Category Archives: Screen Gems

The infamous Duane Thomas interview

We’ll never know what kind of NFL career Duane Thomas might have had because, while great at eluding tacklers, he couldn’t get out of his own way. For a brief period in the early ’70s, though, he was a premier running back, arguably the best in the league when suitably inspired.

He was definitely up for Super Bowl VI, when his Cowboys crunched the Dolphins, 24-3. He rushed for a game-high 95 yards, ran for the second Dallas touchdown, caught three passes — and did it against a dynasty-in-the-making that would win the next two NFL titles.

But Thomas wasn’t exactly a big talker. And after getting in a contract dispute that season — a strange episode that saw him traded to the Patriots, then returned to the Cowboys when he proved utterly uncooperative — he shut himself off from the media and didn’t communicate much with coaches and teammates, either.

Duane Thomas SI coverNaturally, this didn’t make him very popular. In his book, Duane Thomas and the Fall of America’s Team, Paul Zimmerman wrote that Thomas was “the writers’ overwhelming choice” for Super Bowl MVP — and the car that went with it — but Sport magazine, which handed out the award, opted for Dallas’ Roger Staubach, who’d thrown for a modest 119 yards (and two TDs). The reason was obvious: The publication was afraid of what Thomas might say or do when he was presented with the car in New York (that is, assuming he showed up).

Simply put, Thomas’ demeanor made people uncomfortable — even a hard-nosed former NFL defensive back like Tom Brookshier. After the game, Brookshier was doing interviews in the winners’ locker room for CBS when he got one of the surprises of his life: Thomas was suddenly standing behind him on the TV platform, accompanied by football legend Jim Brown, his friend and advisor.

What followed were three of the more memorable minutes in the history of sports television. You had Brookshier struggling to get any kind of conversation going — and coming across like a summer intern in the process — and you had Thomas, ever the Sphinx, keeping his answers painfully short. (Except for his immortal “Evidently” line. That was humorously short.) As for Brown, then a Hollywood star, he almost sounded like Duane’s Svengali at times.

See for yourself. Here’s a clip of the interview that I happily came across yesterday — and that might get taken down at any moment if the Copyright Infringement Police decides to make an issue of it (which is why I’m posting it now, completely out of the blue).

“I still have nightmares about that interview,” Brookshier once said. “I think of it and break into a cold sweat. I keep a blown-up photo of it next to my desk — so I’ll never forget.”

This past season, of course, we had another closed-mouthed running back at the Super Bowl: the Seahawks’ Marshawn “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” Lynch. I don’t know about you, but I thought Thomas was much more entertaining.

Sources: YouTube, pro-football-reference.com

“Stump the Football Stars”

Sportscaster Dick Enberg was in the news recently as the winner of baseball’s Ford Frick Award. He’s also done some fine football work, of course, calling eight Super Bowls and serving as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Rams. (He’s already, in fact, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

Since we’re closing in on Christmas, I thought I’d post these clips from his syndicated game show, Sports Challenge. This episode pitted three Kansas City Chiefs (quarterback Len Dawson, linebacker Willie Lanier and wide receiver Otis Taylor) against a trio of Miami Dolphins (fullback Larry Csonka, halfback Jim Kiick and wide receiver Paul Warfield) — the year after the teams played their classic Christmas Day playoff game, won by the Dolphins in double overtime, 27-24.

Four of these six guys are now in Canton (Dawson, Lanier, Csonka, Warfield), and another (Taylor) probably belongs there. It’s always surprised me that ESPN hasn’t tried to revive Sports Challenge, just for fun. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing pro athletes stumped by relatively easy questions about their game’s history? Check this out:

Nobody knew the answer – not even Dawson, who at the time of the alleged Greatest Game Ever Played was a third-string quarterback for the Steelers. (The others had yet to play pro ball.) That’s almost — almost — like players not knowing that Adam Vinatieri won Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII for the Patriots. (You know what would have been a great follow-up question, by the way? “For 10 points, what is the correct spelling of Myhra?”)

As I said, though, many of the questions on Sports Challenge weren’t very, well, challenging. Like this one, also about the NFL:

Come on! Do we have to dumb things down that much?

I’ll finish with this clip from earlier in the show. Enberg talks about Garo Yepremian ending the Chiefs-Dolphins overtime thriller with a field goal and asks Csonka, “Where were you at that time?” You’ll love the response:

The players weren’t always well-versed in their game’s history, but at least some of them had a sense of humor.

“The Thing with Two Heads”

Happened upon this the other day while nosing around the Internet. It’s gotta be, by at least five touchdowns, the worst movie that ever featured a former pro football player — in this case Rosey Grier, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle with the Giants and Rams in the ’50s and ’60s. (And believe me, there are a lot of candidates for this honor.)

For those of you who aren’t movie buffs, Ray Milland, Grier’s co-star in The Thing With Two Heads (1972), won the Best Actor Oscar in 1945 for The Lost Weekend, a film about a drunk who goes on a four-day bender. It might also have been during this “lost weekend” that the plot for The Thing With Two Heads was conceived. Here’s the trailer (and it’s perfectly all right if, at some point, you want to cover your eyes):

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the inspiration for Stuck on You, the Farrelly brothers’ 2003 take on conjoined twins. Unfortunately, neither Matt Damon nor Greg Kinnear ever played in the NFL . . . though they did play some high school ball:

Stuck on You football photo

Last-minute gift ideas

With the holiday season upon us — and Festivus just a week away — I thought I’d throw out a few gift suggestions for That Special Someone (who also happens to be a pro football fanatic). Some of these items might be hard to come by but, trust me, it would be well worth the effort.

A pair of Frenchy Fuqua’s fiberglass clogs with three-inch heels — complete with goldfish in the heels (air pump included).

Fuqua, a running back with the Giants and Steelers and the ’60s and ’70s, is remembered less for his ball carrying than for his cutting-edge fashion. His bright-red “caveman outfit” was a real head-turner. How he described it to the Pittsburgh Press in 1976: “It had a strap over one shoulder, and one leg was a bell bottom and the other had fringes on it. But the greatest thing about it was the purse. It was a white fur purse that was shaped like a club.”

Frenchy’s signature accessory, though, was the aforementioned shoes. They looked something like this:

Fuqua shoe

Problem was, the fish lasted only a couple of hours before suffocating. “I was getting’ so much pub because of the goldfish, I hated to stop wearing the shoes,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, you kick up some dead goldfish at a banquet, and pretty soon you get a real foul odor. You start feeling terrible about it, too. When some people found out they were dyin’, they got on me about bein’ cruel to animals. I thought about running a tube down my leg with an air pump that would supply constant fresh water to the fish.”

The shoes also were potentially hazardous to the wearer’s health. As he once told The New York Times, they “were a little slippery to walk in, being glass, so you’d have to hold on to a rail when you went down stairs.”

The Joe Namath Butter-Up Corn Popper. Namath hawked everything from shaving cream to pantyhose to this, which was popular in college dorms in the ’70s:

Namath popper

A VHS tape of Sammy Baugh’s 12-part serial, “King of the Texas Rangers.” Slingin’ Sam could do more than just throw touchdown passes. Being a Texan, he also could ride horses, shoot guns and beat up bad guys.

Baugh movie 2

Rosey Grier’s “Committed” album (1986).

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.20.55 PMGrier, one of the tackles on the Rams’ legendary Fearsome Foursome defensive front in the ’60s, could sing a little. In 1965 he and the rest of the Foursome appeared on the TV show Shindig! (with the other three, as you’ll see, doing little more calisthenics behind him):

A year earlier, Rosey had sung solo on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Here’s that clip:

(I ask you: How did we get from that great musical moment to Redskins owner Dan Snyder buying Dick Clark Productions?)

A Bronko Nagurski, Jr. football. (You’ve gotta like the 1937 price.)

Nagurski Jr. football

● And finally, if you’re looking a stocking stuffer, there’s always the Red Grange candy bar.

Red Grange candy bar

Friday Night Fights XII: Woody Strode vs. Gorgeous George

If Woody Strode is remembered today, it’s probably as an actor,  not as one of the two players to reintegrate the NFL in 1946 with the Los Angeles Rams. His most famous role was as the title character in Sergeant Rutledge (directed by the legendary John Ford). He also played the Grand Mogul in the classic Batman TV series. But his most famous scene was in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, when he fought Kirk Douglas in one of the great cinema battles of all time. Take a look:

Awesome, no? (Yes, that’s Laurence Olivier taking the knife to Woody at the end.) Steven Spielberg certainly has a high opinion of it:

Anyway, how did we get from that exercise in thespian manhood to this? By this, I mean Strode’s wrestling match — date unknown — with Gorgeous George, one of the daintiest grapplers ever to climb in the ring? If you’ve never seen George’s shtick before, you’re in for a treat. The guy took Muhammad Ali’s “I’m so pretty” to a whole new level.

Besides his football and film careers, Strode also did some rolling around on the mat. He even wrestled Primo Carnera, the former heavyweight boxing champ — Sept. 27, 1956, according to wrestlingdata.com. (Alas, I couldn’t find any more information about it.) The character of Mountain Rivera in Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight (played in this trailer by Anthony Quinn). is loosely based on Carnera.

Speaking of boxing, Strode refereed some bouts, too — including one in Ogden, Utah, in 1956 involving light-heavyweight champ Archie Moore. Moore’s victim was a wrestler-turned-boxer, Roy Shire, who — get this — had faced Woody a few months earlier.

Headline of Moore fight Strode refereedText of Moore fight Strode refereed

OK, that’s enough backstory. Here it is, tonight’s main event: Woody Strode, who was built like a Greek god, vs. Gorgeous George, who would have been the first on his block to use Grecian Formula (if it had been around then).

Too bad Woody didn’t work that “long pitchfork,” as Spielberg called it, from Spartacus into his act.

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

Woody Strode as the Grand Mogul in the "Batman" TV series (1966).

Woody Strode as the Grand Mogul in the “Batman” TV series (1966).

Dec. 2, 1956: Frank Gifford on “What’s My Line?”

Before 1960, few running backs had a season as good as Frank Gifford’s 1956. His 819 rushing yards were fifth-best in the NFL. His 603 receiving yards tied for seventh-best. His 1,422 yards from scrimmage were a league record for a back. He also threw two touchdown passes and, in his spare time, booted a field goal and eight extra points.

Not to go off on a tangent here, but I’ve always thought Gifford was a bit underrated. That might sound funny, him being in the Hall of Fame and all, but he wasn’t inducted until 13 years after he retired, and he was rebuffed five times as a finalist before the selection committee waved him through.

Frank Gifford was no New York Creation. Frank Gifford was a great, versatile football player — in the days when more of a premium was placed on such things. Aside from the aforementioned skills, he was a fine defensive back and played both ways early in his career. After the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik sidelined him for more than a year in 1960, Frank reinvented himself as a (quite capable) wide receiver.

Did he have matinee-idol looks? Sure. But he was no pretty boy. Here he is playing without a facemask at Southern Cal:

Gifford without facemask

OK, I’m done with my spiel. Anyway, late in that 1956 season, with Gifford en route to the MVP award and the Giants headed to their first championship since 1938, he appeared on the CBS game show “What’s My Line?” It was Sunday, Dec. 2, just a few hours after Giants had beaten the Redskins 28-14 at Yankee Stadium in a game that saw Frank account for all four New York touchdowns — two running, one receiving and one passing. You don’t see performances like that any more. In fact, nobody’s had a performance like that since — 58 years and counting.

What’s truly astounding, looking at this clip again, is that Gifford wasn’t instantly identified. After all, he’d already been to three Pro Bowls and was all-pro the season before. It just shows how much less visible the game was then, and how much less recognizable the players were. Frank was far better known for his work on Monday Night Football than he ever was as a footballer.

To try to throw off the panel a little, Gifford signs in as “F. Newton Gifford” from Bakersfield, Calif., his hometown. Bennett Cerf knows him on sight, but the others must not be very big football fans. My favorite line is when Arlene Francis says, “Well, it’s not Red Grange.”

No, it wasn’t Red Grange. (The Galloping Ghost was 53 at the time.) It was Frank Gifford, future husband of Kathie Lee.

Arlene was a hoot, wasn’t she? When she asked Frank, “Do you ever touch people that may come to you for services?” you just know she was hoping he was a masseur.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Seven weeks before the Sudden Death Game

The Cowboys played the Jaguars in London today, but the NFL wasn’t always this big.

Consider: On this day in 1958, the Colts lost to the Giants at Yankee Stadium, 24-21 – a preview of their overtime thriller later that year in the title game. Afterward, their Hall of Fame receiver, Raymond Berry, went to CBS’s studios in New York and had a panel of celebrities try to guess his occupation on the game show What’s My Line?

Except for a pair of glasses — which were no disguise (he needed them) — Berry did nothing to hide his identity. He even signed in, with wonderful penmanship, as “Raymond Berry” — instead of, say, R. Emmett Berry or R. E. Berry, which would have been trickier.

But again, this was 1958. So even though Berry had led the NFL in receiving yards the year before — and would lead it in receptions and receiving touchdowns in that ’58 season — he wasn’t immediately recognized. The panelists were very observant, though, noticed his athletic physique and ramrod-straight posture, and quickly figured him for a jock.

The exchange between Bennett Cerf, the publisher/humorist, and Berry was just priceless:

Cerf: You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf: Is it a football team in the National Football League?

Berry: Yes, sir.

Cerf:: Did you play today in that fantastically exciting game up at the Yankee Stadium?

Berry: Yes, I did.

Cerf: Well, then, you’re a football player on either the Colts or the Giants. . . . Uh, Berry, . . . Raymond Berry. . . . You’re the end who almost caught a pass in the last quarter that would have beaten the Giants. You’re an end for the Baltimore Colts.

Berry: That’s right, sir.

Here’s the whole clip:

Did you notice, by the way, how Cerf pronounced Johnny Unitas’ last name as “YOU-knee-toss”? (Unitas had missed the game with broken ribs, and backup George Shaw had thrown three TD passes, including a 23-yarder to Berry.) Yes, it was a different world in 1958 — before London games and the NFL Network. But you have to remember: In those days, the Colts-Giants game would have been blacked out in New York. The only way Cerf or anybody on the panel could have seen it is if they had a ticket — unless, that is, they wanted to drive to Connecticut, outside the Blackout Zone, and rent a hotel room.

Anyway, on Dec. 28, Raymond Berry returned to New York and caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown as the Colts defeated the Giants, 23-17, in OT. Had he gone on “What’s My Line?” that night, Cerf probably wouldn’t have said to him, “You’re playing at the present time on some professional outfit. Is that correct?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 4.24.17 PM

The NFL’s last scoreless tie?

The record book says the last scoreless tie in the NFL was played Nov. 7, 1943 — 71 years ago today — when the Giants and Lions battled pointlessly in the rain and mud of Briggs Stadium. But I say it happened about two decades later, when the Giants’ Frank Gifford and the Eagles’ Timmy Brown competed against each another on “Password,” the popular TV game show, and posted zeroes in the second round:

You’ve gotta admit, that segment was every bit as exciting as, well, a 0-0 deadlock. By the way, how beautiful is it that Brown’s partner was Betty White? No one would have believed in the ’60s that fair Betty would go on to do a Snickers commercial in which she got flattened trying to catch a pass in a touch football game — a game played in conditions, you’ll notice, much like the “last” scoreless tie between the Giants and Lions in 1943.

If only Abe Vigoda had been teamed with Gifford on “Password.”

A brief glimpse of the NFL in 1960

Every once in a while some old NFL footage pops up on YouTube. Today’s discovery: the first few minutes of CBS’s broadcast of a 1960 game between the Colts and 49ers at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. It’s mostly pregame chatter between Niners’ broadcast team, Bob Fouts and Gordy Soltau, the latter a former receiver and kicker for the team. Perhaps you’ve heard of their sons — Dan, the Hall of Fame quarterback, and Mark, who writes for and edits Tiger Woods’ website (and used to work for Golf Digest).

Anyway, maybe the best thing about the clip is the way the Colts offense is introduced. Check it out:

Classic, huh? They line up at their positions, one by one, then run a play before heading to the sideline. Four of the guys who trotted out, of course, are in Canton: receiver Raymond Berry (82), tackle Jim Parker (77), quarterback Johnny Unitas (19) and running back Lenny Moore (24). It was quite the offense.

By all means watch the whole video if you’re interested. I just pulled out the intros because they were so amusingly retro. Something else in the clip also is pretty funny. At the top of the show, Soltau refers to the 49ers’ 26-14 win the week before over the Dallas “Texans.” Uh, Gordy, that’s the Dallas Cowboys. You can excuse him, though, because (a.) it was the Cowboys’ first year in the league; and (b.) he’d actually played against a team called the Dallas Texans in 1952 — twice. (In fact, he caught a touchdown pass in both games.)

The Texans folded after just one season, and many of their players — such as Hall of Fame defensive linemen Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan — moved on to Baltimore, which was given a franchise in ’53. Three years later Unitas arrived, and the rest is history.

Here’s Gordy’s flub:

Little-known fact: This game was the Beginning of the End for the ’50s Colts. After winning titles in ’58 and ’59, they got off to a 6-2 start in ’60 and looked like they might make it three in a row, which would have tied the NFL record. But the Niners forced six turnovers and upset them 30-22 — the start of a four-game Baltimore skid that knocked Johnny U. and Co. out of the running. The team that ended up winning the Western Conference that year? The Packers in Vince Lombardi’s second season.

The Dallas Texans/Cowboys, meanwhile, finished 0-11-1. Their situation would eventually improve, though.