April 30, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Joe Namath, 1965

Quarterback, New York Jets

Age: 22
College: Alabama
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 194

Despite appearing in just three full games as a senior due to torn ligaments in his right knee that required surgery, Namath was a highly-sought player coming out of college. He passed for 2713 yards and 24 touchdowns under Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama and was chosen by both the NFL Cardinals and AFL Jets in the first round of their respective 1965 drafts. Namath signed a then-huge $427,000 contract with New York. Head Coach Weeb Ewbank announced that lightly-experienced veteran Mike Taliaferro would start the season at quarterback, but Namath saw his first action in Week 2 and, for the most part, moved into the lineup thereafter.

1965 Season Summary
Appeared in 13 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 340 [5]
Most attempts, game – 44 vs. Buffalo 12/19
Completions – 164 [5]
Most completions, game – 19 at Buffalo 9/26, at Oakland 12/12
Yards – 2220 [6]
Most yards, game – 287 at Buffalo 9/26
Completion percentage – 48.2 [4]
Yards per attempt – 6.5 [3]
TD passes – 18 [4, tied with Babe Parilli]
Most TD passes, game – 4 vs. Houston 11/21
Interceptions – 15 [5]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at San Diego 12/4, at Oakland 12/12
Passer rating – 68.7 [3]
200-yard passing games – 5

Attempts – 8
Most attempts, game – 3 (for -3 yds.) at Boston 11/14
Yards – 19
Most yards, game – 15 yards (on 2 carries) vs. Oakland 10/16
Yards per attempt – 2.4
TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFL Rookie of the Year: UPI
AFL All-Star Game

Jets went 5-8-1 to finish second in the AFL Eastern Division.

Knee and mobility issues would be significant throughout Namath’s career, but he had a quick release and strong arm. He was also charismatic (he quickly became a celebrity off the field) and a good leader. Namath led the league in pass attempts and completions, yards, and TD passes in 1966 and ’67 – in the latter season, he became the first 4000-yard passer in NFL/AFL history (4007). Prone to trying to force passes into coverage, however, he also led the AFL in passes intercepted in both years. In 1968, Namath had lesser numbers but more success and received Player of the Year honors as the Jets won not only the AFL Championship but defeated the NFL Champion Colts in a huge Super Bowl upset. He passed for 2734 yards and 19 TDs as the Jets again topped the Eastern Division in 1969, but a broken wrist that sidelined him five games into the ’70 season became the first of a series of injuries that dogged the remainder of his career. After appearing in just nine games in 1970 and ’71, he came back in 1972 to lead the NFL in passing yards (2816), TD passes (19), and yards per attempt (8.7) and was named to the Pro Bowl. However, a separated shoulder limited him to six games in 1973 and, with the team deteriorating around him, he had only sporadic success while leading the league in interceptions in 1974 and ’75. Namath finished his career with the Rams in 1977 and ended up throwing for 27,663 yards with 173 TDs and 220 interceptions. His #12 was retired by the Jets and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1985.


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). 

April 28, 2014

1986: Cowboys Trade Hogeboom to Colts

On April 28, 1986, with the NFL draft looming, the Dallas Cowboys traded disaffected backup QB Gary Hogeboom and their second-round draft pick to the Indianapolis Colts for that club’s second-round draft choice (and a conditional future draft choice that was never exercised). Moving up from the 18th to fourth pick in the second round, the Cowboys took Arizona State RB Darryl Clack, who was primarily utilized as a kick returner over the course of the next four years.

The 27-year-old Hogeboom had originally been a fifth-round draft choice of the Cowboys out of Central Michigan in 1980. He saw scant action as backup to starting QB Danny White during his first four seasons, but when White went down with a concussion during the NFC Championship game following the ’82 season against Washington, Hogeboom played well in defeat. With some players unhappy with White’s level of support during the player strike during the regular season, it set the stage for a quarterback controversy.

Hogeboom still didn’t see much action in 1983, but Head Coach Tom Landry promoted him over White for the beginning of the ’84 season. While he was tall at 6’4” and had an outstanding arm, and performed ably in a season-opening win, he was deficient at reading defenses and forced too many ill-advised passes. White regained the starting job during the second half of the year as the Cowboys finished at 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the first time in ten years. Hogeboom started ten games and completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 2366 yards with twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7).

Returning to being a backup in 1985, Hogeboom passed for 978 yards and five TDs with seven interceptions and found himself competing with Steve Pelleur, another promising backup.  Demoted to third-string quarterback, he demanded a trade and worked out for Indianapolis Head Coach Rod Dowhower the week prior to being dealt.

The Colts, coming off a 5-11 record, had the fewest net passing yards in the AFC in 1985 and originally targeted Purdue QB Jim Everett with the fourth choice in the first round, but the Houston Oilers indicated that they would draft Everett with the third pick (as it turned out, they were unable to sign Everett and traded him to the Rams). With the jury still very much out regarding Hogeboom, the Colts also drafted a quarterback in the second round (using the pick obtained from Dallas), Jack Trudeau from Illinois. The starter in ’85, Mike Pagel, was later traded to the Browns.

Things did not start out well for Hogeboom with his new team as he went down with a separated shoulder in the second game of the season. The Colts were 0-13 when Dowhower was fired and replaced by Ron Meyer, who made the decision to reactivate Hogeboom and get him back behind center. The result was a 3-0 finish with Hogeboom completing 59 percent of his throws for 1154 yards and six touchdowns along with six interceptions. He played well and showed toughness while rising to the occasion in what was already a lost year.

The Colts improved to 9-6 and topped the AFC East in the strike-interrupted 1987 season, but Hogeboom was not a key to the club’s success. He appeared in six games, remained inconsistent, and then suffered a dislocated passing shoulder. In addition, he appeared in the games utilizing replacement players, making him unpopular with his teammates, even if he retained the confidence of Coach Meyer. More significant to the team’s success was the arrival of RB Eric Dickerson in a blockbuster trade during the season.

Hogeboom started the 1988 season-opening game, a loss to the Oilers, and then took a seat on the bench as Jack Trudeau, who saw considerable action when Hogeboom was unavailable the previous two years, took over. Trudeau went down with a knee injury that finished him for the year a couple of contests later, but it was rookie Chris Chandler stepping in as the starter, not Hogeboom. The team went 9-7, again with Dickerson’s running the key to success, but with Chandler showing potential. Hogeboom was left unprotected afterward and went to the Cardinals as a free agent in ’89. Overall, over the course of three seasons with the Colts, he started 12 games and passed for 3295 yards with 22 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. 

Hogeboom signed a three-year contract with the Cards, but lasted just one. While he achieved career highs in attempts (364), completions (204), yards (2591), and TD passes (14) – as well as interceptions (19) – his velocity decreased due to arthritis in his elbow and he was effectively finished after 1989. Waived by Phoenix, he was signed by the Redskins in 1990 but saw no action as a third-string backup in his final pro season. While a courageous competitor, Hogeboom couldn’t overcome chronic injuries and failed to develop sufficiently after exhibiting early potential in Dallas. 

April 27, 2014

MVP Profile: Earl Morrall, 1972

Quarterback, Miami Dolphins

Age:  38
17th season in pro football, 1st with Dolphins
College: Michigan State
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 206

After leading Michigan State to a win in the Rose Bowl, Morrall was taken in the first round of the 1956 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Following a mediocre rookie season in which he backed up Y.A. Tittle, he was dealt to Pittsburgh where he became the starter and had a fair year in ’57. Two games into 1958, he was traded to Detroit in the deal that brought Bobby Layne to the Steelers and for the next seven years he shared the job with, first, Jim Ninowski and then Milt Plum. His best season with the Lions was in 1963, when he passed for 2621 yards and 24 TDs. But when new Head Coach Harry Gilmer committed to Plum for ’65, Morrall was dealt to the New York Giants. He started in 1965 and had a good year for a 7-7 team, but missed half of ’66 due to injury and was on the bench behind Fran Tarkenton in 1967. Frustrated at once again being a backup, he was traded to the Colts during the 1968 preseason to provide insurance as number two to Johnny Unitas. When Unitas suffered a major arm injury, Morrall took over as the starting quarterback and had a MVP season, most notably leading the NFL in passing, TD passes (26), and yards per attempt (9.2). The Colts went 13-1 and won the league title, although the dream year came to a sour end in an upset loss to the AFL Champion Jets in the Super Bowl. Morrall returned to a backup role with Unitas reclaiming the starting job in 1969 and helped rally the Colts in relief in the Super Bowl win over the Cowboys following the ’70 season. He saw considerable action in place of the increasingly-brittle Unitas in 1971, but with the team undergoing a youth movement in ’72 he was traded once more, this time to the Miami Dolphins where he was reunited with his first coach in Baltimore, Don Shula. A broken ankle suffered by starting QB Bob Griese in Week 5 put Morrall in the starting lineup.

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

Attempts – 150
Most attempts, game – 19 vs. St. Louis 11/27
Completions – 83
Most completions, game – 12 vs. St. Louis 11/27
Yards – 1360
Most yards, game – 210 vs. St. Louis 11/27
Completion percentage – 55.3 [8]
Yards per attempt – 9.1 [1]
TD passes – 11 [18, tied with Marty Domres]
Most TD passes, game – 2 vs. San Diego 10/15, vs. St. Louis 11/27, at New England 12/3
Interceptions – 7
Most interceptions, game – 1 on seven occasions
Passer rating – 91.0 [1]
200-yard passing games – 2

Attempts – 17
Most attempts, game – 4 (for 7 yds.) vs. Buffalo 10/22
Yards – 67
Most yards, game – 29 yards (on 3 carries) vs. NY Jets 11/19
Yards per attempt – 3.9
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points - 6

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 24
Most attempts, game - 13 vs. Cleveland, AFC Divisional playoff
Pass completions – 13
Most completions, game - 7 at Pittsburgh, AFC Championship
Passing yardage – 139
Most yards, game - 88 vs. Cleveland, AFC Divisional playoff
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 1

Rushing attempts – 4
Most rushing attempts, game - 4 vs. Cleveland, AFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 3
Most rushing yards, game - 3 vs. Cleveland, AFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 0.8
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFC Player of the Year: Sporting News
NFL Comeback Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP
2nd team All-NFL: NEA
1st team All-AFC: AP

Dolphins went 14-0 to finish first in the AFC East as they led the NFL in total yards (5036), rushing yards (2960), scoring (385 points), and touchdowns (45, tied with the Oakland Raiders). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Cleveland Browns (20-14), AFC Championship over Pittsburgh Steelers (21-17), and Super Bowl over Washington Redskins (14-7).

Morrall gave way to Griese in the playoffs in 1972 and stayed on another four years as a backup, finally retiring following the 1976 season at age 42 and after 21 seasons in the NFL. Often regarded as the greatest backup quarterback in league history, he twice was selected to the Pro Bowl and ended up passing for 20,809 yards and 161 TDs.


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). 

April 25, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Earl McCullouch, 1968

Split End, Detroit Lions

Age: 22
College: Southern California
Height: 5’11” Weight: 172

Transferring to USC from Long Beach City College, McCullouch was a member of the 1967 national championship team, catching 30 passes for 540 yards and five TDs and receiving all-conference recognition. He was also a track star and held the world record for the 100-meter high hurdles from 1967 to ‘69. McCullouch was one of five USC players taken in the first round of the 1968 NFL draft when chosen by the Lions with the 24th overall pick.

1968 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 40 [19, tied with Charlie Sanders]           
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 132 yds.) at Dallas 9/15, (for 75 yds.) at Green Bay 9/29
Yards – 680 [16]
Most yards, game – 132 (on 5 catches) at Dallas 9/15
Average gain – 17.0 [16]
TDs – 5 [18, tied with six others]
100-yard receiving games - 1

Attempts – 3
Yards – 13
Average gain – 4.3
TDs – 0

TDs – 5
Points – 30

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: UPI, NEA, Sporting News

Lions went 4-8-2 to finish fourth in the NFL Central Division.

McCullouch’s rookie season ended up being his best. He caught 33 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns in 1969, but injuries limited him to ten games and 15 catches in ’70, although five were good for TDs and he averaged 18.5 yards per reception. Inconsistency became more of a concern as McCullouch averaged 26.3 yards per catch in 1971, but on just 21 receptions for 552 yards. He lost his starting job to Ron Jessie and caught a total of 14 passes in ’72 and ’73. The Lions waived McCullouch just prior to the 1974 season and he appeared in three games for New Orleans, catching just one pass for five yards. He played with the Portland Thunder of the WFL in 1975, catching 12 passes for 219 yards (18.3 avg.) and three TDs in what was his final pro season. Overall, in seven NFL seasons, with virtually all of the action coming with Detroit, McCullouch caught 124 passes for 2319 yards (18.7 avg.) and 19 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). 

April 23, 2014

MVP Profile: Harvey Martin, 1977

Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys

Age:  27 (Nov. 16)
5th season in pro football & with Cowboys
College: East Texas State
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 252

Martin, a Dallas native, was chosen by the Cowboys in the third round of the 1973 NFL draft and, while there were early concerns regarding a lack of aggressiveness, he quickly established himself as an outstanding pass rusher with outstanding speed and technique. By 1976, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time and also received second-team All-NFL honors from the Associated Press and second-team All-NFC recognition from UPI.

1977 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 23 (unofficial)
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 2
Fumble recovery TDs – 0
Tackles – 85

Postseason: 3 G
Sacks – 2 (unofficial)
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 2
TD – 0

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

Cowboys went 12-2 to finish first in the NFC East with the conference’s best record while leading the NFL in fewest yards allowed (3213) and the NFC in sacks (53) and fewest rushing yards allowed (1651). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Chicago Bears (37-7), NFC Championship over Minnesota Vikings (23-6), and Super Bowl over Denver Broncos (27-10; Martin and DT Randy White were co-MVPs).

Martin followed up with two more Pro Bowl seasons in 1978 and ’79, despite playing through injuries. He was especially effective in combination with DT Randy White, as both required double-teaming, and was unofficially credited with 16 sacks in ’78, tying for the team lead with White. Martin ended up playing 11 years for the Cowboys, abruptly retiring after the 1983 season. A popular figure in Dallas, where he had a radio show and business ventures, he was dogged at the end by off-field problems. Overall, he left as the team’s career leader in sacks (which didn’t become an official statistic until his last two seasons) with an unofficial total of 113 over the course of 158 games (officially, he had ten in 1982 and ’83) and also appeared in 22 postseason games. Martin received consensus All-NFL honors once, second-team recognition after three other seasons, and was chosen for the Pro Bowl four times.


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

April 22, 2014

1975: Rams Obtain Tom Dempsey from Eagles

April 22, 1975 was a busy day for transactions by the Philadelphia Eagles. Guard Mark Nordquist was traded to the Bears and CB Charley Ford to Houston, both for draft choices. The most noteworthy deal sent PK Tom Dempsey to the Los Angeles Rams for an undisclosed 1976 draft choice (it turned out to be a fourth-round pick, which was later traded to Green Bay).

Dempsey, who was 28, had gained notoriety with the New Orleans Saints in 1970 when he kicked a 63-yard field goal that not only gave the Saints an upset victory over the Detroit Lions but broke the existing NFL record for longest field goal by seven yards. Born with only two fingers on his right hand and half of a right foot, Dempsey overcame disabilities to play offensive tackle in high school and defensive end at Palomar Junior College. He also took up placekicking, and when the Chargers of the AFL signed him to their taxi squad in 1968, a special shoe was designed for him with a flat surface like a mallet. A placekicker with the size of a lineman (6’1”, 260 pounds), he had considerable leg strength.

The Chargers released Dempsey after a year and he joined the Saints in ’69, gaining Pro Bowl recognition as he booted 22 field goals. He kicked another 18 in 1970, but while he could kick for distance, he had problems with accuracy. Three of his attempts of over 50 yards were good, as well as four of seven from 40 to 49 yards, but he was successful on only one of five tries from 30 to 39 yards. He was beaten out in the 1971 preseason by Skip Butler (who failed to last past the second game) and was activated by the Eagles midway through the schedule.

Dempsey’s half season with Philadelphia in ’71 was outstanding as he succeeded on 12 of 17 field goal attempts for a league-leading 70.6 percent. Among those kicks was a 54-yarder at home against the Cardinals that set a new team record (eclipsed by Tony Franklin in 1979).

Dempsey kicked for another three years with the Eagles, but was never again as consistent. While his field goal total rose to 20 in 1972, he had 35 attempts for a percentage of 57.1. His most notable performance was six field goals in an 18-17 win over the Oilers, another team record, and in a game in which the opposing kicker was, ironically enough, Skip Butler (who missed a potential game-winning kick). He set a then-club standard with 24 field goals in ’73, out of 40 tries, but had a noteworthy 26-yard field goal miss in a one-point loss at Buffalo and was still less-than-dependable on midrange kicks.

In 1974, the NFL made two rules changes that had a notable effect on placekickers, including Dempsey. The goal posts were moved from the goal line to the rear of the end zone and failed field goal attempts beyond the 20 yard line were returned to the line of scrimmage rather than the 20. Dempsey had just 16 field goal attempts for the year and was good on 10 of them.

There had been acrimony between Dempsey, who was the team’s player representative, and Eagles owner Leonard Tose during the players’ strike prior to the ’74 season, and there were rumors throughout the year that the placekicker’s job might be in jeopardy. Eagles Head Coach Mike McCormack indicated that the deciding factor in dealing Dempsey was the rule change regarding long missed field goal tries.

“The new kicking rule has reduced the need for long field goals,” explained McCormack. “Dempsey tried only 16 field goals for us last year. We tried only three or four from 40 yards or more (the actual number was seven). We feel we can get by with a short-range kicker, the 20- to 30-yard percentage type, someone whose leg maybe isn’t as strong as Dempsey’s.”

The Eagles filled their placekicking vacancy by obtaining Horst Muhlmann from Cincinnati, and he was successful on 20 of 29 field goal attempts (69 %). Only one attempt, which was good, came from over 50 yards although many were in the 40 to 49-yard range, with a success rate of 7 in 13 tries.

Dempsey, meanwhile, made good on 21 of 26 field goal tries for a career-best 80.8 percentage in his first year with the Rams. His longest covered 51 yards, he was four of five from 40 to 49 yards, and was perfect (7 of 7) between 20 and 29 yards for the first time in his career. However, he paradoxically missed five of his 36 points after touchdown.

Dempsey’s performance slipped in 1976, as he went 17-of-26 on field goal attempts and was unsuccessful on eight of 44 extra points. In the NFC Championship game, his blocked chip-shot field goal attempt in the first quarter was returned 90 yards by the Vikings, who went on to win the game – the last for Dempsey with LA. He was waived the following preseason.

Dempsey saw action with the Oilers and Bills over the next three years. Overall, he kicked 159 field goals out of 258 attempts (61.6 percent) and 89.4 percent of his extra point tries (252 of 282). Most of his field goals came with the Eagles (66) and he had a total of 38 with the Rams, but it would be the 63-yard kick for New Orleans for which he would be best remembered. 

April 20, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Curtis Martin, 1995

Running Back, New England Patriots

Age:  22
College: Pittsburgh
Height: 5’11” Weight: 197

Martin suffered through an injury-plagued college career, rushing for 1045 yards in ten games as a junior and then, after a 251-yard performance against Texas in the first game of his senior year, he went down with a severe ankle sprain. He chose to enter the 1995 NFL draft and was taken by the Patriots in the third round. While there were concerns regarding his injury history, Martin quickly allayed them by rushing for 102 yards in his NFL debut.

1995 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 368 [2]
Most attempts, game - 36 (for 127 yds.) vs. Buffalo 10/23
Yards – 1487 [3, 1st in AFC]
Most yards, game – 166 yards (on 35 carries) at NY Jets 11/5
Average gain – 4.0 [15]
TDs – 14 [3]
100-yard rushing games – 9

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 30      
Most receptions, game – 8 (for 62 yds.) at Pittsburgh 12/16
Yards – 261
Most yards, game – 62 (on 8 catches) at Pittsburgh 12/16
Average gain – 8.7
TDs – 1

TDs – 15 [6]
2-pt PAT – 1
Points – 92

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-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Patriots went 6-10 to finish fourth in the AFC East.

Martin followed up with another Pro Bowl year in 1996, rushing for 1152 yards and catching 46 passes as the Patriots won the AFC title. It was the second of ten straight seasons in which he rushed for over a thousand yards. An elusive runner who caught the ball well out of the backfield, he exhibited impressive stamina and durability, although he missed three games in ’97 due to an abdominal injury that required surgery. After rushing for 3799 yards and 32 TDs with New England, Martin was signed as a restricted free agent by the New York Jets in 1998, reuniting with Bill Parcells, his first coach with the Patriots, and played a key role in that team’s quick turnaround. Despite maintaining a heavy workload, he carried on through a string of 119 consecutive starts before a major knee injury finally ended his career 12 games into the 2005 season. Along the way, his quiet consistency was often overlooked, but he twice gained over 1500 yards in a season, including a league-leading 1697 at age 31 in 2004. Overall, he received consensus first-team All-NFL honors once, gained at least some first- or second-team recognition after three other years, and was selected to the Pro Bowl five times while rushing for 14,101 yards, which ranked fourth all-time at his retirement, on 3518 carries (4.0 avg.) and catching 484 passes for another 3329 yards, giving him 17,430 yards from scrimmage. He scored an even 100 touchdowns (90 rushing, 10 receiving). The Jets retired Martin’s #28 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2012.


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). 

April 18, 2014

1983: Bandits Lose Game to Express & Reaves to Injury

The Los Angeles Express had a 3-3 record, as did all three other teams in the Pacific Division of the United States Football League, as they met the Tampa Bay Bandits on April 18, 1983. Coached by Hugh Campbell, winner of five straight Grey Cups with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos, the Express had difficulty scoring points with the quarterback tandem of veteran NFL backup Mike Rae, who started games, and rookie Tom Ramsey, who typically finished them. The defense was tough, however, especially the line that was anchored by rookie NT Eddie “Meat Cleaver” Weaver.

Tampa Bay, coached by the offensive-minded Steve Spurrier, featured an exciting aerial attack directed by veteran QB John Reaves, a former college star at Florida who had floundered in the NFL. The Bandits had won their first four games before being thrashed by the Chicago Blitz, but were 5-1 and playing at home as they faced the Express.

It was a rainy Monday night with 32,223 fans in attendance at Tampa Stadium. The quality of play was sloppy, and the first half was filled with penalties. Tampa Bay took the early lead midway through the first quarter when Zenon Andrusyshyn booted a 40-yard field goal. The Express responded on the ensuing series by going 56 yards in 12 plays that culminated in Vince Abbott kicking a 35-yard field goal with 2:25 left in the opening period. Four plays later and now into the second quarter, it was Andrusyshyn’s turn again to put the Bandits back in front with a 29-yard field goal. The series was helped along by a roughing-the-passer call on DE Dennis Edwards.

LA was helped on its next drive by two penalties on the Bandits to move into field goal position, with Abbott connecting from 36 yards. Late in the second quarter, and with the score tied at 6-6, Eddie Weaver of the Express put pressure on Reaves that caused a poorly thrown pass which was intercepted by SS Mike Fox. But with the ball at the Tampa Bay 10, the visitors couldn’t reach the end zone. NT Fred Nordgren made a shoestring tackle on RB John Barnett to save a possible score, and then Tom Ramsey dropped the snap on third down. LA came away with a 24-yard Abbott field goal as the clock ticked down to 42 seconds and took a 9-6 lead into halftime.

Down by three points in the third quarter, the Bandits stopped the Express at their own 15 and forced a punt that gave them good starting field position at their own 48. However, after advancing to the LA 42, a false start backed them up five yards and then Reaves was again picked off by Fox.

Heading into the fourth quarter, and with 12:31 to go, the Express went ahead to stay on a one-yard touchdown carry by RB John Barnett – the first LA touchdown in over ten quarters. It followed a Reaves fumble that was recovered at the Tampa Bay 17 by Dennis Edwards. The turnover was compounded by the loss of Reaves, who left the game with a broken wrist suffered while being tackled, thus forcing the fumble.

Backup QB Jimmy Jordan helped narrow the margin with a 23-yard touchdown pass to WR Danny Buggs midway through the final period, but the Bandits never threatened again for the remainder of the game. They reached the LA 40 on their final possession before giving the ball up on downs, and a roughing-the-kicker penalty kept the Express from having to give up the ball again until there were just 27 seconds left. LA added two points by dropping Jordan for a safety shortly thereafter and won by a final score of 18-13.

The offensive statistics reflected the closeness of the score. The Bandits held the edge in total yards (260 to 258) and first downs (17 to 16). The big difference was in turnovers, with Tampa Bay giving up five (four interceptions, one fumble) to none suffered by LA, even though the visitors fumbled four times. The Express defensive line put heavy pressure on the Tampa Bay quarterbacks throughout the contest and recorded five sacks, while the Bandits had two.

Mike Rae completed 13 of 25 passes for 140 yards with no touchdowns, but also no interceptions. RB Tony Boddie rushed for 59 yards on 11 carries and John Barnett was right behind with 55 yards and a TD on 19 attempts. TE Ricky Ellis led the receivers with 6 catches for 65 yards. On defense, Eddie Weaver had two sacks and Mike Fox accumulated three interceptions.

For the Bandits, John Reaves had a miserable day before leaving due to injury, completing just 7 of his 27 throws for 81 yards while giving up four interceptions. In relief, Jimmy Jordan went 8 of 10 for 97 yards and a TD with none picked off. RB Sam Platt ran for 107 yards on 21 carries and caught four passes for another 16 yards. Danny Buggs led the team with 62 yards on three pass receptions that included a TD.

“I’m very disappointed in the offense,” said Tampa Bay’s Coach Spurrier in summing up the defeat. “We didn’t play well until Jimmy (Jordan) came in. It hurts when you beat yourself. Even with doing things so poorly, we still had a chance to win.”

The Express went on to an 8-10 tally that placed them second in the mediocre Pacific Division. Eddie Weaver received All-USFL recognition from The Sporting News for his play with the league’s fifth-ranked defense, but even with upgrades to the receiving corps, the offense continued to have difficulty scoring points.

As for the Bandits, the loss that dropped them to 5-2 was all too reminiscent of the one two weeks earlier against the Blitz and a harbinger of harder times to come. Still, with Jordan at quarterback, they managed to remain competitive, even after he, in turn, went down with an injury. Tampa Bay stayed in the playoff hunt until the last week, ending up with an 11-7 record that meant a third place finish in the tough Central Division and just outside the postseason. 

April 16, 2014

MVP Profile: Craig Morton, 1977

Quarterback, Denver Broncos

Age:  34
13th season in pro football, 1st with Broncos
College: California
Height: 6’4”   Weight: 214

Chosen by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the 1965 NFL draft (he was chosen by the Raiders in the AFL), Morton saw limited action as backup to Don Meredith for four seasons before taking over as the starting quarterback in 1969. A classic dropback passer with a good arm and limited mobility, he threw for 2619 yards and 21 TDs while averaging a healthy 8.7 yards per attempt in ’69 and in 1970 the Cowboys won the NFC Championship as Morton led the league with 8.8 yards per attempt. However, he had a rough outing in the Super Bowl loss to the Colts and then lost the starting job to Roger Staubach during the ’71 season. He stepped in when Staubach went down with an injury in 1972 but went back to the bench until he was traded to the New York Giants during the ’74 season. While expectations were high, the Giants were mediocre and Morton took a beating, tossing far more interceptions (49) than touchdowns (29) over the course of 34 games, only 8 of which were wins. Following the 1976 season, he was traded to the up-and-coming Broncos.

1977 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 254 [16]
Most attempts, game – 32 vs. Oakland 10/30, at San Diego 11/13
Completions – 131 [17]
Most completions, game – 19 vs. Oakland 10/30
Yards – 1929 [13]
Most yards, game – 242 vs. Oakland 10/30
Completion percentage – 51.6 [16]
Yards per attempt – 7.6 [2]
TD passes – 14 [9]
Most TD passes, game – 2 at San Diego 11/13, vs. Baltimore 11/27, at Houston 12/4
Interceptions – 8
Most interceptions, game – 2 at Kansas City 11/20
Passer rating – 82.0 [4]
200-yard passing games – 1

Attempts – 31
Most attempts, game – 6 (for 15 yds.) vs. St. Louis 9/18
Yards – 125
Most yards, game – 35 yards (on 5 carries) at Seattle 10/2
Yards per attempt – 4.0
TDs – 4

TDs – 4
Points - 24

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 58
Most attempts, game - 23 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Divisional playoff
Pass completions – 25
Most completions, game - 11 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Divisional playoff
Passing yardage – 427
Most yards, game - 224 vs. Oakland, AFC Championship
TD passes – 4
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Divisional playoff; vs. Oakland, AFC Championship
Interceptions – 5
Most interceptions, game – 4 vs. Dallas, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 7
Most rushing attempts, game – 5 (for 0 yds.) vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – -4
Most rushing yards, game – 0 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – -0.6
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFC Player of the Year: Sporting News
NFL Comeback Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-AFC: Sporting News

Broncos went 12-2 to finish first in the AFC West with the conference’s best record, achieving the first postseason appearance in franchise history. Won AFC Divisional playoff over Pittsburgh Steelers (34-21) and AFC Championship over Oakland Raiders (20-17). Lost Super Bowl to Dallas Cowboys (27-10).

The Broncos topped the AFC West again in 1978, but Morton had a lesser season and split time with backups Norris Weese and Craig Penrose. The team had trouble putting points on the board in ’79, with Morton again seeing most of the action behind center, and while his passing yards (2626) and touchdowns (16) went up, so did his interceptions (19). Matt Robinson was obtained from the Jets to challenge him in 1980, but Morton regained the starting job and, with the arrival of ex-Dallas teammate Dan Reeves as head coach in ’81, he enjoyed a revival as he achieved a career-high 3195 passing yards and tied his previous best with 21 TD passes while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. But it was a last hurrah as he finished out his career in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Overall, Morton passed for 27,908 yards and 183 TDs, with 187 interceptions, over the course of 18 years in the NFL. 11,895 of the yards and 74 TDs came with the Broncos, where he enjoyed his greatest success and became part of that team’s Ring of Fame in 1988.


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). 

April 14, 2014

1984: Late Williams TD Pass Gives Outlaws Win Over Federals

The Oklahoma Outlaws were coming off of two straight closely-fought wins as they took on the Washington Federals in a United States Football League game on April 14, 1984. One of six expansion franchises for the USFL’s second season, the Outlaws were 5-2 and a game behind the defending-champion Michigan Panthers in the Central Division. Coached by Woody Widenhofer, the offense was directed by QB Doug Williams (pictured at right), formerly of the NFL Buccaneers, and had capable receivers in WR Alphonso Williams and TE Ron Wheeler, but the running game was lacking.

Washington, just as had been in the case in 1983, was a poor team and poorly supported. The Federals were a miserable 0-7 and had undergone a coaching change from Ray Jauch to Dick Bielski after a first-week blowout. There was talent in WR Joey Walters and RB Curtis Bledsoe, and second-year QB Mike Hohensee showed potential, but overall the team had little going for it.

There were just 6075 fans in attendance at RFK Stadium. The Federals scored on their first possession, with Jeff Brockhaus kicking a 40-yard field goal that was set up by Mike Hohensee throwing to WR Greg Taylor for 12 yards on a third-and-17 play that moved the home team into range. It was the first successful field goal of the year for the Federals, with the newly-acquired Brockhaus the team’s third placekicker.

Brockhaus got another field goal before the opening period was over, this time from 25 yards that was set up by a Hohensee pass to WR Mike Fisher that picked up 54 yards to the Oklahoma 11. At just under five minutes into the second quarter, the Outlaws finally got on the board when Efren Herrera booted a 24-yard field goal and the score of 6-3 held up until halftime.

Washington put together another scoring drive in the third quarter as Hohensee completed passes to Joey Walters and RB Eric Robinson, and Curtis Bledsoe had an 18-yard carry. The series culminated in a third straight Brockhaus field goal, from 43 yards.

The Outlaws took advantage of a turnover midway through the period when Hohensee fumbled after being blindsided by blitzing DB Kelvin Middleton. The ensuing possession resulted in another Herrera field goal of 28 yards that cut Washington’s lead to 9-6.

Hohensee left the game due to a head injury and Reggie Collier came in at quarterback. The Federals extended their lead to 16-6 near the end of the third quarter when Collier ran for a two-yard touchdown and Brockhaus added the extra point.

The Outlaws came back with the help of an interception by Middleton, who returned it seven yards to give Oklahoma possession at the Washington 43. Two plays later, Doug Williams threw long to Alphonso Williams for a 43-yard touchdown. Herrera kicked the extra point to make it a three-point game.

Oklahoma had a chance to tie the score with seven minutes remaining on the clock, but a bad snap doomed a 38-yard field goal try by Herrera.

Getting the ball back with four minutes to go, the Outlaws drove 93 yards in 10 plays. Doug Williams completed six of nine passes for 71 yards along the way and, with 57 seconds to play, he connected with Ron Wheeler, who was open in the corner of the end zone, for an eight-yard touchdown. It was Oklahoma’s first lead of the game, and proved decisive as the Outlaws won by a final score of 20-16.

Oklahoma led in total yards (393 to 336) and first downs (19 to 18) while the Federals had the edge in time of possession (32:56 to 27:04) in the closely-fought contest. As usual, and especially since they were playing from behind for most of the game, the Outlaws gained far more yards through the air (333) than on the ground (60). Meanwhile, the Federals turned the ball over three times, to two by the Outlaws, and also hurt themselves with nine penalties, to six flags thrown on the visitors.

Doug Williams completed 24 of 45 passes for 333 yards and the two big fourth quarter touchdowns, as opposed to one interception. Ron Wheeler had 6 catches for 87 yards and the game-winning TD while Alphonso Williams gained 105 yards on his five receptions that also included a score. RB Sidney Thornton also caught 6 passes, for 54 yards, to go along with his 7 rushing attempts for 14 yards. RB Ted Sample led the Outlaws with 33 rushing yards on five carries.

For the Federals, Mike Hohensee was successful on 7 of 19 throws for 134 yards with no TDs and one interception before giving way to Reggie Collier, who completed 12 of 23 for 117 yards and also tossed an interception. WR Ricky Simmons pulled in 6 pass receptions for 68 yards and Mike Fisher gained 89 yards on his four catches. RB Billy Taylor led the club with 44 rushing yards on 16 carries and Curtis Bledsoe was right behind with 42 yards on 10 attempts. Jeff Brockhaus (pictured at left) was successful on all three of his field goal attempts, the first of the year for Washington.

The win for the Outlaws put them in a first-place tie with Michigan at 6-2, but it proved to be the high water mark of their season. The bottom fell out as they lost their remaining games, with the defense collapsing and Doug Williams eventually going out with an injury. They ended up with a 6-12 record and placed fourth in the Central Division. Washington eventually did break into the win column, but only three times as the Federals finished up tied with Pittsburgh in the basement of the Atlantic Division at 3-15.

April 13, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Louis Lipps, 1984

Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 22
College: Southern Mississippi
Height: 5’10” Weight: 190

Lipps excelled as a pass receiver and punt returner in college, catching 91 passes for 1477 yards and averaging 10.6 yards on 78 punt returns. He was chosen by the Steelers in the first round (23rd overall) of the 1984 NFL draft. With his great speed and a solid work ethic, he proved to be a good fit on a young and overachieving team.

1984 Season Summary
Appeared in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 45      
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 118 yds.) vs. San Diego 11/25
Yards – 860
Most yards, game – 183 (on 6 catches) vs. Kansas City 9/2
Average gain – 19.1 [5]
TDs – 9 [7, tied with Paul Coffman & Mike Quick]
100-yard receiving games – 2

Attempts – 3
Yards – 71
Average gain – 23.7
TDs – 1

Punt Returns
Returns – 53 [3, tied with Greg Pruitt]
Yards – 656 [1]
Most yards, game – 128 (on 4 ret.) at New Orleans 11/19
Average per return – 12.4 [3]
TDs – 1
Longest return – 76 yards

All-Purpose yards – 1587 [10]

TDs – 11 [10, tied with four others]
Points – 66

Postseason: 2 G
Pass receptions – 8
Most pass receptions, game - 5 at Denver, AFC Divisional playoff
Pass receiving yards – 131
Most pass receiving yards, game – 86 at Denver, AFC Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 16.4
Pass Receiving TDs – 1

Rushing attempts – 1
Rushing yards – 0
Rushing TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns – 3
Yards – 73
Average per return – 24.3
TDs – 0

Punt Returns – 4
Yards – 16
Average per return – 4.0
TDs – 0

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

Steelers went 9-7 to finish first in the AFC Central while leading the NFL in punt return yards (696). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Denver Broncos (24-17). Lost AFC Championship to Miami Dolphins (45-28).

Lipps followed up with another Pro Bowl year in 1985, catching 59 passes for 1134 yards (19.2 avg.) and 12 touchdowns while averaging 12.1 yards on 36 punt returns that included two more TDs. Injuries hindered his performance the next two years, and he had just 49 receptions for 754 yards in a total of 17 games over that span. Lipps came back to catch an even 50 passes in each of the next three seasons, from 1988 to ’90, although his high for yards (973) came in ’88. While his speed began to diminish, making him more of a possession receiver than the deep threat he had been originally, he was still reliable and a good runner after the catch, regularly drawing double coverage. In 1991 he had 55 catches, but for just 671 yards (12.2 avg.). He departed for the New Orleans Saints, but appeared in only two games due to injury in what was his last year. Overall, Lipps caught 359 passes for 6019 yards (all but one catch and one yard coming with Pittsburgh) and returned 112 punts for an 11.0 average, scoring a total of 46 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).