September 30, 2013

MVP Profile: Marshall Faulk, 1999

Running Back, St. Louis Rams

Age: 26
6th season in pro football, 1st with Rams
College: San Diego State
Height: 5’10” Weight: 211

Taken in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft (second overall) by the Indianapolis Colts, Faulk had a Rookie of the Year season with 1282 rushing yards and 52 catches for 522 more, establishing himself as an outstanding combination runner/receiver. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as well and was chosen again following a 1995 performance in which he rushed for 1078 yards and had 56 catches. Injuries, and a subpar offensive line, reduced his production significantly in 1996 and he ran for 1054 yards and caught 47 passes for a 3-13 team in ’97. Faulk returned to Pro Bowl form in 1998 as he rushed for 1319 yards and gained 908 yards on 86 pass receptions to lead the NFL with 2227 yards from scrimmage. He was traded to the Rams in the offseason for two draft picks.

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

Attempts – 253 [14, tied with Ricky Williams]
Most attempts, game - 29 (for 154 yds.) at New Orleans 12/12
Yards – 1381 [5]
Most yards, game – 181 yards (on 18 carries) at Atlanta 10/17
Average gain – 5.5 [3]
TDs – 7 [13, tied with Olandis Gary, Mike Alstott & Jerome Bettis]
100-yard rushing games – 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 87 [8] 
Most receptions, game – 12 (for 204 yds.) vs. Chicago 12/26
Yards – 1048
Most yards, game - 204 (on 12 catches) vs. Chicago 12/26
Average gain – 12.0
TDs – 5
100-yard receiving games – 1

Attempts – 1
Completions – 0
Interceptions – 0

All-Purpose Yards – 2429 [1]

TDs – 12 [7, tied with five others]
2-pt PATs – 1
Points – 74

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 38
Most rushing attempts, game – 17 vs. Tampa Bay, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 82
Most rushing yards, game – 44 vs. Tampa Bay, NFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 2.2
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 13
Most pass receptions, game – 5 vs. Minnesota, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Tennessee, Super Bowl
Pass receiving yards – 175
Most pass receiving yards, game – 90 vs. Tennessee, Super Bowl
Average yards per reception – 13.5
Pass Receiving TDs – 1

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

Rams went 13-3 to finish first in NFC West with conference’s best record while leading NFL in total yards (6412), passing yards (4353), scoring (526 points), and touchdowns (66). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Minnesota Vikings (49-37), NFC Championship over Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-6), and Super Bowl over Tennessee Titans (23-16).

Faulk followed up with another strong season in 2000, receiving MVP consideration while setting a new record for touchdowns (26) and gaining 1359 rushing yards plus 830 more on 81 catches for a total of 2189 yards from scrimmage. In 2001 he received MVP recognition for the third straight year as he gained 2147 yards overall, with 1382 rushing and 765 on 83 catches. He scored 21 touchdowns to lead the NFL in scoring for a second consecutive season with 128 points. Faulk was a consensus first-team All-Pro for a third straight year and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive time. He had one last Pro Bowl season in 2002 (his 7th overall), but injuries and accumulated wear-and-tear were reducing his production. While he played until 2005, he never again gained over a thousand yards rushing or two thousand yards from scrimmage. For his career, he rushed for 12,279 yards and 100 touchdowns and caught 767 passes for 6875 yards and another 36 TDs. At the time, his 19,190 total yards ranked sixth all-time and 136 TDs placed fourth. Faulk was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2011.


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). 

September 29, 2013

1957: Packers Upset Bears in First Game at New Stadium

On September 29, 1957 the Green Bay Packers not only played their opening game of the new NFL season, but achieved a significant milestone in the history of the franchise as well. That day marked the official opening of a new home venue, City Stadium (or New City Stadium, to distinguish it from its predecessor, until renamed Lambeau Field in 1965).

The Packers had endured mediocrity on the field throughout the decade of the fifties and the future of the franchise was in question. They were playing home games at a high school stadium, the original City Stadium, and owners of other NFL teams were complaining that the facility was no longer up to league standards. The Packers had also been playing some home games in Milwaukee each year (and would continue doing so until 1994), and there was sentiment to move the team there permanently. Upon receiving an ultimatum from the NFL, a bond issue was put before the voters of Green Bay to build a new stadium and received 70 percent approval. The result was the new 32,000-seat stadium.

As for the team itself, the Packers were coming off a 4-8 season in 1956 and had not posted a winning record since 1947. Coached by Lisle Blackbourn, who was commencing his fourth year at the helm, the team had traded star QB Tobin Rote to Detroit during the offseason and was going with 23-year-old second-year QB Bart Starr to start the opening game, although 28-year-old QB Babe Parilli, who had started out with the Packers in 1952, gone into the military, and been dealt to Cleveland, was back with the club. End Billy Howton was one of the NFL’s best receivers, center Jim Ringo was a solid performer on the offensive line, and safety Bobby Dillon a highly-regarded member of the defense. They also had high hopes for their first round draft choices, QB Paul Hornung from Notre Dame and Michigan end Ron Kramer, but by and large the Packers simply had too many holes on the roster.

The team they were hosting, the Chicago Bears, was coming off a 9-2-1 record in ’56 that had topped the Western Division, although they lost badly to the Giants in the NFL title game. Coached by Paddy Driscoll, the Bears had a fine quarterback tandem in Ed Brown and George Blanda with Zeke Bratkowski now in the mix after a stint in the Army. FB Rick Casares had led the league in rushing and end Harlon Hill was an outstanding deep threat.

Dignitaries were present for the stadium dedication, including Vice President Richard M. Nixon who pronounced the new facility the “best spectator stadium” he had visited. A capacity crowd of 32,132 was on hand on a windy but sunny day.

The Bears scored first on their third series in the opening period, following an interception of a Bart Starr pass.  Ed Brown capped a 77-yard drive with a five-yard run on the ninth play. Blanda added the extra point and it was 7-0 heading into the second quarter.

Starr was struggling and the Packers were also hurt by the loss of FB Howie Ferguson to an injury in the first quarter. Babe Parilli (pictured below) relieved at quarterback and the Packers put together a scoring drive that went 79 yards in 10 plays, the biggest a pass that Howton caught over his shoulder for a 37-yard touchdown. Fred Cone tied the score at 7-7 with the successful point after.

Chicago got another TD, again taking nine plays to advance 72 yards and scoring on a pass from Brown to Harlon Hill from eleven yards out. The second TD for the Packers culminated a nine-play, 59-yard drive that was helped by a pass interference call in the end zone after Chicago DHB Vic Zucco hit Howton in the end zone. With the ball at the one yard line, Cone dove into the end zone and added the extra point that made the score 14-14 at the half.

Early in the third quarter, George Blanda kicked a 13-yard field goal for the Bears to give them the lead, but the Green Bay defense began to assert itself. In addition to intercepting four passes during the second half, the Packers also made a key stop in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-one play near midfield, Chicago HB Bobby Watkins was unable to gain the necessary yardage and the Packers came alive with a three-play, 49-yard series that proved to be decisive.

Parilli first threw to Howton for a 41-yard gain and Cone ran for two yards. Then Parilli, breaking free of DE Jack Hoffman, fired the ball to end Gary Knafelc, who dropped to his knees between the goal posts and caught the ball squarely in his stomach for a six-yard touchdown.

With 8:21 remaining to play, there was still plenty of time left, but Green Bay’s defense rose to the occasion and the Bears were unable to get into Packers territory for the rest of the game. Chicago’s last opportunity came when the Packers had to punt with two minutes remaining, but HB Perry Jeter fumbled when hit hard by DE Jim Temp and center Larry Lauer recovered for the Packers, who were then able to run out the clock. The Packers came away with an upset 21-17 win.

Chicago led in total yards (362 to 297) and first downs (19 to 16). However, the Bears also turned the ball over six times, with most coming in the second half, to four suffered by Green Bay.

Babe Parilli completed 9 of 17 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns and Billy Howton had 8 catches for 165 yards and a TD. Chicago’s quarterback combo of Ed Brown and Zeke Bratkowski gave up five interceptions, two of which were by Bobby Dillon.

While it made for a great opening in a new facility, the win over the Bears did not mark a turnaround for the Packers. They lost their next three games and ended up at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 3-9 record. Coach Blackbourn was dismissed, but it would take an even worse finish in 1958 and another coaching change to bring about a revival in the team’s fortunes.

The loss did presage a down year for the Bears, who sagged to 5-7 and fifth place in the conference, although they did beat Green Bay in the rematch at Chicago. The drop in fortunes persuaded owner George Halas to come out of his two-year coaching retirement in 1958.

Babe Parilli started one game for the Packers in ’57 and returned to the bench to back up Bart Starr. For the year, he completed 39 of 102 passes (38.2 %) for 669 yards with four touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He played one more season with Green Bay, was cut during the 1959 preseason and played in Canada, and then spent 10 years in the American Football League with the Raiders, Patriots (where he had his greatest success), and Jets.

Billy Howton had another fine season in 1957, catching 38 passes for 727 yards (19.1 avg.) and five touchdowns. He received consensus first-team All-NFL recognition for the second straight year and was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.

As for City Stadium, the bond issue that financed its near-million dollar construction cost was paid off in 1978. Following several expansions, and the renaming to Lambeau Field, the seating capacity has since risen to over 73,000.

September 28, 2013

1997: Bucs Edge Cards with Big Plays on Defense and Special Teams

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 4-0 and looking to match the best start in franchise history as they hosted the Arizona Cardinals on September 28, 1997. The team that had been a perennial doormat since last posting a winning record during the strike-shortened 1982 season was beginning to come together in its second year under Head Coach Tony Dungy. The defense, featuring DT Warren Sapp, CB Donnie Abraham, and linebackers Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson, was the key to the team’s improvement, while the offense was benefiting from the play of rookies RB Warrick Dunn and WR Reidel Anthony, second-year FB Mike Alstott, and much-improved fourth-year QB Trent Dilfer (pictured above).

The Cardinals, under Head Coach Vince Tobin, were 1-2 and coming off a bye week. They had hurt themselves with fumbles in their previous losses to the Bengals and Redskins, and all three of their contests had been close. Arizona had fine wide receivers in Rob Moore and Frank Sanders, but QB Kent Graham was no better than average and, while FB Larry Centers was an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, the running game was not strong. The defensive line, anchored by DT Eric Swann, was tough and CB Aeneas Williams was an established star.

There were 53,804 fans in attendance at Houlihan’s Stadium. The teams traded punts to start the game. Arizona’s second possession stalled and Jeff Feagles was again called on to punt with the line of scrimmage at his 40. However, the kick was blocked and recovered by LB Alshermond Singleton at the Arizona 28, and he took it the rest of the way for a touchdown. Michael Husted missed the extra point attempt and the score remained 6-0 in favor of the Buccaneers.

The teams again traded punts as the Buccaneers were unable to get anything going on offense and the Cards were little better. They had the ball as the first quarter ended and, on the first play of the second quarter, faced a fourth-and-one situation at their own 41. Lining up for an apparent punt, LB Ronald McKinnon took the short snap and ran three yards for a first down. Kent Graham completed two passes for 16 yards but the drive stalled at the Tampa Bay 37. Once again the Cards attempted trickery as they lined up for a field goal try but then shifted to go for a quick running play instead. Eric Swann took the snap but fumbled and DE Marcus Jones recovered for the Bucs.

It didn’t appear to be any more promising for Tampa Bay’s offense when the first play had to be aborted as Trent Dilfer fumbled and, while Warrick Dunn recovered, it was at a cost of ten yards. Two more plays had the Buccaneers facing fourth-and-16 and having to kick the ball away, but now it was their turn for a fake and punter Tommy Barnhardt completed a pass to safety Tony Bouie for a 25-yard gain. The offense came alive and Dilfer completed three passes, interspersed with runs by Dunn and Mike Alstott, with the third completion going to Reidel Anthony for an eight-yard touchdown. The Bucs tried for two points, but Alstott’s run up the middle was stopped short. Still, the home team held a 12-0 lead.

The Cards responded by going 80 yards in eight plays. They converted two third downs, first when Graham threw to Rob Moore (pictured at left) for 28 yards in a third-and-seven situation and then to WR Anthony Edwards for six yards on a third-and-five play to the Tampa Bay 21. On the next play, and following the two-minute warning, Graham connected with Moore for a TD. Kevin Butler added the extra point and the score was 12-7 at the half.

The Bucs went three-and-out to start the third quarter and Arizona again put points on the board. Following a holding penalty that backed them up to their 12, the Cards picked up 41 yards on a Graham-to-Moore pass play. A third-and-nine pass to Edwards gained 10 yards to the Tampa Bay 36 and Graham then threw to WR Kevin Williams for another 12 yards. The 10-play, 61-yard series finally ended with Butler kicking a 37-yard field goal that narrowed Tampa Bay’s lead to 12-10.

Once more the teams traded punts but, with less than two minutes remaining in the period, the Cardinals got a big play on defense as Aeneas Williams intercepted a Dilfer pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. They added two points on a Graham pass to Frank Sanders and the visitors were in front by 18-12 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Bucs had a short series on offense followed by Arizona starting off with good field position at midfield following a 17-yard punt return by Kevin Williams. A pass to Moore gained 22 yards and carries by running backs LeShon Johnson and Leeland McElroy picked up 12 more. But Graham was sacked for a 10-yard loss and the drive stalled at the 25 from where Butler was wide on a 43-yard field goal attempt.

The Bucs again went three-and-out on the next series but, after Barnhardt’s 57-yard punt pinned the Cardinals back at their five, the defense came through with a big play when SS John Lynch picked off an overthrown Graham pass at the Arizona 35. Four plays later, and facing fourth-and-six, Dilfer completed a pass to WR Karl Williams for a 31-yard touchdown. Husted’s key extra point put Tampa Bay back in front by a point.

With less than five minutes remaining, Graham went to the air often but the Cards were unable to get out of their end of the field and had to punt. The Buccaneers, playing conservative, ran three plays and punted with Barnhardt’s booming kick going 57 yards and putting the visitors back at their 20 with 46 seconds remaining on the clock. Graham completed three passes, the big one to Sanders for a 37-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 29, but the game ended with Butler missing a 47-yard field goal attempt. The Buccaneers came away with a hard-fought 19-18 win.

Tampa Bay came out on top despite low offensive output. The Cards dominated in total yards (364 to 167) and first downs (23 to 6). But the Buccaneers registered six sacks, to three by Arizona, and the Cardinals turned the ball over three times, to one by Tampa Bay. The Bucs also benefited from touchdowns by the special teams and defense.

Trent Dilfer completed 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards, but two of them were good for touchdowns as opposed to one interception. Reidel Anthony had 5 catches for 49 yards and a TD. Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott were held to 27 yards apiece, on 10 and 8 carries, respectively. However, Tommy Barnhardt (pictured at right) had an outstanding game, averaging 49.4 yards on eight punts, with two stopping inside the five yard line and had the pass completion for 25 yards on the fake. DT Brad Culpepper accounted for three sacks.

For the Cardinals, Kent Graham went to the air a season-high 52 times and was successful on 31 for 339 yards and a TD, but also had two intercepted with one of them directly resulting in a Tampa Bay score. Rob Moore caught 8 of those passes for 147 yards and a touchdown while FB Larry Centers also had 8 receptions for 58 yards in addition to his four carries for four yards. Leeland McElroy ran for 40 yards on 13 attempts.

“I wouldn’t say we were lucky, I’d say we hung in there, persevered,” said Tony Dungy on behalf of the Buccaneers. “You’ve got to win some games when you’re not playing well.”

“We’ve lost so many games like this in the past,” echoed John Lynch. “It’s hard work and preparation and believing you can win. You don’t just get lucky at this. You get lucky for a reason.”

After matching the 5-0 start of the 1979 team, the Buccaneers lost the next three games but came back to finish at 10-6 and second in the NFC Central. Qualifying for a Wild Card playoff spot, they beat Detroit in the first round but lost to the division-champion Packers in the Divisional round. Arizona continued to struggle, ending up at the bottom of the NFC East with a 4-12 record.

Trent Dilfer went to the Pro Bowl after passing for 2555 yards and 21 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. Warrick Dunn (1440 yards from scrimmage) and Mike Alstott (665 rushing yards) were selected as well. Tommy Barnhardt averaged 45.0 yards on his 29 punts before a broken collar bone in the sixth game cost him the remainder of the season.

Kent Graham also went down with an injury and gave way to rookie QB Jake Plummer. In eight games, Graham completed just 52 percent of his passes for 1408 yards and four TDs with five intercepted.  Rob Moore continued to excel and was a consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selection as he caught 97 passes for a league-leading 1584 yards and eight touchdowns. 

September 27, 2013

Rookie of the Year: John Hicks, 1974

Guard, New York Giants

Age: 23
College: Ohio State
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 258

After missing play during his sophomore year due to a knee injury, Hicks was a two-time All-American in college who won the Outland and Lombardi trophies and made such an impression with his play as an offensive lineman that he was runner-up for the 1973 Heisman Trophy. He was taken by the Giants in the first round of the 1974 NFL draft (third overall) and moved directly into the starting lineup.

1974 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Awards & Honors:
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI

Giants went 2-12 to finish fifth in the NFC East.

Hicks played with the Giants for another three seasons but failed to achieve the anticipated success in the NFL. He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1978 but didn’t play for the Steelers, ending a pro career in which he appeared in 52 games.


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). 

September 26, 2013

1965: Stynchula Field Goals Propel Giants Past Eagles

The New York Giants were a team in transition – and an 11-point underdog – as they faced the Philadelphia Eagles on September 26, 1965. After winning the Eastern Conference for three straight years under Head Coach Allie Sherman, they crashed to 2-10-2 in 1964. Gone were many of the star players, such as QB Y.A. Tittle, flanker Frank Gifford, and MLB Sam Huff, who had played key roles in the team’s success. While some aging veterans remained, there were many new names on the roster. A group of running backs referred to as “The Baby Bulls” had begun to emerge in ’64 and were now joined by first draft choice FB Tucker Frederickson out of Auburn. A trade was swung with Detroit for veteran QB Earl Morrall (pictured above). But the Giants also had four rookies starting on defense and had been beaten badly by the Cowboys in their opening game the previous week.

Another cause of concern was placekicking. The reasonably dependable Don Chandler had been traded to the Packers in the offseason and no clear alternative had emerged to replace him. One of the candidates, FB Chuck Mercein, was unavailable due to a leg injury, leaving DE Andy Stynchula (pictured below), who had not kicked since high school, and rookie Bob Timberlake, also the team’s third-string quarterback. Stynchula had been a star lineman at Penn State and was drafted third by the Redskins in 1960, moving on to New York in ’64 as part of the deal that sent Sam Huff to Washington. The Giants were using him only for short field goals and extra points, with Timberlake handling longer field goal tries.

As for the Eagles, coached for the second year by Joe Kuharich, they were coming off a promising 6-8 season in 1964 and had beaten the Cardinals in Week 1. QB Norm Snead had ideal size and a strong arm, HB Timmy Brown was an outstanding runner and receiver out of the backfield, and TE Pete Retzlaff was one of the league’s best at his position.

There were 57,154 fans in attendance at Franklin Field. The teams traded punts to start the game. On Philadelphia’s second possession, Norm Snead finished off a 73-yard drive in the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown carry. The big plays along the way were passes by Snead in third-and-ten situations to FB Earl Gros for 27 yards and to Timmy Brown for 18.

The Eagles put together another promising drive in the second quarter that also included a long third down conversion on a Snead-to-Brown completion for 16 yards from deep in their own territory, but they were backed up by a holding penalty and had to punt. The Giants got good field position when safety Henry Carr, a rookie who was an Olympic 200-meter champ, returned the kick 17 yards to the Philadelphia 45. With HB Steve Thurlow and Tucker Frederickson (pictured below) running the ball effectively, the Giants scored in seven plays. Flanker Joe Morrison took a pitchout and went 11 yards around left end for a TD. Andy Stynchula added the extra point to tie the score at 7-7 with just over a minute remaining in the half.

The Eagles went to the air in the time remaining. Snead went long for flanker Ron Goodwin, but rookie CB Carl Lockhart leaped high and batted the ball away to prevent a sure score. Sam Baker tried for a 43-yard field goal on the last play before halftime but it was unsuccessful and the score remained tied.

Early in the third quarter, the Giants got a break when Timmy Brown fumbled and DT Mike Bundra recovered at the Philadelphia 25. The resulting possession ended with Stynchula’s first pro field goal, from 24 yards, and New York was in front by a 10-7 margin.

The Eagles responded by putting together a long drive that covered 67 yards in 12 plays. At one point they were forced to punt but King Hill was run into while kicking to draw a penalty and keep the series alive. Snead threw to Pete Retzlaff for 14 yards to the one to set up another quarterback keeper for a touchdown.

New York went 52 yards on its next possession that included back-to-back completions by Earl Morrall of 20 yards to TE Aaron Thomas and 16 yards to HB Smith Reed. The series finally stalled at the Philadelphia 8 and Stynchula booted a 20-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.

The teams traded punts before the Eagles moved into scoring territory. Brown caught two key passes for 27 yards and, on a third-and-one play, ran 18 yards to the New York 20. With 5:30 left to play, the Eagles attempted a field goal but Baker’s kick from 26 yards was blocked by Giants CB Dick Lynch and Carr returned it 19 yards to the New York 32.

A long pass completion was nullified by a penalty, but Morrall came right back with a throw to split end Del Shofner for 31 yards. Four plays later, and facing fourth-and-inches, Morrall sneaked two yards for a first down and then threw to Thomas for 16 yards. Frederickson ran the ball three times for 25 yards down to the four and from there, Stynchula kicked an 11-yard field goal to put the Giants ahead with 15 seconds left on the clock. They held on to win by a final score of 16-14.

The Eagles outgained New York (296 yards to 280) and also had the edge in first downs (18 to 14). Philadelphia suffered the game’s only turnover but the Giants hurt themselves with ten penalties, to three flags thrown on the Eagles. Ultimately, it came down to placekicking as the normally dependable Sam Baker missed both of his field goal attempts, including the crucial blocked kick in the fourth quarter, while Andy Stynchula was a perfect three-for-three.

Earl Morrall completed 12 of 18 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns but also had none intercepted. Tucker Frederickson rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries. Aaron Thomas had three catches for 62 yards while Smith Reed also pulled in three for 30 yards along with his 13 rushing yards on three attempts and Joe Morrison, whose lone run was the 11-yard TD, gained 19 yards on his three receptions.

For the Eagles, Norm Snead was successful on 17 of 32 throws for 238 yards, also with no TDs or interceptions. Timmy Brown (pictured at right) gained 45 yards on 11 rushing attempts and added 8 catches for 106 yards. Pete Retzlaff contributed 68 yards on his four pass receptions.

“I always have practiced field goals, every day,” said Andy Stynchula, “and with Don Chandler gone this year I went to camp hoping I’d get the kicking job.”

The Giants broke even the rest of the way, finishing at 7-7 and tied with the Cowboys for second in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia had a disappointing 5-9 record and placed fifth in the conference, along with the Cardinals.

Earl Morrall, in his tenth season, had a good year as he ranked fifth in the NFL in passing with 2446 yards, averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per attempt, with 22 touchdowns as opposed to 12 interceptions. Tucker Frederickson rushed for 659 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl.

As for Andy Stynchula, the three field goals against the Eagles ended up being his only ones of the season. He missed on all four of his remaining attempts while going 12-for-13 on extra point attempts. Bob Timberlake was far worse – he was successful on only one of 15 field goal attempts as the Giants ended up with only four for the entire year. It would spur them to sign pioneering soccer-style PK Pete Gogolak away from the AFL’s Buffalo Bills in the off-season, which dramatically improved their placekicking but also was a key occurrence in the battle between the two leagues.

September 25, 2013

2011: Bills Rally to End Long Losing Streak vs. Patriots

In the third week of the 2011 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills hosted the New England Patriots on September 25, a team that had dominated both them and their division for most of the preceding decade. The Bills had lost to New England 15 straight times and in 20 of their last 21 meetings dating back to 2000 – the season after Buffalo last reached the playoffs.

However, the Bills were off to a 2-0 start and seemed to be a rejuvenated club. The offense was balanced and effective, with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (pictured at right) passing efficiently out of a spread formation and RB Fred Jackson productive on the ground. The defense was opportunistic and forced turnovers. Head Coach Chan Gailey’s team was coming off an exciting come-from-behind win the previous week against the Raiders and was riding high with the tough Patriots coming to town.

New England, under Head Coach Bill Belichick, had not had a losing season since that long-ago 2000 season and had been in the playoffs in 10 of the previous 12 years that included four AFC Championships and three NFL titles. QB Tom Brady, at age 34, was a picture of precision as was his favorite target, WR Wes Welker. However, the defense was not as strong as in the Super Bowl-winning years. Still, they were also 2-0, with a 10-game regular season winning streak on the line, and would provide a formidable test for Buffalo.

There were 68,174 fans on hand at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots took the opening kickoff and drove 84 yards in nine plays. The highlight was a pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker that picked up 22 yards to the Buffalo 22. Four plays later, Brady again connected with Welker for a 14-yard touchdown.

On the first play following the ensuing kickoff, Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick threw to WR Steve Johnson for a 33-yard gain but on the next play he was picked off by CB Kyle Arrington. New England made the most of the turnover, going 30 yards in six plays. Brady tossed a pass to TE Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for a one-yard TD.

The Bills put together a long drive to the New England 35, converting two third downs along the way. But facing a fourth-and-14 situation, Fitzpatrick’s pass was intercepted once again by Arrington. The first quarter ended with the Patriots ahead by 14-0.

The teams traded punts until midway through the second quarter when Brady connected with Gronkowski on passes that covered 21 and then 26 yards for a touchdown. Now down by 21-0, the Bills responded with a seven-play, 81-yard series. Fitzpatrick completed four passes and had a 14-yard run and Fred Jackson (pictured below) had a 21-yard carry. The last pass completion was to Johnson for 11 yards and a TD that, followed by Rian Lindell’s extra point, cut the New England lead to 21-7.

It seemed as though the Patriots would drive to another score when they methodically advanced to the Buffalo 13, but Brady threw a short pass that was intercepted by SS Bryan Scott. Taking over at their own 10 with just over a minute left in the half, the Bills moved down the field with Fitzpatrick passing on every play. They reached the New England 24 from where Lindell kicked a 42-yard field goal to make the score 21-10 at the intermission.

Following a short series by the Bills to start the third quarter, Brady threw a long pass that was intercepted by CB Leodis McKelvin and returned 21 yards to the New England 39. Buffalo made the most of the break as Fitzpatrick capped the resulting seven-play series with a three-yard touchdown pass to TE Scott Chandler. Lindell’s PAT narrowed the visiting team’s lead to four points.

However, the Patriots responded with a 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive. Brady completed five passes along the way, including one to WR Chad Ochocinco for 19 yards and another to Gronkowski for 29 yards to the Buffalo 13. Gostkowski kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 24-17, which was the tally as the game entered the fourth quarter.

The Patriots again penetrated deep into Buffalo territory but Brady was again picked off, this time by FS George Wilson at his own two yard line. A roughing-the-passer penalty moved the ball out to the 20 and then Fitzgerald went long to WR Donald Jones for a 48-yard gain. It seemed for naught when Fitzpatrick fired a pass toward the end zone that was intercepted, but a pass interference penalty on the Patriots instead put the ball on the one yard line. From there, Jackson punched over for a TD and Lindell kicked the extra point that tied the score at 24-24.

On the first play following the ensuing kickoff the Bills took the lead when CB Drayton Florence picked off another Brady pass that was tipped at the line and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. Lindell added the PAT that made it a seven-point margin for the home team.

There was still plenty of time and the Patriots responded with a long drive that went 74 yards in 15 plays. Along the way they converted a fourth-and-four situation on a five-yard completion from Brady to Welker and, shortly thereafter facing third-and-seven at the Buffalo 33, it was Welker making a franchise-record 14th catch for 20 yards. Finally, in a fourth-and-goal situation, Brady tossed a six-yard TD pass to Welker. Gostkowski kicked the all-important extra point and the game was again tied at 31-31.

Buffalo took over with 3:25 remaining in regulation. Fitzpatrick connected with Jones for 29 yards and then Fred Jackson for 12 to get down to the New England 39. A slant pass to Jackson appeared initially to be good for a touchdown when he dove toward the end zone while being tackled from behind, but upon review it was determined that the running back had not broken the plane of the goal line and it was instead a 38-yard gain to the one yard line. From there the Bills backed themselves up by kneeling to run the clock down. On the game’s last play, Lindell kicked a 28-yard field goal that brought wild cheering from the home crowd. Buffalo was the winner by a final score of 34-31.

The Patriots outgained Buffalo (495 yards to 448) and had more first downs (30 to 24). However, they also gave up four turnovers, all on interceptions, to two by the Bills. Neither team recorded a sack.

Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 27 of 40 passes for 369 yards with two touchdowns as well as two interceptions. Fred Jackson rushed for 74 yards and a TD on 12 carries and also caught 5 passes for 87 yards. Steve Johnson had 8 pass receptions for 94 yards and a score while Donald Jones compiled 101 yards on his 5 catches.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady was successful on 30 of 45 throws for 387 yards and four TDs but also gave up the four interceptions, tying his career worst. Wes Welker (pictured below) ended up with a team record 16 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns and Rob Gronkowski added 7 receptions for 109 yards and two more scores. RB Stevan Ridley led the running game with 42 yards on 6 attempts.

“It’s the biggest win of my career,” said veteran LB Chris Kelsay, who was with the Bills when they last defeated the Patriots in 2003. “I can’t think of any bigger. To beat these guys at home, in front of our fans, with the way they’re behind us despite being down early, it’s huge. I’ll never forget it.”

Buffalo’s run ended the next week with a loss at Cincinnati, and while they won two of their next three games, the bottom fell out after that. Injuries, in particular to Fred Jackson, wore the Bills down and they ended up with a 6-10 record at the bottom of the AFC East. New England, on the other hand, went on to a 13-3 record that was the best in the conference as well as the division. The Patriots finished off the regular season with a 49-21 win over the Bills. After advancing to the Super Bowl, New England lost to the Giants.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s passing cooled off along with the weather during the second half of the season and he ended up with 3832 yards and 24 touchdowns, but also a league-leading 23 interceptions. Playing in just 10 games before suffering a broken leg, Fred Jackson rushed for 934 yards with a 5.5-yard average gain and had 442 yards on 39 pass receptions. Steve Johnson led the receiving corps with 76 catches for 1004 yards (13.2 avg.) and seven TDs.

In a year of record-shattering passing performances, Tom Brady threw for 5235 yards and 39 touchdowns, as opposed to 12 interceptions, with an AFC-leading 105.6 rating. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl for the seventh time. Wes Welker led the NFL with 122 pass receptions, for a conference-leading 1569 yards and 9 touchdowns, while Rob Gronkowski topped the league with 17 scoring catches.

September 24, 2013

1961: Cowboys Defeat Vikings to Start Second Year at 2-0

The Dallas Cowboys had gone a winless 0-11-1 as a NFL expansion team in 1960 but stunned the Steelers in their opening game in ’61 and were hosting the latest expansion franchise, the Minnesota Vikings, on September 24, 1961.

Head Coach Tom Landry’s team had hope for improvement coming into the second season. The Cowboys drafted DE Bob Lilly out of Texas Christian (later a DT) and also would have HB Don Perkins (pictured above), a 1960 draft choice out of New Mexico who missed the entire season due to a foot injury, available to bolster the running game. QB Don Meredith had spent his rookie year behind diminutive veteran Eddie LeBaron and was ready to put in more time behind center.

The Vikings, coached by former star quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, were a typical first-year amalgam of old, unwanted, and upcoming players. Nevertheless, they stunned the Chicago Bears in their first game and had uncovered an exciting rookie quarterback in Fran Tarkenton out of Georgia, who had quickly displaced veteran George Shaw.

There were 20,500 in attendance at the Cotton Bowl and they saw the home team score in the first quarter. Don Perkins took off on a 47-yard run to set up a six-yard touchdown carry by FB Amos Marsh.

The Cowboys drove 80 yards to their next score in the second quarter. Don Meredith passed for 39 yards and ran for 29, including a 20-yard touchdown carry with Marsh throwing a key block along the way. Allen Green added his second extra point and it was 14-0 in favor of Dallas.

The Vikings finally got into the end zone in the second quarter when Tarkenton completed a pass to end A.D. Williams for 49 yards to the Dallas 27 and two carries by ex-Giants FB Mel Triplett (pictured at left) advanced the ball another 21 yards. HB Tommy Mason finished the series with a four-yard touchdown run, losing the ball at one point but recovering in the air to score. Mike Mercer’s extra point made the score 14-7 at the half.

The Vikings threatened several times but key defensive plays stopped them from scoring and Mercer failed on three field goal attempts, one of which was blocked by LB Gene Babb. Safeties Dick Moegle and Bob Bercich made big plays for the Cowboys, with Bercich intercepting a pass.

In the third quarter, the Vikings drove 76 yards to the Dallas one in a drive largely propelled by Triplett’s running, but came up empty at a point where a TD and extra point would have tied the score.  This was soon followed by the interception of a Tarkenton pass by CB Don Bishop. Meredith tossed a screen pass to Marsh for a 19-yard touchdown and that was more than enough to put the game away. The Cowboys won by a decisive 21-7 score.

Dallas dominated the Vikings in total yards (437 to 251) with 208 of that total coming on the ground. The Cowboys also had the edge in first downs (22 to 16). Each team turned the ball over three times. The Dallas defense recorded three sacks while the Vikings had one.

Don Perkins was the key performer on offense for the Cowboys, rushing for 108 yards on 17 carries and catching 5 passes for 61 more yards. Amos Marsh (pictured at right) ran for 64 yards and a TD on 11 attempts and contributed another 37 yards and a score on three pass receptions. Don Meredith completed 12 of 22 passes for 163 yards with a touchdown and an interception and ran the ball 6 times for 36 yards and a TD. Eddie LeBaron saw action and was 5 of 8 for 75 yards with one pass intercepted.

For the Vikings, Fran Tarkenton came down to earth after an outstanding opening game performance as he was successful on only 8 of 24 throws for 117 yards and had two intercepted. George Shaw came into the contest and was five of eight for 33 yards with one picked off. Mel Triplett ran for 57 yards on 9 carries while another old pro, 32-year-old HB Hugh McElhenny, contributed 42 yards on 9 attempts. A.D. Williams led the receivers with four catches for 78 yards.

The promising start did not herald a winning season for the young Cowboys – they lost the next week, improved to 3-1 in a rematch with the Vikings in Minnesota, and then won only one more game the rest of the way to finish at 4-9-1 and sixth in the seven-team Eastern Conference. Minnesota didn’t win again until Week 9 and ended up at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 3-11 record.

Don Perkins continued to play well and rushed for 815 yards on 200 carries (4.1 avg.) while catching 32 passes for 298 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl. Eddie LeBaron still saw most of the action at quarterback for the Cowboys but Don Meredith showed progress as he passed for 1161 yards and 9 TDs as well as 11 interceptions.

Fran Tarkenton recovered to pass for 1997 yards and 18 touchdowns while showing off his flashy scrambling skills in what was the first of 18 seasons in his Hall of Fame career. Mel Triplett rushed for 407 yards on 80 carries (5.1 avg.) in his seventh year.

September 23, 2013

MVP Profile: Y.A. Tittle, 1962

Quarterback, New York Giants

Age:  36 (Oct. 24)
15th season in pro football, 13th in NFL and 2nd with Giants
College: LSU
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 195

While drafted by the NFL’s Detroit Lions in 1948, Tittle instead signed with the Baltimore Colts of the AAFC. He had an immediate impact, leading the league in yards per attempt (8.7) and throwing for 16 TDs against 9 interceptions. After another year in the AAFC, Tittle and the Colts joined the NFL in 1950, and he led the league in pass completions (161) although the team went a dismal 1-11 and folded. Picked up by the 49ers in ’51, he gradually took over from Frankie Albert as the starting quarterback and was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1953, ’54, and ‘57 seasons. In 1957 the 49ers tied for first in the Western Conference and Tittle also received MVP consideration. He suffered through an injury-plagued season in 1958 and, and while he bounced back with a Pro Bowl year in ’59, by ’60 found himself in competition with the up-and-coming John Brodie. With Head Coach Red Hickey committing to a shotgun offense for 1961, Tittle was dealt to the New York Giants in the preseason and revived his career as he threw for 2272 yards and 17 TDs. The Giants topped the Eastern Conference and Tittle was selected for the Pro Bowl and received MVP recognition from the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

1962 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 375 [3]
Most attempts, game – 42 vs. Dallas 12/16
Completions – 200 [3]
Most completions, game – 27 vs. Washington 10/28
Yards – 3224 [2]
Most yards, game – 505 vs. Washington 10/28
Completion percentage – 53.3 [9]
Yards per attempt – 8.6 [3, tied with Bart Starr]
TD passes – 33 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 7 vs. Washington 10/28
Interceptions – 20 [6, tied with Charley Johnson & Milt Plum]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at Cleveland 9/16, vs. Philadelphia 11/18
Passer rating – 89.5 [3]
500-yard passing games – 1
300-yard passing games – 4
200-yard passing games – 7

Attempts – 17
Most attempts, game – 3 (for -9 yds.) at Pittsburgh 9/30
Yards – 108
Most yards, game – 21 (on 1 att.) at St. Louis 10/7, (on 2 att.) vs. St. Louis 11/4
Yards per attempt – 6.4
TDs – 2

TDs - 2
Points – 12

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship vs. Green Bay)
Pass attempts – 41
Pass completions – 18
Passing yards – 197
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 1

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: UPI, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI, NEA
1st team All-Eastern Conference: Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Giants went 12-2 to finish first in the Eastern Conference while leading the NFL in total yards (5005). Lost NFL Championship to Green Bay Packers (16-7).

Tittle continued his success in 1963, breaking his own record for TD passes with 36, leading the league in passing, and receiving MVP, All-Pro, and Pro Bowl recognition once more. The Giants won the Eastern Conference for the third straight time, but still came up short in the title game against the Bears. The team collapsed in 1964, Tittle’s last season. He retired as NFL career leader in pass attempts (3817), completions (2118), and yards (28,339). The Giants retired his #14, and Tittle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1971.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself). 

September 22, 2013

1991: Patriots Upset Oilers with Late Scoring Drive

The New England Patriots were coming off of a dismal 1-15 record in 1990 and were 1-2 as they faced the powerful Houston Oilers on September 22, 1991. New Head Coach Dick MacPherson, a former college coach at Syracuse, infused a new enthusiasm into the revamped club. They also had talented rookie RB Leonard Russell and a rising star in TE Marv Cook. However, the Patriots had scored only six points in their last two games and Hugh Millen (pictured at right) was getting his first start of the season at quarterback in place of the ineffective Tom Hodson.

The Oilers, coached by Jack Pardee, were coming off four straight playoff seasons and were 3-0 coming into the game at Foxboro. 36-year-old QB Warren Moon was highly productive operating in the run-and-shoot offense. The defense was tough and talented across the board.

There were 30,702 fans in attendance at Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots drove to their 40 on the game’s first possession but had to punt. However, New England got a break when WR Pat Coleman muffed the catch and G Danny Villa recovered at the Houston 24. Four plays later, Jason Staurovsky kicked a 33-yard field goal and the Patriots had the early lead.

The teams traded punts, but the Oilers had good starting field position at the New England 42 following Shawn McCarthy’s short kick. They made the most of it as Warren Moon completed three straight passes and Ian Howfield finished the seven-play series off with a 28-yard field goal to tie the score.

Following a punt by the Patriots, the Oilers had the ball heading into the second quarter but a Moon pass was intercepted by CB Mickey Washington at the New England 45. Leonard Russell ran for 12 yards and, after converting a third down, Hugh Millen passed to WR Greg McMurtry for 20 yards. Another pass, this time an option throw by RB Jon Vaughn to Marv Cook, was good for a 13-yard touchdown and, with Staurovsky’s extra point, a 10-3 lead.

Houston had to punt again and the Patriots gained 32 yards on a Millen-to-Cook pass. However, the Oilers got the ball back three plays later when safety Mike Dumas intercepted a Millen toss and returned it 19 yards to the New England 39. Houston drove to the 11, was set back ten yards by a holding penalty, and ended up with another field goal by Howfield, this time from 38 yards.

The Patriots came right back with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that included a fourth down conversion. Millen completed three passes, two of them to Cook, and Russell finished it off with a two-yard touchdown carry. The PAT was good and New England took a 17-6 lead into halftime.

Moon had struggled in the first half, completing just 9 of his 21 passes, as he dealt with a variety of pass defense coverages on the part of the Patriots. He started the third quarter off with three straight incompletions. The teams traded punts until, with just under four minutes remaining in the period, SS Bubba McDowell picked off a Millen pass to give the Oilers excellent field position at the New England 38. They drove to the eight yard line, but a Moon toss into the end zone was intercepted by CB Jerome Henderson to extinguish the threat.

The Oilers got the ball back on another interception a few plays later in the fourth quarter, with CB Chris Dishman giving them possession at their own 31. This time they didn’t fail to score, going 69 yards in seven plays. RB Lorenzo White picked up 20 yards on three straight runs and then Moon connected with WR Ernest Givins for 19 yards to the New England 30. Four plays later – and after a penalty backed them up – Moon hit WR Curtis Duncan for a 35-yard touchdown. Howfield added the extra point and the New England lead was cut to 17-13.

The Patriots punted and Houston again put points on the board. The Oilers went 69 yards in eight plays highlighted by Moon’s completion to WR Drew Hill for 33 yards to the New England 18. With just under two minutes left on the clock, Moon tossed a five-yard TD pass to Duncan and, with Howfield’s PAT, Houston held the lead for the first time at 20-17 and appeared to have the game in hand.

Starting at their own 17 after the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots advanced down the field with Millen completing his first four passes, three of them to Cook (pictured below), to move into Houston territory. A penalty and two incompletions had them facing a third-and-15 situation at midfield, but Millen connected with WR Michael Timpson for 16 yards and followed up with a 34-yard touchdown pass to McMurtry. There were just six seconds remaining as the Patriots completed their 83-yard drive, and they came away with a 24-20 upset win.

The Oilers had a small lead in total yards (353 to 343) while New England led in first downs (23 to 18). Houston’s defense recorded five sacks as opposed to none by the Patriots. Each team turned the ball over three times apiece. The Oilers were hurt by being penalized 11 times, at a cost of 111 yards, to four flags thrown on New England.

Hugh Millen completed 22 of 33 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted three times. Marv Cook had 10 catches for 99 yards and a TD. Leonard Russell ran for 85 yards on 19 carries that included one for a score.

For the Oilers, Warren Moon was successful on just 20 of 44 throws for 268 yards and two TDs along with two interceptions. Haywood Jeffires had 7 pass receptions for 98 yards. Lorenzo White paced the ground game with 53 yards on 8 attempts.

“It was critical for the morale of our offense to know that we can come back and win a game like this in the final minute,” said Greg McMurtry, whose game-winning TD was the first of his career.

New England was able to win only sporadically the rest of the way, but ended up with a 6-10 record for fourth place in the AFC East. Houston recovered to win four straight games and six of their next seven on the way to topping the AFC Central at 11-5. However, they again fell short at the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Hugh Millen continued to start at quarterback and completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 3073 yards and nine touchdowns, but also 18 interceptions. Marv Cook received consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl honors as he caught 82 passes for 808 yards and three TDs. Greg McMurtry (pictured at left) was less consistent, finishing with 41 catches for 614 yards (15.0) average and one other scoring catch following the game-winner against the Oilers. Leonard Russell rushed for 959 yards and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

September 21, 2013

1969: Steelers Edge Lions in Chuck Noll’s Coaching Debut

The Pittsburgh Steelers were rebuilding once again with a new head coach as they opened the 1969 NFL season against the Detroit Lions on September 21. Since coming into the league in 1933 the Steelers had known far more losing seasons than winning ones, including 1968 when they went 2-11-1. Chuck Noll (pictured at right), a defensive assistant most recently with the Colts, replaced the departed Bill Austin as head coach. A promising defensive tackle out of North Texas State, “Mean Joe” Greene, had been drafted in the first round and the club had also drafted a quarterback, Notre Dame’s Terry Hanratty, but it would be the mediocre Dick Shiner behind center for the opener. Third-round draft pick FB Warren Bankston out of Tulane was in the game due to injuries to halfbacks Dick Hoak and Don McCall; Noll shifted Earl Gros to halfback and started Bankston at fullback.

The Lions, coached by former star linebacker Joe Schmidt, were coming off a 4-8-2 record in ’68 but seemed to be in a much better position entering the new season. The offense featured QB Bill Munson, HB Mel Farr, TE Charlie Sanders, and C Ed Flanagan and there were rising stars on defense such as CB Lem Barney and LB Paul Naumoff.

There was a crowd of 51,360 in attendance at Pitt Stadium. In the first quarter, Bankston fumbled and safety Tom Vaughn recovered for the Lions at the Pittsburgh 29. Detroit got a first down but the series stalled and Errol Mann kicked a 23-yard field goal for the first score of the game.

Later in the opening period, Detroit FB Bill Triplett fumbled the ball away with DT Chuck Hinton recovering at the Lions’ 27. Dick Shiner threw two incomplete passes and ran for seven yards before Gene Mingo booted a 27-yard field goal to tie the score.

The Steelers put together a drive in which they picked up four first downs during the second quarter. After going 58 yards to the Detroit 11, the home team could get no further and Mingo kicked another field goal, this time from 18 yards. Pittsburgh got a break a few plays later when Munson, being sacked by Hinton, fumbled and the Steelers gained possession at the Detroit 24. However, following two runs by Bankston, Earl Gros fumbled the ball back to the Lions.

The turnovers continued as LB Jerry Hillebrand intercepted a Munson pass and returned it 14 yards to the Detroit 24. It resulted in another Mingo field goal, this time from 40 yards, for a 9-3 Pittsburgh lead.

The Lions suffered yet another turnover when Mel Farr fumbled after catching a pass at the Pittsburgh 46. With only 12 seconds left in the half, Shiner went long but was picked off by Lem Barney, who returned it 32 yards to the Pittsburgh 28. The clock was now down to four seconds and Mann tried a 37-yard field goal that sailed wide to the right. The Steelers maintained their six-point lead at the intermission.

Early in the third quarter the Steelers punted and Bobby Walden’s 56-yard kick sailed to the Detroit three. The Lions had to punt it back and gave Pittsburgh good field position near midfield. However, the offense couldn’t take advantage and Mingo missed on a 45-yard field goal try. The Lions responded by moving the ball effectively but a pass to WR Earl McCullouch in the end zone was dropped and Mann kicked a 23-yard field goal to narrow Pittsburgh’s margin to 9-6.

Half way through the fourth quarter, Bankston fumbled for the second time and DT Alex Karras recovered at the Pittsburgh 27. A defensive holding penalty moved the Lions closer and finally Munson found McCullouch in the end zone, who held on for a 12-yard TD. Mann converted the PAT and the disgruntled home fans booed loudly with the score now 13-9 in favor of the visitors.

The Steelers responded by covering 68 yards in seven plays. Following the ensuing kickoff, Shiner was sacked by DE Joe Robb for a three-yard loss and he then threw an incomplete pass to make it third-and-long. A toss to TE John Hilton picked up 23 yards to keep the possession alive and moved the ball into Detroit territory at the 48.

With time running down, WR Roy Jefferson ran for 12 yards on an end-around and then caught a pass for seven more. A key play occurred when Shiner threw for Jefferson again but safety Mike Weger tipped the ball. However, Jefferson alertly grabbed it and went out of bounds at the Detroit six for a 23-yard gain. Bankston, who had the two costly fumbles, redeemed himself as he scored the go-ahead touchdown on a six-yard run around end in which he broke three tackles. There was still time, but on a fourth-and-one play the Lions failed to convert when Triplett was stopped short and the Steelers held on for a 16-13 win.

Total yards were split almost evenly, with Pittsburgh edging the Lions by a yard (237 to 236). Detroit had more first downs (14 to 12). The Lions recorded four sacks as opposed to one for Pittsburgh while both teams turned the ball over four times apiece.

Dick Shiner (pictured above) completed 10 of 26 passes for 143 yards with one intercepted. Warren Bankston ran for 52 yards and a TD on 14 carries. Roy Jefferson caught four passes for 47 yards and John Hilton gained 68 yards on his three receptions.

For the Lions, Bill Munson was successful on 19 of 34 throws for 160 yards and a TD with one interception. Mel Farr ran the ball 10 times for 35 yards and caught 10 passes for 59 more yards.

The win was the high point of a long season for the Steelers. They lost all of their remaining games to end up at 1-13. Detroit recovered to place second in the Central Division at 9-4-1.

Things would get progressively better for Chuck Noll and the Steelers, however. With the first overall pick in 1970 they took QB Terry Bradshaw and they would make other astute personnel moves that would have them in the playoffs by 1972 and produce the franchise’s first NFL title in ’74. By the end of the decade it would be four Super Bowls won. Noll lasted until 1991 and compiled a record of 193-148-1, plus another 24 wins in the postseason. 

September 20, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Franco Harris, 1972

Fullback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 22
College: Penn State
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 230

Following a college career in which he played in the shadow of HB Lydell Mitchell at Penn State, Harris was chosen by the Steelers in the first round (13th overall) of the 1972 NFL draft. It was hoped that he would provide needed depth at running back and he was also valued for his blocking ability.

1972 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 188 [15]
Most attempts, game - 21 (for 61 yds.) at Houston 12/10
Yards – 1055 [6]
Most yards, game – 138 yards (on 15 carries) at Buffalo 10/29
Average gain – 5.6 [4]
TDs – 10 [3]
100-yard rushing games – 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 21      
Most receptions, game – 4 (for 26 yds.) vs. Cleveland 12/3
Yards – 180
Most yards, game - 39 (on 2 catches) vs. Cincinnati 11/5
Average gain – 8.6
TDs – 1

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 8
Yards – 183
Average per return – 22.9
TDs – 0
Longest return – 32 yards

TDs – 11 [7]
Points – 66

Postseason: 2 G
Rushing attempts – 34
Most rushing attempts, game – 18 vs. Oakland, AFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 140
Most rushing yards, game - 76 vs. Miami, AFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 4.1
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 7
Most pass receptions, game - 5 vs. Oakland, AFC Divisional playoff
Pass receiving yards - 99
Most pass receiving yards, game - 96 vs. Oakland, AFC Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 14.1
Pass Receiving TDs - 1

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

Steelers went 11-3 to finish first in the AFC Central while ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards (2520). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Oakland Raiders (13-7). Lost AFC Championship to Miami Dolphins (21-17).

Harris had a lesser year in 1973 due to nagging injuries, rushing for 698 yards and averaging almost two yards less per carry than during his rookie season (3.7). Still, he was again chosen to the Pro Bowl. Harris overcame early injuries in ’74 to rush for 1006 yards and was outstanding in the postseason, in particular with 158 yards in a MVP performance as the Steelers won the Super Bowl over Minnesota. It was the first of six straight thousand-yard seasons and eight overall. He was selected to nine straight Pro Bowls, was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection once, and received at least some All-NFL or All-AFC recognition in five other years. Harris played 12 seasons with the Steelers and finished up in 1984 with a year in Seattle. At the time of his retirement, his 12,120 rushing yards ranked third in NFL history (with 11,950 of that coming with Pittsburgh, the most in franchise history). His 100 touchdowns ranked fifth and he added 1556 rushing yards and 17 TDs in playoff games. Harris was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990. 


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).