July 30, 2010

List of the Day: Best Pass Receiving Seasons, 1990s NFC

Jerry Rice

1- Herman Moore, 1995 Detroit Lions
123 rec., 1686 yards, 13.7 avg., 14 TD

2(tied)- Cris Carter, 1994 Minnesota Vikings
122 rec., 1256 yards, 10.3 avg., 7 TD

2(tied)- Jerry Rice, 1995 San Francisco 49ers
122 rec., 1848 yards, 15.1 avg., 15 TD

2(tied)- Cris Carter, 1995 Minnesota Vikings
122 rec., 1371 yards, 11.2 avg., 17 TD

5- Isaac Bruce, 1995 St. Louis Rams
119 rec., 1781 yards, 15.0 avg., 13 TD

6(tied)- Sterling Sharpe, 1993 Green Bay Packers
112 rec., 1274 yards, 11.4 avg., 11 TD

6(tied)- Jerry Rice, 1994 San Francisco 49ers
112 rec., 1499 yards, 13.4 avg., 13 TD

8(tied)- Terance Mathis, 1994 Atlanta Falcons
111 rec., 1342 yards, 12.1 avg., 11 TD

8(tied)- Michael Irvin, 1995 Dallas Cowboys
111 rec., 1603 yards, 14.4 avg., 10 TD

10(tied)-Sterling Sharpe, 1992 Green Bay Packers
108 rec., 1461 yards, 13.5 avg., 13 TD

10(tied)-Brett Perriman, 1995 Detroit Lions
108 rec., 1488 yards, 13.8 avg., 9 TD

10(tied)-Jerry Rice, 1996 San Francisco 49ers
108 rec., 1254 yards, 11.6 avg., 8 TD

Herman Moore

Cris Carter

Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals: Larry Centers, 1995*
101 rec., 962 yards, 9.5 avg., 2 TD

Carolina Panthers: Muhsin Muhammad, 1999**
96 rec., 1253 yards, 13.1 avg., 8 TD

Philadelphia Eagles: Irving Fryar, 1996
88 rec., 1195 yards, 13.6 avg., 11 TD

Chicago Bears: Bobby Engram, 1999
88 rec., 947 yards, 10.8 avg., 4 TD

New Orleans Saints: Quinn Early, 1994
82 rec., 894 yards, 10.9 avg., 4 TD

New York Giants: Amani Toomer, 1999
79 rec., 1183 yards, 15.0 avg., 6 TD

Washington Redskins: Gary Clark, 1990
75 rec., 1112 yards, 14.8 avg., 8 TD

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Alstott, 1996*
65 rec., 557 yards, 8.6 avg., 3 TD

*Running Back
**Panthers joined NFL in 1995

Isaac Bruce

Sterling Sharpe

1- Jerry Rice, 1995 San Francisco 49ers
1848 yards, 122 rec., 15.1 avg., 15 TD

2- Isaac Bruce, 1995 St. Louis Rams
1781 yards, 119 rec., 15.0 avg., 13 TD

3- Herman Moore, 1995 Detroit Lions
1686 yards, 123 rec., 13.7 avg., 14 TD

4- Michael Irvin, 1995 Dallas Cowboys
1603 yards, 111 rec., 14.4 avg., 10 TD

5- Rob Moore, 1997 Arizona Cardinals
1584 yards, 97 rec., 16.3 avg., 8 TD

6- Michael Irvin, 1991 Dallas Cowboys
1523 yards, 93 rec., 16.4 avg., 8 TD

7- Jerry Rice, 1993 San Francisco 49ers
1503 yards, 98 rec., 15.3 avg., 15 TD

8- Jerry Rice, 1990 San Francisco 49ers
1502 yards, 100 rec., 15.0 avg., 13 TD

9- Jerry Rice, 1994 San Francisco 49ers
1499 yards, 112 rec., 13.4 avg., 13 TD

10-Robert Brooks, 1995 Green Bay Packers
1497 yards, 102 rec., 14.7 avg., 13 TD

Michael Irvin

Rob Moore

Minnesota Vikings: Randy Moss, 1999
1413 yards, 80 rec., 17.7 avg., 11 TD

Chicago Bears: Marcus Robinson, 1999
1400 yards, 84 rec., 16.7 avg., 9 TD

Washington Redskins: Henry Ellard, 1994
1397 yards, 74 rec., 18.9 avg., 6 TD

Atlanta Falcons: Terance Mathis, 1994
1342 yards, 111 rec., 12.1 avg., 11 TD

Philadelphia Eagles: Irving Fryar, 1997
1316 yards, 86 rec., 15.3 avg., 6 TD

Carolina Panthers: Muhsin Muhammad, 1999*
1253 yards, 96 rec., 13.1 avg., 8 TD

New York Giants: Amani Toomer, 1999
1183 yards, 79 rec., 15.0 avg., 6 TD

New Orleans Saints: Quinn Early, 1995
1087 yards, 81 rec., 13.4 avg., 8 TD

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Courtney Hawkins, 1993
933 yards, 62 rec., 15.0 avg., 5 TD

*Panthers joined NFL in 1995

Terance Mathis

Robert Brooks

July 28, 2010

1974: Mark Kellar Scores 36 Points as Chicago Defeats Hawaiians

The World Football League’s Chicago Fire traveled to Honolulu to take on The Hawaiians before a sparse crowd of 12,608 at Halwala Stadium on July 28, 1974. While the league played its games on Wednesday nights in its first season, with a nationally-televised Thursday night contest, The Hawaiians insisted on playing their home games on Sunday afternoons.

The Hawaiians were coming off of a win over the Detroit Wheels in their home opener the week before and thus sported a 1-2 record. Coached by Mike Giddings, the offense was directed by rookie QB Norris Weese throwing primarily to first year wide receivers Tim Boyer, Grady Richardson, and Tim Delaney and TE John Kelsey. Running backs included Ernie O’Leary, Dave Buchanan, and Pete Taggares. The defense contained more experienced talent, most notably defensive linemen Ron East, Greg Wojcik, and Karl Lorch.

Chicago had won its first three games under Head Coach Jim Spavital and had a pro veteran at quarterback in Virgil Carter as well as TE Jim Seymour, plus speed at wide receiver with James Scott and Jack Dolbin. RB Cyril Pinder had played in the NFL with the Eagles, Bears, and Cowboys, but rookie Mark Kellar from Northern Illinois had emerged as the primary running back.

Kellar, nicknamed “the Baby Bull” for his straight-ahead power-running style, had been drafted by the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in the 6th round after leading all Division 1-A rushers in ’73, but saw the WFL as a better opportunity. A classic fullback who was effective between the tackles but not particularly fast, he once told a Chicago Tribune reporter “I don’t have much speed. When I run the forty they have to use a calendar to time me.”

The tone of the contest in Honolulu was set on Chicago’s first possession as the offense rolled 69 yards down the field on four plays, capped by Kellar scoring a touchdown on a two-yard run. By halftime, the score was 30-7 and the Fire went on to win by a 53-29 margin. Kellar scored a WFL-record 36 points with five touchdowns and an action point.

Kellar led the club with 51 yards on 14 carries and three of the TDs while he also caught 3 passes for 35 yards and the other two touchdowns. RB Bob Wyatt added 47 yards on 19 runs and Cyril Pinder added 43 more on just four carries as Chicago rolled up 157 rushing yards. Virgil Carter completed 15 of 25 passes for 205 yards with three TDs against no interceptions. James Scott led the receivers with 6 catches for 68 yards and Jack Dolbin gained the most receiving yards with 78 on three receptions.

The Hawaiians, forced to go to the air early and often, gained just 21 yards rushing. Norris Weese passed for 338 yards as he completed 24 of 52 throws and tossed three TDs as well as three interceptions. Tim Delaney caught 9 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown and John Kelsey grabbed four for 67 yards, but the contest was long decided by the time the passing statistics began to add up.

The Fire failed to maintain the early momentum - after starting out at 7-2, the club lost its last 11 contests (the last by forfeit) and ended up at 7-13 and in third place in the Central Division. Injuries were a major factor as both Kellar and James Scott were lost for the season in a loss to Southern California in Week 11 and Virgil Carter went down two weeks later.

The Hawaiians recovered to go 9-11 and finish in second place in the Western Division, making it into the postseason (they also gained revenge in the rematch with the Fire in Chicago, winning 60-17). The Honolulu club won its first round playoff game against a demoralized Southern California Sun squad (the players had considered striking over missed pay and two key offensive performers refused to play and were cut from the team) before losing to the eventual WFL champions, the Birmingham Americans, in the semifinal round.

In his injury-shortened season, Mark Kellar ended up with 778 yards on 189 carries for a 4.1-yard average gain and nine touchdowns; he caught 28 passes for 342 yards and another six TDs. The Baby Bull went on to play for the Chicago Winds in the WFL’s abbreviated second season in ’75 and moved on to the NFL, where he was a backup with the Vikings for three years.

July 26, 2010

List of the Day: Best Passing Yardage Seasons, 1990s AFC

Warren Moon

TOP 10
1- Warren Moon, 1991 Houston Oilers
4690 yards, 404-655, 61.7 %, 23 TD, 21 INT

2- Warren Moon, 1990 Houston Oilers
4689 yards, 362-584, 62.0 %, 33 TD, 13 INT

3- Drew Bledsoe, 1994 New England Patriots
4555 yards, 400-691, 57.9 %, 25 TD, 27 INT

4- Dan Marino, 1994 Miami Dolphins
4453 yards, 385-615, 62.6 %, 30 TD, 17 INT

5- Mark Brunell, 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars
4367 yards, 353-557, 63.4 %, 19 TD, 20 INT

6- Vinny Testaverde, 1996 Baltimore Ravens
4177 yards, 325-549, 59.2 %, 33 TD, 19 INT

7- Peyton Manning, 1999 Indianapolis Colts
4135 yards, 331-533, 62.1 %, 26 TD, 15 INT

8- Dan Marino, 1992 Miami Dolphins
4116 yards, 330-554, 59.6 %, 24 TD, 16 INT

9- Drew Bledsoe, 1996 New England Patriots
4086 yards, 373-623, 59.9 %, 27 TD, 15 INT

10-John Elway, 1993 Denver Broncos
4030 yards, 348-551, 63.2 %, 25 TD, 10 INT

Drew Bledsoe

Dan Marino

Mark Brunell

LA/Oakland Raiders: Jeff George, 1997
3917 yards, 290-521, 55.7 %, 29 TD, 9 INT

Buffalo Bills: Jim Kelly, 1991
3844 yards, 304-474, 64.1 %, 33 TD, 17 INT

Cincinnati Bengals: Jeff Blake, 1995
3822 yards, 326-567, 57.5 %, 28 TD, 17 INT

Seattle Seahawks: Warren Moon, 1997
3678 yards, 313-528, 59.3 %, 25 TD, 16 INT

Cleveland Browns: Bernie Kosar, 1991*
3487 yards, 307-494, 62.1 %, 18 TD, 9 INT

Kansas City Chiefs: Steve DeBerg, 1990
3444 yards, 258-444, 58.1 %, 23 TD, 4 INT

New York Jets: Boomer Esiason, 1993
3421 yards, 288-473, 60.9 %, 16 TD, 11 INT

San Diego Chargers: Stan Humphries, 1995
3381 yards, 282-478, 59.0 %, 17 TD, 14 INT

Pittsburgh Steelers: Neil O’Donnell, 1993
3208 yards, 270-486, 55.6 %, 14 TD, 7 INT

* Includes original Browns franchise, 1990-95, plus new Browns franchise that joined NFL in 1999

John Elway

Vinny Testaverde

Peyton Manning

Jim Kelly

July 24, 2010

1974: Alfred Jenkins Gains 200 Receiving Yards as Birmingham Overwhelms Memphis

The Birmingham Americans and Memphis Southmen (or Grizzlies, as they were popularly referred to by the local fans) had won their first two World Football League games in 1974 and had already established themselves as among the better franchises in the league’s short history. The clubs met for the first time before 61,319 fans at Birmingham’s Legion Field on the night of July 24 in what proved to be a high-scoring affair.

The Americans, under Head Coach Jack Gotta, split the quarterback duties between veteran George Mira and Matthew Reed. The stable of running backs was led by former Bengal and Oiler Paul Robinson and included Jimmy Edwards, Carl Bartles, Charlie Harraway, and Art Cantrelle. WR Dennis Homan, a local favorite who had a modest NFL career after coming out of Alabama, had been drawing the primary coverage by opposing defenses, and this opened the door for fast rookie WR Alfred Jenkins.

Memphis was coached by John McVay and had created a sensation earlier in the year by signing three key members of the NFL champion Miami Dolphins (FB Larry Csonka, HB Jim Kiick, and WR Paul Warfield) to contracts for the ’75 season. However, those players were not available for 1974 and so the offense was led by RB J.J. Jennings, a former Rutgers standout; QB John Huarte, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame who had been a career backup in the AFL and NFL; TE Gary Shirk, from Morehead State; and tall (6’5”) WR Ed Marshall.

The tone of the game was set on the Memphis offense’s first play when Huarte fumbled the snap and DE Dick Trower recovered at the Southmen nine yard line. Bartles ran three yards for the touchdown, and while the action point was no good, Birmingham had an early 7-0 lead.

After a Bob Etter field goal for Memphis cut the lead to 7-3, Mira threw to Jenkins for a 38-yard touchdown; once again the action point failed. Again, Mira connected with Jenkins for a long touchdown pass play that covered 74 yards for a 21-3 advantage (once more, the action point attempt was unsuccessful).

The Southmen came back as Huarte passed to Shirk for a 35-yard TD and, with a successful action point, the Birmingham margin was narrowed to 21-11. However, the Americans scored once more prior to the half as Mira connected on four passes in a 59-yard drive that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown throw to Homan. With yet another failed action point, the tally stood at 28-11 in favor of Birmingham at halftime.

Memphis scored quickly in the third quarter thanks to a five-play drive that featured a 46-yard run by RB John Harvey. Harvey completed the drive with a two-yard TD run and, after a successful Huarte-to-WR Roger Wallace pass for the action point, the Southmen were back in the contest at 28-19.

Mira suffered a sprained ankle while scrambling during the next possession, but that didn’t slow the Birmingham offense as Reed threw to Jenkins for a 52-yard touchdown on his first play. The Americans finally converted an action point and led by 36-19.

The Southmen didn’t give up as they responded with an 80-yard drive that ended with a one-yard TD run by Harvey, although they failed to make the action point. Again, Birmingham responded with a touchdown as Reed connected with TE Jim Bishop on a four-yard scoring pass. With a failed action point, the Americans now led by a 43-26 margin.

Aided by a pass interference call in the end zone, the Southmen came back once more to score on a one-yard TD run by Jennings, but a failed action point attempt kept the margin at ten points (43-33). Once more the Americans drove right back down the field with Robinson scoring on a two-yard touchdown carry and a successful action point. The back-and-forth nature of the second half finally ended when LB Steve Conley intercepted a Huarte pass and gave Birmingham good field position at its own 49. After a 31-yard carry by Robinson, Jimmy Edwards swerved his way to an 18-yard touchdown run. The action point was missed, but the margin proved decisive as the Americans defeated the Southmen, 58-33.

The Birmingham quarterbacks, Mira and Reed, combined for 367 yards and five touchdowns. Paul Robinson led the runners with 93 yards on 18 carries with a TD. The defense had forced six turnovers, including two fumbles and four interceptions. But the most spectacular performance was turned in by Alfred Jenkins as he caught 5 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns (it could have been more, but an apparent long scoring play was called back due to a penalty – one of 14 the Americans committed). The 200 yards would remain the single-game record for pass receiving yards in the WFL’s short history.

For Memphis, John Huarte passed for 224 yards with a TD, but had four passes picked off. John Harvey rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, while Ed Marshall caught 6 passes for 114 yards.

Birmingham went on to finish at 15-5, putting them in second place in the Central Division behind the Southmen, who survived the high-scoring loss to post the league’s best record at 17-3. However, in the postseason Memphis was upset in the semifinal round by the Florida Blazers, who ended up losing the league championship game to the Americans.

Alfred Jenkins was a consensus All-League pick after catching 60 passes for a WFL-best 1326 yards with 12 touchdowns. He would parlay his notable WFL showing into an outstanding nine-year career with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

July 23, 2010

1976: Steelers Win Last College All-Star Game

Beginning in 1934, the Chicago College All-Star game served as the preseason kickoff to each NFL season. Conceived by Arch Ward of The Chicago Tribune (who also developed major league baseball’s annual All-Star Game), it matched the previous season’s NFL champion against a squad composed of top college players, many of whom were about to enter the pro ranks (in 1935, the runner-up Chicago Bears represented the NFL; following the pre-merger seasons of 1968 and ’69, AFL champions that won the Super Bowl participated). The game was sponsored by The Tribune on behalf of Chicago Charities and played at Soldier Field, with the exception of two contests during World War II that were held at Northwestern University.

Initially, the games were competitive (the first ended in a scoreless tie), but typically the NFL squad won and as time went on the contests were often mismatches. Pro coaches complained about college prospects reporting late to training camp because of participation in the all-star contest, and of the additional exposure to injury. As salaries grew larger in the 1960s and ‘70s, the players themselves were averse to the prospect of potentially being sidelined. When NFL veterans struck during the 1974 preseason, the game was cancelled.

What would prove to be the last College All-Star game was held on July 23, 1976. The Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of the Super Bowl following the ’75 season, represented the NFL against an all-star squad that included such future pro stars as Oklahoma’s Selmon brothers (DE Lee Roy and DT Dewey), RB Joe Washington, G Jackie Slater, WR Duriel Harris, QB Richard Todd, and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin (pictured running at bottom). The team was coached by Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian.

There were 52,895 fans on hand at Soldier Field for the Friday night contest. A heavy downpour had occurred about 40 minutes prior to the game, but it had passed before the opening kickoff. There was little scoring in the first half as Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” defense shut down the All-Stars, holding them to a net total of 54 yards. Roy Gerela kicked a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter and kicked two more, of 32 and 23 yards, in the second period to give the Steelers a 9-0 lead at the half.

Pittsburgh pulled away early in the third quarter. First, the Steelers gained an easy two points when All-Star center Ray Pinney’s snap sailed over the head of punter Rick Engles and through the end zone for a safety. RB Jack Deloplaine returned the ensuing free kick 32 yards to the All-Star 26 yard line, and three plays later RB Franco Harris ran 21 yards for a touchdown and 18-0 Pittsburgh lead.

Shortly thereafter, the Steelers regained possession after the All-Stars punted and QB Terry Bradshaw connected with RB Tommy Reamon on a 25-yard pass play to the two yard line. Reamon bulled over for the score, and while the extra point attempt was missed, the Steelers held a 24-0 lead that would end up being the final score.

The All-Stars got an apparent break when Pittsburgh reserve QB Terry Hanratty, under a strong rush, threw a desperation pass that was intercepted by safety Shafer Suggs. Suggs returned the pickoff 16 yards to the Steelers’ 39 yard line. A penalty moved the ball to the 34, but by this point a torrential rain had struck and the officials called time with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter.

The players left the flooded field, but many of the young fans in the crowd ran onto it and ripped down the goal posts. Unable to restore order and after consultation with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the officials called off the remainder of the contest.

It was a miserable conclusion to a series that had provided 42 games over a span of 43 years. Chicago Tribune Charities chose to discontinue the game in 1977, and the annual summer all-star event was no more. As was to be expected, the NFL teams won 31 times, the All-Stars 9, and there were two ties. At its height, it was popular with the fans, and attendance had reached as high as 105,840 in 1947. It had served a purpose when the NFL was struggling for recognition and the college game was more popular – a situation that had changed considerably by the 1970s.

July 19, 2010

List of the Day: Best Passing Yardage Seasons, 1990s NFC

Brett Favre

TOP 10
1- Steve Beuerlein, 1999 Carolina Panthers
4436 yards, 343-571, 60.1 %, 36 TD, 15 INT

2- Brett Favre, 1995 Green Bay Packers
4413 yards, 359-570, 63.0 %, 38 TD, 13 INT

3- Kurt Warner, 1999 St. Louis Rams
4353 yards, 325-499, 65.1 %, 41 TD, 13 INT

4- Scott Mitchell, 1995 Detroit Lions
4338 yards, 346-583, 59.3 %, 32 TD, 12 INT

5- Warren Moon, 1994 Minnesota Vikings
4264 yards, 371-601, 61.7 %, 18 TD, 19 INT

6- Warren Moon, 1995 Minnesota Vikings
4228 yards, 377-606, 62.2 %, 33 TD, 14 INT

7- Brett Favre, 1998 Green Bay Packers
4212 yards, 347-551, 63.0 %, 31 TD, 23 INT

8- Steve Young, 1998 San Francisco 49ers
4170 yards, 322-517, 62.3 %, 36 TD, 12 INT

9- Jeff George, 1995 Atlanta Falcons
4143 yards, 336-557, 60.3 %, 24 TD, 11 INT

10-Brett Favre, 1999 Green Bay Packers
4091 yards, 341-595, 57.3 %, 22 TD, 23 INT

Steve Beuerlein

Kurt Warner

Warren Moon

Washington Redskins: Brad Johnson, 1999
4005 yards, 316-519, 60.9 %, 24 TD, 13 INT

New Orleans Saints: Jim Everett, 1995
3970 yards, 345-567, 60.8 %, 26 TD, 14 INT

Chicago Bears: Erik Kramer, 1995
3838 yards, 315-522, 60.3 %, 29 TD, 10 INT

Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals: Jake Plummer, 1998
3737 yards, 324-547, 59.2 %, 17 TD, 20 INT

Philadelphia Eagles: Randall Cunningham, 1990
3466 yards, 271-465, 58.3 %, 30 TD, 13 INT

Dallas Cowboys: Troy Aikman, 1992
3445 yards, 302-473, 63.8 %, 23 TD, 14 INT

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Craig Erickson, 1993
3054 yards, 233-457, 51.0 %, 18 TD, 21 INT

New York Giants: Phil Simms, 1993
3038 yards, 247-400, 61.8 %, 15 TD, 9 INT

Steve Young

Scott Mitchell

Jeff George

Brad Johnson

July 16, 2010

List of the Day: Best Rushing Seasons, 1990s AFC

Terrell Davis

TOP 10
1- Terrell Davis, 1998 Denver Broncos
2008 yards, 392 att., 5.1 avg., 21 TD

2- Terrell Davis, 1997 Denver Broncos
1750 yards, 369 att., 4.7 avg., 15 TD

3- Barry Foster, 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers
1690 yards, 390 att., 4.3 avg., 11 TD

4- Jerome Bettis, 1997 Pittsburgh Steelers
1665 yards, 375 att., 4.4 avg., 7 TD

5- Edgerrin James, 1999 Indianapolis Colts
1553 yards, 369 att., 4.2 avg., 13 TD

6- Chris Warren, 1994 Seattle Seahawks
1545 yards, 333 att., 4.6 avg., 9 TD

7- Terrell Davis, 1996 Denver Broncos
1538 yards, 345 att., 4.5 avg., 13 TD

8(tied)- Thurman Thomas, 1992 Buffalo Bills
1487 yards, 312 att., 4.8 avg., 9 TD

8(tied)- Curtis Martin, 1995 New England Patriots
1487 yards, 368 att., 4.0 avg., 14 TD

10-Curtis Martin, 1999 New York Jets
1464 yards, 367 att., 4.0 avg., 5 TD

Barry Foster

Jerome Bettis

Chris Warren

Houston/Tennessee: Eddie George, 1997
1399 yards, 357 att., 3.9 avg., 6 TD

San Diego Chargers: Natrone Means, 1994
1350 yards, 343 att., 3.9 avg., 12 TD

LA/Oakland Raiders: Napoleon Kaufman, 1997
1294 yards, 272 att., 4.8 avg., 6 TD

Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor, 1998*
1223 yards, 264 att., 4.6 avg., 14 TD

Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Dillon, 1999
1200 yards, 263 att., 4.6 avg., 5 TD

Miami Dolphins: Karim Abdul-Jabbar, 1996
1116 yards, 307 att., 3.6 avg., 11 TD

Kansas City Chiefs: Christian Okoye, 1991
1031 yards, 225 att., 4.6 avg., 9 TD

Baltimore Ravens: Priest Holmes, 1998**
1008 yards, 233 att., 4.3 avg., 7 TD

Cleveland Browns: Leroy Hoard, 1994***
890 yards, 209 att., 4.3 avg., 5 TD

* Jaguars joined NFL in 1995
** Ravens joined NFL in 1996 from relocated Browns franchise
*** Includes original Browns franchise, 1990-95, plus new Browns franchise that joined NFL in 1999

Thurman Thomas

Curtis Martin

Eddie George

Natrone Means

July 14, 2010

1985: Stars Defeat Invaders in Final USFL Title Game

The championship game of the United States Football League on July 14, 1985 was billed as the circuit’s last as a spring entity, but ultimately it was the USFL’s final contest altogether. There were 49,263 fans on hand at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ for the matchup between the Baltimore Stars and Oakland Invaders.

The Stars, reigning USFL champions who had moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore in preparation for the switch to fall, used the familiar formula under Head Coach Jim Mora to return to the title game for the third time. QB Chuck Fusina competently guided the offense. RB Kelvin Bryant rushed for 1207 yards and caught 40 passes for 407 more. WR Scott Fitzkee had his most productive season, catching 73 passes for 882 yards. The opportunistic defense, featuring LB Sam Mills, DE William Fuller, and S Mike Lush, was still one of the best.

However, the Stars weren’t as dominant in the regular season as they had been the previous two years in Philadelphia (31-5 overall), starting slowly and ending up in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 10-7-1 record. The fact that the team continued to train in Philadelphia while playing 40 miles from Baltimore at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium likely contributed to the club’s on-field difficulties. They had to win two postseason games on the road, against the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions, to make it back to the championship game.

Oakland benefited from a merger with the Michigan Panthers following the ’84 season which greatly improved the team’s nucleus. Head Coach Charlie Sumner inherited QB Bobby Hebert, who relegated Fred Besana to the bench as he ranked second in passing yards with 3811 and third with 30 TD passes, and WR Anthony Carter, who caught 70 passes for 1323 yards and 14 touchdowns. The other wide receiver, Gordon Banks, prospered by pulling in 62 catches for 1115 yards and another five scores.

The Invaders accumulated the USFL’s best record, 13-4-1, in winning the Western Conference. They narrowly defeated the Tampa Bay Bandits in the first round of the playoffs and then won against the Memphis Showboats to gain a spot in the title contest.

The game began in a heavy rain, to the benefit of the more conservative Stars. Baltimore scored first on a 16-yard pass play from Fusina to Fitzkee. However, Oakland was able to take advantage of the slippery throwing conditions as safety David Greenwood picked off an errant pass by Fusina and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. The score stood even at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Kelvin Bryant scored twice in the second quarter, on runs of 7 and 17 yards, with a one-yard TD by Oakland RB John Williams in between. The Stars held a 21-14 advantage at halftime and the Invaders offense had been able to put together only one scoring drive. Well defended by Stars CB Garcia Lane, Anthony Carter contributed just one catch for four yards.

The situation changed in the third quarter. First, Novo Bojovic connected on a 19-yard field goal for the Panthers. Then Carter began to get loose on crossing patterns, and Hebert connected with him for a seven-yard TD pass that staked Oakland to a 24-21 lead.

In the fourth quarter the Stars put together a drive that resulted in Bryant’s third touchdown of the game (pictured at top) on a 7-yard run. With time running down, the Invaders took over on their four yard line and methodically moved downfield. Williams made key runs and Hebert completed a 28-yard pass to Carter on yet another crossing pattern, and with 2:50 remaining on the clock Oakland faced a third-and-two situation at the Baltimore five.

Williams carried and was stopped for no gain by Sam Mills, but even more significantly, FB Tom Newton was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Instead of facing a fourth-and-two situation, it was now third-and-17. Hebert threw two incomplete passes and the Stars clinched the 28-24 win.

Kelvin Bryant was the game’s MVP, rushing 23 times for 103 yards and three TDs as well as leading the club with five catches for another 56 yards. Struggling with a slippery football, neither quarterback had a particularly strong showing. Chuck Fusina completed 15 of 26 passes for 155 yards with the one costly interception. Bobby Hebert was successful on just 14 of 30 throws for 187 yards with a TD and an interception. John Williams led the Invaders with 96 rushing yards on 13 carries while Anthony Carter was the top receiver with 5 catches for 74 yards and a TD.

Overall, Oakland won the statistical battle, outrushing the Stars 155 yards to 150 and gaining 177 net passing yards to 124. But they committed eight penalties to Baltimore’s four, including the costly flag on Newton.

An angry Coach Sumner said afterward, “It had been a rough game. They’d been calling offsetting penalties all night. How could they call it on just one guy?” But Newton admitted, “I was just too aggressive.”

The closely-fought championship game provided a fitting conclusion to the USFL’s existence, although no one knew it at the time. The league’s planned move to the fall for 1986 ended up not happening. While the league won an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, instead of being awarded a large settlement, it received just three dollars in damages. With overall debt topping $160 million, the USFL folded a year after Kelvin Bryant scored the last touchdown in its three-year history.

July 11, 2010

List of the Day: Best Rushing Seasons, 1990s NFC

Barry Sanders

TOP 10
1- Barry Sanders, 1997 Detroit Lions
2053 yards, 335 att., 6.1 avg., 11 TD

2- Barry Sanders, 1994 Detroit Lions
1883 yards, 331 att., 5.7 avg., 7 TD

3- Jamal Anderson, 1998 Atlanta Falcons
1846 yards, 410 att., 4.5 avg., 14 TD

4- Emmitt Smith, 1995 Dallas Cowboys
1773 yards, 377 att., 4.7 avg., 25 TD

5- Emmitt Smith, 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1713 yards, 373 att., 4.6 avg., 18 TD

6- Garrison Hearst, 1998 San Francisco 49ers
1570 yards, 310 att., 5.1 avg., 7 TD

7- Emmitt Smith, 1991 Dallas Cowboys
1563 yards, 365 att., 4.3 avg., 12 TD

8- Barry Sanders, 1996 Detroit Lions
1553 yards, 307 att., 5.1 avg., 11 TD

9- Barry Sanders, 1991 Detroit Lions
1548 yards, 342 att., 4.5 avg., 16 TD

10-Barry Sanders, 1995 Detroit Lions
1500 yards, 314 att., 4.8 avg., 11 TD

Emmitt Smith

Jamal Anderson

Garrison Hearst

Green Bay Packers: Dorsey Levens, 1997
1435 yards, 329 att., 4.4 avg., 7 TD

LA/St. Louis Rams: Jerome Bettis, 1993
1429 yards, 294 att., 4.9 avg., 7 TD

Philadelphia Eagles: Ricky Watters, 1996
1411 yards, 353 att., 4.0 avg., 13 TD

Washington Redskins: Stephen Davis, 1999
1405 yards, 290 att., 4.8 avg., 17 TD

Minnesota Vikings: Robert Smith, 1997
1266 yards, 232 att., 5.5 avg., 6 TD

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Errict Rhett, 1995
1207 yards, 332 att., 3.6 avg., 11 TD

New York Giants: Rodney Hampton, 1995
1182 yards, 306 att., 3.9 avg., 10 TD

Carolina Panthers: Anthony Johnson, 1996*
1120 yards, 300 att., 3.7 avg., 6 TD

Chicago Bears: Neal Anderson, 1990
1078 yards, 260 att., 4.1 avg., 10 TD

Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals: Garrison Hearst, 1995
1070 yards, 284 att., 3.8 avg., 1 TD

New Orleans Saints: Mario Bates, 1995
951 yards, 244 att., 3.9 avg., 7 TD

* Panthers joined NFL in 1995

Dorsey Levens

Jerome Bettis

Ricky Watters

July 10, 2010

1974: WFL Debuts with Five Games

The World Football League kicked off its inaugural 20-week season with five games on July 10, 1974. The new league started off with 12 teams, along with great ambitions and several novelties. Most games were scheduled on Wednesday nights in order to avoid conflict with high school, college, and NFL games (a weekly nationally-televised game would be played on Thursdays). The July start (the league played no preseason games, although there were some intersquad scrimmages) gave the WFL a head start on the NFL, which was beset by a player’s strike during the preseason that kept veterans out of the training camps until late August.

The WFL instituted several rules changes, some of which the NFL had adopted for the ’74 season as well - they included moving the goal posts to the back of the end zone, allowing for an overtime period in case of ties, and bringing the ball back to the line of scrimmage if a field goal was missed outside the 20 yard line. While kickoffs in the NFL would now be from the 35 rather than 40 yard line, the WFL chose to kick off from the 30. Additionally, the new league banned fair catches of punts, allowed for forward motion by backs prior to the snap, required receivers to have just one foot in bounds for a catch to be legal, and prohibited the bumping of receivers beyond three yards of the line of scrimmage. Touchdowns would be seven, rather than six points, to be followed by an “action point” that could not be kicked. An invention called a “Dickerrod” was used instead of the traditional chains for measuring first down yardage.

There were 55,534 fans in JFK Stadium as the Philadelphia Bell hosted the Portland Storm, winning 33-8 behind QB Jim “King” Corcoran (pictured below left), who had the best passing night in the WFL’s first week. Corcoran, a semi-legendary figure in the world of minor league football, completed 21 of 38 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. The running tandem of Claude Watts (94 yards on 16 carries) and John Land (73 yards on 14 attempts) also had an impressive debut. WR Vince Papale, later to become celebrated as a walk-on free agent and special teams standout for the NFL’s Eagles, caught three passes for 39 yards.

Attendance at Orlando’s Tangerine Bowl was far less (18,625) as the Florida Blazers defeated The Hawaiians in a low-scoring 8-7 contest. RB Jim Strong was the star for the Blazers, catching a three-yard touchdown pass and then scoring the decisive action point. RB Derrick Williams gained 94 yards on 18 carries for The Hawaiians while Strong and fellow running backs Tommy Reamon and A.D. Whitfield combined for 104 yards for Florida. Blazers QB Bob Davis passed for only 55 yards and Norris Weese and Bill Donckers combined for just 106 yards for the Honolulu-based club.

A crowd of over 36,000 at Soldier Field saw the Chicago Fire record a 17-0 shutout of the visiting Houston Texans. QB Virgil Carter (pictured below right) threw two touchdown passes, although he also had three picked off. WR James Scott had 10 catches for 84 yards and one of the TDs. Houston ground out 116 yards rushing but veteran quarterbacks Don Trull and Mike Taliaferro passed for just 58 yards.

Legion Field in Birmingham was filled with 53,231 fans who saw the Birmingham Americans defeat the Southern California Sun by an 11-7 tally thanks to a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by CB Steve Williams. RB Paul Robinson spurred the ground game with 79 of Birmingham’s 144 rushing yards although rookie RB Kermit Johnson of the Sun led all rushers with 88 yards on 24 attempts.

Elvis Presley was among 30,122 in attendance at the Liberty Bowl where the Memphis Southmen were winners over the Detroit Wheels, 34-15. Memphis RB J.J. Jennings (pictured at top) had the most rushing yards in the first week with 99, including a touchdown, and also caught four passes for 83 yards and another TD. Detroit WR Hubie Bryant had the best receiving game of the first week in defeat with 7 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The following night, in the first nationally-televised contest with Commissioner Gary Davidson in attendance, the largest crowd of all, 59,112, was present at Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl as the Sharks defeated the New York Stars, 14-7. However, the game suffered a delay when a blown generator caused a blackout – it was perhaps a portent of bad things to come.

While the crowds were certainly encouraging, the scarcity of points was a disappointment. The league averaged just 13.8 points per game for the six contests. Scoring would improve as the season progressed, but other factors would cast a shadow over the WFL.

Several weeks into the season, it was divulged that attendance, particularly in Philadelphia and Jacksonville, had been considerably aided by the handing out of huge numbers of free tickets. Of the 55,534 fans at JFK Stadium, only 13,800 had actually paid; a crowd of 64,719 for the second home game, against New York, contained only 6200 paid attendees. The big opening night crowd at the Gator Bowl was padded by some 44,000 free passes.

League credibility never recovered from the disclosure, and the fact that the WFL was floating in a sea of red ink became clearer as the season progressed. By the end, 10 teams remained and two of those had relocated (Detroit and Jacksonville folded; the Houston Texans became the Shreveport Steamer and the Stars moved from New York to Charlotte, NC).

July 6, 2010

1967: Jim Taylor Signs with Saints

The expansion New Orleans Saints achieved a high-profile signing on July 6, 1967 when Jim Taylor, star fullback with the Green Bay Packers, inked a contract. Taylor had played out his option with the Packers, and while clearly on the downside of his great career at age 31 (he would turn 32 early in the ’67 season) and after 1811 carries, had been contacted by several teams. A native of Baton Rouge who had played his college football at LSU, the new franchise in New Orleans was a natural choice.

Taylor had been with Green Bay since 1958 and was at the heart of the outstanding ground game during the Vince Lombardi coaching era. He rushed for over a thousand yards in five consecutive seasons and won the NFL rushing title with 1474 yards in 1962, the one year between 1957 and ’65 that Cleveland’s Jim Brown didn’t. He also set a record of 19 rushing touchdowns in that ’62 campaign – a mark that stood until 1983.

But after averaging 4.8 yards per carry during his first seven years in Green Bay, he averaged 3.5 yards in both the ’65 and ’66 seasons. A very physically punishing runner, the 6’0”, 214-pound Taylor was clearly wearing down. The Packers had drafted Jim Grabowski out of Illinois as his replacement, and after not signing a contract in his option year of 1966, it was apparent that his tenure in Green Bay had come to an end. Taylor’s high-profile backfield mate for much of his tenure with the Packers, HB Paul Hornung, was chosen by the Saints in the expansion draft but was forced to retire before the season due to a nagging neck injury.

While he provided a recognizable name for the new franchise, it was nevertheless an expansion team and not to be confused with the championship club Taylor had just left. The New Orleans offensive line was certainly not on a par with its Green Bay counterpart that had included Hall of Famers Jim Ringo at center (through 1963) and OT Forrest Gregg, and the outstanding pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston – nor, for that matter, was much of the rest of the club. As sportswriter Arnold Hano put it after the first preseason game, “The starting guards…were men named Jake Kupp and Del Williams, and they do not remind you of Jerry Kramer and Fred Thurston. Backing up Kupp and Williams are other guards who do not even remind you of Kupp and Williams.”

The Saints went 3-11 in their inaugural season and while Taylor was the leading rusher, it was with just 390 yards on 130 carries, for a 3.0 average gain with two touchdowns. He also caught 38 passes, second best on the team, for 251 yards and no scores. Bothered by nagging injuries, he split time at fullback with the less-accomplished veteran Ernie Wheelwright. His best rushing total was 39 yards on 14 carries in a loss to the Cowboys; he caught 7 passes for 50 yards in a contest at Philadelphia (the Eagles, who had been the first team to lose a regular season game to the Saints, 31-24 at Tulane Stadium, gained revenge in the rematch by a 48-21 margin).

Gary Cuozzo struggled as the starting quarterback, particularly as a classic drop-back passer behind a poor group of blockers, and split time with the more mobile veterans Bill Kilmer and Gary Wood. Rookie WR Dan Abramowicz, an unheralded 17th round draft pick out of Xavier of Ohio, was the star on offense with 50 pass receptions for 721 yards and six TDs. CB Dave Whitsell, a veteran obtained from the Bears, starred on defense where he was the NFL’s co-leader in interceptions with 10 (along with Detroit’s Lem Barney). Moreover, the Saints drew large and enthusiastic crowds at Tulane Stadium.

Taylor returned for the 1968 season, but when he was assigned to special teams for the opening preseason game, he left the club and announced his retirement. For Taylor, it was an unbecoming finale to his Hall of Fame career. He retired as the NFL’s number two rusher of all-time with 8597 yards on 1941 carries for a 4.4-yard average gain with 83 touchdowns. Taylor also caught 225 passes for another 1756 yards and 10 TDs.

In seven postseason games, he added 508 yards on 146 attempts (3.5 average) and two touchdowns, plus 19 catches for 137 yards and no scores. His playoff rushing numbers might not appear impressive, but he had memorable showings against strong defensive clubs (in particular the 1962 NFL title game against the Giants).

It was perhaps unfortunate that Taylor was a contemporary of Jim Brown, because he was overshadowed by the great Cleveland fullback throughout the best years of his career – a situation that he clearly resented. He was not gifted with the same level of talent as Brown, but Taylor devoted himself to conditioning and had a solid work ethic. Quiet off the field, he was an intimidating force on it, snarling at and taunting opposing defensive players while never shying from contact and fighting for every inch of ground he could gain. He was a perfect fit in the Green Bay offense and, while Jim Brown won the rushing titles and accolades, it was Taylor playing on four championship teams to Brown’s one.