Tag Archives: Oilers

Lester Hayes’ incomparable 1980

We’re coming up on the 35th anniversary of one of the greatest seasons ever by an NFL player. Was it as great as Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 rushing yards in 1984, Peyton Manning’s 55 touchdown passes in 2013 or J.J. Watt’s both-sides-of-the-ball ridiculousness last year? Well, it’s hard to compare one position to another, but put it this way: Nobody has come close to doing what Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes did in 1980 — not in the modern era, at least. And given the gap that exists between Hayes and The Rest, it’s possible nobody ever will.

Lester’s performance that season was truly off the charts — so far off that his record might be resistant to rule changes, a longer schedule and anything else that tends to make the past disappear. In 20 games that season, including the playoffs, he intercepted 18 passes . . . and had another four picks wiped out by penalties. It almost doesn’t seem possible.

And this didn’t happen just any old year, I’ll remind you. It happened in a year the Raiders won the Super Bowl (to just about everyone’s surprise). For his efforts Hayes won The Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year award, an honor much more likely to go to a lineman or linebacker than a DB.

Let me lay out the numbers for you, then I’ll get into the season itself. Hayes had a league-leading 13 interceptions in the regular season — one off Night Train Lane’s mark — and another five in Oakland’s four playoff games. His total of 18 is five more than anyone else has had since 1960. Five. (Before that, the seasons and playoffs were so much shorter that nobody really had a chance to pick off 18 passes.)

Here’s Hayes’ closest competition:

MOST INTERCEPTIONS IN A SEASON SINCE 1960 (PLAYOFFS INCLUDED)

Year Player, Team G RS PS Total
1980 Lester Hayes, Raiders* 20 13 5 18
1969 Emmitt Thomas, Chiefs* (AFL) 17   9 4 13
1981 Everson Walls, Cowboys 18 11 2 13
1963 Fred Glick, Oilers (AFL) 14 12 DNA 12
1964 Paul Krause, Redskins 14 12 DNA 12
1964 Dainard Paulson, Jets (AFL) 14 12 DNA 12
1974 Emmitt Thomas, Chiefs 14 12 DNA 12
1987 Barry Wilburn, Redskins* 15   9 3 12
1976 Monte Jackson, Rams 16 10 2 12
1975 Mel Blount, Steelers* 17 11 1 12
1979 Mike Reinfeldt, Oilers 19 12 0 12
2006 Asante Samuel, Patriots 19 10 2 12
2007 Antonio Cromartie, Chargers 19 10 2 12

*won title

Yes, Hayes played in more games than the other defensive backs, and yes, some of them — the DNA (Does Not Apply) guys — didn’t even make the playoffs. But them’s the breaks. Besides, his interceptions per game of 0.9 is the highest of the bunch. (Next: Glick, Krause, Paulson and Thomas ’74 at 0.86).

It’s worth noting, too, that the league-wide interception rate in 1980 was 4.6 percent. Last year it was 2.5 — and if the Competition Committee continues to favor the offense, it no doubt will decline even further. That’s just going to make it harder to pile up 18 picks in a season. (Another way to look at it: In 1980 there were 627 INTs in 13,705 pass attempts. In 2014 there were 450 in 17,879 — 177 fewer in 4,174 more attempts.)

Now that the cold, hard data has been dispensed with, why don’t we take Hayes’ historic season interception by interception? Lester was quite a character, even by the Raiders’ oddball standards — the kind of player Twitter was made for. (Or maybe not. There was no telling, after all, what might come out of his mouth.)

Hayes considered himself, for instance, more than just an all-pro corner. In his mind, he was “the only true Jedi in the National Football League” (which was only to be expected, I suppose, of a player who claimed to have seen The Empire Strikes Back 300 times).

To Lester, money was “deceased presidents,” as in: “If the president of Australia doubled my salary and I was not under contract to the Raiders, I’d be on the first flight across the International Dateline. . . . It’s [all about] the deceased presidents, baby. In 1995, when the cost of bread is $5 per loaf, how is one to procure his loaf of bread?”

At Texas A&M, where he’d played linebacker, they called him “Judge.” That, he explained, stemmed from “a statement I made before we played Texas. I said our defense was going to hold court on Earl Campbell. I sentenced him to 2 yards on 20 carries.” (Campbell finished with 20 on 18.)

In 1980 Hayes was judge, jury and executioner as far as NFL quarterbacks were concerned. If they threw a ball anywhere near him, it was likely to wind up in his stickum-coated mitts (in the days when the Crazy Glue-like stuff was legal). How his season went:

● Week 1 (beat Chiefs, 27-14): Intercepted a Steve Fuller pass, setting up a field goal that made it 24-7 in the fourth quarter.

● Week 2 (lost to Chargers in overtime, 30-24): Had one of the Raiders’ five INTs against Dan Fouts.

● Week 3 (beat Redskins, 24-21): In the fourth quarter, with Washington at the Oakland 21, he picked off Joe Theismann’s throw to halt a drive.

● Week 4 (lost to Bills, 24-7): Returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown, the Raiders’ only score. Victim: Joe Ferguson.

● Week 8 (beat Seahawks, 33-14): Had two INTs, both off Jim Zorn. The first led to a TD, the second to a field goal.

● Week 9 (beat Dolphins, 16-10): From the AP account: “Lester Hayes had one interception, and would have had another — on which he rambled 95 yards for an apparent TD — had the play not been called back by an Oakland offside penalty.” QB: Uncertain (either David Woodley or Don Strock).

● Week 10 (beat Bengals, 28-17): A one-INT day could have been a three-INT day if two more picks hadn’t been nullified by offside penalties. The one he did get came on the final play of the first half when Jack Thompson threw up a Hail Mary.

● Week 11 (beat Seahawks, 19-17): With 4:20 left, he intercepted a Zorn pass and returned it 19 yards to the Oakland 39. The Raiders then drove to the Seattle 10, where Chris Bahr booted a game-winning 28-yard field goal.

● Week 12 (lost to Eagles in Super Bowl preview, 10-7): Picked off a Ron Jaworski pass at some point, but the newspaper stories don’t say when. (Unfortunately, the league’s gamebook archives only go back to 1981, which is why I have to rely on newspapers.)

● Week 13 (beat Broncos, 9-3): Another end-of-the-first-half-Hail-Mary job, this time at the expense of Craig Morton.

● Week 15 (beat Broncos, 24-21): Had a second-quarter INT. (Matt Robinson threw it.) It was followed by a field goal that put Oakland ahead to stay, 10-7.

● Week 16 (beat Giants, 33-17): The New York Times: “Late in the second quarter, with the Giants trailing by two touchdowns, [Scott] Brunner overthrew a pass to [running back Billy] Taylor. It was intercepted by Lester Hayes, his 13th steal of the season, and returned 50 yards” — helping to put another three points on the board.

● Playoff Game 1 (beat Oilers, 27-7): Thanks, once again, to the wonders of YouTube, I was able to find video of all five of Hayes’ postseason picks. This is the first — in the end zone in the third quarter, when Oakland had a tenuous 10-7 lead.

And this is the second, near the end, with Oilers quarterback Ken Stabler — Lester’s former Raiders teammate — facing a third-and-18 at the Houston 2:

Touchdown — Hayes’ second of the season. He also had two sacks that day. Just so you know: No defensive back has had a two-interception/two-sack game since the sack became an official statistic in 1982. Three linebackers have accomplished the feat, though – the Bengals’ James Francis (1992), the Dolphins’ Robert Jones (1998) and the Steelers’ Joey Porter (2002). That’s the kind of year it was for Lester.

● Playoff Game 2 (beat Browns, 14-12): Suckered Brian Sipe into two more INTs. Pick No. 1 came on a third-and-10 play from the Cleveland 48 midway through the first quarter:

Pick No. 2 was yet another a Hail Mary situation – just before halftime:

NBC analyst John Brodie made a classic comment during the replay: “A lot of fellas would be content to just bat it down. Not Lester. Put another skin on the wall.”

Exactly. Anything Hayes could get his hands on, he was going to catch. In that instance he was trying to keep the ball away from a 6-foot-4 former college basketball player (wideout Dave Logan), so who can blame him?

Amazingly — given all his interceptions — Lester didn’t have the most memorable INT in that game. The Raiders’ strong safety, Mike Davis, did, picking off a Brian Sipe pass in the end zone in the final minute to preserve the victory. The Browns were at the Oakland 13, in chip-shot field goal range, when Sipe tried to hit tight end Ozzie Newsome . . . and connected with Davis instead:

(The game was played in bitter cold, and Cleveland had already missed an extra point and two field goals. Coach Sam Rutigliano didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in kicker Don Cockroft at that stage.)Headline before AFC title game JJ Duel

● Playoff Game 3 (beat Chargers, 34-27): Much of the talk before the AFC title game was about the matchup between Hayes and John Jefferson — all-pro corner vs. all-pro receiver. And sure enough, in the early going at the Oakland 14, Fouts wanted to go to Jefferson, who had lined up in the right slot. But JJ slipped, which resulted in Lester’s 18th and last interception of the season:

Hayes never had another year like 1980. Nobody has another year like that. In fact, he never had more than four interceptions in any of his final six seasons, though he continued to make Pro Bowls. Whether this had anything to do with the banning of stickum in ’81 is an open question. He used it, uh, liberally (as the photo at the bottom shows).

Still, he had some nice moments after that, including this one during the Raiders’ 1983 playoff run:

Before the Super Bowl against the Redskins, he said (in typical Lesterese): “As long as I procure those 72,000 deceased presidents on my birthday [Jan. 22 — the date of the game], that’s all I care about. It’s my destiny to spend my birthday intercepting three passes and scoring three touchdowns, a feat no other defensive back has ever done. I will do a 360-degree reverse slam dunk [over the crossbar] after each TD. It’s inevitable.”

Alas, he fell three interceptions, three touchdowns and three 360-degree reverse slam dunks short, but no matter. The Raiders won anyway, 38-9. Besides, he’ll always have 1980. And when I say “always,” I’m pretty sure I mean always. Who’s ever going to have more 18 interceptions in a season?

Lester Hayes, his right hand covered with goo (stickum), reaches for a towel.

Lester Hayes, his right hand covered with goo (stickum), reaches for a towel.

Are teams drafting better? (Part 2)

Following up on yesterday’s discussion of whether NFL teams have gotten any better at drafting in the last 50 years . . .

As tonight’s draft approaches, here are a few more things I came across in my research:

● The last time more Hall of Famers were drafted in the second round than the first: 1991.

Nobody in Round 1 that year wound up in Canton. In Round 2, though, the Cardinals got CB CB Aeneas Williams with the 59th pick.

(Note: As with yesterday’s post, I’m not talking about “rounds” as much as blocks of 32 picks — 1 through 32, 33 through 64 and 65 through 96. That way, drafts in the 2000s can be compared to drafts in the 1930s, even though there were fewer teams and shorter rounds in the early years.

Hall of Fame DE Charles Haley, the 94th pick in 1986.

The only Hall of Famer in the ’86 draft went 96th (Charles Haley).

● The last time more Hall of Famers were drafted in the third round than the first: 1986.

That was year the 49ers, at 96, lucked into DE Charles Haley. None of the first-rounders has gone on to the Hall.

● The last time the top three rounds each produced a HOFer: 1993 — OT Willie Roaf (Saints, 8th) and RB Jerome Bettis (Rams, 10th) in the Round 1, DE Michael Strahan (Giants, 40th) in Round 2 and OG Will Shields (Chiefs, 74th) in Round 3.

● The two times more Pro Bowlers were drafted in the second round than the first (since 1950, the season the first modern Pro Bowl was played): 1967 and ’74. I’ll give you details for ’67, since ’74 comes up again later.

Round 1 (9): DE Bubba Smith (Colts, 1st pick), QB Bob Griese* (Dolphins, 4th), LB George Webster (Oilers, 5th), RB Floyd Little* (Broncos, 6th), RB Mel Farr (Lions, 7th), WR Gene Washington (Vikings, 8th), DT Alan Page* (Vikings, 15th), OG Gene Upshaw* (Raiders, 17th), WR Bob Grim (Vikings, 28th).  (Asterisk denotes Hall of Famer.)

Round 2 (10): RB Willie Ellison (Rams, 33rd), CB Lem Barney* (Lions, 34th), DT Bob Rowe (Cardinals, 43rd), FS Rick Volk (Colts, 45th), LB Jim Lynch (Chiefs, 47th), LB Willie Lanier* (Chiefs, 50th), WR John Gilliam (Saints, 52nd), OT Mike Current (Broncos, 58th), George Goeddeke (Broncos, 59th), LB Paul Naumoff (Lions, 60th).

The last time more Pro Bowlers were drafted in the third round than the first: never.

In 1966 and  ’74 the totals were pretty close: six in Round 1, four in Round 3. The breakdown for the latter:

First round (6): DE Ed “Too Tall” Jones (Cowboys, 1st), DT John Dutton (Colts, 5th), LB Randy Gradishar (Broncos, 14th), OT Henry Lawrence (Raiders, 19th), WR Lynn Swann* (Steelers, 21st), WR Roger Carr (Colts, 24th).

Third round (4): WR Nat Moore (Dolphins, 78th), WR John Stallworth* (Steelers, 82nd), QB Mike Boryla (Bengals, 87th), LB Frank LeMaster (Eagles, 89th).

● Best first round for Hall of Famers: 1964 (7) — OT Bob Brown (Eagles, 2nd), WR Charley Taylor (Redskins, 3rd), DE Carl Eller (Vikings, 6th), WR Paul Warfield (Browns, 11th), DB Mel Renfro (Cowboys, 17th), FS Paul Krause (Redskins, 18th), LB Dave Wilcox (49ers, 29th).

● Best second round for HOFers: 1981 (3) — LB Mike Singletary (Bears, 38th), DE Howie Long (Raiders, 48th), LB Rickey Jackson (Saints, 51st).

One of three third-round Hall of Famers in the '68 draft.

One of three Hall of Famers drafted in the third round in 1968.

● Best third round for HOFers: 1968 (3) — TE Charlie Sanders (Lions, 74th), DE Elvin Bethea (Houston Oilers, 77th), OT Art Shell (Raiders, 80th). Imagine: three Hall of Famers in the seven picks that deep in the draft.

● Best first round for Pro Bowlers: 1961 (19) — RB Tommy Mason (Vikings, 1st), QB Norm Snead (Redskins, 2nd), DT Joe Rutgens (Redskins, 3rd), LB Marlin McKeever (Rams, 4th), TE Mike Ditka* (Bears, 5th), CB Jimmy Johnson* (49ers, 6th), RB Tom Matte (Colts, 7th), OT Ken Rice (Cardinals, 8th), WR Bernie Casey (49ers, 9th), QB Billy Kilmer (49ers, 11th), CB Herb Adderley* (Packers, 12th), DT Bob Lilly* (Cowboys, 13th), LB Rip Hawkins (Vikings, 15th), C E.J. Holub (Cowboys, 16th), LB Myron Pottios (Steelers, 19th), RB Bill Brown (Bears, 20th), TE Fred Arbanas (Cardinals, 22nd), QB Fran Tarkenton* (Vikings, 29th), OT Stew Barber (Cowboys, 30th).

(Note: Some of these players signed with the AFL and played in AFL All-Star Games rather than Pro Bowls.)

● Best second round for Pro Bowlers: 2001 (12) — DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (Cardinals, 34th), TE Alge Crumpler (Falcons, 35th), WR Chad Johnson(Bengals (36th), LB Kendrell Bell (Steelers, 39th), DT Kris Jenkins (Panthers, 34th), DE Aaron Schobel (Bills, 46th), OT Matt Light (Patriots, 48th), WR Chris Chambers (Dolphins, 52nd), RB Travis Henry (Bills, 58th), DT Shaun Rogers (Lions, 61st), DE Derrick Burgess (Eagles, 63rd), SS Adrian Wilson (Cardinals, 64th).

● Best third round for Pro Bowlers: 1951, ’61, ’77 and ’88 all had seven. The most recent:

1988 (7): QB-P Tom Tupa (Cardinals, 68th), P Greg Montgomery (Oilers, 72nd), TE Ferrell Edmunds (Dolphins, 73rd), CB James Hasty (Jets, 74th), QB Chris Chandler (Colts, 76th), LB Bill Romanowski (49ers, 80th), FS Chuck Cecil (Packers, 89th).

It’s rare that the talent in Round 2 turns out to be anywhere near as good as the talent in Round 1. (The same goes for Round 3 and Round 2.) As I said in the earlier post, scouting departments are fairly good at figuring out generally who the best players are. They just don’t always know specifically who they are.

But note, too, what this data doesn’t suggest: that teams have become more proficient over the decades at drafting. There’s just nothing here to support that. And it’s a bit of a surprise, given how much more time, money and manpower goes into the process these days — and how sophisticated it’s supposedly gotten.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

This is how the NFL Draft looked in the early '60s -- and teams were (arguably) no more mistake prone than today.

This is how the NFL Draft looked in the early ’60s — and teams (arguably) drafted just as well as today.

Before combines, computers and Kipers

They weigh them, time them, test them, give them chest X-rays, knee exams, electrocardiograms. They work them out and wear them out, do background checks that are more like body-cavity searches. Heck, for all we know, NFL teams delve into the DNA of draft prospects — on the off-chance one of them might be secretly related to Jim Thorpe.

Then they gather up all this information, feed it into a computer and . . . draft Tom Brady in the sixth round — or James Harrison not at all.

Does anyone else feel this NFL Draft business has gotten to be a bit much? Sure, you want to be thorough, especially with so much money at stake, but as we’ve seen time and again, overanalysis can lead to paralysis — or worse, to Tim Couch.

Or to put it another way, what’s so wonderful about the Wonderlic test? Couldn’t you learn just as much about a guy by playing a quick game of rock-paper-scissors with him?

In olden times, the league did just fine without this microscopic evaluation of talent. Back then – I’m talking before World War II — clubs scouted the old-fashioned way, working their contacts in the college game and counting on recommendations from former players. Oh, they might get to see a prospect in action once or twice, but beyond that . . . .

Poring over game films, such a big part of the process today, didn’t come into fashion into later. (In the late ’30s, most teams were just beginning to pore over their own game films.) No, a club was much more likely to learn about a player by perusing the sports section of the newspaper. Some clubs even enlisted sports writers to do the bird-dogging for them.

One of them, a columnist for The Ogden Standard-Examiner named Al Warden, informed his readers in 1940 that he was “one of the far western football scouts for the Lions.” In fact, he went on, he’d just received a letter from Detroit coach Potsy Clark that said: “Let us have a list of prospective players from your section of the country as soon as possible. We are on the lookout for new finds.”

In those days, the NFL Draft went something like this: Every year, the league compiled a master list of eligible players – with the help of submissions from each team. The 300-odd names were then put on three large blackboards in the hotel meeting room where the draft was held.

Sometimes, if a club felt it had stumbled across a hidden gem, it would “forget” to put him on the master list. The Giants did this in 1939 with Walt Nielsen, a back from the hinterlands of Arizona — then surprised everybody by drafting him in the first round.

Wellington Mara, the 20-something son of owner Tim Mara, served as New York’s player personnel director during the leather helmet era. It’s astounding where the kid found players — and without, I’ll just point out, having any idea what their vertical jump was. Take the Giants’ 1938 championship team, for instance. Among the alma maters listed on the roster were Central Oklahoma, West Virginia Wesleyan, Emporia State (Kansas), Trinity University (Texas), Santa Clara, St. Bonaventure, George Washington, Simpson College (Iowa) and Oklahoma City.

Of course, the Giants took scouting more seriously than many other teams. At the other end of the spectrum were the Steelers of the late ’40s and early ’50s. Their player personnel man “was a full-time mortician named Ray Byrne,” NFL Hall of Famer Jim Finks once recalled. “So, on the side, he subscribed to all the college football magazines and put himself on the mailing lists of all the different colleges . . . [and] collected their press releases. That was the information the Steelers had when they went into the draft every year.”

By the time the American Football League came along in 1960, though, moonlighting morticians had been replaced by full-time scouts who crisscrossed the country in search of the next Bronko Nagurski. Eddie Kotal, Jack Lavelle, Pappy Lewis, Peahead Walker, Fido Murphy — nobody remembers them now, but they helped turn the NFL Draft into the extravaganza it is today.

The 19th-round pick from now-defunct Arnold College.

The 19th-round pick from now-defunct Arnold College.

Kotal liked to joke about his “14-month year” cataloguing prospects for the Los Angeles Rams, right down to the little-known defensive end from Arnold College in Milford, Conn. (the great Andy Robustelli, L.A.’s 19th-round pick in 1951). Let’s face it, you have to be a little nutty to spend all that time on the road — just you and your binoculars — and Eddie certainly qualified. As a back with the Packers in the ’20s, he was one of the handful of players in the league who played without a helmet.

For a while, the Rams had an edge on other teams because they budgeted more for scouting, but that soon changed. So much so that Kotal griped in 1957:

“Even five years ago I could stumble across a sleeper at some small college that no other club knew about. But nowadays, everybody’s scouting system is so exhaustive, there’s no such thing as one.

“I don’t care if the kid is a third-string halfback at Tiddle-de-Wink Tech. By the time I get there to see him, he’ll tell me:

“‘You’re from the Rams, huh? I just got a letter the other day from the Lions and the Bears, too.’”

And so it began, the inexorable march toward five-hour first rounds, the self-celebratory NFL combine . . . and Mel Kiper. The draft, once confined to smoke-filled rooms, has become the Super Bowl of the offseason, and scouting has been elevated to the status of a science — an inexact science perhaps, but a science nonetheless.

Fido Murphy, long dead, would snort at that. To Fido, who shared his bush-beating brilliance over the years with the Bears and Steelers, modern scouts were just “a bunch of office boys with fancy titles! A lot of fakers and phonies! You ask them what do they think of such-and-such a player, and they tell you, ‘Wait till I see the films.’ I don’t need no lousy films.”

Speaking of films, Fido was married to an Actual Hollywood Actress, Iris Adrian. Iris was no star, but she appeared in hundreds of movies and TV shows opposite the likes of the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. The reason their relationship lasted, she’d tell people, was that he wasn’t an actor — unlike her first two husbands. “If an actor gets a pimple on his butt,” she’d say, “he thinks he’s ruined for life. . . . [It’s] like dating another dame.”

Iris’ glamorous career, meanwhile, enabled Fido, a walking lounge act, to crack jokes like this: “The best field-goal kicker I’ve ever seen is a mule called Gus who kicks a field goal in the last minute of a Walt Disney film starring my wife. . . . Gus plays for a team called the Atoms, and he wears a red blanket.”

Fido had total faith in his ability to distinguish the player from the poser. As he put it, “It isn’t that I’m smarter than everyone else in football. It’s just that I know more. . . . Sam Cohen, the Bridgeport [Conn.] columnist, wanted to call me a genius, but I wouldn’t let him.” Indeed, when Sports Illustrated ran a story about him in 1963, he suggested it be titled “Football’s Greatest Scout” (which it was).

Note: I’d hoped to link to that marvelous piece by Myron Cope, but for some reason it’s no longer available in SI’s archives. It can, however, be found in Cope’s collection, Broken Cigars. A used copy shouldn’t be too hard to find if you’re so inclined. Here’s a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

Without having to be prodded, Fido takes credit for the fact that Mike Ditka, the magnificent Chicago offensive end, signed with the Bears rather than with the wealthy Houston Oilers [of the rival AFL]. As Fido tells it, Ditka was flying home to Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, from the Hula Bowl game in Hawaii and stopped in San Francisco to change planes. “I had him bumped off his plane,” says Fido. “Then I got him a first-class window seat on another flight, and he thought I was a big man. The flight had a 90-minute layover in Chicago, and I had [George] Halas wait for him at the airport with a contract.”

Fido would gladly pit his old-school eyeballs against any team’s computer, any scouting department’s rating system, any cockamamie intelligence test. It was he, after all, who said of the first pick in the 1963 draft, Heisman-winning quarterback Terry Baker, “For carrying around a trophy, he’s got a great arm. For throwing a football, no.”

Sure enough, Baker never tossed a touchdown pass in the NFL and ended his brief and uneventful career as a running back. Wonder what Fido would make of Jameis Winston.

A shorter version of this story originally appeared in the The Washington Times, April 24, 2009.

Terry Baker: a better arm “for carrying around a trophy [than] throwing a football."

Terry Baker: a better arm “for carrying around a trophy [than] throwing a football.”

The NFL’s 82-year-old PAT “problem”

Sometime soon the NFL is expected to do something about the extra point. What that something is will be decided by the Competition Committee, the owners and possibly the ASPCK (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Kickers). It’s beginning to bother me, though, that I haven’t heard Two Little Words very much, words that should be a big part of this discussion:

Point value.

By point value, I’m talking mainly about the relationship between the touchdown (six points) and the field goal (three). Since the league was founded in 1920, a TD has almost always been worth more than two field goals because the PAT has been virtually automatic. This, to my mind, is as it should be. Driving the length of the field and punching the ball across is more of an accomplishment than, say, getting stopped twice at the 30 and booting a pair of 48-yard field goals.

Stephen Curry: xx.x%. NFL kickers: 84%.

The Warriors’ Stephen Curry: 91.6%. NFL kickers: 84%.

That’s especially true nowadays, when a field-goal try has about the same success rate as a Stephen Curry free throw. Last season kickers made 84 percent of their three-pointers (61 percent from 50 yards and beyond). The year before they were even more accurate (86.5).

One of the arguments for dickering with the PAT is to reduce the impact of these specialists, which is far out of proportion to the time they spend on the field. So why, I ask, would you want to change the rule so that there would be more unsuccessful point-afters, as the league is reportedly considering? Because if there are more of those — by either run, pass or kick — then you have more instances of a touchdown being worth only six points . . . the same as two field goals.

I’d rather have a TD worth seven points — as it’s essentially been for decades — and give the scoring team a chance for a bonus point from the 2-yard line – or wherever the odds would be closest to 50/50. No kicks allowed. (There are more than enough of those.)

Then you’d have an Exciting Play after every touchdown and games would sometimes decided by the proficiency of a team’s extra-point offense (or defense). Wouldn’t that be preferable to what we have now? If you wanted to add some spice to it, you could give the D the opportunity to score a point by returning a fumble or interception the length of the field (something the league is also said to be weighing). Seems only fair.

This, of course, would involve burying the two-point conversion. Let’s face it, there’s always been a certain illogic to it. For moving the ball two yards, the offense scores as many points as the defense does for tackling the ball carrier in the end zone for a safety — and almost as many as a kicker does for booting a 64-yard field goal. Again, it all goes back to point value.

Pro football doesn’t the need a gimmick like that. Scoring is at historic levels; in each of the last three seasons it’s topped 45 points a game, equaling the previous best three-year stretch from 1948 to ’50. The Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl, meanwhile, drew 114.4 million viewers, a record for the game. The NFL’s customers are clearly satisfied, whether the PAT is reimagined or not.

It would do the league no harm, that I can see, to leave the point-after exactly as is. (Would it make one dollar less?) But it could do it some harm if four or five goal-line plays were added to each game. All we’d need is a star player or two to suffer a season-ending injury — for the sake of a measly additional point — and we’d have sports-talk-show hosts shrieking, “What the #%&@! were they thinking?”

(Note: The short-lived World Football League adopted, in 1974, a rule like the one I’m proposing. After a touchdown, which was worth seven points, the ball was marked at the 2 ½-yard line, and the scoring team could add another point via a run or pass. The “action point,” it was called.)

There are reasons the extra point has, over the decades, fought off attempt after attempt to eliminate it. Its history, in fact, is infinitely more interesting than the play itself. The play itself is a metronomic bore: snap, hold, kick. (Or as I like to think of it: We interrupt this game to bring you the World Cup.) It also has never seemed like much of a football play, even if it does involve the foot.

Worse, it’s utterly predictable. Only once in the last nine seasons, near as I can determine, has a game been decided by a missed PAT — this one between the Cardinals and Cowboys on Dec. 25, 2010. (Merry Christmas!)

At least as early as 1933, there were folks in the NFL lobbying to get rid of the point-after. That was the year the Giants’ Tim Mara sought to “abolish” it and replace it with “a 10-minute overtime period in the event that the regulation game ends in a tie,” The New York Times reported.

Mara pointed out that of 58 league games played during the past season only one was decided by the extra point and that [10] . . . resulted in ties.

“In every sport but football authorities have sought to avoid a tie score,” Mara declared. “No matter whom you are rooting for you don’t want to see a game end in a tie. The game has reached such a stage now that few field goals are attempted. The one desire seems to be a touchdown.”

So that, maybe, was the first grenade lobbed in the PAT’s direction. The league was choking on tie games, and the point-after wasn’t helping to break those ties (which is one of the things it was supposed to do).

Bert Bell, as owner of the Eagles and later as NFL commissioner, made the quashing of the extra point a personal crusade. He did everything he could to get it stricken from the rulebook. One of his main arguments was that the change would “do away with the one-point spread in which gamblers are so much interested,” he said in 1951. This, he predicted, would cut down “gambling by 60 percent.”

Not long afterward he pushed for touchdowns to be revalued at seven points — thereby making the PAT superfluous. The Times referred to it as his “perennial suggestion.” It was voted down, 7-5.

Lloyd Larsen, the Milwaukee Sentinel columnist, joked that Bell might have had an ulterior motive. “Could it be,” he wondered, “that his real concern is the cost of footballs [$17 per] kicked into the crowd?”

Actually, there might have been some truth to this — in the early years, anyway. One Sunday in 1935, Bell nearly ran out of footballs during a blowout loss to the Bears in Philadelphia. Chicago’s Jack Manders kept booting extra points into the stands, and the fans kept keeping them as consolation prizes. By the third quarter, only one usable ball was left. So after their last two touchdowns, the Bears waived their right to a PAT and just lined up for the kickoff. That explained the unusual final score: 39-0.

In 1968, almost a decade after Bell’s death, the NFL and AFL conducted a joint experiment with the point-after. In the 23 interleague preseason games that year — this was before the merger, remember — teams were given the option of running or passing for the point from the 2-yard line. Kicks were verboten.

But while the provisional rule jazzed up some otherwise dreary exhibition games, it never gained much traction with the owners — and was deposited, along with all the other brainstorms whose time had not yet come, in the dustbin of history.

And now here we are, almost half a century later, wrestling with the PAT question again. I just wish, while we were mulling the issue, the words “point value” were being thrown around more often. Two field goals should never equal a touchdown. They just shouldn’t.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Nobody hated the PAT more than NFL commissioner Bert Bell (shown here working in the schedule -- with dominoes).

Nobody hated the PAT more than NFL commissioner Bert Bell (shown here working on the schedule — with dominoes).

Trading one QB for another

Chip Kelly, the Eagles’ iconoclast/coach, was at it again on the first day of free agency. He swapped a quarterback for a quarterback, Nick Foles for the Rams’ Sam Bradford. Talk about something that Just Isn’t Done.

Or rather, it hasn’t been done very often in recent years. The risk is just to great — the risk of looking like a dummy if the QB you traded turns out to be better than the QB you got in return.

Here’s a factoid that might surprise you: Only 10 quarterbacks in NFL history have posted a passer rating of 110 or higher in a season. Three of them have been traded within two years of one of those seasons — while still in their 20s.

Foles, of course, is the latest. The details:

Daunte Culpepper

Daunte Culpepper

● Milt Plum, Browns — Had a rating of 110.4 in 1960, a league record at the time (and phenomenal for that era, which was much more hit-or-miss in the throwing department). Traded to the Lions in ’62. (Particulars below.) Age: 27.

● Daunte Culpepper, Vikings — Put up a rating of 110.9 in 2004. Dealt to the Dolphins in ’06 for a second-round pick (after blowing out his right knee the season before and asking to be traded). Age: 29.

● Nick Foles, Eagles — Posted a rating of 119.2 in 2013, the third highest of all time. Sent to the Rams in 2015. Age: 26.

But let’s get back to the topic du jour: quarterback-for-quarterback trades. They always cause such a stir, don’t they? Look at all the syllables that have been expended discussing the Foles-for-Bradford swap. And yet, none of these deals has resulted in an NFL title for either side (though one did lead to an AFL title). The more notable QB-for-QB exchanges over the decades:

● 1980 — The Raiders’ Ken Stabler for the Oilers’ Dan Pastorini.

I covered this trade in a recent post about one-for-one player swaps. Both quarterbacks were nearing the end, but Houston thought Stabler might have enough left to get the franchise to its first Super Bowl. Alas, he didn’t. Pastorini, meanwhile, broke his leg in Oakland, but that merely opened the door for Jim Plunkett (and brought the Raiders two more rings).

Winner*: Oilers (not that the Raiders suffered any when they lost Pastorini).

*We’re just comparing the QBs here. In most cases, other players and/or draft picks were involved in the trades.)

Morton card● 1977 — The Giants’ Craig Morton for the Broncos’ Steve Ramsey.

Morton looked like he might be through after winning just two of 12 starts the year before. But he revived his career in Denver, guiding the Broncos — with the help of their famed Orange Crush defense — to the Super Bowl in his first season. Ramsey, an utterly forgettable QB, was cut by the Giants in training camp.

Winner: Broncos.

● 1976 — The Packers’ John Hadl for the Oilers’ Lynn Dickey.

Hadl’s two seasons in Houston — his final two seasons — were spent mostly as a backup behind Pastorini. He was, after all, 36. But Dickey, a decade younger, had his best years in Green Bay. In the ’82 strike season he quarterbacked the Packers to their only playoff berth in two decades (1973-92). The next season he led the league in touchdown passes (32) and passing yards (4,458).

Winner: Packers.

● 1972 — The Giants’ Fran Tarkenton for the Vikings’ Norm Snead.

In 1967 Tarkenton was traded to the Giants for the kitchen sink. Five years later he was traded back to the Vikings for slightly less than the kitchen sink. His second term in Minnesota was more fruitful. The Vikings went to three Super Bowls (though they didn’t win any), which cemented his status as a Hall of Famer. Snead went to the Pro Bowl in his first season in New York but was shipped to San Francisco in Year 3.

Winner: Vikings.

● 1967 — The Bills’ Daryle Lamonica for the Raiders’ Tom Flores.

In Buffalo, Lamonica was stuck behind Jack Kemp, who had taken the Bills to three straight AFL championship games (and two titles). He blossomed in Oakland, going 36-4-1as a starter in his first three seasons (which ended with one loss in the Super Bowl and two in the AFL championship game). Flores, better remembered for coaching the Raiders to two titles, threw just 74 passes in Buffalo before winding up his career in Kansas City.

Winner: Raiders.

Snead card● 1964 — The Eagles’ Sonny Jurgensen for the Redskins’ Norm Snead.

Amazingly, Snead was swapped not once but twice for a Hall of Fame quarterback. And while he may not have been Canton material himself, he wasn’t a bad player at all — as his 196 TD passes attest. (When he retired after the 1976 season, he was tied with Bobby Layne for 10th on the all-time list.) But Jurgensen helped resurrect the Washington franchise, which had fallen on hard times in founder George Preston Marshall’s final years. He was also one of the purest passers pro football has seen.

Winner: Redskins.

● 1962 — The Browns’ Milt Plum for the Lions’ Jim Ninowski.

This deal, which I mentioned earlier, didn’t amount to much. I include it, basically, because of Ninowski’s classic response when he got the news. Jim, you see, had been drafted by the Browns in 1958 before being packed off to Detroit, where he’d finally gotten a chance to play. He was far from happy, initially, about returning to Cleveland.

“I’m pretty disgusted,” he said. “I have no intention of going to Cleveland. I’ll quit football if I have to. You get tired of being tossed around like a toy.”

Ninowski did go to Cleveland, though, and started seven games in ’62 (Paul Brown’s last year as coach). He spent five more seasons with the Browns as the No. 2 guy behind Pro Bowler Frank Ryan. As for Plum, the Lions went 11-3 with him the first year — the third best record in the league — but things went sharply downhill thereafter.

Winner: Lions. (Let’s not forget, Milt also could kick field goals.

● 1958 — The Lions’ Bobby Layne for the Steelers’ Earl Morrall.

The trade reunited Hall of Famer Layne with Buddy Parker, who’d quit as Detroit’s coach previous year and moved to Pittsburgh. Bobby didn’t add to his ring collection (two) with the Steelers, but he did bring the club some much-needed credibility (in the form of three winning seasons). Morrall, just a third-year player, was nothing special in Detroit, but he had some nice moments late in his career with the Colts (1968, ’70) and Dolphins (’72, their perfect season).

Winner: Steelers.

Garrett card● 1954 — The Browns’ Bobby Garrett for the Packers’ Babe Parilli.

What a wacky tale this is. Garrett was the first pick in the 1954 draft (making him that year’s Sam Bradford). The Browns took him on the assumption Otto Graham, their legendary QB, was close to retirement. (Graham wound up playing through ’55.) But get this: Coach Paul Brown traded Garrett to Green Bay before he’d even reported to training camp.

Why? One theory is that Brown didn’t realize on draft day that Bobby was looking at a two-year military hitch following his graduation from Stanford. And indeed, the young quarterback spent the 1955 and ’56 seasons in the Air Force. Here’s the thing, though: Parilli, the fourth pick in ’52, was already in the service — and wasn’t discharged until ’56. So who really knows what was going through PB’s mind?

When Garrett rejoined the Packers in ’57, Brown reacquired him. Guess who he sent to Green Bay as (partial) payment? Parilli. That’s right, Bobby and Babe were traded twice for each other. But here the story gets even stranger. It turns out Garrett had a speech impediment: he stuttered. Brown had no patience for it — and ridiculed him on the practice field mercilessly. He was convinced it would keep Garrett from becoming an effective quarterback, hindering his play calling and especially his ability to check off at the line.

Paul Wiggin, the future Chiefs coach and a teammate of Bobby’s, said in 2012: “It was just a misunderstanding of what stuttering was. It didn’t solve the problem, it enhanced the problem.”

Before the preseason was over, Garrett decided to retire and join his father in the real estate business in California. Such was life in the days before the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Winner: Tie. (Neither club benefited much.)

So ends our Brief History of Quarterback-for-Quarterback Trades. Let me know if I’ve left out any good ones. As you can see, they’re better at generating noise than generating championships, though a few have had a significant impact.

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

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.

12-4 . . . and out the door

The Broncos and John Fox went their separate ways this week — despite 40 wins the past three seasons and a trip to the Super Bowl a year ago. What doomed the marriage, general manager John Elway said, is that “two years in a row, it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of . . . the way we played the last game.”

Elway thinks the team was “right there,” that Fox had all the necessary ingredients to win a title. Of course, GMs tend to think like that. They’re the ones who gather the ingredients. He’s also disappointed, no doubt, that Fox couldn’t do with Peyton Manning what Mike Shanahan did with him late in his career: add a ring or two to his otherwise glowing resumé.

What Elway might be forgetting is that it’s much harder to win the AFC in the 2000s than it was in the ’80s and ’90s, when he played. Back then it was very much the junior conference, and its best teams often got manhandled in The Big Game by the 49ers, Redskins and the rest. (During the 16–year stretch from 1981 to 1996, the AFC won exactly one Super Bowl — and John’s Denver club lost three of them by an average of 32 points.)

It’s different now. The Patriots are on an historic 14-year run that has seen them win three championships and reach the conference title game nine times. The Steelers and Ravens, meanwhile, both have won two Super Bowls since 2000. Then there are the Colts, who knocked off the Broncos last week and might have several rings in their future as long as Andrew Luck remains ambulatory. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Luck — it’s just a more treacherous course to navigate, even if you do have Manning on your side.

But Elway, in the NFL tradition, is convinced Denver should have done better. Just win, baby. If it makes Fox — who has already found a new job with the Bears — feel any better, he’s hardly the first coach this has happened to after a successful season. In fact, in the ’40s, two were fired after taking their teams to the title game (and losing). The details:

● Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers, 2006: Went an AFC-best 14-2 in his final season, but bombed out in the playoffs against the Patriots. Club president Dean Spanos initially said

Marty Schottenheimer during his Chargers days.

Marty Schottenheimer during his Chargers days.

Schottenheimer would return the next year, then changed his mind after Marty turned down a one-year contract extension — he still had a year left on his deal — and lost four assistant coaches (one of whom he wanted to replace with his brother Brian, which didn’t please management at all). Just as problematical, according to Spanos, was Schottenheimer’s “dysfunctional” relationship with general manager A.J. Smith.

Record with the Chargers: 47-35, .573 (0-2 in the playoffs). Replaced by Norv Turner, who took San Diego to the AFC championship game in his first season and had a 59-43 (.578) record in his six years with the Bolts.

● George Seifert, 49ers, 1996: Went 12-4 in his final season, 1-1 in the playoffs (losing to the eventual champion Packers in the second round). Resigned after the club told him it wouldn’t extend his contract beyond the next year, making him a lame duck.

Record with the 49ers: 108-35, .755 (10-5 in the playoffs), two titles (1989, ’94). Replaced by Steve Mariucci, who lasted six seasons (60-43, .583) and led the Niners to one NFC championship game.

● Ted Marchibroda, Colts, 1995: Went 9-7 in his final season, but came within a Hail Mary pass in the AFC title game of reaching the Super Bowl. (Jim Harbaugh threw it, wideout Aaron Bailey

Ted Marchibroda came this close to the Super Bowl in 1995.

Ted Marchibroda and the Colts came this close to the Super Bowl in 1995.

nearly caught it.) When the team offered Marchibroda only a one-year deal — he was 64 and at the end of his contract — he rejected it and opted to become the first coach of the Ravens (the transplanted Browns).

Record with the Colts (in his second tour of duty): 32-35, .478 (2-1 the playoffs). Replaced by offensive coordinator Lindy Infante, who was fired after just two seasons when Indianapolis nosedived to 3-13 in ’97.

● Bum Phillips, Oilers, 1980: Went 11-5 in his final season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Raiders, who won it all. The previous two years, Houston had reached the NFC championship game but couldn’t get past the Steelers. Owner Bud Adams wanted Phillips to hire an offensive coordinator — he was the only coach in the league who didn’t have one — but Bum balked. His “adamant refusal to even consider that the offense needs some fresh blood and input weighed heavily in my decision,” Adams said. (And, truth be known, the Oilers’ attack was awfully conservative: pound away with Earl Campbell and throw to tight ends Mike Barber, Dave Casper and Rich Caster.)

Record with the Oilers: 59-38, .608 (4-3 in the playoffs). Replaced by defensive coordinator Ed Biles, who didn’t make it through his third season (8-23, .258).

● Chuck Knox, Rams, 1977: Went 10-4 in his final season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Vikings. This followed losses in three straight NFC title games. The year before, Knox had flirted with taking the Lions job, which didn’t exactly endear him to owner Dan Reeves. Both men were ready for a change, and Reeves was particularly interested in the Cardinals’ Don Coryell. But when St. Louis asked for a first-round pick as compensation, he decided to rehire George Allen, who had just left the Redskins. What a disaster. He ended up firing Allen during training camp — the players rebelled at his strict regimen — and promoting offensive coordinator Ray Malavasi.

Record with the Rams: 57-20-1, .737 (3-5 in the playoffs). Malavasi got the Rams to the Super Bowl in his second season — the Steelers beat them 31-19 — but was just 43-36 (.544) in his six years at the helm.

● George Allen, Rams, 1970: Went 9-4-1 in his final season, missing the playoffs (in the days before wild cards). Reeves talked about having philosophical differences with his coach, but it was more a matter of Allen’s postseason failures and the fact that neither man was easy to work with. “I was willing to cooperate with him,” George said, “but it is not my philosophy to be a ‘yes man.’”

Record with the Rams: 49-19-4, .708 (0-2 in the playoffs). Replaced by UCLA coach Tommy Prothro, who was gone two years later (14-12-2, .536).

● Clark Shaughnessy, Los Angeles Rams, 1949: Went 8-2-2 in his final season, losing in the title game to the defending champion Eagles. Reeves — there’s that name again — got rid of him the

Clark Shaughnessy, one of the fathers of the T formation.

Clark Shaughnessy, a father of the T formation.

following February, citing “internal friction between Shaughnessy and his assistants, players and others associated with the Rams.” Shag (as he was called) was stunned. “Inasmuch as this was the first time during my two years as a head coach that any expression of dissatisfaction relative to my services was made to me by any official of the Rams organization,” he said, “it leaves me at a loss for words.”

Record with the Rams: 14-8-3, .620 (0-1 in the playoffs). Replaced by line coach Joe Stydahar, who guided L.A. to the next two championship games, splitting them with the Browns (30-28 loss, 24-17 win). So maybe Reeves’ move wasn’t the worst in NFL history. But Stydahar (19-9, .679) wasn’t given much rope, either. The year after winning the title, he was dumped following a season-opening 37-7 defeat at Cleveland. As I said, his boss was a hard guy to satisfy.

● Dud DeGroot, Redskins, 1945: Went 8-2 in his final season, losing by a point (15-14) in the championship game to the Cleveland Rams (on a wickedly cold day by The Lake). George Preston Marshall, an owner not known for his patience, forced him out — DeGroot technically resigned — after just two years. The most interesting explanation I’ve come across is that Marshall wanted the Redskins to switch to sneakers during the ’45 title game because the field was frozen, but Dud refused because he and Rams coach Adam Walsh had agreed beforehand to stick with cleats. (I kid you not.)

Record with the Redskins: 14-6-1, .690 (0-1 in the playoffs). Replaced by line coach/Redskins legend Turk Edwards, who was axed at the end of his third season. (16-18-1, .471).

You can see the pattern here: Postseason misery, difficult owners, stubborn coaches and — in many cases, perhaps — unrealistic expectations. You also can see The Next Guy wasn’t usually much of an improvement over The Guy Who Preceded Him.

Anyway, John Fox, after four seasons of fine work in Denver, is off to Chicago to try to get the Bears’ house in order — and to find happiness where he can, fleeting as it is in pro football.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

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

A world without Gatorade

Gatorade, Stokely-Van Camp’s answer to salt pills, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Indeed, the company jumped the gun in late December with an ad we’re sure to get sick of before it runs its course, just as we’ve tired of Gatorade dunks like this one:

That, by the way, is supposedly the first Gatorade dunk in sports history — the Giants’ Jim Burt showering coach Bill Parcells near the end of a 37-13 wipeout of the Redskins on Oct. 28, 1984. (It just dawned on me. I covered that game.) But, really, who can say for sure? Maybe it’s just the first televised Gatorade dunk in sports history.

Gatorade has become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to remember the world without it. So I thought I’d amuse you with this ad, which ran in newspapers in 1928, for the Super Sports Drink of the Red Grange Era. Postum, it was called (for reasons that have been lost to the ages).

Postum ad in 11-21-28 Post-Crescent

Chick Meehan, the football coach at NYU, supplied this testimonial: “For 15 years Postum has held an important place in the training diet of my teams. And not merely because it is my favorite mealtime drink. Steady nerves are a first requirement in football, and Postum is one hot drink that does not irritate the nerves. It never interferes with sound sleep, either.”

Take that, Gatorade. (I mean, when has Gatorade ever claimed it “does not irritate the nerves”)?

Dartmouth coach Jess Hawley, meanwhile, said, “Any man who wants to keep in trim will have a better chance if he sticks to Postum.” And Tom Thorp, who officiated NFL games, called Postum “the ideal training drink.” Sounds like a winner to me.

At some point, Postum — which was “made of roasted whole wheat and bran” — fell out of fashion. Somebody probably came up with something that was more effective at helping “Safeguard your nerve power as football stars do theirs!” Just as well, I suppose. It doesn’t seem like a Postum dunk would be too pleasant.

In the late ’60s, before Gatorade became Gatorade, a competitor called Quick Kick surfaced. Wish I could find an ad for it, but the best I could do was a couple of newspaper stories. In 1969, San Antonio Express columnist Karl O’Quinn wrote that Houston Oilers founder Bud Adams “owns a sizable portion of the company that makes the stuff and it is available in sporting goods stores now. It will be marketed in a major grocery chain soon.”

According to O’Quinn, Quick Kick “tastes like Gatorade but isn’t as sweet because of the use of saccharine instead sugar. . . . Quick Kick is spotting Gatorade a big head start in sales and advertising, but it has one advantage over the Florida product. It will come in four flavors — grape, orange, strawberry and lemon-lime [the only flavor Gatorade came in for years].”

Here’s my favorite passage, though: “I tried a big cup of the lemon-lime flavor. It won’t make much of a dent in the cola market, but it’s not bad, and they say if you mix it with alcohol you get what the name implies — a quick kick.”

Adams had the Oilers gulping down the stuff in training camp that year. “A man named Blackie Howell in Baton Rouge” concocted Quick Kick, O’Quinn reported. “The LSU Tigers used it for quite a while before Adams got wind of it and bought into the company. Then it was called Bengal Punch.”

So there you have it: a brief, far-from-complete review of early sports drinks.

What might have been.

From one Hall of Famer to another

Would it surprise you to learn that not one of Dan Marino’s 420 touchdown passes — he held the career record for a while, you may recall — was caught by a fellow Hall of Famer? (Guess I never thought about it, but yeah, I wouldn’t have imagined.) What’s more, Marino isn’t the only QB in Canton who can say that. Today’s entertainment:

Fewest TD Passes by a Hall of Fame QB to Another Hall of Famer (Modern Era)

0  Dan Marino, Dolphins, 1983-99 — Career total: 420.* Hall of Fame receivers: none.

0  Len Dawson, Steelers/Browns/Texans/Chiefs, 1957-75 — Career total: 239. Hall of Fame receivers: none.

3  Fran Tarkenton, Vikings/Giants, 1961-78 — Career total: 342.* Receiver: Hugh McElhenny, Vikings, 3.

6  George Blanda, Bears/Colts/Oilers/Raiders, 1949-58, ’60-75 — Career total: 236. Receiver: Fred Biletnikoff, Raiders, 6.

7  Sid Luckman, Bears, 1939-50 — Career total: 137. Receiver: George McAfee, 7.

9  Sammy Baugh, Redskins, 1937-52 — Career total: 187.* Receivers: Wayne Millner, 7; Cliff Battles, 1; Bill Dudley, 1.

Compare that to this list:

Most TD Passes by a Hall of Fame QB to Another Hall of Famer (Modern Era)

139  Johnny Unitas, Colts/Chargers, 1956-73 — Career total: 290.* Receivers: Raymond Berry, Colts, 63; Lenny Moore, Colts, 43; John Mackey, Colts, 32; Joe Perry, Colts, 1.

112  Sonny Jurgensen, Eagles/Redskins, 1957-75 — Career total: 255. Receivers: Charley Taylor, Redskins, 53; Tommy McDonald, Eagles, 30; Bobby Mitchell, Redskins, 29.

106  Jim Kelly, Bills, 1986-96 — Career total: 237. Receivers: Andre Reed, 65; Thurman Thomas, 22; James Lofton, 19.

98  Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, 1970-83 – Career total: 212. Receivers: Lynn Swann, 49; John Stallworth, 44; Franco Harris, 5.

85  Steve Young, Bucs/49ers, 1985-99 — Career total: 232. Receiver: Jerry Rice, 49ers, 85.

84  Norm Van Brocklin, Rams/Eagles, 1949-60 — Career total: 173. Receivers: Crazylegs Hirsch, Rams, 32; Tommy McDonald, Eagles, 29; Tom Fears, 22, Rams; Andy Robustelli, Rams, 1.

75  Dan Fouts, Chargers, 1973-87 — Career total: 254. Receivers: Kellen Winslow, 41; Charlie Joiner, 34.

65  Otto Graham, Browns, 1946-55 — Career total: 174 (All-America Conference included). Receivers: Dante Lavelli, 57; Marion Motley, 7; Lou Groza, 1.

*Former record holder.

Amazing, isn’t it? Van Brocklin (48.6 percent), Unitas (47.9), Bradshaw (46.2), Kelly (44.7) and Jurgensen (43.9) threw almost half their touchdown passes to Hall of Famers. Now those must have been good times.

The two receivers who grab your attention are Robustelli and Groza. After all, Andy was a defensive end and Lou an offensive tackle/kicker. What were they doing grabbing TD passes?

Naturally, I had to find out the stories behind the stories. What I learned:

Robustelli’s score came in the Rams’ 1954 finale against the Packers. (That’s when teams often pulled stunts like this, in meaningless end-of-the-season games.) The Associated Press described the play thusly:

A surprise pass by Norm Van Brocklin was the key play of the game. The Rams were ahead 21-20 in the third period when Van Brocklin was faced with a fourth down and 25 yards to go. He dropped back – supposedly to punt. Instead he dropped a short pass to defensive end Andy Robustelli, who presumably was in the game to run down under the punt. The 220-pound Robustelli rolled most of the 49 yards for the touchdown.

● A 49-yard touchdown pass to a defensive end on fourth and 25. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. Green Bay never seriously challenged again. Final score: Rams 35, Packers 27. Here’s the headline that ran in The Milwaukee Journal the next day:

12-13 Milwaukee Journal head on Robustelli

● As for Groza’s touchdown, it was semi-historic. How so, you ask? Well, first of all, he scored on a tackle-eligible play, which was still legal in 1950. Second, near as I can determine, it’s the last such play to go for a TD in the NFL (mostly because it took place, like Robustelli’s score, on the last Sunday of the season).

The next year this neat bit of chicanery was outlawed, and the rule book was amended to read: “A center, guard or tackle is not eligible to touch forward pass from scrimmage even when on end of line” (as was the case with Groza, who, being uncovered on the left side, became an eligible receiver).

Harold Sauerbrei’s recounting of Lou’s heroics in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“With the ball on the 23, Groza broke away from his [line] post and Graham laid a soft pass between two defenders into Groza’s arms, Lou running 13 yards for the score.”

The fourth-quarter touchdown increased the Browns’ lead over the Redskins to 17, and they went on to a 45-21 victory. Two weeks later, they won their first NFL title.

If you’re wondering how some current quarterbacks might fit into this, Peyton Manning threw 112 TD passes when he was with the Colts to Marvin Harrison and four to Marshall Faulk. Assuming Harrison makes it to Canton, that’s 116 right there, which would put Manning second behind Unitas. But he could add to that number and possibly pass Johnny U. if any of his Broncos receivers — Wes Welker (11), Demaryius Thomas (30) or Julius Thomas (22) — gets voted in. (The same goes for Edgerrin James, who caught 11 scoring passes from him in Indianapolis.)

The Patriots’ Tom Brady also could overtake Unitas. At the moment, his ledger reads: 39 touchdown passes to Randy Moss, 34 to Welker and 49 (and counting) to Rob Gronkowski. Total: 122 (again, if all three wind up in the Hall, which is hardly guaranteed). But the way Gronk is going, Brady could push that figure quite a bit higher.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Hall of Famer Lou Groza, remembered mostly for his kicking, once caught a TD pass from Otto Graham.

Hall of Famer Lou Groza, remembered mostly for his kicking, once caught a TD pass from Otto Graham.