Category Archives: Et Cetera

A 6:40 kickoff in balmy Foxborough

One of these days, you figure, the NFL’s — and television’s — casual indifference to winter weather will catch up with them. By not giving themselves the flexibility to flip-flip the conference championship games — so that Sunday’s tilt in New England doesn’t kick off at 6:40 p.m. — they’ll get hit with the blizzard or ice storm they’ve been risking for years.

Or maybe that’s just a fantasy of mine. Maybe thermal wear is of such high quality now (read: NASA-level) that games can be played — and played well — in any conditions. If so, bully for pro football . . . and especially its TV ratings.

You wouldn’t want another situation, though, like you had after the Ice Bowl in 1967. So much nostalgia has grown up around that game between Vince Lombardi’s Packers and Tom Landry’s Cowboys that we tend to forget some of the comments that were made afterward. Those 60 frigid minutes might have been the definitive test of manhood, but they were far from the definitive test of football. And if you’re trying to determine your league champion, your Best Team, that’s a problem.

“It seems like I might be making excuses,” Dallas quarterback Don Meredith said, “but I just don’t think you can say this is a fair test of football or a football team in weather like this. It takes away all your diversification. We had a couple of things go wrong on us because we couldn’t use that quickness that we have.”

Cowboys president Tex Schramm could only shake his head. “When I saw the four bowl games [the next day],” he said, “which were truly beautiful and great tests of the relative strengths of the teams involved, it was sickening to me that the greatest game of all couldn’t have been played under the same circumstances.”

Later that week, Red Smith, following up on his original Ice Bowl column, wrote, “The Great North is no place to play outdoor games at this season and no place to watch ’em. . . . When the footing is treacherous and hands numb, the wide game is virtually eliminated, speed is neutralized, the passing attack is handicapped and every punt is fraught with suspense. . . . Except for the heroics at the end, it was a stinker.”

(Note: Red Smith, Green Bay born and bred, just called the Ice Bowl “a stinker”!)

More Red: “Human suffering aside, championships should be decided under championship conditions. Not even [commissioner] Pete Rozelle can command the seasons to turn backward, but he can insist that title contests be played where chances are best for playable conditions.”

Sure enough, Rozelle talked about that in the days that followed, told the Dallas Times Herald he’d been in favor of neutral-site championship games in warm climates “for several years.” He just hadn’t been able to gather the necessary 13 votes (out of 16 franchises). Too many owners were wedded to the old way of doing things, with one team having the home-field advantage and the game being accessible to the home team’s fans.

“I’ll work to get it moved,” Rozelle told the Times Herald. “Under the conditions it was played last Sunday, the game is unfair to both teams.”

Browns owner Art Modell, meanwhile, assured the newspaper the matter would “be discussed in no uncertain terms at our February meeting. I personally believe it should be moved to a neutral, warm-weather spot. It was zero today in Cleveland. I wouldn’t like to have the game [in] Cleveland at 5 degrees or 5 below.”

Modell said he planned to push for the next two NFL championship games to played in one of the league’s southern cities as “a two-year test.” But not enough owners could be swayed. The 1968 title game wound up in Cleveland (wind chill: 13 degrees) and the ’69 game in Bloomington, Minn. (wind chill: minus 6).

All this has been lost in the historical glow of the Ice Bowl. And here we are, decades later, awaiting a Jan. 18 game, with a 6:40 p.m. kickoff, in Foxborough, Mass. (Date of the Ice Bowl: Dec. 31.) You just hope the weather cooperates — there’s a chance of snow — and the Colts and Patriots can give us a reasonable facsimile of pro football. But if they can’t, and the conditions turn out to be better earlier in the day, well, you’ll know who to blame.

There's a chance of snow Sunday in New England, just like there was in the Tuck Rule Game in the 2001 playoffs.

There’s a chance of snow Sunday in New England, just like there was in the Tuck Rule Game in the 2001 playoffs.

Belichick-Harbaugh and other coaching rivalries

Saturday’s summit conference between Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh might have been the best of their eight. The top-seeded Patriots twice trailed by two touchdowns and didn’t lead until Tom Brady threw the 23-yard game-winner to Brandon LaFell with 5:13 left.

There was even some intrigue. Harbaugh howled about the Three-card Monte game the Patriots played in the second half, using only four offensive linemen on several plays and confusing the Ravens about which receivers were eligible. His cries of “deception” and “illegal” — the league cleared the Pats of any wrongdoing — will only add more intensity to the next New England-Baltimore get-together (not that it needs any).

The Belichick-Harbaugh rivalry has become one of the NFL’s jewels (and somewhat surprising since they aren’t in the same division). Belichick holds a 5-3 edge, but they’re even in the postseason — Patriots 2, Ravens 2 — and let’s not forget, six of the games have been in Foxborough.

This gets me thinking about other great coaching rivalries over the years — Hall of Famer vs. Hall of Famer matchups (though Harbaugh still has some work to do in that area). Here are some of the more notable ones, listed by the number of occasions the coaches squared off:

● George Halas (Bears) vs. Curly Lambeau (Packers/Cardinals/Redskins), 1921-53.

Edge: Halas, 31-17-3.

George Halas, hunkering down.

George Halas, hunkering down.

Comment: The only time they met in the postseason was in a 1941 playoff to decide the Western Division title. (They’d finished tied with 10-1 records.) The Bears won, 33-14. Rivalries don’t get any more bitter than this one. During its span, Lambeau won six NFL championships and Halas five. In other words, they were always getting in each other’s way.

● Hank Stram (Chiefs) vs. Sid Gillman (Chargers/Oilers), 1960-74.

Edge: Stram, 13-10-1.

Comment: Both coaches had terrific duels with the Raiders’ Al Davis, too, but Stram-Gillman was longer lasting. Sid won seven of the first nine (while guiding the Chargers to five of the first six AFL title games); Hank took 11 of the last 15 (and won championships in 1962, ’66 and ’69).

● Don Shula (Dolphins) vs. Marv Levy (Chiefs/Bills), 1978-95.

Edge: Levy, 17-7 (3-0 in playoffs).

● Comment: Though Shula had Dan Marino at quarterback, Levy’s Bills clubs were better balanced and dominated the series, going to four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to ’93. None of their three postseason games was very close. Buffalo cruised 37-22, 44-34 and 29-10

 Joe Gibbs (Redskins) vs. Bill Parcells (Giants/Cowboys), 1983-2006.

Edge: Parcells, 14-9 (1-0 in playoffs).

Comment: No defense gave Gibbs’ two-tight-end attack more trouble than Parcells’ (starring Hall of Fame linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson). The big thing was, Tuna won most of the close ones. His Giants were 6-2 vs. the Redskins in games decided by a touchdown or less.

● Steve Owen (Giants) vs. Greasy Neale (Eagles), 1941-50.

Edge: Neale: 10-9-1.

Comment: Neale’s Eagles replaced Ray Flaherty’s Redskins as Owen’s primary competition in the latter ’40s. Stout Steve had the upper hand early in the rivalry, but by the end of the decade Greasy was reeling off six straight victories and winning back-to-back NFL titles.

● Vince Lombardi (Packers) vs. George Halas (Bears), 1959-67.

Edge: Lombardi, 13-5.

"What the hell is goin' on out there?"

“What the hell’s goin’ on out here?”

Comment: Lombardi made his NFL debut against Halas’ Bears — and beat them 9-6. The rest of their games went pretty much the same way. But in between Vince’s five championships, Chicago did win one last title for Papa Bear — his sixth as a coach — in 1963, when he was 68.

● Tom Landry (Cowboys) vs. George Allen (Rams/Redskins), 1966-77.

Edge: Allen, 9-8 (1-0 in playoffs).

Comment: What can you say? George was a fabulous regular-season coach — and by turning Dallas Week into such an obsession, he made the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. His postseason win over Landry came in the 1972 NFC championship game, when Washington romped 26-3. Still, Dallas went to four Super Bowls in this period (1970, ’71, ’75 ,’77) and won two of them.

● Paul Brown (Browns) vs. Buddy Parker (Lions/Steelers), 1951-62.

Edge: Brown, 9-8. (Parker had a 2-1 advantage in the playoffs.)

Comment: I fudged a bit on this one because Parker isn’t in the Hall (though he belongs). Theirs was the premier rivalry of the ’50s, with Buddy’s Lions winning two of three title games against Paul’s Browns from 1952 to ’54. After Parker moved to the Steelers in 1957, Brown had more success against him, going 8-4.

● Steve Owen (Giants) vs. Ray Flaherty (Redskins), 1936-42.

Edge: Owen, 8-5-1.

Comment: Every year their teams battled it out for Eastern Division supremacy. What made it even more interesting was that Flaherty had played and coached under Owen. The Redskins won four of the seven division crowns in this stretch but, as you can see, The Master defeated The Pupil more often than not.

● Chuck Noll (Steelers) vs. Don Shula (Colts/Dolphins), 1969-91.

Edge: Shula, 9-5 (2-1 in playoffs).

Don Shula and Dan Marino confer.

Don Shula and Dan Marino confer.

Comment: Shula’s Dolphins edged Noll’s Steelers in the 1972 AFC championship game, the next-to-last step in their perfect season. That was easily the most memorable meeting of these two legends. When they crossed paths again in the ’84 conference title game, the crunching defense of the ’70s had been replaced by high-scoring passing attacks led by the likes of Marino (who threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns in Miami’s 45-28 victory over Pittsburgh).

● Bill Belichick (Browns/Patriots) vs. Bill Cowher (Steelers), 1992-2006.

Edge: Cowher, 8-6. (Belichick had a 2-0 advantage in the playoffs.)

Comment: Unlike Parker, Cowher probably isn’t Canton material (barring a comeback), but I’m including him because, well, 14 games is no small number. The breakdown goes like this: He was 7-2 vs. Belichick/Cleveland and 1-4 vs. Belichick/New England. The two playoff losses were particularly painful, coming as they did in Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.

SOME OTHER HALL OF FAME COACHING RIVALRIES

Span Coaches (Teams) Overall Playoffs
1960-69 Vince Lombardi (Packers/Redskins) vs. Tom Landry (Cowboys) Lombardi, 5-2 Lombardi, 2-0
1963-69 Vince Lombardi (Packers/Redskins) vs. Don Shula (Colts) Lombardi, 7-4 Lombardi,1-0
1959-62 Vince Lombardi (Packers) vs. Weeb Ewbank (Colts) Tied, 4-4 None
1967-85 Tom Landry (Cowboys) vs. Bud Grant (Vikings) Landry, 7-5 Landry, 3-1
1969-88 Tom Landry (Cowboys) vs. Chuck Noll (Steelers) Noll, 6-3 Noll, 2-0
1969-78 Chuck Noll (Steelers) vs. John Madden (Raiders) Madden, 6-5 Noll, 3-2
1970-75 Chuck Noll (Steelers) vs. Paul Brown (Bengals) Noll, 8-4 None
1969-85 Chuck Noll (Steelers) vs. Bud Grant (Vikings) Tie, 3-3 Noll, 1-0
1970-78 Don Shula (Dolphins) vs. John Madden (Raiders) Madden, 4-3 Madden, 2-1
1983-88 Bill Walsh (49ers) vs. Bill Parcells (Giants) Walsh, 4-3 Parcells, 2-1
1981-88 Bill Walsh (49ers) vs. Joe Gibbs (Redskins) Walsh, 4-2 Gibbs, 1-0

What’s interesting is that only one of these pairings (Noll-Madden, 5) featured more postseason meetings than Belichick-Harbaugh (4). The big question is: How much longer will Bill, who’s almost 63, keep coaching? If he stays at it another, say, five years, the Belichick-Harbaugh rivalry might go down as one of the all-timers.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick: a warm embrace after a cold AFC title game.

John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick: a warm embrace after a cold AFC title game in January 2012.

Welcome

You can look at football as just football. Or you can look at it as Americana. Or you can look at it as a source of humor. Or you can look at it as (fill in the blank). At Pro Football Daly, I’m going to look at it every which way.

That doesn’t mean I’m trying to be all things to all people, or even most things to most people. It just means that, to me, there are so many aspects of the game worth exploring — statistical, historical, strategic, sociologic, economic (and probably a few other “ics” I can’t think of offhand).

Hopefully — given my beginner’s knowledge of website design — you’ll be able to find your way around easily enough. The categories in the sidebar should be fairly self-explanatory. Posts will be filed by decade so you can zero in the era(s) that most interest you. They’ll also be filed by the following subjects:

● The Film Room/X’s and O’s — Game footage and (sometimes) play diagrams that shed light on some aspect of football. Such as: Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne running the option in the early ’50s and the continuing corruption of the Statue of Liberty play.

● Stats/Charts — Expect a steady diet of these. (I admit it, I’m a Numbers Gnome.) For starters, there are graphics on the diminished importance of the running back, the Patriots’ near-record 13-year run and how, since the 1970 merger, teams that have allowed 21 points in a game have won more often than teams that have allowed 16.

● Screen Gems — Memorable movie and TV clips starring NFL players or, occasionally, dealing with NFL players. I’ve archived quite a few to choose from, including Joe Namath getting a massage on “The Flip Wilson Show” and Alex Karras scoring a TKO in Blazing Saddles.

● From Deep in My File Drawer — Unusual stuff I’ve squirreled away, waiting for the right time to trot it out. It’s pretty much a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! of pro football (with assorted other curiosities thrown in). Check out the amazing uniforms worn by a minor-league team in 1933 or a photo of a bothersome fan getting booted in the butt by George Halas’ son.

● Recommended Reading — If you’ve got some time on your hands, you might want to take a look some of these jewels. Among them are pieces about Hardy Brown, the most lethal player the NFL has known, and another about the adventures of George Allen’s kids in high school football.

● Training Camp — Since it’s that time of year, I stockpiled several camp-related items for your entertainment and/or enlightenment. You can read a long lost version of The Speech that Paul Brown delivered to the Browns at the start of each year or you can grab a cup of coffee and let my “Ode to training camp” wash over you.

● The Draft — I’ll do more down the road, as we get closer to the 2015 festivities. For now, you’re going to have to content yourself with a couple of offerings: the first about a Pittsburgh mortician who was Mel Kiper 30 years before Mel Kiper, the second about teams that won the NFL championship and, as if that weren’t enough, selected a Hall of Famer in the next draft.

● Department of Corrections — Every once in a while, when there’s been a particularly egregious misrepresentation of the historical record, I might feel obliged to chime in. Jim Dent’s book about Bronko Nagurski, for instance: Monster of the Midway. I just looked at it a little more closely and, well, I wish Jim had done the same.

● Et Cetera — As you might expect, this is a catch-all category for material that doesn’t really fit anywhere else. A classic example is a Red Smith column I stumbled across – from his New York Herald Tribune days — that had some bizarre recommendations for “improving” pro football.

Finally, a word about comments. If you’re capable of engaging in civil discourse, your comments will appear on the site. If you aren’t, they won’t. Fair enough?

That’s the end of the guided tour. I’ll leave you to your own devices now. If you want to be notified about new posts and other developments at Pro Football Daly, by all means follow me on Twitter. And thanks for stopping by.

Red Smith’s strange ideas about football

Though he was born and raised in Green Bay — about a mile from where Curly Lambeau lived for a while — Red Smith wasn’t what you’d call a Football Guy. The famed sportswriter grew up, after all, in a baseball world. It wasn’t until the early ’70s, when he was almost 70, that the NFL became No. 1 in America’s heart.

Maybe that explains the cockamamie notions he floated in a 1958 column for the New York Herald Tribune. He attributed the first to a reader, one Robert L. Talbot of Summit, N.J., who claimed to be a “spokesman of a group of fans.” Talbot wrote:

“Whenever a team is behind by more than seven points it should be entitled to receive the kickoff regardless of which team has scored. [Say a] team that has been behind, 30 to 13, makes the score 30 to 20. This team still trails by seven points and so is entitled to receive the next kickoff.

“Another touchdown would make the score 30 to 27. With only a three-point difference, present rules would apply and the team scored against would elect to receive. We believe this would sustain interest at a higher pitch right up to the end.”

College all-star games used to have a rule like that, in case the score got too one-sided. (Perhaps they still do. I stopped watching them years ago.) Anyway, this Talbot fellow wanted to turn pro football into the North-South game — and Red was all for it!

“[T]his is no reckless, half-baked device to louse up established practice and open the gate for wild scoring,” he wrote. “The privilege of receiving the kickoff is no guarantee that a score will result, and there is a safety factor in the provision requiring an eight-point difference in scores (or a nine-point difference in college, probably) before the old order changeth. . . .

“The feeling here is that Mr. Talbot’s proposal is worth a trial. Chances are it would have little effect on the outcome of games. Certainly it would never enable a poor team to beat a good team. Yet if it helped at all to narrow the point spread between poorly matched teams, if it kept alive the possibility of a laggard catching up, it would serve its purpose.”

I’m just gonna let that argument speak for itself — and move on to Red’s second bout of temporary insanity: eliminating the clock and having games limited to a proscribed number of plays. His logic:

There is no good reason why a football game should end after 60 minutes of timed action and inaction. A championship fight goes 15 rounds. A golf match is 18 or 36 holes. Some games like soccer or hockey or basketball or polo must be clocked because there’s no other way of measuring them.

This isn’t so of football. On five minutes’ notice, statisticians could come up with figures showing how many plays a pair of live teams ought to run in any game or in any quarter of a game. There is no reason at all why a game couldn’t be measured by so many plays a quarter, rather than so many minutes.

There would then be no more of this nonsense about stopping the clock or running out the clock. Then the dial over the scoreboard would show not how much time remained but how many plays remained. Strategy wouldn’t change much, but a lot of sharp practice would be eliminated.

Yes, Red, let’s make football more like baseball, The Game That Has No Clock. All I can say is, it must have been one heck of a slow day in the Herald Trib sports department.

I don’t want anyone thinking I hold Red in low esteem. On the contrary, almost an entire bookshelf in my study is taken up with his collections. I just found this particular column hysterical. He did plenty of terrific football writing, too, like this passage on the Ice Bowl between the Packers and Cowboys:

It was the coldest Dec. 31 in the Green Bay records – 13 below zero at kickoff with a perishing wind carrying misery out of the northwest at 15 miles an hour. In spite of the 14 miles of electric heating cable under the turf, Lambeau Field froze, though not too hard for cleats. On the sidelines, players huddled under canvas hogans warmed by electric heaters, but out on the field there was no mercy.

No penguin is Bart Starr, of Montgomery, Ala. Fleeing from the rush of [Willie] Townes and [George] Andrie, he was harried back to his 7-yard line, where Townes jarred the ball out of his stiffened fingers. Andrie scooped it up and the score was 14-7.

No polar bear is Willie Wood. On a Dallas punt, he fumbled a fair catch and the Cowboys’ Phil Clark recovered on the Green Bay 17 [which led to a field goal].

Another of his dispatches on the game carried this dateline:

GREEN BAY, Wis. (BY SLED DOG) –

Finally, here he is in 1965 on the violence issue — specifically as it pertained to quarterbacks:

The mug shots of all professional quarterbacks should be displayed in the post office under the caption: “Wanted — Dead or Alive.” If John Dillinger were around today, he would be wearing jersey No. 19 like Johnny Unitas or 15 like . . . Bart Starr or 12 like Charley Johnson.

It isn’t pro football any longer. The name of the game now is get the quarterback. If [commissioner] Pete Rozelle had J. Edgar Hoover’s job, there would be 14 names — one from each team in the National [Football] League — on the FBI’s list of the 10 most wanted criminals.

It is shocking, but it is legal under the rules and probably nothing can be done about it without emasculating the game. . . . The pros have come as close as sweaty ingenuity can come to reducing an 11-man game to a game for two — the passer and the receiver. This makes the quarterback as important as the pitcher in baseball. It also makes him a prime target of ungentle monsters whose aim is to win and who know the shortest route to victory is straight over his cadaver.

Beautiful.

But pro football clearly wasn’t Red’s favorite sport — and he didn’t try to hide it. In 1960 he referred to it as “the high-scoring game of beanbag that masquerades as football in the pro leagues.”

Well, if that’s the way you feel about it . . .