June 30, 2014

1985: Last-Second FG Propels Invaders to Playoff Win Over Bandits

The United States Football League Quarterfinal playoff game in Oakland on June 30, 1985 featured the Oakland Invaders, who had topped the Western Conference with a league-best 13-4-1 record, against the Tampa Bay Bandits, fifth place finishers in the Eastern Conference at 10-8.

The Invaders, coached by Charlie Sumner, benefited greatly from the merger with the Michigan Panthers that brought several key players to the roster, most notably QB Bobby Hebert (pictured above) and wide receivers Anthony Carter and Derek Holloway. In combination with holdover WR Gordon Banks, Oakland had the league’s most dynamic trio of receivers and the running game, paced by ex-Panthers John Williams and Albert Bentley, was also productive. Oakland was a ten-point favorite entering the contest against the Bandits.

Tampa Bay was coached by the offensive-minded Steve Spurrier and had overcome many injuries to reach the playoffs. 35-year-old QB John Reaves passed for 4193 yards and 25 touchdowns while RB Gary Anderson was outstanding both as a runner (1207 yards) and pass receiver out of the backfield (72 catches, 678 yards) as he compiled 20 TDs.

There were 19,344 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. In their first series of the game, the Bandits were penalized for illegal motion, nullifying what would have been a successful fourth down conversion, and then Zenon Andrusyshyn suffered only the second blocked punt of his career to give Oakland the ball at the Tampa Bay 25. However, on the next play, LB James Harrell intercepted a Hebert pass to give the Bandits the ball again at their two yard line. After reaching the 12, Gary Anderson fumbled and CB Vito McKeever recovered for Oakland. Although an unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the play backed the Invaders up, the result of the turnover was a 37-yard Novo Bojovic field goal for the first points of the game.

Tampa Bay drove to the Oakland 21 on the next series, but Reaves was then intercepted by safety Oliver Davis and the first quarter ended with the score still 3-0.

The Invaders, who were experiencing difficulty moving the ball, punted early in the second quarter and the Bandits, helped by the running of Anderson, drove down the field to a touchdown on a five-yard pass from Reaves to WR Spencer Jackson.  Tampa Bay struck quickly for another TD, this time on a fake reverse in which Reaves threw to a streaking Anderson on a play that covered 73 yards. Andrusyshyn successfully converted following both touchdowns.

Down by 14-3, the Invaders went 80 yards in eight plays and scored on a 25-yard pass completion from Hebert to Derek Holloway. In response, the Bandits again moved into scoring territory. Anderson caught a pass and tightroped to the end zone, but was called out of bounds at the Oakland 14. Coach Spurrier’s request for a review was for naught due to the television network having pulled away to cover a news event, making a replay unavailable. The Bandits came up empty when Andrusyshyn missed a 28-yard field goal attempt and the score remained 14-10 at the half, although Tampa Bay had dominated statistically.

Less than three minutes into the third quarter, and following a 40-yard third-and-13 completion to Gordon Banks, Oakland scored again, this time on a throw from Hebert to Anthony Carter that covered 40 yards. Bojovic added the extra point and, in stunning fashion, the Invaders were in front by 17-14.

It seemed as though Oakland might take control of the game on the next series when Vito McKeever intercepted a Reaves pass in Tampa Bay territory, but the Invaders came up empty when Hebert threw into the end zone and was in turn picked off by CB Mike Thurman. However, the reprieve was short-lived when another interception again gave the Invaders the ball in Tampa Bay territory, and this time they came away with a 52-yard field goal by Bojovic.

Trailing by six points, the visitors put together a seven-play, 58-yard series that was capped when Reaves ran for a six-yard touchdown (his first rushing TD in ten years). Andrusyshyn added the PAT and the Bandits were back in front by 21-20.

Early in the fourth quarter, Oakland was on the move and, after Hebert connected with Holloway for a 41-yard gain to the Tampa Bay one, FB Tom Newton bulled in for a TD. A pass for two points was nullified by a penalty, but Bojovic then kicked the extra point that made the tally 27-21.

Tampa Bay came back to tie the score when Reaves threw to WR Willie Gillespie for a 15-yard touchdown and appeared ready to move back in front once more in what had now turned into a back-and-forth contest. However, following two penalties on successive extra point attempts, Andrusyshyn failed to convert from 35 yards and the game remained knotted at 27-27.

The Invaders responded by driving into Tampa Bay territory, but failed to regain the lead when Bojovic missed a 31-yard field goal with 5:14 left on the clock. However, Oakland’s defense rose up and twice sacked Reaves on Tampa Bay’s next three-and-out possession and, with Andrusyshyn punting out of his end zone, the Invaders had good field position at the Bandits’ 40.

Oakland made the most of the opportunity, methodically moving down the field. On the last play of the game, Bojovic kicked a 23-yard field goal and the Invaders won by a final score of 30-27.

The Bandits led in total yards (418 to 344) and first downs (19 to 17). However, Tampa Bay also turned the ball over four times, to two suffered by the Invaders. Oakland, in turn, was penalized 11 times at a cost of 105 yards, to six flags for 45 yards on the visitors. Each team recorded two sacks apiece.

Bobby Hebert completed 15 of 27 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns while giving up two interceptions. Albert Bentley led the team in rushing with 38 yards on seven carries and also in pass receiving with four catches, for 37 yards. Derek Holloway gained 75 yards on his three receptions that included a TD and Gordon Banks was right behind with 73 yards on two catches.

For the Bandits, John Reaves was successful on 18 of 30 throws for 315 yards and three TDs, but also tossed three interceptions. Gary Anderson ran for 90 yards on 13 attempts and also topped the club with 111 yards on his five pass receptions that included the long touchdown, although most of his production came in the first half. Spencer Jackson contributed five catches as well, gaining 87 yards.

"The defense played great and so did the offense, which gave me the chance to make the kick,” said Novo Bojovic, who had missed three field goals in a losing playoff game while with Michigan the previous year. “It was a great game for everybody and I didn’t want to let them down.”

“We played our hearts out,” said a disappointed John Reaves in defeat. “But we just came up a little short.”

The Invaders went on to defeat the Memphis Southmen in the Semifinal round the following week to advance to the USFL Championship game, where they lost a close contest to the Baltimore Stars. It would prove to be the league’s last game, but several of the Invaders, including Bobby Hebert, Anthony Carter, and Albert Bentley, went on to play in the NFL, as did Tampa Bay’s Gary Anderson. 

June 29, 2014

Highlighted Year: Ben Agajanian, 1947

Placekicker, Los Angeles Dons

Age: 28
6th season in pro football, 1st in AAFC & with Dons
College: New Mexico
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 210

Agajanian suffered the loss of four toes on his right (kicking) foot in a workplace accident while in college, but went on to have a long career as a pioneering placekicking specialist. After gaining honorable mention All-American honors as a college senior, he played minor league pro football with the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League in 1942 and, while enlisted in the military, was stationed in California and thus able to play with teams in the PCPFL and (minor-league) AFL in 1943 and ’44. He also played end during this time in addition to kicking. In 1945 he joined the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL who in turn dealt him to the Steelers after two games and, while still considered an end, he suffered a broken arm with Pittsburgh that caused him to become a placekicker exclusively. He was successful in all four of his field goal attempts in ’45 but returned to the PCPFL in 1946.

1947 Season Summary
Appeared in 13 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Field goals – 15 [1]
Most field goals, game – 3 at Brooklyn 11/23
Field goal attempts – 24 [1]
Field goal percentage – 62.5 [1]
PATs – 39 [2, tied with Lou Groza]
PAT attempts – 40 [4]
Longest field goal – 53 yards at Baltimore 10/19

Field Goals – 15
PATs – 39
Points – 84 [2]

Dons went 7-7 to finish third in the AAFC Western Division.

Agajanian had a lesser year with the Dons in 1948, succeeding on just 5 of 15 field goal tries, but then returned to the NFL and the New York Giants in ’49, where he was good on 8 of 13 attempts for a league-leading percentage of 61.5. He retired to tend to his business interests but came back with the Los Angeles Rams in 1953 and then to the Giants for four seasons (1954 to ’57) where he kicked 38 field goals in 71 attempts (53.5 %) and was part of the 1956 NFL Championship team. Sitting out the next two seasons, he again returned to pro football with the Los Angeles Chargers of the new AFL in 1960 and booted 13 field goals in 24 attempts. He moved on to the Dallas Texans for three games in 1961 and finished out the year back in the NFL with the Packers. Stints with the Raiders in 1962 and Chargers in ’64 closed out his career at age 45, having been one of two players to see action in the AAFC, NFL, and AFL (the other was LB Hardy Brown). Overall in those three leagues, Agajanian kicked 104 field goals in 204 attempts (51.0 %) and converted 343 of 351 extra point tries to compile 655 points . He went on to become kicking coach for the Dallas Cowboys and also mentored many placekickers at all levels over the ensuing years.


Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

June 27, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Lem Barney, 1967

Cornerback, Detroit Lions

Age: 22 (Sept. 8)
College: Jackson State
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 202

Recruited as a quarterback, Barney was shifted to cornerback and intercepted 26 passes in three college seasons and received All-Southwestern Conference honors after each. Although relatively unknown coming out of a small college, he was chosen by the Lions in the second round of the 1967 NFL draft and moved directly into the starting lineup.

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

Interceptions – 10 [1, tied with Dave Whitsell]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Minnesota 12/17
Int. return yards – 232 [1]
Most int. return yards, game – 75 (on 3 int.) vs. Minnesota 12/17
Int. TDs – 3 [1]
Fumble recoveries – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 5
Yards – 87
Average per return – 17.4
TDs – 0
Longest return – 25 yards

Punt Returns
Returns – 4
Yards – 14
Average per return – 3.5
TDs – 0
Longest return – 6 yards

Punts – 47 [15]
Most punts, game – 9 vs. Chicago 11/5, vs. LA Rams 11/23
Yards – 1757 [15]
Average – 37.4 [15]
Best average, game – 41.0 (on 6 punts) at San Francisco 10/29
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 55 yards

TDs – 3
Points – 18

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP
2nd team All-NFL: NEA, NY Daily News
Pro Bowl

Lions went 5-7-2 to finish third in the Central Division of the NFL Western Conference while surrendering the fewest TD passes (11).

Barney followed up by achieving consensus first-team All-NFL honors as well as gaining selection to the Pro Bowl in 1968 and ’69. Physical as well as fast, he was an instinctive ball hawk and excellent in man-to-man coverage. He also had a kick return TD in each of the next three seasons. A contract dispute followed by an ankle injury led to a lesser performance in 1970, and while he still intercepted 7 passes, his tendency to gamble for the big play caused him to get burned often as well. He came back to regain Pro Bowl stature four more times in a career that lasted until 1977, all with the Lions. Overall, Barney intercepted 56 passes, seven of which were returned for touchdowns, and he also averaged 9.2 yards on 143 punt returns and 25.5 yards running back 50 kickoffs. Used less as a punter, he had a 35.5-yard average on 113 kicks. Barney had 11 TDs in all, a testament to his big-play ability, and five of them came on plays that covered over 50 yards. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro twice, received at least second-team recognition on three other occasions, and was named to the Pro Bowl seven times. Barney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1992.


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). 

June 25, 2014

2000: Fire Edge Claymores in Low-Scoring World Bowl

The World Bowl, championship game of NFL Europe that was played on June 25, 2000, featured the Rhein Fire, winners of the title two years earlier, against the Scottish Claymores, champions in 1996 but coming off of two straight losing campaigns. The teams split their meetings during the regular season.

The Fire, coached by Galen Hall for the sixth year, had the developmental league’s second-rated passer in QB Danny Wuerffel, who topped the circuit with 25 touchdowns and 2042 yards while giving up just seven interceptions for a rating of 107.2. They finished at the top of the standings with a 7-3 record.

The Claymores went 6-4 under Head Coach Jim Criner, also in his sixth season at the helm. While they had the lesser record, they had RB Aaron Stecker (pictured above), the league’s MVP and leading rusher with 774 yards who also paced the team in pass receiving with 36 catches, and QB Kevin Daft had edged Wuerffel for the passing title with a 107.3 rating while tossing for 19 TDs against just three interceptions.

The game was held at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt, Germany with 35,860 fans in attendance. The Fire struck first on their initial possession of the game, driving 51 yards in 11 plays before finally being stopped at the four yard line. The series resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Manfred Burgsmuller. The Claymores responded in rapid fashion, taking just three plays to travel 75 yards. Aaron Stecker gained nine yards, Kevin Daft threw to H-back Willy Tate for 30, and then Stecker ran 36 yards for a touchdown. With Rob Hart’s extra point, Scotland held a 7-3 lead.

In the second quarter, the Claymores put together a 12-play, 52-yard series , and Hart’s field goal made it 10-3. Rhein came back with an eight-play possession that was also capped by a field goal, this one by Burgsmuller covering 23 yards. The score at halftime was 10-6.

The game settled into a defensive stalemate in the second half, with neither team scoring in the third quarter. The tough Claymore defense continued to hold, and when the Fire got the ball with 5:07 remaining on the clock, the situation appeared dire. However, Rhein then put together a 43-yard drive in eight plays that resulted in a one-yard TD carry by RB Pepe Pearson (pictured below). Burgsmuller added the extra point to give the Fire a three-point lead.

There was still time for the Claymores to come back, and Daft completed four passes as they drove into Rhein territory. But with eight seconds left, a 40-yard field goal attempt by Hart sailed wide to the left to clinch the 13-10 win for the Fire.

“It was a great feeling when I scored,” said Pepe Pearson of his game-winning touchdown. “Our offensive line did the job and I got it in the end zone.”

“I’m so proud of our team and our coaches,” said Galen Hall. “I thought it would come down to the last seconds, and it certainly did.”

QB Danny Wuerffel completed just 12 of 30 passes for 90 yards and no touchdowns while giving up two interceptions, but was sharp on the game-winning drive. For the Claymores, Aaron Stecker rushed for 92 yards on 13 carries that included a TD and Kevin Daft was successful on 16 of 29 throws for 177 yards and one interception.

Wuerffel, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was currently a free agent hoping to parlay his NFL Europe success into a NFL contract. He was signed by Green Bay, saw no action, and moved on to the Bears and Redskins, where he was reunited with his college coach, Steve Spurrier, and started four games in his last pro season.

Aaron Stecker, who had been loaned to the Claymores by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spent four seasons with the Bucs before moving on to New Orleans for five years and finishing up with the Falcons. A career backup in the NFL, he rushed for 1526 yards, gained another 1175 yards on 166 pass receptions, and averaged 23.1 yards on 170 kickoff returns.

With the win over the Claymores, Galen Hall became the first coach in the developmental league’s history to win two championships. Both head coaches departed for the short-lived XFL in 2001, Hall with the Orlando Rage and Jim Criner coaching the Las Vegas Outlaws.

Neither team qualified for the World Bowl in 2001. Rhein went 5-5 to finish third and the Claymores sank to 4-6 and fifth place. The Fire returned to first place in ’02 but lost the Championship game to Berlin. For the Claymores, the World Bowl appearance in 2000 was the team’s last. 

June 23, 2014

Highlighted Year: Ockie Anderson, 1921

Back, Buffalo All-Americans

Age: 27 (Oct. 15)
2nd season in pro football & with All-Americans
College: Colgate
Height: 5’9”   Weight: 165

Anderson was a three-sport star in college (basketball and track were the others) and, in football, a first-team Walter Camp All-American in 1916. He served two years in the military during World War I and then returned to his native Erie, Pennsylvania where he became athletic director in the city’s school system. He joined the new Buffalo team of the APFA (later NFL) in 1920. With several other former college stars on the squad, the team became known as the All-Americans and the fast and elusive Anderson was the featured back. Unofficially, since individual statistics weren’t yet being compiled by the new league, he led the team in touchdowns (11) and scoring (69 points) in ’20.

1921 Season Summary
Appeared in all 11 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing TDs – 5 [2, tied with Frank Bacon & Jim Laird]
Receiving TDs – 1 [8, tied with many]
Punt Ret. TDs – 1 [1, tied with Paddy Driscoll]
Total TDs – 7 [1, tied with Fritz Pollard]
Points – 42 [2, tied with Fritz Pollard]

All-Americans went 9-1-2 to finish second in the APFA while leading the league in scoring (211 points).

Anderson’s pro career came to an end during the 1922 season due to a knee injury. Over the course of three seasons and 29 games, he officially scored 8 touchdowns for a total of 48 points, but adding in the unofficial numbers from 1920, it comes to 19 TDs and 117 points.


Highlighted Years features players who were first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

June 20, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Charles Woodson, 1998

Cornerback, Oakland Raiders

Age: 22 (Oct. 7)
College: Michigan
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 197

Woodson was a versatile college performer, prone to making big plays, who won the 1997 Heisman Trophy as a primarily defensive player. He intercepted 18 passes while also catching 25 for 402 yards on offense and excelling as a punt returner (8.7-yard average on 47 returns). Entering the draft following his junior year, Woodson was taken by the Oakland Raiders in the first round (fourth overall) and moved quickly into the starting lineup.

1998 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 5 [14, tied with nine others]
Most interceptions, game – 1 on five occasions
Int. return yards – 118 [9]
Most int. return yards, game – 46 (on 1 int.) at Arizona 10/4
Int. TDs – 1 [10, tied with many others]
Sacks – 0
Fumble recoveries – 0
Forced fumbles – 2
Tackles – 61
Assists – 3

TDs – 1
Points – 6

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

Raiders went 8-8 to finish second in the AFC West.

Woodson was chosen to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons. Outstanding in all facets of the cornerback position, he also was a consensus first-team All-Pro in 1999. Injuries began to become an issue, however, and he missed time during each of the next four years as a result while also drawing criticism for inconsistent play despite his great ability. Joining the Packers as a free agent in 2006, he revived his career, intercepting 8 passes, and he was once again a Pro Bowl selection in ’08 despite playing with a broken toe. In 2009, Woodson garnered NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press after leading the league with 9 interceptions and three returns for touchdowns. He had Pro Bowl seasons in 2010 and ’11, again leading the NFL in interceptions in the latter year with 7. He compensated for declining cover skills with fine playmaking ability, but missed most of 2012 due to injury. Woodson considered retirement, but returned to the Raiders in 2013 and started at free safety, recording a career-high 97 tackles. Through 2013, he has intercepted 56 passes, returning 11 of them for touchdowns, and has been a consensus first-team All-Pro three times and selected to eight Pro Bowls.


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). 

June 18, 2014

1997: Andre Rison Signs with Chiefs

On June 18, 1997, free agent WR Andre Rison signed a two-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, having earlier been released by the Packers. With ex-49er backup Elvis Grbac replacing Steve Bono as the starting quarterback, Kansas City was looking to upgrade the receiving corps.

Rison had originally been drafted out of Michigan State in the first round in 1989 by the Indianapolis Colts. He showed promise as a rookie, catching 52 passes for 820 yards, but was dealt to Atlanta as part of the trade for the first overall draft choice in 1990 that was used to obtain Illinois QB Jeff George. Rison was an excellent fit with the Falcons, who utilized a “run-and-shoot” offense (called, in this instance, the Red Gun). He was able to accelerate quickly and had excellent body control and receiving ability.

Typically utilized as an inside receiver, in the five seasons from 1990 to ’94 Rison caught 423 passes for 5633 yards (13.3 avg.) and scored 56 touchdowns. He had over a thousand receiving yards in all but one year (and in that one, 1991, he gained 976) and reached double-digits in TD catches in each of his first four years with a league-leading 15 in 1993. The leader of a productive group of receivers, Rison was chosen to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in Atlanta and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1990.

To be sure, it was not always a perfect situation for Rison in Atlanta. Complaints about the brash wide receiver nicknamed “Bad Moon” ranged from lack of discipline in running his pass routes to being a disruptive presence off the field. The team as a whole was not so successful, finishing with just one winning record during the time Rison was there.

Rison signed a five-year, $17 million free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns in 1995 amid high expectations. The Browns, under Head Coach Bill Belichick, were coming off of an 11-5 playoff year and looking to contend, but it all turned sour, particularly in the second half of the season after it was announced that the franchise would be moving to Baltimore in ’96. Rison proved to be a poor fit in the conservative offense and his production dropped off accordingly – he caught just 47 passes for 701 yards and three TDs. Moreover, he frequently complained about the offense in general and QB Vinny Testaverde in particular, and drew further ire from the fans when he made critical comments about them as well.

Waived during the offseason, Rison signed with Jacksonville for 1996. However, he was released after 10 games and 34 catches for 548 yards, with Head Coach Tom Coughlin citing him for a lack of performance.  He caught on with the Packers to fill in for injured WR Robert Brooks and performed ably during Green Bay’s 8-0 run to a NFL Championship. Rison caught 13 passes for 135 yards and a TD in the last five games of the regular season and then added 7 receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs, including the first score in Super Bowl XXXI on a pass from QB Brett Favre that covered 54 yards.

With Brooks returning for 1997, Rison no longer fit in Green Bay’s plans. After eight seasons, he had caught 569 passes for 7747 yards and been to the Pro Bowl four times, but had been more of a journeyman over the previous two years, playing for three different teams and quickly wearing out his welcome with two of them.

The 30-year-old Rison revived his flagging career with Kansas City. More low-key off the field, he produced more on it, catching 72 passes for 1092 yards (15.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns despite being heavily double-covered. The receiving total was his best since 1993 with the Falcons, and it was also his first thousand-yard season since that year. He had two hundred-yard receiving games along the way, with a high of 162 on eight catches against the Raiders, and added eight receptions for 110 yards in the playoff loss to Denver.  Rison was voted club MVP and received Pro Bowl honors.

The 1997 comeback proved to be something of a last hurrah for Rison. The Chiefs dropped to 7-9 in 1998 and Rison’s receiving numbers dropped to 40 catches for 542 yards and five TDs. After one last year in Kansas City, he moved on to the Oakland Raiders for his final NFL season in 2000 and then played two years for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, catching 15 passes for 178 yards in limited action.

Over the course of twelve years in the NFL, Rison ended up with 743 catches for 10,205 yards (13.7 avg.) and 84 touchdowns (scoring at least one with all seven teams for which he played), all Top 20 career numbers at the time. Most of that came in his first six seasons, especially when playing in Atlanta’s Red Gun offense, but the first year in Kansas City was a productive one. Rison’s flamboyance and off-field problems often distracted from his talent and ability as a wide receiver, but at his best, he was a significant performer at the position. 

June 17, 2014

MVP Profile: Drew Brees, 2011

Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

Age:  32
11th season in pro football, 6th with Saints
College: Purdue
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 209

Chosen by the San Diego Chargers in the 2nd round of the 2001 draft, Brees spent a year as backup to veteran Doug Flutie before taking over as starting quarterback in ’02. A good first year as starter was followed by a season in which he had difficulties, and the Chargers swung the deal that brought rookie Philip Rivers to San Diego in 2004. Brees bounced back that year with a Pro Bowl season in which his passer rating was 104.8. He badly injured his shoulder in the last game of the ’05 season, the final year of his contract, and with the team committing to Rivers, Brees signed with the New Orleans Saints and was a consensus first-team All-Pro who was selected to the Pro Bowl in ’06, leading the NFL with 4418 passing yards and guiding the Saints, with a high-powered offense, to the NFC Championship game. In 2007, Brees started poorly and the team didn’t do as well, but he recovered to lead the league in pass attempts (652) and completions (440) while throwing for another 4423 yards. He had another Pro Bowl year in ’08 in which he led the NFL in passing yards (5069), TD passes (34), pass attempts (635) and completions (413) and the Saints reached the top in 2009, with the quarterback leading the league in TD passes (34), completion percentage (70.6), and passing overall (109.6) while the club won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Brees threw for 4620 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2010 and led the NFL in completion percentage (68.1). However, he also threw a career-high 22 interceptions and, while the team qualified for the postseason as a Wild Card with an 11-5 record, the Saints were upset in the first round of the playoffs by Seattle.

2011 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 657 [2]
Most attempts, game – 49 at Green Bay 9/8
Completions – 468 [1]
Most completions, game – 36 at Tennessee 12/11
Yards – 5476 [1]
Most yards, game – 419 at Green Bay 9/8
Completion percentage – 71.2 [1]
Yards per attempt – 8.3 [6]
TD passes – 46 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 5 vs. Indianapolis 10/23, at Minnesota 12/18, vs. Carolina 1/1
Interceptions – 14 [10, tied with four others]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at Tampa Bay 10/16
Passer rating – 110.6 [2]
400-yard passing games – 2
300-yard passing games – 13
200-yard passing games – 16

Attempts – 21
Most attempts, game - 4 (for -1 yds.) vs. Houston 9/25
Yards – 86
Most yards, game – 21 yards (on 3 carries) at Tampa Bay 10/16
Yards per attempt – 4.1
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
2-pt PAT – 3 [1]
Points – 12

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 106
Most attempts, game - 63 at San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff
Pass completions – 73
Most completions, game - 40 at San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff
Passing yardage – 928
Most yards, game – 466 vs. Detroit, NFC Wild Card playoff
TD passes – 7
Most TD passes, game - 4 at San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 2 at San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff

Rushing attempts – 5
Most rushing attempts, game – 4 vs. Detroit, NFC Wild Card playoff
Rushing yards – 4
Most rushing yards, game - 5 at San Francisco, NFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 0.8
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
2nd team All-NFL: AP, Pro Football Focus
Pro Bowl

Saints went 13-3 to finish first in the NFC South while leading the NFL in total yards (7474) and passing yards (5347). Won NFC Wild Card playoff over Detroit Lions (45-28). Lost NFC Divisional playoff to San Francisco 49ers (36-32).

After setting a new single-season record in 2011, Brees had another 5000-yard passing season (5177) in 2012 and again topped the NFL in TD passes (43). He also broke the record long held by Johnny Unitas for consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a streak which finally ended at 54. However, he also led in interceptions (19) over the course of a difficult year for the club both on and off the field. New Orleans rebounded in 2013 and Brees led the NFC with 5162 yards and 39 TD passes. Through 2013, he had completed 65.9 percent of his career passes for 51,081 yards and 363 TDs and had been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, including a current string of six straight.


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). 

June 14, 2014

Rookie of the Year: George Webster, 1967

Linebacker, Houston Oilers

Age: 22 (Nov. 25)
College: Michigan State
Height: 6’4”   Weight: 223

Webster was a “rover back” in college, playing a combination of linebacker and defensive back due to his speed and strength. He excelled, achieving All-America recognition in 1965 and ’66. Chosen by the Oilers in the first round of the combined AFL/NFL draft (fifth overall), Webster moved directly into the starting lineup at left outside linebacker, where he had an immediate impact for a dramatically improved defensive unit.

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

Sacks – N/A
Interceptions – 1
Int. return yards – 23
Int. return TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Tackles – 140 (estimated)

Postseason: 1 G (AFL Championship at Oakland)
Sacks – 1 (unofficial)
Interceptions – 0
TD – 0

Awards & Honors:
AFL Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-AFL: AP, UPI, NEA, NY Daily News
1st team All-Western Division: Sporting News
AFL All-Star Game

Oilers went 9-4-1 to finish first in the AFL Eastern Division while leading the league in fewest points (199) and touchdowns (17) allowed. Lost AFL Championship to Oakland Raiders (40-7).

Webster was a consensus first-team All-AFL selection and AFL All-Star again in 1968 and ’69. A knee injury caused him to miss half the season in 1970 and limited his effectiveness in ’71. Webster was traded to Pittsburgh during the 1972 season, where he provided depth to a talented linebacking corps, and moved on to the Patriots in ’74, where he returned to the starting lineup and showed flashes of his early form. However, another knee injury in 1975 derailed the comeback and his career ended following the ’76 season. Overall, he played for ten years, and was at his best during his first three years when he was considered to be a premier outside linebacker before injuries took their toll. He was named to the All-Time AFL team that was selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.


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). 

June 12, 2014

MVP Profile: Mike Singletary, 1988

Linebacker, Chicago Bears

Age:  30 (Oct. 9)
8th season in pro football & with Bears
College: Baylor
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 228

Singletary was taken by the Bears in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft and moved into the starting middle linebacker position during his rookie year. While there initially was concern about his lack of ideal size, by his third season in 1983 he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first of 10 straight years and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1984. Initially taken out of games in passing situations, he became adept at pass coverage as well as defense against the run. Singletary’s ability to dominate the middle of the field was a key component in defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan’s stifling 46 defense and he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985, a season in which the Bears achieved victory in the Super Bowl. Singletary continued to star in the middle of Chicago’s defense, which ranked at the top of the league for the third straight year in 1986.

1988 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 1
Interceptions – 1
Int. yards – 13
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Fumble recovery TDs – 0
Tackles – 170

Postseason: 2 G
Sacks – 0
Interceptions – 0
TD – 0

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

Bears went 12-4 to finish first in the NFC Central while leading the NFL in fewest rushing yards (1326) and fewest points allowed (215). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Philadelphia Eagles (20-12). Lost NFC Championship to San Francisco 49ers (28-3).

Singletary played for another four seasons and went to the Pro Bowl after each while also continuing to be a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in two of the next three years (a total of seven times overall, in addition to the 10 Pro Bowl selections), a tribute to his toughness and work ethic. He appeared in 172 regular season games and 12 more in the postseason on his way to induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1998.


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). Also includes Associated Press NFL Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

June 10, 2014

1985: Walker Passes Dickerson as Generals Defeat Bulls

RB Herschel Walker had become one of the most notable players in the United States Football League from the moment he passed up his senior year at Georgia to sign with the New Jersey Generals of the new Spring league in 1983. Walker had been a Heisman Trophy contender from his freshman year, winning the award as a junior, and thus expectations were high – and despite his achievements, the criticism often was sharp as well. He started slowly in ’83 but went on to win the USFL’s first rushing title with 1812 yards. Playing with a sore shoulder, he had a lesser year in ’84, but in his third season he was rolling up yards at a pace that not only put him at the top of his league’s rushing standings but also in competition with the NFL record of 2105 yards that Eric Dickerson of the Rams had set just the previous Fall. That record had been set over the course of 16 games and, coming into New Jersey’s 16th game on June 10, Walker had a string of nine straight 100-yard rushing games and was just 138 yards behind.

New Jersey, coached by Walt Michaels, was without injured QB Doug Flutie, who had suffered a broken collar bone the previous week. With backup Ron Reeves starting in his place, Walker could be expected to carry more of the load, along with FB Maurice Carthon.

The opposing Jacksonville Bulls, under the direction of offensive-minded Head Coach Lindy Infante, were also without their starting quarterback as Brian Sipe had suffered a separated shoulder, although backup Ed Luther had NFL experience. RB Mike Rozier, Walker’s successor as Heisman Trophy winner in 1983, was the third-ranking rusher in the USFL (he would finish second) and the defense was benefiting from the play of rookie DE Keith Millard and second-year LB Vaughan Johnson.

The Generals, with a 10-5 record, needed a win to clinch a playoff spot while the Bulls, at 8-7, were struggling to remain in contention, although they had beaten New Jersey in their previous meeting in Jacksonville.

There were 36,465 fans on hand for the Monday night game at Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The Generals scored first when Roger Ruzek capped a long initial possession with a 27-yard field goal.

Following a short series by the Bulls, another long and methodical New Jersey drive ended when Reeves threw to TE Sam Bowers for a five-yard touchdown. Ruzek added the extra point that made it 10-0. It got worse for the Bulls when they fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and early in the second quarter, Walker ran four yards for another TD.

Thus far, the home team had dominated the game, but two turnovers by the Generals allowed the Bulls to get back into the contest. First, Jacksonville had to punt following the next series but it was New Jersey’s turn to muff the kick and the Bulls recovered at the Generals’ 43. The visitors drove to the 15 before the series stalled and Brian Franco kicked a 28-yard field goal.

The next New Jersey series ended when a third down pass by Reeves was intercepted by safety Van Jakes. Luther passed the Bulls down the field and Mike Rozier ran the last five yards for a TD. Franco successfully converted to make it a seven-point game. However, the Generals had time for one more possession in the half and drove to another score, with Maurice Carthon running in for a touchdown from 15 yards out. The tally was 24-10 at the half.

Midway through the third quarter, and on the first play following a Jacksonville punt, Walker ran up the middle and broke two tackles on the way to a 55-yard touchdown that put him ahead of Dickerson. It also gave the Generals a 31-10 lead.

Behind by three touchdowns, the Bulls fought back in the fourth quarter. A blocked punt late in the third period gave Jacksonville the ball in New Jersey territory, and early in the final period it paid off when Luther threw to TE Robert Young for a seven-yard touchdown. Franco successfully added the extra point.

The Generals appeared to have the game in hand when the Bulls failed to convert a fourth down with 6:32 remaining on the clock, but a fumble by Walker’s backup, RB Rod Pegues, gave the visitors the ball again at the New Jersey 45. The Bulls made the most of the opportunity, driving to another Luther-to-Young TD connection, this time covering nine yards. Franco again added the PAT and it was a seven-point contest.

The Generals were unable to handle the ensuing pooched kickoff and Jacksonville DB Rodney McMillan recovered the ball at the New Jersey three with 3:10 left on the clock, giving the Bulls a good shot at potentially tying the score. But in dramatic fashion, the Generals kept them out of the end zone on four straight plays to hold on for the 31-24 win.

New Jersey led in total yards (313 to 267) and first downs (18 to 17). Of that yardage total, the Generals generated 230 on the ground. However, they also hurt themselves with four turnovers, to two suffered by the Bulls.

Herschel Walker rushed for 162 yards on 28 carries that included two touchdowns, bringing his season total to 2129 yards. Maurice Carthon contributed another 49 yards on 9 attempts that included a score. Ron Reeves threw just 13 passes and completed 7 for 83 yards with a TD and an interception. Walker was one of three Generals that caught two passes apiece and Sam Bowers led the club with 37 yards on his pair.

For the Bulls, Ed Luther completed 24 of 44 throws for 209 yards and the two late touchdowns as well as giving up one interception.  Mike Rozier ran for 51 yards on 16 carries and led the club with 8 catches, for 45 yards. WR Alton Alexis gained 58 yards on his four receptions.

“Records are very important, no doubt, but then again, a win is just as important,” said Herschel Walker. “If we had lost the game, I don’t think the record would have meant as much.”

The win clinched a postseason spot for New Jersey while the Bulls were eliminated from contention. The Generals finished at 11-7 and in second place in the Eastern Conference. They lost to the Baltimore Stars in the Quarterfinal playoff round. Jacksonville placed sixth in the conference with a 9-9 record.

Herschel Walker finished up with 2411 yards on 438 carries (5.5 avg.) and also led the USFL with 22 touchdowns (21 rushing). He received unanimous Player of the Year as well as All-league honors and, with the demise of the league, moved on to the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL.

June 8, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Mike Thomas, 1975

Halfback, Washington Redskins

Age:  22
College: Nevada – Las Vegas
Height: 5’11” Weight: 190

As a college freshman at Oklahoma, Thomas ran 90 yards for a touchdown on his first carry, but an injury finished his season and he transferred to UNLV. In two years, he rushed for 3149 yards, which set a school record, and scored 40 TDs. Thomas was chosen by the Redskins in the fifth round of the 1975 NFL draft. While Head Coach George Allen was notorious for not starting rookies, injuries to veteran HB Larry Brown necessitated the insertion of Thomas into the lineup.

1975 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 235 [8]
Most attempts, game - 27 (for 124 yds.) at Cleveland 10/26
Yards – 919 [10]
Most yards, game – 124 yards (on 27 carries) at Cleveland 10/26
Average gain – 3.9
TDs – 4
100-yard rushing games – 3

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 40      
Most receptions, game – 5 (for 52 yds.) at Philadelphia 10/5, (for 72 yds.) at Houston 10/19, (for 33 yds.) at Atlanta 12/7
Yards – 483
Most yards, game – 74 (on 4 catches) vs. Minnesota 11/30
Average gain – 12.1
TDs – 3

All-Purpose yards – 1402 [10]

TDs – 7
Points – 42

Awards & Honors:
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA (co-winner)
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI

Redskins went 8-6 to finish third in the NFC East while leading the NFC in passing yards (2917).

Thomas followed up with a Pro Bowl year in 1976 in which he rushed for a career-high 1101 yards. Playing hurt in ’77, and with a more crowded backfield situation, he gained 806 yards on the ground and, after playing out his option in a 1978 season in which he gained 920 yards from scrimmage (533 rushing, 387 receiving), Thomas was dealt to the San Diego Chargers. With the pass-oriented Chargers, and splitting time with Clarence Williams, Thomas gained more receiving yards (388 on 32 catches) than rushing yards (353 on 91 attempts) and he played one more year, gaining 484 yards on the ground and 218 through the air, before his career came to an end. Overall, he rushed for 4196 yards on 1087 carries (3359 yards on 878 attempts with the Redskins)  and caught 192 passes for 2011 yards (131 and 1405, respectively, with Washington), scoring a total of 30 touchdowns and going to the Pro Bowl once.


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).