Tag Archives: Cardinals

Second acts by 10,000-yard backs

Frank Gore, who rushed for 11,073 in his decade with the 49ers, will join the Eagles tomorrow when the 2015 business year opens. Which made me wonder: How much gas do guys like Gore usually have left in the tank?

Gore is the 10th back who has racked up 10,000 rushing yards with a team — his original team, that is — and then switched jerseys. As you can see in the following chart, the other nine haven’t exactly run wild in their new surroundings. So if Frank has a productive couple of years in Philadelphia, he’ll shoot to the top of this list:

Years Rnning back 1st Team Yards 2nd Team Yards
2004-14 Steven Jackson Rams 10,138 Falcons 1,250
2001-11 LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 12,490 Jets 1,194
1990-04 Emmitt Smith Cowboys 17,162 Cardinals 1,193
1969-79 O.J. Simpson Bills 10,183 49ers 1,053
1977-88 Tony Dorsett Cowboys 12,036 Broncos    703
1996-04 Eddie George Titans 10,009 Cowboys    432
1998-10 Fred Taylor Jaguars 11,271 Patriots    424
1972-84 Franco Harris Steelers 11,950 Seahawks    170
1988-00 Thurman Thomas Bills 11,938 Dolphins    136
2005-14 Frank Gore 49ers 11,073 Eagles   TBD

Jackson, of course, was cut last month by the Falcons. If he can find another job though, he could push his total higher. He’ll be 32 next season — the same age as Gore.

At any rate, no club should have very high expectations when it acquires a back like this. The best rushing season any of them has had with in his Second Life is 937 yards (Smith, Cardinals, 2004).

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Frank Gore hitting the hole hard, as he usually does.

Frank Gore hitting the hole hard, as he usually does.

One-for-one trades

LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso.

Trades don’t get any more stripped-down than that, do they? My guy for your guy — period. No draft picks. No throw-in players to balance the scales. No contingencies of any kind. Just . . . one for one. May the best man win.

You forget how unusual these deals are, especially since the advent of free agency. Teams don’t need to trade for players anymore — not as much, anyway. They just have to wait for their contracts to expire. Draft choices, not live bodies, have become the most popular form of currency. They get swapped and swapped and swapped some more until nobody can remember who got traded for what.

Which is probably how general managers prefer it. Who wants to be reminded, year after year, of the boneheaded move he made when he traded X for Y? When you exchange picks for players, there can be much more of a smoke-and-mirrors effect. Keeping track of those can be like that scene in Chinatown when Jake Gittes pores over the real-estate transactions in the Hall of Records. (“So that’s who the Bucs ended up getting for the guy — Jasper Lamar Crabb!”)

So the McCoy-Alonso deal is notable for two reasons: first, because the Eagles willingly traded an in-his-prime running back, one who won the NFL rushing title in 2013; and second, because they received not draft selections from the Bills but an outside linebacker, arguably the league’s top rookie two years ago (before he blew out his knee and missed last season).

A straight-up swap of Known Players. What a novelty.

Naturally, I felt compelled to put together a list of other memorable one-for-one trades in NFL history. You may have other favorites, and I welcome additions, but here are 10 that come to mind:

10 STRAIGHT-UP, PLAYER-FOR-PLAYER TRADES

● 2005 — WR Laveranues Coles from the Redskins to the Jets for WR Santana Moss.

Santana Moss snares one vs. the Lions.

Santana Moss snares one vs. the Lions.

This was one of the weirder deals. Coles, after all, had left the Jets after the 2002 season to play in Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ’n’ Gun” offense in Washington. But Spurrier quit a year later, Joe Gibbs returned for a second term as coach and Laveranues decided he’d be happier back in New York. So the Redskins exchanged him for Santana Moss — and were they ever glad they did. Over the next decade, Moss caught 581 passes for 7,867 yards and 47 touchdowns. Coles played four more seasons with the Jets before they cut him and had 289 receptions for 3,439 yards and 24 TDs.

Winner: Redskins.

● 1989 — RB Earnest Byner from the Browns to the Redskins for RB Mike Oliphant.

Byner needed a change of scenery after his crushing fumble in the 1987 AFC title game, which followed him around in Cleveland wherever he went. The Browns obliged by sending him to Washington for Oliphant, the Redskins’ super-speedy third-round pick in ’88. Byner had two 1,000-yard seasons in D.C., went to two Pro Bowls and was the leading rusher on the 1991 championship team. Oliphant touched the ball exactly 25 times in Cleveland (playoffs included) before his career petered out.

Winner: Redskins.

● 1984 — RB James Brooks from the Chargers to the Bengals for FB Pete Johnson.

Brooks, a situation back behind Chuck Muncie in San Diego, blossomed in Cincinnati, making four Pro Bowls and retiring as the Bengals all-time leading rusher with 6,447 yards — a total surpassed only by Corey Dillon’s 8,061. (He also was a terrific receiver and ferocious blocker, as Boomer Esiason can tell you.) Johnson, more the sledgehammer type, had had some fine years in Cincy, but at 30 he was pretty used up. He played just one more NFL season — and just three games with San Diego before being dealt to the Dolphins, who needed a short-yardage guy for their ’84 Super Bowl run.

Winner: Bengals.

● 1980 — QB Ken Stabler from the Raiders to the Houston Oilers for QB Dan Pastorini.

Ken Stabler

Ken Stabler

Stabler was 34, Pastorini 31, and neither had much left. The Oilers were hoping The Snake, coupled with Earl Campbell, would finally get them to the Super Bowl, but he threw 28 interceptions in 1980, second most in the league, and had two more picks in the first round of the playoffs as Houston lost to — of all people — Oakland. By then, Pastorini had suffered a broken leg and been replaced by Jim Plunkett, who quarterbacked the Raiders to the title (and to another in 1983).

Winner: Oilers (though neither team got what it was looking for).

● 1977 — QB Ron Jaworski from the Los Angeles Rams to the Eagles for the rights to TE Charle Young.

Jaworski, a three-year veteran, had thrown only 124 NFL passes when Philadelphia acquired him for the unsigned Young, who had already been to three Pro Bowls. Charle never went to another. Jaworski, meanwhile, led the Eagles to four straight playoff berths (1978-81) and one Super Bowl.

Winner: Eagles.

● 1976 — WR Charlie Joiner from the Bengals to the Chargers for DE Coy Bacon.

In 1976, Joiner had yet to emerge as a Hall of Fame receiver (totals for seven seasons: 164 catches, 2,943 yards, 18 touchdowns). Bacon was probably considered the better player because of his pass-rush ability (in the days before the NFL kept track of sacks). Well, Charlie wound up in Canton after being teamed with Dan Fouts and Don Coryell in San Diego, where he racked up 586 more receptions. But Coy, let’s not forget, had two Pro Bowl years in Cincinnati before being traded to the Redskins (with CB Lamar Parish) for a first-round pick.

Winner: Chargers (but both clubs made out well).

● 1965 — WR Tommy McDonald from the Cowboys to the Los Angeles Rams for P-K Danny Villanueva.

Yup, the Cowboys swapped a Hall Fame receiver — admittedly, a 31-year-old one — for a punter-kicker. But keep in mind: They had just added Bob Hayes to the roster and figured they were in good shape at wideout. McDonald had 1,036 receiving yards in his first season with the Rams, third most in the league, and was voted to his sixth and last Pro Bowl. He followed that with another solid year (55-714-2) in ’66 before moving on to the Falcons. Villanueva filled a void in Dallas but was just an ordinary kicker (longest field goal with the Cowboys: 42 yards) and didn’t punt as well as he had in L.A (40.4-yard average vs. 44.3).

Winner: Rams.

● 1965 — CB Fred “The Hammer” Williamson from the Raiders to the Chiefs for CB Dave Grayson.

Fred Williamson cardOn the surface, it seemed like a fair trade: the mouthy Williamson, a three-time AFL All-Star, for Grayson, also a three-time AFL All-Star. Grayson was two years younger, though — 26 to Fred’s 28 — and had more of his career ahead of him. Williamson did help Kansas City get to the first Super Bowl in 1966, but Grayson helped Oakland get to the second Super Bowl in ’67 and led the AFL in interceptions the next year. By then, Freddie was out of football and on the verge of becoming a Hollywood action star.

Winner: Raiders.

● 1961 — QB Y.A. Tittle from the 49ers to the Giants for DL Lou Cordileone.

It’s easy, from a distance, to laugh at this trade, but Tittle was almost 35 and Cordileone had been the 12th pick in the previous year’s draft. Besides, San Francisco was experimenting with a shotgun offense, which required a quarterback who could run, and Y.A. certainly didn’t fit that description. At any rate, he had an amazing Second Act in New York, guiding the Giants to three straight championship games (all, alas, losses), while Cordileone bounced from the Niners to the Rams to the Steelers to the expansion Saints to oblivion.

Winner: Giants.

● 1960 — CB Night Train Lane from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Lions for K Gerry Perry.

Another swap of a Hall of Famer for a kicker! It just shows how much importance teams were beginning to place on the kicking game. Lane, though 32, was far from done. He went to three more Pro Bowls with Detroit and intercepted 21 more passes (to finish with a total of 68). Perry had a nice first season in St. Louis (13 field goals, tying him for fifth in the league) but was well below average after that.

Winner: Lions.

You can see how dangerous these player-for player trades can be. Many of the deals were one-sided, sometimes ridiculously so. The McCoy-for-Alonso swap — which will be official next week, when the 2015 business year begins — might also prove regrettable for one side or the other. We’ll know better in a season or two.

Note: The famous Sonny Jurgensen/Norm Snead trade in 1964 isn’t listed because it involved two other players. The Redskins also got DB Jimmy Carr in the deal, and the Eagles got DB Claude Crabb (no relation to Jasper Lamar). Granted, it was essentially a Jurgy-for-Snead swap, and fans always looked at it that way, but Crabb had intercepted six passes a rookie and, entering his third season, could have made up for the imbalance between the quarterbacks. (He didn’t.)

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

After a stunning trade, LeSean will be doing his running for the Bills next season.

After a stunning trade, LeSean McCoy will be doing his running for the Bills next season.

Statistical curiosities of 2014 (Part 2)

The Broncos might have bombed out in the first round of the playoffs again, but — sorry if this sounds like a Holiday Inn Express commercial — they did have two 1,400-yard receivers. Demaryius Thomas finished with 1,619 and free-agent addition Emmanuel Sanders with 1,404, making them the fourth such tandem in NFL history. Here’s what the group looks like:

TEAMS WITH TWO 1,400-YARD RECEIVERS IN THE SAME SEASON

Year  Team (W-L) Receivers, Yards Result
1995  Lions (10-6) Herman Moore 1,686, Brett Perriman 1,488 Wild card
2000  Rams (10-6) Torry Holt 1,635, Isaac Bruce 1,471 Wild card
2005  Cardinals (5-11) Larry Fitzgerald 1,409, Anquan Boldin 1,402 Missed playoffs
2014  Broncos (12-4) Demaryius Thomas 1,619, Emmanuel Sanders 1,404 Won division

Also, for the first time this year, the NFL had three 1,000-yard rookie receivers. That makes eight rookie receivers with 1,000-plus yards since 2003. Why is this notable? Because there were only 12 in all the seasons before that (AFL included).

            1,000-YARD ROOKIE RECEIVERS SINCE 2003

Year   Receiver, Team Rec Yds Avg TD
2014  Odell Beckham, Giants 91 1,305 14.3 12
2014  Mike Evans, Bucs 68 1,051 15.5 12
2014  Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers 73 1,008 13.8 9
2013  Keenan Allen, Chargers 71 1,046 14.7 8
2011  A.J. Green, Bengals 65 1,057 16.3 7
2006  Marques Colston, Saints 70 1,038 14.8 8
2004  Michael Clayton, Bucs 80 1,193 14.9 7
2003  Anquan Boldin, Cardinals 101 1,377 13.7 8

What this suggests is that quarterbacks aren’t the only players coming out of college these days who are more advanced in the passing game. Their receivers are, too — and like the QBs, are capable of making a more immediate impact in the pros.

Consider: Since 2003, there have been eight 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 15 1,000-yard rookie rushers. From 1932 to 2002 — which is as far back as statistics go — there were 12 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 46 1,000-yard rookie rushers.

In other words, where before it was much more common for a rookie to rush for 1,000 yards (an almost 4-to-1 ratio), now it’s only somewhat more common (slightly less than 2-to-1). And as time goes on, given the devaluation of the running game, the gap may continue to shrink.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

Return of the tackle-eligible play

There’ll probably be some discussion this Super Bowl Week — that is, when people tire of Deflategate — about the tackle-eligible play. Bill Belichick’s Patriots ran it twice for touchdowns in Super Bowls 38 and 39, and they used it again in the AFC title game, when Tom Brady flipped a 16-yard TD pass to an uncovered Nate Solder. The sequence went like this:

First, the Patriots lined up in an unbalanced line — four men to the right of center, two to the left. This made the 6-8, 320-pound Solder (77) the left end, because Brandon LaFell (bottom of the photo) positioned himself a yard behind the line as a flanker.

Solder lined up

After the snap, Solder briefly blocked and then drifted into the flat, catching Brady’s throw at the Indianapolis 13. No Colt was near him.

Solder catch at 13

A few giant steps later, he launched himself across the goal line to increase New England’s lead to 24-7.

Solder scores

One of the things that’s interesting about this play is that the NFL actually outlawed it in 1951. According to The Associated Press, it had become “a nightmare to officials because various clubs tried illegal variations which loosed tackles, centers and guards for pass receptions.”

The year before, Eagles coach Greasy Neale went nuts after the Cardinals ran one such variation against his team. The pass, in this instance, went to “an ineligible guard for about 30 yards,” AP reported. “And while the Eagles argued with the officials, Cardinal[s] coach Curly Lambeau lifted the guard from the lineup and covered him with a blanket on the bench. The officials couldn’t even find the player on the field who the Eagles contended caught the pass. The gain stood.”

The season before that, the Bears, goofing around in their season finale, ran five tackle-eligible plays against the Cardinals in a 52-21 win. Afterward, Cards coach Buddy Parker said, “The tackle eligible is a cheating play. It should be ruled out of football. I’m not saying this because we lost, but it’s my firm conviction it violates the spirit of football. I’m not blaming the Bears for using it. Other teams do. But there is no defense for it, and it is a difficult play for the officials to call.”

At the January 1951 league meetings in Chicago, the owners decided to get rid of “the old bugaboo tackle-eligible play,” as AP called it. But in recent decades it has worked its way back into the playbook — as long as the tackle reports as an eligible receiver, as Solder did. This alerts the officials, who then alert the defense. It’s still a trick play, it’s just not as tricky — or maybe shady — as it used to be.

In the old days, teams lined up in all kinds of bizarre formations to create Surprise Eligible Receivers. Check out this alignment the Giants sprang on the Bears in 1934, one that made the center, Hall of Famer Mel Hein, eligible:

Giants center eligible play

Wilfrid Smith of the Chicago Tribune described it thusly:

The Giants shifted to a spread formation. Such a formation, with three eligible pass receivers [to] the right, always causes the defense to spread to meet a pass with secondary consideration for a run or plunge. The end men on the line of scrimmage and the backs are eligible to receive passes. Seven men must be on the offensive scrimmage line when the ball is passed by the center.

The Bears immediately dropped into a six-man defensive line and shifted three men to cover the Giants’ eligible receivers on the right side of the Giant[s] formation. Naturally, most of the fans watched these men, thinking a pass would be thrown to one of them. There was a Giant[s] end to the left of center Hein. Then, without warning, this end shifted one yard back from the line of scrimmage. This change made him a “back,” and to meet the rule specifying seven men on the line of scrimmage, a back shifted up to the line [indicated by the dotted line position].

As soon as one second had elapsed after this shift, another rule requirement, Hein passed the ball back between his legs to quarterback Harry Newman, directly behind him. Newman then handed the ball back to Hein, between Hein’s legs, and Hein ran with it, making 13 yards before he was downed by the Bears’ secondary.

When Newman handed the ball back to Hein it was a forward pass. Hein, the end man, was eligible to receive this pass and after receiving it to run.

George Musso, the Bears’ right tackle, had lined up approximately even with the Giants’ end, who later shifted into the backfield. Hein ran inside of Musso. The play was so unexpected that most of the Bears did not see the pass.

Maybe we’ll see a play like that in the Super Bowl. After all, the Patriots and Seahawks have shown plenty of creativity this season. Or maybe we’ll see a “Find the Ball!” play like the one the Bears ran against the Lions later in ’34. An artist’s rendering of it:

Bears trick play in 1934 vs. Lions

Now that would be fun.

Duke Slater: Canton’s biggest oversight

The day before the Super Bowl, the tribal elders will gather in Phoenix for the Hall of Fame voting. The senior candidate this year is Mick Tingelhoff, a center for the Vikings for 17 seasons and a fixture on all-pro teams from 1964 to ’70. Tingelhoff is a fine choice; he’s just not, in my mind, the best choice.

For decades, the committee has been overlooking Duke Slater, a star tackle in the early years and one of the NFL’s first black players. Slater wasn’t just dominant, he was durable — at a time when careers tended to be much shorter than they are today. When he retired in 1931 after 10 seasons with the Chicago Cardinals and other clubs, only two players had played longer in the league: the Bears’ George Trafton and Packers’ Jug Earp.

One of these years, I keep telling myself, the selectors will come to their senses. But that’s probably wishful thinking. As time passes, Slater’s chances become more and more remote. It’s just how these things work, unfortunately. Out of sight, out of the mind.

Almost a decade ago, I laid out the case for Duke in The Washington Times. It was the year after another black pioneer, Fritz Pollard, had finally been voted in. Here’s my column — touched up here and there because, well, what writer can resist trying to improve on imperfection?


“Slater . . . is one of the best tackles who ever donned a suit. His phenomenal strength and quickness of charge make it almost impossible for his opponents to put him out of any play directed at his side of the line.”

— Wilfrid Smith (a former NFL player), writing in the Chicago Tribune, 1926


DETROIT — Ushering Fritz Pollard into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer, albeit four decades late, was one of the highlights of the sporting year. But let’s not stop there. In fact, as the selection committee prepares to vote in Reggie White this morning, it would do well to consider why another of the NFL’s early black players, the Reggie White of his day, continues to get the cold shoulder. I’m talking about Fred “Duke” Slater, who wreaked havoc in pro football’s trenches for a decade before going on to a distinguished career as a lawyer and judge.

Slater was actually a finalist for Canton in ’70 and ’71 and was under consideration as early as December 1963, when the Hall’s second class was elected. An Associated Press story that month listed six “strong candidates” — Ken Strong, Steve Owen, Sid Luckman, Bulldog Turner, Art Rooney and Slater. The first five were inducted within four years; only Duke has been denied.

There are a number of reasons for this, none of them particularly acceptable. One is that Slater spent his career with second-tier teams such as the Chicago Cardinals, Rock Island (Ill.) Independents and Milwaukee Badgers, two of which no longer exist. (The Cardinals, of course, are in Arizona now.) To the winners go the Hall of Fame busts. Another is that Duke died in 1966 at the age of 68 and didn’t have any children, so there’s no one to campaign for him, to keep his name alive. Then there’s the problem of playing a position — tackle in the single-platoon days — for which there are no statistics, only the occasional newspaper mention.

Duke Slater, helmetless, looks for somebody to block during his days at Iowa.

Helmetless Duke Slater looks for somebody to block during college days.

But the most obvious reason probably makes the most sense: Slater was a black man in a white man’s world, plenty good enough to play but lacking the “necessities” for canonization (to borrow Al Campanis’ infamous term). Indeed, the scant number of Hall of Famers from the ’20s, coupled with Pollard’s long-delayed election, make you wonder whether the NFL is trying to forget that benighted era — which was followed by an even more reprehensible period (1934-45) in which blacks were excluded entirely.

In Pro Football: Its Ups and Downs, the first book ever written about the pro game, founding father Harry March summed up the prevailing sentiment thusly: “There are many sane arguments against playing colored men in games requiring physical contact. There are so many Southern boys in the league that much feeling is sure to result. Then, too, the management is frequently embarrassed by the refusal of dining cars and restaurants to serve the colored players and of hotels to give them the desired accommodations which the white players receive. . . . The Indians object more to playing against Negroes than do the Southern men for some reason.”

In two of his 10 seasons, 1927 and ’29, Slater was the only black player in the NFL. Another year, 1924, he sat out a game in Kansas City at the insistence of the home team. (His Rock Island club lost that day, killing its title chances.) So it’s no surprise that, in this climate, Duke didn’t make any all-NFL squads — though he was picked for the second eleven five times.

He also was selected to the Chicago Tribune’s unofficial all-pro team in 1926 by sportswriter Wilfrid Smith. Smith, a former NFL lineman, offered this testimonial:

“Slater . . . is one of the best tackles who ever donned a suit. His phenomenal strength and quickness of charge make it almost impossible for his opponents to put him out of any play directed at his side of the line.”

Duke could be just as daunting as a blocker. In his rookie year in 1922, he helped clear the way as Rock Island rushed for nine touchdowns against Evansville (which, despite what the league says, is the all-time record). And toward the end of his career in ’29, he did much of the heavy lifting when Cardinals great Ernie Nevers set a mark, still unbroken, with six TDs against the Bears. Slater’s efforts that day earned him the following praise from the Chicago Herald and Examiner: “Duke Slater, the veteran colored tackle, seemed the dominant figure in that forward wall which had the Bear front wobbly. It was Slater who opened the holes for Nevers when a touchdown was in the making.”

From first year to last, in other words, Duke Slater was a standout. Just as he’d been at Iowa, where he earned All-American honors in 1921. Slater spent his childhood in Chicago, playing football in a vacant lot on Racine Avenue that afterward became the site of the Cardinals’ field. But then his father, a minister, took a job in Clinton, Iowa, which is how Duke wound up playing for the Hawkeyes.

By the time he graduated he was 6-1, 215 pounds — a “colored colossus,” the papers liked to call him. He also was much desired by pro teams, even while still in college. An opponent once reminisced: “All them college guys picked up a few bucks on Sunday playing pro ball. I saw one guy five times under five different names before I got his real name — Duke Slater.”

As highly regarded as he was as a tackle, Slater might have been even more admired for his sense of fair play and get-along disposition. March praises him in his book for “refrain[ing] from ‘heeling’ a Giant player coming through the line, saving the ball carrier from injury. When commended for this sportsmanlike action, he smiled and said, ‘The little fellow was stopped — why should I hurt him?’”

Another time, a rookie — and fellow Iowa alum — had to go up against Slater in his first pro game. The kid feared it would be his last game if the famed tackle overran him, and Duke, naturally, knew this.

“Since his team was already winning,” Paul Minick later recalled, “he took pains to make me look good. When the game was over, people told me how I had played Slater even. But I knew it was just another example of Duke’s kindness of heart.”

Slater got his law degree and began practicing while still an active player. After retiring from the Cardinals he was named an assistant district attorney and grew so popular with the masses — being such a likable guy and so committed to civic causes — that when he ran for municipal court judge in 1948 he received nearly a million votes. At a dinner honoring Duke in 1960, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley called him “the best there is in citizenship, and the best there is in judgeship.”

Slater lost his wife Etta, herself the daughter of a preacher, in 1962. Four years later, stomach cancer claimed Duke. It’s been more than three decades now since Hall of Fame voters gave him so much as a second thought. Hard to believe, especially considering this passage from the Bears’ media guide in 1946, the season Kenny Washington and Woody Strode re-integrated the NFL with the Rams:

It was back in 1920 when George Halas organized the Staleys [now the Bears] at Decatur, Ill. That was in the early days of professional football. It was the day of mighty men of the gridiron, too. Men like Jim Thorpe, Paddy Driscoll, Guy Chamberlin . . . Link Lyman and Duke Slater.

Yes, once upon a time, Duke Slater was one of the “mighty men of the gridiron.” But strangely, sadly, it hasn’t been enough to get him into the Hall. The evidence is overwhelming, but for the judge there has been no justice.

From The Washington Times, Feb. 4, 2006

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Oct. 10, 1929 Waterloo Evening Courier

Oct. 10, 1929 Waterloo Evening Courier

Sept. 12, 1930 Southtown Economist

Sept. 12, 1930 Southtown Economist

The NFL’s all-time worst rules

Now it’s the Process Rule that has NFL fans in Mob Mode. Not so long ago it was the Tuck Rule, which was burned at the stake — before a cheering crowd — in 2013.

I won’t attempt to explain the Process Rule, or the league’s rationale for it, because, well, who can understand it? It’s what you’d get if Jibberish had a one-night stand with Claptrap. (I considered Mumbo Jumbo as the second partner, but I thought it would be funnier if “clap” were part of the equation.)

Naturally, the NFL says it correctly enforced this misbegotten rule on the pass to Dez Bryant late in the Packers-Cowboys game. I say: Whatever floats your boat, Roger. I also say — in a futile attempt to calm the masses — there have been far, far worse rules in pro football than the Process Rule (or even the Tuck Rule, which Mike Shanahan called “the worst rule in the history of the game”).

The NFL, after all, has had some real doozies over the decades, especially in the early years. Here, for your entertainment, are 5 Rules That Were Even More Ridiculous Than The Process Rule (for my money, at least):

● If a pass into the end zone — on any down — falls incomplete, it’s a touchback.

There would have been a lot more pressure on Santonio Holmes in the '20s.

If this pass had been incomplete in the ’20s . . .

In the ’20s, before pro football’s founding fathers opened up the game, there were a number of rules that discriminated against passing. This was probably the most egregious. Imagine if Santonio Holmes had dropped that second-and-6 throw in the back-right corner in the last minute of Super Bowl 43. Under the old rule, the Steelers would have lost possession and the Cardinals would have walked away with the Lombardi Trophy.

● The ball carrier can get up after being after being knocked to the ground and try to gain additional yardage as long as his forward progress hasn’t been stopped.

The he-man NFL was trying to distinguish itself from the colleges with this rule, and occasionally a ball carrier would pick himself up and scramble for more yards. But the rule also fostered late hitting, piling on and other forms of carnage. The league finally got rid of it after the Bears brutalized Hugh McElhenny, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame running back, in 1954 and caused him to miss the second half of the season.

● The defense can hit the quarterback until the play is over, even if he’s gotten rid of the ball.

It wasn’t until 1938 that there was a roughing-the-passer penalty. Sammy Baugh: “Coaches told their players, ‘When the passer throws the ball, you put his ass on the ground.’ If you have to

One of the 1939 rule changes.

One of the 1938 rule changes.

chase him for 20 yards, put him on the ground.’ Hell, they’d chase me back 25 yards or so. I’d complete a short pass, and the receiver would be running all the way downfield, 75 yards away from me, and I’d still be fighting [defenders] off. It looked so damn silly.”

● If the ball carrier runs out of bounds — or is deposited there by the defense — the ball will be spotted one yard from the sideline.

Before hashmarks were added in 1933, the ball was spotted where the previous play ended. Needless to say, this could put the offense in a real bind. It usually had to waste a down to move the ball back to the middle of the field so it would have more room to operate.

● A player who leaves the game can’t come back in until the next quarter.

Welcome to single-platoon football. During the war years, though, when manpower was scarce, the NFL began to experiment with unlimited substitution. The league permanently adopted it in 1949, paving the way for the highly specialized game we enjoy today.

● Dishonorable mention: A team taking an intentional safety retains possession of the ball.

Talk about a lousy rule. In 1925 the Giants were leading the Providence Steam Roller 13-10 with time running out when they decided to hand Providence two points rather than punt from their end zone. Who can blame them? According to the rule in those days, they didn’t have to free kick from the 20-yard line and sweat out the final seconds. Instead, they were given a new set of downs at their 30. They proceeded to run three more plays, kill the clock and lock up a 13-12 win.

I could go on, but you get the idea. As Jim Mora (the Elder) would put it: Process Rule? You kiddin’ me? Process Rule? There have been much more terrible rules than that.

This pass to the Cowboys' Dez Bryant was ruled incomplete because . . . oh, forget it.

This pass to the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant was ruled incomplete because . . . oh, forget it.

Marvin Lewis and the perils of January

The Bengals have made the playoffs in six of Marvin Lewis 12 seasons. You’d think congratulations would be in order — first for surviving a dozen years in any coaching job, and second for steering his team to the postseason so often. But Lewis’ 0-6 record in the playoffs has folks wondering, rightfully, whether he’ll be working in Cincinnati much longer. This is, after all, the Not For Long League. It’s not enough to just win, baby. You have to keep on winning, baby, into January and beyond.

Not that he’ll take any comfort in this, but Lewis is hardly the first coach to trip over that final hurdle. Heck, there are guys in the Hall of Fame who tripped over that final hurdle — and several others who rank high on the all-time victories list. Indeed, if there were a Misery Index for coaches, it might look something like this:

100-WIN COACHES WHO HAD A LOSING RECORD IN THE PLAYOFFS

Span Coach (Titles) Teams Regular Season Playoffs
1986-01 Jim Mora Saints, Colts 125-106-0, .541 0-6, .000
2003-14 Marvin Lewis Bengals 100-90-2, .526 0-6, .000
1955-74 Sid Gillman (1) Rams, Chargers, Oilers 122-99-7, .550 1-5, .167
1931-53 Steve Owen (2) Giants 151-100-17, .595 2-8, .200
1966-77 George Allen Rams, Redskins 116-47-5, .705 2-7, .222
1984-06 Marty Schottenheimer Browns, Chiefs, 2 others 200-116-1, .613 5-13, .278
1973-86 Don Coryell Cardinals, Chargers 111-83-1, .572 3-6, .333
1992-06 Dennis Green Vikings, Cardinals 113-94-0, .546 4-8, .333
1973-94 Chuck Knox Rams, Bills, Seahawks 186-147-1, 558 7-11, .389
1967-85 Bud Grant Vikings 158-96-5, .620 10-12, .455
1994-14 Jeff Fisher Oilers/Titans, Rams 162-147-1, 524 5-6, .455
1996-08 Tony Dungy (1) Bucs, Colts 139-69-0, .688 10-12, .455

(Note: If you want to be technical about it, Grant won the NFL championship in 1969, then lost the Super Bowl to the AFL’s Chiefs. Also: Schottenheimer’s other teams were the Redskins and Chargers.)

That’s 12 coaches with 100 regular-season victories who have lost more playoff games than they’ve won. Four are in Canton (Gillman, Owen, Allen and Grant) and another has been a finalist (Coryell) and may eventually get elected. Clearly, then, a poor postseason record doesn’t have to be a reputation-killer for a coach. (And yes, Gillman’s and Owen’s situations are much different from the others’. All but one of their playoff games was a title game — back when that was the extent of pro football’s postseason.)

The biggest problem for Lewis, obviously, is the goose egg. Aside from Mora, everybody else in the group had at least one notable postseason. Owen, Gillman (AFL) and Dungy won titles; Grant, Allen and Fisher reached the Super Bowl; and Schottenheimer (three times), Coryell (twice), Green (twice) and Knox (four) all made multiple trips to the conference championship game.

As for Lewis and Mora, well, Jim probably said it best:

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Buried in the year-end stats

Russell Wilson finished with 849 rushing yards this season, fifth most by a quarterback in modern pro football history (read: since 1950). Here are all the QBs who rushed for 600 or more. (Note: Joe Geri doesn’t really belong because he was single-wing tailback with the 1950 Steelers – and ran more than he threw.)

What’s been less noticed is that Wilson tied for 16th in the whole league in rushing. That’s the highest any quarterback has ranked since 1990. Indeed, only 10 times since ’50 has a QB cracked the Top 20. The list:

NFL QUARTERBACKS WHO FINISHED IN THE TOP 20 IN RUSHING (SINCE 1950)

Year Quarterback, Team Att Yds Avg TD Rank
2014 Russell Wilson, Seahawks 118 849 7.2 6 T16th
2012 Robert Griffin III, Redskins 120 815 6.8 7 20th
1990 Randall Cunningham, Eagles 118 942 8.0 5 9th
1972 Bobby Douglass, Bears 141 968 6.9 8 12th
1953 Bobby Layne, Lions* 87 343 3.9 0 20th
1952 Bobby Layne, Lions* 94 411 4.4 1 9th
1952 Charlie Trippi, Cardinals 72 350 4.9 4 16th
1951 Tobin Rote, Packers 76 523 6.9 3 8th
1951 Charlie Trippi, Cardinals 78 501 6.4 4 9th
1950 Johnny Lujack, Bears 87 397 6.3 11 19th

*won title

In the early ’50s, as you can see, the NFL went through a phase with quarterbacks that was lot like the current one. Layne, Trippi (a former halfback), Rote and Lujack were also major running threats. In fact, Layne won two championships playing that way.

Where is Michael Vick, you ask? Surprisingly, Vick never finished higher than 21st in rushing (in 2006, when he gained a career-high — and league record — 1,039 yards for the Falcons). It’s a reflection of The Decline of the Running Game that Wilson can rush for 849 and end up tied for 16th. Just think: He would have been the leading rusher (or tied for the lead) on 17 teams.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Seahawks' Russell Wilson tied for 16th in the NFL in rushing, the highest a  QB has ranked since this guy in 1990.

The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson tied for 16th in the NFL in rushing, the highest a QB has ranked since this guy in 1990.

Oh-Oh-Odell Beckham

Here’s what’s really amazing about Odell Beckham, the Giants’ fantabulous rookie receiver: He became a phenomenon even though his team lost seven of his first eight NFL games. Now that’s hard to do — though it’s probably a little less hard if you happen to play in the media capital of the world.

With his one-handed grabs, big-play ability and week-in, week-out productivity, Beckham takes your breath away. His numbers don’t just speak for themselves, their shout: 79 catches for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games. If he hadn’t missed the first month with a hamstring injury, we’d be talking about one of the greatest receiving seasons in history, not just one of the greatest by a first-year guy.

But let’s discuss that for a moment – the best seasons, that is, by rookie receivers. Earlier this week in the New York Post, Brian Lewis wrote:

No rookie receiver has ever had the kind of a start to an NFL career that Odell Beckham Jr., has, no first-year wideout has dominated defenses and back pages and highlight shows like this since Randy Moss.

I agree with the second half of that statement, but I take issue with the absolute certainty of the first half. After all, this is the league’s 95th season. Almost everything has happened before, including a rookie receiver exploding the way Beckham has

Before I go any further, check out this chart. It’ll give you an idea of where Odell’s performance falls — with a game, of course, still to play.

MOST RECEIVING YARDS PER GAME BY A ROOKIE IN NFL/AFL HISTORY

Year Receiver, Team G Yards Avg TD
1960 Bill Groman, Oilers (AFL) 14 1,473 105.2 12
1952 Billy Howton, Packers 12 1,231 102.6 13
2014 Odell Beckham, Giants 11 1,120 101.8 11
1954 Harlon Hill, Bears 12 1,124 93.7 12
2003 Anquan Boldin, Cardinals 16 1,377 86.1 8
1998 Randy Moss, Vikings 16 1,313 82.1 17
1965 Bob Hayes, Cowboys 13 1,003 77.2 12
1961 Mike Ditka (TE), Bears 14 1,056 76.9 12
1982 Charlie Brown, Redskins 9* 690 76.7 8
1958 Jimmy Orr, Steelers 12 910 75.8 7
1996 Terry Glenn, Patriots 15 1,132 75.5 6

*9-game strike season

(I tacked on the touchdowns at the end in case you were curious.)

One of the things I love about this chart is that just about every decade is represented. There are three receivers from the ’50s, three from the ’60s, two from the ’90s and one each from the ’80s, ’00s and ’10s. Only the ’70s, when defense had the upper hand, are missing.

Another thing I love about this chart is that it’s fair. It looks at per-game average rather than gross yardage, which would skew things toward receivers who had the benefit of longer seasons. Beckham will play in “only” 12 games this year, which is how many Billy Howton, Harlon Hill and Jimmy Orr played in in the ’50s. So you can put his stats next to theirs and decide for yourself who was better. (I’m excluding Bill Groman from this discussion because the AFL in 1960 wasn’t close to being on the NFL’s level.)

Howton had six 100-yard games that season and Hill seven. Let’s compare them to Beckham’s six (so far):

        Howton 1952                          Hill 1954                         Beckham 2014

Opponent Rec-Yds-TD Opponent Rec-Yds-TD Opponent Rec-Yds-TD
Redskins 3-128-1 Lions 4-140-1 Colts 8-156-0
Rams 5-156-1 Colts 3-144-1 Seahawks 7-108-0
Lions 7-151-1 49ers 4-116-1 Cowboys 10-146-2
Lions 7-123-2 49ers 7-224-4 Titans 11-130-1
Rams 6-200-0 Browns 3-117-1 Redskins 12-143-3
49ers 8-162-2 Rams 6-109-1 Rams 8-148-2
Totals 36-920-8 Cardinals 6-117-1 Totals 56-831-8
Totals 33-967-10

You can debate until you’re blue in the face the differences between eras and what all this means. But as you can see, what Beckham is doing as a rookie isn’t exactly unprecedented. Howton cardOther receivers have “had the kind of a start to an NFL career that Odell Beckham Jr., has.” They just played so long ago that hardly anybody remembers.

Howton and Hill, too, were phenomenons. Billy, for instance, had six touchdown catches of 50 yards or longer (90, 89, 78, 69, 54, 50) plus a non-scoring grab of 76. Harlon had TDs of 76, 66, 65 and 64. They were downfield threats, just like Beckham is. The NFL just didn’t get the attention then that it does now. (Never mind an NFL Channel; there was barely an NBC.)

When Howton retired after the 1963 season, he was the all-time leader in receptions (503) and receiving yards (8,459) and ranked third receiving touchdowns (61). He simply had the misfortune of playing in Green Bay when it truly was pro football’s Siberia. (Read: Before Vince Lombardi arrived and thawed things out.)

I kid you not: The day Howton broke Don Hutson’s career receptions record (488), The Dallas Morning News mentioned it in the last paragraph of its game story. (Howton spent his last four seasons with the expansion Cowboys.) And the day the Colts’ Ray Berry broke Billy’s receptions mark, The Associated Press reported: “Berry caught five passes . . . to raise his career total [to] 506,” which was three more than “the career record held by Jim Howton.”

Harlon Hill cardJim Howton?

As for Hill, he could have wound up in Canton — why Howton isn’t there, I’ll never understand — if injuries hadn’t robbed him of his specialness. Consider: He scored 32 touchdowns in his first three seasons, a total of 36 games. Only four receivers have scored more in their first 36 games: Randy Moss (43), Jerry Rice (40), Rob Gronkowski (38) and John Jefferson (36). How’s that for company?

None of this is meant to knock Beckham down a few pegs. The kid has been an absolute revelation. It’s just meant to remind everybody that he’s not alone on that peg. As I said, the NFL has been around for a long time.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

At least Russell Wilson was sober

Late in Sunday night’s game, with the Seahawks on their way to 596 yards, NBC informed us it had been 56 years since the Cardinals had allowed so many. You’d have to go all the way back, the graphic on the screen said, to their 1958 season finale in Pittsburgh, when they were Chicago Cardinals and the Steelers played at Pitt Stadium.

Bobby Layne and Co. racked up 683 yards that frigid December day — 472 passing, 211 rushing. It was so ridiculous that a running back, Tom “The Bomb” Tracy, threw a 72-yard touchdown pass. But here’s the best part, the part no one remembers: Layne played with a wicked hangover. World class. On national television, no less.

“Bobby drank, no doubt about that,” Art Rooney says in Ray Didinger’s book, Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The greatest day Layne ever had with the Steelers came the last day of one season at Pitt Stadium against the Cardinals. It was snowing like crazy. There couldn’t have been more than 5,000 people at the game because you had to be an athlete to get up the hill to that park on a dry day, let alone in snow and ice.

“Well, anyway, Bob Drum [a local sportswriter] came in the press box and said, ‘Your quarterback’s not gonna make it today.’ I knew what Drum meant because he and Layne were running mates around town at night. I said, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be here.’

“Drum said, ‘I’m telling you, I was with him last night, and there’s no way he’ll even make it to the ballpark, let alone play.’

“This was unusual for Bobby, but it was the last game of the season, and he was blowing off steam. Bobby showed up at the stadium, and he looked awful. Well, Bobby went out and had himself a day you had to see to believe. The footing on the field was so bad everybody on both sides was falling down except Bobby. He was staggering all over the field and picking up unbelievable yardage. I never saw him have another day like it.”

Layne never did have another day like it. His 409 passing yards were the high for his 15-year Hall of Fame career. Indeed, it was just the eighth time an NFL quarterback had thrown for 400. (Layne also ran 17 yards for a score. That might have been his “staggering all over the field” moment.)

“Darkness almost overtook the athletes in the longest pro game ever played here,” Jack Sell wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It required 2:57 and took up 213 plays, 54 in the first period, 61 in the second, 60 in the third and 38 in the fourth.”

(The “213 plays” seems off. I count 93 snaps for the Steelers, 60 for the Cardinals, plus 15 penalties, 11 kickoffs, 6 punts and 2 sacks – a max of 187. Which raises the question: Was Sell out drinking with Layne and Drum, too?)

More from his story:

The season’s farewell ran exactly as Coach Frank (Pop) Ivy of the Cardinals predicted on Friday afternoon. He took his squad to the snow-covered Pitt practice field for a tune-up, then visited the stadium where workmen had removed the tarpaulin and were using a flame thrower to remove icy spots.

Ivy asked Horse Czarniecki to keep the tarp off the grid Friday night [the Steelers and Cardinals played on Saturday], a request which was refused.

“If it snows we will at least be able to get a bit of traction,” Ivy insisted. “But on that skating rink my team will never be able to stop Bobby Layne’s long passes.”

It turned out they couldn’t.

So take heart, Arizona Cardinals. You may have given up 596 yards Sunday night, the most you’ve allowed in nearly six decades, but at least you weren’t victimized by a hung-over quarterback. The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson seemed in complete command of his faculties in the postgame interviews. Happy? Sure. But in a non-alcoholic, I-could-pass-any-breathalyzer-test kind of way.

Steelers quarterback Bobby Layne, facemaskless as always, seen here fleeing Giants linebacker Sam Huff.

Steelers quarterback Bobby Layne, facemaskless as always, seen here fleeing Giants linebacker Sam Huff.