Tag Archives: running backs

The infamous Duane Thomas interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: YouTube, pro-football-reference.com

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.

Marshawn Lynch gets an extension

Given the ever-shrinking value of NFL running backs, Marshawn Lynch’s two-year extension with the Seahawks is a semi-big deal. After all, he’ll soon be 29, which is practically the witching

Who could deny this man an extension?

Who could deny this man a contract extension?

hour for a back, and in recent days we’ve seen the Eagles unload LeSean McCoy, who’s two years younger than Beast Mode, and the Vikings wrestle with the “What do do about Adrian Peterson?” question.

No running back is very safe anymore. Almost all are viewed, by their fourth or fifth season, as expendable — utterly replaceable. Lynch’s case is a little different, though. Not only is he a big-time producer, he’s a big-time producer in the playoffs. He’s a huge reason Seattle has played in the last two Super Bowls (and as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a huge reason the Seahawks play in any others in the next few years).

Lynch’s 2014 postseason was one of the best in recent memory for a back. Here’s where it ranks in the 2000s, based on rushing yards per game (minimum: three games):


Year Running Back, Team G Att Yds Avg TD PG
2012 Frank Gore, 49ers 3 63 319 5.1 4 106.3
2014 Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks 3 63 318 5.1 2 106.0
2001 Marshall Faulk, Rams 3 64 317 5.0 3 105.7
2009 Shonn Green, Jets 3 54 304 5.6 2 101.3
2006 Thomas Jones, Bears 3 55 301 5.5 4 100.3

Amazing, isn’t it? Gore, Lynch and Faulk put up almost exactly the same numbers.

But beyond that, only two backs in NFL history have had more 100-yard rushing games in the playoffs than Lynch. And before he’s done, he might be No. 1.


Years Running Back, Team No.
1997-98 Terrell Davis, Broncos    7
1991-96 Emmitt Smith, Cowboys    7
2010-14 Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks    6
1990-95 Thurman Thomas, Bills    6
1982-83 John Riggins, Redskins    6

Paying any 29-year-old running back top dollar is a risky business, and rarely justified in these pass-crazy times. But if any back is worth it, Lynch is — to this particular team, at least. The Seahawks lean heavily on him, not just to reach the postseason but to win once they get there. It’s one of the things that makes Pete Carroll’s club so refreshingly unconventional. The franchise running back, an endangered species in pro football, is alive and well in Seattle.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

A closer look at Reggie Bush, the receiver

As soon as the Lions released Reggie Bush, I wondered whether he might be headed to the Patriots – that is, if they can’t re-sign Shane Vereen. I wasn’t the only one who had such thoughts. Bush is the type of back who would fit well in New England’s system, a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield and run it out of the spread formation.

The question with Bush — or one of them, anyway — is: Exactly how good is he as a receiver? Because that’s mostly what the Patriots would want him for. Others, like LeGarrette Blount, can do the heavy lifting in the run game.

What’s always surprised me about Bush is that he hasn’t been more exceptional as a pass catcher, given his speed and elusiveness. Granted, his 466 receptions in the 2000s are second among backs behind LaDainian Tomlinson’s 624. But in the yards-per-catch department he ranks 55th at 7.49 (minimum: 150 rushes, 150 receptions).

Of the 31 backs since the 1970 merger who have caught 400 or more passes, only Curtis Martin (6.88) and Emmitt Smith (6.26) have lower per-catch averages than Bush. And Martin (3,518 rushing attempts) and Smith (4,409) expended much more energy carrying the ball from scrimmage than Reggie (1,266) has.

Here’s another way of looking at it: When Bush was in New Orleans with Sean Payton and Drew Brees, he averaged fewer yards per reception than Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas did in the same offense. The comparison:


Years Running Back Rec Yds Avg TD
2011-13 Darren Sproles 232 1,981 8.5 16
2007-14 Pierre Thomas 327 2,608 8.0 12
2006-10 Reggie Bush 294 2,142 7.3 12

In other words, Sproles got more out of each catch than Bush in terms of both yards and touchdowns, and Thomas squeezed out more yards and scored a tick less often (3.7 percent of the time vs. Reggie’s 4.1).

That, to me, is why Bush has had such an underwhelming career. Forget the injuries that have caused him to miss 28 games in nine seasons. He just hasn’t done all that much to separate himself from the pack. (Which is why he’s never been to the Pro Bowl — almost an accomplishment itself in these watered-down days).

Maybe, if you analyzed it play by play, you could come up with other explanations. Maybe Bush draws more attention from defenses. Or maybe more of his receptions are in the red zone, where the yards come harder. It’s just always struck me as odd that his yards-per-catch wasn’t higher.

If Vereen (9.6-yard average on 107 receptions) leaves New England, I’m sure Bill Belichick and rest of the Patriots brain trust will take all this into account when considering possible replacements. It’s not that Bush is a bad option necessarily; it’s just that, the closer you look at him, the more he seems like an ordinary one.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

You'd think, as a receiver in the open field, Reggie Bush would make people miss more.

You’d think Reggie Bush, as a receiver in the open field, would make people miss more.

DeMarco Murray’s odometer

Football folks have begun to worry about rushing attempts the way baseball people fret about pitch counts. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying these things aren’t important. It’s more a question of: How much weight do you give them?

The Cowboys' DeMarco Murray, stiff-arming all doubters.

The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, stiff-arming all doubters.

When evaluating the free-agent value of the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, for instance, observers are likely to mention his 392 carries in the 2014 regular season. For one thing, it’s tied for the seventh-highest total in NFL history. For another, it isn’t particularly conducive to a back’s long-term health and productivity — especially if he’s piling postseason carries on top of it, as Murray did (44 more).

In a piece for ESPN.com, Kevin Seifert pointed to the 392 figure and added: “All six of the most recent [backs with that many attempts] fell short of 1,000 yards in the following season.” This isn’t entirely accurate. One of the six, Eric Dickerson, did rush for 1,000 yards the next season (1,288 in 12 games). And another of the six, Ricky Williams, retired after the season and didn’t return to the NFL until two years later (and only after serving a drug suspension). I’m not sure Ricky should even be part of the conversation.

Then there are Eddie George (403 carries in 2000) and Terrell Davis (392 in 1998). To me, their drop-offs weren’t the result of one workhorse season, they were the cumulative effect of years of overuse. George had 1,898 rushing attempts in his first five seasons (playoffs included) — tops in the league in that period by 147. As for Davis, he had 481 carries in 1997 and another 470 in ’98 (again, playoffs included). Those are first- and third-highest totals of all time.

My point is simply this: There are other things that should be factored into the Murray Equation. Yes, he was a busy back last season, but that hardly means his decline in imminent — or even near. With him, it’s more a matter of “How good is he?” than “How much tread does he have left on his tires?”

Consider: 70 running backs since 1960 have had more rushing attempts before their 27th birthday than Murray (928) did. For a back at this stage of his career, he’s fairly low-mileage.

Just for fun, let’s look at the backs who’ve had the most carries before turning 27 (one final time: playoffs included) — and see how many attempts they still had in them:


Seasons Running back Team(s) Pre-27 High Post-27
1990-04 Emmitt Smith Cowboys/Cardinals 2,286 451 2,472
1999-09 Edgerrin James Colts/Cardinals 1,972 408 1,274
1993-05 Jerome Bettis Rams/Steelers 1,893 423 1,785
1989-98 Barry Sanders Lions 1,826 365 1,327
1995-05 Curtis Martin Patriots/Jets 1,792 418 1,908

(Note: “High” = most carries in a season before turning 27.)

Interesting, no? Smith and Martin actually had more rushing attempts after their 27th birthday. Bettis, meanwhile, had almost as many and it might have been the same for Sanders if he hadn’t retired at 30 (after a 1,491-yard season). At any rate, next to these guys, Murray’s workload seems pretty modest.

Note, too, that four of them had 400-carry seasons before turning 27 — but still had plenty of gas left in the tank.

Now let’s look at the backs who had the most carries after their 27th birthday:


Seasons Running back Team(s) Post-27 High Pre-27
1990-04 Emmitt Smith Cowboys/Cardinals 2,472 366 2,286
1975-87 Walter Payton Bears 2,435 427 1,583
1971-85 John Riggins Jets/Redskins 2,239 462    928
2000-11 Thomas Jones Cardinals/4 others 2,064 376    739
1977-88 Tony Dorsett Cowboys/Broncos 2,050 380 1,188
1972-84 Franco Harris Steelers/Seahawks 1,984 374 1,365
1995-05 Curtis Martin Patriots/Jets 1,908 408 1,792
1982-97 Marcus Allen Raiders/Chiefs 1,871 259 1,418
1993-05 Jerome Bettis Rams/Steelers 1,785 355 1,893
1997-08 Warrick Dunn Bucs/Falcons 1,671 297 1,134

(Note: “High” = most carries in a season after turning 27.)

Eight of the 10 in this group had more rushing attempts before they hit 27 than Murray (978) did — in many cases a lot more. So why is everybody so concerned about DeMarco’s longevity? Sure, he had some nicks earlier in his career, but nothing major. He might have some very good years ahead, just as these backs did. Heck, Payton, Riggins and Martin still had a 400-carry season in their future.

It’s something to think about as free agency approaches. There isn’t anything ominous, necessarily, about rushing the ball 392 times in a season (436 counting the playoffs). But you certainly don’t want to do it year in and year out — and it’s doubtful Murray will, no matter what team he winds up with. Coaches these days are much more aware of human limits than they used to be.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Super Bowl-winning offense

Before the season I posted a chart that looked at the 21 Super Bowl-winning offenses in the Free-Agent Era (1993-present). Almost all had a Top 10 quarterback (rating-wise), which shouldn’t surprise anybody. But it was striking how many didn’t didn’t have a running back and/or receiver who ranked that high (in terms of yards).

I bring the subject up again because the 2014 Patriots fit this same model. Tom Brady ranked fifth in the NFL in passer rating, but the Pats’ leading rusher, Jonas Gray (48th!), and leading receiver, Rob Gronkowski (15th), finished quite a bit farther down the list at their positions. This made New England the eighth NFL champion in the last 13 that didn’t have a Top 10 running back or Top 10 receiver. The details:


Year Champion QB, Rating (Rank) Top Rusher, Yds (Rank) Top Receiver, Yds (Rank)
2014 Patriots Tom Brady, 97.4 (5) Jonas Gray, 412 (48) Rob Gronkowski, 1,124 (15)
2012 Ravens Joe Flacco, 87.7 (14) Ray Rice, 1,143 (11) Anquan Boldin, 921 (27)
2009 Saints Drew Brees, 109.6 (1) Pierre Thomas, 793 (T24) Marques Colston, 1,074 (18)
2008 Steelers B.Roethlisberger, 80.1 (24) Willie Parker, 791 (26) Hines Ward, 1,043 (15)
2007 Giants Eli Manning, 73.9 (25) B. Jacobs, 1,009 (T15) Plaxico Burress, 1,025 (21)
2005 Steelers B.Roethlisberger, 98.6 (3) Willie Parker, 1,202 (12) Hines Ward, 975 (22)
2003 Patriots Tom Brady, 85.9 (10) Antowain Smith, 642 (30) Deion Branch, 803 (32)
2002 Bucs Brad Johnson, 92.9 (3) Michael Pittman, 718 (32) K. Johnson, 1,088 (16)

As you can see — and as I noted in August — it’s more about Spreading the Ball Around these days. Not that it isn’t nice to have a DeMarco Murray or an Antonio Brown on your team; it just isn’t necessary. Far from it, in fact.

You can win the Super Bowl without a 500-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard wide receiver, as the Patriots just demonstrated. (Julian Edelman led their wideouts with 972.) You just need contributions from a lot of people — along, of course, with quality quarterbacking, It’s something to think about as the free-agency period approaches and owners get ready to whip out their checkbooks. More doesn’t necessarily mean more.

2014 running backs: plus/minus

In case you were wondering, the NFL’s plus/minus leaders this season — running backs division — were the Ravens’ Justin Forsett (1,235-yard increase over his 2013 rushing total) and the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson (1,191-yard decrease, thanks to the “off-field trouble” that limited him to one game).

You don’t necessarily have to read a lot into this. Maybe a player just got an opportunity (and his yards shot up), or maybe he just got hurt (and they went down). In other words, it’s less a measure of how well a back played and more a matter of his production compared to the year before. (Just one of the ways I keep myself entertained in the offseason: by looking at numbers from all sorts of angles.)


Running back, Team 2013 2014 Gain
Justin Forsett, Ravens     31 1266 +1235
C.J. Anderson, Broncos     38   849   +811
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 1121 1845   +724
Arian Foster, Texans   542 1246   +704
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers   180   809   +629
Mark Ingram, Saints   386   964   +578
Denard Robinson, Jaguars     66   582   +516
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers   860 1361   +501
Matt Asiata, Vikings   166   570   +404
Lamar Miller, Dolphins   709 1099   +390

Note: The first five backs all made the playoffs (and three played for teams that didn’t make it the season before).


Running back, Team 2013 2014 Drop
Adrian Peterson, Vikings 1266   75 -1191
Ryan Mathews, Chargers 1255 330   -925
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos 1038 148   -890
Reggie Bush, Lions 1006 297   -709
Maurice Jones-Drew, Raiders   803   96   -707
Zac Stacy, Rams   973 293   -680
C.J. Spiller, Bills   933 300   -633
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers   843 219   -624
Bilal Powell, Jets   697 141   -556
Stevan Ridley, Patriots   773 340   -433

Obviously, most of these backs were injured, forcing their teams to scramble a bit at the running back position. Some of the clubs (Broncos, Lions, Panthers, Patriots) dealt with the situation better than others. But then, Denver, Detroit and New England weren’t that dependent on the running game to begin with.

Next: receivers.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Ravens' Justin Forsett rushed for an NFL-high 1,235 more yards than in 2013.

The Ravens’ Justin Forsett rushed for an NFL-high 1,235 more yards than in 2013.

The Hall of Fame case for Terrell Davis

When Terrell Davis retired from the Broncos 12 years ago, I wrote a column saying that, abbreviated career or not, he absolutely belonged in the Hall of Fame. Nothing that’s happened since has changed my mind one iota. If anything, I’m even more convinced Davis is Canton quality, a rare running back who simply caught a bad break — much as Gale Sayers did three decades earlier.

Saturday we’ll find out if the selection committee agrees with me. Davis is a finalist for the first time, and he has the usual formidable competition. Here’s my case for him, then and now:

 “I have mixed feelings [about retirement]. It’s tough. My mind tells me one thing, my knees say something else. I know I still have a lot of football in me. But I know that my body is not going to allow me to perform at the level I want to play.”

— Terrell Davis, August 2002

In the late ’90s, Terrell Davis was as good a story as there was in the NFL. Here was an all-pro running back who played blocking back and nose tackle in high school.  Who was told “basically my whole college career [at Georgia] that I was no good,” he once said. Who was a sixth-round afterthought in the ’95 draft, taken between Dino Philyaw and Craig Whelihan.

Then he magically rushed for 2,000 yards in a season and led the Denver Broncos, perennial Super Bowl patsies, to two championships. If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone, right?

But now, almost as suddenly as he appeared, Davis is gone — retired at 29 because of bad knees. Yes, there are limits to medical science, as Mr. Chunky Soup has reminded us. Even with the miracle of arthroscopy, not every torn ligament heals as good as new. Terrell spent the last three seasons trying to recapture his old form, but one injury just seemed to lead to another.

Terrell Davis in the open field in Super Bowl 32.

Terrell Davis in the open field in Super Bowl 32.

The other night he gave his final Mile High Salute in Denver, and already the debate has begun about whether he merits residency in Canton. The easy answer is: No, Davis simply didn’t play long enough. Four stellar seasons — followed by three crippled ones — do not a Hall of Fame career make. And it’s a persuasive argument. Football, after all, is a battle of attrition, and durability is held in the highest regard. A guy I know at the Hall says the first question old-timers ask one another at get-togethers is: “How long did you play?”

Redskins icon Larry Brown has been kept out of Canton for the same ostensible reason.  Terrific as he was at his peak, he lasted just eight years in the league, rushing for a modest — by today’s standards — 5,875 yards. Quite a few fine running backs, in fact, have had their careers cut short by injury or accumulated wear and tear: Gale SayersEarl Campbell, Chuck ForemanBilly SimsWilliam AndrewsJohn Brockington. It’s a depressingly long list, especially since only Sayers and Campbell have been elected to the Hall.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another position in any sport that has been so ravaged by injury. Running backs in recent times have become the stunt men of pro football. Put the ball in their belly — or sling them a swing pass — and watch them leap linebackers in a single bound. Or try to. Everybody in the pro game gets beat up, sure, but does anybody take more of a pounding than running backs?

I was just glancing at a list of the NFL’s leading rushers in 2000. Are you ready for this? Six of the top seven didn’t even break 1,000 yards last season [2001]. Edgerrin James blew out his knee. Robert Smith retired. Eddie George, slowed by a painful toe injury, slipped from 1,509 to 939. Mike Anderson wound up splitting time with Davis and Olandis Gary. Fred Taylor got hurt. And Jamal Lewis went down in training camp and missed the entire year.

What other position has that kind of volatility? What other position, for that matter, has had two Pro Bowl players in the past few years — Smith and Barry Sanders — call it quits while still in their primes? The prevailing philosophy among coaches seems to be: give running backs the ball until they drop. Davis carried 481 and 470 times in the Broncos’ two Super Bowl-winning years (postseason included), two of the three highest totals in NFL history. George had 485 touches (428 carries, 57 receptions) in ’99 when Tennessee went to the Super Bowl (again, counting the postseason). Heck, coal miners are treated better than that.

So maybe we need to start looking at running backs a little differently than we do other players. Maybe we need to put more emphasis on how well they played and less on how long they endured. Particularly when you have backs like Davis rushing for 2,008 yards — and then suffering a career-altering injury. Or Jamal Anderson rushing for 1,846 — and doing likewise. Or Garrison Hearst rushing for 1,570 — and missing the next two years. This sort of thing is happening all the time to running backs nowadays, and it would be a shame if Hall voters didn’t begin to take it into account.

That’s not to say Davis should be admitted in his first year of eligibility, just that he’s deserving of the honor somewhere down the line. The yardstick for me isn’t Sayers, a human highlight reel in his brief time in the league, it’s John Henry Johnson. Johnson, whose career ended around the same time as Gale’s, rushed for 6,803 yards and 48 touchdowns over 13 seasons. Davis rushed for 6,413 yards and 56 TDs in his first four years. And you’re going to put John Henry in the Hall but not Terrell?

Explain that one to me.

From The Washington Times, Aug. 22, 2002

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Le’Veon Bell breaks out

Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers’ second-year running back, was having a nice little career for himself heading into the Titans game three weeks ago. Now, though, such adjectives as “nice” and “little” no longer seem to apply. Three straight games with 200-plus yards from scrimmage will do that for you.

It’s unusual enough, after all, for a back to have two games in a row like that. Only seven others have done it in the 2000s — and no back has had three in a row since Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton in 1977. The details:


Year Back, Team Opponents (Yards) Total
2014 Le’Veon Bell, Steelers Titans (222), Saints (254), Bengals (235) 711
2012 Doug Martin, Bucs Vikings (214), Raiders (272) 486
2007 Ronnie Brown, Dolphins Jets (211), Raiders (207) 418
2003 Deuce McAlister, Saints Falcons (237), Eagles (232) 469
2002 Ricky Williams, Dolphins Bills (235), Bears (216) 451
2002 Marshall Faulk, Rams Seahawks (235), Cardinals (235) 471
2000 Mike Anderson, Broncos Seahawks (209), Saints (256) 465
2000 Eddie George, Titans Bengals (214), Jaguars (209) 423

Now let’s compare Bell’s run to Payton’s. Le’Veon first:

VS. Rushing Receiving Total
Titans 33-204-1 2-18-0 35-222-1
Saints 21-95-1 8-159-0 29-254-1
Bengals 26-185-2 6-50-1 32-235-3
Totals 80-484-4 16-227-1 96-711-5

And now Walter:

VS. Rushing Receiving Total
Chiefs 33-192-3 1-29-0 34-221-3
Vikings 40-275-1 1-6-0 41-281-1
Lions 20-137-1 4-107-0 24-244-1
Totals 93-604-5 6-142-0 99-746-5

Awful close. Note that Payton set a single-game rushing record (since broken) when he went for 275 against the Vikes. But other than that . . . there isn’t much difference between them volume-

Le'Veon Bell cuts upfield.

Le’Veon Bell cuts upfield.

wise. Walter had three more touches and 35 more yards.

Note, too, that both had a 100-yard receiving game during their streak. If you’re going to pull off something like this, it helps to have some pass-catching ability.

Thanks in large measure to Payton, by the way, the Bears made the playoffs that season for the first time in 14 years (when they won their last title under George Halas). And Bell, of course, has the 8-5 Steelers pointed in the same direction. (He’s also on pace to finish with 2,368 yards from scrimmage, which would be the fifth-highest total of all time.)

At any rate, the word is out about him now — if it wasn’t before. This is one dangerous (and durable) back.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The last helmetless player — in 1965?

For years I’ve operated on the assumption that the last helmetless player in the NFL was Bears end Dick Plasman in 1941. Never have I come across anything to disabuse me of that notion. Until now. Sort of.

Last night — typically, while researching something else — I came across some amusing new evidence. It was buried in Roy McHugh’s column for the Pittsburgh Press on Jan. 22, 1967. McHugh’s Brettschneider cardsubject, Carl Brettschneider, was telling tales about his days as a linebacker-enforcer with the Lions in the ’60s. Then he told one about Joe Don Looney, the free-spirited running back, that I’d never heard before.

To set the stage, Looney was the 12th pick of the 1964 draft, a wonderfully athletic — if difficult — running back out of Oklahoma. The Giants, who picked him, traded him to the Colts before the preseason was over. Just didn’t want to deal with him. After a year in Baltimore, Joe Don’s act wore thin and he was dealt to the Lions. That’s where he crossed paths with Brettschneider, who by then was an assistant coach. This is from McHugh’s column:

One day in camp, Looney misplaced his helmet and refused to let the equipment man replace it. He practiced bareheaded and he “had that look in his eyes,” Brettschneider remembers.

“If Joe Don feels he is right, nobody’s going to change him,” Brettschneider said. “This equipment man was scared to death of him and the coaches couldn’t decide what to do. It was turning into a major problem — how to get a helmet on Joe Don Looney.

Brettschneider bet the coaches $100 he could fix everything up. In the dining room that night, he said to Looney, “I’ll meet you in the equipment room at 7:30.” Looney said, “I won’t be there.” But Brettschneider found him in the weight room at 7:30, “lifting 350 pounds like nothing,” and the weight room adjoined the equipment room.

“Let’s go get a helmet,” Brettschneider suggested. Looney walked over and tried one for size. It didn’t fit, but he said, “This is good enough.” Brettschneider said, “I’m telling you to get one that fits.” Looney got one that fit.

Brettschneider never collected his $100.

But at least he kept the kid from doing serious damage to his cranium. Anyway, there you have it, folks: the last NFLer to play without a helmet (even if it was only in practice) — in 1965!

Joe Don Looney: the gift that keeps on giving.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Lions' Joe Don Looney holding the helmet Carl Brettschneider talked him into.

Looney holding the helmet Brettschneider talked him into wearing.