February 27, 2011

Past Venue: Titan Stadium

Detroit, MI
aka University of Detroit Stadium



Year opened: 1922
Capacity: 25,000

Names:
Known as Titan Stadium, University of Detroit Stadium, and Dinan Field throughout its existence.

Pro football tenants:
Detroit Wolverines (NFL), 1928
Detroit Lions (NFL), 1934-37, 39
Michigan Arrows (ContFL), 1968

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Lions 26 Giants 7, Dec. 15, 1935

Other tenants of note:
University of Detroit, 1922-64

Notes: The Lions played their first two home games of the 1939 season at the stadium but returned to Briggs Stadium for the remainder of the year. Owned by and used for University of Detroit football until the school dropped the sport following the 1964 season. The stadium was used for club football from 1967-71. Also used for track & field. An oddity was that the stadium’s light towers stood between the stands and the field.

Fate: Demolished in 1971, the site is now used as a parking lot. The light towers remained standing for several years afterward to illuminate the lot.

[Updated 2/3/14]

February 26, 2011

1984: Outlaws Defeat Maulers in USFL Debut Game for Each


The United States Football League added six new franchises for its second season, and two of those teams were matched up on February 26, 1984 at Tulsa’s Skelly Stadium to open their regular season.

The host Oklahoma Outlaws, coached by the former defensive coordinator of the NFL Steelers, Woody Widenhofer, featured a veteran quarterback in Doug Williams (pictured above). Williams, dissatisfied with his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was lured to the Outlaws and provided instant credibility at the key position on offense.

The visiting Pittsburgh Maulers, under Head Coach Joe Pendry, also had a marquee name on the roster, although it was a rookie rather than veteran player. RB Mike Rozier won the 1983 Heisman Trophy at Nebraska and would be starting his first pro game. The team’s quarterback was Glenn Carano, a veteran backup with the Cowboys.

The weather conditions were far from ideal, as the contest was played in a steady downpour with gusty winds and a wind chill that dipped into the 20s. It certainly dampened the turnout, as 11,638 attended the game; there were 4300 reported no-shows.

The bad weather induced sloppy play. Three first half drives by the Outlaws ended in fumbles, but the Maulers were unable to capitalize on the turnovers despite making it inside the Oklahoma 30 on two occasions. The first ended with Mickey Barilla missing a 40-yard field goal attempt, and the second came up empty when Rozier was thrown for a two-yard loss in a fourth-and-one situation at the Oklahoma 29.

Pittsburgh finally scored on a Barilla field goal from 32 yards out with eight seconds left in the half, finishing a drive that was highlighted by a 20-yard Carano scramble to the Outlaws’ 28 yard line. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s offense was unable to advance at all into Pittsburgh territory during the first half, and the Maulers held a 3-0 lead at the intermission.

Oklahoma finally put together a scoring drive in the second half, going 80 yards for the only touchdown of the game. In a key play, former Steelers RB Sidney Thornton ran 34 yards on a trap to the Pittsburgh 8. At just over a minute into the fourth quarter, Williams threw a swing pass to FB Derek Hughes that covered 12 yards for the TD.

Pittsburgh responded by driving to the Oklahoma 19 yard line as Carano completed a 13-yard pass to WR Greg Anderson on a fourth-and-six play along the way, but the Maulers were stopped when Carano threw incomplete on a fourth-and-12 pass intended for WR Reggie Butts.

With 2:56 remaining, Pittsburgh’s last shot came up short when Carano was intercepted by LB Terry Beeson at the Oklahoma 37. The Outlaws came away the winners of the sloppy contest by a final score of 7-3.

Neither team mounted much offense, with the Maulers outgaining Oklahoma (219 yards to 172) and accumulating the most first downs (11 to 9). The Outlaws also turned the ball over four times, to three by Pittsburgh.

Doug Williams completed just 9 of 22 passes for 62 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Sidney Thornton paced the running game for the Outlaws with 66 yards on 12 carries. WR Lonnie Turner led the team with a mere 17 yards on two catches.

For the Maulers, Glenn Carano was successful on 10 of 21 passes for 101 yards, and was picked off twice. Greg Anderson led all receivers with three catches for 45 yards. Carano also was the team’s leading rusher with 29 yards on 10 carries. Mike Rozier (pictured below) had a rough debut, running for only 27 yards on 16 attempts - he had just two carries for four yards in the second half. Having joined the team late, his lack of familiarity with the offense’s plays proved a hindrance.


“This is the first time we've won and if feels great,” Woody Widenhofer said. “We needed to win the first game to get the feeling of what it's like.”

Widenhofer stated further, “They are an excellent football team defensively, but our offense broke open their defense in the second half. We made adjustments after halftime. We ran the ball very well in the second half against their five defensive backs.”

“I sure can't complain about how it turned out,” summed up Doug Williams. “I can't complain at all. I wanted to win this game as bad as I've ever wanted to win a game.”

“I thought our defense did extremely well,” said Coach Pendry of the Maulers. “With a good passing game like Oklahoma has with Doug Williams, sometimes you're .going to break a draw or a trap and that's exactly what happened.”

However, Pendry wasn't happy with the offense. “We have to go back to Pittsburgh and look at the films and see what happened,” he said. “We made lots of first-game mistakes out there.”

Pendry failed to last the entire season as the Maulers compiled a 3-15 record, tying the Washington Federals not only at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, but for the USFL's worst record. Mike Rozier ultimately rushed for 792 yards on 223 carries (3.6 avg.).

Oklahoma got off to a promising 6-2 start, but lost the remaining 10 games to end up at 6-12 and in fourth place in the Central Divison. The lack of an effective running attack, combined with the collapse of the defense and late-season loss of Doug Williams to a knee injury, ultimately did the Outlaws in.

February 25, 2011

MVP Profile: Bob Waterfield, 1945

Quarterback, Cleveland Rams


Age: 25
1st season in pro football
College: UCLA
Height: 6’1” Weight: 200

Prelude:
Following a college career at UCLA, interrupted by a stint in the army during World War II, in which he led the Bruins to the Rose Bowl and starred in the East-West Shrine Game, Waterfield finally joined the Rams, who had chosen him in the 5th round of the 1944 NFL draft. He won the starting quarterback job during the preseason for a team that was just installing the T-formation under new Head Coach Adam Walsh.

1945 Season Summary
Appeared in all 10 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 171 [4]
Completions – 89 [3, tied with Paul Christman]
Yards – 1609 [3]
Completion percentage – 52.0 [4]
Yards per attempt – 9.4 [1]
TD passes – 14 [1, tied with Sid Luckman]
Most TD passes, game – 3 at Chicago Cardinals 11/18
Interceptions – 17 [1]
Passer rating – 72.4 [4]

Rushing
Attempts – 18
Yards – 18
Yards per attempt – 1.0
TDs – 5

Kicking
Field goals – 1 [8, tied with Pete Gudauskas, Dave Ryan & Robert Nelson]
Field goal attempts – 3 [9, tied with Dave Ryan & Joe Kuharich]
Percentage – 33.3
PATs – 31 [1, tied with Don Hutson]
PAT attempts – 34 [2]
Longest field goal – 28 yards vs. Chicago Bears 10/7

Punting
Punts – 39 [4]
Yards – 1585 [4]
Average – 40.6 [3]
Punts blocked – 1
Longest punt – 68 yards

Interceptions
Interceptions – 6 [2, tied with Bob Davis & Bob Margarita]
Return yards – 92 [3]
TDs – 0

Punt Returns
Returns – 2
Yards – 34
Average per return – 17.0
TDs – 0
Longest return – 18 yards

Scoring
TDs – 5 [13, tied with four others]
Field goals – 1
PATs - 31
Points – 64 [3]

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship vs. Washington)
Pass attempts – 14
Pass completions – 27
Passing yardage – 192
TD passes – 2
Interceptions – 2

Rushing attempts – 3
Rushing yards – -1
Average gain rushing – -0.3
Rushing TDs – 0

Punt returns – 1
Yards – 0
Average per return – 0.0
TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: Joe F. Carr Trophy
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI, Chicago Herald-American, Pro Football Illustrated, NY Daily News
2nd team All-NFL: INS

Rams went 9-1 to win Western Division. Defeated Washington Redskins (15-14) for NFL Championship.

Aftermath: Played 7 more seasons, all with the Rams, who moved to Los Angeles in 1946. Was a consensus 1st team All-Pro selection two more times, and was selected to the first two Pro Bowls. Led league in passing once, although after 1949 he split the quarterbacking with Norm Van Brocklin – an arrangement neither player liked but that proved highly effective. He also became an accomplished placekicker as well as punter, leading the NFL in field goals on three occasions and field goal percentage twice. A true all-purpose talent, Waterfield intercepted a total of 20 passes over the course of his first four seasons. His #7 was retired by the Rams and Waterfield was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1965.

--

MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

February 24, 2011

1985: Doug Flutie Has Rough Debut as Generals Fall to Stallions


Entering its third season, the United States Football League once again began play with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner on one of its rosters. In 1983, it had been RB Herschel Walker, and in ’84, RB Mike Rozier. Now in 1985, Doug Flutie (pictured at right), the diminutive (5’9”) but strong-armed and mobile Heisman-winning quarterback from Boston College, was under contract in the USFL.

Flutie signed a five-year deal with owner Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals for $7 million. The Generals took the further step of dealing their 1984 starting quarterback, veteran Brian Sipe, to the Jacksonville Bulls. Ready or not, Flutie was expected to step in and start right away.

Flutie had been with the team for just two weeks after signing his contract, and appeared in one preseason game where his performance was underwhelming. His regular season debut came on February 24, 1985 at Birmingham’s Legion Field against the Stallions, a good team that was coming off of a 14-4 record and Southern Division title in ’84.

New Jersey had also gone 14-4 in 1984, good enough for a wild card slot, but the Generals lost to the eventual league champs, the Philadelphia Stars, in the first round of the playoffs. It was a big improvement over the 6-12 record of the inaugural season in ’83, and reflected many changes. Walt Michaels, formerly of the Jets, had taken over as head coach, and veterans such as Sipe, G Dave Lapham, CB Kerry Justin, FS Gary Barbaro, SS Greggory Johnson, and linebackers Jim LeClair and Bobby Leopold were grabbed away from the NFL. Walker, the USFL’s leading rusher in 1983, was joined as a thousand-yard ground-gainer by FB Maurice Carthon, better known for his outstanding blocking.

There were 34,785 in attendance at Legion Field, along with a national television audience as ABC heavily hyped the game. What they saw was a dominant first half performance by the home team and a rookie quarterback whose lack of preparation was clearly evident.

Flutie missed on his first nine passes, most of which were poorly thrown, and two of them intercepted. He didn’t complete his first pass of the game, for six yards to WR Clarence Collins, until late in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, ninth-year veteran QB Cliff Stoudt, the league’s second-rated passer in ’84, operated Birmingham’s conservative offense smoothly and effectively. The ex-Steeler threw for three touchdowns and led long drives for two more.

Birmingham scored the game’s first touchdown at the end of a 10-play, 73-yard first quarter drive that was highlighted by Stoudt’s 28-yard run in a third down situation that advanced the ball to the New Jersey five yard line. The possession was capped by a two-yard touchdown pass from Stoudt to TE Darryl Mason.

Three plays after Birmingham’s TD, and just seconds into the second quarter, the Generals responded when Carthon ran off tackle and broke away for a 55-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.

It appeared that the Stallions had retaken the lead later in the period when, in a fourth-and-four situation, Stoudt completed an apparent 36-yard touchdown pass to RB Joe Cribbs. However, a holding call on Mason nullified the score, and Birmingham came up empty.

The Stallions did retake the lead before the first half ended. Cribbs ran for a two-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left, capping a seven-play drive that ran 7:29 off the clock. Birmingham had dominated the first half, holding onto the ball for 22 of the 30 minutes, but the score was just 14-7 at halftime.

The Stallions took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring 17 points while New Jersey’s offense floundered. In their first possession, they drove 69 yards in 11 plays that led to a two-yard scoring run by RB Leon Perry.

Four minutes later, and after FS Chuck Clanton intercepted a Flutie pass and returned it to the New Jersey 19, Birmingham scored again when Stoudt connected with RB Earl Gant on a swing pass that resulted in a six-yard TD. Late in the period, Danny Miller kicked a 33-yard field goal that made the score 31-7.

At this point, Flutie completed his first pass to the derisive cheers of the Birmingham fans. However, making that first completion seemed to settle the rookie quarterback, and he began to flash the form that had made him a star in college.

Flutie tossed a well-thrown bomb to Walker that covered 51 yards and set up Walker’s one-yard touchdown run, cutting the Birmingham lead to 31-14. Following Kerry Justin’s interception of a Stoudt pass, Flutie led a drive that culminated in his first pro TD pass, rolling out and throwing four yards to WR Danny Knight.

Down now by just 10 points, it seemed as though the Generals might pull off a big comeback when they got the ball again with seven minutes left to play. However, CB Dennis Woodberry intercepted a Flutie pass and returned it 22 yards to the New Jersey 44. Two plays later, Stoudt threw to WR Jim Smith for a 44-yard touchdown that effectively put the game out of reach at 38-21.

Flutie’s second TD pass was similar to the first, coming on a rollout and covering five yards to WR Marcus Hackett (his only catch of the season), but with 3:13 remaining it was too little, too late. Birmingham came away with a 38-28 opening-day win.

The Stallions had a huge edge in time of possession (41:37 to 18:33). They also led in total yards (372 to 288) and first downs (25 to 12). The Generals turned the ball over five times, to three by Birmingham.


Cliff Stoudt completed 21 of 33 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions, and rushed 9 times for 65 yards to lead the club. Joe Cribbs was the most productive of the running backs, gaining 46 yards on 16 attempts and scoring a TD. Jim Smith caught 6 passes for 98 yards, including the long touchdown.

Doug Flutie ended up completing 12 of 27 passes for 189 yards with two TDs and three interceptions; he gained 17 yards on two carries as well. Herschel Walker was held to only 5 yards on 6 carries, but caught 3 passes for 71 yards. Maurice Carthon, thanks to the long touchdown carry, ran for 74 yards on 8 attempts. Danny Knight also caught 3 passes, for 38 yards.

“I think I'm ready,” said Flutie. “I didn't prove it today, but I believe I will next week.”

The Generals won their next two games, on the way to an 11-7 record and second place finish in the Eastern Conference (they once again lost to their nemesis, the Stars, in the first round of the playoffs). Flutie played respectably, passing for 2109 yards and 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. However, it was Herschel Walker who keyed the offense – despite his low total against Birmingham, he ran for 2411 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the club in receiving with 37 catches for 467 yards and another TD.

As for the Stallions, they ended up placing first in the Eastern Conference at 13-5 and won their first round playoff game, but lost to the Stars in the Semifinal round.

February 23, 2011

Past Venue: Mile High Stadium

Denver, CO
aka Bears Stadium



Year opened: 1948
Capacity: 76,273, up from 17,000 at opening and 34,000 for the first AFL season.

Names:
Bears Stadium, 1948-68
Mile High Stadium, 1968-2002

Pro football tenants:
Denver Broncos (AFL/NFL), 1960-2000
Denver Gold (USFL), 1983-85

Postseason games hosted:
AFC Divisional playoff, Broncos 34 Steelers 21, Dec. 24, 1977
AFC Championship, Broncos 20 Raiders 17, Jan. 1, 1978
USFL Championship, Panthers 24 Stars 22, July 17, 1983
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 24 Broncos 17, Dec. 30, 1984
AFC Divisional playoff, Broncos 22 Patriots 17, Jan. 4, 1987
AFC Divisional playoff, Broncos 34 Oilers 10, Jan. 10, 1988
AFC Championship, Broncos 38 Browns 33, Jan. 17, 1988
AFC Divisional playoff, Broncos 24 Steelers 23, Jan. 7, 1990
AFC Championship, Broncos 37 Browns 21, Jan. 14, 1990
AFC Divisional playoff, Broncos 26 Oilers 24, Jan. 4, 1992
AFC Divisional playoff, Jaguars 30 Broncos 27, Jan. 4, 1997
AFC Wild Card playoff, Broncos 42 Jaguars 17, Dec. 27, 1997
AFC Divisional playoff, Broncos 38 Dolphins 3, Jan. 9, 1999
AFC Championship, Broncos 23 Jets 10, Jan. 17, 1999

Other tenants of note:
Denver Bears/Zephyrs (minor league baseball), 1948-92
Denver Dynamos (NASL), 1974-75
Colorado Caribous (NASL), 1978
Colorado Rockies (MLB – NL), 1993-94
Colorado Rapids (MLS), 1996-2001

Notes: The east stands could be moved in their entirety in order to accommodate baseball. First stadium expansion in late 1950s was in hopes of landing a baseball franchise in the proposed Continental League, which never got off the ground. Stadium was originally privately owned by the Howsam family, owner of the minor league baseball Bears (and later the founding owners of the AFL Broncos), but was sold to the City of Denver in 1968, when it was renamed. Major expansions followed in ’68 and between 1975 and ’77.

Fate: Demolished in 2002, the site is now part of the parking lot for INVESCO Field at Mile High.



(Above is earlier view of then-Bears Stadium, as it looked in early days of AFL. Below view shows the stadium several expansions later)

February 22, 2011

1972: Packers Trade Donny Anderson to Cards for MacArthur Lane


On February 22, 1972 the NFL announced a straight-up swap of former Pro Bowl running backs as the Green Bay Packers sent Donny Anderson to the St. Louis Cardinals for MacArthur Lane.

Anderson, a two-time All-American at Texas Tech, had come to the Packers amidst great fanfare in 1966. Drafted in the first round of the ’65 draft as a future pick (a practice that was allowed at the time; he still had a year of college eligibility remaining), he signed for an estimated $600,000. Along with FB Jim Grabowski, the 1966 first round selection out of Illinois who signed for $400,000, much was made of the combined million dollar commitment made by Green Bay to both keep the highly-touted runners away from the AFL as well as provide successors to the aging starting backfield of HB Paul Hornung and FB Jim Taylor.

The 6’3”, 210-pound Anderson started off slowly in the NFL, running tentatively and blocking poorly – Coach Vince Lombardi considered moving him to flanker after the ’66 season. But while Grabowski, the power runner, was never able to fully recover from a 1967 knee injury and had a mediocre career (he was cut a year prior to the Anderson trade, signing on with the Bears), Anderson broke into the starting lineup when injuries began to decimate the backfield during the ’67 season and rose to the occasion, contributing to a third straight championship as well as a win in Super Bowl II.

While the Packers dropped to 6-7-1 in the first post-Lombardi coaching year of 1968, Anderson led the team in rushing with 761 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. With a crowded situation in the backfield (veteran Elijah Pitts and speedy Travis Williams were also available at halfback), he saw less action in ’69, but bounced back with 853 yards rushing and 36 pass receptions in 1970. In addition to his play at halfback, Anderson also was a highly-regarded left-footed punter.

Anderson was involved in a contract dispute with the team in 1971 and considerable animosity arose between him and Head Coach/GM Dan Devine, who arrived that same year. Also arriving was rookie FB John Brockington, who pushed him into a supporting role. Devine was critical of Anderson’s blocking and expressed a preference for backup HB Dave Hampton, who he considered to be a better blocker.

“I tried to overcome the fact that there was a line between us,” said Anderson immediately following the trade to St. Louis. “I tried to play better football. I couldn't do it because when someone is down on you, you've got to prove yourself day after day. I didn't feel I had to prove myself on that basis, but maybe I'll have to do it in St. Louis.”

MacArthur Lane was a year older than Anderson (Anderson was 28 and Lane 29 at the time of the deal), but also bigger at 6’1” and 220 pounds, which seemed a better fit in tandem with the 6’1”, 225-pound Brockington. Lane had also been a first round draft choice, taken by the Cardinals in the 1968 draft with the thirteenth overall pick. He also stepped into a crowded backfield situation in St. Louis and saw scant action as a backup and kick returner in his first two years with the club.

Lane had a breakout season in 1970, showing off his power-running skill to gain 977 yards on the ground while catching 32 passes for another 365 yards, and scoring a league-leading 13 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl. But like Anderson, he also ran afoul of a new head coach, Bob Hollway, in 1971. Lane slumped to 502 yards rushing and was suspended for the season finale after publicly criticizing the team’s vice president, Bill Bidwill, due to a salary dispute.

Following the trade, Hollway said. “As far as the Cardinals - myself and management – are concerned, we resolved any problems we had with Lane. The trade came
about because we were able to get a more versatile running back.”

Both players expressed relief at the trade, although Anderson paid tribute to his prior experiences and the fans in Green Bay. “Certainly I will miss the players and the fans in Green Bay,” he said. “There's nobody in the world like them and I wish them the best of everything. I cannot deny that the greatest, most rewarding athletic experiences of my life were having the honor to play for Vince Lombardi and to have played in the first two Super Bowls.”


The deal worked more to the benefit of the Packers in 1972. Following a 4-8-2 record in ’71, the team went 10-4 and won the NFC Central Division title. The running game was the key to the conservative offense led by young quarterback Scott Hunter, who only went to the air 199 times and completed just 43.2 percent of those passes. While Brockington, who had gained 1105 yards as a rookie, followed up with 1027 in ’72 (thus becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for a thousand yards in each of his first two seasons), Lane (pictured at left) contributed 821 yards on 177 carries for a healthy 4.6-yard average, led the team with 26 pass receptions for another 285 yards, and was named the club’s MVP.

In St. Louis, the 4-9-1 record of 1971 was duplicated in ’72. Anderson played respectably in combination with veteran RB Johnny Roland, leading the team with 536 yards on 153 rushing attempts (3.5 avg.) and catching 28 passes for 298 yards. As he had in Green Bay, he also handled the punting, averaging 39.5 yards on 72 kicks.

The situation was different in 1973, when things did not go so well for the Packers. While the running tandem of Brockington and Lane was still considered to be one of the best in the NFL, there was still no viable passing attack to complement them. Hunter failed to improve at quarterback, and when backup QB Jerry Tagge was given the opportunity to start, he was found wanting as well, as was young veteran backup Jim Del Gaizo, obtained from the Dolphins amid much fanfare. Brockington ran for 1144 yards and Lane 528, although Lane’s yards per carry average dropped to 3.1. The team as a whole fell to 5-7-2.

Lane played one more season in Green Bay, with the numbers continuing to diminish, and played four years in Kansas City, where he ran the ball less but was used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield – he led the NFL with 66 catches in 1976. Overall, in 11 seasons he ran for 4656 yards on 1206 carries (3.9 avg.) with 30 touchdowns and caught 287 passes for 2786 yards (9.7 avg.) and 7 more TDs.

As for Anderson in St. Louis, his numbers improved in 1973 as he again led the team in rushing with 679 yards on 167 carries (4.1 avg.) with 10 touchdowns and caught a career-high 41 passes for 409 yards and three more scores. The team was still 4-9-1 for the third straight year, but under a new head coach, Don Coryell.

Coryell turned the team around dramatically in 1974, winning the NFC East with a 10-4 tally, but Anderson’s production dropped off significantly with the emergence of explosive all-purpose HB Terry Metcalf. Traded to Miami in the offseason, Anderson retired during the 1975 preseason. His overall totals were 4696 yards rushing on 1197 attempts (3.9 avg.), including 41 touchdowns, and 209 pass receptions for 2548 yards (12.2 avg.) with 14 TDs. He also averaged 39.6 yards on 387 punts.

February 21, 2011

MVP Profile: Tony Adams, 1974

Quarterback, Southern California Sun



Age: 24
1st season in pro football
College: Utah State
Height: 6’1” Weight: 195

Prelude:
Following an outstanding season at Utah State in 1972, Adams was drafted in the 14th round by the NFL’s San Diego Chargers for 1973, but could not get past a fellow rookie, Dan Fouts, or young veteran Wayne Clark and an over-the-hill Johnny Unitas on the depth chart. He signed with the Southern California Sun of the new World Football League for ’74.

1974 Season Summary
Appeared in all 20 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 510 [2]
Completions – 276 [2]
Yards – 3905 [1]
Most yards, game – 376
Completion percentage – 54.1 [4]
Yards per attempt – 7.7 [2]
TD passes – 23 [4]
Interceptions – 18 [4]
Passer rating – 79.4 [3]
300-yard passing games – 3

Rushing
Attempts – 60
Yards – 217
Yards per attempt – 3.6
TDs – 8 [8, tied with four others]

Scoring
TDs – 8 [15, tied with five others]
Action Points - 2
Points – 58 [16, tied with Dennis Homan]
(Note: Touchdowns counted for 7 points in the WFL)

Postseason: 1 G (WFL First Round playoff vs. The Hawaiians)
Pass attempts – 21
Pass completions – 11
Passing yardage – 189
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 1

Rushing attempts – 1
Rushing yards – 3
Average gain rushing – 3.0
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
WFL MVP: League (co-winner), Sporting News
1st team All-WFL: Sporting News

Sun went 13-7 to win Western Division. Lost WFL First Round playoff to The Hawaiians (32-14) – several key players refused to play after failing to be paid for the regular season finale.

Aftermath: Joined the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in 1975 and played four seasons there. Strictly a backup, Adams started a total of seven games and never threw more than 92 passes in any one year. Moved on to the CFL and played for the Toronto Argonauts, where he again achieved some success as he passed for 2692 yards and 13 TDs in 1979. However, injuries limited his playing time in ’80 and he eventually retired. Adams made a brief comeback, returning to the Minnesota Vikings as a 37-year-old replacement player for three games during the NFL players’ strike in 1987, and put up good numbers, although the replacement team lost all three contests.

--

MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 4/12/12]
[Updated 2/15/14]

February 20, 2011

Past Venue: Cotton Bowl

Dallas, TX



Year opened: 1930
Capacity: 92,100, up from 72,000 when the Cowboys played there and 45,000 at opening

Names:
Fair Park Bowl, 1930-36
Cotton Bowl, 1936 to date

Pro football tenants:
Dallas Rams (AFL), 1934
Dallas Texans (NFL), 1952
Dallas Cowboys (NFL), 1960-71
Dallas Texans (AFL), 1960-62

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Packers 34 Cowboys 27, Jan. 1, 1967
NFL Eastern Conf. Championship, Cowboys 52 Browns 14, Dec. 24, 1967
NFL Eastern Conf. Championship, Browns 38 Cowboys 14, Dec. 28, 1969
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 5 Lions 0, Dec. 26, 1970

Other tenants of note:
Southern Methodist University (college football), 1932-78, 95-2000
Dallas Tornado (NASL), 1967-68
Dallas Burn/FC Dallas (MLS), 1996-2002, 04-05

Notes: Hosted first two home games of Cowboys’ 1971 season before they moved to Texas Stadium in Irving. Hosted annual Cotton Bowl Classic, 1937-2009. Hosts annual Red River Shootout/Rivalry college football game between Univ. of Oklahoma and Univ. of Texas, 1932 to date. Hosts annual Dallas Independent School District Football Playoffs, 1974 to date. Hosted TicketCity Bowl, 2011. Used as a venue for FIFA World Cup, 1994. Referred to as “The House That Doak Built” due to expansions in 1940s that increased capacity to 60,000 to accommodate crowds who came to see SMU’s Heisman-winning halfback Doak Walker in action. Stadium is located at the state fairgrounds and replaced the Fair Park Football Stadium, which had stood at the same location. The grass field of 1930 to ’69 was replaced with AstroTurf from 1970 to ’93 before returning to grass in 1994.

Fate: Still in use following three major renovations, most recently in 2008.



(more recent view of stadium below, showing expansion that has completely enclosed the upper deck)



[Updated 2/16/15]

February 19, 2011

MVP Profile: Steve Young, 1992

Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers



Age: 31 (Oct. 11)
10th season in pro football, 8th in NFL, and 6th with 49ers
College: Brigham Young
Height: 6’2” Weight: 200

Prelude:
Young played his first two pro seasons with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL and joined the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had picked him in the first round of the 1984 supplemental draft, for the ’85 season and appeared in five games. Traded to the 49ers following the 1986 season, he primarily backed up Joe Montana for four years until taking over as starting QB in 1991, when he led the NFL in passing (101.8 rating) and yards per attempt (9.0).

1992 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 402 [11]
Most attempts, game – 37 vs. Buffalo 9/13, vs. New Orleans 11/15
Completions – 268 [7]
Most completions, game – 26 vs. Buffalo 9/13
Yards – 3465 [2, 1st in NFC]
Most yards, game – 449 vs. Buffalo 9/13
Completion percentage – 66.7 [1]
Yards per attempt – 8.6 [1]
TD passes – 25 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Buffalo 9/13, vs. Atlanta 10/18, at Atlanta 11/9, vs. Tampa Bay 12/19
Interceptions – 7
Most interceptions, game – 1 on seven occasions
Passer rating – 107.0 [1]
400-yard passing games – 1
300-yard passing games – 3
200-yard passing games – 8

Rushing
Attempts – 76
Most attempts, game - 9 (for 69 yds.) at New England 10/11
Yards – 537
Most yards, game – 69 yards (on 9 carries) at New England 10/11
Yards per attempt – 7.1
TDs – 4

Scoring
TDs – 4
Points - 24

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 65
Most pass attempts, game - 35 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
Pass completions – 45
Most pass completions, game - 25 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
Passing yardage – 540
Most passing yards, game - 313 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
TD passes – 3
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. Washington, NFC Divisional playoff
Interceptions – 3
Most interceptions, game - 2 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship

Rushing attempts – 16
Most rushing attempts, game - 8 vs. Washington, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 106
Most rushing yards, game - 73 vs. Washington, NFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 6.6
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, Bert Bell Award
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

49ers went 14-2 to win NFC West and gain top playoff seed in conference. Won Divisional playoff over Washington Redskins (20-13) and lost NFC Championship to Dallas Cowboys (30-20).

Aftermath: Played six more full seasons with 49ers before his career ended three games into the 1999 season, after suffering a third concussion in four years. Had one more NFL MVP season, was a consensus 1st team All-Pro selection in each of the next two years, and was selected to the next six consecutive Pro Bowls. Led league in passing four more times (including next two years). Led 49ers to NFL Championship in 1994. Retired with highest career passer rating in NFL history (96.8) and second most rushing yards by a quarterback (4239). His #8 was retired by the 49ers and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2005.

--

MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]
[Updated 11/28/14]

February 17, 2011

Past Venue: Municipal Stadium

Cleveland, OH
aka Cleveland Stadium, Lakefront Stadium



Year opened: 1931
Capacity: 81,000

Names:
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 1931-96

Pro football tenants:
Cleveland Indians (NFL), 1931
Cleveland Rams (AFL), 1936
Cleveland Rams (NFL), 1937, 39-41, 45
Cleveland Browns (AAFC/NFL), 1946-95

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Rams 15 Redskins 14, Dec. 16, 1945
AAFC Championship, Browns 14 Yankees 9, Dec. 22, 1946
AAFC Championship, Browns 49 Bills 7, Dec. 19, 1948
AAFC First Round playoff, Browns 31 Bills 21, Dec. 4, 1949
AAFC Championship, Browns 21 49ers 7, Dec. 11, 1949
NFL American Conf. playoff, Browns 8 Giants 3, Dec. 17, 1950
NFL Championship, Browns 30 Rams 28, Dec. 24, 1950
NFL Championship, Lions 17 Browns 7, Dec. 28, 1952
NFL Championship, Browns 56 Lions 10, Dec. 26, 1954
NFL Championship, Browns 27 Colts 0, Dec. 27, 1964
NFL Eastern Conf. playoff, Browns 31 Cowboys 20, Dec. 21, 1968
NFL Championship, Colts 34 Browns 0, Dec. 29, 1968
AFC Divisional playoff, Colts 20 Browns 3, Dec. 26, 1971
AFC Divisional playoff, Raiders 14 Browns 12, Jan. 4, 1981
AFC Divisional playoff, Browns 23 Jets 20, Jan. 3, 1987
AFC Championship, Broncos 23 Browns 20, Jan. 11, 1987
AFC Divisional playoff, Browns 38 Colts 21, Jan. 9, 1988
AFC Wild Card playoff, Oilers 24 Browns 23, Dec. 24, 1988
AFC Divisional playoff, Browns 34 Bills 30, Jan. 6, 1990
AFC Wild Card playoff, Browns 20 Patriots 13, Jan. 1, 1995

Other tenants of note:
Cleveland Indians (MLB – AL), 1932-33, 36-93
Cleveland Stokers (NASL), 1967-68

Notes: Hosted college football Great Lakes Bowl in 1947. Hosted annual Navy vs. Notre Dame college football game on 11 occasions from 1932 to ‘78. The stadium was occasionally used by Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University football teams. Hosted University of Illinois vs. Penn State in 1959 and four Ohio State football games. The end zone bleachers, which served as center field seating for baseball, became known as the “Dog Pound” during Browns games from the mid-1980s on. The first event held at the stadium was a World Heavyweight Championship boxing match in which Max Schmeling successfully defended his title against Young Stribling.

Some inaccurate, but commonly believed, “facts” about the origins of the stadium were that it was built as a WPA project (while publicly financed, it was completed before the existence of the WPA) and that it was constructed with hopes of luring the 1932 Olympics to Cleveland (the groundbreaking occurred after the games had been awarded to Los Angeles).

Fate: Demolished in 1996 and replaced by Cleveland Browns Stadium, which stands on same site. Pieces of the stadium were put in Lake Erie to create two artificial reefs.

February 15, 2011

Past Venue: Nippert Stadium

Cincinnati, OH



Year opened: 1924
Capacity: 35,097, up from 12,000 when first completed. Capacity was at 24,000 at the time the Bengals played there.

Names:
James Gamble Nippert Memorial Stadium, 1924 to date

Pro football tenants:
Cincinnati Bengals (AFL), 1968-69

Postseason games hosted:
None

Other tenants of note:
University of Cincinnati, 1924-89, 91 to date
Moeller High School, 2006-08

Notes: The site was being used by the University of Cincinnati for football as early as 1902, when it was known as Carson Field (which is still the name of the playing surface, if not the structure). While ground was broken in 1916 for a brick and concrete structure, it wasn’t fully completed until 1924. The field was converted from grass to AstroTurf in 1970 and to FieldTurf in 2000. The stadium was closed for major renovation in 1990, during which season the football team played home games at Riverfront Stadium. Stadium named for Jimmy Nippert, who died of blood poisoning after receiving a spike wound while playing football for the University of Cincinnati. Nippert’s grandfather, James Gamble of Procter & Gamble, provided the final $250,000 that allowed for the facility to be completed.

Fate: Still in use.


(Lower view is more recent, showing renovations. Top view shows stadium as it appeared when Bengals played there)

February 14, 2011

1958: Buck Shaw Hired as Head Coach of Philadelphia Eagles


On February 14, 1958 the Philadelphia Eagles announced that Lawrence “Buck” Shaw had been hired as head coach. The Eagles most recently had endured two disappointing seasons under Hugh Devore.

Since Earle “Greasy” Neale, who built the club into a two-time NFL champion, was let go in 1950, the team had gone through four head coaches, from Bo McMillin, who resigned after two games in ’51 due to health reasons, through Wayne Millner, Jim Trimble, and Devore.

The 58-year-old Shaw had been a star player under Head Coach Knute Rockne at Notre Dame (where he was a teammate of the legendary George Gipp) and, with Rockne’s encouragement, went on to coach at Santa Clara, Nevada, and North Carolina State before moving into the pro ranks as the original head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in the AAFC in 1946. “The Silver Fox”, as he was dubbed due to his full head of gray hair, stayed at the helm for nine years and his record with the 49ers, who became part of the NFL in 1950, was a solid 71-39-4. From there, he had become the first head coach at the Air Force Academy, and resigned after going 9-8-2 in two seasons.

While it was publicly stated that Shaw was signed to an extended contract, it was actually a one-year deal with an option on both sides for a second (the term was at the coach’s request). Shaw also had business interests in California and made clear that he would handle his coaching duties from June through December only, which, even in an era in which pro coaching was not yet a year-round occupation, was still somewhat unusual.

Fortunately for Shaw, while the team had played poorly in the previous three seasons (a combined 11-23-2), they had drafted well. The first four picks in ’57 alone proved valuable to the team’s future – FB Clarence Peaks from Michigan State, Wake Forest HB Billy Barnes, HB Tommy McDonald from Oklahoma, and QB Sonny Jurgensen out of Duke.

While Jurgensen started some games in his first year and showed promise, the new coach made clear at his introductory press conference that, in emphasizing the passing game, he intended to obtain an experienced and accomplished quarterback, and did so with the acquisition of 32-year-old Norm Van Brocklin from the Rams (The Dutchman was unhappy with the LA organization, especially Head Coach Sid Gillman, and was threatening to retire if not traded).

Peaks and Barnes both saw substantial action in ’57, but Coach Devore had taken criticism for his handling of the diminutive McDonald. Too small to play halfback (5’9”, 172 pounds), the coach stubbornly resisted suggestions that he be moved to flanker until late in the season. The immediate results were spectacular, and under Van Brocklin’s tutelage, McDonald developed into an outstanding deep threat.

Shaw was soft-spoken, rarely raising his voice, and acted much as the organization’s CEO, letting his strong group of assistants handle the details. Offensive line coach Charlie Gauer was highly regarded, and Van Brocklin largely directed the offense. Jerry Williams proved to be an innovative and highly-effective defensive assistant. Shaw handled administration (which he did ably), made personnel decisions, and set the overall tone.

With a new home field (the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field) as well as head coach and quarterback, the Eagles looked to improve in 1958. The record (2-9-1) was actually worse than in ’57, but the team was in the process of rebuilding and did show signs of turning around.

Van Brocklin threw the ball well (and often – he led the NFL with 374 pass attempts and 198 completions), and was an outstanding team leader. Barnes joined The Dutchman as a Pro Bowl selection, leading the club in rushing with 551 yards and gaining another 423 on 35 pass receptions. McDonald caught just 29 passes, but 9 of them were for touchdowns and he gained 603 yards for a 20.8 average gain. Pete Retzlaff, who had been buried on the depth chart at halfback after being obtained from the Lions, was nurtured by Van Brocklin and blossomed into an outstanding end – he caught 56 passes to co-lead the NFL along with Baltimore’s Raymond Berry. Veteran end Bobby Walston continued to be a reliable receiver and also handled the placekicking.

The team had been sound defensively under Devore, and contained solid players in DE Tom Scott, DT Jess Richardson, LB Bob Pellegini, HB Tom Brookshier, and safeties Jerry Norton and Lee Riley. However, players at the other positions proved less adept. Such was also the case with the offensive line, where former All-Pro linebacker Chuck Bednarik had moved to center, but holes remained elsewhere. As Van Brocklin said after the season, “We bled for linemen. After last year, Barnes and Peaks are lucky to be alive.”

The personnel were overhauled as needed (they traded or released 20 players in 1958), and the Eagles improved to 7-5 in 1959 and 10-2 in ’60, when they won the NFL Championship. Important acquisitions included rookies J.D. Smith (OT), Joe Robb (DE), and Gene Johnson (DB) in 1959 and Maxie Baughan (LB) and Ted Dean (RB) in ’60 as well as veterans Stan Campbell (G) and Don Burroughs (FS).

Shaw made clear prior to the 1960 season that it would be his last, and he went out on top (he is pictured at top celebrating with #11 Van Brocklin & #60 Bednarik). In making his retirement official the day after the Eagles won the championship, he said “I can’t think of a better time to bow out. I can’t soar any higher than being head coach of a world championship professional football team. It was a distinct pleasure coaching the Eagles, and I can’t pay too high a tribute to this 1960 team. It was a team of tremendous desire, a team that just would not accept defeat.”

Shaw returned to California and retirement with a 90-55-5 overall record as a pro head coach (AAFC and NFL) and 2-1 in the postseason. He was remembered long afterward as a quiet but firm gentleman who demanded top performance and molded a championship team (McDonald compared him to Bud Wilkinson, his coach at Oklahoma).

Much to the consternation of Van Brocklin, who believed he had been promised the job, assistant coach Nick Skorich was named as Shaw’s successor. After contending in 1961, the injury-plagued Eagles dropped to the basement in ’62 and ’63. They would not return to the postseason until 1978.

February 12, 2011

Past Venue: Wrigley Field

Chicago, IL



Year opened: 1914
Capacity: 46,000

Names:
Weeghman Park, 1914-20
Cubs Park, 1920-26
Wrigley Field, 1926 to date

Pro football tenants:
Chicago Tigers (APFA), 1920
Chicago Bears (APFA/NFL), 1921-70
Chicago Cardinals (NFL), 1931-37, 39

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Bears 23 Giants 21, Dec. 17, 1933
NFL Championship, Redskins 28 Bears 21, Dec. 12, 1937
NFL Western Division playoff, Bears 33 Packers 14, Dec. 14, 1941
NFL Championship, Bears 37 Giants 9, Dec. 21, 1941
NFL Championship, Bears 41 Redskins 21, Dec. 26, 1943
NFL Championship, Bears 14 Giants 10, Dec. 29, 1963

Other tenants of note:
Chicago Whales (MLB – Federal League), 1914-15
Chicago Cubs (MLB – NL), 1916 to date
Chicago Sting (NASL), 1977-82, 84

Notes: The Bears obtained a portable bleacher section that added approximately 9000 seats to the normal stadium capacity for football games. In addition to the dates noted above, the NFL Cardinals played two home games at Wrigley Field in 1920 and one in 1958. Hosted college football games up until 1938, and again between Northwestern and Illinois, Nov. 20, 2010, although the presence of extra box seats added by the Cubs after the Bears left brought the end line of the east end zone uncomfortably close to a wall, and thus all offensive plays had to be run in the same direction. Hosted NHL Winter Classic, Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings, 2009.

The stadium was originally named for Charlie Weeghman, owner of the Chicago Whales of major league baseball’s short-lived Federal League. When that league folded, Weeghman, as part of a syndicate that included William Wrigley Jr., bought the NL’s Chicago Cubs, who moved into the new stadium. The Cubs have owned it since 1916. It is the last surviving Federal League ballpark.

Fate: Still in use.

February 10, 2011

1976: Jets Hire Lou Holtz as Head Coach


On February 10, 1976, the New York Jets announced that they had decided to dip into the college ranks to fill their head coaching vacancy. Lou Holtz, most recently the coach at North Carolina State, was named to the post.

The hiring was in line with a recent trend in the NFL toward taking on successful college coaches. UCLA’s Dick Vermeil had just been hired by the Eagles and John McKay of USC was chosen to be the first head coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 39-year-old Holtz was not well known nationally, but had built a reputation as a college head coach who could turn struggling programs around. The Jets, who had not produced a winning season since 1969, hoped that the amateur magician could work the same magic at the pro level. Holtz received a five-year contract.

Frail and looking more like a college professor than a football coach, Holtz had put together a 33-12-3 record, including four bowl appearances in as many seasons at NC State. It had been a losing program prior to his arrival, and he had achieved similar success at William & Mary before that.

“I have great confidence in myself,” Holtz said at his introductory press conference. “I believe in God, Lou Holtz and the New York Jets in that order. Coaching is coaching no matter what level you're at. You need a good staff and you need athletes and you need people who want to win. That's what I intend to have here.”

While Holtz was known as an offensive-minded coach in college, he made clear that defense would be his first priority in New York.

The Jets went 3-11 in 1975, with the lowest-ranked defense in the NFL. Head Coach Charley Winner, the designated successor to Weeb Ewbank following his retirement after the ’73 season, was fired nine games into his second year on the job. Offensive coordinator Ken Shipp took over in the interim to finish out the dismal season.

One of the initial concerns that the new coach had to deal with was veteran QB Joe Namath, who had openly suggested a trade rather than continue to take a battering with the woeful Jets. While Holtz indicated that he still wanted the 11-year veteran on the team, he also said “If Joe wants to play for us again and help us, fine. If he doesn’t, we’ll find someone else.” With their first pick in the ’76 draft, they took QB Richard Todd, who, like Namath, came out of Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s program at Alabama.

Beyond that, the offensive line was aging and the running game hindered by the loss of FB John Riggins, who had played out his option and signed as a free agent with the Redskins. Walt Michaels, an assistant under Ewbank in better days, was brought back as defensive coordinator to sort out the unit that had performed so abysmally in 1975.

Things did not go well for Holtz or the Jets in 1976. The coach tried to inject a college spirit into the team, and it fell flat. He wrote a fight song for the players that became a source of ridicule and had them line up by height along the sideline for the national anthem prior to each game. In short, he simply was not prepared for the pro game at that point in his career (and admitted as much years later).

The team, very much in turmoil, was still bad, too. There were 14 rookies on the roster, including Todd. While RB Clark Gaines, a first-year player who made the club as a free agent, was a pleasant surprise, many of the others proved not to be keepers. Gaines led the team in both rushing (724 yards) and pass receiving (41 catches).

The battered Namath threw for just 1090 yards with four touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his final season with the Jets. Todd started six games and the team won two of them. While he caught only 31 passes for 391 yards, TE Rich Caster was still highly regarded, and WR David Knight contributed 20 receptions for 403 yards (20.2 avg.).

The defense continued to be dreadful, ranking 26th in the league – only the expansion Buccaneers and Seahawks ranked lower. They intercepted 11 passes and registered a mere 16 sacks for the season. Still, FS Burgess Owens and SS Phil Wise played well, and LB Greg Buttle earned all-rookie honors and offered hope for the future.

The team’s final record was again 3-11, although Holtz didn’t last to the end. He accepted an offer to return to college coaching at Arkansas and left the Jets with one game remaining. As he stated upon announcing his decision, “God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach in the pros.” Director of Player Personnel Mike Holovak (formerly head coach of the Patriots) served as interim coach for the season finale, a 42-3 shellacking at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Holtz stayed at Arkansas for seven years before moving on briefly to the University of Minnesota and then Notre Dame. After stepping down as head coach of the Fighting Irish, he moved to the broadcast booth for two seasons and returned to college coaching once more at South Carolina, retiring for good in 2004.

Overall, Holtz compiled a 249-132-7 record as a college coach, going 12-8-2 in bowl games spread across six different programs, and won a national championship with Notre Dame in 1988. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, but his brief failure in the NFL likely soured any likelihood of being pursued by a pro team (although the Vikings reportedly showed some interest at the time he left Notre Dame in 1996).

As for the Jets, Walt Michaels was promoted to head coach in 1977 and, after a third straight 3-11 campaign, they began to show improvement. Helped along by some good drafts, New York eventually reached the playoffs in 1981 and ’82.

February 9, 2011

Past Venue: War Memorial Stadium

Buffalo, NY
aka Civic Stadium



Year opened: 1937
Capacity: 46,500, up from 35,000 upon opening

Names:
Roesch Memorial Stadium, 1937
Grover Cleveland Stadium, 1937
Civic Stadium, 1938-60
War Memorial Stadium, 1960-88

Pro football tenants:
Buffalo Indians/Tigers (AFL), 1940-41
Buffalo Bisons/Bills (AAFC), 1946-49
Buffalo Bills (AFL/NFL), 1960-72

Postseason games hosted:
AFL Eastern Division playoff, Patriots 26 Bills 8, Dec. 28, 1963
AFL Championship, Bills 20 Chargers 7, Dec. 26, 1964
AFL Championship, Chiefs 31 Bills 7, Jan. 1, 1967

Other tenants of note:
Buffalo Bisons (minor league baseball), 1961-70, 79-87

Notes: Built as a WPA project with construction commencing in 1935. The stadium was popularly referred to as “The Rockpile”. The NFL's Chicago Cardinals hosted five home games at the stadium (1938, 40, 42, 43, 58), the Philadelphia Eagles one in 1942. The stadium was also used for track events and stock car racing, and by the Canisius College baseball and football teams for an unspecified period. It was used for the filming of most of the baseball scenes in the movie “The Natural” (1984).

Fate: Demolished in 1988 and now the site of a high school athletic field. The northeast and southeast entrances were preserved

February 8, 2011

1936: First NFL Draft Held


The NFL’s annual draft of college talent has become a big and highly-anticipated offseason event. The brainchild of Eagles owner Bert Bell (who would go on to become league commissioner; pictured at right), the first one was held at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel on February 8, 1936.

Bell’s Eagles had come into being in 1933 and were a struggling club. With teams free to sign any player coming out of college that they wanted, strong clubs had an advantage in the bidding for talent and Bell recognized that this was bad for the overall competitive balance of the league. His suggestion that the NFL organize an annual draft, in which the weaker teams would get first choice of the best talent coming out of the college ranks, was adopted by the owners on May 19, 1935. While the format of the draft has changed over the years, the basic element in which the teams draft in inverse order of their finish during the previous regular season has remained the same.

The first draft consisted of nine rounds, with the Eagles, owner of the NFL’s worst record at 2-9 in 1935, going first and the Giants, who had gone 9-3, choosing last (Detroit had won the Championship game over New York, but had a lesser regular season record at 7-3-2. Currently, the NFL champion drafts last in each round, regardless of regular season record).


With the first overall pick, Philadelphia chose the Heisman Trophy-winning back from the University of Chicago, Jay Berwanger (pictured at left). Berwanger had no interest in playing pro football, and the Eagles ended up trading his rights to the Bears, who also had no luck in signing him.

The second choice, HB Riley Smith from Alabama, did play two seasons for the club that drafted him, the Redskins, but his career was cut short by injury. The first five picks were all backs (Bill Shakespeare of Notre Dame by Pittsburgh, Iowa’s Dick Crayne by Brooklyn, and Jim Lawrence of TCU by the Cardinals). The first lineman chosen was tackle Joe Stydahar by the Bears, with the sixth overall selection, and he went on to a Hall of Fame career.


Including Stydahar (pictured at right), four of the players chosen in the 1936 draft ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The others were FB Tuffy Leemans of George Washington, taken in the second round (18th overall) by the Giants; end Wayne Millner of Notre Dame, picked by the Boston Redskins with the 65th overall choice in the eighth round; and Colgate G Dan Fortmann, another selectee of the Bears, taken in the ninth (and final) round as the 78th overall choice.

End Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama was selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round, but he passed up pro football for the more secure opportunity of becoming an assistant coach at the college level (he was offered $175 per game to play for Brooklyn). Of course, he would go on to have a long and outstanding career as a college head coach.

The last player chosen, G Phil Flanagan from Holy Cross, was taken by the Giants but played instead with the Boston Shamrocks of the rival AFL (second version). In total, 81 players were selected by the nine teams.

While the introduction of the draft didn’t have an immediate effect on the league’s competitive balance – the Eagles, for instance, again had the league’s worst record during the 1936 season – over time teams like Philadelphia and the Chicago Cardinals were able to contend for and win championships in the late 1940s, helped significantly by players obtained through the draft. It would become a pattern that other clubs would emulate in the decades that followed.

February 7, 2011

2010: Saints Finally Reach the Top, Defeat Colts in Super Bowl XLIV


The New Orleans Saints had endured a long road to respectability after joining the NFL as an expansion team in 1967. They didn’t have so much as a .500 season until 1979 and didn’t post a winning record or appear in the playoffs until 1987. The Saints spent a year on the road in 2005 after heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina forced them to abandon their home stadium while it underwent repair and raised questions as to the franchise’s future in New Orleans. But they bounced back in ’06 to advance to the NFC Championship game, losing to the Bears. After dipping to 8-8 in 2008, they rebounded strongly in ’09 and, on February 7, 2010, reached the highest point of all as they met the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

The Saints, in their fourth season under Head Coach Sean Payton, featured an explosive offense led by QB Drew Brees (pictured above), who led the NFL with a 109.6 passer rating, a record 70.6 completion percentage, and 34 touchdown passes while throwing for 4388 yards and giving up only 12 interceptions. The receiving corps was a very talented one, led by 6’4”, 225-pound WR Marques Colston and including deep threats Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson. The running game consisted of a committee of backs led by RB Pierre Thomas. The defense, long a problem area, responded to the leadership of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and featured DE Will Smith, MLB Jonathan Vilma, CB Tracy Porter, and FS Darren Sharper.

New Orleans won its first 13 games of the 2009 regular season before finally succumbing to the Cowboys and ended up losing the last three contests to finish at 13-3. Having won the NFC South, if on something of a down note, the Saints crushed Arizona in the Divisional playoff and then got past the Vikings in overtime to win the NFC Championship.

Indianapolis, led by first-year Head Coach Jim Caldwell, was in the postseason for the eighth straight year and had won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season. As had been the case throughout, the key player was QB Peyton Manning, who threw for 4500 yards and 33 touchdowns, and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the tenth time. WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark both caught 100 passes and were Pro Bowl choices as well. RB Joseph Addai led a decent, if not spectacular, group of runners. The aggressive defense contained ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, MLB Gary Brackett, and FS Antoine Bethea.

Like the Saints, the Colts started off strong with 14 wins in ’09 before losing the last two to top the AFC South at 14-2. They defeated the Ravens in the Divisional round and outdistanced the spirited New York Jets in the AFC Championship game.

There was a crowd of 74,059 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami as New Orleans received the opening kickoff but went three-and-out in the first series. The Colts came out fast, utilizing a no-huddle offense through much of their initial drive. Manning started off with an 18-yard completion to Clark and was successful on a total of six short passes as Indianapolis went 53 yards in 11 plays, ending with a 38-yard field goal by Matt Stover to take the early lead.

The Saints got to midfield on their next possession and Thomas Morstead’s punt seemingly pinned the Colts down at their four yard line. But once again Indianapolis put together a solid drive, going 96 yards in 11 plays to score. In addition to Manning’s passes, Addai ran effectively, with 53 yards on just three carries. WR Pierre Garcon hauled in a Manning pass for a 19-yard touchdown and the Colts led by 10-0 after one quarter of play.

New Orleans drove into Indianapolis territory, helped by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, but after reaching the 22 yard line, Brees was sacked by Freeney for a seven-yard loss on a third-and-three play. The Saints settled for a 46-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley.

Following a short possession by the Colts, New Orleans again mounted a long drive. Brees hit on six straight passes, including 21 yards to WR Lance Moore and 27 yards to Colston, to get down to the Indianapolis three. Following a pass to Moore that gained nothing, a false start penalty moved the Saints back five yards, but they regained all of that and more when Thomas ran seven yards to the one. However, runs by RB Mike Bell on third down and Thomas on fourth down failed to penetrate into the end zone, and the Colts took over on downs.

Indianapolis was only able to get out to the ten yard line and punted. Brees fired a pass to Henderson for a 19-yard gain and two more completions got the ball down to the Colts’ 26. Hartley kicked a 44-yard field goal as the half ended, and the score stood at 10-6.

Kicking off to start the second half, the Saints surprised the Colts with Morstead executing an onside kick that bounced off the hands of Indianapolis WR Hank Baskett and was recovered by New Orleans safety Chris Reis. Starting at their own 42, the Saints made the most of the gamble and scored in six plays. Five of those plays were completions by Brees, including a 16-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Thomas (pictured below) that put New Orleans ahead, 13-10.


The Colts came right back, however, again going into a no-huddle offense and driving 76 yards in ten plays, converting a fourth-and-two situation along the way. Manning completed five passes, the longest of 27 yards to Clark, and Addai ran the final four yards for a TD that put Indianapolis back in front at 17-13.

The Saints responded with another scoring drive, with Hartley connecting for his third field goal, this time from 47 yards out. The third quarter ended with the Colts in front by a point.

Indianapolis again drove into New Orleans territory to begin the fourth quarter, but after reaching the 33 yard line, Stover missed a 51-yard field goal attempt. The Saints moved methodically down the field, with Brees hitting on seven consecutive short passes that included a two-yard touchdown to TE Jeremy Shockey. An attempted two-point conversion failed, but New Orleans was once more in front at 24-17 with just under six minutes left to play.

Starting at their own 30, the Colts again went into a no-huddle offense and Manning was successful on four of six passes to get to the New Orleans 31. But in a third-and-five situation, Manning threw a pass intended for Wayne that was instead intercepted by CB Tracy Porter, who returned it 74 yards for a touchdown (pictured below). The game was effectively over.


The Colts drove to the New Orleans five, but a fourth-and-goal pass was incomplete with 34 seconds left. The Saints, for so long a NFL doormat, were champions by a score of 31-17.

Indianapolis held the edge in total yards (432 to 332) and first downs (23 to 20). However, they suffered the only turnover of the game on the interception, and it was a huge one.

The game’s MVP, Drew Brees, completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two TDs. Marques Colston caught 7 passes for 83 yards and Devery Henderson also had 7 receptions, for 63 yards. Pierre Thomas, who led a rushing attack that accumulated just 51 yards, gained 30 yards in nine carries and also pulled in 6 passes for 51 yards and a TD.

For the Colts, Peyton Manning went to the air 45 times with 31 completions for 333 yards that included a TD and the interception. Dallas Clark caught 7 passes for 86 yards and Joseph Addai added 7 receptions for 58 yards in addition to pacing the running attack with 77 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts.

“Four years ago, who ever thought this would be happening when 85 percent of the city was under water?” said Drew Brees afterward. “Most people left not knowing if New Orleans would ever come back, or if the organization would ever come back. We just all looked at one another and said, ‘We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.’ This is the culmination in all that belief.”

It was a great moment for the franchise and its fans, and for the quarterback who had signed with New Orleans as a free agent in the wake of the dreadful ’05 season.

While both clubs struggled at times in 2010, they returned to the postseason. However, they both were eliminated early, losing in the Wild Card playoff round.

February 6, 2011

Past Venue: Memorial Stadium

Baltimore, MD



Year opened: 1950
Capacity: 60,240, up from 31,000 at opening

Names:
Memorial Stadium, 1950-2001

Pro football tenants:
Baltimore Colts (NFL), 1950 (original)
Baltimore Colts (NFL), 1953-83 (second franchise)
Baltimore CFLers/Stallions (CFL), 1994-95
Baltimore Ravens (NFL), 1996-97

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Colts 31 Giants 16, Dec. 27, 1959
NFL Western Conf. Championship, Colts 24 Vikings 14, Dec. 22, 1968
AFC Divisional playoff, Colts 17 Bengals 0, Dec. 26, 1970
AFC Championship, Colts 27 Raiders 17, Jan. 3, 1971
AFC Divisional playoff, Steelers 40 Colts 14, Dec. 19, 1976
AFC Divisional playoff, Raiders 37 Colts 31, Dec. 24, 1977
CFL East Division semifinal, CFLers 34 Argonauts 15, Nov. 12, 1994
CFL South Division semifinal, Stallions 36 Blue Bombers 21, Nov. 4, 1995
CFL South Division final, Stallions 21 Texans 11, Nov. 12, 1995

Other tenants of note:
Baltimore Orioles (minor league baseball), 1950-53
Baltimore Orioles (MLB – AL), 1954-91
Baltimore Bays (NASL), 1967-68
Bowie Baysox (minor league baseball), 1993

Notes: Replaced Municipal/Babe Ruth Stadium, which stood at same location, was demolished and rebuilt into Memorial Stadium. The stadium was occasionally used for University of Maryland football games against major opponents. Also hosted two annual Thanksgiving Day high school football games – Baltimore City College vs. Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (“City vs. Poly”, 1954-99) and Calvert Hall College vs. Loyola Blakefield (1957-99). A small plane crashed into the upper deck following the Dec. 19, 1976 AFC Divisional playoff, but fortunately that area of the stadium had already cleared and there were few injuries.

The large Memorial Wall on the outside of the stadium was inscribed “Dedicated as a memorial to all who so valiantly fought in the world wars with eternal gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve equality and freedom throughout the world - time will not dim the glory of their deeds”.

Fate: Demolished in 2001, the site is now occupied by a YMCA facility and two apartment complexes. Concrete from the stadium was used to create an artificial reef in Chesapeake Bay.

February 5, 2011

List of the Day: Progression of Individual Season All-Purpose Yardage Record


Derrick Mason

NOTE: Information not available for the first three AFLs (1926, 1936-37, 1940-41), WFL (1974-75), and XFL (2001)

Key: rush = rushing, rec = pass receiving, int = interception returns, pr = punt returns, kr = kickoff returns, other = other or unknown, * = led league in category

NFL
709- Cliff Battles, Boston Braves, 1932
(576 rush*, 60 rec, 73 other)

922- Cliff Battles, Boston Redskins, 1933
(737 rush, 185 rec)

1181- Beattie Feathers, Chicago Bears, 1934
(1004 rush*, 174 rec, 3 other)

1236- Marshall Goldberg, Chicago Cardinals, 1941
(427 rush, 313 rec, 152 pr, 290 kr*, 54 int)

1349- Bill Dudley, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1942
(696 rush*, 24 rec, 271 pr*, 298 kr, 60 int)

1607- Harry Clarke, Chicago Bears, 1943
(556 rush, 535 rec, 158 pr, 326 kr, 32 int)

1620- Bill Dudley, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1946
(604 rush*, 109 rec, 385 pr*, 280 kr, 242 int*)

1846- Eddie Saenz, Washington Redskins, 1947
(143 rush, 598 rec, 308 pr, 797 kr*)

1896- Billy Grimes, Green Bay Packers, 1950
(480 rush, 261 rec, 555 pr*, 600 kr)

2306- Timmy Brown, Philadelphia Eagles, 1962
(545 rush, 849 rec, 81 pr, 831 kr)

2428- Timmy Brown, Philadelphia Eagles, 1963
(841 rush, 487 rec, 152 pr, 945 kr*, 3 other)

2440- Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears, 1966
(1231 rush*, 447 rec, 44 pr, 718 kr)

2444- Mack Herron, New England Patriots, 1974
(824 rush, 474 rec, 517 pr, 629 kr)

2462- Terry Metcalf, St. Louis Cardinals, 1975
(816 rush, 378 rec, 285 pr, 960 kr, 23 other)

2535- Lionel James, San Diego Chargers, 1985
(516 rush, 1027 rec, 213 pr, 779 kr)

2690- Derrick Mason, Tennessee Titans, 2000
(1 rush, 895 rec, 662 pr*, 1132 kr)


Cliff Battles



Timmy Brown



Mack Herron

AAFC (1946-49)
1691- Spec Sanders, New York Yankees, 1946
(709 rush*, 259 rec, 257 pr, 395 kr, 71 int)

2265- Spec Sanders, New York Yankees, 1947
(1432 rush*, 13 rec, 164 pr, 593 kr, 63 int)

2288- Chet Mutryn, Buffalo Bills, 1948
(823 rush, 794 rec, 171 pr, 500 kr)


AFL (1960-69)
2100- Abner Haynes, Dallas Texans, 1960
(875 rush*, 576 rec, 215 pr*, 434 kr)

2147- Dick Christy, New York Titans, 1962
(535 rush, 538 rec, 250 pr*, 824 kr*)


Dick Christy


USFL (1983-85)
2370- Herschel Walker, New Jersey Generals, 1983
(1812 rush*, 489 rec, 69 kr)

2878- Herschel Walker, New Jersey Generals, 1985
(2411 rush*, 467 rec)



"Bullet Bill" Dudley



Herschel Walker

February 4, 2011

1969: John Madden Becomes Head Coach of Raiders


On February 4, 1969 the Oakland Raiders elevated John Madden, an assistant coach in charge of linebackers, to head coach. At 32 (he would turn 33 prior to the ’69 season), Madden, hardly the household name that he would later become, was the youngest head coach in either the AFL or NFL.

Madden succeeded John Rauch, who had compiled a 35-10-1 record over three seasons (including the playoffs) that included an AFL Championship in 1967. However, Rauch had clashed with Al Davis, the managing general partner, and resigned to take over as head coach in Buffalo (signed to a four-year contract, he lasted just two seasons as the Bills went 7-20-1). Davis had originally come to the Raiders as head coach (as well as general manager) and had served in that capacity for three seasons prior to a short stint as commissioner of the AFL, but made clear upon Rauch’s departure that he would not serve again in that capacity.

Davis chose to stay within the organization and elevated Madden instead of offensive line coach Ollie Spencer. The burly young coach had played tackle in college at California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo and received all-conference honors. Drafted in the 21st round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, a preseason knee injury brought a quick end to his pro career – although he did receive mentoring from Hall of Fame QB (and future pro head coach) Norm Van Brocklin. From there he went into college coaching and advanced through the ranks, with four years at Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, California (two as head coach) and two years as defensive coach at San Diego State (on the staff of another future NFL head coach and mentor, Don Coryell). He joined the Raiders coaching staff under Rauch in 1967.

It was anticipated that going with a new coach who was already associated with the team would maintain stability, and with the club’s recent success, significant change was hardly in order. The Raiders had won the AFL Western Division for the second straight year in 1968 with a 12-2 record, defeating the Chiefs to break a tie at the top of the standings but then losing the league title game to the Jets.

There was no letdown under the new coach in 1969 as Oakland once again topped the division at 12-1-1. The offense was explosive, and QB Daryle Lamonica (pictured with Madden below) had an MVP season (UPI) as he led the AFL in its last pre-merger season in passing yards (3302), TD passes (34), pass attempts (426), and completions (221) – although also in interceptions, with 25. Deep-threat WR Warren Wells caught 47 passes for a league-leading 1260 yards and 14 touchdowns, while possession WR Fred Biletnikoff ranked second in pass receptions (54) and gained 837 yards while adding another 12 TDs.


Speedy HB Charlie Smith led the club with 600 yards rushing and also caught 30 passes and FB Hewritt Dixon, hindered by injuries but effective when healthy, added 398 yards on the ground and 33 receptions. The offensive line featured All-AFL performers in C Jim Otto, G Gene Upshaw, and OT Harry Schuh.

The defense was known for its aggressiveness and featured ends Ike Lassiter and Ben Davidson and tackles Carleton Oats and Tom Keating on the line. Gus Otto was an AFL All-Star for his play at right outside linebacker, while Dan Connors held down the middle. The backfield was outstanding and included cornerbacks Willie Brown and Nemiah Wilson plus FS Dave Grayson and SS George Atkinson. Oakland’s opponents completed just 38.9 percent of their passes. In addition, 42-year-old backup QB George Blanda was still one of the game’s most reliable placekickers and Mike Eischeid a good punter.

However, the ’69 season ended in disappointment. For the league’s last year, instead of the two division champions vying directly for the title, an extra layer was added to the postseason, with each first place team facing the second place finisher in the other division. The Raiders had no trouble disposing of the Houston Oilers, who finished second in the Eastern Division with a 6-6-2 record, bombarding them by a score of 56-7. The Jets, top finishers in the East and seeking a second consecutive title, lost to the Western Division’s second place team, the Chiefs, by a 13-6 tally. Oakland had beaten Kansas City in both meetings during the regular season, but in the final AFL Championship game, it was the Chiefs prevailing, 17-7, and then going on to defeat the champions of the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings, in the Super Bowl.

Success during the regular season followed by disappointment in the playoffs became a near-annual event, and the Raiders developed a reputation as a good team that couldn’t win the big games. In 1970, they won the division and advanced to the first AFC Championship game, but lost to the Colts. After going 8-4-2 and missing the postseason in ’71, the Raiders were back atop the AFC West at 10-3-1 in 1972 but lost in gut-wrenching fashion to the Steelers in the Divisional round as a result of the “Immaculate Reception” touchdown by RB Franco Harris. They were back in the conference title game in ’73 but lost to Miami. In 1974 and ’75 they also made it to the AFC Championship game, and lost to the Steelers both times.

Finally, Oakland went the distance in 1976, going 13-1 during the regular season and handily beating Pittsburgh for the conference title. In the Super Bowl, the Raiders defeated Minnesota in convincing fashion to finally achieve the elusive NFL Championship.


Madden coached for two more years but stepped down after the 1978 season. An animated and excitable coach, he had developed stomach ulcers and chose to leave the profession at age 42. He would, of course, transition into a long and prominent career broadcasting pro football games. He would also achieve recognition for his coaching achievements, gaining induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

Madden’s coaching record was 103-32-7 in the regular season, for a gaudy .763 winning percentage (the highest in league history for a head coach with at least ten seasons), and his teams went 9-7 in the postseason, including the one NFL title.

February 3, 2011

2002: Patriots Stun Rams to Win Super Bowl XXXVI


Super Bowl XXXVI on February 3, 2002 looked to be a blowout in the making. The St. Louis Rams, with a 14-2 record and seeking to win two titles in three years, were up against the 11-5 New England Patriots, who had come from nowhere and were not considered to be of the same caliber.

The Rams, under Head Coach Mike Martz, entered the 2001 season expecting to contend for a title. They boasted the NFL’s most explosive offense, led by QB Kurt Warner, the league leader in passing (101.4 rating), passing yards (4830), touchdowns (36), completions (375), yards per attempt (8.8), and completion percentage (68.7) as well as league MVP choice of the Associated Press and NEA. Wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were both Pro Bowl performers. RB Marshall Faulk, who ran for 1382 yards and gained another 765 on 83 catches, garnered the other MVP trophies (Pro Football Writers Association and Bert Bell Award). The unheralded defense benefited from the addition of 33-year-old CB Aeneas Williams. Having won the NFC West with the league’s best record, St. Louis routed the Packers in the Divisional playoff and then got past the Eagles to win the conference title.

In 2000, the first year under Head Coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots finished at the bottom of the AFC East with a 5-11 tally, and not much more was anticipated in ’01. It certainly didn’t appear that the team was anything special when it fell to 5-5 following a loss to the Rams in November. But from that point, New England didn’t lose again, winning the last six regular season games. They barely defeated the Raiders in a snowy Divisional round contest and got past Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Coaching, starting with Belichick, certainly played a role, as did the coming together of a defense that didn’t allow more than 17 points in any of those eight wins. But the emergence of QB Tom Brady (pictured above), who took over for injured veteran QB Drew Bledsoe in September, paid huge dividends as he displayed outstanding game-management skills and great ability in clutch situations. Still, the Patriots came into the Super Bowl as two-touchdown underdogs.

There was a crowd of 72,922 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans and the Patriots broke with tradition by eschewing the usual player introductions to be introduced en masse as a team, emphasizing the club’s cohesiveness. The clubs traded punts to start off the game. On their second possession, the Rams drove 48 yards in ten plays with Warner completing six of seven passes. Jeff Wilkins kicked a 50-yard field goal to give St. Louis the early lead.

After the Patriots went three-and-out, the Rams again drove into New England territory, the highlight being a 29-yard pass completion from Warner to WR Az-Zahir Hakim on the second play of the second quarter. But after penetrating to the 34 yard line, Wilkins was wide to the left on a 52-yard field goal attempt.


New England held onto the ball for seven plays but again had to punt. However, on the third play of the next St. Louis possession, CB Ty Law intercepted a Warner pass that was intended for Bruce and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown (pictured at right). In stunning fashion, the Patriots were in front at 7-3.

With under two minutes remaining in the first half, Warner threw to WR Ricky Proehl for a 15-yard gain to the New England 40, but safety Antwan Harris forced a fumble and CB Terrell Buckley recovered for the Patriots. Brady hit on passes to WR Troy Brown for 16 yards and eight yards to TE Jermaine Wiggins to get to the St. Louis 24. Following an eight-yard carry by RB Kevin Faulk, Brady threw to WR David Patten for an eight-yard TD and the Patriots went into halftime with an improbable 14-3 lead.

Coach Belichick had learned from the loss to St. Louis during the regular season, when he had tried to key on blitzing Warner. This time, he sought to keep Marshall Faulk in check and loaded up with as many as six or seven defensive backs on each play. The strategy was having the desired effect, as Warner’s rhythm was disrupted and the fleet wide receivers were kept in check.

The teams went back to trading punts in the third quarter, battling for field position. Late in the period, after the Rams had advanced to the New England 45, Warner was intercepted again, this time by CB Otis Smith, who returned the pickoff 30 yards to the St. Louis 33. Five plays later, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 37-yard field goal to make the score 17-3.

With the game moving into the fourth quarter, the Rams began to come alive as Warner hit on short passes, completing six in a row to reach the New England three. Following two incompletions and facing a fourth-and-three situation, Warner ran and fumbled when hit by LB Roman Phifer. Patriots FS Tebucky Jones picked up the ball and took off for an apparent 97-yard touchdown, but the play was nullified by a defensive holding penalty on DE Willie McGinest. Gaining a huge reprieve, Warner ran for a two-yard touchdown shortly thereafter and New England’s margin was cut to 17-10.

The teams again traded punts, and the Patriots had consecutive three-and-out possessions. After the second one, and with under two minutes remaining, the Rams took over at their 45 yard line. Warner threw to Hakim for 18 yards, WR Yo Murphy for 11, and then the slow-but-steady Proehl for a 26-yard touchdown. With the extra point, the game was tied at 17-17 and it appeared likely that the contest would go into overtime.

New England’s offense took over at its own 17 with 1:21 now on the clock and no timeouts remaining. Brady threw two passes to RB J.R. Redmond that covered 13 yards. After an incompletion, he went to Redmond again for another 11 yards to his own 41. A 23-yard pass to Brown took the ball into Rams territory at the 36 and a throw to Wiggins added another six yards. With seven seconds now remaining, Brady spiked the ball to stop the clock and Vinatieri, who was rapidly becoming recognized as an outstanding clutch kicker, booted a game-winning 48-yard field goal (pictured below). In an amazing upset, the Patriots won their first championship by a score of 20-17.


The Rams won the statistical battle, outdistancing New England in total yards (427 to 267), first downs (26 to 15), and time of possession (33:30 to 26:30). But the Patriots didn’t turn the ball over, while taking advantage of three St. Louis turnovers to score 17 points.

Tom Brady was the game’s MVP as he completed 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown and showed great poise in directing the game-winning drive. Troy Brown (pictured below) led New England’s receivers with 6 catches for 89 yards. RB Antowain Smith rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries.


The strategy of keying on Marshall Faulk held the Rams’ running game to 90 yards, with Faulk gaining 76 of that total on 17 attempts and catching four passes for 54 yards – ordinary by his standards. Kurt Warner was successful on 28 of 44 passes for 365 yards, but with just one TD against two interceptions. Az-Zahir Hakim, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt all caught five passes apiece, with Hakim gaining the most yards (90; Bruce and Holt gained 56 and 49 yards, respectively).

“When Adam hit it, it was so true,” said Bill Belichick of Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal. “It was so high and so far. If you want a guy to make a play at the end of the game, he's the one.”

Of the Rams, Ty Law said, “I don't think they looked past us, but at the same time, I don't think they were expecting this type of fight.”

“I don't think we were overconfident,” a disappointed Kurt Warner stated from the St. Louis perspective. “We played hard, but those few turnovers, those few mistakes we made, they turned them into points. Some days they don't turn into anything, but they turned them into 17 points and a world championship. That's what's so hard about this loss. It was the fact our mistakes did us in today.”

The championship for the Patriots proved to not be a fluke as the club won two more over the next three years and consistently contended beyond that. St. Louis, in the meantime, moved in the opposite direction. Warner suffered through two injury-marred seasons in 2002-03 and was let go – he would eventually revive his career in Arizona. The team dropped to 7-9 in ’02, and after rebounding to 12-4 in 2003, fell into mediocrity thereafter.