Monthly Archives: November 2014

Bill Belichick at Chez Lambeau

It’s doubtful anybody in the Packers locker room Sunday will be shouting, “Let’s win this one for Curly!” But if Green Bay can’t stop the streaking Patriots, Bill Belichick will be one win away from tying Curly Lambeau on the all-time coaching victories list.

Lambeau had 229, good for fourth place, in 33 seasons (1921-53). Belichick has 227 in 20 much longer seasons. It isn’t an entirely fair fight, 12-game schedules vs. 16-game schedules, but that’s the NFL record book for you. Players and coaches from bygone days are just sheep to the slaughter.

Lambeau, I’ll merely point out, won six NFL titles, including three in a row (1929-31) in the years before championship games were staged. Belichick has won three titles, two of them back-to-back (2003-04). Will much be made of this when Bill blows by Curly? You’d like to think so, but I wouldn’t count on it. The league — and its chroniclers — tend to live in the here and now.

What’s interesting is that nobody has passed Curly — or even come close — in three decades, since the Dolphins’ Don Shula won No. 230 in 1984 en route to his record total of 347. That, by the way, was Shula’s last Super Bowl season, his sixth. If the Patriots get to the Super Bowl this year, it’ll be Belichick’s sixth as a head coach as well.

In a meat-grinder profession like this, it’s pretty clear what you have to do to rack up that many victories: start early and try to keep from burning out. Shula got his first head-coaching gig at 33. Halas (324) and Lambeau were even younger because they were player-coaches. Tom Landry (270) was 36 in his rookie season with the expansion Cowboys. Belichick, meanwhile, was 39 when the Browns gave him his first shot.

It’s reasonable to wonder whether it’ll be another three decades, if not longer, before the next Belichick stirs Lambeau’s ghost. After all, the job, which has always taken a tremendous toll, is unrelenting now — 24/7/365. It simply isn’t conducive to a lengthy career, the kind you’d need to win 229 games. Then, too, coaches’ salaries have improved enough to allow them to retire early and duck into TV or administrative jobs (see Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, etc.). As Bruce Ogilvie, the famed sports psychologist, put it, “When you are discussing a successful coach, you are not necessarily drawing a profile of an entirely healthy person.”

Some would say: And that goes double for Belichick, who maintains a level of secrecy in Foxborough that falls somewhere between George Allen and a CIA black site. The difference with him is that it’s in his DNA. His father, Steve, was a longtime college assistant, and young Bill spent hour after hour in meeting rooms, the smell of chalk in the air. It’s not so much that he’s become a coach; he’s always, in a sense, been a coach. That, I’m convinced, helps explain his longevity — that and having a quarterback like Tom Brady fall in his lap.

But back to “The Belgian,” as Lambeau was called. A player once told me that, during the offseason, when Curly was driving around Wisconsin making speeches, he’d always stop at the local sporting goods store and check out its selection of footballs. If he found one that felt a little slimmer than the others, a little more suited to passing — especially in the era of the fat ball — he’d buy it to use in games. (And fans think today’s coaches are detail-oriented.)

One more Curly story. After the 1932 season, the Packers’ barnstorming tour took them all the way to Hawaii, where they played a couple of games against local teams. On the trip there — via the SS Mariposa — two players got into an argument over a Young Lovely they’d met on the ship, a former Miss California named Billie Copeland.

Lambeau — worried that the next words he’d hear would be “Man overboard!” — quickly defused the situation. “If that’s the way you’re going to behave,” he said, “then neither of you can talk to her.”

We pause now for dramatic effect — just as the early Packer who told me this tale did. The punch line:

“That woman,” he said, “became Mrs. Lambeau No. 2.”

The second of three Mrs. Lambeaus, for those of you scoring at home. The Belgian loved the ladies.

Mrs. Lambeau No. 2

Mrs. Lambeau No. 2

1-17-33 Ogden Standard-Examiner

Jan. 17, 1933 Ogden Standard-Examiner

Jan. 17, 1933 Ogden Standard-Examiner

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Nov. 29, 1954: The NFL makes the grade

Pro football was still emerging from the long shadow of baseball when Bobby Layne, the Lions’ Hall of Fame quarterback, popped up – 60 years ago today – on the cover of Time magazine’s Nov. 29, 1954 issue. The NFL had only 12 teams then . . . and 12 individual TV deals. But Layne had become such a folk hero, leading Detroit to back-to-back titles between swigs of bourbon, that Time decided to give him the Full Treatment.

This was a first for the pro game, a major breakthrough. After all, it wasn’t long before that sportswriters would debate, with dead seriousness, whether a top college team could beat a Layne's Time coverpro club. By 1954, though, Time was willing to concede: “After half a century of trying to capture the fans’ fancy, pro football has finally made the grade. . . . The pros play better and more complex football than even the best college teams. They also play rougher.”

“We play rough and we teach rough,” says Lion[s] coach Buddy Parker. “And when I say rough I don’t mean poking a guy in the eye. I mean gang-tackling — right close to piling on.” . . .

The Lions take just about as much as they dish out. And most of them agree that Don Paul (6 ft., 1 in., 225 lbs.), captain of the Los Angeles Rams and a rib-cracking linebacker, is the dirtiest player in the league. Pro football being what it is, Paul takes this judgment for what it is meant to be — sheer flattery. “I play the Lions’ kind of football,” says Paul. “I don’t hit with my fists, but when I hit a ball carrier and there is a split second between then and the time the whistle blows, I hit him again, hard.”

Layne was portrayed, accurately, as a hard-partying, facemask-abstaining team leader who specialized in game-winning drives in the final minutes. His nocturnal escapades — with the rest of the team in tow — were fine with coach Buddy Parker, the magazine reported, “as long as they show up sober for practice.”

There’s also a great quote from an “opponent” who says, “They’re a wild bunch, but they have an esprit de corps which most coaches in the league feel keeps them on top. It sounds sorta high-schoolish, but in that playoff game for the championship last year, the Browns were ahead 16-10, there were only a couple of minutes to play, and the Lions had 80 yards or something to go for the winning touchdown. But in the huddle, Layne told them in that silly old Texas drawl of his, ‘Jes’ block a little bit, fellers, and ol’ Bobby’ll pass ya right to the championship.’ And he went and did it.

Wish I could link to the story, but it’s hidden behind a paywall. If you can figure out a way to access it, though, it’s definitely worth your while. It’s a terrific piece, one that deals not just with Layne, a fascinating figure who lost his father at the age of 6, but with the NFL’s — and Lions’ — bumpy road to respectability. It talks about violence (as I’ve already mentioned). It talks about betting on games. It talks about finances. (The Lions had cleared $114,000 and $108,000 the previous two seasons.) It talks about scouting (Detroit’s budget: $70,000). It even throws in some X’s and O’s.

“If I want to pass to an end,” Layne told the magazine, “I might call for a ‘9 Bend Out’ [the numeral designating the player who will receive the pass]. For a back, I might call a ‘4 Up and Out.’”

The Lions were 7-1 when Time went to press and seemingly on their way to their third straight championship, which would have tied the league record. Alas, the season ended with the Browns routing them in the title game by the inconceivable score of 56-10.

In other words, before there was a Sports Illustrated jinx, there was a Time magazine jinx.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Friday Night Fights XI: Tarzan White vs. Chest Bernard, 1952

Arthur “Tarzan” White was semi-famous even before he made his NFL debut with Giants in 1937. After all, not many players are nicknamed Tarzan — or have the personality White possessed. When his Alabama team went west to play in the Rose Bowl after the 1934 season, the Los Angeles Times couldn’t help writing about him, despite the fact he was just a “sub” on a line that had Don Hutson at one end and Bear Bryant at the other.

“Although only a sophomore of 19 years,” Braven Dyer’s story went,

”Tarzan” weighs 200 pounds despite his abbreviated stature of 5 feet, 7 inches. His real name is Arthur, which sounds harmless and in direct contrast to the “Tarzan” nickname. As a youngster White became tremendously interested in the so-called comic strip, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, featuring the exploits of the famous man of the jungle. So impressed was the Alabama youth by these pictures and yarns that he built himself a house in the trees. He actually practiced swinging through the trees . . . and is said to have been very proficient. White also practiced with the bow and arrow and achieved such perfection that he could go out and bring down wild game with these primitive weapons. Whether he ever wrestled with a lion or tried to ride an alligator bareback is something they neglected to tell me.

Speaking of Burroughs, he once tried to stop White and other wrestlers from appropriating Tarzan’s name, believing they lacked the virtue, athleticism and unspoiled innocence normally Tarzan White photoassociated with his character. (What do you suppose gave him that idea?)

“The other self-christened Tarzans are apes, all right,” he told the United Press, “only they’re muscle-bound and have broken noses. Tarzan is a copyrighted trademark, and if these plug uglies insist on using it, I’m going to insist on the right to license them and stencil the copyright number on their chests.”

Naturally, the “self-christened Tarzans” ignored him.

Tonight’s bout, from the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, pits Tarzan against the aptly named Chest Bernard. (As broadcaster Russ Davis says, “This guy is called The Chest, and with justifiable reason. Hel-looooo!”) If Bernard was The Chest, then White could just as easily have been The Back. The fur on it was so thick it could have been mistaken for the the Real Tarzan’s native habitat.

“Tarzan White sits around the dressing room and plays solitaire by the hour,” Davis says. “[I] walked in tonight to see him before the bout. There he was, playing solitaire and whistling a tune. . . . And he never cheats with himself.”

No, Tarzan always played the good guy in the ring. Bernard was the villain, refusing to shake his hand at the outset and constantly pulling his hair and grabbing hold of his trunks. (Davis: “Mr. Bernard, sir, you are a stinker, sir.”)

Tarzan gave away 37 pounds in the match, weighing 225 to The Chest’s 262, which wasn’t unusual, apparently. According to Davis, he was “one of the smallest of the heavyweights.” He was naturally strong, though, and dead-lifted Bernard — in the days, mind you, before iron-pumping was in vogue — several times.

Wrestlingdata.com says Tarzan’s career spanned from 1939 to ’64. The following bout took place Jan. 25, 1952, when he was 36 and had been out of pro football for six years. He spent his first three seasons with the Giants, the next two with the Chicago Cardinals, then returned to the Giants in 1945 after a serving in the Air Force during World War II.

Tarzan was never busier in the ring, in fact, than in ’52, wrestling (at least) 75 times. His bout with The Chest was one fall with a 30-minute time limit. All set? Here we go . . .

Broadcaster Davis was right. “He’s a mean one, this Bernard.”

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, wrestlingdata.com.

Oct. 27, 1945 New York Times

Oct. 27, 1945 New York Times

The NFL’s All-Time Drinking Team

With the holiday season upon us, it might be a good time to roll out an idea that’s been rattling around in my head: the NFL’s All-Time Drinking Team. Let’s face it, the connection between pro football and alcohol — in stadiums, at tailgate parties, in sports bars and living rooms — has always been stronger than 100-proof whiskey. It’s in this spirit, if you’ll pardon the expression, that I present the following squad:

● Bob Margarita, B, Bears, 1944-46 — Was a big help to Chicago during the war years, when manpower was scarce. Best reason to raise a glass to him: In ’45 he finished third in the NFL in rushing yards (463), 10th in receiving yards (394) and, on the other side of the ball, tied for second in interceptions (6).

● Tom Beer, TE, Broncos/Patriots, 1967-72 — The 32nd player picked in the ’67 draft. (In other words, when Denver made what today would be the last selection in the first round, it said, Tom Beer football card“Beer, please, bartender.”) Best reason to raise a glass to him: In a ’68 game against the Pats he caught five passes for 98 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown, in a 35-14 Broncos win.

● Rich Martini, WR, Raiders/Saints, 1979-81 — Scored TDs in his second and third pro games. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He played special teams for the Raiders in their run to the title in 1980.

● Ed Champagne, T, Rams, 1947-50 — Appeared as a backup in the NFL championship game his last two seasons. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He was fined $300 by the league in 1950 — which was a lot of money back then — after he pushed an official while protesting a call. The Long Beach Press-Telegram said Champagne, who was ejected, “blew his cork.”

● Herb Stein (T-E, Buffalo/Toledo/Frankford/Pottsville, 1921-22, ’24-26, ’28) and Russ Stein (T-E, Toledo/Frankford/Pottsville/Canton, 1922, ’24-26) — Hey, you can’t drink beer without a couple of Steins, right? These rugged brothers were all-stars in the NFL’s early years. (The first five teams Herb played on posted a combined record of 44-9-7.) Best reason to raise a glass to them: They starred on the ’25 Pottsville Maroons club that got gypped out of the title because of a dubious league ruling.

● Terry Barr, WR, Lions, 1957-65 — OK, so there’s an extra “r.” It was either him or Garvin Mugg (T, Lions, 1945), and Mugg played only three NFL games. Barr, on the other hand, was a fine all-Terry Barr football cardaround talent who, in addition to his offensive exploits, intercepted three passes and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 1958. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 1963 and ’64 and went to the Pro Bowl both years.

● Bourbon Bondurant, T-K, Evansville/Bears, 1921-22 — Believe it or not, Bourbon was his given name. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He kicked six extra points for the Crimson Giants in 1921.

● Napoleon “Let’s Roll Out The” Barrel, C, Oorang Indians, 1923 — If that wasn’t his nickname, it should have been. At 5-foot-8, 200 pounds, Barrel was even shaped a little like a barrel. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He played for the Oorang Indians, a team made up of Native Americans (the most famous of which was Jim Thorpe). Oorang, by the way, wasn’t a tribe, it was the name of a kennel near Marion, Ohio, that specialized in Airedales and sponsored the franchise for two seasons. Some of Barrel’s other teammates were Joe Little Twig, Ted Lone Wolf and Long Time Sleep (otherwise known as Nick Lassa).

● Jack Daniels, TB, Milwaukee, 1925 — His NFL career lasted just one game, but there’s no way you can leave him off the squad. Best reason to raise a glass to him: That Badgers juggernaut he played on finished 0-6 and was outscored 191-7. If anybody needed a drink, it was Jack Daniels.

● Darryl Tapp, DE, Seahawks/Eagles/Redskins/Lions, 2006-present — Our All-Time All-Drinking roster wouldn’t be complete without one current player. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He

Darryl Tapp celebrates a sack with the Seahawks.

Darryl Tapp celebrates a sack with the Seahawks.

had four sacks and a forced fumble in Seattle’s 33-6 victory over the Rams in 2007.

● Joe Brandy, coach, Minneapolis, 1924 — Brandy’s Marines were another of the pre-draft, pre-revenue sharing Have Nots, going 0-6 and putting up just 14 points. Best reason to raise a glass to him: At Notre Dame he played under Knute Rockne and in the same backfield with George Gipp.

Reserves:

● Jarvis Redwine, RB-KR, Vikings, 1981-83

● Chris Port, G-T, Saints, 1991-95

● Ken Vinyard, K, Falcons, 1970

● Michael Jameson, DB, Browns, 2002-04

● Gerry Sherry, FB, Louisville, 1926

● Arnold Ale, LB, Chiefs/Chargers, 1994, ’96

● Sam Adams, father (G-T, Patriots/Saints, 1972-81) and son (DT-DE, Seahawks/Ravens/Raiders/Bills/Bengals/Broncos, 1994-2007) (You could pour a Sam Adams into each of the Steins.)

● Scott Case, DB, Falcons/Cowboys, 1984-95

● Ted Ginn, WR/KR, Dolphins/49ers, 2007-12 (Sorry, it’s the closest I could come to gin.)

Home field: Where else but Tampa Stadium (a.k.a. The Big Sombrero before it was demolished)?

The Big Sombrero photo

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Thanksgiving 1930

Thought we could celebrate the holiday by setting the Wayback Machine for Nov. 27, 1930. Why Nov. 27, 1930, you ask? Oh, why not?

For the record, nine of the NFL’s 11 teams played on that Thanksgiving Day, which wasn’t the least bit unusual. It was, after all, the Depression. If a team could squeeze in an extra game before winter arrived, preferably one against a nearby opponent, it could fill the stadium with both fan bases and possibly break even for the season.

In Portsmouth, Ohio, the Spartans, in their first year in the league, faced the Ironton Tanks, an independent club and their fiercest rival. Spartans-Tanks games had an anarchy all their own. Here’s a link to a piece I wrote about their 1930 Turkey Day battle — memorable in every way — for Sports on Earth last year. (Reader advisory: At one point in the hostilities, a Portsmouth player has his pants torn off.)

But I want to do more with this post than just go over old ground. I want to give you a sense of what a day in the NFL was like in those times. So I’ve gathered newspaper stories about the other four games on Thanksgiving 1930 in case you want to read them. If you went to the newsstand the next day, this is the coverage you would have found in The New York Times, Brooklyn Eagle, Milwaukee Journal and Chicago Tribune.

Two of the games were in New York. The first, at Thompson’s Stadium on Staten Island, pitted the Giants against the Stapletons. The Giants, who were leading the league with an 11-2 record, had Benny Friedman, the greatest of the early passers. But the Stapes, 4-4-2 coming in, had a Hall of Fame back of their own: Ken Strong (who moved to the Giants after the Staten Island franchise folded and spent most of his career with them). The Times’ account:

Giants-Stapes 1 11-28-30 NYT

Giants-Stapes 2 11-28-30 NYT

Giants-Stapes 3 11-28-30 NYT

The “Wilson” mentioned in the story, by the way, was Mule Wilson, one of the Stapletons’ running backs. Can you imagine leaving that out of the play-by-play – a fabulous name like Mule? Of course, Moran’s first name, Hap, also was omitted. He, too, was a back — for the Giants.

The difference in the game, as you read, was that the Stapes made their one PAT try and the Giants missed theirs. But the Giants, interestingly, didn’t attempt a kick. Instead, the Times reported, their “pass from Friedman to Moran for the extra point was grounded [meaning incomplete].” Teams sometimes did that back then. What would have been nice is if the paper had explained the Giants’ strategy. Was the field too torn up for a dropkick? Was there a problem with the snap that forced Friedman, the Giants’ primary kicker, to throw the ball instead? We’ll never know. But it proved incredibly costly.

The second game in New York was between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Providence Steam Roller, the 1928 champs, at Ebbets Field. As with the Times, the Eagle’s coverage was less than exhaustive: five paragraphs plus a box score that provided the starting lineups, scoring summary, substitutions and officiating crew. Note that only three officials worked these games: a referee, umpire and head linesman. Think a few penalties — if not felonies — might have gone unnoticed?

Brooklyn Eagle 1 T-Day 1930

Brooklyn Eagle 2 T-Day 1930

So in the Giants game we have Mule and Hap, and in this one we have Stumpy (Thomason, “the stocky little halfback who has become so popular with the Brooklyn fans”). What can I tell ya? They were big on nicknames in the ’30s. One of the reasons the Dodgers won by such a large margin — 21, which was a sizable spread in the NFL’s dead-ball era — is that the Steam Roller were playing shorthanded. After dropping out of the race, they’d released five players to reduce payroll (and Portsmouth happily signed them to load up for the Ironton grudge match).

Let’s move on to Philadelphia — and the Frankford Yellow Jackets-Green Bay Packers matchup. The Packers were a veritable all-star team with future Hall of Famers in the backfield (quarterback Arnie Herber, back Johnny Blood) and the line (tackle Cal Hubbard, guard Mike Michalske). They also had a center, Jug Earp, who was related to Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman (just in case there was any trouble).

The Frankford franchise, on the other hand, was in its death throes — yet another victim of the hard economic times. The Yellow Jackets had won the championship four years earlier and were one of the strongest teams in the ’20s, but 1931 would be their last season in the league (as it would for the Steam Roller).

Packers-FYJ head 11-28-30 Milw Journal

Packers-FYJ 2 11-28-30 Milw Journal

Packers-FYJ 3 11-28-30 Milw JournalPackers-FYJ 4 11-28-30 Milw Journal

This was a huge victory for the Packers. Not only did it stop a two-game skid, it enabled them — because of the Giants’ loss — to reclaim first place. They went on to win their second of three straight titles (an NFL record later tied by Vince Lombardi’s Packers in the ’60s). Despite their success, though, it looks like the Journal hired a stringer to cover the game in Philly. I’m guessing the paper didn’t have the healthiest travel budget the year after the stock market crashed.

My favorite passage in the story: “With the wind at their backs the Jackets kicked far into Green Bay territory. One of the many fumbles, all of which can be readily excused because of frozen fingers, occurred at this time.”

It wasn’t unheard of for players to wear gloves in the 1930s — even if some of them did disdain helmets. But it appears everybody toughed it out in the Packers-Yellow Jackets game. Thus, the “many fumbles.”

We finish this Day in the Life of the NFL at Wrigley Field, where the Bears and Cardinals collided with Chicago bragging rights at stake. The game is particularly notable because of a late addition to the Bears roster: fullback Joe Savoldi, who had been booted out of Notre Dame in midseason after it was discovered he was married. By week’s end, the Bears were $1,000 poorer — the fine they were assessed for signing a player before his college class had graduated. The Tribune’s take:

Bears-Cardinals 1

Bears-Cardinals 2

Bears-Cardinals 3

Bears-Cardinals 4

Bears-Cardinals 5

You’ll love this: The Wilfrid Smith who wrote the game story and the “Smith [De Pauw]” who served as the head linesman are the same person. A number of sportswriters in that era double-dipped as officials — and would sit in the press box afterward, still wearing their zebra outfits, and type their deathless prose. (The linesman in the Giants game was “J. Reardon.” That would be Jack Reardon of the Times. He may well have covered the game, too, but we can’t be 100 percent sure because the story didn’t have a byline.)

Smith, who also played some tackle in the NFL with the Cardinals and three other clubs, was one of the best football writers of his generation — knowledgeable, instructive and funny. Wasn’t it classic how he described Savoldi’s touchdown?

Red [Grange, the Bears’ halfback] carried within inches of the [goal] line. . . . Here, [quarterback Carl] Brumbaugh remembered his professional etiquette and Savoldi banged into the line, falling with the ball squarely on the final strip[e].

Did you catch, too, that the Cardinals completed six passes to their own receivers and six to the Bears? Putting the ball in the air could be a risky proposition in those days, much like plane travel.

So ends our field trip to Thanksgiving 1930. According to my calculations, the attendance at the five games was 37,500 — about half the capacity of AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys will host the Eagles today. Eighty-four years later, the Stapes, Dodgers, Steam Roller and Yellow Jackets no longer exist, the Spartans have moved to Detroit and become the Lions and the Cardinals have relocated to Arizona after a stop in St. Louis.

Even worse, there’s nobody in the league named Mule or Hap or Stumpy.

The 1930 Staten Island Stapletons -- all 19 of them.

The 1930 Staten Island Stapletons — all 19 of them.

The streaking Patriots

It’s easier to lose seven straight games in the NFL than it is to win seven straight. If you doubt this, click on these two links. You’ll see there have been 52 regular-season winning streaks of seven games or longer in the 2000s — and 69 losing streaks of the same length.

Indeed, the Bucs, now in their 39th year, have never reeled off seven victories in a row, not even the season they won the Super Bowl. The Browns, meanwhile, haven’t had a seven-gamer since ’68, and the Bengals (‘73) and Cardinals (’74) haven’t put one together in nearly as long.

I point this out because the Patriots are on their annual seven-game roll. Well, maybe not annual, but they’ve certainly been Frequent Streakers in the Belichick-Brady Era. This is their seventh run of seven games or more; a couple of times, they didn’t stop until they reached 21 and 18.

The only other team in the 2000s that’s had more than four such streaks is Peyton Manning’s team. Manning had five with the Colts, and has added a sixth — a 17-gamer — with the Broncos.

A look at the Patriots’ streaks (which become even more impressive when you realize that no other club in the AFC East has had even one in the 2000s):

PATRIOTS’ REGULAR-SEASON WINNING STREAKS OF 7 OR MORE SINCE 2000

Games Years Result Broken By, Score
21 2006-08 Lost Super Bowl in ’07 Dolphins, 38-13
18 2003-04 Won Super Bowl in ’03 & ’04 Steelers, 34-20
10 2010-11 Lost first playoff game in ’10 Bills, 34-31
9 2011-12 Lost Super Bowl in ’11 Cardinals, 20-18
9 2001-02 Won Super Bowl in ’01 Chargers, 21-14
7 2012 Lost AFC title game 49ers, 41-34
7 2014 TBD TBD

The rest of the league: Colts (5 streaks of seven or better), Packers (4), Chargers (3), Seahawks (3), Vikings (3), Bears (2), Chiefs (2), Eagles (2), Falcons (2), 49ers (2), Panthers (2), Rams (2), Saints (2), Steelers (2), Titans (2), Broncos (1), Cowboys (1), Giants (1), Lions (1), Ravens (1), Redskins (1), Texans (1).

Teams that haven’t had a seven-game streak in the 2000s: Bengals, Bills, Browns, Bucs, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets, Raiders.

How do the Patriots stack up against other teams over the decades led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks? Pretty favorably — keeping in mind, of course, that Brady is in his 13th full season as a starter (Roger Staubach was the Cowboys’ QB of record for just nine) and that schedules are now 16 games (Sid Luckman never played more than 12).

MOST WINNING STREAKS OF 7 GAMES OR MORE, REGULAR SEASON

Years Quarterback, Team 7+ Streaks
2001-14 Tom Brady’s Patriots            7
1999-10 Peyton Manning’s Colts            6
1980-90 Joe Montana’s 49ers            6
1946-55 Otto Graham’s Browns            6*
1992-07 Brett Favre’s Packers            4
1991-99 Steve Young’s 49ers            4
1983-98 John Elway’s Broncos            4
1970-82 Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers            4
1971-79 Roger Staubach’s Cowboys            4
1967-80 Bob Griese’s Dolphins            4
1956-72 Johnny Unitas’ Colts            4
1939-50 Sid Luckman’s Bears            4

*Includes years in the All-America Conference (1946-49).

Note: “Years” denotes the span of seasons the quarterback was the team’s starter. Obviously, a QB didn’t get credit for a streak unless he started all or virtually all of the games. (Backup Earl Morrall, for instance, filled in for the injured Unitas when the Colts won eight straight in ’68 – and did likewise for Griese when the Dolphins went undefeated in ’72.)

In case you were wondering, Bart Starr’s Packers had a mere two runs of seven games or longer during the Lombardi years (1959-67) — which just shows how much more competitive the NFL was back then. We’re talking, after all, about arguably the greatest dynasty in pro football history.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Joe Morgan: Bang for the touch

If you’re a frequenter of this site, you know I’m always on the lookout for the oddball game — the “snowflake.” Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan had one of the all timers Monday night against the Ravens.

Here’s what Morgan did the first time he touched the ball:Morgan 1

And here’s what he did the second time he touched the ball: Morgan 2That’s it. There was no third time he touched the ball. He finished with one rush for 67 yards and one reception for 62. Do the math and you get 129 yards from scrimmage — again, on two touches. That’s insane. It’s also something no one else has done since at least 1960.

In fact, only eight other players in that period have had even a 20-yard gain both rushing and receiving, never mind a 60-yarder, in a two-touch game. It’s just really unusual. (Note: I’ve excluded anybody who might have returned a punt or kickoff in the same game. I’m being strict about this: two touches — period.)

ONE RUSH FOR 20+ YARDS, ONE RECEPTION FOR 20+ YARDS IN A GAME

Date Player, Team Opponent Rush Catch Total
11-24-14 WR Joe Morgan,Saints Ravens 67 62 129
12-12-71 WR Mel Gray, Cardinals Eagles 38 80* 118
9-3-95 WR Leslie Shepherd, Redskins Cardinals 26 73* 99
10-1-00 WR Eddie Kennison, Bears Packers 52 21 73
12-17-60 RB Nyle McFarlane, Raiders Broncos 23 49* 72
11-2-03 WR Donald Driver, Packers Vikings 45 26 71
11-15-09 WR Robert Meachem, Saints Rams 41 27* 68
11-10-96 WR Rocket Ismail, Panthers Giants 35 30 65
11-2-80 WR Leonard Thompson, Lions 49ers 30 30 60

*touchdown

(In a 1981 game against the Saints, the Cardinals’ Roy Green had one rush for 44 yards, one reception for 28 and one interception for 29. A performance like that certainly deserves mention, even if the pick disqualifies him from this list.)

What makes Morgan’s night all the sweeter is that touches have been so rare for him in his two NFL seasons. He’s had just 14 — 12 catches, 2 rushes. But he’s gotten a lot of yardage out of those opportunities, including 10 gains of more than 25 yards. Average gain on receptions and rushes combined: 36.9 yards (14/516).

Nobody does that. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joe Morgan.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Saints' Joe Morgan doing what he does best, making big plays.

The Saints’ Joe Morgan doing what he does best, making big plays.

36 points, 37 penalties

Rarely do two things of historical significance happen in the same game. But it’s great when they do — such as in the Browns’ 42-21 win over the Bears on Nov. 25, 1951.

For starters, Cleveland back Dub Jones scored six touchdowns, tying the record he now shares with Ernie Nevers (1929) and Gale Sayers (1965). Even more amazing: He scored the last five jones photo in locker roomtimes he touched the ball. While Jones was running amok, though, the teams were racking up a combined 37 penalties for 374 yards, two more records. The normally disciplined Browns were hit with 209 yards (yet another mark that has since been broken), the typically rowdy Bears 165. Sounds like the guys might have gotten a little, uh, vindictive.

In his story for The Plain Dealer, Harold Sauerbrei wrote:

It is merely in strict adherence to good reporting, not the intention to question the officiating, to record that the Browns were assessed 299 [sic] yards for 21 “infractions.”

In one series of downs with the Bears on the offensive, the Browns three times were charged with 15 yards for a personal foul. Two of them nullified intercepted passes, the second of which was returned 94 yards to an apparent touchdown by Don Shula.

Wait, that’s a third thing of historical significance that happened in the game. Shula had a 94-yard TD wiped out that, had it stood, would have been the only score of his NFL career.

No wonder his Colts and Dolphins clubs were so penalty-averse.

Dub Jones headlineDub Jones subheadDub Jones lead

Sideline extracurriculars

From the look of the things, 49ers wideout Anquan Boldin and Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett exchanged some Hard Consonants on the Washington sideline Sunday. They may even have uttered a few vowels.

Late in the game, as you can see in this clip, Boldin was driven out of bounds by cornerback Greg Ducre and free safety Trenton Robinson after a 10-yard catch. When he “pushed,” as he put it, one of the defenders off him, lips started flapping. Line judge Byron Boston actually stepped between principals to make sure the situation didn’t escalate.

The 49ers' Anquan Boldin and Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett debate the proper way to baste a turkey.

The 49ers’ Anquan Boldin and Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett debate the proper way to baste a turkey.

Afterward, Boldin claimed to be unaware of what set Haslett off. “A guy tried to hit me late on the sideline,” he said, “and I pushed him off. [Haslett] had some words for whatever reason. I don’t even give that a second thought. He don’t . . . he’s irrelevant.”

(For the record, Haslett was the 51st pick in the ’79 draft, a linebacker out of Indiana (Pa.) taken by the Bills. Mr. Irrelevant, who went 279 picks later to the Steelers, was wide receiver Mike Almond from Northwest Louisiana.)

I bring all this up for a couple of reasons: 1. Who doesn’t love a little sideline flare-up, be it inter-team or intra-team? 2. These episodes can involve so much more than just foul language.

In fact, long before Haslett joined the Bills, a Buffalo coach was accused of punching an opposing quarterback after he’d run out of bounds. It allegedly happened in a 1961 game against the New York Titans — whose descendants, the Jets, meet the Bills tonight in Detroit (thanks to the avalanche of snow that fell on Orchard Park last week).

The coach was Buster Ramsey, a crusty former all-pro guard with the Chicago Cardinals. The quarterback was Al Dorow, one of the better scramblers in that period. And the owner who leveled the charge against Ramsey was Harry Wismer, the famous sportscaster who owned the Titans (back in the days when franchises could be bought out of petty cash). Here’s The New York Times’ description of the incident:

9-18-61 NYT game story

Sounds like a nasty game, doesn’t it? And AFL Commissioner Joe Foss — this was before the league had merged with the NFL — had a ringside seat.

Anyway, the Times said Ramsey “shoved” Dorow — which was bad enough, I suppose. But Wismer upped the ante, claiming Ramsey “slugged” his QB “and cost us the game,” which the Ramsey football cardBills wound up winning 41-31.

Dorow seconded the motion, saying, “Ramsey was the first one on me and knocked me down with a punch. A player cannot lay his hands on an official and certainly a coach should not be permitted to punch a rival player.”

(I’m not sure what the word “rival” is doing there. Is Al suggesting it was OK in that era for a coach to punch his own player?)

It only got worse. When the Bills sent the Titans a copy of the game film, Wismer accused them of splicing out the fight. He fired off a wire to Buffalo general manager Dick Gallagher — that Gallagher released to the media – that read: “Received doctored up film of Titan[s]-Buffalo game. Amazed you would cut out episode of Ramsey slugging our quarterback Dorow.”

Gallagher’s reply: “Film shipped intact. Nothing cut out. Shocked at your accusation.”

Wismer was having none of that. “The film they sent us shows Ramsey going for Dorow,” he told The Associated Press. “Just about the time he gets to him, the scene shifts. They say they didn’t cut it. I say the fight isn’t in the film. Dorow got hit on the side of the jaw by Ramsey, and he will testify so.”

But beyond that, he went on, “Coaches are supposed to stop trouble, not start it. Ramsey’s actions in Buffalo could have incited a riot.”

The Titans owner went as far as to demand a lifetime ban for Ramsey — or at the very least a suspension. The Bills coach, meanwhile, continued to maintain his innocence. “I did not swing at Dorow football cardAl Dorow or any other New York player,” he said. “Harry Wismer’s statement that I did substantiates a belief I have long held . . . that he is full of hot air.”

How great was pro football in the ’60s?

Dorow got such a going over in the Buffalo bench area, the Times reported later in the week, that the team physician, Dr. James Nicholas, “said it was extremely doubtful that [he] would be able to play against Denver.” The most severe of the quarterback’s injuries, Nicholas said, was a “lumbar-sacral strain, which left him with a weakness in one leg.”

Lumbar-sacral strain or not, Dorow did indeed play the next Sunday against the Broncos, throwing three touchdown passes in a 35-28 New York win. As for Ramsey, he wasn’t suspended and probably wasn’t even fined. The AP put the matter to bed this way:

9-22-61 Foss letter to Buster

That wasn’t quite the end of it, though. The teams still had to play each other again on Thanksgiving at the Polo Grounds. In the days leading up to the game, Wismer asked the New York police commissioner to put a detail behind the Buffalo bench to maintain the peace. “We still remember the terrific beating Dorow took at the hands of Ramsey and the Buffalo players in the game at Buffalo Sept. 17,” he said.

The Titans took the rematch 21-14, with Dorow tossing for one TD and running for another. Best of all, everybody lived to tell about it – though, if you examine the box score, you’ll see Dorow was sacked six times for 66 yards. That can’t be good for the lumbar-sacral area.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Wismer asks for protection

Snow in Buffalo

The NFL has moved the Bills-Jets game to Detroit this week because the show, of course, must go on. Even when the president of the United States gets assassinated, the show must go on in pro football. In the current case, it’s due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Mother Nature, who dumped six feet of snow on Orchard Park and forced the Bills to find another venue. So the game will be played Monday night, not Sunday afternoon, and the site will be Ford Field, not Ralph Wilson Stadium.

It wasn’t always thus. In the days before TV mega-contracts, postponements and even cancellations were hardly unheard of. Sometimes all it took was slow sales ticket sales or the threat of bad weather to get owners to reschedule — or to bag the game entirely. Why don’t we revisit some of these episodes so you can get a better feel for The Way Things Were?

We begin with a couple of games in New York that were snowed out Dec. 5, 1926 — one between the Giants and Bears at the Polo Grounds, the other between the Brooklyn Horsemen and Duluth Eskimos at Ebbets Field. (And yes, I’m as surprised as anybody that a game involving the Eskimos could be snowed out.) Here’s how The New York Times reported it:

Giants-Bears snowstorm 12-6-26 NYT

12-6-26 NYT Horsemen-Eskimos canceled

What’s interesting about the first game is that it was the second of back-to-backers for the Bears. They’d lost the day before to the Frankford Yellow Jackets in Philadelphia — their only loss of the season, it would turn out, and one that would leave them second behind the Yellow Jackets in the final standings. (This was before the league staged a title game to determine its champion.)

I’m kind of amazed George Halas, their owner/coach/end, didn’t insist that the game be played at a later date — for the New York payday as much as for the potential W. But as you can see from the Bears’ 1926 results, it was just canceled (though they did play twice more before calling it a season).

Then there was the time in 1936 the Eagles and Pirates (as the Steelers were called then) got the brilliant idea to move one of their games to Johnstown, Pa. Naturally, there was a flood that caused a postponement. Well, almost a flood. The Pittsburgh Press put it this way:

Johnstown flood game 11-4-36 Pittsburgh Press

Two years later, Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney caused a stir by putting off a game against the Cleveland Rams because — brace yourself — he had too many players banged up. The Rams were none to pleased about it, as you can see in this Press story:

Rooney-Rams 10-12-38 Pittsburgh Press

Rooney-Rams Part 2

What’s interesting about this tempest in a leather helmet is that the teams wound up playing the game in December in New Orleans. It was the first NFL game ever played in the Big Easy. (Why New Orleans, you ask? Answer: During the Depression, clubs that didn’t draw well at home would play anywhere they could get a decent guarantee. The next year, the Rams played their season finale against the Eagles in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs game 1039

Moving along, in 1954 the Browns pushed their Oct. 3 home game against the Lions back to Dec. 19 because they weren’t sure if the Indians would need Cleveland Stadium for a World Series game against the New York Giants. (The Indians didn’t. The Giants completed their shocking sweep the day before.)

This created a bizarre situation. When the Browns and Lions finally did meet, all the other teams had completed their schedules — and Browns and Lions had already wrapped up their conference titles. So they played on consecutive Sundays in Cleveland . . . with the whole pro football world watching. The Lions won the first game 14-10, and the Browns won the one that really mattered 56-10. What’s that, a 50-point swing in the space of a week?

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the infamous Bills-Patriots postponement in 1961. The game was supposed to be played on a Friday night in Boston but, with Hurricane Gerda looming, was held over to Sunday. Almost predictably, Gerda ended up being the Brian Bosworth of storms — dozens of area high school contests went on as planned that night — and Buffalo coach Buster Ramsay was convinced the delay was “a deliberate attempt to upset my team. . . . A bush-league trick.”

The Patriots actually had to get the city council approval to reschedule to Sunday. They were using Boston University’s Field, you see, and BU didn’t have a permit for games on the Sabbath, according to The Boston Globe.

10-22-61 Globe head10-22-61 Globe City Council story

When the Bills and Pats finally did play, the weather — 35 degrees with 25-to-30 mph winds — was far worse than it had been Friday night. A mere 9,398 showed up to shiver, and Ramsey’s worst fears were realized: His club came out flat and fell behind 45-0 in a 52-21 loss.

At least we know Buffalo’s postponement this weekend wasn’t “a deliberate attempt to upset” the Jets. There’s real snow on the ground — alps of it. And it’s nice nobody had to go to the Detroit city council to get them to OK a Sunday game. Now Rex Ryan’s bunch just has to keep the Bills from running off to a 45-0 lead.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Sept. 28, 1942 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sept. 28, 1942 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette