July 31, 2015

Highlighted Year: Mel Blount, 1981

Cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers


Age: 33
12th season in pro football & with Steelers
College: Southern
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 205

Prelude:
A third-round draft choice in 1970, Blount was most notable on kickoff returns as a rookie but worked his way into the lineup by his third year. A master of the bump-and-run, he became a key member of the vaunted defense as Pittsburgh won its first Super Bowl following the ’74 season. Blount led the league with 11 interceptions in 1975, receiving NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press as well as consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl recognition. Blount followed up with three more Pro Bowl selections over the course of the next four seasons and received at least some first-team All-league honors in 1976 and ’77 and second-team in 1978 and ‘79.

1981 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 6 [14, tied with six others]
Most interceptions, game – 2 at New Orleans 10/4, vs. LA Rams 11/29
Int. return yards – 106
Most int. return yards, game – 58 (on 2 int.) at New Orleans 10/4
Int. TDs – 1 [5, tied with twenty others]
Fumble recoveries – 0

Scoring
TDs – 1
Points – 6

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Steelers went 8-8 to finish second in the AFC Central while leading the conference in interceptions (30).

Aftermath:
Having been chosen to a fifth (and last) Pro Bowl, Blount played two more seasons through 1983. Fast, physical, and durable, he lasted for 14 years, all with Pittsburgh, and missed only one game due to injury. Blount ended up intercepting a team-record 57 passes and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1989.

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Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 30, 2015

1971: Morrall Tosses 3 TD Passes as Colts Sink College All-Stars


The 38th annual College All-Star Game in Chicago on July 30, 1971 featured the Baltimore Colts, defending champions of the NFL, against an All-Star squad coached by Blanton Collier, who had retired from the Cleveland Browns following eight years as head coach.

The Colts, under Head Coach Don McCafferty, started 37-year-old Earl Morrall (pictured at right) at quarterback due to the unavailability of long-time star QB Johnny Unitas, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury during the offseason. The offense was typically more effective through the air than on the ground while the tough defense featured DE Bubba Smith, linebackers Ted Hendricks and Mike Curtis, and safeties Rick Volk and Jerry Logan.

The All-Stars included quarterbacks Jim Plunkett, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Stanford, and Dan Pastorini of Santa Clara, FB John Brockington from Ohio State, Northwestern HB Mike Adamle, and WR J.D. Hill of Arizona State. The defense had hard hitters in DB Jack Tatum from Ohio State and DE Jack Youngblood of Florida, plus DT Julius Adams from Texas Southern, Grambling DE Richard Harris, and linebackers Jack Ham of Penn State and Isiah Robertson from Southern.

There were 52,289 fans in attendance for the Friday night game at Soldier Field, which had undergone renovation that included a new artificial surface. The contest’s initial score was set up thanks to a poor punt by Dan Pastorini in the first quarter. It gave the Colts good starting field position at the All-Star 45 to start their second possession of the game, and they made the most of it. Earl Morrall threw to FB Norm Bulaich on a swing pass that picked up 17 yards and to WR Ray Perkins, who outmaneuvered Kansas State CB Clarence Scott for a 24-yard touchdown. Jim O’Brien kicked the extra point.

On their next series, a holding penalty backed the Colts into their own territory and they were forced to punt. It looked as though the All-Stars would get nothing out of the ensuing possession when John Brockington was stopped for no gain on a third-and-one play at the Baltimore 40, but the Colts refused an offside penalty on the collegians, preferring to bring up fourth down. The All-Stars converted when Brockington ran for three yards to keep the series alive. Jim Plunkett connected with Mike Adamle for a 22-yard gain to the 15 and the collegians got another break when Plunkett threw for J.D. Hill and interference was called on CB Jim Duncan to move the ball to the one yard line. From there, on the third play of the second quarter, Brockington ran around right end for a touchdown. Pastorini added the point after to make it a 7-7 game.

The Colts responded on their ensuing possession with Morrall throwing to HB Tom Matte for a 15-yard TD. O’Brien again successfully converted. With Pastorini at quarterback, the All-Stars advanced from their own 30 into Baltimore territory and Bob Jacobs of Wyoming kicked a 40-yard field goal with just over two minutes remaining in the half. The Colts moved well in the remaining time as Morrall completed six of seven passes for 102 yards, but they came up empty when O’Brien missed a 26-yard field goal try. The score remained 14-10 at the intermission.

Baltimore’s lead was extended in the quiet third quarter when O’Brien was successful on a field goal attempt, this time from 22 yards. Early in the fourth quarter, the Colts appeared to take command when Morrall threw to TE Tom Mitchell for a 44-yard TD and O’Brien’s extra point put the pro champs ahead by 14.

Sam Havrilak, normally a halfback but being tried at quarterback, relieved Morrall and on his second play, he botched a handoff to FB Tom Nowatzke and Jack Ham recovered for the All-Stars and ran 47 yards for a touchdown. It narrowed the margin to seven points, but proved to be the last gasp for the collegians, who were kept in check offensively as Baltimore held on to win by a final score of 24-17.

The Colts had far more total yards than the All-Stars (403 to 150) and also had the edge in first downs (18 to 11). The collegians turned the ball over twice, to one suffered by the NFL champs.

Earl Morrall, who played for a full three quarters, completed 20 of 30 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns while giving up no interceptions. Norm Bulaich led Baltimore’s runners with 46 yards on 9 attempts. Tom Matte, who carried the ball 10 times for 18 yards, caught 5 passes for 63 yards and a TD, having great success on swing passes out of the backfield. WR Eddie Hinton also had 5 pass receptions, for 75 yards, and Tom Mitchell gained 95 yards on his four catches.

Jim Plunkett was successful on 6 of 15 throws for 65 yards and an interception and Dan Pastorini went two of nine for 13 yards and gave up an interception, although Pastorini led the All-Stars in rushing with 40 yards on two carries (Plunkett #16 and Pastorini #7 pictured below). John Brockington gained 27 yards on 12 rushing attempts that included a touchdown. Houston WR Elmo Wright, Mike Adamle, and J.D. Hill each had two receptions, for 25, 24, and 23 yards, respectively.



“They put a lot of pressure on me,” said Earl Morrall regarding the All-Star defense. “They were coming from a lot of directions. I couldn’t quite get a bead on what to do about it.”

The win for the Colts gave the pro champs a winning streak of eight games and a 27-9-2 edge in the series. It was the last of three College All-Star Game appearances for the club that reached the postseason again in 1971 as a 10-4 Wild Card but lost the AFC Championship to Miami.

July 28, 2015

Highlighted Year: Bill Bradley, 1971

Safety, Philadelphia Eagles



Age: 24
3rd season in pro football & with Eagles
College: Texas
Height: 5’11” Weight: 190

Prelude:
“Super Bill” played quarterback, wide receiver, and safety in college, once intercepting four passes in a game against Texas A & M. He was chosen by the Eagles in the third round of the 1969 NFL draft and backed up at free safety, returning an interception 56 yards for a touchdown, while punting for a 39.8-yard average and returning kicks. Slated to move into the starting lineup in ’70, Bradley was sidetracked by a preseason knee injury and, when he returned after six weeks, he reinjured the knee and was only able to punt. He had surgery following the season and came into 1971 as the starting free safety.

1971 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 11 [1]
Most interceptions, game – 2 vs. Dallas 9/26, vs. Denver 10/31, at Washington 11/7, at St. Louis 11/21
Int. return yards – 248 [1]
Most int. return yards, game – 51 (on 1 int.) at Detroit 12/5
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 2

Punt Returns
Returns – 18 [17, tied with Charlie West]
Yards – 118 [19, tied with Rick Volk]
Most yards, game – 45 (on 2 ret.) vs. NY Giants 10/24
Average per return – 6.6 [16]
TDs – 0
Longest return – 33 yards

Punting
Punts – 2
Yards – 76
Average – 38.0
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 45 yards

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

Eagles went 6-7-1 to finish third in the NFC East.

Aftermath:
Bradley held out along with LB Tim Rossovich during the 1972 preseason but went on to intercept 9 passes and become the first player to lead the NFL in interceptions in consecutive seasons. He was again a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and was chosen to the Pro Bowl. A ball hawk with great instincts and an aggressive defender, “Super Bill” had one more Pro Bowl year in ’73 when he added another four interceptions and was a second-team All-NFC selection by UPI in 1974. Injuries became a factor in ’75 and Bradley missed parts of the last four games, although he picked off another five passes. After one more year with the Eagles, he was traded to Minnesota in 1976, failed to make it to the regular season, and finished up with the St. Louis Cardinals in ’77. Overall, Bradley intercepted 34 passes, all with the Eagles, making him the franchise’s career leader (later tied by Eric Allen and Brian Dawkins). He also punted 213 times for a 39.0 average, returned 122 punts for a 7.8-yard average and 27 kickoffs for a 20.9 average. Bradley was twice a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and was chosen to three Pro Bowls.

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Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 27, 2015

1973: Csonka’s 2 TDs Propel Dolphins to Win Over College All-Stars


The 40th annual College All-Star Game on July 27, 1973 featured the Miami Dolphins, undefeated NFL Champions of the 1972 season, against a group of All-Stars coached by John McKay of USC.

The Dolphins, under Head Coach Don Shula, featured a ball control offense led by power-running FB Larry Csonka (pictured at right), and QB Bob Griese was capable of throwing passes to good effect when necessary. The “No Name” defense was often overlooked but allowed few points. However, injuries were a problem coming into the All-Star Game. MLB Nick Buoniconti had just undergone surgery on his wrist a week earlier, but was forced to play the whole game because of injuries to linebackers Bob Matheson, Mike Kolen, and Doug Swift.

The All-Stars contained future NFL standouts in QB Bert Jones from LSU; running backs Chuck Foreman of Miami, Terry Metcalf from Long Beach State, and Oklahoma’s Greg Pruitt; TE Charle Young of USC, and Alabama G John Hannah on offense. The defense included ends Wally Chambers of Eastern Kentucky and John Matuszak from Tampa, Miami CB Burgess Owens, and LB Jim Youngblood of Tennessee Tech. Coach McKay took a relaxed approach to preparing for the game with one practice per day, instead of the usual two, and had few rules. The collegians alternated front lines and used many players on both platoons.

There were 54,103 fans in attendance at Chicago’s Soldier Field on a Friday night. Miami took the opening kickoff and drove 60 yards in ten plays. Bob Griese threw just one pass along the way and Larry Csonka ran around right end for a three-yard touchdown to finish the series off. Garo Yepremian added the extra point.

The All-Stars had opportunities to score but failed to capitalize. They had a first down at the Miami 13 but Greg Pruitt fumbled and DT Manny Fernandez recovered for the Dolphins to snuff out the threat. In the second quarter, LB John Skorupan of Penn State intercepted a Griese pass and returned it 30 yards to the Miami 30. However, a 16-yard sack of Bert Jones moved the collegians out of scoring range and Ray Guy from Southern Mississippi was forced to punt.

Near the end of the first half, the All-Stars, starting from their 38 with Jones behind center, reached the Miami one yard line, but the Dolphins kept them out of the end zone and they settled for a 10-yard field goal by Guy. A key play occurred when injured FB Sam Cunningham of USC was sent in to attempt a leap into the end zone, but a five-yard penalty nullified the effort. The Dolphins maintained a 7-3 lead at the end of the half.

A heavy rain doused the stadium at halftime and the artificial surface was slick in the second half. The All-Stars had another break in the third quarter when Florida State DB James Thomas recovered a fumbled snap at the Miami eight. But the collegians again couldn’t punch the ball in and Guy’s 16-yard field goal try was missed.



On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jones fired a pass that traveled 60 yards and was intended for WR Barry Smith of Florida State, who had a step on his defender as he sprinted down the left sideline, but the ball went through his hands at the Miami 20. On the next Baltimore series, 39-year-old backup QB Earl Morrall (pictured at left) came into the game and directed a 55-yard scoring drive in seven plays. Morrall connected with TE Jim Mandich for two key completions and Csonka again finished off the possession with a seven-yard TD carry. Yepremian added the point after and, for all intents, the win was clinched for the Dolphins. Despite Miami’s sluggishness, the All-Stars failed to threaten again and the final score was 14-3.

“It wasn’t an emotional game for me or some of the other guys,” said Miami DT Manny Fernandez. “Actually, it was like a scrimmage.”

The Dolphins outgained the All-Stars (251 yards to 133) and had more first downs (16 to 9). Of the total for the All-Stars, only 13 yards and one first down came in the second half. Miami turned the ball over twice, to one suffered by the collegians.

Larry Csonka was the offensive star for the Dolphins, rushing for 76 yards on 17 carries and scoring both touchdowns. Bob Griese completed 6 of 9 passes for 75 yards and had one intercepted while Earl Morrall was three of four for 38 yards. HB Jim Kiick had four catches for 24 yards and Jim Mandich led the club with 35 yards on two receptions.

Bert Jones played most of the game at quarterback for the All-Stars and completed 9 of 17 throws for 79 yards. Purdue HB Otis Armstrong led the runners with 39 yards on 11 attempts. Ray Guy punted nine times for a 44.1-yard average and helped keep the Dolphins from getting good starting field position, in addition to scoring the only points for the collegians.

Miami’s win marked the tenth straight for the pro teams and put them ahead in the series by 29 to 9. The Dolphins repeated as NFL Champions in 1973, but failed to return to the College All-Star Game when it was cancelled due to a players’ strike during the ’74 preseason.

While Ray Guy both placekicked and punted for the All-Stars, he had been chosen by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the NFL draft strictly for his ability as a punter. He would go on to a 14-year career, all with Oakland, and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons (seven overall). In 2014, Guy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

July 24, 2015

Highlighted Year: Fred Biletnikoff, 1969

Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders



Age: 26
5th season in pro football & with Raiders
College: Florida State
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 190

Prelude:
Biletnikoff caught 57 passes for 987 yards and 11 touchdowns as a college senior and added another 13 receptions for 192 yards and four TDs in the Gator Bowl. He was chosen in the second round of the 1965 AFL draft by the Raiders (and in the third round of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions) and moved into the starting lineup at midseason. A quiet second season was followed by a breakout year in 1967 in which Biletnikoff had 40 catches for 876 yards (21.9 avg.) and was named to the AFL All-Star Game. He followed up with 61 receptions for a career-high 1037 yards (17.0 avg.) and six TDs in ’68.

1969 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 54 [2] 
Most receptions, game – 9 (for 132 yds.) vs. Miami 9/20, (for 119 yds.) at Miami 10/4
Yards – 837 [5]
Most yards, game – 132 (on 9 catches) vs. Miami 9/20
Average gain – 15.5 [15]
TDs – 12 [2]
100-yard receiving games – 3

Scoring
TDs – 12 [2]
Points – 72 [10]

Postseason: 2 G
Pass receptions – 3
Most pass receptions, game – 3 vs. Houston, AFL Divisional playoff
Pass receiving yards – 70
Most pass receiving yards, game – 70 vs. Houston, AFL Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 23.3
Pass Receiving TDs – 2

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-AFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, NY Daily News, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
2nd team All-AFL: Hall of Fame, UPI
AFL All-Star Game

Raiders went 12-1-1 to finish first in the AFL Western Division while leading the league in total yards (5036), passing yards (3271), touchdowns (45), and scoring (377 points). Won AFL Divisional playoff over Houston Oilers (56-7). Lost AFL Championship to Kansas City Chiefs (17-7).

Aftermath:
Biletnikoff spent another nine seasons with the Raiders. Lacking great speed and with a slight build, he had excellent hands (often covered with “stickum”) and a knack for getting open, and he was highly consistent, catching 40 or more passes 10 times. Biletnikoff led the NFL with 61 pass receptions in 1971 and was named to two AFL All-Star Games, four Pro Bowls, received at least some All-AFL or All-NFL honors after five seasons, and was the MVP of Super Bowl XI following the 1976 season. Overall with the Raiders, he caught 589 passes, the fourth most in league history at the time, for 8974 yards (15.2 avg.) and 76 touchdowns. He held NFL postseason records at the time of his retirement with 70 receptions for 1167 yards (16.7 avg.) and 10 TDs. Biletnikoff spent one final season (1979) in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes and capped his pro career with 38 catches for 470 yards and four TDs. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1988.

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Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 21, 2015

1971: Eagles Acquire Ronnie Bull from Bears


On July 21, 1971 the Chicago Bears parted company with a player who had spent nine years with them, trading RB Ronnie Bull to the Philadelphia Eagles for an undisclosed draft choice that turned out to be a #5 pick in 1973 (it was used for DB Allan Ellis from UCLA).

Bull demonstrated all-purpose skills at Baylor and was the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 1962 NFL draft (third overall by the Dallas Texans of the AFL). He started his rookie season as a reserve defensive back until HB Willie Galimore suffered a knee injury. Bull rushed for 363 yards, caught 31 passes for another 331 yards, returned nine kickoffs for a 26.1-yard average, and received NFL Rookie of the Year honors from UPI and The Sporting News.

Bull split time with Galimore at halfback again in 1963, particularly early in the season when injuries were again a factor, and rushed for 404 yards on 117 carries as the Bears won the NFL Championship. Galimore was tragically killed in an auto accident during training camp in ’64 and veteran HB Jon Arnett was obtained from the Rams, again cutting into the playing time of Bull, who was hindered by a preseason injury. Bull lacked ideal speed for the halfback position and, while a good blocker, was small at 6’0” and 200 pounds to play fullback. The arrival of sensational rookie HB Gale Sayers in 1965 relegated Bull to fullback, and he ran for 417 yards while averaging a career-high 4.6 yards per carry.

The next two years were not so productive but, in 1968, Bull achieved a career high with 472 rushing yards on 107 attempts (4.4 avg.). Sayers suffered a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game and Bull and HB Brian Piccolo picked up the slack, to good effect. But Bull suffered a knee injury in 1969 that limited him to six games and required surgery. He rushed for just 214 yards on 68 carries in ’70 at age 30, and with running backs drafted in the first two rounds for 1971, the stage was set for his departure from Chicago.

As for the Eagles, coming off of four straight losing records, they had gotten fair production out of HB Cyril Pinder in 1970 and, while rookie FB Lee Bouggess averaged only 2.5 yards per carry, he caught 50 passes for 401 yards. But star FB Tom Woodeshick had gone down with a season-ending knee injury in the sixth week and there was little in the way of depth, and as a group the backs drew the ire of Head Coach Jerry Williams for not running well when getting into the open field – although they were not helped by the deficiencies of the offensive line.

But Pinder, who had indicated his intention to play out his option and was out of favor with Philadelphia’s front office, was traded to the Bears for two draft picks just prior to the regular season. The Eagles started the season with Bouggess and Woodeshick, but Bouggess proved to be no more adept as a runner from scrimmage than he had been as a rookie and missed six games due to injury while Woodeshick was only a shell of the Pro Bowl-caliber ball carrier that he had once been. The team as a whole got off to a woeful start and Coach Williams was fired after the third week and replaced by Ed Khayat.

Bull carried the ball just 11 times in the first five games before gaining 72 yards on 17 attempts against the Giants in a 23-7 Week 6 win, the club’s first of the year. He scored his only touchdown of the year two weeks later on a 12-yard pass reception at Washington, a game that ended in a 7-7 tie. Bull was most active in the last five games of the season, running 14 times for a season-high 73 yards in the rematch against the Redskins and totaling 52 carries for 223 yards (4.3 avg.) in all during those contests. The team won four of those games on the way to a 6-7-1 record. Bull finished with 351 rushing yards, a modest enough total but enough to lead the club.

It was a fitting end to a long, workmanlike career. Bull retired following the season, finishing with ten NFL seasons that resulted in 3222 yards on 881 carries (3.7 avg.), 172 catches for 1479 yards (8.6 avg.), seven completions out of 20 option pass attempts for 158 yards and a TD, and 18 kickoff returns for a 21.3-yard average. He scored a total of 14 touchdowns.  

July 19, 2015

Highlighted Year: Emerson Boozer, 1967

Halfback, New York Jets


Age: 24
2nd season in pro football & with Jets
College: Maryland State College (now Maryland Eastern Shore)
Height: 5’11” Weight: 207

Prelude:
Boozer rushed for 2537 yards and 22 touchdowns in college, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. He was chosen by the Jets in the sixth round of the 1966 AFL draft (the Pittsburgh Steelers took him in the seventh round of the NFL draft) and, brought along slowly by Head Coach Weeb Ewbank and nagged early on by a foot injury, rushed for 455 yards on 97 carries (4.7 avg.). With his speed and outstanding balance, he proved to be a much-needed outside runner to complement FB Matt Snell and was chosen to the AFL All-Star Game. He got off to a sensational start in 1967 before being felled by a knee injury in the season’s eighth game.

1967 Season Summary
Appeared in 8 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 119 [9]
Most attempts, game – 18 (for 44 yds.) at Denver 9/24, (for 98 yds.) vs. Oakland 10/7, (for 65 yds.) vs. Houston 10/15
Yards – 442 [11]
Most yards, game – 98 yards (on 18 carries) vs. Oakland 10/7
Average gain – 3.7 [12]
TDs – 10 [1]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 12
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 109 yds.) vs. Miami 10/1
Yards – 205
Most yards, game – 109 (on 5 catches) vs. Miami 10/1
Average gain – 17.1
TDs – 3 [18, tied with seven others]
100-yard receiving games – 1

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 11 [17, tied with Bobby Leo]
Yards – 213 [19]
Most yards, game – 74 (on 4 ret.) vs. Houston 10/15
Average per return – 19.4
TDs – 0
Longest return – 28 yards

Scoring
TDs – 13 [1]
Points – 78 [6]

Awards & Honors:
2nd team All-AFL: Sporting News

Jets went 8-5-1 to finish second in the AFL Eastern Division while leading the league in total yards (5152) and passing yards (3845).

Aftermath:
Injuries would remain a chronic problem for Boozer. In 1968, after a slow start he came back to rush for 441 yards and gain AFL All-Star Game honors as the Jets won the AFL Championship. He played a total of ten seasons, all with the Jets, performing well when healthy and co-leading the NFL in touchdowns with 14 in 1972. Boozer, who became a capable blocker, had a high of 831 rushing yards in ’73 despite diminished speed. Overall, he rushed for a then-franchise record 5135 yards on 1291 carries (4.0 avg.) and caught 139 passes for 1488 yards (10.7 avg.), scoring a total of 65 TDs. Boozer was inducted into the Maryland Eastern Shore Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.

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Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 17, 2015

1963: Giants Obtain Hugh McElhenny from Vikings


In his prime, HB Hugh McElhenny was arguably the most electrifying open field runner in the NFL. He was fast, elusive, and with outstanding cutting ability that made his breakaway runs, in which he often crisscrossed the field, highlight favorites. But by the time he was acquired by the New York Giants on July 17, 1963 he had played for 11 seasons and the cartilage had worn out in his left knee.

Obtaining the 34-year-old McElhenny from the Minnesota Vikings for two future draft picks (fourth round in 1964, second round in ’65) was thus considered a gamble, but one the Giants were willing to take to add depth to their corps of running backs. While the passing game directed by QB Y.A. Tittle had been outstanding as the club topped the Eastern Conference in 1961 and ’62, the running attack was less formidable. The starting halfback was Phil King, a workmanlike fifth-year pro with a history of injury problems. FB Alex Webster was 32 and, while a proven power runner, was on the downside of his career. Backing up was the versatile but unexciting Joe Morrison, and no younger prospects had shown staying power. Head Coach Allie Sherman was especially interested in finding someone with outside speed, and there was hope that McElhenny still had something left in that regard.

The 6’1”, 195-pound halfback was reunited with his ex-49er teammate Tittle with the Giants. “The King” was a first-round draft choice out of the University of Washington when he joined San Francisco in 1952, and made an immediate impression when he averaged seven yards a carry and scored a total of ten touchdowns as a rookie. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in each of his first two seasons. An excellent complement to FB Joe Perry, McElhenny was at his best on draw plays and screen passes. Over the course of nine years with the 49ers, was chosen to five Pro Bowls as he rushed for 4288 yards on 877 carries, for a 4.9-yard average with 35 TDs, caught 195 passes for 2666 yards (13.7 avg.) and 15 scores, averaged 6.5 yards on 99 punt returns that included another touchdown and 23.0 yards on 65 kickoff returns. Overall, that was a total of 9100 all-purpose yards and 51 TDs.

With the 49ers on a youth movement, McElhenny joined the expansion Vikings in 1961. There he gained 570 yards on the ground, tied his career high with 37 pass receptions, and returned a punt for a touchdown. He was named to one last Pro Bowl, but advancing age and bad knees took their toll the following year.

As a backup for the Giants, McElhenny was often unable to practice due to his knee problems, but he proved useful off the bench. In the opening-week win over the Colts, McElhenny caught a touchdown pass and he had his biggest performance in a midseason showdown with the Browns at Cleveland. He ran the ball 13 times for 53 yards, both season highs, caught one pass for a six-yard TD, and returned a kickoff 51 yards as the Giants won decisively. Meanwhile, Webster managed to play in just half of the games, with Morrison forced to thus fill in at fullback.

Overall, McElhenny rushed for 175 yards on 55 carries (3.2 avg.), had 11 pass receptions for 91 yards and two TDs, and had an additional 210 yards returning kicks. The Giants won the Eastern Conference for a third straight year before bowing to the Bears in the NFL Championship game. McElhenny provided one highlight in that contest by returning a kickoff 47 yards, in addition to gaining 19 yards on seven rushing attempts and catching two passes for 20 yards.

“The King” returned in 1964 but failed to make the team, and caught on with the Detroit Lions in what was his final year.  He retired after having gained 11,369 all-purpose yards, one of only three players up to that time to have crossed the 11,000-yard threshold. McElhenny was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.

As for the draft choices the Vikings obtained for McElhenny, the fourth round pick in 1964 was used to take tackle Tom Keating from Michigan, who joined Buffalo of the AFL instead and had his best years as a DT with the Oakland Raiders. The 1965 second-round selection brought Illinois OT Archie Sutton, who lasted for three seasons as a backup with the Vikings and appeared in a total of 19 games.

July 16, 2015

Highlighted Year: Erich Barnes, 1961

Cornerback, New York Giants


Age: 26
4th season in pro football, 1st with Giants
College: Purdue
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 198

Prelude:
The versatile Barnes played halfback and end on offense in college as well as cornerback on defense. He was chosen by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round of the 1958 NFL draft and intercepted four passes as a rookie, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Fast and intelligent, Barnes had another five interceptions in ’59 and was named to the Pro Bowl. In a three-team trade following the 1960 season, the Bears traded him to the Rams to obtain QB Bill Wade and LA in turn sent him to the Giants for CB Lindon Crow, who Barnes replaced in the starting lineup.

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

Interceptions – 7 [5, tied with four others]
Most interceptions, game – 2 at Pittsburgh 9/24, at Dallas 10/15
Int. return yards – 195 [1]
Most int. return yards, game – 102 (on 2 int.) at Dallas 10/15
Int. TDs – 2 [1, tied with Jerry Norton, Dale Hackbart & Bill Stacy]
Fumble recoveries – 1

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 2        
Yards – 74
Average gain – 37.0
TDs – 1

Scoring
TDs – 3
Points – 18

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship at Green Bay)
Interceptions – 0
TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI, Sporting News, NY Daily News
Pro Bowl

Giants went 10-3-1 to finish first in the NFL Eastern Conference while leading the league in interceptions (33), turnovers (54), and fewest points allowed (220). Lost NFL Championship to Green Bay Packers (37-0).

Aftermath:
Barnes went to the Pro Bowl following each of the next three seasons and he received second-team All-NFL honors after intercepting six passes in 1962. He made up half of an outstanding cornerback tandem with Dick Lynch, but with the Giants dropping to the bottom of the standings in ’64 and looking to rebuild, Barnes was traded to Cleveland in 1965 at age 30. He spent seven seasons with the Browns and was chosen to one last Pro Bowl in 1968. Overall, over the course of 14 years, Barnes intercepted 45 passes, seven of which he returned for touchdowns. Of those totals, 18 interceptions and three TDs came with the Giants. He received at least some first-team All-NFL recognition five times and was named to six Pro Bowls, achieving that honor with all three teams for which he played.  

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Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 13, 2015

1940: Third "Major" AFL Holds Organizational Meeting


Two competitor leagues to the NFL called the American Football League had already come and gone when a third circuit of that name held an organizational meeting on July 13, 1940.

The third AFL had actually taken the field in 1938 as the renamed Midwest Football League and by 1939 had eight teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Bulldogs franchises that had existed in the second American Football League. But this new AFL had been considered a minor league centered in the Midwest, along with the Bulldogs (who moved on to the Pacific Coast Football League). On the eve of the meeting to plan the 1940 season, representatives of Boston, Buffalo, and New York City announced the formation of a new AFL that included the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Milwaukee clubs from the ’39 entity. St. Louis and Kenosha were denied entry, although the Kenosha Cardinals were allowed to play a slate of exhibition games and existed as an independent club afterward.

The next month William D. Griffith, former publicity director at Ohio State, was named league president and a schedule was released. During a time period when there were other minor league circuits of good quality, the Pacific Coast Football League and the American Football Association, the 1940 AFL at least presented itself as a major league in competition with the NFL.

Two holdover clubs from the previous season proved to be the strongest in the reconstituted AFL. The Milwaukee Chiefs got off to a 3-0 start and battled with the Columbus Bullies for the top spot. The Chiefs had an outstanding runner in FB Al Novakofski and league All-Stars in end Sherman Barnes and tackle Bob Eckl, who also led the circuit with five field goals.

Columbus had the league’s scoring leader in HB Nelson Peterson. The Bullies also had All-Stars in guard Jim Karcher and center Joe Aleskus. They managed to stay even with the Chiefs after dropping their opening game and, when Milwaukee lost two straight, moved into first place and never relinquished it. Columbus won the AFL title with an 8-1-1 record and the Chiefs placed second at 7-2.

The Boston Bears were the only other club to put together a winning record, at 5-4-1, and had the AFL’s All-Star quarterback in Andy Karpus. The New York Yankees, Buffalo Indians, and Cincinnati Bengals rounded out the standings at 4-5, 2-8, and 1-7 respectively. The Yankees had the league’s second-ranked scorer in HB Bill Hutchinson and end Harlan Gustafson tied with Novakofski for the most touchdowns with six. The Indians managed to score only 45 points and Cincinnati was barely better with 53.


All in all it had been an encouraging season for the AFL, even if it was not very successful at prying talent away from the NFL and was not qualitatively much better than the avowedly minor league circuit of 1939. Looking to 1941, the league announced that it would hold a special draft aimed at corralling the 50 top college stars, with the inducement of giving the prospects the opportunity to play with the team of their choice. The gambit failed, as did talk of expanding. Thus, the league was actually down to five teams for the ’41 season with Boston dropping out just prior to the opening game.

New York provided notoriety when, under new ownership, it went after Texas A & M All-American fullback John Kimbrough (pictured at top). The club eventually signed him, but there were further problems when the league forced a change in the team ownership. Now called the Americans, New York was able to finally get Kimbrough on the field in mid-October, along with Michigan’s Heisman Trophy-winning HB Tom Harmon. It was a publicity bonanza and 25,000 fans attended their debut performance against Columbus at Yankee Stadium. Harmon went into the service following his single appearance, although Kimbrough played well the rest of the way and achieved All-League honors. The Americans topped the AFL in attendance but not in the standings as they finished at 5-2-1 and second to the Bullies, who repeated as league champs with a 5-1-2 tally, benefiting from the outstanding play of QB Bob Davis. Milwaukee went 4-3-1 while Buffalo and Cincinnati again claimed the bottom two slots at 2-6 and 1-5-2.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor bringing the country into World War II, the league ultimately decided to suspend operations for the duration of the conflict and never returned.  It quickly faded into history, and there has long been debate as to whether this version of the AFL was truly the major league that it claimed to be. The All-America Football Conference that came into being in 1946 was a far more significant rival to the NFL and it would remain until the 1960s for a circuit called the American Football League to have staying power.

July 11, 2015

Highlighted Year: Tom Blanchard, 1974

Punter, New Orleans Saints


Age: 26
4th season in pro football, 1st with Saints
College: Oregon
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 190

Prelude:
A quarterback in college, Blanchard had problems with an injured knee as a senior and split time with sophomore Dan Fouts, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career as a pro. He was chosen by the New York Giants in the 12th round of the 1971 NFL draft and caught on as the punter. In three years with the Giants, Jennings punted 169 times for a 41.6-yard average, with a high of 42.7 in 1972. He was beaten out by Dave Jennings in the 1974 preseason, but when the Saints cut P Donnie Gibbs following the first game, Blanchard took his place.

1974 Season Summary
Appeared in 13 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Punting
Punts – 88 [4]
Most punts, game – 10 at Atlanta 10/20
Yards – 3704 [2]
Average – 42.1 [2, 1st in NFC]
Best average, game – 47.5 (on 6 punts) vs. LA Rams 11/17
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 71 yards

Saints went 5-9 to finish third in the NFC West.

Aftermath:
Blanchard spent another four seasons with the Saints and averaged 41.3 yards on 447 punts. He again led the NFC with a 42.4-yard average in 1977 and proved adept at dropping punts inside the 20. The arrival of kicker Russell Erxleben, a first-round draft choice in 1979, caused the Saints to trade Blanchard to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he remained for the last three years of his career. An injury finished his ’81 season in the third week and he was released afterward. Overall, he averaged 41.3 yards on 819 punts for his career. Blanchard returned to his hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon and coached high school football for 18 years, as well as softball.

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Highlighted Years features players who were first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 9, 2015

Highlighted Year: Gino Cappelletti, 1961

Split End/Placekicker, Boston Patriots


Age: 27
2nd season in pro football & with Patriots
College: Minnesota
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 190

Prelude:
A quarterback in college, Cappelletti was undrafted by the NFL and played semi-pro football in Canada before failing in a preseason tryout with the Detroit Lions. After sitting out all of 1959, he made the Patriots of the new AFL as a defensive back and placekicker. He intercepted four passes but was successful on just 8 of 21 field goal attempts. Cappelletti was shifted to split end on offense for 1961.

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

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 45 [10]          
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 131 yds.) vs. Houston 10/13
Yards – 768 [9]
Most yards, game – 131 (on 6 catches) vs. Houston 10/13
Average gain – 17.1 [8]
TDs – 8 [5, tied with Don Maynard]
100-yard receiving games – 1

Passing
Attempts – 1
Completions – 1
Yards – 27
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 0

Kicking
Field goals – 17 [1]
Most field goals, game – 3 at Buffalo 9/23, at NY Titans 10/1
Field goal attempts – 32 [1]
Most field goal attempts, game – 5 at NY Titans 10/1
Field goal percentage – 53.1 [2]
PATs – 48 [2]
PAT attempts – 50 [2]
Longest field goal – 46 yards at Buffalo 9/23

Scoring
TDs – 8 [8, tied with five others]
Field Goals – 17
PATs – 48
Points – 147 [1]

Awards & Honors:
2nd team All-AFL: League, UPI, NY Daily News
AFL All-Star Game

Patriots went 9-4-1 to finish second in the AFL Eastern Division while ranking second in the league in touchdowns (52, tied with San Diego) and scoring (411 points).

Aftermath:
Cappelletti scored 128 points in 1962 and again led the league with 113 in ’63 (and also again in field goals with 22). He was named an AFL All-Star for the second time. Slow but sure-handed, he caught a career-high 49 passes for 865 yards and 7 TDs in 1964 while again topping the circuit with 25 field goals and in scoring with 155 points. He received AFL Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press and UPI. Cappelletti led the AFL in scoring over the next two seasons as well (132 points in 1965, 119 in ’66), for a total of five times in all, and had the league’s best field goal percentage in ‘65 (63.0). He was named to the league All-Star game after the ’65 and ’66 seasons. Cappelletti played a total of 11 seasons, all with the Patriots, and scored a total of 1130 points (his 1100 points in the AFL were the most in league history), with a total of 42 TDs, 176 field goals, and 342 extra points. One of 20 players who were in the AFL for all ten seasons, he also finished with 292 pass receptions for 4589 yards.

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Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

July 7, 2015

1967: Packers Obtain Ben Wilson from Rams


On July 7, 1967, with 31-year-old FB Jim Taylor, who had been an integral member of four NFL Championship squads in Green Bay, having played out his option and a deal worked out to allow him to join the expansion New Orleans Saints, the Packers traded a future draft choice to the Los Angeles Rams for FB Ben Wilson.

The 28-year-old Wilson was formerly a star at USC and had been chosen as a future pick by the Rams in the fifth round of the 1962 NFL draft. Known as “Big Ben”, he weighed 247 pounds as a rookie in ’63, although he had slimmed down to 217, which he found to be a more ideal playing weight (he reported to the Packers at 225). He fit LA’s need for a big fullback behind the effective but smallish (5’10”, 200) Dick Bass, but after running for 394 yards in his first year, Wilson stunned the club by announcing that he would go to dental school instead of returning in ‘64. He reconsidered, however, and with Bass suffering a knee injury Wilson led the team with 553 yards on 159 carries (3.5 avg.). He dropped to 189 yards with a 3.2-yard average gain in 1965 and was relegated to LA’s taxi squad in ‘66 after being beaten out by Les Josephson and Henry Dyer as the backups to Bass.

The Packers were coming off of back-to-back NFL titles but were in transition at the running back positions. The heir apparent to Taylor was second-year FB Jim Grabowski. HB Donny Anderson was slated to replace Paul Hornung, who had been taken by New Orleans in the expansion draft (he retired during training camp). Veteran backup Elijah Pitts was still around at halfback and a newcomer was fleet rookie HB Travis Williams, who would prove to be especially valuable as a kick returner.

Wilson saw little action in the first two games of the season with Grabowski starting at fullback, but led the team in rushing with 82 yards on 13 carries in a Week 3 win against the Falcons. That was his most extensive playing time until a Week 8 loss to the Colts when Grabowski suffered a knee injury (Pitts was also lost for the remainder of the year with an Achilles tendon injury). Wilson rushed for 100 yards on 16 attempts the following week in a 55-7 shellacking of the Browns (better remembered for Travis Williams returning two kickoffs for TDs and Donny Anderson scoring four times). He gained 80 yards in a win over the 49ers and led the team in ground gaining in each of the next two games, although with lesser numbers.

In the regular season finale, Wilson had injury problems and Chuck Mercein, who had been claimed off waivers from the Giants, saw more action. It was Mercein starting in the Western Conference Championship game against the Rams and the frigid NFL Championship win over Dallas. But Head Coach Vince Lombardi chose to go with Wilson instead of Mercein in the Super Bowl matchup with Oakland and he responded with 62 yards in 17 carries as Green Bay won by a 33-14 score. It turned out to be Wilson’s last game with the Packers, but it was a good one as he capped off his career as part of a makeshift committee of running backs that contributed to a third consecutive NFL title and second straight Super Bowl victory.  

For the season, Wilson rushed for 453 yards on 103 carries, which was second on the team only to Jim Grabowski’s 466 yards on 120 attempts, for a 4.4-yard average with two TDs. He also caught 14 passes for 88 yards. In the postseason, he ran the ball 21 times for 75 yards.

As a footnote, the draft choice that the Rams obtained for Wilson turned out to be a second round pick in 1968 that was sent on to Atlanta and used to take John Wright, a star flanker out of Illinois who had a short and inconsequential career with the Falcons and Lions.