April 30, 2013

1984: Zendejas Field Goals Give Express Win Over Gamblers in OT

On April 30, 1984 two of the United States Football League’s top rookie quarterbacks went head-to-head as the Houston Gamblers hosted the Los Angeles Express in a Monday night game at the Astrodome. The Gamblers, coached by Jack Pardee in their first season in the USFL, were off to a 6-3 start and had a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Central Division since both the Michigan Panthers and Oklahoma Outlaws had lost the previous day. QB Jim Kelly was performing very well operating in a run-and-shoot offense and had fine targets to throw to in wide receivers Richard Johnson and Ricky Sanders.

The Express, meanwhile, had gotten off to a miserable 2-5 start but improved to 4-6 for the most part thanks to the addition of QB Steve Young (pictured above). Head Coach John Hadl’s team had averaged just 10.7 points per game prior to the mobile lefthander taking over at quarterback, and his presence was making a difference in the team’s offensive production.

There was a crowd of 30,727 fans on hand for the nationally-televised contest. The Gamblers took the opening kickoff and drove 57 yards in eight plays, reaching the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to Richard Johnson.  On their initial possession, the Express came right back with an 86-yard series that ended with a four-yard scoring pass from Young to RB Tony Boddie.

Late in the second quarter, DT Eddie Weaver returned a fumble 22 yards for a TD to put LA in front. Houston responded by driving 90 yards in eight plays. Kelly threw to Ricky Sanders for a 14-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left on the clock and, with all extra point attempts successful, the score remained 14-14 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Express drove to the Houston one but, on fourth down, Coach Hadl decided against a chip-shot field goal attempt and called for a quarterback sneak. While unsuccessful, an offside call on the Gamblers gave the Express another shot and RB Mel Gray carried and appeared to score, but officials ruled that he was short.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Houston took the lead on a four-yard touchdown carry by RB Todd Fowler.  It finished off a 67-yard drive that was helped along by a pass interference penalty. The home team was up by 21-14.

Three minutes later, LA got on the board when Young passed to WR JoJo Townsell for a 17-yard touchdown.  That capped a seven-play, 73-yard series. However, following a punt by the Express, the Gamblers went 87 yards. 39-year-old Toni Fritsch, the league’s oldest placekicker, booted a 26-yard field goal to again pull the Gamblers in front at 24-21.

With time running down, the Express put together a drive in which Young completed key passes to Boddie, the second for 19 yards, and scrambled for 15 yards for a first down at the Houston 28. Now down to four seconds left in regulation, Tony Zendejas kicked a 41-yard field goal to tie the score and send the game into overtime.

In the overtime period, a decisive turnover occurred when safety Troy West of the Express intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 16 yards to the Houston 44. It seemed as though the Gamblers still might dodge the bullet, but an incomplete pass by Young on third down was negated when DE Pete Catan was flagged for roughing the quarterback. That kept the drive alive at the Houston 27. Turning conservative, three plays gained three yards and Zendejas then came on to boot the game-winning 42-yard field goal at 4:41 into the extra period. Los Angeles came away with a big 27-24 win.

The Gamblers outgained Los Angeles (412 yards to 373) and had more first downs (26 to 23). However, while the Express suffered no turnovers, Houston turned the ball over four times. LA’s defense also sacked Kelly seven times, to three sacks of Young.

Steve Young completed 17 of 28 passes for 211 yards with two touchdowns and and also rushed for 56 yards on 6 carries. RB Kevin Nelson gained 89 yards on 18 rushing attempts. JoJo Townsell caught 5 passes for 75 yards and a TD. Tony Zendejas missed two field goal attempts but redeemed himself with the two clutch kicks.

For the Gamblers, Jim Kelly was successful on 37 of 50 throws for 380 yards and two TDs but also had two interceptions. Richard Johnson (pictured below) set a league record with 15 pass receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown and Ricky Sanders added another 10 catches for 98 yards and a score. Todd Fowler was the leading ground gainer with 32 yards on 11 attempts.

“I don’t like to miss, and I got a chance to redeem myself,” said Tony Zendejas. “I have a lot of pride, and I feel like every time I go out there I should make it.”

“The win is going to create some momentum,” said John Hadl. “We beat a division-leading team on the road. And we beat a great team with a great quarterback in Jim Kelly.”

Coach Hadl’s words proved to be correct – the Express went on to win six of the next eight games to top the Pacific Division with a 10-8 record. They upended the defending-champion Michigan Panthers in triple overtime of their epic First Round playoff game but lost the Western Conference title game to the Arizona Wranglers. Meanwhile, the defeat kept the Gamblers from taking sole possession of first place in the Central Division, but they eventually did prevail with a 13-5 tally. They were upset in the First Round by Arizona.

Steve Young, in the course of 12 games, passed for 2361 yards and also ranked second among USFL quarterbacks with 515 rushing yards on 79 carries. He passed for 10 touchdowns and ran for 7.

Tony Zendejas, a rookie out of Nevada-Las Vegas, was successful on 21 of 30 field goal attempts and all 33 of his extra point tries.

Jim Kelly had a phenomenal rookie season, leading the league in pass attempts (587), completions (370), yards (5219), and touchdown passes (44), although also interceptions (26). He received MVP and All-League honors from the USFL.

Richard Johnson also received All-League honors as he led the USFL in pass receptions (115) and scoring receptions (15) and was second in yards (1455). His record for catches in a game was broken by Gill Stegall of Denver, who had 16 in a game, also against the Express, in 1985.

April 28, 2013

1981: Redskins Obtain Joe Washington from Colts

Just prior to the annual NFL draft, on April 28, 1981, the Washington Redskins obtained RB Joe Washington from the Baltimore Colts for a second-round draft pick. It was part of a busy day for Washington GM Bobby Beathard, who was active on the trading front, not only obtaining the 5’10”, 179-pound running back but making deals that led to the drafting of linemen Russ Grimm and Mark May. May, the Outland Trophy winner, was taken in the first round and Grimm was grabbed in the third round thanks to a deal with the Rams. Both would be significant contributors as members of the esteemed offensive line that would come to be known as “The Hogs”.

Joe Washington had been taken with the fourth overall pick by the Chargers in 1976 out of Oklahoma. His pro career did not start out auspiciously when he missed the entire season with a knee injury. As a spot player for San Diego in ’77, he gained 461 yards from scrimmage – 244 on 31 pass receptions and 217 on 62 carries. Prior to the 1978 season, Washington was dealt to the Colts for RB Lydell Mitchell, a veteran with similar skills as a classic halfback, and broke out in a big way. He gained 1869 all-purpose yards that broke down to 956 rushing yards on 240 carries, 377 receiving yards on 45 catches, 490 yards on 19 kickoff returns that included a game-winning 90-yard TD, and 37 yards on 7 punt returns. In addition, he tossed two touchdown passes.

In 1979, Washington was selected to the Pro Bowl following a season in which he ran for fewer yards (884) but led the NFL with 82 pass receptions, for 750 yards and a total of 1333 yards from scrimmage.  However, the total dropped to 996 yards in 1980 (502 rushing, 492 receiving) as he lost his starting job to rookie Curtis Dickey. Washington had been unable to come to terms on a new contract with owner Robert Irsay and requested a trade. The Colts were reluctant to part with him, but they sent the second round draft pick they received from the Redskins on to the Minnesota Vikings as part of a transaction that gave them two choices in the first round. The Vikings in turn used it to take undistinguished RB Jarvis Redwine.

Washington had a productive first season with the Redskins, even while missing some time due to injury, gaining 1474 yards from scrimmage. He had 916 yards on 210 carries and caught 70 passes for another 558. In combination with power-running John Riggins, it gave the Redskins a potent backfield and marked the first time in franchise history that two backs gained over 700 rushing yards in the same season (Riggins ran for 714). The team, in its first year under Head Coach Joe Gibbs, got off to a 1-6 start but rallied in the second half to finish at 8-8. It set the stage for two NFC titles and a Super Bowl victory over the next two years.

Washington was overshadowed by Riggins in the strike-shortened 1982 season, especially during the playoffs leading to the Super Bowl, and his numbers were modest. In the one-back, two-tight end offense that Gibbs employed, Washington was typically used in place of Riggins in passing situations. He was more of a factor in 1983, rushing for 772 yards and catching 47 passes for another 454 as the Redskins set a new league record for scoring on their way to the top of the conference.

It was Washington’s last significant season with the Redskins. He appeared in just seven games in 1984 and gained a paltry 266 yards from scrimmage. Dealt to the Atlanta Falcons during the ’85 draft, he finished up his career as a situational back spelling Gerald Riggs.

In all, during four seasons with the Redskins, Washington rushed for 2070 yards on 455 carries (4.5 avg.) and caught 149 passes for 1220 yards, scoring a total of 16 touchdowns. He had two hundred-yard rushing games, with a high of 147 against Detroit in 1981, plus a 10-catch, 124-yard pass receiving performance vs. the Cowboys, also in ’81. For his nine-season career, he gained 8252 yards from scrimmage and was equally dangerous as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, ably complementing John Riggins with the Redskins. 

April 26, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Jevon Kearse, 1999

Defensive End, Tennessee Titans

Age: 23 (Sept. 3)
College: Florida
Height: 6’4”   Weight: 265

Looking to upgrade their pass rush, the Titans chose Kearse in the first round (16th overall) of the 1999 NFL draft. With his exceptional speed and wide wingspan, he earned the nickname “The Freak” in college. He quickly moved into the starting lineup with Tennessee.

1999 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 14.5 [4, 1st in AFC]
Most sacks, game – 3 vs. Cleveland 9/19
Multi-sack games – 3
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 8
Tackles – 48
Assists – 9

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 4 G
Sacks – 3
Most sacks, game – 2 vs. Buffalo, AFC Wild Card playoff
Interceptions – 0
Safety – 1
TD – 0

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

Titans went 13-3 to finish second in the AFC Central and qualified for the postseason as a Wild Card entry while ranking third in the league with 54 sacks. Won AFC Wild Card playoff over Buffalo Bills (22-16), AFC Divisional playoff over Indianapolis Colts (19-16), and AFC Championship over Jacksonville Jaguars (33-14). Lost Super Bowl to St. Louis Rams (23-16).

Following his outstanding first season in which he set a rookie record for sacks, Kearse received Pro Bowl recognition after the 2000 and 2001 seasons as well. He accumulated 11.5 and 10 sacks, respectively, while facing increased double-teaming. A foot injury suffered in the first contest of the ’02 season limited him to just four games and he missed time in 2003 with foot and ankle injuries that significantly reduced his performance during the second half of a year in which he registered 9.5 sacks. Kearse joined the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in 2004 and, with his versatility, was a good fit in the blitz-heavy scheme the Eagles employed. But while he stayed healthy, his play lacked consistency and his sack total was only 7.5. He underachieved in 2005, with another 7.5 sacks, and a major knee injury limited him to two games in ’06. After one more year in Philadelphia during which he lost his starting job, Kearse returned to Tennessee in 2008 for his last two seasons. In all, over the course of 11 years he accumulated 74 sacks. While a feared pass rusher with tremendous athleticism early in his career, injuries ultimately wore him down.

[Updated 8/4/13]
[Updated 11/29/14]


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). 

April 24, 2013

1983: Stars Hold Off Rally to Beat Breakers

The Philadelphia Stars were off to a 6-1 start in the inaugural United States Football League season as they hosted the Boston Breakers on April 24, 1983. Head Coach Jim Mora’s team benefited greatly from the presence of rookie RB Kelvin Bryant on a ball-control offense directed by QB Chuck Fusina. The “Doghouse Defense” was even more the key to the club’s success, having given up an average of just eight points a game in the first seven weeks.

Boston was 5-2 and right behind the Stars in the Atlantic Division standings. Coached by the offensive-minded Dick Coury, who had ex-NFL star quarterback Roman Gabriel as offensive coordinator, the Breakers had a fine passing game with 35-year-old QB John Walton, a veteran of the WFL and NFL who had come out of retirement as a college coach, throwing to wide receivers Frank Lockett, Nolan Franz, and ex-Eagle Charlie Smith. Ex-CFL halfback Richard Crump was productive both as a receiver out of the backfield and runner from scrimmage.

There were just 10,257 fans in attendance at Veterans Stadium. The home team started off the scoring as Fusina tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to WR Willie Collier seven minutes into the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Kelvin Bryant ran around the left side for a 21-yard TD.

The defense set up another scoring series for the Stars when FS Mike Lush knocked the ball out of the hands of Nolan Franz and LB Sam Mills recovered at the Philadelphia 37. The resulting drive ended up with a 34-yard David Trout field goal for a 17-0 margin.

Five minutes into the second half, Trout added another field goal, this time from 34 yards, and it seemed as though the Stars were cruising at 20-0. However, the Breakers came up with a big play with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter. Walton connected with Frank Lockett down the middle for an 86-yard touchdown to get them on the board.

Two minutes later, LB Ben Needham intercepted a Fusina throw and that resulted in a Boston possession that concluded with Walton tossing another TD pass, this time from eight yards out to Richard Crump. Suddenly, the Breakers were only six points down with plenty of time remaining.

The Stars defense showed its mettle in keeping the surging Breakers from again reaching the end zone. In the closest call, a fake field goal attempt by the Breakers came up short at the Philadelphia three yard line with 4:19 left on the clock.

The Stars couldn’t move out of their end of the field and took an intentional safety with 2:29 remaining in the game as punter Sean Landeta ran out of the end zone. But while that pulled the Breakers to just four points behind, Boston RB Ira Matthews fumbled the free kick and CB Jonathan Sutton of the Stars recovered at the Breakers’ 30. David Trout added a 42-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game.

The Breakers had one last shot and drove to the Philadelphia 10 with 26 seconds remaining. However, they could get no further as Walton threw two incomplete passes and the Stars hung on for a tough 23-16 win.

Although Philadelphia held the ball for five minutes longer than the Breakers, Boston outgained the Stars (471 yards to 254) and had more first downs (19 to 14). However, the visitors also turned the ball over five times, to three by Philadelphia.

As usual, Kelvin Bryant was the key producer on offense for the Stars with 110 yards on 23 rushing attempts that included a TD. Chuck Fusina completed 12 of 18 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown and the one costly interception. WR Rodney Parker led the receiver s with three catches for 55 yards.

For the Breakers, John Walton went to the air 44 times and was successful on 31 for 367 yards and two TDs with one intercepted. Nolan Franz caught 7 of those passes for 74 yards while, with the one long scoring grab, Frank Lockett gained 131 yards on 5 receptions. Charlie Smith contributed another 5 catches for 97 yards. Richard Crump ran for 51 yards on 13 carries and pulled in 6 passes for 50 more yards and a TD.

The fumble on the free kick, not surprisingly, drew the most comments after the game.

“I think the Stars made a poor decision in calling for the safety,” said Dick Coury. “It gave us a chance, but we fumbled it away, and that fumble cost us the game.”

“The biggest thing we wanted to do was make sure we made the tackle to keep them from getting good field position,” explained Jonathan Sutton of the key turnover. “Mark McCants made a good hit. We saw the ball pop out and I was right there to cover the ball.”

The Stars continued on to win the Atlantic Division with a 15-3 record, eventually losing to the Michigan Panthers in the USFL Championship game. Boston won the rematch with Philadelphia but finished second in the division at 11-7 and missed the postseason.

Kelvin Bryant ranked second in the league in rushing with 1442 yards on 318 carries (4.5 avg.) and 16 touchdowns and had 53 pass receptions for 410 more yards and a TD. He received All-USFL recognition and was named MVP by the league.

John Walton led the USFL in pass attempts (589) and ranked second in completions (330) and yards (3770) while tying for third (with Alan Risher of Arizona) with 20 touchdown passes. Nolan Franz led the Breakers with 62 catches, for 848 yards, while Charlie Smith gained 1009 yards on 54 receptions for a fine 18.7-yard average and five scores. Frank Lockett, who missed five games, had 37 catches for 535 yards and three TDs. 

April 23, 2013

MVP Profile: Eric Dickerson, 1986

Running Back, Los Angeles Rams

Age: 26
4th season in pro football & with Rams
College: Southern Methodist
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 220

A two-time All-American in college who set a Southwest Conference career rushing record despite splitting time with Craig James, Dickerson was taken by the Rams in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft (second overall). An upright runner with speed as well as power, he moved into the starting lineup in new Head Coach John Robinson’s ground-oriented offense. After setting a rookie rushing record in 1983 with 1808 yards, Dickerson went a step farther in ’84 as he set a new single-season record with 2105 yards on the ground. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl selection in 1983 and ’84 but, due to a contract holdout and nagging injuries, Dickerson’s rushing numbers dropped off to 1234 yards in 1985, although he still scored 12 touchdowns.

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

Attempts – 404 [1]
Most attempts, game - 38 (for 193 yds.) at St. Louis 9/7
Yards – 1821 [1]
Most yards, game – 207 yards (on 30 carries) vs. Tampa Bay 10/5
Average gain – 4.5 [7, tied with Lorenzo Hampton]
TDs – 11 (5)
200-yard rushing games – 1
100-yard rushing games – 11

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 26      
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 12 yds.) at New Orleans 11/9
Yards – 205
Most yards, game - 46 (on 3 catches) at Chicago 11/3
Average gain – 7.9
TDs – 0

Attempts – 1
Completions – 1
Yards – 15
TDs – 1
Interceptions – 0

TDs – 11 [9, tied with Mark Duper, Stephone Paige & Walter Payton]
Points – 66

All-purpose yards: 2026 [1]

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff at Washington)
Rushing attempts – 26
Rushing yards – 158
Average gain rushing – 6.1
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 0

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

Rams went 10-6 to finish second in the NFC West and qualify for a Wild Card playoff berth. Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to Washington Redskins (19-7).

Dickerson gained over a thousand yards in all four of his seasons in LA, but contract disputes and holdouts also occurred on a regular basis and in a blockbuster midseason trade in 1987, he was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts. He gained a total of 1011 yards in just nine games in that strike-shortened season, and once more led the league with 1659 yards in 1988. With the Colts, he was a consensus first-team All-Pro in ’88 and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1988 and ’89. Injuries began to take a toll from 1990 on, and he moved on to the Raiders in 1992 and, briefly, Atlanta in ’93 before retiring. In all, he ran for over a thousand yards in each of his first seven seasons and gained a career total of 13,259. He also scored 90 rushing touchdowns (96 in all). Dickerson’s #29 was retired by the Rams and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1999.

[Updated 8/4/13]


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.

April 21, 2013

2002: Bills Obtain Drew Bledsoe from Patriots

The 2001 NFL season went very differently for QB Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots than he certainly could have anticipated going into it. Following eight years with the Patriots, he had received a ten-year, $103 million contract extension that was the richest in league history at the time and seemed to secure his future in New England. But after sustaining a hit by LB Mo Lewis of the Jets two weeks into the season that resulted in a chest injury, he was replaced by unheralded backup QB Tom Brady, who performed well enough that the veteran was unable to regain the starting job once he was cleared to return to action.

Bledsoe handled the demotion with characteristic class and, when Brady was injured during the AFC title game against the Steelers, he stepped in to rally the team to victory. But it was Brady going all the way in the stunning Super Bowl win over the Rams and it was clear that the veteran’s days with the Patriots were numbered. On April 21, 2002 speculation as to where the 30-year-old Bledsoe would play next was ended when he was dealt to the Buffalo Bills for a conditional first-round draft choice in 2003.

Bledsoe’s career started with great promise when he was taken by New England as the first overall pick of the 1993 NFL draft out of Washington State. At 6’5” and 233 pounds, he had ideal size and passing ability, although limited mobility as a traditional pocket quarterback. He gained the starting job as a rookie and in his second year led the league in pass attempts (691), completions (400), yards (4555), and, more unfortunately, interceptions (27). In one game against the Vikings, he set NFL records with 70 passes and 45 completions. For his efforts, he was named to the Pro Bowl and the team’s record, under the direction of Head Coach Bill Parcells, improved to 10-6, its best in eight seasons.

Bledsoe again led the NFL in pass attempts in 1995 (636) but otherwise had a lesser year. However, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl in ’96 as Bledsoe led the league in attempts (623) and completions (373) while throwing for 4086 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was selected once more to the Pro Bowl and, while he had a rough Super Bowl performance in a loss to the Packers, he and the team appeared to be heading in the right direction.

Parcells departed the club following the AFC Championship season and was replaced by Pete Carroll. While the Patriots made it to the postseason in 1997 and ’98, they didn’t advance any farther than the Divisional playoff round and Bledsoe took criticism for tossing ill-timed interceptions and not stepping up in pressure situations. The departure of star RB Curtis Martin to the Jets in 1998 added further to the demands on the quarterback. The Patriots collapsed during the second half of the 1999 season, when they went 2-6 to conclude with an 8-8 record. Bledsoe had an especially difficult time, tossing 17 interceptions in that eight-game stretch to just six TD passes and enduring 33 sacks.

Bill Belichick was the new head coach during a 5-11 rebuilding season in 2000. While Bledsoe displayed a great deal of toughness and heart, he also took a tremendous beating along the way. He threw for only 17 touchdowns and was sacked 45 times. Still, the club gave him the big contract in the offseason, believing that with a better line and more effective playmakers around him, he could regain his form.  

Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills were coming off a 3-13 year in 2001 with Rob Johnson and Alex Van Pelt at quarterback. Johnson had been a disappointment as a starting quarterback since being obtained from Jacksonville in 1998 and was let go while Van Pelt was nothing more than a capable backup. With Bledsoe behind center, the Bills improved to 8-8 in ’02, although they faltered down the stretch after getting off to a 5-3 start.

Bledsoe had a big year, completing a career-high 61.5 percent of his passes for 4359 yards with 24 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. Both starting wide receivers went over a thousand yards with a rejuvenated Eric Moulds catching 100 passes for 1292 yards and 10 TDs and Peerless Price adding 94 catches for 1252 yards and 9 scores. Bledsoe and Moulds were chosen to the Pro Bowl, the first selection for the ten-year quarterback in five seasons.

Things did not go as well for the team or its quarterback in 2003, who suffered through a dreadful season. The loss of Price to free agency and then Moulds to injury did not help matters. Bledsoe’s passing yardage total dipped to 2860 and his touchdown throws to 11, with a passer rating of 73.0, and he was sacked 49 times.  Buffalo dropped to 6-10.

The Bills finished strong in 2004 to end up with a 9-7 record, helped greatly on offense by the performance of RB Willis McGahee. Bledsoe threw for 2932 yards and 20 touchdowns but was released following the season to make way for 2004 first draft choice J.P. Losman to take over as the starting quarterback.

Bledsoe moved on to Dallas, where he was reunited with Head Coach Bill Parcells and played his final two NFL seasons. In all, he passed for 44,611 yards and 251 touchdowns, with 206 interceptions and 467 sacks. Of those totals, 10,151 yards, 55 TDs, 43 pickoffs, and 140 sacks came with the Bills.

The Patriots continued to prosper with Tom Brady at quarterback during the same time period that Bledsoe was in Buffalo, winning the Super Bowl following the 2003 and ’04 seasons. Bledsoe’s earlier contributions to the club were not forgotten, however, as he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2011.

As a footnote, the 2003 first draft choice that the Patriots received from Buffalo for Bledsoe was in turn sent on to the Chicago Bears, who used to take DE Michael Haynes from Penn State.  New England, moving up a spot as a result of trading picks, took DT Ty Warren out of Texas A & M.

April 19, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Keith Jackson, 1988

Tight End, Philadelphia Eagles

Age: 23
College: Oklahoma
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 250

Jackson was taken by the Eagles in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft (13th overall). He was a two-time All-American in college despite playing in a ground-oriented wishbone offense, but while he caught only 62 career passes, he averaged 23.7 yards per catch and scored 14 touchdowns. With speed to match ideal size, Jackson immediately moved into the starting lineup for the Eagles.

1988 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 81 [6]
Most receptions, game – 10 (for 76 yds.) vs. Cincinnati 9/11
Yards – 869
Most yards, game - 92 (on 7 catches) at Dallas 12/18
Average gain – 10.7
TDs – 6 [17, tied with nine others]

TDs – 6
Points – 36

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Divisional playoff at Chicago Bears)
Pass receptions – 7
Pass receiving yards – 142
Average yards per reception – 20.3
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: Sporting News
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: NEA
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Eagles went 10-6 to finish first in the NFC East. Lost NFC Divisional playoff to Chicago Bears (20-12).

While injuries and holdouts marked his time in Philadelphia, Jackson caught 242 passes for 2756 yards and 20 TDs over the course of four seasons with the club. A fine downfield receiver from the tight end position, he was less accomplished as a blocker. Jackson was a consensus first-team All-Pro and was selected to the Pro Bowl following each of his first four years. Granted free agency in 1992, he signed with the Miami Dolphins and had a Pro Bowl season. Three years in Miami were followed by two in Green Bay where he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time in his last season which also resulted in a Super Bowl triumph. Overall for his career, Jackson had 441 catches for 5283 yards (12.0 avg.) and 49 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]

April 17, 2013

1978: Dolphins Trade Freddie Solomon to 49ers for Delvin Williams

On April 17, 1978 the Miami Dolphins dealt WR Freddie Solomon, safety Vern Roberson, and first and fifth round draft picks to San Francisco for RB Delvin Williams.

 “It was a stiff price to pay, but a lot of clubs were interested in Williams,” said Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula. “Williams is a complete back. He has the track record to show he can be a breakaway back. He is a fine pass receiver coming out of the backfield, which interested us a great deal.”

The 6’0”, 197-pound Williams (pictured above) had 2966 rushing yards for his career thus far, including 1203 in 1976. He was drafted by the 49ers in the second round out of Kansas in 1974. The Niners had four picks in the first two rounds and, looking to upgrade the running game, also took a halfback, Wilbur Jackson from Alabama, in the first round. Jackson got more attention initially and Williams ran the ball just 36 times for 201 yards as a rookie. However, Jackson had injury problems in ’75 and, with greater opportunity, Williams emerged to rush for 631 yards while averaging an outstanding 5.4 yards per carry and caught 34 passes for another 370 yards. Jackson was shifted to fullback and became part of an outstanding tandem with Williams, who ranked second in rushing in the NFC in 1976 and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Williams had lesser numbers in 1977, dropping to 931 rushing yards with a 3.5-yard average, significantly lower than the 4.9 yards per carry of ’76. The acquisition of RB O.J. Simpson from the Bills, a San Francisco native, rendered Williams expendable and set the stage for the trade with Miami.

Freddie Solomon, at 5’11” and 185 pounds, had also been a second-round draft pick, taken by the Dolphins in 1975. A quarterback in college at Tampa, he was considered to be an outstanding all-around athlete entering the draft and was viewed as a prospect at several positions. Shula hoped he could be the replacement at wide receiver for the great Paul Warfield, who had departed for the World Football League, across from Nat Moore. He made more of an impression as a kick returner while catching 61 passes for 973 yards and five touchdowns. He did show promise, particularly in his second year, and had punt return touchdowns of 79 and 50 yards and a 90-yard kickoff return. In one 1976 game, gained 252 all-purpose yards. But Shula indicated that Solomon was not going to start for the Dolphins in ’78 due to the emergence of Duriel Harris, who had moved into the lineup.

“The writing has been on the wall for the last couple of weeks,” said Solomon. “There have been rumors in the newspapers and I thought that something was going to happen.”

Vern Roberson came to the Dolphins undrafted in 1977 and intercepted one pass as a reserve safety. He lasted one season with the 49ers, again picking off a pass and also recovering two fumbles. The first draft pick San Francisco received was used to take Dan Bunz, a linebacker from Long Beach State, and the fifth-round choice went for DB Bruce Threadgill out of Mississippi State. Bunz spent seven seasons with the Niners while Threadgill lasted one year as a reserve defensive back and quarterback before moving on to the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

Williams proved to be an outstanding fit in Miami’s offense in 1978. Although slowed by an injury late in the season, he ran the ball 272 times for 1258 yards (4.6 avg.) and eight touchdowns and caught 18 passes for another 192 yards. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and was also chosen to the Pro Bowl. The Dolphins, who had missed the postseason in the three previous years, qualified for an AFC Wild Card spot with an 11-5 record.  He played two more years for the Dolphins with less spectacular results, however. In 1979 the offense as a whole was less effective even though the club won the division title with a 10-6 tally. The return of FB Larry Csonka took carries away from Williams – the 33-year-old Csonka ran the ball 220 times for 837 yards while Williams had just 184 rushing attempts for 703 yards.

Csonka was gone in 1980 but Williams declined further as he ran for 671 yards on 187 carries and, while he pulled in 31 passes for 207 yards, young Tony Nathan was far more productive as a receiver out of the backfield with 57 receptions for 588 yards and five TDs. It was the end for Williams in Miami and, other than a brief appearance with Green Bay in 1981, the end of his career as well. With the Dolphins, Williams gained 2632 rushing yards and 13 TDs, most of which came in his big first season, and had 70 catches for 574 yards and one score. For his overall career, he ran for 5598 yards, caught 152 passes for 1415 yards, and scored a total of 39 touchdowns. He was twice selected to the Pro Bowl and received All-NFL recognition in 1978 alone.

Meanwhile, the 49ers were a dreadful 2-14 club in ’78. Both O.J. Simpson and Wilbur Jackson went down with injuries and Solomon saw some action at quarterback as well as wide receiver. Solomon (pictured above) did lead the club in pass receiving with 31 catches for 458 yards. San Francisco went 2-14 again in 1979, but with a new head coach and general manager, Bill Walsh, installing a pass-oriented West Coast offense, Solomon’s numbers improved to a team-leading 807 yards on 57 catches (one behind RB Paul Hofer) with seven TDs, and would likely have been better had he not worn down in the late going.

In 1980, the team began the improvement that would lead to much better results during the Walsh era and while Solomon was a productive receiver and deep threat, with 48 catches for 658 yards and eight touchdowns, Dwight Clark emerged on the other side with 82 receptions for 991 yards. Solomon also regained his form as a punt returner, averaging 11.0 yards on 27 returns that included two TDs. The 49ers exploded into a championship team in 1981 and Solomon played his part in what was his most productive year in the NFL. He had 59 receptions for 969 yards and a 16.4-yard average gain, his best since his second year with the Dolphins, while scoring another eight TDs. He also performed well in the postseason, catching 16 passes in three games and scoring touchdowns in the NFC Divisional playoff win over the Giants (he also gained 107 yards) and in the narrow NFC Championship victory over Dallas (although it was Clark scoring the winning TD on a play in which Solomon was the primary receiver).

Solomon lasted another four years with the 49ers. While pushed by Mike Wilson and track star Renaldo Nehemiah, his receptions declined but he was still an effective deep threat and his average gain increased, with a high of 21.4 in 1983. He had a career-high 10 touchdown receptions in ’84, on 40 catches with an 18.4-yard average. His last season, 1985, was the first for his illustrious successor, Jerry Rice (who he mentored). In eight years with San Francisco, Solomon had 310 catches for 4873 yards (15.7 avg.) and 43 touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 34 receptions for 537 yards and six TDs. While he never received All-NFL or Pro Bowl recognition, Solomon proved to be a good fit in Bill Walsh’s offense and earned two Super Bowl rings along the way.

April 15, 2013

1984: Stars Score 31 Points in First Quarter to Thrash Blitz

The Philadelphia Stars were cruising along with a 6-1 record as they hosted the Chicago Blitz in a United States Football League game on April 15, 1984. While they were missing star RB Kelvin Bryant due to an injury, and had to rally to edge the Arizona Wranglers in their previous game, Head Coach Jim Mora’s team was still sound on both sides of the ball. QB Chuck Fusina was behind center to guide the ball-control offense and the tough and opportunistic defense was masterful at generating turnovers and keeping opposing teams out of the end zone. Undersized ILB Sam Mills was particularly adept at making big plays – as the Blitz would find out.

Chicago was struggling at 2-5. Coached by Marv Levy, the team had ex-Bear Vince Evans at quarterback but was a shadow of the club that played by the same name in 1983 and, through an ownership switch, had mostly been transferred to Arizona. The Blitz had little fan support and scant success on the field.

There were 17,417 fans in attendance at Veterans Stadium. It didn’t the Stars long to make the home crowd happy as they scored four touchdowns in the first nine minutes of the game.

It all started when Sam Mills recovered a fumble by RB Larry Canada to set up the first Philadelphia TD. Chuck Fusina threw to WR Willie Collier for a 19-yard touchdown less than four minutes into the contest.

Following a punt by the Blitz, the Stars again scored quickly. WR Herbert Harris gained 33 yards on a reverse to set up a 25-yard TD pass from Fusina to TE Steve Folsom. On the next series, RB Vegas Ferguson fumbled at his 35 and safety Scott Woerner grabbed the loose ball and returned it for another touchdown. Just like that, the Blitz were in a 21-0 hole.

It continued to go badly for Chicago when the next pass Evans threw was picked off by Mills, who returned it ten yards. The possession concluded with FB David Riley plowing over from a yard out to add a fourth TD for the Stars. In short order, Mills intercepted another Evans throw to give the Stars the ball at their 40. Six plays later, David Trout kicked a 30-yard field goal and, with 25 seconds remaining in the opening period, Philadelphia was up by 31-0. The point total was a USFL record for one quarter.

The Stars cruised from there. Midway through the second quarter, Trout added a 49-yard field goal. Once again a turnover had been turned into points by Philadelphia as CB Garcia Lane picked off a pass and returned it 19 yards to the Stars’ 35 to set up the score.

Three minutes into the third quarter, safety Mike Lush intercepted an Evans pass near midfield. RB Allen Harvin, the replacement for the injured Kelvin Bryant, topped off the resulting possession with an eight-yard touchdown carry. Chicago finally got on the scoreboard, long after it mattered, with a two-yard TD pass from Evans to OT Doug Hoppock, getting his only reception of the year on a tackle-eligible play. There was no further scoring as the Stars came away with a crushing 41-7 win.

The Stars gained 320 yards to Chicago’s 299 and had the edge in first downs by 16 to 15 – deceivingly close numbers since Philadelphia put the game away early and the Blitz vainly tried to play catch-up the rest of the way. More meaningfully, the Blitz turned the ball over seven times, to two given up by the Stars.

Chuck Fusina completed 11 of 17 passes for 180 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Allen Harvin (pictured at left) rushed for 82 yards on 19 carries with one TD. Steve Folsom, Willie Collier, and David Riley each caught three passes, for 56, 52, and 43 yards, respectively. The biggest star was Sam Mills on defense with two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and 11 tackles to fuel the onslaught.

For the Blitz, Vince Evans was successful on 18 of 36 throws for 170 yards and the one TD, but also gave up five interceptions before backup Ron Reeves finished up. RB Jim Stone ran for 61 yards on 5 attempts and also led the team with four catches for 37 yards.

The Stars continued to win with regularity through the remainder of the season, compiling a 16-2 record and three more victories in the postseason that culminated in a USFL Championship. The Blitz also continued to lose, ending up at the bottom of the Central Division with a 5-13 tally.

Sam Mills went on to lead Philadelphia in tackles (92) and assists (118) while intercepting three passes and recording five sacks. He was named to the USFL All-League team for the second year.

April 14, 2013

MVP Profile: Barry Sanders, 1997

Running Back, Detroit Lions

Age: 29
9th season in pro football & with Lions
College: Oklahoma State
Height: 5’8”   Weight: 203

Following a Heisman-winning season as a junior, Sanders chose to forego his last year of eligibility and turn pro. Taken by the Lions in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft (third overall), he had an immediate impact, rushing for 1470 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was not just Rookie of the Year but went to the Pro Bowl and was a consensus first team All-Pro. Sanders followed up with a league-leading 1304 yards in 1990, his first of four NFL rushing titles, and through 1996 had received MVP recognition once, consensus All-NFL honors five times, and was chosen to the Pro Bowl in all eight years. Sanders never failed to gain a thousand yards – his lowest total was 1115 in 1993, when he missed five games due to injury, his only extended loss of playing time. He made up for lack of size with outstanding elusiveness and running instincts.

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

Attempts – 335 [4]
Most attempts, game - 30 (for 137 yds.) at Miami 12/7
Yards – 2053 [1]
Most yards, game – 216 yards (on 24 carries) vs. Indianapolis 11/23
Average gain – 6.1 [2]
TDs – 11 [3, tied with Kordell Stewart & Marcus Allen, 1st in NFC]
200-yard rushing games – 2
100-yard rushing games – 14

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 33      
Most receptions, game – 8 (for 102 yds.) vs. Tampa Bay 9/7
Yards – 305
Most yards, game - 102 (on 8 catches) vs. Tampa Bay 9/7
Average gain – 9.2
TDs – 3
100-yard receiving games – 1

All-purpose yards – 2358 [1]

TDs – 14 [3, 1st in NFC]
Points – 84

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff at Tampa Bay)
Rushing attempts – 18
Rushing yards – 65
Average gain rushing – 3.6
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 5
Pass receiving yards - 43
Average yards per reception – 8.6
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

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

Lions went 9-7 to finish third in the NFC Central and qualify for the postseason as a Wild Card while leading the conference in rushing yards (2464). Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to Tampa Bay Buccaneers (20-10).

Sanders rushed for 1491 yards in 1998, his last season before abruptly retiring. He was selected for the Pro Bowl following all ten seasons, was a consensus first-team All-Pro six times, and with his exciting, often-improvisational running style was a highlight film regular. Sanders retired with 15,269 rushing yards and scored a total of 109 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2004.


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]

April 12, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Mike Haynes, 1976

Cornerback, New England Patriots

Age: 23
College: Arizona State
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 189

Highly regarded following a college career in which he was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Western Athletic Conference selection, Haynes was chosen by the Patriots in the first round (fifth overall) of the 1976 NFL draft. He quickly made an impact, both as a defensive back and a punt returner.

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

Interceptions – 8 [3, tied with Joe Lavender & Rod Perry]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at NY Jets 11/21
Int. return yards – 90 [17]
Most int. return yards, game – 42 (on 2 int.) at Baltimore 11/14
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 3
Forced fumbles – 0

Punt Returns
Returns – 45 [3, tied with Butch Johnson]
Yards – 608 [2]
Most yards, game – 156 (on 4 ret.) vs. Buffalo 11/7
Average per return – 13.5 [2, tied with Eddie Brown]
TDs – 2 [2]
Longest return – 89 yards

TDs – 2
Points – 12

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Divisional playoff at Oakland)
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 0

Punt returns – 1
Punt return yds. – 13
Punt return TDs – 0

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

Patriots went 11-3 to finish second in the AFC East and qualify for a Wild Card berth. Lost AFC Divisional playoff to Oakland Raiders (24-21).

Haynes quickly developed into one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks and was chosen to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons. He intercepted 23 passes during that time and averaged 10.9 yards on 105 punt returns, most of which came during his first two years. Fast and with excellent reactions, as well as being a thorough student of his craft, he was outstanding at pass coverage. Following an injury-shortened 1981 season, he came back with one last Pro Bowl year for the Patriots before moving on to the Los Angeles Raiders. Haynes led the NFL with 220 yards on six interception returns in 1984, his first of two consecutive seasons in which he received consensus first-team All-Pro recognition. His career lasted 14 years, until 1989, and he ended up with a total of 46 interceptions and nine Pro Bowl selections. Haynes was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1997.


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]

April 10, 2013

1983: Corker Has 6 Sacks as Panthers Defeat Generals

The Michigan Panthers were struggling in the early going of the United States Football League’s first season as they took on the New Jersey Generals at the Meadowlands on April 10, 1983. Coached by Jim Stanley, they had lost four straight games following an opening-week win. The Panthers had unheralded rookie QB Bobby Hebert behind center and were waiting for their better known first-year player, WR Anthony Carter, to break out. LB John Corker had become the star of the defense and, while he missed the previous week’s game, had accounted for nine sacks in the two contests before and was back for the game against New Jersey.

The Generals, under Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks, were also 1-4 and had just broken into the win column in the previous contest. Star rookie RB Herschel Walker was the center of attention and had exploded for 177 yards in the winning effort. But QB Bobby Scott, a veteran backup from the New Orleans Saints, was mediocre and the rest of the team was lacking as well.

There were just 17,648 fans in attendance at Giants Stadium with a steady rain falling. Defense dominated as neither team was able to score during the first half. It stayed that way until, with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter, a punt by Dave Jacobs of the Generals was blocked by CB Clarence Chapman following a high snap. NT Ira Albright fell on the blocked kick in the end zone to finally break the scoreless battle and put the visitors in front.

The Generals came right back and scored less than two minutes later on a one-yard run by FB Dwight Sullivan. However the holder, WR Mike Friede, bobbled the snap for the extra point and it was missed. Michigan, having successfully added its PAT, thus maintained a one-point lead. With a minute remaining in the period, the Panthers extended their margin. Bobby Hebert passed to WR Derek Holloway for a 25-yard touchdown and, with another successful extra point the score was 14-6.

That was it until, with just under a minute to play in the fourth quarter, RB Ken Lacy ran for a nine-yard TD. Michigan ended up with a 21-6 win.

The Generals outgained Michigan (347 yards to 232) and had more first downs (20 to 12). However, the Panthers recorded nine sacks, six of them by Corker, while New Jersey had none.

Bobby Hebert completed 12 of 26 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Ken Lacy rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries that included a TD and also had 4 catches for 39 yards. Derek Holloway gained 40 yards and had a touchdown among his three receptions, while Anthony Carter was held to just two catches for 22 yards.

For the Generals, Herschel Walker, who ran the ball sparingly in the second half as the offense tried to rally through the air, still had a very productive day with 133 yards on 26 carries and another 51 yards on 6 pass receptions. Bobby Scott was successful on 16 of 31 throws for 220 yards and gave up an interception. FB Maurice Carthon, who added another 23 yards on six runs, also pulled in four throws for 52 yards and WR Tom McConnaughey gained 80 yards on his three catches.

The win marked a turnaround for the Panthers, who won five straight games on their way to topping the Central Division with a 12-6 record and ultimately defeating the Philadelphia Stars for the league’s first championship. The offense, helped by the addition of some veteran linemen, came together as Bobby Hebert led the league in passing, Anthony Carter caught 60 passes for 1181 yards and nine touchdowns, and Ken Lacy rushed for 1180 yards.

John Corker’s six sacks gave him 15 in three games on the way to a league-leading total of 28. He received All-League honors from both the league and Sporting News and gaining Defensive Player of the Year recognition.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s frustrations continued and the Generals finished third in the Atlantic Division at 6-12. Herschel Walker led the new league in rushing with 1812 yards, but the passing attack ranked 9th among the 12 USFL clubs and only one team, the Arizona Wranglers, gave up more than New Jersey’s 437 points.