May 30, 2012

MVP Profile: Jack Kemp, 1965

Quarterback, Buffalo Bills

Age:  30
8th season in pro football (7th active), 6th in AFL, 4th (3rd complete) with Bills
College: Occidental
Height: 6’1”    Weight: 201

The road to pro football success was a difficult one for Kemp, taken in the 17th round of the 1957 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions after playing collegiately at little Occidental College. He saw scant action in the preseason but, after Head Coach Buddy Parker resigned and then took over in Pittsburgh, he was traded to the Steelers and threw a total of 18 passes during his rookie year. Waived a game into the 1958 season, he caught on with the New York Giants and saw no action as a member of the taxi squad. Failing to catch on with Calgary of the CFL in ’59, he sat out the season and went back to college, but appeared to get another chance at the NFL with the 49ers before being declared ineligible due to his having signed earlier with the CFL. With the advent of the AFL in 1960, Kemp finally got his chance with the Los Angeles Chargers and led the league in passing while throwing for 3018 yards and 20 TDs (along with 25 interceptions) and a league-leading 7.4 yards per attempt. The Chargers won the Western Division and he was named All-AFL. The Chargers moved to San Diego for ’61 and repeated as division champs while Kemp was selected to the AFL All-Star Game. A finger injury suffered during the 1962 season caused him to be waived by the Chargers in an attempt to save a roster spot, but he was claimed by several clubs and awarded to the Buffalo Bills. Kemp was an AFL All-Star in 1963 and ’64 and the team tied for the Eastern Division title in ’63, losing to the Patriots in the resulting playoff, and then won the AFL Championship in 1964. Highly mobile and quick to take off from the pocket, Kemp also had a strong arm, good leadership skills, and was tough, playing through injuries throughout his career, although also prone to throwing interceptions.

1965 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 391 [3]
Most attempts, game – 49 at Denver 9/19
Completions – 179 [2]
Most completions, game – 22 vs. NY Jets 9/26, vs. Kansas City 12/12
Yards – 2368 [4]
Most yards, game – 295 vs. Kansas City 12/12
Completion percentage – 45.8 [5]
Yards per attempt – 6.1 [5]
TD passes – 10 [7]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Kansas City 12/12
Interceptions – 18 [4]
Most interceptions, game – 2 on 7 occasions
Passer rating – 54.8 [6]
200-yard passing games – 6

Attempts – 36
Most attempts, game - 6 (for 5 yds.) vs. NY Jets 9/26
Yards – 49
Most yards, game – 20 yards (on 4 carries) at Oakland 11/14
Yards per attempt – 1.4
TDs – 4 [9, tied with Matt Snell, Billy Joe & Pete Beathard]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 1
Yards – -9
TDs - 0

TDs – 4
Points – 24

Postseason: 1 G (AFL Championship at San Diego)
Pass attempts – 19
Pass completions – 8
Passing yards – 155
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 1

Awards & Honors:
AFL Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-AFL: League, AP, UPI, NEA, NY Daily News
AFL All-Star Game

Bills went 10-3-1 to finish first in the Eastern Division. Won AFL Championship over San Diego Chargers (23-0).

The Bills won a third straight Eastern Division title in 1966, and Kemp was again an AFL All-Star, but the team lost to Kansas City in the league title game. The club declined quickly thereafter, and Kemp missed all of 1968 with a knee injury. He came back for one last year in ’69 before retiring to go into politics. Overall, for his pro career he passed for 21,218 yards with 114 TDs and 183 interceptions, but while he tossed more interceptions than touchdowns in every season of his career, the statistics didn’t tell the whole story as he was also successful with a 65-37-3 record as a starter, compiling two AFL championships, six AFL All-Star Game selections and two All-AFL selections. He went on to a long second career as a Congressman, cabinet member, and Vice Presidential nominee. His son Jeff became a quarterback in the NFL.


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 2/8/14]

May 29, 2012

1984: Bengals Obtain James Brooks from Chargers for Pete Johnson

On May 29, 1984 the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers made a straight-up trade of disgruntled running backs, with the Bengals sending Pete Johnson to San Diego for James Brooks (pictured at right).

Johnson was 30 and had been taken by the Bengals in the second round out of Ohio State in 1977. He led Cincinnati in rushing in all seven years that he was with the team, totaling 5421 yards and making him the franchise’s all-time rushing leader at the time. He also was the club leader in career touchdowns with 70. A classic fullback at 6’0” and 252 pounds, Johnson’s best season came in 1981 as he rushed for 1077 yards, caught 46 passes for 320 more yards, and scored 16 TDs. He was named to the Pro Bowl and the offensively-potent Bengals won their first AFC title. 

In 1983, Johnson was suspended for the first four games of the season due to cocaine use (he and a teammate, DE Ross Browner, received immunity to testify in a federal trial regarding their purchase of cocaine from a Cincinnati plumber). He had reported late and overweight for training camp, but still rushed for 763 yards and tied for the AFC lead in rushing touchdowns (along with Seattle’s Curt Warner) with 14.

Johnson (pictured below) was insisting on a contract re-negotiation and made clear that he would not stay in Cincinnati past its expiration in ’84, looking at the USFL as a possible alternative. He skipped a mandatory minicamp, likely the final straw for the front office.

GM Paul Brown of the Bengals had been angered by Johnson’s behavior but was gracious in sending him off: “Pete Johnson has contributed greatly for us over the years, and now the time has come for us to part and go separate ways. We wish him well.”

As for the 25-year-old Brooks, he was San Diego’s first draft choice in 1981 out of Auburn and led the NFL in all-purpose yardage in ’81 and ’82. Small and fast at 5’10” and 177 pounds, Brooks had been critical of his use by Head Coach Don Coryell in San Diego. “It started about the second game last season,” he explained. “I didn’t want them to put me at fullback…San Diego wanted me to block instead of letting me go one-on-one with linebackers in passing situations.” While he had received assurances from Coryell in minicamp that the team would run the ball more often, he was instead dealt to Cincinnati.

In ’83, the Chargers were coming off their first losing season under Coryell, who had taken over as head coach during the 1978 season. The team went 6-10 and, among the many problems, star RB Chuck Muncie had a substandard performance. While he gained 886 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, he averaged 3.8 yards per carry, his lowest total with the Chargers and second-lowest of his eight-season career that began in New Orleans, and also fumbled eight times (as did Brooks).  

Meanwhile, the Bengals had a new head coach in the unorthodox Sam Wyche and were looking to open up the offense and provide a more varied running attack.

The trade ended up being very one-sided in Cincinnati’s favor. Johnson failed to last the season in San Diego, performing badly over the course of three games (19 carries for 46 yards). He was dealt off to Miami where he finished up the year – and his career.

James Brooks went on to have a long and outstanding stint with the Bengals. He started off slowly in ’84, still used more as the change-of-pace back that he had been in San Diego and running the ball just 103 times for 396 yards and catching 34 passes for 268 more while another big fullback, Larry Kinnebrew, and veteran Charles Alexander received more of the carries. But in 1985 Brooks was used more extensively and set a team record for total yards in a season as he rushed for 929 yards on 192 attempts (4.8 avg.) and caught 55 passes for 576 yards while scoring 12 touchdowns.

In four of the next five years, Brooks was selected to the Pro Bowl and gained over a thousand yards rushing on three occasions, with a high of 1239 in ’89. His 1773 total yards in 1986 were also a career high in a season in which he led the NFL in average gain per carry (5.3 on 205 attempts for 1087 yards). He stayed in Cincinnati through 1991 and ended up rushing for 6447 yards (surpassing Johnson’s team mark) with a 4.8-yard average (he averaged over five yards per carry in each of his thousand-yard rushing seasons) and gaining another 3012 yards on 297 pass receptions (a fine 10.1 average out of the backfield) while totaling 64 touchdowns.

The Bengals also won a conference title along the way, in 1988, with Brooks effective but overshadowed by power-running rookie sensation Ickey Woods (who proved to have far less staying power). The combination of the two made Cincinnati the top running team in the NFL that season. But when Woods was lost to injury in ’89, the Bengals still led the league in rushing with Brooks carrying most of the load. He proved in Cincinnati that, despite the small size that had been considered a limiting factor in San Diego, he was a tough and dependable runner as well as an outstanding pass receiver. He also ended up having surprising longevity (he was 32 when last selected to the Pro Bowl for the 1990 season) and was one of the most productive all-around backs of his era. 

May 27, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Jerry Butler, 1979

Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills

Age: 22 (Oct. 12)
College: Clemson
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 178

One of Buffalo’s two first-round draft picks in 1979 (the other was LB Tom Cousineau, who went to the CFL instead), Butler was considered the top-rated wide receiver in the draft. He moved into the starting lineup across from veteran WR Frank Lewis and added an explosive element that soon had him facing double coverages.

1979 Season Summary
Appeared in 13 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 48       
Most receptions, game – 10 (for 255 yds.) vs. NY Jets 9/23
Yards – 834
Most yards, game - 255 (on 10 catches) vs. NY Jets 9/23
Average gain – 17.4 [18]
TDs – 4
200-yard receiving games – 1
100-yard receiving games – 2

Attempts – 2
Yards – 13
Average gain – 6.5
TDs – 0

TDs – 4
Points – 24

Awards & Honors:
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI, Sporting News

Bills went 7-9 to finish fourth in the AFC East while ranking 9th in the NFL in passing offense (3216 yards).

Butler followed up his outstanding rookie season with a Pro Bowl performance in 1980 as he caught 57 passes for 832 yards and six TDs. He was also a second-team All-AFC selection by UPI. While still productive, Butler was nagged by injuries in ’81, was a contract holdout prior to the strike-shortened 1982 season, and then suffered a knee injury in ’83 that required major surgery and cost him all of 1984. He came back with a 41-catch, 770-yard season in 1985 (18.8 avg.) However, he caught 15 passes in 11 games in ‘86 before another leg injury effectively finished his career. Overall, Butler caught 278 passes for 4301 yards (15.5 avg.) and 29 touchdowns.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/9/14]

May 25, 2012

MVP Profile: J.J. Jennings, 1974

Running Back, Memphis Southmen

Age: 22 (Aug. 16)
1st season in pro football
College: Rutgers
Height: 6’1”    Weight: 220

A college star at Rutgers who led the nation in scoring in 1973, Jennings was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs in the ninth round of the ’74 NFL draft and tenth round by the then-Toronto Northmen of the new WFL. He signed with Toronto, and a month later the franchise was shifted to Memphis. Jennings became part of an outstanding running game that included John Harvey and Willie Spencer.

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

Attempts – 322 [2]
Yards – 1524 [2]
Average gain – 4.7 [3]
TDs – 11 [3, tied with Tommy Reamon & Bubba Wyche]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 46       
Yards – 431
Average gain – 9.4
TDs – 2

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 4   
Yards – 80
Average per return – 20.0
TDs – 0
Longest return – 25 yards

TDs – 13 [6, tied with Don Highsmith]
Action Points – 3
Points – 94 [6, tied with John Land]
(Note: Touchdowns counted for 7 points in the WFL)

Postseason: 1 G (Second Round playoff vs. Florida)
Rushing attempts – 24
Rushing yards – 106
Average gain rushing – 4.4
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 1
Pass receiving yards - 7
Average yards per reception – 7.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

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

Southmen went 17-3 to finish first in the WFL Central Division. Lost Second Round playoff to Florida Blazers (18-15).

With the arrival of FB Larry Csonka and HB Jim Kiick from the Miami Dolphins, and despite his success in ’74, Jennings was dealt to the Philadelphia Bell for the 1975 season, where it was hoped that his having been a college star in New Jersey would be a plus in terms of drawing fans. He rushed for 345 yards on 82 carries (4.2 avg.) and caught 12 passes for 95 more yards before the WFL folded. While he signed with the Chiefs, he ran into injury problems, spent 1976 on injured reserve, and never made it to the regular season in the NFL.


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 2/9/14]

May 23, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Eddie Brown, 1985

Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

Age: 23 (Dec. 17)
College: Miami (FL)
Height: 6’0”    Weight: 185

Following an outstanding college career in which he was part of the 1983 National Championship team and caught 59 passes for 1114 yards and 9 TDs in ‘84, Brown was chosen by the Bengals in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft (13th overall). The retirement of 12-year WR Isaac Curtis opened a starting spot across from fifth-year veteran Cris Collinsworth, and Brown moved immediately into the lineup.

1985 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 53       
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 124 yds.) at Houston 10/20
Yards – 942 [16]
Most yards, game - 129 (on 5 catches) at New England 12/22
Average gain – 17.8 [19]
TDs – 8 [8, tied with four others]
100-yard receiving games - 3

Attempts – 14
Most attempts, game – 3 (for 7 yds.) at Cleveland 11/24, (for 60 yds.) vs. Houston 12/1
Yards – 129
Most yards, game – 60 (on 3 attempts) vs. Houston 12/1
Average gain – 9.2
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 6
TDs – 0

TDs – 8
Points – 48

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: NEA, Sporting News
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP

Bengals went 7-9 to finish second in the AFC Central.while placing third in the NFL in total offense (5900 yards), fourth in passing offense (3717), and third in scoring (441 points).

Having added to Cincinnati’s explosive passing offense as a rookie, Brown accumulated 58 catches for 964 yards in 1986. Following the strike-interrupted ’87 season, he had his best year in 1988, catching 53 passes for 1273 yards (24.0 avg.) and 9 TDs as the Bengals advanced to the Super Bowl. Brown was named to the Pro Bowl and received first-team All-NFL recognition from the NEA, second-team from the Associated Press, and was a first-team All-AFC selection of Pro Football Weekly and UPI. Brown played another three years before a neck injury cost him the entire 1992 season and effectively ended his career. While criticized for dropping passes on occasion, his big-play ability was undeniable. Over the course of his seven seasons with the Bengals, Brown caught 363 passes for 6134 yards (16.9 avg.) and 41 touchdowns.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/9/14]

May 22, 2012

1983: Chicago Loses QB but Beats Walker & Generals in Overtime

The Chicago Blitz had come into the inaugural season of the United States Football League as the heavy favorites to win the title. The Blitz had the most experienced pro head coach in George Allen and a great deal of veteran talent, including 36-year-old QB Greg Landry to direct the offense and 11-year NFL veteran LB Stan White on defense. In addition, Chicago picked up two prominent rookie prizes in WR Trumaine Johnson out of Grambling and Ohio State RB Tim Spencer.

The going had been tougher than anticipated in the highly-competitive USFL Central Division, but coming into the May 22 game against the visiting New Jersey Generals the Blitz had a 7-4 record and were a game behind the Tampa Bay Bandits.

The Generals, coached by Chuck Fairbanks, had made the most publicized single signing going into the new league’s first year. RB Herschel Walker (pictured at right), winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy as a junior at Georgia, had chosen to forego his last year of college eligibility and went with the USFL. But while the signing generated plenty of publicity – and controversy – and Walker overcame a slow start to become a formidable ground gainer, New Jersey overall was not a good team and sported a 3-8 tally coming into the contest at Chicago.

Attendance at Soldier Field numbered a season-high 33,812 fans (helped by Walker’s presence) and they saw the visitors get the first break of the game. On Chicago’s initial possession, the Generals recovered a Landry fumble at his own eight yard line and four plays later Walker plunged over the goal line from a yard out for a touchdown.

That proved to be the end of the first half scoring. Landry had a rough two quarters, completing just 8 of 23 passes for 112 yards with three interceptions as well as the fumble.

Three minutes into the third quarter, Blitz DT Karl Lorch blocked a New Jersey field goal attempt, which seemed to ignite the Chicago offense. The Blitz went 80 yards in nine plays, highlighted by Landry completions of 22 yards to RB Kevin Long and 12 yards to TE Paul Ricker and culminating in a 36-yard Landry scoring pass to WR Lenny Willis. With the successful conversion, the score was tied at 7-7.

Landry was 7-for-10, accumulating 128 yards, in the third quarter as Chicago’s offense played more effectively. Late in the period, the Blitz took over at their own 35, but five plays into the series, and just 11 seconds into the fourth quarter, Landry suffered a season-ending broken ankle when C Wally Pesuit was knocked into him. With the ball at the New Jersey 25, rookie backup QB Tim Koegel came into the game and the Blitz continued their drive to the two yard line. On fourth-and-one, Coach Allen elected to go for a field goal and Frank Corral was successful from 20 yards. The Blitz had their first lead of the game at 10-7.

New Jersey came right back with a six-play, 72-yard possession. Walker put the Generals ahead with a 25-yard touchdown run with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter, but Dave Jacobs missed the extra point and it remained a three-point contest at 13-10.

Chicago’s next drive stalled but the veteran all-purpose kicker Corral booted a clutch 63-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the New Jersey one. Four plays later, Walker fumbled when stripped by SS Don Schwartz and CB Lance Shields recovered for the Blitz. With just under three minutes remaining in regulation, Corral (pictured below) tied the game with a 35-yard field goal and the score remained knotted at 13-13 after four quarters.

In overtime, Chicago received the kickoff and Koegel’s 38-yard pass completion to Trumaine Johnson moved the ball to the New Jersey seven. On third-and-goal, Koegel, holding for an apparent field goal attempt, instead ran around left end for a five-yard touchdown and, at 3:53 into the extra period, the Blitz were winners by a score of 19-13.  

Chicago outgained the Generals (392 yards to 314), although New Jersey rolled up 225 yards on the ground, and had more first downs (20 to 15). The Blitz were called for 10 penalties, however, at a cost of 74 yards, while the Generals were flagged five times.

Prior to suffering his injury, Greg Landry completed 15 of 33 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Tim Koegel performed well in relief, completing 6 of 9 throws for 74 yards and running for the game-winning TD. Tim Spencer led the ground game with 72 yards on 16 carries and also caught 5 passes for 70 more. WR Wamon Buggs had 5 catches for 77 yards.

For the Generals, Herschel Walker rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries but also suffered the key fumble in the fourth quarter. He was also one of three New Jersey receivers to catch two passes, for 17 yards, while WR Tom McConnaughey gained 36 yards on his two receptions. QB Bobby Scott went to the air 21 times and completed 10 for 112 yards with two intercepted.

“I’m obviously disappointed that it happened,” said the 15-year veteran Landry of the injury that prematurely ended his season. “I’ve had three season-ending knee operations before, so I’ve been in this situation, and it’s not what you want to happen.”

Four days after the game, the Blitz obtained Scott from the Generals to provide a veteran backup for Koegel. Chicago finished the regular season at 12-6 to place second to the Michigan Panthers (who had the same record but won the division title on tiebreakers) and qualify as a wild card for the postseason. They lost to the Philadelphia Stars in a come-from-behind thriller in the first round.

The Generals placed a disappointing third in the Atlantic Division at 6-12. Herschel Walker was the team’s brightest star, however, leading the USFL in rushing with 1812 yards.

May 20, 2012

1985: Sipe Rallies Bulls Past Gamblers

The 1985 United States Football League season had been a rough one for Jacksonville Bulls QB Brian Sipe as he prepared to take the field on May 20 against the Houston Gamblers. Sipe, once the NFL’s Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Browns in 1980, had been signed to the USFL by the New Jersey Generals in ’84, and was unceremoniously dumped off to the Bulls after Heisman Trophy-winner Doug Flutie signed with the Generals for 1985. Taking over as starting quarterback for Jacksonville, he had suffered a severe shoulder separation in the season-opening game and Ed Luther had been behind center as the team got off to a 6-6 start.

Head Coach Lindy Infante’s team had a fine tandem of wide receivers in Alton Alexis and Perry Kemp and also benefited from the presence of RB Mike Rozier, who had spent his rookie season in ’84 with the Pittsburgh Maulers. The defense was improved due to the play of DE Keith Millard and LB Vaughan Johnson.

The Week 13 opponents, the Gamblers, were coached by Jack Pardee and boasted the USFL’s most explosive offense, led by second-year QB Jim Kelly. However, after being well-supported by the Houston fans in their inaugural ’84 season, the announced move to the fall for 1986 significantly dampened attendance during 1985.

For the Monday night game, there were just 17,127 in attendance at the Astrodome – the crowd was especially disappointing since there was a promotion in which, if there were at least 40,000 present, a selected fan would win a $1 million annuity ($10,000 if there were at least 35,000).

Houston nevertheless started off the scoring in electrifying fashion as WR Gerald McNeil returned a punt 49 yards down the middle of the field for a TD. The Bulls drove to the Houston one yard line but two penalties and a sack of Sipe forced them to settle for a field goal. Brian Franco was successful from 29 yards and the score was 7-3 after a quarter of play.

Toni Fritsch added a 44-yard field goal for the Gamblers at just over five minutes into the second quarter and Kelly connected with slotback Richard Johnson for a 15-yard touchdown. Late in the first half, the Bulls drove to the Houston 23, helped along by two pass interference penalties, but SS Luther Bradley intercepted a Sipe pass to end the threat with 10 seconds remaining.

Houston was ahead by 17-3 at the half, but the Bulls took control in the third quarter. The defense allowed the high-powered Gamblers to gain just four net yards while holding the ball for a total of 4:35 during the entire period.

Meanwhile, Sipe threw two TD passes during the period. The first covered 22 yards to Alexis and the second came just over two minutes later on a five-yard toss to RB Larry Mason. With 40 seconds left in the quarter, Franco kicked a 27-yard field goal and it proved to be the winning margin.

Houston did threaten once more during the fourth quarter, driving to the Jacksonville 30, but RB Todd Fowler fumbled the ball away with just under six minutes remaining in the contest, LB Terry Beeson recovering for the Bulls. Jacksonville hung on for the 20-17 win.

The Bulls had more first downs (19 to 15) although Houston had more total yards (331 to 309), but only 19 yards on 12 carries came on the ground. Jacksonville had a better-balanced attack and led significantly in time of possession (36:27 to 23:33). The Gamblers turned the ball over three times and were penalized on nine occasions while the Bulls turned the ball over just once.

Brian Sipe completed 14 of 32 passes for 191 yards with two TDs and an interception. Mike Rozier led the Bulls with 86 yards on 20 carries, putting him over a thousand yards for the year (he ended up second in the USFL with 1361). Perry Kemp caught 4 passes for 82 yards.

Jim Kelly had a rough outing against Jacksonville’s defense, completing 23 of 39 passes for 312 yards while being twice intercepted and sacked five times. Gerald McNeil had 5 pass receptions for 65 yards, WR Scott McGhee added 5 for 65 yards, and Richard Johnson contributed 63 yards on his four catches. Todd Fowler was Houston’s leading ground gainer with just 14 yards on 5 attempts, and had the costly fumble late in the contest.

 “This is my first game back and I am still getting fully integrated into the offense,” said Sipe. “But they pay me to put wins in the win column, so I’m going to just sneak out of here and grin all the way back to Jacksonville.”

“They had a real good defensive line,” said Jack Pardee about the Bulls. “They came with four men for the most part and put a lot of heat on our passer.”

Jacksonville ended up with a 9-9 record that placed sixth in the Eastern Conference. Houston made the playoffs by finishing third in the Western Conference at 10-8, although the Gamblers lost in the first round of the postseason for the second straight year.

The come-from-behind win proved to be a last hurrah for Brian Sipe, who suffered another injury and ended up completing just 55 of 89 passes for 685 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in what ended up being his final pro season. 

May 18, 2012

MVP Profile: Daryle Lamonica, 1967

Quarterback, Oakland Raiders

Age:  26
5th season in pro football, 1st with Raiders
College: Notre Dame
Height: 6’3”    Weight: 215

A 24th round draft pick of the Bills (12th round by Green Bay in the NFL draft), Lamonica backed up Jack Kemp in Buffalo for his first four seasons. Often used in relief of Kemp, he was effective but became restless in the backup role and was traded to Oakland for the 1967 season. He was also mobile and led AFL quarterbacks with 289 rushing yards in 1964. Given the opportunity to start, and with a strong arm and affinity for going deep, he proved to be an excellent fit in Oakland’s vertical passing game.

1967 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 425 [3]
Most attempts, game – 39 at Denver 11/5
Completions – 220 [2]
Most completions, game – 23 vs. Kansas City 10/1, at Houston 12/10
Yards – 3228 [3]
Most yards, game – 349 at San Diego 12/3
Completion percentage – 51.8 [3]
Yards per attempt – 7.6 [3]
TD passes – 30 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 4 at Boston 10/22, at San Diego 12/3
Interceptions – 20 [5]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at NY Jets 10/7, at Buffalo 10/15
Passer rating – 80.8 [2]
300-yard passing games – 3
200-yard passing games – 9

Attempts – 22
Most attempts, game - 4 (for 9 yds.) at Boston 10/22
Yards – 110
Most yards, game – 30 yards (on 2 carries) vs. Denver 9/10
Yards per attempt – 5.0
TDs – 4

TDs – 4
Points – 24

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 58
Most attempts, game - 34 vs. Green Bay, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 25
Most completions, game - 15 vs. Green Bay, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 319
Most yards, game - 208 vs. Green Bay, Super Bowl
TD passes – 4
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. Houston, AFL Championship, vs. Green Bay, Super Bowl
Interceptions – 1
Most interceptions, game - 1 vs. Green Bay, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 5
Most rushing attempts, game - 5 vs. Houston, AFL Championship
Rushing yards – 22
Most rushing yards, game - 22 vs. Houston, AFL Championship
Average gain rushing – 4.4
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
AFL Player of the Year: AP, UPI, Sporting News
1st team All-AFL: AP, UPI
2nd team All-AFL: NEA, NY Daily News
AFL All-Star Game

Raiders went 13-1 to win AFL Western Division while leading the league in scoring (466 points) and TDs (58). Won AFL Championship over Houston Oilers (40-7). Lost Super Bowl to Green Bay Packers (33-14).

“The Mad Bomber” followed up in 1968 by passing for 3245 yards and 25 TD passes, and won a memorable duel against Joe Namath and the Jets in the so-called “Heidi Game”. The team went 12-2 and advanced to the AFL title game but lost in the rematch with New York. Lamonica had another MVP season in ’69, leading the league in pass attempts (426), completions (221), yards (3302), TD passes (34) and, on the downside, interceptions (25) although the team again came up short in the AFL Championship game. With the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, he was selected to the Pro Bowl but his numbers were in decline and injuries were becoming a factor. Following one more Pro Bowl selection in ’72, Lamonica lost his starting job to Ken Stabler in 1973 and, after throwing just 9 passes in ’74, played out his option and signed with the Southern California Sun of the WFL. A preseason injury knocked him out of action and he backed up rookie Pat Haden, completing just 9 of 19 passes for 90 yards with a TD and three interceptions before the league folded and his career came to an end. Overall, in the AFL and NFL he passed for 19,154 yards with 164 TDs and 138 interceptions and had a 66-16-6 regular season record as a starting quarterback (4-5 in the postseason).


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 2/9/14]

May 16, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Peter Boulware, 1997

Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

Age: 23 (Dec. 18)
College: Florida State
Height: 6’4”    Weight: 255

A defensive end in college, where he gained notoriety for his pass rushing, Boulware was taken by the Ravens in the first round (fourth overall) of the 1997 NFL draft. Converted to outside linebacker, he moved directly into the starting lineup, joining fellow rookie Jamie Sharper and second year MLB Ray Lewis to create a young but formidable linebacking corps.

1997 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 11.5 [9]
Most sacks, game – 2 vs. Philadelphia 11/16, vs. Seattle 12/7
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 0
Forced fumble – 1
Tackles – 43
Assists – 15

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA

Ravens went 6-9-1 to finish fifth in the AFC Central.

Boulware followed up on his outstanding rookie season by gaining selection to the Pro Bowl following the 1998 and ’99 seasons and was also recognized as a first-team All-AFC choice of Pro Football Weekly and second-team All-NFL pick by the Associated Press in 1999. While a shoulder injury caused his performance to level off, he was a mainstay of the defense in 2000 that fueled a late-season run culminating in victory in the Super Bowl. In 2001 he was shifted to defensive end during the season due to injury depletion and the result was a club-record 15 sacks. Boulware returned to outside linebacker and gained selection to two more Pro Bowls in 2002 and ’03. However, his string of 111 consecutive games was broken when he sat out the 2003 season finale due to injury and offseason knee surgery cost him all of 2004. He was released and re-signed to a lesser salary in ’05, playing as a reserve, and injuries forced his release and retirement prior to the 2006 season. Overall, he had 70 regular season sacks and three in the playoffs over the course of his career that included four Pro Bowl selections.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/9/14]

May 15, 2012

1983: Bandits Beat Wranglers as Anderson Scores Clinching TD in Debut

The Tampa Bay Bandits had gotten off to a good start in the United States Football League’s inaugural season. Head Coach Steve Spurrier’s team had an outstanding passing offense and was 7-3 in the highly-competitive Central Division. 

However, there was cause for concern in that veteran QB John Reaves had gone down with a broken wrist in the seventh week and his capable backup, Jimmy Jordan, suffered a shoulder separation in Week 10 at Oakland. Thus, the Bandits would have to go with an untested signal caller, Mike Kelley, in their May 15, 1983 game against the Arizona Wranglers. On the upside, rookie RB Gary Anderson (pictured above) would be making his first appearance of the season, having just signed during the previous week.

A star in college at Arkansas, Anderson was drafted in the first round by the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, but they expressed an inclination to shift him to wide receiver. Anderson thus chose to sign with Tampa Bay, where he could continue to play at running back.

As for the visiting Wranglers, they were 4-6 under Head Coach Doug Shively, which was good enough to remain competitive in the weak Pacific Division. Rookie QB Alan Risher was performing ably and WR Jackie Flowers was among the USFL’s top touchdown scorers.

There were 32,327 fans in attendance at Tampa Stadium and they saw the home team score first on a 49-yard field goal by Zenon Andrusyshyn. However, in their second possession the Bandits drove to the Arizona six but Anderson was stopped short on a fourth-and-one carry and the score remained 3-0 after one quarter.

The Wranglers took the lead in the second quarter when RB Harold Blue ran 25 yards for a touchdown, followed by a successful extra point. After Arizona’s touchdown, the Bandits drove to the Arizona 29 but were backed up by a delay of game penalty and Andrusyshyn was then wide to the left on a 51-yard field goal attempt. Later, Tampa Bay again moved the ball to the Wranglers’ 29 but Kelley was intercepted by LB Sam Norris.

Finally, CB Jeff George intercepted a Risher pass at the Arizona 49 and returned it to the 38 yard line. While he fumbled at the end, FS Glen Edwards recovered and the resulting Tampa Bay possession culminated in Kelley tossing a four-yard touchdown pass to star WR Eric Truvillion. The Bandits, despite the missed opportunities, took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

The margin was extended to 13-7 in the third quarter when Andrusyshyn booted a 46-yard field goal. Then in a pivotal play, CB Warren Hanna intercepted a pass by Risher near midfield (Hanna’s third pickoff of the day). Tampa Bay took advantage on a series that ended with Anderson taking a pitchout and running for a 12-yard TD. The additional score proved to be enough – while Risher connected with WR Neil Balholm for an eight-yard touchdown, Tampa Bay was able to hold on for a 20-14 win.

The Bandits dominated statistically, leading in total yards (340 to 197), first downs (21 to 10), and time of possession (34:56 to 25:04). Still, Tampa Bay was nearly undone by 10 penalties as well as four turnovers and Kelley was sacked seven times. But Arizona turned the ball over six times and struggled against the tough Tampa Bay defense.

Gary Anderson had an impressive debut, rushing for 99 yards on 18 carries with the one TD and catching four passes for 54 more yards. Mike Kelley, also making his first pro start, completed 21 of 39 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception. WR Danny Buggs had 6 catches for 87 yards.

For the Wranglers, Alan Risher completed 13 of 25 throws for 126 yards and a TD, but with four interceptions. TE Mark Keel topped the team with 45 yards on three receptions, and Neil Balholm also caught three passes, for 26 yards, while Jackie Flowers was limited to just two catches for 38 yards. RB Calvin Murray led the ground game with 57 yards on 16 carries.

Tampa Bay ended up going 11-7 and finishing third in the Central Division and just out of the playoffs. The Wranglers completely collapsed, never winning again the rest of the way to finish at 4-14.

In eight games, Gary Anderson continued to play impressively and gained 516 yards on 97 carries for a solid 5.3-yard average while catching 29 passes for 347 yards and a 12.0 average out of the backfield. Mike Kelley won a second straight start and ended up appearing in a total of six games, passing for 1003 yards with four touchdowns against five interceptions. 

May 13, 2012

MVP Profile: Ron Jaworski, 1980

Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

Age:  29
7th season in pro football, 4th with Eagles
College: Youngstown State
Height: 6’2”    Weight: 196

Chosen in the second round of the 1973 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams, Jaworski saw little action in his first three years, most notably leading LA to a playoff win over the Cardinals in 1975. Dissatisfied with the lack of playing time, he refused to accept a contract extension and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 1977 season. Installed as the starting quarterback by Head Coach Dick Vermeil, Jaworski developed along with the team, hearing plenty of boos from frustrated fans but also showing a gritty determination and vocal leadership, as well as ability. The Eagles reached the postseason in 1978 with a 9-7 record and again in ’79 at 11-5 and Jaworski threw for 2668 yards and 18 TD passes.

1980 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 451 [12]
Most attempts, game – 36 at St. Louis 9/28
Completions – 257 [11, tied with Steve Bartkowski]
Most completions, game – 21 at New Orleans 11/9
Yards – 3529 [6, tied with Lynn Dickey]
Most yards, game – 331 at Dallas 12/21
Completion percentage – 57.0 [18]
Yards per attempt – 7.8 [5]
TD passes – 27 [6]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Denver 9/7, vs. NY Giants 9/22, at New Orleans 11/9
Interceptions – 12
Most interceptions, game – 3 at St. Louis 9/28
Passer rating – 91.0 [2, 1st in NFC]
300-yard passing games – 2
200-yard passing games – 12

Attempts – 27
Most attempts, game - 4 (for 5 yds.) vs. Dallas 10/19, (for 9 yds.) at New Orleans 11/9
Yards – 95
Most yards, game – 19 yards (on 1 carry) vs. Washington 10/5
Yards per attempt – 3.5
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points - 6

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 105
Most attempts, game - 38 vs. Minnesota, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Oakland, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 44
Most completions, game - 18 vs. Oakland, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 572
Most yards, game – 291 vs. Oakland, Super Bowl
TD passes – 2
Most TD passes, game - 1 vs. Minnesota, NFC Divisional playoff, vs. Oakland, Super Bowl
Interceptions – 7
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Oakland, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 3
Most rushing attempts, game - 2 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 2
Most rushing yards, game - 2 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 0.7
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Player of the Year: Bert Bell Award
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Eagles went 12-4 to finish first in the NFC East and with the best record in the conference. Won NFC Divisional playoff over Minnesota Vikings (31-16) and NFC Championship over Dallas Cowboys (20-7). Lost Super Bowl to Oakland Raiders (27-10).

The Eagles got off to a 6-0 start in 1981 but slumped in the second half of the season and lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. “The Polish Rifle” threw for 3095 yards and 23 TD passes, but also saw his interception total rise from 12 to 20. The team slid into mediocrity, Vermeil departed, but Jaworski lasted in Philadelphia until 1986. His then-record string of 116 consecutive starts at quarterback came to an end when he suffered a broken leg during the 1984 season. He came back to pass for 3450 yards for the 7-9 Eagles in ’85, but with the arrival of Buddy Ryan as head coach in 1986, he began to yield playing time to Randall Cunningham. Jaworski backed up Dan Marino with the Dolphins in ’88 and started three games for Kansas City in 1989, his final season. At the time of his departure from the Eagles, he was the franchise leader in most major passing categories and, for his overall career, threw for 28,190 yards with 179 TD passes against 164 interceptions.


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 2/9/14]
[Updated 11/28/14]

May 12, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Steve Bartkowski, 1975

Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

Age:  23 (Nov. 12)
College: California
Height: 6’4”    Weight: 213

The Falcons traded star OT George Kunz to the Colts to obtain the first overall pick in the 1975 NFL draft in order to select Bartkowski, who passed for 2580 yards as a senior and was already acclaimed for having a strong throwing arm, although he was also immobile and strictly a pocket passer. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.

1975 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 11 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 255 [19]
Most attempts, game – 37 vs. San Francisco 12/14
Completions – 115
Most completions, game – 19 vs. San Francisco 12/14
Yards – 1662 [19]
Most yards, game – 305 vs. San Francisco 12/14
Completion percentage – 45.1
Yards per attempt – 6.5 [20]
TD passes – 13 [14, tied with Roman Gabriel]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Washington 12/7
Interceptions – 15 [13, tied with James Harris]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at LA Rams 10/19, vs. Denver 11/23, vs. Washington 12/7
Passer rating – 59.3 
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 3

Attempts – 14
Most attempts, game - 5 (for 5 yds.) at St. Louis 9/21
Yards – 15
Most yards, game – 7 yards (on 3 carries) at Oakland 11/30
Yards per attempt – 1.1
TDs – 2

TDs – 2
Points – 12

Awards & Honors:
NFC Rookie of the Year: NEA, Sporting News

Falcons went 4-10 to finish third in the NFC West and ranked 20th in the league in total offense (3861 yards) and 19th in passing offense (2067 yards) and scoring (240 points).

Bartkowski followed up his promising rookie year with two poor seasons in 1976 and ’77, missing much time to injury and playing badly when healthy, and seemed on his way to becoming a major first-round bust. However, he regained his starting job four weeks into the 1978 season and led the Falcons to the first postseason appearance in franchise history. He also played well in the Wild Card playoff win over the Eagles and a near-upset of the Cowboys in the Divisional round. While the team dipped in ’79, Bartkowski continued to improve and had two Pro Bowl years in 1980 and ’81. He threw for 3544 yards and a league-leading 31 TDs in ’80 and a career-high 3829 yards and 30 touchdowns in 1981. Atlanta was 12-4 and back in the postseason in 1980 although again dropped back to 7-9 in ’81. The Falcons were back in the playoffs following the strike-shortened 1982 season. Bartkowski led the NFL in passing in 1983 (97.6 rating) as he threw for 3167 yards with 22 TDs and just 5 interceptions and led the league in completion percentage (67.3) in ’84. However, the team’s performance was dropping off and the effect of taking many sacks was causing shoulder and knee injuries. After appearing in just five games in 1985, he was dealt to the Rams where he was 4-2 as a starter in ’86 before knee problems finally finished his career. Overall, he played 11 years for the Falcons, as well as the one abbreviated season in LA, and completed 55.9 % of his passes for 24,124 yards with 156 TDs and 144 interceptions. His 23,470 yards and 154 TDs with Atlanta remain franchise career records.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/9/14]