Monthly Archives: October 2014

The latest Clash of the Titans

Spent the morning digging up some statistical stuff on Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who bump facemasks again Sunday in Foxborough. There sure is plenty of stuff to dig up. Combined, these guys have completed passes for 67 miles, 386 yards. Just as a frame of reference: A marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards.

You know how they say that if a couple is married long enough, they start to look alike? Well, in their 30s, Brady and Manning have become practically the same quarterback. Take a look at their numbers since turning the Big Three-O:


Years Win% Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Y/A Rating
Brady 2007-14 .800 3,803 2,463 64.8 29,644 230 58 7.79 102.3
Manning 2006-14 .782 4,371 2,937 67.2 33,909 269 92 7.76 102.1

Those, by the way, are the two highest ratings in NFL history for QBs in their thirties (minimum: 1000 attempts).

Anyway, we’re talking about a difference of 2/10 of a ratings point. Not even worth discussing. Manning turned 30 a year earlier, so that explains why some of his gross numbers are higher. (Yes, he missed the 2011 season with an injury, but Brady’s 2008 was a virtual washout, too.)

What sticks out most to me about these stats is that Manning has thrown 39 more touchdown passes and Brady 34 fewer interceptions. The kind of confirms what I’ve always thought about Tom: not only is he great at winning games, he’s great at not losing them. He’s like the football version of Cy Young — a ton of wins, not many walks.

Which makes Manning, who, Walter Johnson? Maybe. Johnson’s strikeout totals in an era of contact hitting were as awe inspiring as Manning’s numbers in an era of profuse passing. (And Walter, let’s not forget, won three World Series games — his only three Series victories — at the ages of 36 and 37. Translation: Like Peyton, he was good as a geezer.)

Perhaps the greatest blessing, though — for fans, at least — is that Brady and Manning have gone up against each other so many times. This is their sixtee– . . . on second thought, let me rephrase that. For a matchup this momentous, you have to wheel out the Roman numerals. It’s not their 16th meeting, it’s Brady-Manning XVI (followed by a clash of cymbals).

(Of course, they wheeled out the Roman numerals for Rocky V, too, but this is different. For one thing, nobody’s pulling any punches.)

Speaking of boxing, you think of Jake LaMotta’s old line when you think of Brady-Manning. “I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so often,” Jake liked to say, “I almost got diabetes.” For Tom and Peyton it’s been much the same. They were matching spirals when they were in their early 20s, and they’re still matching them in their late 30s.

In fact, it’s almost mathematically impossible that they’ve intersected this often. They were, after all, in the same division for only one season (2001). The rest of the time, they’ve tended cross paths because of the NFL’s scheduling philosophy of pitting division champions against division champions. Tom’s Patriots (almost) always win the AFC East, and Peyton’s Colts and Broncos have (almost) always been champs of the AFC South and West. This, happily, has put them on a collision course their entire careers.

And now we’re getting ready for Brady-Manning XVI. Do you realize how rare that is? I could find only five other instances of a pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks meeting even 10 times. The

Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly


● Dan Marino vs. Jim Kelly, 1986-96. Meetings: 21. Edge: Kelly, 14-7 (2-0 in the playoffs).

● Johnny Unitas vs. Bart Starr, 1957-70. Meetings: 17. Edge: Unitas, 9-8 (no playoff games). Funny thing is, they would have met in the ’65 Western Conference playoff, but Johnny was out with an injury and Bart got hurt early in the game.

● Brady vs. Manning, 2001-13. Meetings: 15. Edge: Brady, 10-5 (2-2 in playoffs).

● Sammy Baugh vs. Sid Luckman, 1940-50. Meetings: 11. Edge: Luckman, 7-4 (2-1 in playoffs).

● Joe Namath vs. Len Dawson, 1965-75. Meetings: 10. Edge: Dawson, 7-3 (1-0 in playoffs).

Len Dawson

Len Dawson

● Len Dawson vs. George Blanda, 1962-66. Meetings: 10. Edge: Dawson, 7-3 (no playoff games).

Caveat: There might have been a couple of others in the ’50s, when Bobby Layne (Lions), Norm Van Brocklin (Rams) and Y.A. Tittle (49ers) were in the same conference and played twice a year. Unfortunately,’s database have individual game statistics for those seasons. (I finessed Baugh-Luckman — and the early years of Unitas-Starr — other ways.)

About the only shortcoming of the Brady-Manning rivalry — if you want to nitpick — is that they’ve always been in the AFC, so they’ve never squared off in a Super Bowl. Baugh and Luckman met three times in the NFL title game (1940, ’42 and ’43). So did Layne and the Browns’ Otto Graham (1952-54). Tom and Peyton have met three times for the conference championship, though (2003, ’06, ’13), and they might not be done.

Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. It never gets old — mainly because, in defiance of medical science, they don’t.

Source:, Baltimore Sun archives.

Buried in the Champ Bailey file

Champ Bailey, who retired earlier this week, will be remembered for a lot of things. For his 12 Pro Bowls with the Redskins and Broncos. For his 52 interceptions (one less than Deion Sanders). For making us wonder: What would have happened if he’d become a full-time receiver, like Roy Green, instead of remaining at cornerback?

But I’ll remember him for something else, too: for being part of the wheeling and dealing by Redskins general manager Charley Casserly in the late ’90s that turned one first-round pick into three. Actually, it was even better than that. Casserly and successor Vinny Cerrato turned the sixth pick in 1996 into the seventh pick in ’99 (Bailey) and the second and third picks in 2000 (linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels).

Casserly’s maneuvering tends to be forgotten today because the Redskins never won anything — except a division title when Champ was a rookie. But it could have been franchise-changing if Sean Gilbert football cardother personnel moves had worked out as well (and, of course, if Dan Snyder hadn’t bought the club and started treating it as his personal toy).

Here’s how it unfolded:

● April 4, 1996 — The Redskins, coming off a 6-10 season, send their first-rounder (sixth overall) to the Rams for DT Sean Gilbert, who’d gone to the Pro Bowl in 1993. The Rams selected RB Lawrence Phillips, who was a total disaster.

● Feb. 12, 1997 – The Redskins franchise Gilbert, who proceeds to sit out the season in a contract dispute.

● Feb. 11, 1998 – The Redskins franchise Gilbert again.

● March 24, 1998 – The Panthers sign Gilbert to a 7-year, $46.5 million offer sheet. The Redskins decide not to match it and receive two No. 1s as compensation. Carolina opts to delay payment for a year, pushing the picks into 1999 and 2000.

● April 17, 1999 – After a 4-12 season, the Panthers’ first-rounder turns out to be the fifth overall pick. The Redskins trade it to the Saints in the infamous Ricky Williams deal. What they get in return:

1999 No. 1 (12th overall) — Traded to Bears (see below).

1999 No. 3 (71st) — Traded to Bears (ditto).

1999 No. 4 (107th) — LB Nate Stinson.

1999 No. 5 (144th) — Traded to Bears in move-up to take OT Jon Jansen in Round 2.

1999 No. 6 (179th) — Traded to Broncos in move-up to take OT Derek Smith in Round 5.

1999 No. 7 (218th) — Traded to Broncos in Smith deal.

2000 No. 1 (2nd) — Arrington.

2000 No. 3 (64th) — DB Lloyd Harrison.

Later in the draft, the Redskins flip picks with the Bears, move up to 7 and select Bailey. This costs them:

The Saints’ ’99 No. 1 (12th) — QB Cade McNown.

The Saints’ ’99 No. 3 (71st) — WR D’Wayne Bates.

Their own No. 4 (106th) — LB Warrick Holdman.

Their own No. 5 (143rd) — OT Jerry Wisne.

Their own 2000 No. 3 (87th) — TE Dustin Lyman.

● April 15, 2000 – The Redskins hit the jackpot. The Saints go 3-13 in ’99, the last of Mike Ditka’s three seasons, so the No. 1 they owe Washington is second overall. The Panthers finish 8-8, so the first-rounder they have to hand over is 12th. By this time, Cerrato has replaced Casserly as the Redskins’ GM. He swaps Carolina’s pick, along with his own No. 1 (24th), for the 49ers’ No. 1, third overall. Then, amid much fanfare, he takes Arrington at 2 and Samuels at 3.

(FYI: The Jets wind up with the 12th pick after a trade with San Francisco and select DE Shaun Ellis. The Niners keep the 24th and use it on CB Ahmed Plummer.)

And there you have it, folks. The Redskins started out with the 6th pick in ’96, and with a little imagination — and more than a little luck — ended up with three selections in the top seven. Those three selections, moreover, went to a combined 21 Pro Bowls (Bailey 12, Samuels 6, Arrington 3).

But again, nobody remembers because it didn’t lead to anything great (or even very good). The Redskins won only one division title in the next decade (1999) and made just three playoff appearances (2004 and ’07 being the others). In 2003, when Joe Gibbs returned as coach, they dealt Bailey to the Broncos for running back Clinton Portis, who had some fine years in Washington but ran into injury problems and was done at 29. Arrington also battled injuries — and left in free agency in 2006. He was done at 28. Samuels lasted a few seasons longer, until he was 32, but his career also was cut short by injury.

Bailey, on the other hand, survived 15 seasons and was voted to his last Pro Bowl at 34. With his lengthy list of accomplishments, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame. As for the Redskins, well, some things look better on paper than they do in real life.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington on Draft Day 2000.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington on Draft Day 2000.

Sources:,, various Sporting News Football Guides and Registers.

Famous quarterbacks they have known

Since this is Brady-Manning Week — and since I live for obscure facts — I decided to find the answer to the following question: Which NFL player caught TD passes from the most Hall of Fame quarterbacks? A player who comes immediately to mind, of course, is the Broncos’ Wes Welker, who’s had the good fortune to run routes for the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Broncos’ Peyton Manning. Granted, neither is in the Hall yet, but they’ll be having their mail forwarded there soon enough.

Anyway, unless Welker finishes his career with Drew Brees in New Orleans, Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay or maybe Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, he won’t hold the record in this category. There are actually players who’ve caught TD passes from three Hall of Fame QBs — six of them, in fact. If you can guess even one, I’ll be impressed.

The first was Ed Sprinkle, a two-way end for the Bears in the ’40s and ’50s. Ironically, Sprinkle is remembered more for his fists than his hands. He was an enforcer in the hockey tradition, a guy Sprinkle football cardwho, according to one writer, had a “Midas-like” talent: “Everything he touches turns to broken noses.” (Ed’s succinct defense: “To me, it wasn’t a game of pitty-pat.”)

When he wasn’t busy bludgeoning opponents, “The Claw,” as he was called, had 32 receptions in his 11 seasons, seven going for touchdowns. Those TD passes, though, were thrown by an interesting collection of quarterbacks. Three — Sid Luckman, Bobby Layne and George Blanda — went on to Canton (and another, Johnny Lujack, once held the record for passing yards in a game).

(Yeah, yeah, I know. Blanda is in the Hall as a quarterback-kicker. Remember, though: When he retired in 1975, his 236 touchdown passes were seventh most in NFL-AFL history.)

You’d think the players on this list would be ultra-productive types, your proverbial Household Names, but that’s not the case at all. None of the five guys who are tied with Sprinkle had more than 23 TD grabs in his career. Two, moreover, were running backs, and two others fit the tight-end profile.

Mostly, they were in the right place at the right time. They either lucked upon a team blessed with multiple Canton-bound quarterbacks or, in their travels, were fortunate enough to cross paths with several legendary QBs. The details:


● Ed Sprinkle, E, Bears, 1944-55 — TD passes from Sid Luckman (3), Bobby Layne (1) and George Blanda (1). Career totals: 32 receptions, 451 yards, 7 touchdowns.

● Dick Bielski, TE, Eagles/Cowboys/Colts, 1955-63 — TD passes from Sonny Jurgensen (2), Norm Van Brocklin (2) and Johnny Unitas (1). Career totals: 107-1,305-10.

● Preston Carpenter, WR-TE, Browns/Steelers/Redskins/Vikings/Dolphins, 1956-67 — TD passes from Layne (6), Jurgensen (3) and Fran Tarkenton (3). Career totals: 305-4,457-23. Note: Carpenter’s last season, in Miami, happened to be Bob Griese’s rookie year. Alas, he didn’t grab any of Griese’s 15 TD throws, otherwise he’d stand alone in this department. (Let’s face it, though, the man was a magnet for Hall of Fame quarterbacks.)

● Preston Pearson, RB, Colts/Steelers/Cowboys, 1967-80 — TD passes from Unitas (1), Terry Bradshaw (2) and Roger Staubach (7). Career totals: 254-3,095-17.

● Mike Sherrard, WR, Cowboys/49ers/Giants/Broncos, 1986. ’89-96 — TD passes from Joe Montana (2), Steve Young (1) and John Elway (1). Career totals: 257-3,931-22.

● Amp Lee, RB, 49ers/Vikings/Rams/Eagles, 1992-2000 — TD passes from Young (3), Montana (1) and Warren Moon (3). Career totals: 335-3,099-15. Note: The last of Lee’s scoring receptions was Amp Lee running to lefttossed by Kurt Warner. So if Warner goes in the Hall — and I think he belongs — Amp will become the sole No. 1. Unbelievable.

These six players, by the way, made exactly six Pro Bowls (Sprinkle four, Bielski and Carpenter one each) — and Ed, I’ll just point out, was voted in for his defensive prowess. Pearson, a useful all-around back, was like Forrest Gump; besides being around great quarterbacks, he went to the Super Bowl with all three of his clubs and won rings with the Steelers and Cowboys.

Obviously, it was easier to make this list if you played for the 49ers when Montana and Young were there (1987-92), the Eagles when Van Brocklin and Jurgensen were there (1957-60) or the Bears when Luckman, Layne and/or Blanda were there (at least two were on the roster from 1948 to ’50). It also helps, apparently, if your first name is Preston.

But let me backtrack a bit to the Luckman-Layne-Blanda/Van Brocklin-Jurgensen years. In the ’40s and ’50s, you see, when there were just 12 franchises, NFL teams literally had more players — and quarterbacks — than they knew what to do with. It’s astonishing, really, how concentrated the talent was compared to the watered-down rosters today.

Consider the quarterbacks who were the property of the Rams in the ’50s:

● Bob Waterfield — Hall of Famer.

● Van Brocklin — Hall of Famer.

● Billy Wade — Two Pro Bowls (1958, ’63). Quarterbacked the Bears to the ’63 title.

● Frank Ryan — Three Pro Bowls (1964-66). Led the Browns to the ’64 title. Threw more TD passes from 1963 to ’67 than anybody in the NFL (117). In fact, only Jurgensen (109), Unitas (104) and Tarkenton (102) were within 25 of him.

● Bobby Thomason — Three Pro Bowls (1953, ’55-56). Led the NFL in TD passes in 1953 with the Eagles. The Rams, having no room for him, loaned him to the Packers in 1951, then traded him to Philadelphia.

● Rudy Bukich — Hardly first rate, but he was third in the league in passer rating in 1965 with the Bears.

And that’s just one club. The NFL was probably never stronger (read: more competitive) than it was in the ’50s. There were third-stringers back then who would be starters now.

Finally, there’s one guy who caught a touchdown pass from four Hall of Famers, but there’s a caveat: They weren’t all quarterbacks. Two were running backs possessed of some throwing ability.

Renfro outbattles a Steeler.

Renfro outbattles a Steeler.

I’m talking about Ray Renfro (father of Mike, the receiver for the Oilers and Cowboys in the ’70s and ’80s). Ray, a standout with the Browns (1952-63), was on the receiving end of scoring tosses from Graham (11), Len Dawson (1), and running backs Jim Brown (1) and Bobby Mitchell (1).

One last aside: Does the name Charles Jordan ring any bells? Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t. Jordan had a relatively uneventful career as kick returner-wideout for the Packers, Dolphins and Seahawks from 1994 to ’99, totaling five touchdown receptions. But here’s the thing: The first two TDs were from Brett Favre and the last three from Dan Marino. If you’re going to catch five scoring passes in your NFL career, that’s a pretty good way to do it.


Before Brady and Manning

Sunday in the New England twilight, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 16th time when the Patriots play the Broncos at Gillette Stadium. But we’ll get to that classic rivalry later in the week, as the game gets closer. Today we’re going to revisit the first meeting between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks: the Redskins’ Sammy Baugh and the Bears’ Sid Luckman.

Baugh and Luckman were the Brady and Manning of their era, squaring off 11 times from 1940 to ’49, including three championship games in four years (’40, ’42 and ’43). They were so famous, they once appeared in a hat ad together in Life magazine.

Sid and Sammy, Sept. 22, 1947 Life magazine

(Sorry, I just had to slip that in.)

When they first crossed paths at a New York hotel in 1938, Baugh was midway through his second NFL season and Luckman was closing out his college career at Columbia. They were joined by a third QB who’s also in Canton: Benny Friedman, then the coach at CCNY. It was quite the scene, as you shall see. Here’s the story:

The Quarterback Colloquium of 1938

You won’t find Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy in any pro football encyclopedias, though he did dress a little like a Seattle Seahawk. For one thing, there was no NFL draft in the 18th Blue Boy framedcentury. But let the record show that Sammy Baugh once threw a pass to him — or rather, at him. It happened 76 years ago in a room at New York’s Commodore Hotel.

The occasion was one of those wonderful historical convergences: the gathering during the 1938 season of Baugh, Benny Friedman and Sid Luckman, arguably the three greatest passers in the league’s first 25 years. Only Slingin’ Sammy was in the NFL at the time. Benny, the former New York Giant, was the coach at CCNY, and Sid was a senior at Columbia (and being eyed by the Chicago Bears’ George Halas with increasing interest).

Decades later, when I talked to them about it, neither Baugh nor Luckman could remember how the meeting came about. Maybe Lou Little, Sid’s college coach, arranged it — to reward his star tailback and further his football education. Or perhaps it was Cliff Battles, Sammy’s ex-teammate with the Washington Redskins, who set it up. Battles was in his first year as an assistant under Little after retiring at 27 because of a contract dispute.

Whoever brought them together, he probably never envisioned the event being revisited today. His main objective, no doubt, was to generate publicity for that weekend’s games — for the Redskins-Dodgers battle in Brooklyn, the Columbia-Cornell matchup on Morningside Heights and City College’s home date against unbeaten Lowell Textile.

To set the scene: There the quarterbacks were in their double-breasted suits, posing for photographers, fielding questions from sportswriters and, in between, swapping stories and passing tips. Soon enough, three footballs materialized. That’s when the real fun started.

Friedman pointed to a doorknob across the meeting room and imagined it to be an open receiver. He “faded behind a chair and, with a table blocking for him, rifled one that spun the knob so violently that the door opened,” Henry McLemore of the United Press reported.

Then it was Baugh’s turn. With a theatrical leap, he fired a spiral that hit The Blue Boy square in the chest. The picture rocked back and forth — and may well have required medical attention

Baugh, Friedman and Luckman

Baugh, Friedman and Luckman

afterward — but to its credit, clung stubbornly to the wall, if not the ball. (Fortunately for Sammy it was only a print, otherwise he would have had some explaining to do.)

Finally, Luckman “picked out a spot and smacked it with a lazy floater that drifted through the smoke of the room,” McLemore wrote. ‘“Just practicing for those Cornells on Saturday,’ he said.”

Even in the late ’30s, when the single wing was king, the forward pass was beginning to turn football on its head. Friedman had started the process by throwing for an unheard of 20 touchdowns in 1929, despite a fat ball and rules that conspired against quarterbacks (e.g., an incompletion in the end zone cost you possession of the ball). Benny was so far ahead of his time — catching one of his passes, Paul Gallico said, was as easy as “picking a grapefruit” — that he seemed like a visitor from another planet. Consider: Those 20 TD passes would have been enough to lead the league in 1972.

Baugh also had an otherworldly quality about him. As a rookie in 1937, he not only topped the NFL record for passing yards in a game, he did it in the championship game, totaling 335 (29 more than the regular-season mark) in a 28-21 win over the Bears. Though he was only 24 when he strolled into Room 1100 at the Commodore, he was already a mythic figure, pro football’s biggest attraction since Red Grange.

As for Luckman, his grinning, dirt-smudged face had appeared on the cover of Life only the week before, accompanied by the acclamation, “Best Passer.” He would finish third in the Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 12.28.00 PMHeisman Trophy voting that year, despite playing for a 3-6 team. But the story behind the story — the story no one ever wrote — was even more remarkable: While Sid was leading Columbia to a 20-18 upset of Army at West Point, rallying the Lions from a 12-point deficit in the second half, his father Meyer was serving a murder sentence at Sing Sing, 20 miles up the Hudson River.

The get-together at the hotel wasn’t the first time Luckman had met Friedman. In his 1949 autobiography, Luckman at Quarterback, Sid reminisces about the day, as a young Brooklyn boy, he waited with his father outside the Giants dressing room after a game. When Benny emerged, Meyer approached him and said, “I have a prospective pro for you.”

“Friedman . . . looked down at the stocky kid and then winked at my dad,” Luckman writes. “Both of them laughed. He went back to the dressing room to get a football, and then demonstrated [his] grip. His fingers were strong and hard. I stood there gawking at them, with all the adulation a punk could muster. So that’s how the great Benny Friedman handled it, I mused.”

You get the feeling Luckman did a fair amount of gawking at the Commodore, too. Another reporter, Drew Middleton of The Associated Press, called him “a quiet, unassuming boy who blushes when asked a direct question.” But Sid was there mostly to listen, anyway, to soak up whatever knowledge his two elders were willing to dispense.

“I don’t tip the ball none,” Baugh told him. “If it’s a long pass, I nose the ball up, but mostly I throw them flat — chest high. Downfield I try to get ’em a little ahead and a little higher. ’Course, I always lead the receiver on flat passes.”

Luckman: “We throw some flat ones, too. I don’t think we do it as well as you fellows, but we have a play almost like that pass you throw to [Charley] Malone.”

Benny: “You should have seen the stuff we had. About three [pass] plays. . . . When I started, passing was just a supplementary attack. Now it’s 50 percent of the offense.”

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall. (On second thought, scratch that. They probably would have had a contest to see who could hit the pesky critter at 20 paces.)

The colloquium lasted two hours and covered a range of topics. It was agreed upon, for instance, that wrist snap rather than arm strength was more important to a passer. After all, Baugh said, “a lot of linemen can throw the ball farther than a back.”

The No. 1 necessity, they decided, was courage. “I hope it’s courage, anyway,” Sammy said. “Maybe it’s just plum craziness that makes a fellow hold onto that ball until he picks out his receiver when a pair of 200-pounders are charging him with murder in their eyes.”

The sportswriters, meanwhile, took note of the quarterbacks’ various hand sizes. Luckman’s fingers were described as “short and stubby,” Baugh’s as “longer [and] “slender” like a “pianist” and Friedman’s as “modeled after a ham.” These are hardly insignificant details. In fact, they’re an indication of how radically the game had changed. As Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman once put it, “Anybody who threw the old and bigger football had to have a hand like a ham even to grip the ball. Then it was cut down to its present size, and almost anybody could throw it — and this was a tremendous boost for the game.”

One of the benefits of the slimmer ball, Friedman said, was that it made most present-day passers “more accurate than I was.” This was a major concession for Benny, who had the highest of regards for his own abilities. (In 1953, let’s not forget, he wrote a piece for Sport magazine titled, “I Could Play Pro Football – And I’m 48!”)

Another advantage enjoyed by the younger generation, Friedman added, is that “the boys get more experience and coaching in passing before they get to college now.”

Baugh: “That’s right. Down in the Southwest, where I come from, the kids start passing when they’re in [grade school]. They pass almost as much down there as they rush.”

In his story, McLemore mentioned the “terrible beating” Luckman had been taking that season playing behind Columbia’s shaky line. Knee, ribs, nose – no part of Sid, it seemed, went unscathed. “I could scarcely drag myself from classroom to classroom,” he said years later.

That’s why, when the writers at the Commodore asked him about his pro aspirations, he said, “No, not me. I’d like to go into business and do a little coaching on the side, maybe, but no professional football.”

But Luckman did turn pro, of course. By the time he retired in 1950, he and Baugh pretty much owned the record book — the passing section, at least — and had six championships between them. And now all three quarterbacks are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Friedman gaining admittance as a veterans candidate in 2005.

“I tried so hard to pick their brains,” Luckman told me. “I learned an awful lot about humility from Sammy. Humbleness. And from Benny — and from Baugh, too — I learned a lot of football. Benny was a very technically oriented guy. A very, very smart football man. And Sammy, of course, . . . folksy.”

Over the decades, Luckman got to know them even better. Friedman became “a good friend,” he said, one he helped out in business “when Benny was having a tough time.” As for Sid’s rivalry/relationship with Baugh, it was similar to Tom Brady’s with Peyton Manning today. They defined each other — and, happily for fans, were always crossing paths on the field (including three times in the title game).

“When he retired [after the 1952 season], we had lunch together one day in Washington,” Luckman said. “And we made a pact — we shook hands on it — that whenever he made a speech, he’d say I was the greatest, and whenever I made a speech, I’d say he was the greatest.”

Problem was, Baugh hated to travel and rarely left Texas. So Sid would be “off making these speeches to these different charities and whatever, and he’d be back on his ranch making money. I never heard anybody once say I was the greatest, because he never made a speech. That was a bad deal I made with him. He got the best of that deal.”

But that’s OK. On Oct. 28, 1938, it was Luckman, the kid quarterback from Columbia, who got the best of it when the past, present and future of the passing game assembled at a New York hotel — along with The Blue Boy, that is, the Wes Welker of the 1770s.

*     *     *

Postscript: Two days later, the Redskins fought the Dodgers to a 6-6 tie at Ebbets Field. Luckman and the rest of his Columbia team were in attendance. We know this because The Brooklyn Eagle said so.

Eagle headline Oct. 30, 1038


Oct. 30, 1938 Eagle -- game day

Inventing “records”

The World of Statistics — or is it Statsland? — has no rules. At least, it seems that way at times. Like today, when ESPN Stats & Info tweeted this out:

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 3.34.02 PM

Maybe we should blame it on Twitter and its hard cap of 140 characters. Because what the numbers gnomes at ESPN neglected to add was “(minimum: 30 attempts).”

On second thought, scratch that. I just added “(minimum: 30 attempts)” myself and still had 25 characters to spare.

Look, McCoy had a very nice game in the Redskins’ 20-17 upset win, hitting 25 of 30 passes (17 of them, as you can see in the graphic, within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage). This isn’t about him. It’s about the mindless need to create “records” where none really exist — all, of course, at the expense of the past (even the recent past).

I say this because there have been three Redskins quarterbacks in the 2000s alone — and a couple of others before that — who started a game, went the distance and completed a higher percentage of their passes than McCoy did. But their performances have been conveniently “disappeared” because they didn’t throw 30 passes. The specifics:


Date Quarterback Opponent Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rating Result
11-18-12 Robert Griffin III Eagles 15 14 93.3 200 4 0 158.3 W, 31-6
9-24-06 Mark Brunell Texans 27 24 88.9 261 1 0 119.3 W, 31-15
12-5-04 Patrick Ramsey Giants 22 19 86.4 174 3 0 139.2 W, 31-7
10-24-65 Sonny Jurgensen Cardinals 14 12 85.7 195 3 0 158.3 W, 24-20
10-7-84 Joe Theismann Colts 20 17 85.0 267 4 1 137.5 W, 35-7
10-27-14 Colt McCoy Cowboys 30 25 83.3 299 0 1 94.3 W, 20-17

Actually, Theismann yielded in the late going to Jim Hart, but he essentially went the route. Anyway, looking at these figures, can you think of any reason why we should be genuflecting in front of McCoy’s 83.3 percent? Griffin and Jurgensen, for instance, both posted ratings of 158.3. That’s as high as the scale goes. And Brunell set a real NFL record that day by completing 22 passes in a row (most of them shorties like Colt’s).

These quarterbacks just happened to be in games where they didn’t need to put the ball in the air 30 times. Besides, it might be harder to hit a high percentage when you only throw 14 or 15 or 20 times, as some of them did, than when you throw 30. It’s just harder to stay in rhythm.

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. But riddle me this: When did it stop being acceptable simply to say, “Colt McCoy had a fine game, one of the best in Redskins history in terms of passing accuracy”?

As my foster uncle, Howard Beale, might say . . .


Downtown DeSean Jackson

Yards-per-catch averages in the NFL have been going down, down, down for decades — from 14.5 yards in 1950 to 13.2 in 1970 to 12.5 in 1990 to 11.6 this season. You can blame it on everything from zone defenses to the West Coast offense to the rise of the tight end. So when a receiver averages 20 yards a reception, as the Redskins’ DeSean Jackson has done in the first eight games, it’s worthy of mention.

Thanks to a league-leading seven catches of 40 yards or more, Jackson is averaging 20.8 yards on 32 grabs. If he sustains that pace the rest of the way — 64 catches (a nice, round four a game), 20-plus yards a reception — he’ll be just the 10th receiver in NFL-AFL history to reach those levels. Here are the first nine, many of whom should be familiar to you:


Year    Receiver, Team Rec Yds Avg
1998    Eric Moulds, Bills 67 1,368 20.4
1988    Jerry Rice*, 49ers 64 1,306 20.4
1983    Mike Quick, Eagles 69 1,409 20.4
1967    Don Maynard*, Jets 71 1,434 20.2
1965    Lance Alworth*, Chargers 69 1,602 23.2
1963    Bobby Mitchell*, Redskins 69 1,436 20.8
1961    Charley Hennigan, Oilers 82 1,746 21.3
1960    Bill Groman, Oilers 72 1,473 20.5
1951    Crazylegs Hirsch*, Rams 66 1,495 22.7

*Hall of Famer

Five of the nine are in Canton, so it’s not just anybody who has accomplished this feat. Note, too that Groman and Hennigan did it in the first two years of the AFL, when the league wasn’t nearly as strong as it would be later. If you eliminate them, you’re down to seven receivers — an awfully small group. And Jackson might join them.

(FYI: If you want to lower the bar to 60 receptions, you get four more names, including James Lofton.)

It’s hard for a high-volume receiver to average 20 yards a catch. He simply runs too many underneath routes. The most a 100-reception guy has averaged is 16.1 (the Lions’ Calvin Johnson on 122 grabs in 2012). The most a 75-reception guy has averaged ––since Hennigan, at least — is 19.9 (the Rams’ Torry Holt in 2000 and Cardinals’ Roy Green in 1984). Jackson, though, has only once caught more than 62 balls in a season, so a 20-yard average is more conceivable for him. Indeed, he averaged 22.5 in 2010 (but on 47 receptions).

Yards per catch certainly isn’t the most celebrated statistic, but it reflects an ability to make big plays. Every offense needs a receiver like that, one who can stretch the defense and create space for his teammates.

Jackson, by the way, has four 100-yard games through Week 8. Only one receiver in Redskins history has had more: Mitchell, who had five in 1962, the year he helped integrate the franchise. The others, besides DeSean, with four: Santana Moss in 2005, Henry Ellard in 1994 and Mitchell again in ’63. Interesting: Mitchell (’62), Moss and Ellard were, like D-Jax, in their first year with the club.


“In Defense of the Competitive Urge”

Let’s take a break from quarterbacks for a moment and talk about a lineman. The one I had in mind was Jerry Ford, the former University of Michigan center. Forty years ago, Ford, then the vice president of the United States, wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated in which he reflected on his playing days and the state of athletics. It’s wonderful — every last word of it — and remains relevant today.

(Little did SI know that, just a month later, Vice President Ford would become President Ford when Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal.)

Ford was a very good player for the Wolverines, good enough to be invited to the East-West Game and the College All-Star Game, the latter an annual contest that pitted graduating seniors

The 1935 College All-Stars roster.

The 1935 College All-Stars roster.

against the defending NFL champions. The Packers and Lions, he says, both offered him $200 a game — this was before the draft had been invented — but he opted to join the football staff at Yale, figuring he could get his law degree there in his off hours. You know who else was an assistant for the Bulldogs then? Pro Football Hall of Famer Greasy Neale, who would lead the Philadelphia Eagles to two titles in the ’40s.

Ford tells a funny story about Curly Lambeau’s attempt to recruit him for Green Bay. Some other sound bites that will hopefully encourage you read all of “In Defense of the Competitive Urge”:

● “It is a disgrace in this country for anyone not to realize his or her potential in any sport.”

● “[W]e have been asked to swallow a lot of home-cooked psychology in recent years that winning isn’t all that important anymore, whether on the athletic field or in any other field, national and international. I don’t buy that for a minute. It is not enough to just compete. Winning is very important. Maybe more important than ever.

“Don’t misunderstand. I am not low-rating the value of informal participation. Competing is always preferable to not competing, whether you win or not. . . . [But] if you don’t win elections you don’t play, so the importance of winning is more drastic in that field. In athletics and in most other worthwhile pursuits first place is the manifestation of the desire to excel, and how else can you achieve anything?”

● “Under [coach] Harry Kipke, Michigan used the short-punt formation, which was popular then, and as the center I fancied myself the second-best passer in the lineup. If I’m dating you, the center in the short punt or single wing is not just a guy who sticks the ball in the quarterback’s hands. Every center snap must truly be a pass [between the legs], often leading the tailback who is in motion and in full stride when he takes the ball. I don’t mean to be critical, but I think that is why you now see so many bad passes from center on punts and field goals. They don’t have to do it enough. I must have centered the ball 500,000 times in high school and college.”

● “[T]here is obviously a deep American involvement in and a great social significance to the game. No game is like football in that respect. It has so many special qualities, among them the combination of teamwork involving a large number of people, with precise strategies and coordination  that are essential if anyone is going to benefit. The athletes are highly skilled, but Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 3.54.42 PMsubservient to the team. Yet if they do their job, they give an individual an opportunity for stardom. I know of no other sport that demands so much, and returns so much.

● “The sports news is glutted with salary disputes and threats of strike, of demands and contractual harangues, of players jumping from one league to another, or owners threatening to pull their franchises out of this or that city unless demands are met or profits improve.

“[W]hat scares me is that the fan may ultimately be abused, if he has not been already. The money has to come from somewhere. Traditionally, the somewhere is the fan’s pocketbook — and in the electronic age in which we live, the advertiser’s. At what point will the fan become disillusioned? When he comes to the conclusion that the team he is supporting has no reciprocal interest in his affection, I think there will be a withdrawal of support. It might not come today, or this season, but it will surely come.”

And how’s this for prescience?

● “When I was in China a few years ago I was astounded by the number of basketball courts. They were everywhere — in school yards, outside factories and farms. Boys and girls were playing basketball at age three and four, with miniature balls and undersized baskets. The sizes and heights were graded to coincide with the age group, something we might consider here, even up to the professional level. . . . In 1972, when I received the college Football Hall of Fame award at the Waldorf in New York, I remarked on this new Chinese passion for the old American game, and I said that one day soon we would have to cope with a seven-foot Chinese Wilt Chamberlain.”

Again, do yourself a favor and read The Whole Thing.

University of Michigan center Jerry Ford.

University of Michigan center Jerry Ford.

500 passing yards

Anybody who saw the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, horizontal stripes and all, tear up the Colts on Sunday witnessed one of the great passing exhibitions in NFL history — 522 yards, 81.6 percent completions, six touchdowns, no picks, 150.6 rating. Wow.

The yardage total is tied for fourth all time, and no 500-yard passer has had a better completion percentage. As for the TDs and rating, only Y.A. Tittle (seven and 151.4) tops Roethlisberger in those departments (again, among 500-yard passers).

That said, some of the thrill, and not a little of the novelty, has gone out of the 500-yard passing day. Big Ben’s, after all, was the ninth in the 2000s. There were just six before that — the first of which, amazingly enough, is still the record: Norm Van Brocklin’s 554-yard effort for the Rams against the New York Yanks in 1951. When somebody does anything nine times in 15 seasons, it loses a bit of its specialness.

I mean, the Cowboys’ Tony Romo threw for 500 yards just last year, and two quarterbacks did it in each of the previous two seasons (the Giants’ Eli Manning and the Texans’ Matt Schaub in 2012, and the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Lions’ Matt Stafford in 2011). Clearly, it isn’t as remarkable a feat as it used to be, and I think we all know the reasons why.

In fact, the game Brady had Sunday against the Bears was — statistically, at least — more unusual. There have been only eight others like it since 1960. Here are the nine times a QB has completed 85 percent of his passes, thrown for five TDs and averaged 10 yards per attempt:


Date Quarterback, Team Vs. Att Comp Pct Yds TD YPA Result
10-26-14 Tom Brady, Patriots Bears 35 30 85.7 354 5 10.1 W, 51-23
12-15-13 Alex Smith, Chiefs Raiders 20 17 85.0 287 5 14.4 W, 56-31
1-10-10 Kurt Warner, Cardinals Packers 33 29 87.9 379 5 11.5 W, 51-45
10-18-09 Tom Brady, Patriots Titans 34 29 85.3 380 6 11.2 W, 59-0
10-31-04 Drew Brees, Chargers Raiders 25 22 88.0 281 5 11.2 W, 42-14
10-10-99 Kurt Warner, Rams 49ers 23 20 87.0 323 5 14.0 W, 42-20
9-4-83 Lynn Dickey, Packers Oilers 31 27 87.1 333 5 10.7 W, 41-38
12-13-81 Lynn Dickey, Packers Saints 21 19 90.5 218 5 10.4 W, 35-7
12-12-64 Frank Ryan, Browns Giants 13 12 92.3 202 5 15.5 W, 52-20

To summarize: Brady, Warner and Dickey (how quickly we forget) did it twice. Brees did it once — but with the Chargers, not the Saints. Ryan did it in a mere 13 attempts. And Smith, Niners Nation’s favorite whipping boy, completes the list.

Maybe the biggest surprise, though, is that Peyton Manning, who does everything, isn’t in either of these two groups — the 500-yard passers or the 85/5/10 guys. Fortunately, he still has time.

Lynn Dickey: gone but not forgotten.

Lynn Dickey: gone but not forgotten.


The Patriots and 50-point games

Scoring 50 points in an NFL game isn’t as big a deal as it once was, not with all these offense-friendly rule changes, but it’s still notable. The Patriots’ 51-23 win over the Bears today, for instance, was the seventh time they’ve reached 50 in the 2000s (since 2007, really). No other club has done it more than three times.

The Pats also have scored 50 in a game three years running. Only two other teams have managed that since the 1970 merger (one of whom did it four straight years). The exclusive club:


Years   Team Quarterback(s) Opponents (Score)
1991-94   49ers Steve Young Bears (52-14), Falcons (56-17), Lions (55-17), Falcons (50-14)
2012-14   Patriots Tom Brady Bills (52-28), Colts (59-24), Steelers (55-31), Bears (51-23)
1984-86   Bengals Anderson/Esiason Bills (52-21), Cowboys (50-24), Jets (52-21)

As you can see, all three teams had an outstanding quarterback, not just one who got hot every now and then. Young is in the Hall of Fame, Brady is headed there, and Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason were among the best of their eras.

Spreading the ball around a little too much

The Jets’ Geno Smith hit a new low today in a 43-23 loss to the Bills, becoming just the second quarterback in the Free Agency Era (1993-) to throw more passes to the other team (3) than to his own (2) in a game. (Minimum: two completions.)

This used to happen from time to time in the ’70s and earlier, before they made things easier for QBs, but it’s a rare feat now.


Date Quarterback, Team Opponent Comp INT Result
10-26-14 Geno Smith, Jets Bills 2 3 L, 43-23
12-31-06 Rex Grossman, Bears Packers 2 3 L, 26-7
9-13-92 Ken O’Brien, Jets Steelers 1 3 L, 27-10
9-25-88 Jeff Kemp, Seahawks 49ers 1 3 L, 38-7
9-16-84 Richard Todd, Saints 49ers 2 3 L, 30-20
9-28-80 Vince Evans, Bears Steelers 2 3 L, 38-3

(Minimum: 2 completions.)

Three others of note:

Date Quarteback, Team Opponent Comp INT Result
11-25-74 Archie Manning, Saints Steelers 2 3 L, 28-7
9-29-74 Joe Namath, Jets Bills 2 3 L, 16-12
10-20-68 Johnny Unitas, Colts Browns 1 3 L, 30-20

See? On a Given Sunday, even the best can look like, well, Geno Smith. Namath’s game, by the way, was played in a typhoon in Buffalo. As for Unitas’, it was the Colts’ only defeat that season until their shocking loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III. He replaced Earl Morrall at halftime with Baltimore trailing 14-7 but, obviously, couldn’t get it going.

After the Super Bowl, Colts coach Don Shula was criticized for not putting Unitas in sooner, when it was clear Morrall was struggling. His reason might have been the game against Cleveland, when Johnny U. came off the bench and went 1 for 11 with three picks.

And finally . . .


Date Quarterback, Team Opponent Att Comp Yds TD INT Result
10-29-74 Roman Gabriel, Rams Raiders 16 3 67 0 4 L, 45-17
10-9-72 Dan Pastorini, Oilers Raiders 21 3 31 0 4 L, 34-0
12-6-70 Terry Bradshaw, Steelers Packers 20 3 110 1 4 L, 20-12
10-11-70 Mike Taliaferro, Patriots Chiefs 12 3 30 0 4 L, 23-10

● The last QB with four completions and four interceptions in a game: Tom Flick, Chargers vs. Chiefs, Nov. 2, 1986.

● The last QB with five completions and five interceptions a game: Dan Pastorini, Oilers vs. Steelers, Oct. 23, 1977.

Photo from Namath's 2-completion/3-pick game.

Photo from Namath’s 2-completion/3-pick game.