March 31, 2014

1993: Vinny Testaverde Signs with Browns

On March 31, 1993 free agent QB Vinny Testaverde, previously with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns. He was to back up Bernie Kosar, a quarterback he had understudied at the University of Miami nearly a decade before. At 29, Testaverde and Kosar were the same age (in fact, their birthdays were just 12 days apart – the studious Kosar graduated from college a year early and Testaverde entered late).

“Cleveland wanted me, Tampa would have settled for me,” said Testaverde in discussing his decision. The Bucs had reportedly offered a deal to Pittsburgh QB Neil O’Donnell prior to Testaverde choosing to go with Cleveland (O’Donnell remained with the Steelers and Tampa Bay ended up going with Craig Erickson, a rookie backup in ’92 who was also a product of Miami).

“Being back on the same team, playing the role I did in college, I feel comfortable with it,” Testaverde added. “We have a good relationship, Bernie and I do, and I think that will make it more fun than it has been for me in the past few years.”

Cleveland Head Coach Bill Belichick welcomed the depth that his new quarterback brought to the position. The Browns ran into trouble in ’92 when Kosar and backup Todd Philcox were both injured. Former Bears QB Mike Tomczak had been signed to fill in, but the team lost six of its last nine games to finish with a 7-9 record.

Testaverde had won the 1986 Heisman Trophy and Tampa Bay made him the first overall pick in the ’87 NFL draft. With his outstanding physical tools, at 6’5” and 235 pounds and including a strong arm, expectations were high for him, but his six seasons were filled with adversity. He took over as the starting quarterback late in the strike-interrupted 1987 season and proceeded to lead the league in interceptions thrown over the course of the next two years, including 35 in 1988, still the second-highest total in NFL/AFL history.

While he could be a precise passer and was fairly mobile, Testaverde also tended to deal poorly with adversity and could make bad plays as a result. He left the Buccaneers as the team’s all-time leader with 14,820 passing yards. However, Tampa Bay went 24-48 with him as the starting quarterback. While mediocre coaching and lack of a strong supporting cast certainly played a role, Testaverde drew criticism regarding his work ethic and toughness under pressure. In many ways, he was the exact opposite of Kosar, who overachieved with less impressive skills and had great intelligence and leadership ability.

As anticipated, Kosar started the ‘93 season but struggled and Testaverde performed ably in relief outings. The Browns had a 5-3 record when Coach Belichick, in a stunning decision, released Kosar – all the more surprising because Testaverde was injured and Philcox had to step into the lineup for four games (three of them losses on the way to another 7-9 record).

When Testaverde returned, he continued to play well and had his best pro season to date, throwing more touchdowns (14) than interceptions (9) for the first time and compiling an 85.7 passer rating. His 91.3 completion percentage on a 21-of-23 performance against the Rams was a NFL record at the time. He was rewarded with a contract extension and the starting job for ’94.

In 1994, the gamble appeared to pay off when the Browns went 11-5 and reached the playoffs. Still, operating behind an offensive line that allowed only 14 sacks, Testaverde reverted to form with a negative TD pass-to-interception ratio of 16 to 18 and was especially unimpressive in fourth quarter pressure situations. But he was a winning quarterback in his first postseason game and drew praise for development as a leader.

Hopes for further improvement in 1995 were dashed when the team fell to 5-11 after getting off to a 3-1 start. The announced move of the franchise to Baltimore for ’96 was a significant distraction, but Testaverde continued to have difficulty with consistency. While he gave up only 10 interceptions, tossing 17 touchdown passes, he was also benched for three games in favor of backup Eric Zeier.

The team, now called the Baltimore Ravens, had a new offensive-minded head coach in Ted Marchibroda for 1996 and Testaverde put up big numbers, including 4177 yards and 33 TD passes, and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. But the record was only 4-12 and, after a lesser performance in ’97, Testaverde was let go.

In five seasons with the Browns and Ravens, Testaverde threw for 14,403 yards and 98 touchdowns while giving up 71 interceptions. It was improvement, to be sure, but the inconsistency remained and only once during that period did the team finish with a winning record.

Testaverde went on to have an outstanding year with the New York Jets in 1998, followed by a season in which he went down for the year in the opening week and then a 2000 campaign where he led the NFL in interceptions for the fourth time. His career would ultimately come to an end in 2007 at age 44, and while there were many accomplishments, there was also the up-and-down pattern of performance that caused Testaverde’s failure to achieve the heights that were anticipated when he came into the league in 1987.

March 30, 2014

MVP Profile: Terrell Suggs, 2011

Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

Age:  29 (Oct. 11)
9th season in pro football & with Ravens
College: Arizona State
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 260

A star defensive end in college, registering 24 sacks in 2002, Suggs entered the NFL draft following his junior year and was chosen by the Ravens in the first round (10th overall) in anticipation of converting him into a pass rushing outside linebacker. He received Rookie of the Year honors in 2003 and had 10 sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004, but with a change in the defensive scheme Suggs was shifted to end in ’05. He received Pro Bowl recognition again in 2006 as he garnered 9.5 sacks as a hybrid DE/OLB. Always a fine pass rusher, he showed improvement in coverage and against the run. Following an off-year in 2007 in which he again was returned to outside linebacker, he regained Pro Bowl form in ’08. A knee injury hindered Suggs in 2009 but he came back with an 11-sack Pro Bowl season in 2010.

2011 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 14 [5, tied with Aldon Smith]
Most sacks, game – 3 vs. Pittsburgh 9/11, vs. San Francisco 11/24, vs. Indianapolis 12/11
Multi-sack games – 3
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 1 at Tennessee 9/18, at Pittsburgh 11/6
Int. yards – 9
Most int. yards, game – 9 at Pittsburgh 11/6
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 0
Forced fumbles – 7
Tackles – 52
Assists – 23

Postseason: 2 G
Sacks – 0
Interceptions – 0
TD – 0

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

Ravens went 12-4 to finish first in the AFC North while leading the conference in sacks (48) and fewest rushing yards allowed (1482). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Houston Texans (20-13). Lost AFC Championship to New England Patriots (23-20).

An offseason Achilles injury sidelined Suggs for the first six games of the 2012 season, although he returned for the second half of the year and the playoff run to the Super Bowl, if at reduced effectiveness. In 2013, he played in every game and reached double digits in sacks for the fifth time with 10, and was rewarded with a sixth Pro Bowl selection. Through the first 11 years of his career, Suggs accumulated 94.5 sacks and seven interceptions.


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.

March 28, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Eddie George, 1996

Running Back, Houston Oilers

Age:  23 (Sept. 24)
College: Ohio State
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 232

George won the 1995 Heisman Trophy after a year in which he rushed for 1927 yards, gained 2344 yards from scrimmage overall, and scored 25 touchdowns. He was chosen by the Oilers in the first round of the ’96 NFL draft (14th overall) and moved directly into the starting lineup.

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

Attempts – 335 [4]
Most attempts, game - 28 (for 141 yds.) at NY Jets 12/1
Yards – 1368 [5]
Most yards, game – 152 yards (on 26 carries) at Cincinnati 10/6
Average gain – 4.1 [16]
TDs – 8 [10, tied with four others]
100-yard rushing games – 4

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 23      
Most receptions, game – 3 (for 22 yds.) at Cincinnati 10/6, (for 22 yds.) vs. Pittsburgh 10/20, (for 34 yds.) vs. Miami 11/17, (for 32 yds.) vs. Cincinnati 12/15
Yards – 182
Most yards, game - 34 (on 3 catches) vs. Miami 11/17
Average gain – 7.9
TDs – 0

TDs – 8
Points – 48

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

Oilers went 8-8 to finish fourth in the AFC Central.

With the team shifting to Tennessee in 1997, George rushed for 1399 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first of four straight seasons. A power runner with outstanding agility and speed enough for breakaway runs, he didn’t catch many passes in his first two years but became more involved as a receiver out of the backfield thereafter. George rushed for 1304 yards and caught 47 passes for 458 more as the team, now called the Titans, won the AFC title in 1999 and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 2000 as he achieved career highs with 1509 yards, on a league-leading 403 carries, and 50 catches. However, after five years of never missing a game, foot surgery cut into his offseason conditioning regimen and he had an off-year in 2001, running for 939 yards while averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. While he came back to run for 1165 yards and score a total of 14 TDs in ’02, he was clearly in decline and, after one more season with the Titans, moved on to the Dallas Cowboys for his last year in 2004. Overall, George rushed for 10,441 yards (10,009 with the Oilers/Titans) on 2865 carries (3.6 avg.) and caught 268 passes for 2227 yards, scoring a total of 78 touchdowns.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

March 27, 2014

1983: Federals Defeat Panthers for First Win

The Washington Federals had endured tough going in the first three weeks of the inaugural United States Football League season, losing all three of their games, including the most recent thanks to a late field goal. On March 27, 1983 they hosted the Michigan Panthers, who came into the contest at 1-2.

The Federals, coached by Ray Jauch, had a good rookie running back in Craig James, but he was already sidelined with an injury. WR Joey Walters was a dependable receiver, but quarterback was unsettled with another promising first-year play, Mike Hohensee, injured and veteran NFL backup Kim McQuilken taking his place.

Michigan had a big-name rookie of its own, WR Anthony Carter, who was off to a slow start and a less-heralded first-year quarterback in Bobby Hebert. LB John Corker already had five sacks, but Head Coach Jim Stanley’s team was still coming together and, following a low-scoring opening win, was struggling.

There was an extremely disappointing crowd of 11,414 fans in attendance on a rainy day at RFK Stadium. The Federals got on the board first, just three minutes into the contest, with a 32-yard field goal by Obed Ariri.

That was it until midway through the second quarter when Washington extended its lead on a pass from Kim McQuilken to WR Mike Holmes that was good for a 40-yard touchdown. The Panthers responded by driving 81 yards in 12 plays, culminating in a TD pass from Bobby Hebert to Anthony Carter that covered 33 yards. It was Carter’s first pro touchdown and, with Novo Bojovic adding the extra point, Washington’s lead was narrowed to 10-7.

In the waning seconds of the first half, the Federals scored another touchdown on an eight-yard McQuilken toss to Joey Walters. Ariri missed the extra point, but the home team took a 16-7 lead into halftime.

Late in the third quarter, the Panthers came through with a big play to once again cut into Washington’s lead. Hebert connected with WR Derek Holloway for a 69-yard TD, although Bojovic also failed to convert the extra point. Still, it was a three-point contest heading into the fourth quarter. It was almost enough for the Federals, but Bojovic tied the game with a 43-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.

The Federals had the first possession in overtime and drove 72 yards in six plays, the last of which was a pass from McQuilken to Walters, who outdistanced the coverage on a down-and-in pattern for a game-winning 23-yard touchdown at 2:43 into the extra period. Washington finally broke into the win column by a final score of 22-16.

The Panthers had the edge in total yards (326 to 314) and each team recorded 20 first downs. Most of the yards came through the air as neither club mounted much of a ground attack (the Federals had the edge at 48 yards to 42). Michigan recorded six sacks (five of them by John Corker, on his way to leading the USFL in that category) but also turned the ball over seven times (six on fumbles) to just one turnover suffered by Washington.

Kim McQuilken had a big day as he completed 24 of 48 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Mike Holmes caught 6 passes for 124 yards and a TD while Joey Walters also contributed 6 receptions, gaining 99 yards and scoring twice. RB James Mayberry was Washington’s leading ground gainer with 25 yards on 10 carries while RB Eric Robinson was held to just 22 yards on 17 attempts, although he caught 5 passes for 37 yards.

For the Panthers, Bobby Hebert was successful on 22 of 44 throws for 292 yards and two TDs, tossing one interception. WR Frank McClain led the receivers with 6 catches for 76 yards and Anthony Carter added three receptions and 51 yards, including a touchdown. RB Ken Lacy ran for 35 yards on 7 attempts.

The win for the Federals did not signal a turnaround. They were thrashed by the powerful Philadelphia Stars the next week and went on to finish at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with a 4-14 record. Michigan’s fortunes did improve dramatically, however. The Panthers lost again to drop into a 1-4 hole before reeling off six straight wins on the way to a 12-6 tally, best in the Central Division. They went on to win the first USFL Championship.

Kim McQuilken saw most of the action at quarterback for the Federals, throwing for 1912 yards with seven touchdowns against 14 interceptions in what would be his last pro season. Joey Walters remained productive as he caught 63 passes for 959 yards (15.2 avg.) and six TDs. 

March 25, 2014

1984: Gold Defeat Showboats in Back-and-Forth Contest

The Denver Gold had a 3-1 record heading into Memphis to face the Showboats in a United States Football League game on March 25, 1984. Coached by Craig Morton, the Gold had a strong fan base that was being rewarded with improved offensive play. QB Craig Penrose, a former teammate of Morton’s with the NFL Broncos, was behind center and had promising rookie WR Leonard Harris, who also returned kicks, as a target while productive RB Harry Sydney was the best of the backs.

The first-year Showboats, coached by the colorful Pepper Rodgers, were struggling at 1-3. Rookie QB Walter Lewis was more noted for his running than passing, but the defense was anchored by DE Reggie White, a first-year player out of Tennessee who was showing off the abilities that would make him an all-time great.

There was a crowd of 21,213 in attendance at the Liberty Bowl. The Gold jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to two Memphis turnovers. The first was a fumble, which led to a nine-yard touchdown carry by RB Vincent White, and then a pass interception that set up a Craig Penrose TD pass to TE Bob Niziolek that covered 36 yards. Brian Speelman added the extra point after each. Early in the second quarter, Alan Duncan kicked a 48-yard field goal to finally get the Showboats on the board and the score remained 14-3 at the half.

Memphis narrowed the margin in the third quarter, this time benefiting from a Denver turnover as SS Terry Love intercepted a Penrose pass and returned it 79 yards for a TD. Just before the end of the period, the Showboats took the lead when Walter Lewis scored on a one-yard touchdown carry. Duncan successfully converted after each score and the tally was 17-14.

Denver responded on the next series by scoring on a Penrose pass to WR John Arnold that covered 34 yards. The Showboats put together a 16-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in RB Alan Reid running for a one-yard touchdown and, with the successful extra point, they led by 24-21 with under three minutes to go in the contest.

There was still enough time for the Gold, and they went 66 yards on their next series. Penrose threw to Leonard Harris for a 27-yard gain to the Memphis 25 and, with 57 seconds remaining, Vincent White scored from 16 yards out. Speelman added the PAT and Denver came away with a hard-earned 28-24 win.

Memphis led in total yards (323 to 277) and first downs (19 to 11). The Showboats were hurt by the two early turnovers that put them in a hole, while Denver turned the ball over once. There were many penalties, with the Gold being flagged 9 times at a cost of 50 yards to 8 penalties for 63 yards on Memphis.

Craig Penrose completed 12 of 20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns while giving up one interception. Harry Sydney ran for 54 yards on 12 carries and Vincent White was right behind with 52 yards on 7 attempts that included two TDs. Bob Niziolek had three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown and John Arnold gained 49 yards on his two receptions that also included a score.

For the Showboats, Walter Lewis was successful on 17 of 25 throws for 175 yards and a TD as well as one that was picked off. He also ran the ball five times for 37 yards and a score. Alan Reid had 22 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown and added another 34 yards on four catches. WR Derrick Crawford led the club with 5 pass receptions, for 31 yards, while WR Cormac Carney gained 52 yards on his three catches. On defense, Reggie White accounted for both of his team’s sacks.

Denver’s promising start failed to hold up over the long haul. The Gold won their next three games to reach 7-1 before the bottom fell out and they lost eight of their last ten contests to finish at a disappointing 9-9 and third in the USFL's Pacific Division. Memphis won the next week but continued to struggle and ended up fourth in the Southern Division at 7-11.

Craig Penrose ended up being one of five quarterbacks utilized by the Gold, but was the most productive as he completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 1984 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 14 interceptions. 

March 24, 2014

MVP Profile: Walter Payton, 1976

Running Back, Chicago Bears

Age: 23
2nd season in pro football & with Bears
College: Jackson State
Height: 5’10” Weight: 203

Payton was a two-time All-American in college, rushing for 3563 yards and 66 touchdowns, and his 464 points set a NCAA record. Chosen by the Bears in the first round of the 1975 NFL draft, he played hurt during his rookie season (and missed the only game of his career) as he accumulated 679 rushing yards.

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

Attempts – 311 [1]
Most attempts, game - 36 (for 97 yds.) vs. Oakland 11/7
Yards – 1390 [2, 1st in NFC]
Most yards, game – 183 yards (on 27 carries) at Seattle 12/5
Average gain – 4.5 [13]
TDs – 13 [2, tied with Chuck Foreman, 1st in NFC]
100-yard rushing games – 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 15      
Most receptions, game – 4 (for 42 yds.) at Minnesota 10/10
Yards – 149
Most yards, game - 42 (on 4 catches) at Minnesota 10/10
Average gain – 9.9
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1  
Yards – 0
TDs – 0

All-Purpose Yards – 1539 [4]

TDs – 13 [3, tied with Steve Grogan]
Points – 78

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

Bears went 7-7 to finish second in the NFC Central, their best record since 1968.

Payton followed up his breakout 1976 season by rushing for a league-leading 1852 yards, including a then-record 275 in a single game in ’77. He garnered MVP honors as well as being a consensus first-team All-NFL selection for the second year. Payton continued to be not only a highly productive rusher for a total of 13 seasons in the NFL, but was also an outstanding blocker and receiver out of the backfield, as well as an accomplished passer on option plays (he was even the club’s emergency quarterback). He led the NFC in rushing for five straight years, despite being part of a lackluster offense that had opposing teams keying on him, and totaled 10 thousand-yard rushing seasons. Payton was a consensus first-team All-Pro five times and was chosen to nine Pro Bowls. The even-tempered player known as “Sweetness” was also an unselfish team leader and hard worker, and was popular not only with Bears fans, but throughout the league. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards and also topped the list in carries (3838) and rushing TDs (110); his total of 125 touchdowns ranked second. Payton also caught 492 passes for 4538 yards and exceeded 2000 yards from scrimmage in four seasons. The Bears retired his #34 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1993. 


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). 

March 22, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Marshall Faulk, 1994

Running Back, Indianapolis Colts

Age: 21
College: San Diego State
Height: 5’10” Weight: 200

Faulk was a three-time consensus first-team All-American, the first in San Diego State history, as he rushed for a total of 4589 yards, including 386 in a single game, and scored 62 touchdowns. Choosing to turn pro after his junior year, Faulk was taken in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft (second overall) by the Colts and quickly established himself as an outstanding combination runner/receiver.

1994 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 314 [7]
Most attempts, game - 27 (for 129 yds.) at Seattle 12/4
Yards – 1282 [5]
Most yards, game – 143 yards (on 23 carries) vs. Houston 9/4
Average gain – 4.1 [9]
TDs – 11 [3]
100-yard rushing games – 4

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 52      
Most receptions, game – 8 (for 127 yds.) vs. Washington 10/23
Yards – 522
Most yards, game - 127 (on 8 catches) vs. Washington 10/23
Average gain – 10.0
TDs – 1
100-yard receiving games – 1

All-Purpose Yards – 1804 [6]

TDs – 12 [4, tied with Natrone Means, 1st in AFC]
Points – 72

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

Colts went 8-8 to finish third in the AFC East.

Faulk was selected to the Pro Bowl 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. Traded to the Rams in the offseason for two draft picks, he was a key (along with unsung QB Kurt Warner) in lifting St. Louis to a NFL title as he again led the league in yards from scrimmage (2429), rushing for 1381 and catching 87 passes for 1048 more yards. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and also received MVP honors for the first time. Faulk followed up with another strong season in 2000, again 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.


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 12/2/14]

March 21, 2014

1983: Bryant Runs for 177 Yards as Stars Defeat Stallions

The Philadelphia Stars were off to a 2-0 start in the inaugural United States Football League season as they took on the Birmingham Stallions on March 21, 1983. Rookie RB Kelvin Bryant had quickly established himself as the key player in the ball control offense that was directed by QB Chuck Fusina while the defense was proving to be very tough and was coming off a shutout of the New Jersey Generals.

The Stallions were 1-1, having won the USFL’s first overtime game the previous week. Coached by Rollie Dotsch, formerly an assistant with the NFL Steelers and used to winning, Birmingham invested heavily in young players, most notably QB Reggie Collier, a mobile rookie out of Southern Mississippi who had signed a big contract to start right away in the new league.  

There was a disappointing crowd of 12,850 fans in attendance at Legion Field on a cold and damp Monday night in Birmingham, with temperatures near freezing; a brief snow shower arrived just prior to the kickoff

The Stars took the early lead by driving 73 yards in 10 plays on their first possession. RB Allen Harvin ran around left end for the final two yards and a touchdown and David Trout added the extra point.

The teams traded interceptions, following which Birmingham came back with a score later in the opening period. The big play was a pass from Reggie Collier to WR Sylvester Moy that covered 45 yards to the Philadelphia 13. Collier carried for a four-yard TD to cap the five-play, 58-yard series and Scott Norwood tied the game with the extra point.

Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Trout put the Stars back in front with a 23-yard field goal, finishing off a 51-yard possession that took seven plays. The 10-7 lead held up through the remainder of the half.

Philadelphia started the third quarter with Harvin returning the second half kickoff 67 yards to the Birmingham 21. Five plays later, and on his fifth straight carry, Kelvin Bryant scored a touchdown from a yard out and Trout added the PAT to make it a ten-point margin.

To make matters worse for the Stallions, a hip pointer knocked Collier out of the game for the second half. Still, with backup QB Bob Lane behind center, the home team responded by driving from their 41 to the Philadelphia two. The Stars held at that point but Norwood made it a seven-point game with a 19-yard field goal.

Philadelphia was unable to build on its lead and Lane nearly led the Stallions to a potential tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Birmingham had a first down at the Philadelphia 12, but three straight passes fell incomplete to end the threat and seal the 17-10 win for the Stars.

The Stallions had the edge in total yards (312 to 227) and first downs (20 to 13), with 200 of Philadelphia’s total coming on the ground. However, Birmingham also turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by the Stars.

Kelvin Bryant had his biggest game yet, rushing for 177 yards on 27 carries that included a touchdown. Chuck Fusina had a rough outing, completing 8 of 15 passes for just 56 yards and being picked off once. WR Willie Collier was the team’s most productive receiver with 28 yards on two catches. FS Mike Lush intercepted two passes on defense.

For the Stallions, Reggie Collier was successful on 7 of 14 throws for 95 yards and tossed two interceptions before having to leave the contest. Bob Lane was 15 of 24 for 134 yards and had one pass intercepted. Sylvester Moy had 8 catches for 115 yards (he had just three more catches and 88 more yards over the remainder of the season). RB Ken Talton led the rushers with 37 yards on 8 attempts and RB Billy White contributed 31 yards on his 14 carries.

“I’m glad to get out of here with a win,” said a relieved Philadelphia Head Coach Jim Mora. “It wasn’t a great game on our part but our guys played hard and we won.”

The win over the Stallions set the Stars up for a battle of unbeaten against the Tampa Bay Bandits the next week, which they lost, but they recovered to go 15-3, top the Atlantic Division, and advance to the USFL Championship game, where they fell to the Michigan Panthers by two points. The defense continued to be a key to the team’s success as well as Kelvin Bryant, who rushed for 1442 yards and was named MVP by the league. Birmingham finished at the bottom of the Central Division with a 9-9 record. 

March 19, 2014

MVP Profile: Jack Lambert, 1976

Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 22
3rd season in pro football & with Steelers
College: Kent State
Height: 6’4”   Weight: 220

Lambert was a two-time All-Mid-American Conference linebacker in college and the Steelers chose him in the second round of the 1974 NFL draft. Injuries to MLB Henry Davis opened an opportunity for Lambert to start right away, and his addition was to make an already sound defense more complete. The Steelers won the Super Bowl and Lambert followed up his outstanding rookie season by gaining Pro Bowl recognition for the first of nine straight seasons in 1975, which also ended in a NFL Championship.

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

Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 1 at Minnesota 10/4, vs. Cincinnati 10/17
Int. return yards – 32
Most int. return yards, game – 22 (on 1 int.) vs. Cincinnati 10/17
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 8

Postseason: 2 G
Sacks – N/A
Interceptions – 0
TD – 0

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

Steelers went 10-4 to finish first in the AFC Central Division while leading the NFL in fewest yards allowed (3323), fewest rushing yards allowed (1457), and fewest points allowed (138). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Baltimore Colts (40-14). Lost AFC Championship to Oakland Raiders (24-7).

Lambert followed up with his third straight Pro Bowl season in 1977. A terrific run-stuffer with outstanding range and the ability to drop back effectively into pass coverage, he became a key contributor to the “Steel Curtain” defense that helped make the Steelers a contender for the rest of the decade and included two more Super Bowl victories. In addition to his Pro Bowl selections, Lambert received consensus first-team All-NFL honors six times – including five consecutive from 1979 to ’83 – and had at least some first- or second-team recognition in two other years. He missed only six games due to injury in his first ten seasons (three of them in 1977), but a severe toe injury forced Lambert’s retirement following the 1984 season. Overall, he intercepted 28 passes and recovered 17 fumbles. Lambert was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990. Three other players drafted by the Steelers in 1974 – Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster – would also be enshrined in Canton.


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.

March 17, 2014

1984: Fourth Quarter FGs Give Express Narrow Win Over Gunslingers

Two United States Football League teams that were having difficulty generating offense in the early going met on March 17, 1984 in San Antonio. The visiting Los Angeles Express were off to a 1-2 start while the San Antonio Gunslingers remained winless at 0-3.

The Express, under Head Coach John Hadl, had made a change at quarterback from Tom Ramsey to Frank Seurer and there was hope for the future in rookie Steve Young out of Brigham Young, who had recently signed a mammoth $40 million contract. However, Young was not yet ready to play and would not be suiting up against the Gunslingers.

San Antonio, one of six expansion teams for the USFL’s second season and coached by Gil Steinke, had quarterback problems of its own. The Gunslingers were without their prize rookie, QB Rick Neuheisel, as well as backup QB Mike Ford due to injuries. 34-year-old Karl Douglas was behind center for the game against the Express.

There were 9821 fans in attendance for the Saturday contest at Alamo Stadium. As could be expected, they didn’t see much scoring, especially in the first half. The Express got on the board when Frank Seurer threw to WR Ricky Ellis for a 15-yard touchdown. Tony Zendejas added the extra point, and that was it for the scoring in the first thirty minutes.

San Antonio’s offense may have been feeble, but the defense was tough and in the third quarter LB Putt Choate intercepted a Seurer pass and returned it 45 yards for a TD. However, Nick Mike-Mayer’s extra point attempt was blocked by LB Howard Carson and the Express remained ahead by 7-6.

Later in the period, a blocked punt led to points for San Antonio. DB Peter Raeford blocked the kick by Jeff Partridge and DB Maurice Tyler recovered for the Gunslingers at the LA 32 and returned it to the six yard line. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Gunslingers scored when RB Scott Stamper ran two yards for a TD. But once again San Antonio failed to add points after a touchdown when the pass for a two-point conversion failed.

With just under nine minutes on the clock, Zendejas booted a 36-yard field goal to make it a 12-10 contest. The Express got a break as time was running down when a poor punt by San Antonio’s Ken Hartley into a stiff wind gave them good field position. Zendejas kicked another field goal, this time from 39 yards with 1:09 remaining to play to put LA ahead by a point. It was enough as the Express held on to win by a final score of 13-12.

In a game in which both offenses struggled, Los Angeles led in total yards (287 to 227) and first downs (15 to 12). The Gunslingers managed only 52 net yards through the air and were penalized 10 times, at a cost of 66 yards, to 7 flags thrown on the Express. San Antonio also turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by the Express. The failure to convert, by kicking or passing, following the two touchdowns ultimately proved fatal to the Gunslingers.

Frank Seurer completed 11 of 17 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown while giving up one interception. Tom Ramsey saw action and was 8-of-12 for 83 yards and also tossed an interception. RB Kevin Nelson rushed for 43 yards on 19 carries. Ricky Ellis had four catches for 32 yards and a TD and WR Malcolm Moore also had four receptions, gaining 30 yards. WR Anthony Allen led in receiving yards with 83 on his three catches. Tony Zendejas made the two key field goals in the fourth quarter that produced the win.

For the Gunslingers, Scott Stamper (pictured at left) was the star on offense with 87 yards on 20 carries that included a touchdown. Karl Douglas was successful on only three of ten throws for 25 yards, giving up two interceptions, while his replacement J Torchio was three-of-nine for 52 yards and was intercepted once. WR Jerry Gordon was the top receiver with three catches for 31 yards.

The Express lost another low-scoring game the next week, but Steve Young took over at quarterback two weeks later, and the results were beneficial. Los Angeles topped the Pacific Division with a 10-8 record and reached the Western Conference title game.

As for the Gunslingers, Rick Neuheisel was back in action the following week and they won for the first time. The pattern of weak offense offsetting a solid defense continued as they went on to finish third in the Central Division at 7-11.

March 16, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Boyd Dowler, 1959

Offensive End, Green Bay Packers

Age: 22 (Oct. 18)
College: Colorado
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 225

Highly versatile, Dowler played quarterback in a single-wing offense in college and, while passing for 769 yards, he proved to be a proficient pass receiver with 41 receptions for 628 yards and 6 touchdowns and also handled the punting. The Packers chose him in the third round of the 1959 NFL draft with the intention of using him as an offensive end.

1959 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 32 [19, tied with Bill Barnes]  
Most receptions, game - 8 (for 147 yds.)  vs. Baltimore 11/15       
Yards – 549 [14]
Most yards, game – 147 (on 8 catches) vs. Baltimore 11/15
Average gain – 17.2 [11]
TDs – 4 [13, tied with eight others]

Attempts – 1
Yards – 20
TDs – 0

TDs – 4
Points – 24

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: UPI

Packers went 7-5 to tie for third in the NFL Western Conference in their first season under Head Coach Vince Lombardi, the team’s best record since 1945.

Dowler followed up his fine rookie season by catching 30 passes for 505 yards as the Packers won the Western Conference in 1960 for the first of three straight years. With good speed as well as size, he proved to be a dependable short receiver who was capable of breaking away for long gains as a flanker or split end, becoming a fixture in the offense for the remainder of the decade. His punting ability also came into play, beginning in ’60. Dowler gained a career-high 901 yards, on 53 catches, in 1963 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in ’65. His production dropped in an injury-filled 1966 season (which also knocked him out of the first Super Bowl), but Dowler bounced back with a career-best 54 catches, for 836 yards, in ’67 and again received Pro Bowl recognition. He played through 1969 before retiring to become an assistant coach under George Allen with the Rams and, following Allen to Washington, came out of retirement in 1971 when injuries depleted the receiving corps before quitting for good. Overall, Dowler caught 474 passes for 7270 yards (15.3 avg.) and 40 touchdowns (of that total, 448 catches, 6918 yards, and all of the TDs came with Green Bay). He also averaged 42.9 yards on 93 punts. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl twice.


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 2/22/17]

March 15, 2014

MVP Profile: Otto Graham, 1955

Quarterback, Cleveland Browns

Age:  34 (Dec. 6)
10th season in pro football & with Browns
College: Northwestern
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 205

A single-wing tailback in college, Graham chose to sign with the Browns of the new AAFC rather than the NFL Detroit Lions, who had drafted him in the first round in 1944, after coming out of the Navy. An outstanding athlete, he first played pro basketball before joining the Browns for the 1946 season. Mobile and an accurate passer, Graham threw for 1834 yards as a rookie and led the AAFC with 17 TD passes as the Browns won the league championship. He was the league’s MVP for the first time in ’47 as he led the AAFC in overall passing as well as completion percentage (60.6), yards (2753), TD passes (25), and yards per attempt (10.2). Graham was co-MVP with San Francisco’s Frankie Albert in ’48, a season in which he once more led the AAFC in passing yards (2713) while tossing another 25 TD passes and the Browns went undefeated. The Browns won the AAFC title for the fourth straight year in 1949, and Graham led the league in passing yards (2785) and yards per attempt (9.8). While no MVP was awarded by the league, he was a consensus first-team All-AAFC selection. Graham and the Browns moved to the NFL in 1950 and kept up their winning ways by achieving another championship. Graham was selected to the Pro Bowl. He was named league MVP by UPI in ’51 as the Browns went 11-1, although they lost the Championship game to the Rams. In 1952, Graham led the league in pass attempts (364), completions (181), yards (2816), and TD passes (20), as well as interceptions (24), and was once again named to the Pro Bowl. He received MVP honors from UPI again in ’53 after leading the league in passing yards (2722), yards per attempt (10.6), and completion percentage (64.7) and, while the Browns lost the NFL Championship game for a third straight year, they returned to the top in 1954 as Graham again led the NFL in completion percentage (59.2). He retired at that point, although when the Browns had difficulty in the 1955 preseason, he was coaxed back into action for one more year.

1955 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 185 [10]
Most attempts, game – 31 at NY Giants 11/27
Completions – 98 [8, tied with Charlie Conerly]
Most completions, game – 17 at NY Giants 11/27
Yards – 1721 [6]
Most yards, game – 319 at NY Giants 11/27
Completion percentage – 53.0 [1, tied with Bobby Layne]
Yards per attempt – 9.3 [1]
TD passes – 15 [3]
Most TD passes, game – 3 at NY Giants 11/27, vs. Chi. Cardinals 12/11
Interceptions – 8 [12]
Most interceptions, game – 2 vs. Washington 9/25, at Philadelphia 11/13
Passer rating – 94.0 [1]
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 2

Attempts – 68
Yards – 121
Yards per attempt – 1.8
TDs – 6 [4, tied with Ed Modzelewski & Lew Carpenter]

TDs – 6 [17, tied with four others]
Points – 36

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship at LA Rams)
Pass attempts – 25
Pass completions – 14
Passing yardage – 209
TD passes – 2
Interceptions – 3

Rushing attempts – 9
Rushing yards – 21
Average gain rushing – 2.3
Rushing TDs – 2

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: UPI, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI, NY Daily News, Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: NEA

Browns went 9-2-1 to finish first in the NFL Eastern Conference while leading league in scoring (349 points) and touchdowns (45). Won NFL Championship over Los Angeles Rams (38-14).

Graham retired for good following the 1955 season. Altogether, over 10 seasons (four in the AAFC, 6 in the NFL) he averaged 9.0 yards per attempt (a record 8.6 in the NFL alone) while throwing for 23,584 yards (10,085 in AAFC, 13,499 in NFL) with 174 TDs (86 in AAFC, 88 in NFL). He also ran for 882 yards and scored 44 TDs, with a high of 8 in 1954. Graham was a first-team All-league selection three times in the AAFC as well as three more times in the NFL and was chosen for the first five Pro Bowls. Perhaps most significantly of all, he quarterbacked Cleveland to a championship game in all ten years, winning seven of them. The Browns retired his #14 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1965.


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). 

March 13, 2014

1960: NFL Approves Move of Cards from Chicago to St. Louis

On the evening of March 13, 1960 the NFL approved the transfer of the Chicago Cardinals franchise to St. Louis. The owners agreed to the move upon two conditions. First, a satisfactory lease agreement had to be worked out with Busch Stadium, which was owned by the major league baseball Cardinals, as well as arrangements for television coverage (as anticipated, these were not problematic conditions. A new stadium, which would come to be Busch Memorial Stadium, was in the planning stages and was finally available in 1966).

The team’s managing director, Walter Wolfner, strongly denied that a move was imminent right up to the day of the vote. He indicated afterward that the league had unexpectedly agreed to meet certain conditions that made the franchise shift possible.

The NFL agreed to pay the team $500,000 to help defray the costs of the relocation, which included paying off the lease for use of Soldier Field. The Bears were especially willing to assist with the cost in anticipation of increased revenue due to the freeing up of the Chicago territory.

While sentimentalists were sorry to see the move of the league’s oldest franchise, which had such long ties to the Windy City, the club had long played second fiddle to the more successful Bears.

The Cardinals had Chicago roots dating back to 1898, when they began life as an amateur community team called the Morgan Athletic Club. From there they became the Racine Normals, due to their venue being Normal Field on Racine Avenue, and then the Racine Cardinals after obtaining a supply of faded maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago. The team disbanded and reorganized on two occasions and joined the fledgling NFL (then the American Professional Football Association) in 1920, quickly becoming known as the Chicago Cardinals.

While the Cardinals had sporadic success, winning NFL titles in 1925 and ’47, for the most part they quickly fell behind the rival Bears, who won far more regularly. The club was bought by Charles W. Bidwill in 1933, and by the late 40s he had begun to assemble a winning squad that featured the “Million-Dollar Backfield” of QB Paul Christman, FB Pat Harder, and halfbacks Charley Trippi and Elmer Angsman. But he died before the championship-winning season in 1947 and his widow, Violet, married businessman Walter Wolfner two years later, who became managing director in 1951.

Organizationally, the Cards floundered in the 1950s, putting together just one winning season. Attendance was poor and not helped by the move from Comiskey Park to Soldier Field in 1959, also playing two games in Bloomington, Minnesota, a potential NFL market (the Vikings arrived on the scene in 1961). The Wolfners turned down suitors willing to buy the franchise (two of whom, Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, went on to found the American Football League), but they were losing money. With a study showing that St. Louis was a viable candidate to field a NFL team, the decision was made to relocate. Additionally, a St. Louis brewer named Joe Griesedieck bought a ten percent interest in the club.

The team’s fortunes immediately improved on the field. After having finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 2-10 record in 1959, the Cardinals were 6-5-1 in their first St. Louis season. They were the NFL’s top rushing team, with star HB John David Crow leading the way with 1071 yards and second-year split end Sonny Randle led the league with 15 receiving touchdowns among his 62 catches. The defense was greatly improved and included DE Leo Sugar, DT Frank Fuller, plus an established star safety in Jerry Norton, who was also an excellent punter, and Larry Wilson, a rookie who would go on to a Hall of Fame career, in the other spot.

Violet Wolfner died in 1962 and a legal battle ensued between her sons from her marriage to Charles Bidwill, Charles W. Jr. (aka Stormy) and Bill, and the pugnacious Wolfner who contested the will leaving the bulk of her estate – including the majority ownership in the Cardinals – to the brothers. The nasty legal battle was finally settled out of court. Stormy ran the team until selling his interest to Bill in 1972.

Meanwhile, on the field there was difficulty at quarterback, and the acquisition of 31-year-old Sam Etcheverry, a legendary player in Canada, failed to resolve the issue when it was found that his arm was worn out. However, in 1962 a promising young quarterback from New Mexico State named Charley Johnson took over and, in 1963 and ’64, the Cards exhibited a productive offense and contended in the Eastern Conference. Randle, in combination with flanker Bobby Joe Conrad, continued to excel and the offensive backfield was deep enough to withstand injuries. Wally Lemm had been grabbed away from the AFL’s Houston Oilers in ’62 to become the head coach, with encouraging results.

However, the Cardinals failed to break through to the postseason. The team would not do so until 1974, under offensive-minded Head Coach Don Coryell, but he left after five years and two non-winning postseason appearances, frustrated by the team’s continued organizational failings under Bill Bidwill.

Ultimately, the relocation to St. Louis that began with such promise of success soured badly. Bidwill chose to be his own general manager, too often with unfortunate results. Along with some notable highly-drafted busts such as QB Steve Pisarkiewicz, WR Clyde Duncan, and kicker Steve Little, there were plenty of talented players along the way. In addition to those named previously, notable among them on offense were quarterbacks Jim Hart and Neil Lomax, running backs Terry Metcalf and Ottis Anderson, wide receivers Mel Gray, Pat Tilley, Roy Green, and J.T. Smith, linemen Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Bob DeMarco, and Tom Banks and, on defense, linebackers Dale Meinert, Larry Stallings, and E.J. Junior and backs Pat Fischer and Roger Wehrli. Jim Bakken was a standout placekicker for many years and Vai Sikahema a notable kick returner. But the team underachieved far too often, and attendance fell until the franchise shifted again, this time moving to Phoenix in 1988. The overall record over the course of 28 years in the Gateway City was 187-202-13 and 0-3 in the postseason.