the way. But the Gold had the best fan support of any of the USFL teams that first year, averaging 41,736 fans per home game in comparison to Chicago’s disappointing 18,133. 

March 18, 2013

1984: Kelly Passes & Runs Gamblers to Win Over Generals

The Houston Gamblers, new to the United States Football League in its second season, were off to a 2-1 start as they hosted the undefeated New Jersey Generals on March 18, 1984. Owned by Dr. Jerry Argovitz and coached by Jack Pardee, the Gamblers had a pass-oriented “run-and-shoot” offense operated by rookie QB Jim Kelly, who was proving to be remarkably well-suited to it.

The visiting Generals were coached by ex-Jets mentor Walt Michaels and, while they still were a ground-oriented team based around the presence of RB Herschel Walker, had taken steps to improve the overall roster. Newly-acquired veterans included QB Brian Sipe, G Dave Lapham, CB Kerry Justin, FS Gary Barbaro, SS Greggory Johnson, and linebackers Jim LeClair, Willie Harper, and Bob Leopold and the result was great improvement over the team that went a disappointing 6-12 in the USFL’s inaugural season.

There were 35,532 in attendance at the Astrodome for Houston’s home-opening game. The Generals opened the scoring as Sipe threw to TE Jeff Spek for a seven-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. Houston responded with a scoring drive that featured a Kelly completion to WR Gerald McNeil for 29 yards and a 12-yard pass to WR Greg Moser. It ended in a five-yard touchdown run by RB Sam Harrell. PK Toni Fritsch completed a two-point TD pass to Harrell shot-put style after the center snap on the extra point try was bobbled by the holder, Moser, who then lateraled to the veteran placekicker. The result was that the Gamblers were ahead by 8-7 after a period of play.

That lead was extended in the second quarter after CB Will Lewis (pictured below) intercepted a Sipe pass and returned it to the New Jersey one yard line. From there, Harrell scored again and, with Fritsch kicking the extra point this time, the Gamblers were up by 15-7 at the half.

Houston made it 22-7 ten minutes into the third quarter when Kelly threw a screen pass to WR Scott McGhee for a 25-yard TD that was followed by another successful Fritsch PAT. Three minutes into the final period, Fritsch added a 20-yard field goal and the game was essentially put away shortly thereafter when Lewis again picked off a Sipe pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.

The Generals fought back with Sipe throwing to WR Clarence Collins for a six-yard TD and then tossing to Walker for a successful two-point conversion. With less than three minutes remaining, Walker scored another touchdown from a yard out, but that was it for the visitors. Houston came away with a convincing 32-25 win.

The Gamblers outgained New Jersey (370 yards to 234) and had more first downs (22 to 17). In addition, the Generals turned the ball over three times, all on interceptions, to one suffered by Houston.

Jim Kelly showed off his mobility as well as his passing skill, leading the team with 65 yards on 6 carries in addition to completing 22 of 36 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and an interception. WR Richard Johnson caught 6 passes for 46 yards while Gerald McNeil gained 73 yards on his 5 pass receptions. Sam Harrell was right behind Kelly as he rushed for 60 yards on 20 carries that included two TDs.

For the Generals, Brian Sipe was successful on 18 of 29 throws for 148 yards and two touchdowns but also the three interceptions. Herschel Walker had relatively modest output, rushing for 65 yards on 14 attempts and catching three passes for 21 yards. Clarence Collins led the club with 6 catches for 64 yards.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the way this team played,” said Houston Head Coach Jack Pardee. “We held down a good club today and came up with the turnovers when we had to have them. It was a great team effort.”

The Gamblers went on to become the most successful of the six new USFL franchises in ’84, topping the Central Division with a 13-5 record before losing to Arizona in the first round of the playoffs. New Jersey placed second in the Atlantic Division at 14-4 but also exited in the first round of the postseason, falling to the division-rival Philadelphia Stars.

Jim Kelly had a sensational year throwing the football as he led the league in most major passing categories, including yards (5219) and TD passes (44) – although also interceptions (26). However, as the game against the Generals suggested, he was also one of the USFL’s most productive quarterbacks at running the ball as he gained 493 yards on 85 carries (5.8 avg.) and scored five touchdowns. 

March 17, 2013

MVP Profile: Emmitt Smith, 1993

Running Back, Dallas Cowboys

Age: 24
4th season in pro football & with Cowboys
College: Florida
Height: 5’9”   Weight: 209

Taken by the Cowboys in the first round of the 1990 NFL draft, Smith had an immediate impact for the rebuilding club as he ran for 937 yards as a rookie and was selected for the Pro Bowl as well as Offensive Rookie of the Year (AP). In ’91, he led the league with 365 carries for 1563 yards and earned a second trip to the Pro Bowl and in ’92 he received MVP and first-team All-NFL recognition as well as he again topped the league with 1713 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.

1993 Season Summary
Appeared in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 283 [6]
Most attempts, game - 32 (for 168 yds.) at NY Giants 1/2
Yards – 1486 [1]
Most yards, game – 237 yards (on 30 carries) at Philadelphia 10/31
Average gain – 5.3 [1]
TDs – 9 [3, tied with Ron Moore & Edgar Bennett]
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 57      
Most receptions, game – 10 (for 61 yds.) at NY Giants 1/2
Yards – 414
Most yards, game - 102 (on 4 catches) vs. Phoenix 11/14
Average gain – 7.3
TDs – 1
100-yard receiving games – 1

TDs – 10 [6, tied with Calvin Williams & Edgar Bennett]
Points – 60

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 66
Most rushing attempts, game - 30 vs. Buffalo, Super Bowl
Rushing yards – 280
Most rushing yards, game - 132 vs. Buffalo, Super Bowl
Average gain rushing – 4.2
Rushing TDs – 3
100-yard rushing games - 1

Pass receptions – 13
Most pass receptions, game – 7 vs. San Francisco, NFC Championship
Pass receiving yards - 138
Most pass receiving yards, game - 85 vs. San Francisco, NFC Championship
Average yards per reception – 10.6
Pass Receiving TDs - 1

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

Cowboys went 12-4 to finish first in the NFC East with the best record in the conference while ranking second in the NFL in rushing (2161 yards) and points scored (376). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Green Bay Packers (27-17), NFC Championship over San Francisco 49ers (38-21), and Super Bowl over Buffalo Bills (30-13).

Smith led the NFL once more in rushing (1773 yards in 1995) in the process of gaining over a thousand yards in 11 straight seasons. He also led the league in touchdowns scored on three occasions, including a then-record 25 in 1995. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro four times and was selected to eight Pro Bowls. Smith became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher while still with Dallas before finishing up with two seasons in Arizona. He ended up with 18,355 yards on the ground (17,162 of them with the Cowboys) and scored a total of 175 TDs. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2010.


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 2/4/14]

March 15, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Santana Dotson, 1992

Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Age: 23 (Dec. 19)
College: Baylor
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 270

Dotson received All-American recognition in 1991 and was chosen by the Bucs in the fifth round of the ’92 NFL draft. Both he and another rookie, Mark Wheeler, moved into the starting lineup at defensive tackle.

1992 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 10
Most sacks, game – 2 vs. Phoenix 9/6, vs. Green Bay 9/13, vs. Minnesota 11/8
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 2
Forced fumbles – 2
Tackles – 71

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: Sporting News

Buccaneers went 5-11 to finish third in the NFC Central.

Dotson was less consistent in 1993 and ’94 as the defense struggled as a whole. He left the Bucs as a free agent after the 1995 season and moved on to Green Bay. With the Packers, Dotson revived his career, showing greater intensity and pass rushing ability and starting for a Super Bowl-winning squad in 1997. His performance level began to drop off due to injuries and his time in Green Bay ended following the 2001 season. Signed as a free agent by the Redskins for ‘02, he underwent surgery for an Achilles injury and never played for them. Over the course of ten years, Dotson appeared in 152 games, 129 of which he started, and accumulated 49 sacks.


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). 

[Updated 2/4/14]

March 13, 2013

1967: Bills Obtain Keith Lincoln from Chargers

On March 13, 1967, which was a day prior to the first combined AFL/NFL draft, disgruntled FB Keith Lincoln was dealt to the Buffalo Bills for DE Tom Day and a second-round draft choice.

Lincoln was accurately described by Buffalo Head Coach Joe Collier as a “fine runner, a strong blocker, a real good receiver and the type who is tough in the clutch.” His relations with Chargers Head Coach Sid Gillman having become strained, Lincoln’s stated desire was to play for the Bills or Oakland.

The 6’1”, 212-pound Lincoln, who turned 28 prior to the ’67 season, described his style as “heading for the goal” and “running over people to get there”.  Known for his versatility, the native Southern Californian had gone to Washington State as a quarterback and was converted to running back. Often compared to New York Giants great Frank Gifford as an all-purpose halfback, he was chosen by the Chargers in the second round of the AFL draft (and fifth round by the Bears in the NFL draft) and used primarily on defense as a rookie with the Chargers in 1961, seeing only sporadic action on offense. However, when star HB Paul Lowe went down for the year in 1962 with an injury, Lincoln got his chance at halfback and rushed for 574 yards with a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Adding in other yardage that included a 103-yard kickoff return, he gained 1280 yards in all and, along with the four touchdowns he scored, also threw for two more TDs on option passes.

Lowe, who was back with the team in 1963, was faster and, with Lincoln being the more versatile back, Gillman shifted him to fullback, despite his protests that he was too small for the position. The tandem of Lowe and Lincoln proved to be outstanding, especially in a ’63 season in which Lowe rushed for 1010 yards and Lincoln 826. In the AFL Championship game against the Patriots, it was Lincoln putting on perhaps the most spectacular postseason performance in pro football history as he gained 206 rushing yards on just 13 carries and caught 7 passes for another 123 yards. He scored two touchdowns and San Diego demolished the Patriots by a score of 51-10.

The running back pairing was still effective in 1964 as the Chargers again won the Western Division, but in a key play in the title game against the Bills, LB Mike Stratton hit Lincoln hard as he was gathering in a pass and knocked him out of the contest with broken ribs. Buffalo went on to win the game and, in 1965 and ’66, injuries became more of a factor with Lincoln. In those two seasons combined, he carried the ball just 132 times for 516 yards (3.9 avg.), although he caught 37 passes for 640 yards (17.3 avg.) and a total of 10 touchdowns – most of that production came in the latter year. Lincoln missed significant time with a hamstring injury in 1966.

Meanwhile, the Bills had won the AFL’s Eastern Division in each of the three previous seasons, winning the league title in 1964 and ’65. HB Bobby Burnett was the Rookie of the Year, rushing for 766 yards and gaining another 419 on 34 pass receptions. Veteran FB Wray Carlton had 696 rushing yards, so Lincoln was really obtained to add depth as the club stockpiled veteran talent to try to regain the Championship and proceed to the Super Bowl in 1967.

The player they had to give up to the Chargers was 31-year-old Tom Day, 6’2” and 262, who started his pro career with the NFL Cardinals in 1960 before moving over to the Bills in ’61. Originally a guard on offense, he moved to defensive end and received second-team All-AFL recognition in both 1965 and ‘66. Known for his boisterousness on the field, he had been part of an outstanding unit in Buffalo and Coach Gillman, seeking to upgrade the defensive line, quickly opened up a starting spot by dealing DE Bob Petrich to the Dolphins. With the second round draft choice, the Chargers picked DB Bob Howard from San Diego State.

Lincoln joined QB Tom Flores and split end Art Powell, obtained from Oakland for backup QB Daryle Lamonica, and PK Mike Mercer as key veteran acquisitions by the Bills, and ended up accomplishing the most with a team that, instead of soaring to the top, fell to 4-10. Burnett suffered through an injury-plagued season and Lincoln started at halfback, where he led the club in rushing with 601 yards on 159 carries (3.8 avg.) and four touchdowns and caught a career-high 41 passes for 558 yards and five more TDs.

Lincoln gained a season-high 81 rushing yards on 13 carries in an opening-week win over the Jets and had 90 yards on three catches in a loss to San Diego. He was selected to the AFL All-Star Game for the fifth time.

It proved to be the last hurrah for the all-purpose star, who was let go by the Bills during the ’68 season and finished up back with the Chargers where a broken leg suffered on a kickoff return ended his eight-year career. It was a dismal ending for one of the AFL’s most electrifying stars who gained 5633 yards from scrimmage and added another 1360 yards on kick returns while scoring a total of 40 touchdowns and passing for another five TDs.  He was even San Diego’s placekicker for a time in 1964, although with far less satisfying results.

For San Diego’s part, Tom Day suffered through a disappointing injury-plagued season and returned to Buffalo for one last year in 1968. Bob Howard went on to play eight seasons at cornerback for the Chargers and intercepted 21 passes before moving on to the Patriots and Eagles. Competitive but blocked from the top of the Western Division by the Chiefs and Raiders, the club didn’t reach the AFL title game again after 1965 and, following the merger, did not make it to the postseason until 1979.

March 12, 2013

MVP Profile: Jason Taylor, 2006

Defensive End, Miami Dolphins

Age:  32 (Sept. 1)
10th season in pro football & with Dolphins
College: Akron
Height: 6’6”   Weight: 255

Taylor came to the Dolphins as a third round draft pick in 1997 and, despite missing three games to a broken forearm, showed good potential. Tall and lean, with good speed and deceptively strong, he developed into an All-Pro in 2000, his fourth season, as he recorded 14.5 sacks. Taylor had a second All-Pro and Pro Bowl year in 2002 as he led the NFL with 18.5 sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl again in 2004 and ’05.

2006 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 13.5 [4]
Most sacks, game – 2 at Houston 10/1, vs. Green Bay 10/22
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 1 at Chicago 11/5, vs. Minnesota 11/19
Int. yards – 71
Most int. return yards, game – 51 (on 1 int.) vs. Minnesota 11/19
Int. TDs – 2 [1, tied with Ronde Barber & Chris McAlister]
Fumble recoveries – 2
Forced fumbles – 9 
Tackles – 41
Assists – 21

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

Dolphins went 6-10 to finish fourth in the AFC East while ranking third in the NFL in sacks (47).

Taylor was chosen to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, and sixth overall, in 2007 as he was again in double figures with sacks (11) in what was otherwise a disastrous 1-15 season for the Dolphins. With the team reorganizing and rebuilding, Taylor was traded to Washington where he had an undistinguished year in 2008 before returning to Miami in ’09 as an outside linebacker. He moved on to the Jets in 2010 to add depth as a pass-rushing linebacker before finishing his career back with Miami in 2011. Overall for his 15-year career, Taylor had 139.5 sacks, 8 interceptions, and 29 fumble recoveries. He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and was a consensus first-team All-Pro on three occasions.


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 2/4/14]