August 31, 2014

1997: Eddie George Runs for 216 Yards as Oilers Beat Raiders in Tennessee Debut

The team that had been known as the Houston Oilers for 37 years began a new chapter as a Tennessee-based franchise on August 31, 1997. Coached by Jeff Fisher, the Oilers were coming off of an 8-8 record in ’96. While they faded badly after getting off to a 5-2 start, they were a rebuilding team that also showed improvement and had young talent at key positions. Mobile third-year QB Steve McNair was heading into his first season as the starter, with veteran Chris Chandler having been dealt away during the offseason. RB Eddie George (pictured at right) rushed for 1368 yards and received Rookie of the Year recognition, and he was expected to carry even more of a load in his second year.

The team they were facing in the opening week was the Raiders, who had returned to Oakland two years before after a 13-season sojourn in Los Angeles. The Raiders were coming off a 7-9 tally in 1996 and had made changes at head coach, where Joe Bugel was replacing Mike White, and quarterback, with the talented but immature Jeff George taking over from Jeff Hostetler. They also had a fine runner in Napoleon Kaufman and a reliable receiver in WR Tim Brown. However, the defense was full of question marks.

There was a disappointing crowd of 30,171 in attendance at the 62,300-seat Liberty Bowl in Memphis, which was to serve as a first-year home for the Nashville-bound club, on a damp and hazy day, and many of them were there to support the visiting Raiders.

The teams exchanged punts to start the game. Commencing their second possession from their own nine yard line, the Raiders suffered a turnover when Napoleon Kaufman fumbled after catching a pass from Jeff George and the LB Lonnie Marts recovered for the Oilers at the 20. Four plays later, Al Del Greco kicked a 30-yard field goal to put the home team in front by 3-0.

Oakland responded by moving into Tennessee territory when George threw to TE Rickey Dudley for a 26-yard gain. Two runs by Kaufman gained nine yards but a third down option pass was incomplete and Cole Ford’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide to the left.

The Oilers came back with a five-play, 63-yard drive that featured a pass from Steve McNair to WR Willie Davis that picked up 21 yards to the Oakland 38. Another pass by McNair resulted in a 48-yard touchdown completion to WR Chris Sanders. Del Greco added the extra point and Tennessee took a 10-0 lead into the second quarter.

Following a punt by the Raiders, Tennessee’s next series ended with McNair being intercepted by SS James Trapp to give Oakland good starting field position at the Oilers’ 49. However, after advancing to the 37, the visitors lost ground and once again had to punt. Oakland again got the ball back on a turnover, this time a fumble by WR Derrick Mason, and again failed to capitalize. The half ended with the Oilers ahead by ten, and Eddie George had already gained 95 yards rushing.

Tennessee started off the third quarter with a 14-play series that covered 47 yards, converting two third downs along the way, and finishing up with Del Greco kicking a 37-yard field goal. But down by 13 points, the Raiders struck quickly on their next possession. On the second play, George completed a pass to Tim Brown for a 59-yard touchdown and, with Ford’s successful conversion, the tally stood at 13-7.

Following a short series by the Oilers that resulted in a punt, Oakland put together another scoring drive that stretched into the final period and was helped along by a pass interference penalty in a third-and-nine situation. George completed passes to Brown for 19 and 13 yards along the way and capped the nine-play, 75-yard possession with another throw to Brown for a 27-yard TD. With Ford’s extra point, the Raiders were in the lead by 14-13.

The teams traded punts before Tennessee put together a 90-yard series that took 13 plays. The last six were all runs by George, the final carry good for a 29-yard touchdown. George then successfully ran for a two-point conversion and, with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, the Oilers were back in the lead at 21-14.

The Raiders started off from their own 47 following a 34-yard kickoff return by RB Tim Hall. George completed four straight passes, the longest covering 18 yards to WR Olanda Truitt, to get to the Tennessee 16. The next three throws fell incomplete and, while RB Derrick Fenner ran for seven yards, two sacks had the Raiders back at the 16 and facing fourth-and-goal and the clock down to 28 seconds. However, George tossed a bullet to Brown between two defenders for a TD and, with Ford adding the all-important extra point, the game was tied at 21-21 and went into overtime.

Tennessee had the first possession in the extra period but went three-and-out and had to punt. The Raiders were no more successful and punted in turn. Starting at their 35, the Oilers got two pass completions from McNair to TE Frank Wycheck, one for 21 yards and then for 10 to reach the Oakland 32. McNair ran the ball himself around end for 11 more yards and, after George went up the middle for six yards, Del Greco came in to kick the decisive field goal from 33 yards. The Oilers came away the winner in their first game as a Tennessee team by the final score of 24-21.

Tennessee had more total yards (419 to 332), with 255 yards of that total coming on the ground, and also had the edge in first downs (20 to 17). The Oilers also turned the ball over twice, to one turnover suffered by Oakland. Each team recorded three sacks.

Eddie George rushed for 216 yards on 35 carries that included a touchdown – it was the second-highest opening-game rushing total in NFL history at the time. Steve McNair completed 13 of 25 passes for 182 yards and had one TD as well as one interception. He further contributed 23 yards on the ground. RB Ronnie Harmon caught 5 passes for 50 yards and Chris Sanders gained 51 yards on his two receptions that included a touchdown. Al Del Greco was successful on all three of his field goal attempts, including the game-winner in overtime.

For the Raiders, Jeff George (pictured at left) was successful on 21 of 37 throws for 298 yards and three TDs with none intercepted. Tim Brown caught 8 of those passes for 158 yards and three scores. Napoleon Kauffman ran for just 32 yards on 12 carries.

Coach Jeff Fisher awarded a game ball to Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, but garbled the presentation by saying “This is from the Hou…er, Tennessee… Oilers organization.”

The Week 1 win was followed by four consecutive losses before the Oilers won six of their next eight contests and finished up with another 8-8 season that placed them third in the AFC Central. Practicing in Nashville, 210 miles away, while playing before sparse crowds in Memphis hurt, and the team moved to Nashville’s Vanderbilt Stadium in 1998 before finally coming to rest in a newly-constructed stadium in ’99 – and with a new name, the Titans, as well.

The Raiders dropped to 4-12, tying with San Diego at the bottom of the AFC West. While Jeff George passed for a league-leading 3917 yards and topped the AFC with 29 TD passes and Tim Brown caught 104 passes for 1408 yards, they could not make up for poor defensive play.

Eddie George went on to rush for 1399 yards on 357 carries (3.9 avg.) and was chosen to the Pro Bowl for the first of four straight seasons. The 216-yard performance against Oakland remained his career high.

August 30, 2014

1945: Hutson TD on Interception Caps Win for Packers Over College All-Stars

The 12th College All-Star Game on August 30, 1945 featured the Green Bay Packers, NFL Champions of the previous year, against an All-Star team coached by Bernie Bierman of Minnesota. The Packers, appearing in the annual contest for the third time, were coached by Curly Lambeau and featured end Don Hutson (pictured above), the NFL’s top receiver and scorer, who would also prove his value as a defensive back.

Bernie Bierman was head coach of the All-Stars for the second time, having been coach when the collegians tied the Detroit Lions in 1936. The roster featured future pro stars such as halfbacks Charlie Trippi of Georgia (pictured below) and Tom Harmon of Michigan, tackles Bill Willis from Ohio State and Purdue’s Dick Barwegan, who had all appeared in prior All-Star Games due to the liberalized wartime eligibility rules that allowed underclassmen to play.

There were 92,753 fans in attendance at Soldier Field on a very hot night, most of them rooting for the collegians, but the All-Stars were rarely able to dent the Packers, and were hurt by turnovers when they did. Green Bay took the opening kickoff and, with tailback Irv Comp passing effectively, the Packers drove to the All-Star 12 yard line and Don Hutson kicked a 20-yard field goal.

A quick kick by Charlie Trippi pinned the pro champs back and gave the All-Stars good field position on the ensuing punt, but C/LB Charley Brock intercepted a pass on his eight yard line and returned it 25 yards.

The Packers reached the All-Star 20 on the first play of the second quarter thanks to a run by FB Don Perkins, but a pass into the end zone was intercepted by Washington State FB/DB Bob Kennedy. However, after crossing the goal line, he retreated back into the end zone and was tackled for a safety. Instead of giving the ball up on a turnover, Green Bay was ahead by an extended margin of 5-0.

Following a fumble by Texas Tech FB Walter Schlinkman that was recovered by tackle Buford “Baby” Ray, the Packers struck quickly on a 20-yard touchdown pass from tailback Tex McKay to HB Herman Rohrig. Hutson added the point after to lengthen Green Bay’s lead to 12-0.

The All-Stars responded by moving well on offense and scoring on a pass from Kennedy to St. Joseph end Nick Scollard that covered 63 yards, with the receiver evading one defender and going the last 20 yards unmolested. Tom Harmon kicked the extra point and the tally remained 12-7 at the half.

The All-Stars got a break in the third quarter when Comp fumbled when hit by Bill Willis and G Damon Tassos of Texas A & M recovered at the Green Bay 34. The All-Stars, however, once again came up empty.

The Packers passed their way to midfield but a long throw by HB Lou Brock was picked off by Trippi at the eight, and he returned it to the 34. Any momentum shift ended when Harmon, caught from behind by Hutson and end Clyde Goodnight after breaking away for a 46-yard gain, fumbled and Brock recovered for the defending champs. However, the All-Stars got the ball back on the last play of the period when Indiana tackle Ed Bell recovered a fumble by HB Joe Laws at the Green Bay 31.

It looked like trouble for the Packers until Hutson intercepted a pass by HB Perry Moss from Tulsa on his own 15 and returned it 85 yards for a game-breaking touchdown. For good measure, Hutson also kicked the extra point.

The All-Stars threatened once more when Trippi intercepted a pass, returning it to the Green Bay two before being knocked out of bounds, and out of the game, by Laws. After the collegians were flagged for being offside, Ohio State QB Les Horvath fumbled and end Harry Jacunski recovered for the Packers at the 17 to end the threat. The final score was 19-7 for the Packers.

The All-Stars had more yards through the air (162 to 95) while the Packers outgained the collegians on the ground (132 yards to 68). Green Bay had the edge in first downs (15 to 12). Don Hutson accounted for 11 points on a touchdown, field goal, and two extra points.

The win for Green Bay put the NFL ahead of the collegians in the series by seven to three, with two ties. The Packers went on to post a 6-4 record in the regular season, finishing third in the Western Division. Don Hutson, in his final year, led the NFL in pass receptions for the eighth time with 47 catches and scored 97 points, which ranked second in the league.

Charlie Trippi, the MVP for the All-Stars, went on to a nine-year career with the Chicago Cardinals that resulted in his being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He would go on to appear in one more College All-Star Game, this time as a member of the Cards in 1948.

August 29, 2014

1935: Bears Shut Out College All-Stars

The second edition of the College All-Star Game, played on August 29, 1935 for the benefit of Chicago charities, was the first (and only) in the series in which the team representing the professionals was not the defending NFL (or, later, Super Bowl) champion. The Chicago Bears, back for a second straight year after playing to a scoreless tie in the inaugural event, had gone undefeated in topping the Western Division in 1934 but lost the title game to the Giants.

The Bears, coached by George Halas, were hindered by injuries to FB Bronko Nagurski and HB Gene Ronzani , both of whom played only briefly, and were also without their regular quarterbacks, Carl Brumbaugh and Keith Molesworth.

The All-Stars, who were picked by the votes of over 737,000 fans, were coached by Alabama’s Frank Thomas and contained future Hall of Fame end Don Hutson out of Alabama, future Green Bay coach Phil Bengtson, a tackle from Minnesota, and future President of the United States Gerald Ford, a center who starred at Michigan.

There was a big crowd of 77,450 in attendance at Soldier Field for the Thursday night game with heavy rain falling throughout much of the contest. The Bears got on the board in the first quarter of what quickly turned into a defensive struggle. Carries of 18 and 12 yards by HB Beattie Feathers (pictured above) put the ball on the All-Star three yard line, but Chicago was unable to cross the goal line in the next three plays and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Jack Manders.

That was it until the final period. The collegians got a break at one point when Chicago drew a 15-yard penalty after reaching the All-Star two and came up empty, but by and large the teams punted often while maneuvering for field position.

In the fourth quarter, HB Bill Shepherd of Western Maryland, attempting to punt from his own end zone, dropped the ball as he fielded a bad snap and was smothered for a safety by the Bears. Still, the All-Stars nearly managed to pull the game out. They got their best field position of the game at the Chicago 42 thanks to a short punt. Following a one-yard run, Shepherd took off around end for 14 yards and then Don Hutson ran the ball on a reverse and reached the eight yard line. However, at that point the Bears held on defense and the All-Stars were forced to give up the ball on downs. Chicago came away the winner by a final score of 5-0.

The Bears had the advantage in total yards (166 to 127) and first downs (10 to 6). Each team punted 14 times and both had just two pass completions apiece due to the weather conditions, on nine attempts by the All-Stars and 11 by Chicago. The Bears were hurt by 112 yards in penalties.

Bill Shepherd and tackle Tony Blazine of Illinois Wesleyan had the most noteworthy performances for the All-Stars. Beattie Feathers, who had been a participant the previous year as a member of the All-Stars, played well for the Bears, with some effective line-drive punts as well as his running.

“It was that damned rain,” said Coach Thomas of the All-Stars, explaining his squad’s defeat. “It turned what started out to be a great wide-open game into a battle where the style was cramped.”

The Bears went 6-4-2 during the regular season, which, with all of the Western Division teams finishing with winning records, placed them third behind the Lions and Packers. They would go on to play in a total of seven College All-Star Games, compiling a record of 5-1-1.

Bill Shepherd started off the 1935 season with the Boston Redskins, but was traded to Detroit and was a component of the Lions’ outstanding ground attack on the way to winning the NFL Championship. He received second-team All-NFL honors from UPI and the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Shepherd stayed with the Lions for five more years and continued to be a key player in the backfield.

August 27, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Claude Humphrey, 1968

Defensive End, Atlanta Falcons

Age: 24
College: Tennessee State
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 255

Following a college career that was capped by receiving All-American honors in 1967 from The Sporting News and Time magazine, Humphrey was chosen in the first round (third overall) by the Falcons in the 1968 AFL/NFL combined draft. He moved directly into the starting lineup and made an impact with his skill as a pass rusher.

1968 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 11.5 (unofficial)
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 3

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

Falcons went 2-12 to finish fourth in the Coastal Division of the NFL Western Conference.  

Humphrey continued to develop in 1969, receiving second-team All-NFL honors from NEA and UPI, and was chosen to the Pro Bowl for the first of five straight years in ’70. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1972 and ’73. Humphrey missed only two games in his first seven years, but lost all of 1975 due to a major knee injury. He came back in ’76 to achieve an unofficial career high in sacks with 15 and was back in the Pro Bowl in 1977, a season in which the Falcons defense excelled and gave up just 129 points. However, four games into the ’78 season Humphrey abruptly retired. The Falcons traded him to the Philadelphia in the offseason, and he came back with the Eagles to play another three years that included a NFC Championship in ’80. Utilized as a pass rushing specialist in his last two seasons, he was credited with 14.5 sacks in 1980. Overall, he played in 171 games over 13 seasons and, while sacks were not yet officially compiled, he was unofficially credited with 122 over that time. In addition to twice being a consensus first-team All-NFL choice, he received at least second-team or all-conference selections after six other seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl on six occasions as well. Humphrey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2014.


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).

August 26, 2014

Highlighted Year: Ashley Ambrose, 1996

Cornerback, Cincinnati Bengals

Age: 26 (Sept. 17)
5th season in pro football, 1st with Bengals
College: Mississippi Valley State
Height: 5’10” Weight: 192

Ambrose was chosen by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 1992 NFL draft. While he displayed talent on coverage, he was also inconsistent and failed to live up to expectations. He intercepted five passes, all in his last two years in Indianapolis, and had a good postseason as Indianapolis advanced to the AFC Championship game in 1995. Ambrose moved on to the Bengals as a free agent for ‘96.

1996 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 8 [3]
Most interceptions, game – 2 at San Diego 9/8
Int. return yards – 63
Most int. return yards, game – 31 (on 1 int.) at Buffalo 11/17
Int. TDs – 1 [4, tied with many]
Sacks – 0
Fumble recoveries – 0
Forced fumbles – 1
Tackles – 44
Assists – 6

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Bengals went 8-8 to finish third in the AFC Central and led the NFL with 34 interceptions.

Ambrose followed up his breakout year with another solid effort in 1997, but problems at the other cornerback position combined with a deficient pass rush made it more challenging. After three years in Cincinnati, he moved on to the Saints in ’99 and then signed with Atlanta in 2000, where he combined with Ray Buchanan to create a fine cornerback tandem. Making up for diminishing speed with savvy, Ambrose spent three seasons with the Falcons before returning to New Orleans in 2003 for his final two years (he signed with the Chiefs in 2005, but was released prior to the regular season). Over the course of 13 seasons, Ambrose intercepted 42 passes, three of which he returned for touchdowns. He overcame a slow start with the Colts to become a good, if not spectacular, NFL cornerback and 1996 remained the only season in which he received All-NFL and Pro Bowl recognition. Afterward, Ambrose went on to become an assistant coach at the college level.


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

August 24, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Jim Haslett, 1979

Linebacker, Buffalo Bills

Age: 24 (Dec. 9)
College: Indiana (PA)
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 232

Haslett played defensive end and linebacker in college and set school season records for sacks (20) and fumble recoveries (5). A three-time Little All-American, he appeared in the Blue-Gray All-Star Game following the 1978 season and was chosen by the Bills in the second round of the 1979 NFL draft despite his coming out of a small school. Benefiting from top draft pick Tom Cousineau’s decision to play in the CFL instead, Haslett moved directly into the starting lineup at left inside linebacker.

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

Sacks – N/A
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 2 at New England 11/25
Int. return yards – 15
Most int. return yards, game – 15 (on 2 int.) at New England 11/25
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 2
Fumble rec. TDs – 0
Tackles – 124

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

Bills went 7-9 to finish fourth in the AFC East.  

The Buffalo defense topped the NFL in 1980 and Haslett continued to be a key player, especially against the run. Injuries became a factor as the unit went into decline and Haslett himself was limited to five games in 1983, but he continued to be a steady performer who regularly was among the team’s leaders in tackles. A broken leg suffered in Buffalo’s final preseason game cost him the ’86 season and, while he saw some action with the Jets in 1987, his career was effectively finished. Overall, he appeared in 94 games over eight seasons, and started 86 of them. He went on to a coaching career that included head coaching stints with the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams (interim) in the NFL and the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League.


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). 

August 23, 2014

1964: Rams Trade Jon Arnett to Bears

On August 23, 1964 the Chicago Bears picked up HB Jon Arnett from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for G Roger Davis, a five-year veteran; C Joe Wendryhoski, a first-year NFL player from Illinois who had been All-Big 10 and had seen action in the CFL; and rookie DB Frank Budka from Notre Dame, who had been a college quarterback.

The 29-year-old Arnett was 5’11” and 195 pounds and had been LA’s first draft choice out of USC in 1957, the second pick overall and ahead of FB Jim Brown, who the Browns took four picks later. A former gymnast as well as hurdler, he was highly regarded in college for his speed, balance, and running instincts and made an immediate impression by leading the NFL in kickoff returns as a rookie. “Jaguar Jon” also saw action at halfback and rushed for 347 yards while gaining another 322 yards as a pass receiver who averaged 17.9 yards on his 18 catches.  He was named to the Pro Bowl for the first of five consecutive seasons.

Arnett was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1958 as he moved into the starting lineup and gained 1177 yards from scrimmage (683 on 133 rushing attempts, 494 on 35 pass receptions). He led the league in punt return average (12.4) and continued to return kickoffs. His greatest single-game performance came at home against the Bears as he accumulated 295 total yards, although he failed to score a touchdown. His 1731 all-purpose yards ranked second in the NFL, just eight behind Jim Brown.

The ’58 season proved to be his most productive – it was also the last time the Rams would finish with a winning record while he was with them. Arnett was used more as a spot player, splitting out to flanker as well as lining up at halfback, but he continued to receive Pro Bowl recognition for his all-purpose contributions that included some spectacular plays, such as a 105-yard kickoff return in 1961. Injuries became a factor and he was bothered by a bad knee in 1963 and, prior to the trade, had seen little action during the ’64 preseason.

The Bears, defending league champions, were in need of a halfback following the death of seven-year veteran Willie Galimore in a car accident during training camp. They also had HB Ronnie Bull on the roster, the league’s top rookie in 1962, who was versatile but lacked speed.

Arnett split time with Bull at halfback and led the team in rushing with 400 yards on 119 carries for a mediocre 3.4-yard average. Overall, the Bears had the NFL’s least-productive ground game in ’64 as the team dropped all the way to sixth place in the Western Conference. While still an effective runner at times, Arnett no longer had the speed that had made him a star with the Rams.

The arrival of rookie HB Gale Sayers from Kansas in 1965 relegated Arnett to a backup role in his last two seasons. He retired after the ’66 season, having gained 10,214 all-purpose yards (3833 rushing, 2290 pass receiving, 981 returning punts, and 3110 running back kickoffs) and scored 39 touchdowns.

As for the players that the Rams received for Arnett, Roger Davis was the most experienced, having been taken in the first round of the 1960 NFL draft out of Syracuse, where he had been a star on the 1959 national championship team. He moved into the starting lineup at right guard and spent one year with the Rams before moving on to the New York Giants in 1965. Joe Wendryhoski was with the Rams for three seasons before moving on to the expansion Saints in ’67. Frank Budka was around for just one NFL season, playing as a defensive back and later moving on to the Continental Football League. Moreover, the Rams continued to lose more often than they won in 1964 and ’65, finally turning around under Head Coach George Allen in 1966.

August 21, 2014

1974: Late Scores Boost Americans Over Sharks

The Birmingham Americans were undefeated at 6-0 as they took on the reeling Jacksonville Sharks in a World Football League game on August 21, 1974. Head Coach Jack Gotta’s team featured ten-year veteran George Mira at quarterback and, as his backup, Matthew Reed (pictured above), who was proving to be effective coming off the bench. Reed, a big quarterback at 6’4” and 230 pounds, had been a very productive passer at Grambling but could only get tryouts at tight end in the NFL with Buffalo, Denver, and New Orleans, and was originally signed by the Americans at that position. Both quarterbacks were helped by the presence of two productive wide receivers in Dennis Homan and Alfred Jenkins.

For the Sharks, it was the first game for Charlie Tate as head coach in place of Bud Asher, who was dismissed after the team’s record dropped to 2-4 the previous week. RB Tommy Durrance was leading the WFL in rushing with 443 yards, and rookie Reggie Oliver from the University of Miami was a promising quarterback, when healthy. But while there was plenty of experience on the roster, the Sharks were having trouble winning close contests.

It was a rainy Wednesday night at the Gator Bowl with 27,140 fans in attendance. Neither offense performed well during the first half. Grant Guthrie kicked a field goal from 31 yards late in the first quarter to stake the Sharks to the lead and added another from 51 yards in the third quarter. Five times during the first three periods the Jacksonville defense stopped Birmingham drives inside its 25 yard line. Safety Ron Coppenbarger had two fumble recoveries and an interception to cap three of those stops.

The score remained 6-0 heading into the fourth quarter, at which point the steady rain finally stopped. In addition, Matthew Reed had come in at quarterback for the Americans after George Mira reinjured his ankle.

Early in the final period, Reed connected with Alfred Jenkins for a 27-yard touchdown that finished off a five-play, 40-yard series. The Americans failed to add the action point, but were ahead by 7-6 (in the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and were followed by an “action point” that could not be kicked).

The teams exchanged punts before Jacksonville put together an 88-yard drive that put them ahead by 14-7 with just over a minute remaining. Tommy Durrance ran the final five yards for the touchdown, to the delight of the home crowd. The series included a successful fourth down conversion in their own territory and Reggie Oliver completed four passes along the way. The Sharks failed to add the action point, but were in front and seemed poised for an upset.

The ensuing kickoff was short and returned to the Jacksonville 47 by RB Jimmy Edwards, who nearly broke free. With time running down, Reed tossed a screen pass to HB Paul Robinson for 11 yards and a throw to WR Denny Duron gained another 11. Reed, under pressure, completed a pass to TE Jim Bishop that picked up 19 yards to the Jacksonville six and, three plays later, the Americans scored again with 19 seconds left on the clock when FB Charlie Harraway bulled over for a touchdown from two yards out. Reed rolled out and ran for the all-important action point and the Americans pulled out the dramatic win by a final score of 15-14.

Birmingham outgained the Sharks (315 yards to 200) and had more first downs (19 to 12). The Americans turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by Jacksonville.

Reed completed 7 of 12 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. George Mira was successful on just 6 of 17 throws for 68 yards and was picked off once. Jimmy Edwards rushed for 62 yards on 9 carries and Charlie Harraway was right behind at 60 yards on 13 attempts that included a TD. Dennis Homan caught four passes for 55 yards and Alfred Jenkins contributed three catches for 48 yards and a score.

For the Sharks, Reggie Oliver made good on 7 of 17 passes for 108 yards and was intercepted twice. Tommy Durrance gained 42 yards on 16 rushing attempts that included a touchdown and RB Ricky Lake accumulated 35 yards on 13 carries. WR Tom Whittier caught three passes for 61 yards.

“It was a superlative effort by Matthew Reed that kept us unbeaten,” summed up Coach Jack Gotta. “He’s one of the great pure passers in football.”

Birmingham went on to place second in the Central Division at 15-5 and proceeded to win the first (and only) WFL Championship. The Sharks failed to last the season. Despite respectable fan support, the team was woefully mismanaged and folded after fourteen weeks with a 4-10 record.

Matthew Reed continued to excel in a relief role at quarterback and passed for 1345 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 176 yards on 40 carries that included three for scores.

August 19, 2014

Highlighted Year: Ed Brown, 1956

Quarterback, Chicago Bears

Age:  28 (Oct. 26)
3rd season in pro football & with Bears
College: San Francisco
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 205

Brown was the starting quarterback for the undefeated 1951 Univ. of San Francisco team and then went into the Marines for two years. He was chosen by the Bears in the sixth round of the ’52 NFL draft and joined them in 1954 as backup to George Blanda and Zeke Bratkowski. With Bratkowski leaving for military duty, Brown took over the starting job in 1955 as well as handling the punting. He threw for 1307 yards and nine touchdowns and was chosen to the Pro Bowl. With a strong arm, he quickly established himself as the best deep passer in the league.

1956 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 168 [8]
Most attempts, game - 19 vs. LA Rams 11/18
Completions – 96 [6]
Most completions, game - 13 vs. LA Rams 11/18
Yards – 1667 [3]
Most yards, game - 271 vs. LA Rams 11/18
Completion percentage – 57.1 [1]
Yards per attempt – 9.9 [1]
TD passes – 11 [3]
Most TD passes, game – 2 at Baltimore 9/30, at Green Bay 10/7, vs. Baltimore 10/21
Interceptions – 12 [6, tied with Norm Van Brocklin & Y.A. Tittle]
Passer rating – 83.1 [1]
200-yard  passing games - 1

Attempts – 40
Yards – 164
Yards per attempt – 4.1
TDs – 1

Punts – 42 [7, tied with Yale Lary]
Yards – 1644 [8]
Average – 39.1 [9]
Punts blocked – 1
Longest punt – 53 yards

TDs – 2
Points - 12

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship at NY Giants)
Pass attempts – 20
Pass completions – 8
Passing yardage – 97
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 1

Rushing attempts – 5
Rushing yards – -3
Average gain rushing – -0.6
Rushing TDs – 0

Punts – 6
Punt yards – 255
Punt avg. – 42.5

Awards & Honors:
Pro Bowl

Bears went 9-2-1 to finish first in the NFL Western Conference while leading the league in total yards (4537), rushing yards (2468), touchdowns (47), and scoring (363 points). Lost NFL Championship to New York Giants (47-7).

Brown split time, primarily with Bratkowski, over the next few years and his performance suffered. He achieved highs for his career with the Bears with 1881 yards and 13 TD passes in 1959, and completed 50.6 percent of his passes, the only time he completed more than half of his passes between 1956 and ‘62. Brown lost the starting job to newcomer Bill Wade in 1961 and was traded to Pittsburgh, where he backed up Bobby Layne for a year before taking over the starting job in ’63. The Steelers contended and Brown passed for 2982 yards and 21 TDs but came up short in the climactic battle for the Eastern Conference crown against the Giants. He lasted two more seasons, with diminishing returns, finishing up with the Colts in 1965 who obtained him after injuries depleted the quarterback corps and HB Tom Matte was pressed into service behind center. Overall, Brown passed for 15,600 yards and 102 TDs, and while he averaged 7.9 yards per attempt and 16.4 yards per catch, he also completed just 47.8 percent of his passes and gave up 138 interceptions. He rushed for 960 yards, mostly early in his career with the Bears before his mobility diminished. As a punter, he averaged 40.6 yards on 493 kicks. Brown was named to the Pro Bowl twice.


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

[Updated 2/21/17]

August 17, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Terry Glenn, 1996

Wide Receiver, New England Patriots

Age: 22
College: Ohio State
Height: 5’10” Weight: 184

Glenn was a consensus All-American in 1995 after catching 64 passes for 1411 yards and 17 touchdowns for Ohio State. He was chosen by the Patriots in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft (seventh overall) and had an immediate impact, despite suffering a hamstring injury during training camp that kept him out of New England’s opening game, setting a then-NFL record for pass receptions by a rookie.

1996 Season Summary
Appeared in 15 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 90 [7, tied with Tim Brown]           
Most receptions, game – 10 (for 112 yds.) vs. Miami 11/3
Yards – 1132 [11]
Most yards, game – 124 (on 8 catches) at NY Giants 12/21
Average gain – 12.6
TDs – 6
100-yard receiving games – 2

Attempts – 5
Yards – 42
Average gain – 8.4
TDs – 0

TDs – 6
Points – 36

Postseason: 3 G
Pass receptions – 12
Most pass receptions, game – 5 vs. Jacksonville, AFC Championship
Pass receiving yards - 164
Most pass receiving yards, game – 69 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Divisional playoff
Average yards per reception – 13.7
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-AFC: UPI

Patriots went 11-5 to finish first in the AFC East while leading the conference in touchdowns (48) and scoring (418 points). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Pittsburgh Steelers (28-3) and AFC Championship over Jacksonville Jaguars (20-6). Lost Super Bowl to Green Bay Packers (35-21).

In what would become a chronic problem, Glenn suffered through an injury-riddled 1997 season and caught just 27 passes for 431 yards and two TDs, although he grabbed nine passes in the postseason. He again struggled with injuries in ’98, but his production improved to 50 catches and 792 yards and he was named to the Pro Bowl in 1999 after a 69-catch, 1147-yard season. While an explosive receiver with the ability to make spectacular catches, he also was criticized for inconsistency and there were questions regarding his attitude and toughness. In 2000, he played in every game for the first time as a pro and had a solid 79 receptions for 963 yards, but in 2001 he was suspended for most of the season for disciplinary reasons, missing out on New England’s Super Bowl run. Glenn was dealt to Green Bay for 2002 and moved on to Dallas in ’03, where he was reunited with his first pro head coach, Bill Parcells. A fair first year with the Cowboys was followed by a 2004 season in which a sprained foot limited him to six games. He came back to have two of his most productive years in 2005 and ’06, with 62 catches for 1136 yards and a career-best 18.3 average gain and seven touchdowns in the first year and 70 receptions for 1047 yards and six TDs in the second. However, he missed all but one game in 2007 due to a knee injury and was released, effectively ending his career. Overall, Glenn caught 593 passes for 8823 yards (14.9 avg.) and 44 touchdowns, with 329 receptions, 4669 yards, and 22 TDs coming with the Patriots. He was named to the Pro Bowl once, and there was a lingering sense that, considering his level of talent, he could have achieved much more than he did.


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). 

August 15, 2014

1961: Giants Obtain Y.A. Tittle from 49ers

On August 15, 1961 the New York Giants obtained QB Y.A. Tittle from the San Francisco 49ers in a trade for Lou Cordileone, a 23-year-old lineman. The teams had played each other just days earlier and Tittle had nearly pulled out a win for the 49ers, the Giants coming away with a 21-20 victory.

Yelberton Abraham Tittle was 34 years old and a 13-year pro veteran. He had come out of LSU to join the Baltimore Colts of the All-America Football Conference in 1948 (they picked him up from the Browns, who originally signed him, as part of the league’s “lend-lease” program to help spread talent to weaker clubs) and broke in impressively. He beat out veteran Charley O’Rourke to start and was among the league’s passing leaders while the Colts tied for first in the weak Eastern Division, losing the resulting playoff to Buffalo. The team played poorly in 1949, however, and taken into the NFL in ’50, was even worse yet. The Colts disbanded and Tittle’s rights were obtained by the 49ers.

San Francisco had an established veteran quarterback in Frankie Albert, and Tittle backed him up for a full season before moving into the starting lineup during 1952. For the next eight years, the bald-headed quarterback who looked more like the insurance agent that he was during the offseason than a star NFL signal caller was highly productive with a team that often contended in the competitive Western Conference and tied for the division title in 1957. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times and received league MVP honors from UPI in ’57. San Francisco had outstanding running backs during that period, with FB Joe Perry and halfbacks Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson the most noteworthy, as well as fine receivers in ends Billy Wilson, Gordie Soltau, and R.C. Owens.  With Owens, an outstanding jumper, Tittle developed what became known as the “Alley-Oop” play, a high arching throw that Owens, out-leaping the opposing defensive backs, would grab in key situations.

Tittle overcame injuries along the way, such as a triple-fracture of his cheekbone in a game against Detroit in 1953 and a broken left (non-throwing) hand in ’54. He was also an enthusiastic team leader who was quick to display his emotions on the field. Using a long stride and three-quarters sidearm delivery, Tittle’s passing mechanics were somewhat unorthodox, but certainly effective, and he was both patient and fearless in the pocket. At the time of the trade, his career completion percentage of 55.3 was the best among active NFL quarterbacks.

Having suffered through an injury-plagued 1960 season and, with Head Coach Red Hickey committing to a shotgun offense, Tittle no longer was a fit with the team. John Brodie, San Francisco’s first draft choice in 1957, had been developing while in the backup role and was joined by the more mobile Bill Kilmer and Bob Waters.

Tittle initially questioned whether he would report to the Giants, as he had an insurance business in California, but shortly thereafter arrived in camp. Allie Sherman, the new head coach of the Giants, indicated that Tittle would “fill the gap” between 39-year-old veteran QB Charlie Conerly and untested prospect Lee Grosscup.  Another trade brought split end Del Shofner from the Rams, which added a quality receiver to the mix.

The close-knit Giants players were initially standoffish toward Tittle, and it wasn’t helped when he went down with an injury almost immediately after joining the team. He started the 1961 season as a backup to Conerly, but in Week 2 against the Steelers he came into the game, completed his first eight passes, and the Giants won.
Tittle passed for 315 yards the next week against the Redskins and became the starter as the team returned to the top of the Eastern Conference, losing badly to Green Bay in the NFL Championship game. For his efforts, Tittle was selected to the Pro Bowl and received MVP honors from the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Conerly retired, Grosscup was let go, and Tittle went on to have a bigger year in 1962, tossing 33 touchdown passes to set a NFL record (the AFL’s George Blanda compiled 36 in 1961). He had a 505-yard, seven-TD performance against Washington along the way. The Giants again topped the Eastern Conference at 12-2, although once again they fell short against the Packers. Tittle was a consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selection and again received league MVP honors, this time from UPI.

The Giants won a third Eastern Conference title in ’63 and Tittle again achieved MVP (AP, NEA, Sporting News), All-NFL, and Pro Bowl honors while breaking his own league record with 36 TD passes and leading the league in passing overall. But torn knee ligaments suffered during the Championship game against the Bears hampered his performance. In perhaps the bitterest defeat of all, Tittle tossed five interceptions, two of which set up Chicago touchdowns, and the Giants came up on the short end by a 14-10 score.

“The Bald Eagle” returned for one more year in 1964, attempting once more to finally achieve the elusive NFL title, but time ran out for him and the Giants. The team crashed to last place with a 2-10-2 record and Tittle, battered in some of the defeats, found himself splitting time with rookie Gary Wood. It marked a miserable end of the line for the 38-year-old quarterback.

At the time of his retirement, Tittle was the NFL all-time career leader in pass attempts (3817), completions (2118), yards (28,339), and TD passes (212). Whatever his shortcomings in the postseason, he had been a highly productive passer for many years, especially during his first three seasons in New York. The Giants retired his number 14 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

As for the player that the Giants gave up for Tittle, Lou Cordileone was New York’s first draft choice in 1959, coming out of Clemson. During his rookie year, he saw action as both an offensive and defensive lineman. The 49ers hoped that he would develop into a solid player, but he lasted one year in San Francisco and became a journeyman thereafter, finishing up with New Orleans in 1968.

August 14, 2014

Highlighted Year: Michael Bates, 1996

Wide Receiver/Kick Returner, Carolina Panthers

Age: 27 (Dec. 19)
4th season in pro football, 1st with Panthers
College: Arizona
Height: 5’10” Weight: 189

Bates was a track as well as football star in college and won a bronze medal in the 200-yard dash at the 1992 Olympic games. A sixth-round draft choice of the Seattle Seahawks in ’92, he delayed his pro debut until 1993 as a result of his Olympic participation. Used as a blocking fullback in college, Bates was shifted to wide receiver by the Seahawks, but he rarely saw action on offense. In two seasons with Seattle, he returned 56 kickoffs for a 19.8-yard average while catching a total of six passes, one for a touchdown. He was also good on kick coverage, but three concussions suffered in 1993 raised concerns. Waived by the Seahawks, he spent 1995 with the Browns before being dealt to Carolina.

1996 Season Summary
Appeared in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 33 [17, tied with Tamarick Vanover]
Yards – 998 [12]
Most yards, game – 138 (on 4 ret.) at Philadelphia 10/27
Average per return – 30.2 [1]
TDs – 1 [2, tied with six others]
Longest return – 93 yards

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 2 G
Kickoff returns – 9
Kickoff return yds. – 214
Most yards, game – 155 (on 5 ret.) vs. Dallas, NFC Divisional playoff
Kickoff return avg. – 23.8
Kickoff return TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: Pro Football Weekly
2nd team All-NFC: UPI
Pro Bowl

Panthers went 12-4 to finish first in the NFC West in just their second season while leading the NFL in kickoff return average (26.2). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Dallas Cowboys (26-17). Lost NFC Championship to Green Bay Packers (30-13).

The outstanding performance in 1996 marked the first of five straight seaons in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl. Bates again led the NFL in kickoff return average in 1997 (27.3), and in his five years in Carolina returned 233 kickoffs for a 25.7-yard average and five touchdowns. Left unsigned after the 2000 season, he moved on to Washington in ’01 where he averaged 23.5 yards on 49 returns and was cut. Returning to the Panthers for 2002, Bates suffered an injury during the preseason that put him on injured reserve for the year and, after stints with the Jets and Cowboys in 2003, his career came to an end. Overall, he averaged 24.4 yards on 373 kickoff returns, was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection once, received at least some All-NFL or All-NFC consideration after four other seasons, and gained selection to the Pro Bowl five times, noted for both his kick returning and kick coverage. He was named to the 1990s All-Decade team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


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

August 12, 2014

1960: Unitas to Moore TD Passes Propel Colts to Rout of College All-Stars

The 27th annual College All-Star Game on August 12, 1960 featured the Baltimore Colts, back for a second straight year after repeating as NFL champions, against an All-Star team coached by Otto Graham, former star pro quarterback and now head coach at the Coast Guard Academy.

The Colts, under Head Coach Weeb Ewbank, had a productive passing attack that featured QB Johnny Unitas, HB Lenny Moore, and end Raymond Berry. The defense was strong and had shut the All-Stars down in a 29-0 win in ’59.

Graham, who was coaching the All-Stars for the third consecutive year, had a roster that included future pro stars in Southern Methodist QB Don Meredith, fullbacks Dick Bass of the College of the Pacific and Don Perkins from New Mexico, Vanderbilt HB Tom Moore, ends Carroll Dale from Virginia Tech and Gail Cogdill of Washington State, and Georgia Tech C/LB Maxie Baughan.

There were 70,000 fans in attendance on a warm, moonlit Friday night. On their second possession of the game, the Colts rolled 69 yards in seven plays that culminated in Johnny Unitas tossing a four-yard touchdown pass to Lenny Moore. Steve Myhra added the extra point.

Down by 7-0, the All-Stars responded with an impressive series. Don Meredith connected with Dick Bass on a screen pass for 30 yards and, after Bass carried for nine more yards, a pass interference penalty put the ball on the Baltimore five yard line. However, Meredith fumbled and DE Gino Marchetti recovered for the Colts to end the threat. The Colts then proceeded to drive 95 yards to another Unitas-to-Moore TD, this time covering three yards, and Myhra’s PAT made it 14-0.

Before the half was over, Baltimore took complete control. Myhra booted a 38-yard field goal and then Unitas connected with Moore for a third touchdown of 14 yards. The pro champs had a comfortable 24-0 lead at halftime.

With the game well in hand, Unitas was relieved early in the third quarter by backup QB Ray Brown. The defense put more points on the board when Notre Dame QB George Izo was tossed for a safety by DE Don Joyce and DT Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb.

While Gail Cogdill made some good catches for the All-Stars, the running game was kept in check by the savvy Baltimore defense and quarterbacks Meredith, Izo, and Pete Hall of Marquette faced heavy pressure throughout the contest.

Myhra kicked a 27-yard field goal that padded the Baltimore lead to 29-0 after three quarters. Early in the fourth quarter, the All-Stars finally avoided a shutout when Meredith threw a short pass to HB Prentice Gautt of Oklahoma who took off for a 60-yard touchdown. Mississippi’s Bob Khayat added the extra point.

That was all the excitement the collegians would muster, however. Myhra kicked one more field goal, of 26 yards, and once again the Colts were comfortable winners by a final score of 32-7.

Baltimore outgained the All-Stars by 416 yards to 128. The All-Stars managed just 13 yards on the ground and turned the ball over four times, to one turnover by the Colts. Johnny Unitas completed 17 of 29 passes for 237 yards while ends Raymond Berry and Jim Mutscheller combined for nine catches and 153 yards.

Don Meredith (pictured at right) was the most productive of the All-Star quarterbacks, completing 8 of 20 throws for 156 yards and the lone TD. Gail Cogdill made five catches for 64 yards to make him the offensive star for the collegians.

The only downside for the Colts was a broken hand suffered by the All-Pro OT Jim Parker, but he was back in action by the time the regular season came around. Baltimore got off to a 6-2 start but, with a deficient running attack, faded down the stretch to end up at 6-6.

Don Meredith joined the expansion Dallas Cowboys, where he played for nine years and was chosen to the Pro Bowl three times. Gail Cogdill had a stellar rookie season for the Detroit Lions and also went to the Pro Bowl three times over the course of eleven years as a pro.

The win for the Colts put the pro champs ahead in the series by 17 to 8 with two ties, with lopsided results such as that in 1960 becoming more of the norm.