Friday, December 31, 2010


One more trip down Memory Lane. While I was going through some of the stuff my mother had in storage, I came across a bunch of old Tarzan paperbacks that once belonged to my father. He left them behind after the divorce and they stayed in a closet for years afterward. Now, while my mother had many virtues as a parent, making sure her kids’ time was occupied was not one of them so consequently as a boy I often found myself bored out of my skull. And on one of those occasions I decided to take a crack at some of those Tarzan books. I can’t remember what piqued my interest about them; probably the great Frazetta covers on some of them (see above, though Frazetta later said he wasn’t even trying his best with those paintings because the publisher was so cheap and wouldn’t give him back his artwork!).

I started with the very first one: Tarzan of the Apes. Unfortunately I never got to finish it because I made the mistake of bringing it to school with me and somebody ripped it off. (Who the hell steals a Tarzan paperbook? They’re cheap. You can get it for free at the library. And no junior high school punk thief reads books anyway.) So I never finished that one. Luckily I already had a comic book adaption so I knew how it ended, and I was smart enough to never again bring one of my own books to school. Lesson learned. I read the second book in the series, The Return of Tarzan, cover to cover. And I loved it. And I loved the next one, and the next one, and the one after that (Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, probably my favorite). Let’s face it, Tarzan’s a wish-fulfillment character right in the wheelhouse of a 12 or 13-year-old boy, something I happened to be at the time. And say what you will about Edgar Rice Burroughs as a writer but those books move (no less a writer than Gore Vidal said Burroughs possessed a rare gift: he could “describe action vividly”). The books are never boring. Well, they aren’t unless you maybe try to read them all in a short period of time. I made it through the first 13 but put down number 14 halfway through and never picked it or any subsequent Tarzan book back up again. The repetition must have gotten to me. But I’ve never lost my affection for the character.

For most people Tarzan’s not a character from a book though. He’s a character from movies and TV. The 1932 movie with Johnny Weismuller was such a hit that it kicked off a movie series lasting over 30 years. The series kept on going well past the time Weismuller got too old to play Tarzan anymore. No problem. They’d just get a new actor to play Tarzan. And I saw a bunch of these movies. Not at a movie theater though. On TV. In the pre-cable era old movies constituted the programming lifeblood of countless local TV stations and where I grew up one station featured a little show on the weekend called “Tarzan Theatre”, which was nothing but the opportunity to show a cheap old Tarzan movie every Saturday. (This clip isn’t of “my” Tarzan Theatre but it's close enough).

At the time of my first exposure to the Tarzan movies I hadn’t yet cracked open the books but my know-it-all father had and he was kind enough to explain to me how the movie Tarzan was actually a much-bastardized version of Burrough’s fictional creation. The book Tarzan was not only clever and resourceful, he was the child of an English lord, the master of several languages including English, and was perfectly at home in either civilized London or primeval Africa. The movie Tarzan on the other hand was a simple but good-hearted man-child who couldn’t speak in complete sentences or comprehend modern civilization (though like his literary counterpart he would deal out some serious ass-kicking when necessary). And while the first couple of Weismuller Tarzan movies were well-done big-budget MGM affairs the later ones, with or without Weismuller, just kept getting worse. Stupid plots. Bad acting.  The same stock footage used over and over again. Soundstages instead of location shooting. Even going to color didn’t improve things much. Until 1959.

After Weismuller retired the Tarzan producers replaced him with Lex Barker (for 6 films), and then Gordon Scott (nee Werschkul). But the budgets remained low and Tarzan remained the same monosyllabic character regardless of which actor donned the loincloth. That all changed with Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure. A new producer, Sy Weintraub, took over the series and changed things for the better. Realistic dangers. Sensible plots. Location shooting.  And best of all, Tarzan acted and spoke like a normal intelligent human being. With a real script for once Gordon Scott proved to be a terrific Tarzan in his fifth go-round as the character and Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure lives up to its title. The follow-up, Tarzan the Magnificent was equally good. I loved those two films. The highwater mark didn’t last though. Scott didn’t want to get typecast at Tarzan so he set off for Italy to make a bunch of movies there during the height of the “sword and sandal” craze. After that he left show business altogether and kind of disappeared.

Finding that box with my Dad’s old Tarzan books obviously triggered a lot of memories. It also got me wondering about what ever happened to Gordon Scott, my favorite Tarzan. Luckily the internet allows such questions to be easily answered. Turns out that that Scott’s days as a celluloid hero made him a lot of fans and maybe the biggest was a guy named Roger Thomas, all of 14-years-old when Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure came out. As an older man he made it his mission to track down and meet his boyhood hero. After years of trying he finally succeeded and in 2001 he arranged for Scott to visit him in Baltimore. Scott arrived and that “visit” ended up lasting for six years. Scott just basically moved in with the Thomases. Scott was a kind of a mysterious character, a bit of a recluse really, but Thomas loved having his hero around.  Can you imagine that happening to you? Your favorite childhood movie star coming to live with you years later? Becoming your close friend and eating dinner with you every night?  Unfortunately, Scott developed some serious health problems, had to go into a nursing home, and died in 2007. But this article about the relationship between Scott and his biggest fan is really touching.

As for Tarzan, without Scott the series swung on with Jock Mahoney for two films but at 42 he was already a bit long in the tooth for the part. So Weintraub had to pick a new one from over 300 applicants (including Frank Gifford!) and  here I can finally connect up this post to the National Football League because the man selected to play the next Tarzan was an active professional football player, Mike Henry. From the NFL gridiron to the African Jungle. A ninth-round pick from USC, Henry played linebacker for the Steelers from 1959 to 1962 and for the Rams from 1963 to 1965. (9 career INT’s and 6 career fumble recoveries). His 1962 Post cereal football card says “During the off season, Henry works as an extra in several movie and television studios in Hollywood.” But when Hollywood opportunity struck Henry chose movie stardom over NFL obscurity, retiring from the game in order to play the Lord of the Jungle. But Henry’s Tarzan wasn’t really much of a jungle dweller at all. The moviemakers refashioned the character as a globe-trotting hairy-chested James Bond type. Crazy huh?

Henry did three Tarzan films and there the series died. Luckily Henry didn’t die along with it. During the filming of Henry's second Tarzan movie Cheetah, played by Dinky the Chimp, used his fangs to rip open Henry’s jaw. Henry became delirious with jungle fever for several days but survived unlike Dinky the troublemaking chimp who was euthanized for his sins. Henry also suffered several injuries during filming and came down with dysentery, ear infections, and an infected liver as well (Plus a typhoon destroyed the set of his third Tarzan movie and brought with it a typhoid epidemic; bad juju). After making that third movie Henry was sick of the whole thing, called it a day and hung up the loincloth even though he had been all set to star in the TV series to immediately follow that third film. The part instead went to Ron Ely (who was good). The TV show lasted two years and several theatrical movies were cobbled together from some of the episodes but essentially the Tarzan movie series came to an end when Henry left.

A decade later Tarzan finally returned to the screen in two very different films: Greystoke (a fine period piece) and Tarzan the Ape Man (to this day the worst movie I have ever seen in a theatre). Then two more movies in the late 90’s: Disney’s Tarzan (not a bad cartoon) and Tarzan and the Lost City (unseen by me but I heard it sucked). Since then nothing. But in recent years we’ve seen Zorro and Sherlock Holmes refashioned into big-budget special effects blockbusters so I don’t see why the same can’t be done for Tarzan. But I have a feeling that when that future Tarzan movie appears it's not going to bear a whole lot of similarity to the original Tarzan books I read all those years ago.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

30 Years Ago This Month

In my previous post I referred to the one football game I ever attended with my mother. It turned out to be one hell of a game, one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. The Dolphins shut down the league’s top-scoring offense for three quarters, fell behind in the fourth quarter, rallied for a late game-tying TD, and then, facing certain defeat, blocked a field goal to send the game into overtime. Where they won. Awesome. The greatest NFL game I’d ever been to up to that time. And did I mention this was a Monday Night game? The crowd was absolutely electric that night and when that winning field goal went through the uprights the Orange Bowl was shaking. Literally. What a great game and a great night. But no one was talking about it the next day. Nobody. I found out the next morning before school that while I was yelling and high-fiving and cheering on the Fins to victory, a lunatic had gunned down my hero.

Right before the game’s most dramatic moment, the New England Patriots’ attempt at a walk-off game winning field goal, Howard Cosell informed the audience of the murder of John Lennon. But the 80,000 of us actually at the game didn’t have a clue. We were screaming our guts out and rocking the stadium while everyone watching on TV suddenly could care less about the blocked field goal try.

For days afterward the news was filled with images of people deeply affected by Lennon’s death. People openly weeping about someone they’d never met. I didn’t have that reaction. Like I said, Lennon was my hero but I didn’t cry for him. I just felt weird. More than anything I was confused. I didn’t really know how to react. I didn’t know him and being a teenager, an introverted one at that, I wasn’t really given to openly expressing my feelings. But I knew I’d lost something.

When it comes to music I’ve always somehow found myself behind the times. While the rest of my peer group was digging disco and corporate rock and “Bruce, Billy and Bob” (as one of my friends put it), I was at home listening to my mother’s old Beatles records. My mother was a bit of a hippie and she had pretty good taste in music, assembling a nice collection of what we now like to call Classic Rock. And years after the group called it a day I played those Beatles albums over and over and over again. Their music meant everything to me. They were the Alpha and Omega of rock. My mother primarily owned the later period stuff, so when I wore those grooves out I got myself all their other records too. And I loved them all. I loved them so much that the music wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to learn about the band too. I wanted to know the legend. Who were these guys and what made them so great? I needed to know. So I picked up a little book called The Beatles Forever and I read it so many times that it eventually fell apart. I’ve read plenty of other books about the Beatles but this one’s still the best as far as I’m concerned. You get the basic history, some fine writing about the music, especially the solo careers, but the author, Nicholas Schaffner, really gets across just how important the Beatles were to the generation that grew up with them. And those were the people shedding tears in the wake of Lennon’s death.

Back in 1987 I saw a show marking the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and the so-called Summer of Love and at the end each of the surviving Beatles was asked if they believed it was true that “All You Need Is Love”. George Harrison said he did. I can’t remember exactly what Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr said but in the Beatles Anthology McCartney said he did believe that was the essential message of the Beatles. Maybe that’s too simplistic a summary of the entire Beatles catalog but let’s stipulate that McCartney’s right, after all, the man wrote a lot of love songs and he’s surely more qualified than anyone else to say what the Beatles were all about. After all, the Beatle became the most loved band of all time for a reason, or reasons. And surely one of those reasons was their message. Another reason has to be the Fab Four (seemingly) lived their own message, being so close to one another and so appreciative of their fans devotion (at least in appearance). The Beatles Forever lets you see all this from the viewpoint of a fan who felt this connection to the band. And the connection didn’t stop with the band as a group. The Beatles were so famous that each member of the band had a public persona, so every fan had a favorite Beatle. And like so many mine was John Lennon.

Because the Beatles had called it a day by the time I started listening to their music, I learned about them from Schaffner’s book and subsequently from various interviews, mainly Lennon’s famous Playboy interview published shortly before his death. The biting wit, the uncompromising truth-telling (as he saw it), the crazy political stunts (trying to help stop a war). And his songs seemed to come from a more personal place than McCartney’s. He was real. All this strongly appealed to my teenage self. Here was somebody I wished I could be like. Now even then I knew Lennon was hardly, as McCartney put it later, the idealized “Martin Luther Lennon” figure he became after his I murder. He was too complicated and damaged an individual for that. But that didn’t matter. I loved his music and I loved what he had to say on matters both political and personal. I certainly wasn’t alone. And then some crazy person with a gun shot him to death for absolutely no reason. All these years later it’s still horrible to think about.

The day after the game I expected to be able to regale my friends with stories about the game. But that never happened. Nobody wanted to talk about it. Certainly not me, and for the last 30 years I’ve never thought about that Monday Night game without thinking about the death of John Lennon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I profusely apologize to my few readers out there for the lack of posts these past couple of months. While I’ve never been the most prolific blogger, a number of recent events in my life left me with no desire to write even a single word. And the very worst of these events was the sudden death of my mother. I definitely won’t post some maudlin reminiscence of her here or, worse, an explication of our complicated relationship.

No, this is a football blog so indulge me as I remember my mom in relation to football. Basically, she had no understanding of the game whatsoever. None. Simply put, my mom embodied the cliché of the woman who just doesn’t get football at all. She loved the excitement though; she really seemed to be having a good time at the one game I remember us attending. And she certainly enjoyed being around when her boys were home watching a game together and cheering on the Fins. But she couldn’t really follow a game so her questions about, oh, anything having to do with the game (“Are the Dolphins playing today?” “No mom, it’s Saturday) were always good for some laughs. And the introduction of fantasy football just ratcheted up the unintentional comedy. “The Dolphins won. Does that help your team?” “No mom. As nice as that result was we only care about stats in fantasy football.” She never could grasp that. She didn’t comprehend NFL blackout rules either. On those rare occasions the Dolphins didn’t sell out my mother was invariably puzzled to find out I got to watch the Miami game that she, a South Florida resident, had to miss. Of course when the game was televised she never knew what channel it was on anyway and, since she also didn’t quite get the concept of local television markets, she didn’t understand why I couldn’t give her an answer.

We never once had a normal football-related conversation. She didn’t know any of the players outside of Dan Marino. She didn’t know strategy. She didn’t know the rules. But whenever she did ask me something about football there was a real good chance the question was going to put a smile on my face.

Thanks for the laughs mom.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

George Blanda

Alright, I haven't been inspired to write anything lately but if I don't I'm going to forget how so let me dig deep into my past and try to come up with something and see where it goes.

Past Interference was most definitely remiss in not paying homage to the late great George Blanda last month. The shape of that man's NFL career is so strange, impressive and unique that absolutely nothing like it could ever happen again. A failed starting QB stint with the Chicago Bears. Washed out of the NFL at 32. Rejuvenated as the first star QB of the new American Football League. Leading the Houston Oilers to two championships. And the coda: a final 9 seasons of action as the over-40 kicker for the Oakland Raiders. I missed almost all of that. When I was a kid Blanda to me was just that really old guy who kicked for Raiders. Of course 48 seems a lot younger to me now then it did then.

As you may know Blanda's shining moment as a player came in 1970 where he passed and kicked the Raiders to a win or tie in five consecutive contests. This would be pretty impressive for any player but Blanda being 43-years-old and all at the time made what he did instantly legendary.  I didn't know about any of this when it happened though. Too young. I've been watching NFL games for as long as I can remember but a game is always in the present. So as a kid the NFL's past was a complete mystery to me. Blanda, Jim Brown, Johnny U, Lombardi, Bronko Nagurski. All of it. Or at least it remained a mystery until I started reading whatever I could get my hands on. Any book or magazine with a piece of NFL history would do. And one of my favorites was a (literally) little publication called Football Digest.

Man did I love that magazine. The pieces I still remember the most ran under the column title, "The Game I'll Never Forget". One was by a guy named Bert Rechichar who recounted an interesting game he played on September 27, 1953. Rechichar, a defensive back for the Baltimore Colts, picked off a pass in that game and returned it for a TD, helping his team win the day 13-9. But what made that game truly memorable for Rechichar were the other points he scored in the game. He kicked a field goal at the end of the first half, and that field goal was 56 yards long. A pretty impressive kick today but a mind-blowing one in 1953 as that boot set an NFL record that lasted for 17 more years.

Another Game I'll Never Forget column that I've never forgotten concerned a game that has probably never been forgotten by anybody who was there. It was the 1970 Lions-Bears game where Chuck Hughes died. The only on-field death of an NFL player. Fanhouse had a good piece about it recently.  Unfortunately, I was too young at the time I read the Football Digest column to be able to grasp the essential tragedy of what had happened on that sad day.

But I was old enough to appreciate the Football Digest article that excitingly laid out exactly what happened in each of George Blanda's five clutch performances in 1970 (I wish I had a link to that article but I don't; here's the NFL Hall of Fame's summary).   Amazing hardly begins to describe how brilliantly Blanda played through those games. Oakland's quarterback, Darryl Lamonica, suffered several injuries during that stretch giving Blanda the opportunity to both pinch hit at the QB position and make critical kicks, something he did again and again and again (and again and again). Through nothing but the power of the written word Football Digest brought Blanda's heroics to life for me years after the dust had settled on the playing fields. I never saw those games but thanks to that Digest article I knew Blanda had done something unforgettable. I did get that.

But I've only now come to understand what George Blanda's 1970 season must have meant for America as it happened. Very few athletes have ever done something so transcendent at such a relatively advanced age. Nolan Ryan. Jack Nicklaus. And George Blanda in 1970. With millions of men in their 30's and 40's watching and cheering him on. Men many years removed from their own athletic prime, watching a guy, a contemporary, the oldest guy on the field, the oldest player in the game, still playing at the highest level and finding a way to win. Beating players over two decades younger. There's something about that must have resonated with football fans like nothing else could have. I think it's why despite the complete circus his career has now become so many are still rooting for Brett Favre. Thanks to Blanda the 1970 Raiders made a playoff run, ultimately falling 10 points short of the Super Bowl. But today the 1970 Oakland Raiders are barely remembered. It's George Blanda we remember. He accomplished something far rarer than winning a Super Bowl. He became an icon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What If: Super Bowl V

One more Earl Morrall-related post for the time being. Let’s revisit the scene of his greatest triumph, Super Bowl V. While Morrall may not have led his team to any actual points that day, he didn’t do anything to cost his team the game either. He entered the game with his team trailing and left the field as a Super Bowl winning quarterback. But it almost didn’t happen. Obviously the dramatic play of the game was the game-winning field goal with five seconds left. But in my opinion the single-biggest play came much earlier in the game.

With two minutes and 48 seconds left in the first half, the Baltimore Colts trailed the Dallas Cowboys 13-6. Dallas had completely shut the Colts down to that point. The Colts had failed to gain a single first down and their only score had come on a 75-yard twice-deflected TD pass caught by John Mackey (the Colts missed the extra point). Johnny Unitas subsequently threw an interception and the hit he took on the play broke some of his ribs. When the Baltimore Colts got the ball back at their own 48-yard line, it was Earl Morrall now taking the snaps from center. And Morrall proceeded to do something Unitas could not do: throw for a first down. Morrall did it twice, moving the ball to the Dallas two-yard line. Three straight runs netted zero yards and with less than 30 seconds left in the half the Colts faced a big decision. Take the easy FG or gamble and take a shot at tying the game? The Colts chose the gamble and lost when Morrall overthrew Michell in the end zone. 13-6 Dallas at the half.

More disaster ensued on the opening kickoff; the Colts fumbled it and Dallas recover at the BAL 31. Five plays took it down to the Baltimore two-yard-line leaving the ‘Boys on the verge of delivering the knockout punch. Then, on THE play of the game, Duane Thomas fumbled it back to the Colts. Or maybe it really wasn’t a fumble. The Cowboys Tight End, a guy named Mike Ditka, later remembered it this way:

We had a talented team that year and lost a game to Baltimore that we really shouldn't have lost, on a very controversial play. An official called a fumble on Thomas, but it wasn't a fumble. If I'm going to remember one play in a Super Bowl, that's the play I'm going to remember because it was a terrible call....I was on the ground, right beside the guy who picked up the ball. The guy who picked up the ball was our center, Dave Manders. The guy who fumbled it evidently was Thomas, but actually Duane really let the ball go when he heard the whistle blow. We felt there was no fumble on the play, and if we had scored then, it wouldn't have mattered what would happened later because the game would have been over.
Regardless of what actually happened, the officials ruled Thomas had fumbled. The Colts remained unable to put points on the scoreboard, but their defense shut Dallas down the rest of the game and two Craig Morton interceptions, setting up a short TD run and an easy FG, gave the Colts exactly what they needed to win. But if Dallas had gone up 20-6 then it’s hard to see how they could have lost. A 14-point lead is all-but-insurmountable in Super Bowl history. And given the ineptitude of the Baltimore offense, it’s hard to envision a scenario where they scored two offensive touchdown. Even if the Colts still score that short TD off of a 4th quarter interception return they’d never get a second INT because Dallas would be protecting a lead. And with a late 4th quarter lead I’m sure Tom Landry could have sussed out that preventing Craig Morton from throwing another pass would have been the best way to ensure victory.

I submit to you then that Thomas’ fumble (or “fumble”), almost surely decided the outcome of Super Bowl V. If Dallas scores on that drive they go on to win that Super Bowl. So in my opinion that fumble is the single biggest fumble in NFL history. The most famous fumble in NFL history is of course “The Fumble”, i.e. Ernest Byner’s fumble in the 1987 AFC Championship Game. But Byner’s fumble only cost the Browns a chance at forcing overtime and a shot at the Super Bowl. Duane Thomas’ fumble (or “fumble”) cost Dallas an actual Super Bowl victory.

So what if Thomas doesn’t fumble? Well Dallas almost surely wins that game. And by winning Super Bowl V as well as Super Bowl VI we’d now be about that Cowboy team as one of the great teams in NFL history. And I think the reputations of two men in particular would have been affected in the most positive way by victory in Super Bowl V.

First, Tom Landry. Landry’s obviously one of the NFL’s all-time greatest coaches but you never see anybody consider him the greatest coach. Generally either Vince Lombardi or Paul Brown top the lists (see here and here). Lombardi’s got the 5 titles and the all-time best winning percentage while Brown’s got three NFL titles (and three AAFC ones) and his reputation as perhaps professional football’s most important innovator. Brown and Lombardi made their mark in the pre-merger NFL of course. Two more recent candidates I’ve seen others make cases for are Bill Walsh who won 3 Super Bowls and changed the shape of the game with the introduction of the West Coast Offense, and Joe Gibbs who won three titles of his own but with a different QB each time. (With three of his own Belichick of course might prove to be a popular candidate when he finally retires). And of course Don Shula’s another strong candidate, with all that winning more games than anybody else business, coaching in more Super Bowls than anybody else, and, oh yeah, the perfect season. Shula coached against Lombardi and kept on winning games after Walsh and Gibbs retired. (Super old school fans might go with George Halas or Curly Lambeau but I’m leaving them out of this.)

But Tom Landry never seems to make it into the conversation despite an incredible resume. Essentially, you look at three things when evaluating coaches: Wins, Influence on the Game, and Championships. When it comes to victories, Landry chalked up more wins than anybody but Shula and Halas. As for influence, Landry’s right up there with Brown and Walsh as one of the game’s great innovators. The flex defense, the shotgun, the use of computers, hiring a quality control coach, etc. And a few of Landry’s disciples went on to pretty good coaching careers, Dan Reeves, Mike Ditka and Gene Stallings. So no doubt what’s keeping Landry out of consideration from the top spot is the fact he “only” won two championships. Halas, Brown, and Lombardi won more in the pre-Super Bowl era. Walsh and Gibbs won three in the Super Bowl era. Like Landry, Shula won but two as well but he won 77 more games than Landry and his winning percentage is a lot higher.

But what if Landry notched that third Super Bowl title? Then he’s got as many NFL championships as Brown, Walsh and Gibbs, and one more than Shula. Only Noll would have more Super Bowls but Landry’s got 61 more wins and a higher winning percentage than Noll and Noll only won with the same corps of superstar players while Landry would have won titles with two different QB’s. As for Walsh and Gibbs, Landry coached more seasons than those two men combined.  Here's something else.  In their 1971 championship season, Dallas gave up only 18 points in their three playoff games.  In 1970, they allowed only 26 points.  That's pretty amazing.  Just 44 points allowed in 6 playoff games combined.  If Dallas goes up 20-6 in Super Bowl V giving that dominant defense a cushion to work with, and with the offense no doubt taking the air out of the ball to eliminate the chance of an INT, it's likely they don't give up anymore points the rest of the way.  So now the Cowboys win back-to-back titles while giving up only 34 points total in the postseason. Would be talking about the greatest defense ever? They’d certainly be in the conversation. And the hands-on coach of that all-time great defense? Tom Landry. Now, I’m not saying only bad luck cost Landry that Super Bowl. The TD that could have been was set up by a fumbled kickoff return and Dallas’ only touchdown of the game was set up by an INT. Landry was the one who picked Craig Morton to start Super Bowl V for him even though a clearly superior QB in the person of Roger Staubach was sitting on the bench. But the Cowboys were this close to winning that game.

Landry’s third on the all-time wins list. He posted 18 straight winning seasons at one point. He was an innovator on both offense and defense. In addition to those titles he did win, he had four near misses going up against maybe the two greatest dynasties ever, the 60’s Packers and the 70’s Steelers. With three titles to his credit, including two back-to-back crowns, I really think a lot of people would be naming Landry as the greatest coach ever, not just one of the greatest.

The other guy hurt badly by the Super Bowl loss: the game’s MVP, outside linebacker Chuck Howley. Howley had such a great game that day he earned the MVP award despite being on the losing team. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that will never happen again. He also had another great Super Bowl the following season when his team won. So had his team won both, Howley would be the key defensive player for a dominant defensive back-to-back Super Bowl winning team. And Howley didn’t just rise to the occasion in the postseason, he made six All-Pro teams. Yet he can’t get a sniff of the Hall of Fame. He’s ever even been a semifinalist! He should be in anyway but if he’d been the MVP of the winning team he’d probably be a lot closer than he is now.

One final thought. It’s a lot more hypothetical but I can’t help but think the Cowboys win Super Bowl V in as convincing a fashion as they won it the next year if Landry had gone with Staubach. And if that had happened, then we might also be talking about Staubach as a strong contender for the title of greatest QB of all-time.

Two Random Observations From Week 5

1) When the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, they left the league without a single undefeated team.  Not one NFL team could even make it to 4-0 in 2010.  Weird huh?  I saw that this was the earliest the NFL’s lacked an undefeated team since 1970.  And you know what that means right?  You don’t?  Well, it means it’s also the earliest the 1972 Miami Dolphins have ever gotten to celebrate the fact that they remain for another season the only perfect team in NFL history.  Congrats fellas.  No angst this year.   

2) When Brett Favre hooked up with Randy Moss for an undeniably exciting TD bomb on Monday night, we saw something very unusual.  ESPN’s broadcast stayed with a shot of Favre running down the field towards the end zone so he could celebrate the TD with Moss.  No, it wasn’t unusual for ESPN cameras to focus on Favre.  I’m aware of that network’s man-love for The Ol’ Dongslinger.  What was unusual was the sheer length of time the cameras stayed on Favre’s post-TD antics.  Normally what we see any time a TD’s scored are a dizzying series of jump cuts, each one lasting maybe two seconds.  The guy who scored.  The QB.  The coach.  Fans in the stands.  The cheerleaders.  The opposing coach. On and on until it’s time for the replays.  Now I’m glad we get such nice state-of-the-art camerawork these days, especially in the nationally broadcast games.  And I’m glad for the inventive camera angles.  But sometimes, it’s not such a bad idea to just stay with the guy who actually scored or the guy who threw it to him.  In their haste to add some human interest the game producers are now actually depriving the viewing public of some good stuff.  Case in point: the Dallas-Tennessee game this past weekend.  After Jason Witten scored a critical TD, one camera caught offensive lineman Marco Colombo rushing over to him and Witten gave him the ball. And then...the camera cut away for more various and sundry reaction shots.  And in the process, they missed the TD celebration that ended when Colombo hit the ground, something that by rule apparently constitutes an unlawful celebration penalty.  When this finally dawned on the announcers they explained what happened.  But they had to do so without visual aids because all those stupid camera shots apparently meant they missed getting a good shot of the unlawful celebration. You reap what you sow NFL boradcasters. Stop overproducing the games!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Your 2010 Miami Dolphins: Week Two

Wow. A truly stellar defensive effort by the Miami Dolphins. Shutting down the Vikings in Minnesota, forcing four turnovers, and knocking Bret Favre into next week and possibly an early retirement (we'll see). It's been a few years since Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Sam Madison were playing together for Miami and now we're starting to at least see the possibility that the Dolphins may be able to once again field a defense with a number of true stud defenders. Dansby, Vontae Davis, Koa Misi. They all played tremendous football. And look who joined them: Jason Allen. We might finally be able to remove the "Perennial Disappointment" tag from his name. Sometimes you can take a player perceived as a disappointment, surround him with other quality players, give him some good coaching and direction, and lo and behold it turns out the guy's a pretty good player after all. Maybe it was the organization all along.

The offense struggled again unfortunately. They started off promisingly with the bomb to Marshall and the TD to Hartline, but they just couldn't get into a consistent rhythm after that. I'm sure some of it was a conscious decision to go conservative after taking the early lead. But it would be nice to see the passing game start to click a little. In Henne's defense he hasn't thrown a pick yet and his completion percentage is still over 60%. He's not doing anything to put the Dolphins in position to lose games at least unlike a certain two running backs who almost gave away a big win.

Alright, 2-0 is 2-0 and 2-0 on the road is even better. Henne showed what he was capable of last year in primetime against the New York Jets. I'm expecting more of the same Sunday Night.

Earl Morrall Revisited

A while back Past Interference devoted a lengthy series of posts to the career of former NFL quarterback Earl Morrall.  And it's very possible those writings will turn out to be the most important pieces ever posted to this blog, simply because very little has been written about Earl Morrall, a singular figure in NFL history.  A 21-year career.  Started games in 18 different seasons.  Quarterbacked two of the greatest teams in NFL history, the 1968 Colts and the 1972 Dolphins.  A Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the 1971 Colts.  Won an MVP award with one franchise and was NFL Comeback Player of the Year with another.  Yet, as I said, very little attention has been paid to his career. And that little attention paid has mainly concerned Morrall's unfortunate performance in Super Bowl III.  He may not be one of the all-time greats but the rest of Morrall's long and unique career deserves some attention!

When this blog chose to pay some attention to that career what I wrote was not as complete as it could have been and in the interests of historical accuracy I'm going to correct that right now.  Three years ago I did not know Morrall's career record as a starter.  But now, thanks to the invaluable website
, I do.  It's a very good 63-37-3.  A winning percentage of 0.626.  Obviously Morrall didn't win 63 games by himself.  In fact he played for some excellent teams with some stellar teammates and someone might well argue Morrall's success as a starter was due mainly to the quality of his teams.  So how much credit should he get?

What I had done in my earlier posts was take the won-loss records for Morrall's teams in those seasons where he was the primary starting quarterback, add them up, and then compare that won-loss mark to the cumulative records of his teams the year before he became their primary starter (he was never a starter for back-to-back seasons).  No need for such crude methods now.  Now, I can simply compare that 63-37-3 mark to his teams' cumulative won-loss records in the games where Morrall didn't start.  He started at least one game in 18 different seasons.  His teams' cumulative record in those 18 seasons was 145-87-10.  Subtracting the games Morrall started leaves a non-Morrall record of 82-50-7, a winning percentage of 0.615.  So Morrall clearly played on above-average teams, but those teams slightly improved with Morrall as the starting QB. 

I also found out something else new from Pro Football Reference.  I had thought Morrall started the majority of his teams' games in five different seasons3  (1957 Steelers, 1963 Lions, 1965 Giants, 1968 Colts, 1972 Dolphins).  But it was actually six.  Johnny Unitas threw more passes than Morrall for the 1971 Baltimore Colts, but Morrall started more games, 9 (he went 7-2).  So if we add up the games he won and lost as a starter for those six seasons, it totals 46-21-1, a fantastic 0.684 winning percentage.  In the games he didn't start in those six seasons, his teams went 9-5, 0.643.  So again we see Morrall improved his team's record. 

Almost three quarters of Morrall's career wins came in those six seasons and interestingly he was just a perfectly average QB in the rest of his career starts: 17-16-2.  Clearly Morrall's game benefitted when he got to start on a regular basis. 

And since I now know about Morrall's starts in 1971, I might as well more accurately revisit what I did before and compare the records of his teams when he was their starter with how they performed in the year prior to his arrival.  Again, 46-21-1, 0.684 for Morrall.  The cumulative year before (minus Morrall's one start for the 1970 Colts):  49-26-6, 0.642.  So whatever method you choose, you'd have to say Morrall's teams were at least a little better with him then without him.  And overall those teams performed quite well.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Your 2010 Miami Dolphins: Week One

Win number one is in the books and while Miami probably should have whipped the Bills by more than 5 points, let's remember that Miami got their butts handed to them the last time they travelled to Buffalo. The defense played especially well. Dansby was a force. Koa Misi looked. And so did Jared Odrick before his unfortunate injury. The front seven harrassed Trent Edwards all game and, as we saw, he is most definitely not a guy who handles pressure well. It would have been nice if Miami could have stopped that 4th-and-11 and avoided the need for a final defensive stand but for the most part they throttled the Bills.

The offense was more of a mixed bag. The running game was fairly effective but the passing game was very inconsistent. Henne avoided the big mistake at least but the team had no real success with the long pass though Marshall was probably more responsible than Henne on the drop of that sure thing underthrown 50-yard bomb. The toss to Fasano to set up the Ronnie Brown TD was perfect but then Miami settled for FG tries way too many times when they had chances to take control of the game. But watching Edwards crumble under pressure followed by Mark Sanchez' pathetic effort the following day has to make any Dolphin fan feel better about our QB situation.

This week's game in Minnesota's going to be a lot tougher. If Miami can take it then we might really have something going with this team.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The 2010 Season Is Here!

Finally, the NFL is back and the Miami Dolphins will soon be taking the field. Should be Dolphin fans be optimistic? Sure, why not? Parcells and Sparano have methodically jettisoned the mistakes of the Wannstadt/Speilman/Mueller/Saban/Cameron eras and slowly replaced the players from the earlier regimes with better ones (for the most part). The team lacked star players though and recognizing this, the organization traded for Brandon Marshall and signed Karlos Dansby in free agency (and I’m kind of liking the Clifton Smith pickup; he’ll be a better returner than Ginn). Of course not every personnel move made by the Parcells/Ireland/Sparano trio has paid off. Witness the recent waiving of last year’s second-round pick QB Pat White and third-round pick WR Patrick Turner. And Peter King went a little over the top calling Miami’s 2009 draft “disastrous”. Ok, two picks busted but first-rounder Vontae Davis fourth-rounder Brian Hartline are starters and second-rounder Sean Smith will still see the field a lot even if he’s lost his starting gig for now. (You want a disastrous Dolphins draft? Try 1984 or 1987 or how about every draft from 2000 to 2004?

Nobody hits every pick. Not Bill Walsh.  Not Bill Polian.  Nobody.  But you have to like how Parcells/Ireland/Sparano have logically addressed the teams needs over the past two years after taking over a team with a hollowed-out talent base. And not everyone would have approached things the same way. Witness the Denver Broncos shedding quality players from their roster while passing up can’t-miss prospects in the draft to take “character” guys instead. Or how about the Redskins, forever mortgaging their future, trading away draft picks, and year after year riding that veteran free agent train to nowhere. Miami fans have been down that track and we never want to go back.

So I’m not going to lie to you, I’m excited about the Dolphins this year. Mainly it’s going to come down to Chad Henne. I liked what I saw him do last year, the way he approached the game. He rarely did stupid things, he never panicked and he throws a nice deep ball. He looks like a guy who's very confident in his ability.  Hopefully he builds on all that and takes the team to the next level. Having Brandon Marshall around should make that a lot easier. Let’s say 9 wins and a wild card.

I love this time of year. Everybody’s still got a chance. Miami could be the surprise of the league. And all my fantasy football teams can still win it all. I can’t wait for kickoff.

PI does want to note here the departure of one of my favorite Dolphins of the last few years, Greg Camarillo. After unwisely trading away Wes Welker, the Dolphins needed some receiving help in 2007 and picked up Camerillo off of waivers. He only caught 8 balls that year but one of them became one of the great plays in Miami Dolphins’ history, his 64-yard game-winning TD in overtime that saved Miami from going 0-16 season. 2007 was such an awful, awful season and Camarillo’s play gave us the one and only highlight that I never ever get tired of watching. Watch it for yourself

It’s got me in the mood for some NFL football! Go Miami.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Hate The Raider Hate the Blame: Part Three

Well, Past Interference took a more-than-fair look at each of the Raiders prime Hall of Fame candidates and we’ve come to the only conclusion possible: Raider fans have nothing to complain about. Not one of the 9 candidates has anything like an overwhelming case for the Hall of Fame. No bias. However, I can see how you might cry about exactly two of the players on the list: Tim Brown and Ray Guy.

There’s no definition of a Hall of Famer, no specific list of statistical accomplishments or awards won that automatically open the Hall’s doors to a player. A player just needs to have the kind of career resume that convinces enough voters that he’s one of the best ever at his position. Funnily enough, Guy and Brown kind of have resumes that are the polar opposite of each other. In Guy’s case it’s all about the awards. He was the consensus All-Pro punter six times and he’s the punter on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. No other punter’s ever come close to the kind of recognition Guy received for his punting career. Now, as I’ve already noted, no statistical measure supports the belief that Guy’s the greatest punter ever. But I can see how a fan of Guy could legitimately think the man’s been robbed for years now.

Unlike Guy, Tim Brown’s all about the numbers. Over 1000 catches. 101 TD’s. Almost 15,000 yards receiving. Oh, and commenter JA Morris notes that all of Brown’s punt returns can't be forgotten either (326 punt returns to be exact). And while Brown never made an All-Pro team it’s not like he went unrecognized all those years. He made 9 Pro Bowl squads and got selected as a second team wide receiver on the 1990’s NFL Team of Decade. So while Past Interference’s own opinion may be that as a player Brown’s a cut below Chris Carter, Michael Irvin, Sterling Sharpe, and Mark Clayton, a Tim Brown fan can certainly ask what more was the guy supposed to do to be a Hall of Famer?

Here’s how PI ranks them in Hall of Fame worthiness:

1) Cliff Branch
    Tim Brown (Tie)

I’m having a hard time figuring out which of these receivers deserves the honor more. In my heart of hearts I feel that Branch at his best was better than Brown at his best. But it’s hard to ignore Brown caught over twice as many passes as Branch. However, Branch has got those three Super Bowl rings and was the superior postseason performer. On the other hand, Brown made 9 Pro Bowl teams to Branch’s 4. But, Branch made All-Pro three times to Brown’s none. I don’t know. I lean to Branch but both have solid cases for the Hall.

3) Ken Stabler
4) Lester Hayes
5) Todd Christensen
6) Tom Flores
7) Jim Plunkett
8) Ray Guy
9) Jack Tatum

And here’s PI ranks them all in order of their chances for election:

1) Tim Brown
2) Ray Guy: He’s been a finalist 7 times and a semi-finalist 5 times. At some point the voters are going to get sick of hearing about him and they’ll vote him in just to shut everybody up. Like what happened to Art Monk.

3) Ken Stabler: PI’s as surprised as anyone that Stabler’s not already in. As soon as he became eligible he was a Hall of Fame finalist for two straight years, then dropped off the Hall of Fame map altogether for over a decade. A finalist once again in 2003, Stabler then hit another wall; he’s only made it to the semifinal stage every year since.

He was one of the most famous players of his time. He certainly had a flair for the dramatic (“The Sea of Hands”, “Ghost to the Post”, the last-second 1976 playoff win over the Patriots, the (ugh) “Holy Roller”).  He won two MVP awards. He won a championship. And he won period.  96 games to be exact, still 14th-most all-time by a QB and his winning percentage is higher than all but three (Manning, Montana, Brady) of the guys ahead of him. In fact, of the top 50 winningest QB’s of all-time only five guys have posted winning percentages than Stabler (the above three guys plus Staubach and Jim McMahon). On the flipside he turned the ball over too much, he was immobile, and he went 1-4 and AFC Championship Games but still, it seems like he did more than enough to make the Hall. But he’s not in. Why?

In comments sptfrn writes In comments sptfrn writes that sportswriters have focused too much on Stabler’s off-the-field activities. And I completely agree this focus had helped keep Stabler out of the Hall to date. But I’m not sure the off-the-field stuff is completely irrelevant. If, as legend has it, Stabler studied his playbook by “the light of the jukebox” then can’t we say his off-the-field activities interfere with his on-the-field play? Stabler played with an extremely talented bunch of teammates and a brilliant coach, yet kept coming up short in conference title games. Maybe a certain lack of dedication to football was in fact to blame. I don’t know. It’s possible.

But Stabler probably won enough on the field to justify his induction. Winning and playing in just the one Super Bowl is probably what’s kept him out so far just like it’s what kept John Madden waiting for so many years. Seems like if Madden’s in now though that the QB who won all those games for him ought to be in too. Stabler’s a senior citizen now and if the voters do plan on getting him in someday they really ought to do it while he’s alive. I think he’ll get in soon.

4) Lester Hayes: Might benefit from the concerted effort voters are making to get more defensive players in
5) Cliff Branch
6) Todd Christensen: Doubt he ever makes it
7) Tom Flores: Never
8) Jim Plunkett: Never
9) Jack Tatum: Never

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't Hate The Raider, Hate The Blame: Part Two

Continuing my discussion of the Hall of Fame cases of some former Oakland Raiders:

5) Ray Guy: I already discussed Guy at length here. Simply put, the statistical case for him to be considered the greatest punter of all time is surprisingly weak. But I doubt that’s the main thing keeping him out. No pure punter’s ever been selected but Guy’s come the closest by far. So my guess is he can’t get over the hump because of anti-punter bias, not anti-Raider bias. A good chunk of voters simply don’t believe any punter deserves to go in ahead of a “real” football player. And until somebody can establish that a great punter is as valuable as a great player at any other position, we might never see a punter get in. Plus, with more and more punters coming along who are statistically superior to Guy, his window might have shut.

6) Lester Hayes: The main thing keeping Hayes out of the Hall of Fame isn’t anti-Raider bias. It’s a Raider. Mike Haynes to be specific. Haynes and Hayes made up maybe the greatest cornerback tandem in NFL history. But Haynes was the better player. Hayes made one AP All-Pro team. Haynes made two. Hayes went to five Pro Bowls. Haynes went to nine. Hayes has been a Hall of Fame semi-finalist five times and a finalist four times. Haynes is actually in the Hall of Fame. In 1980 Hayes had as great a season and postseason as it’s possible for a cornerback could have. But, understandably, he never came close to having a season like that again.  Haynes had a number of outstanding seasons that could each be considered his best.

Actually, there’s probably one other thing that might be helping to keep Hayes out so far. It’s called Stickum. As you might remember, Hayes was known to cover his hands, arms, elbows, and his entire uniform with the gooey adhesive. At least he did until 1981, when the NFL passed a rule banning any player from using it. And of course Hayes’ INT total went from 13 to 3 the year of the ban.  Coincidence?   Whether or not Hayes should be in comes down to what your standards are. If Mike Haynes is the standard then Hayes is out. But if there’s room for a defensive back not quite as good as Haynes then Hayes would be a worthy candidate.

7) Jim Plunkett: Jim Plunkett may be one of the greatest QB’s in Super Bowl history but honestly, his Hall of Fame resume doesn’t consist of much else. Plunkett played so badly for his first two teams he was actually out of football in 1978 and his career was all but over. He caught the break of a lifetime when Oakland grabbed him as a backup in ’79 and an injury to the starter (Dan Pastorini) forced the Raiders to make Plunkett their starter in 1980. But excepting the postseason he was never a great quarterback. His lifetime QB rating is 67.5. His career won-loss mark is 72-72. As a Raider he only played more than 9 games in a season twice. He never made an All-Pro team. He never got a single vote for an All-Pro team. Postseason performance is important but it can’t be the beginning and ending point of the discussion. A great comeback story but Plunkett's just not really a Hall of Famer.

8) Ken Stabler: For awhile now I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a lengthy piece about Stabler. I’m still not ruling it out so I’m going to keep this bit short. The big four QB’s of Stabler’s era were Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw and Bob Griese. All four are in the Hall. If you take the totality of each man’s career, i.e. career passing numbers, rushing ability, consistency, postseason play, and championships, then it’s clear they were all better players than Stabler. Stabler played as well as a quarterback can play in 1974 and 1976. He was excellent in 1973 and 1977. And…that’s pretty much it for greatness. You could argue Stabler was a better passer than Bradshaw but you can’t ignore Bradshaw’s four rings versus Stabler’s one either. Stabler took his team to five straight AFC title games but only played in (and won) a single Super Bowl. He missed some chances. I think that, more than anything, is what’s kept him out so far. His laid-back partying lifestyle probably didn’t endear him to sportswriters either. Those guys like their QB’s hanging out in the film room not the bar. Stabler wouldn’t be an undeserving selection but if we want to make room for the fifth best QB of the 70’s I’m not sure that title doesn’t belong to Ken Anderson.

9) Jack Tatum: No chance. Even if the Stingley thing had never happened. If they ever open a Hitters Hall of Fame he’s got a shot.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Don't Hate the Raider, Hate the Blame: Part One

While researching my post on Jack Tatum, I discovered something I didn't know: lots of Raiders fans believe “the media” holds a bias against their beloved team. And to find an example of this alleged bias year-after-year look no further than the Hall of Fame. Oakland fans swear that anti-Raider bias is the only thing keeping otherwise qualified Raiders from induction into the hallowed halls of the Hall. Of course Past Interference just had to check this out. I might be a Raider-hater of long standing but PI is nothing if not fair and PI knows a great player’s a great player even if that player (shudder) wears the Silver and Black.  Please be seated Raiders fans, I have read your complaints.  The various cases seem to boil down to a total of 8 players and 1 coach who Oakland fans insist have been denied the game’s greatest honor by biased sportswriters. Are the arguments legit? PI is on the case. Let’s start with these four men:

1) Cliff Branch: I’d love to see Cliff Branch in the Hall. He was one of my favorite players, very underrated, and for a three-year stretch (1974-1976) he was as dominant in his time as Jerry Rice was later on. Of course Rice dominated for well over a decade while Branch was just a good solid receiver after his short run of greatness ended. But if a receiver has to be as good as Jerry Rice to make the Hall then no more receivers are ever getting in. Branch made three AP All-Pro teams, something very few wideouts have ever matched or bettered. If you compare Branch’s career stats to some of his Hall of Fame contemporaries he’s better than Lynn Swann and quite comparable to John Stallworth and Fred Biletnikoff. So why isn’t Branch in?

Well, it’s not anti-Raider bias. It’s statistical bias. NFL passing rules changed in the twilight of Branch’s career, offenses adjusted to take advantage, and for a quarter century now passing and receiving numbers have moved ever upward. Branch’s numbers looked great in his time but look fairly pedestrian now if you don’t make the proper adjustments. Branch dominated at the very height of football’s deadball era. By the time he was eligible for induction, a new generation of receivers (led by Rice) was blowing away Branch’s numbers. Biletnikoff got in before the new era took off and Swann’s and Stallworth’s candidacies got boosts from tremendous Super Bowl performances. But while Branch might not have transcended on the Super Bowl stage like the Steeler duo he did play for three Super Bowl-winning teams himself and caught three TD’s, none in which came in garbage time. And he played in 19 total postseason games and his numbers are pretty good.

So should he be in? Well, it all depends on how you look at the receivers of his time. They just weren’t used as much as they are today. That’s not Branch’s fault. If you do think the best receivers of each era should be treated the same then Branch is very deserving. You can make a case he was the best receiver of the 70’s depending on how much of a premium you put on peak performance. To me he’s got as good a case as Swann, Stallworth and Biletnikoff. But, if you’re going put him in, it should be scheduled after Harold Jackson’s long-overdue induction.

2) Tim Brown: Brown’s case for the Hall is the opposite of Branch’s. Branch has All-Pro selections, big postseason performances, and three rings. Brown’s just got one thing-- numbers. If someone would have told me 20 years ago that an receiver with over 1000 catches, 101 TD’s, and close to 15,000 receiving yards would not be an automatic first ballot Hall of Famer, I would have thought that person was completely insane. Yet here we are. Tim Brown retired with those numbers and was not selected in his first year of eligibility.

Anti-Raider bias? Not hardly. More like Jerry Rice bias. Rice retired the same year Brown did and the voters probably didn’t want to vote in more than one WR in 2010. That doesn’t mean Brown is a lock to make it in the future however. Cris Carter’s been bypassed three years running now and he’s got more catches and TD’s (30 more to be exact) than Brown. As the trend towards bigger passing numbers continues nobody really knows just how impressive Brown’s numbers are going to look in a few more years. Football writer and HOF voter Peter King wrote recently about how the once incredible 1000-catch mark may soon be surpassed by a number of players.  So should Brown get in? Well, he never made an All-Pro team and when he was in his prime I never considered him to be on the level of Rice, Irvin, Carter, Shannon Sharpe, or even the Marks Brothers. His longevity is impressive but he never had a single season that blew anybody away. He can’t get in before Carter and if Brown doesn’t get in very soon he might have some trouble getting in at all as he’ll continue to drop on the all-time leaderboards.

3) Todd Christensen: You know, after going back and looking at his stats I have to say there’s no doubt Todd Christensen’s been unjustly forgotten for some unknown reason. Let’s do a quick comparison with the best of his Hall of Fame contemporaries, all Hall of Famers.

Tight EndRecYdsTD

Taking only career totals into consideration, Newsome's and Winslow’s numbers are clearly better. Christensen’s numbers superficially appear better than Casper’s but Casper’s peak was in the mid-70’s and so his best years were just as impressive as Christensen’s were in the 80’s. Plus Casper was considered a great blocker. Unlike Newsome, who had the opposite rep to say the least. 

But if you look at just the best seasons of Newsome and Christensen you could certainly make a case that Christensen was the better player Newsome.  Newsome made one All-Pro team and three Pro Bowls.  But Christensen made two All-Pro teams and five Pro Bowls.  Plus Christensen should get a little credit for being a key component of a championship team, the 1983 Raiders.  So why Ozzie and not Todd?  It’s probably the relative shortness of Christensen’s career. Christensen had a ten-year career but he didn’t start a game for his first three seasons. He didn't catch a single pass in his first two and only caught 8 in his third year.  On the other end he only started five games in his last season. So really he only started regularly for six seasons. He had a dominant five-year run in that time but it’s still only six seasons. Even if Newsome’s best seasons aren’t quite as good as Christensen’s, Newsome had more good seasons and was at least a solid contributor in his later years. Also, Christensen’s also been hurt by a couple of guys who came later, Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez. Christensen’s 90-catch, 1000-yard seasons as a tight end don’t seem as jaw-dropping.

If you’ve got a little time, or are already bored with this post, just go here to read a really good list of the top 10 greatest tight ends of all-time. The writer makes a convincing case for Christensen as number 8, one ahead of Newsome.

If you buy that, and think there's room for the top 8 tight ends,  then Christensen has a solid argument for the Hall of Fame.

4) Tom Flores: Flores’ number one accomplishment was coaching the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins but two titles doesn’t make a coach a Hall of Famee. George Seifert’s got two also. So does Jimmy Johnson and Jimmy’s got a higher career winning percentage as well. Buddy Parker won two titles with the Lions back n the 50’s and hasn't made the Hall. Flores’ career winning percentage is lower than any current HOF coach except for Weeb Ewbank but Ewbank’s got three rings and some other historical accomplishments Flores can’t match. Rightly or wrongly Flores, like Seifert, is probably also seen as a coach who inherited an already talented team capable of winning a Super Bowl. I doubt he ever gets in and the fact his predecessor as coach, John Madden, did get in should put the lie to any charges of anti-Raider bias here.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

They Called Him Assassin

When I was a kid Jack Tatum was one of the most famous players in the league. Kind of a strange position to be in for a safety. And no one thought he was the greatest safety either; dude never made an All-Pro team despite what some of the recent obituaries are saying. Tatum was a good player but the All-Pro nods in his time all went to guys like Jake Scott, Dick Anderson, Ken Houston, Paul Krause, Cliff Harris and Donnie Shell. But Tatum was a bigger name than all of them. Why? Well, for one he seemed to wind up a part of some of the most high-profile moments of the 70's. Tatum was the guy who popped Frenchy Fuqua in the 1972 divisional playoffs and set in motion the Immaculate Reception. He knocked Lynn Swann from the 1975 AFC Championship Game with a concussion. Tatum was the guy who jarred the ball loose from Rob Lytle causing the fumble that wasn't in the 1977 AFC Championship Game. And Tatum made one of the biggest hits in Super Bowl history when he blasted the helmet right off Sammy White's in Super Bowl XI. Yeah, Tatum made some big hits.

That's what he was famous for. Like another of his contemporaries, Conrad Dobler, Tatum got a rep as a dirty player, a cheap-shot artist. Maybe it was unfair. Maybe he was just a bad-ass. An enforcer. An intimidator. An assassin. If any receiver tried to make a play in Tatum's territory he was going to pay a price for it. Tatum was doing his job. That's football. To some people Jack Tatum played the game like it was supposed to be played. Old school. But I wasn't one of those people.

I've written before about how much I hated those "Bad Boy" Raiders teams. They cheated. They played dirty. And they revelled in it. When Chuck Noll called out the "criminal element" on the Raiders he was referring to Tatum's teammate George Atkinson but everybody took Noll's words and applied them to Tatum as well. Mel Blount and Jack Lambert weren't angels either but there was just something about the Raiders. They seemed to go all-out to move the borderline separating a legal hit from a cheap shot. Tatum more than anyone.

And Tatum's reputation was sealed forever after he delivered his most infamous hit, a hit that unlike the ones listed above came in a game that didn't even count. Tatum didn't get flagged for his paralyzing hit on Daryl Stingley and he didn't get fined either. So it was a legal play, something Tatum's defenders over the years have used as their main evidence that Tatum did nothing wrong. I remember getting into an argument about it with a college roommate (a Raiders fan) several years later and that's exactly what he said. And now in the wake of Tatum's death a lot of people are claiming Tatum was completely blameless over what happened.

To me, Tatum made a conscious decision to try to hurt somebody in a game that meant nothing, on a play that meant nothing. He said so himself in his book, "It was one of those pass plays where I could have attempted to intercept, but because of what the owners expect of me when they give me my paycheck, I automatically reacted to the situation by going for an intimidating hit."  And then to compound it all Tatum went and put out that book where he bragged about his efforts to maim his fellow players and seemingly savored his reputation as a football assassin. In fact, he put out a couple of follow-up books as well where he did the exact same thing.  Worse, he never expressed true regret over what happened to Stingley. Now I suppose Tatum thought he did nothing wrong so no apology was necessary.  But some sort of gesture towards Stingley should have been made, some expression of remorse, some show of kindness.  And Tatum never made one. Actually on one occasion, years later, Tatum did make an overture, an offer of reconciliation. But he wanted it to be televised. And Stingley found out why; Tatum had another book coming out. The proposed meeting wasn't heartfelt after all. Tatum just wanted to sell some books. About the affair Stingley said in 2003:

"I told him if they showed up at my door without a camera then we could have some real healing," Stingley said. "This is a world built on hype. Selling newspapers. TV ratings. Those are real. But in my world what's important is to have a forgiving nature. I was always ready for reconciliation with Jack Tatum. I was willing to do it once before until we learned at the final hour that it was about selling a new book. That changed my mind. I could not allow anybody to capitalize on my situation any more.

"I could not understand why a person would still take that approach so many years later. How could he try to take advantage of the situation again? How could he not feel serious regret or remorse for what happened?

"If he called me today, I'd answer. If he came to my house, I'd open my door to him. All I ever wanted was for him to acknowledge me as a human being. I just wanted to hear from him if he felt sorry or not. It's not like I'm unreachable. But it's not a phone call I'll be waiting for anymore."
Though hurt by Tatum's behavior Stingley spoke eloquently and forgivingly about the man.  But he died four years later without ever having received the acknowledgement from Tatum that he'd hoped for.  Many understandably don't want to think about that in the wake of Jack Tatum's death but I don't see how you can ignore it.

Postscript: The man who threw that fateful pass to Stingley, Steve Grogan, shared some interesting thoughts on Tatum.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Past Interference’s first book review and I won't make you wait for the verdict. I loved it. The book's great. Buy it. I can't imagine any thinking football fan not liking K.C. Joyner's Blindsided.  Joyner's known as "The Football Scientist" but he didn't put anything into his book that's not easily understood by an intelligent reader. No crazy numbers. No esoteric mathematical formulas. Just nicely reasoned discussion. Careful arguments. And tables. Lots of tables. Joyner runs through a wide variety of NFL topics.  PI’s long been interested in how the NFL’s greatest teams were put together and in who should be in the Hall of Fame so chapters on those very topics clearly apppaled to me. But I also loved the chapters on things I’ve never thought twice about, like why Art Rooney's Steelers were so bad for so long or why Bert Bell is an overrated NFL commissioner. Really, there wasn't one part of this book I didn't find to be of interest.

Ok, the unalloyed praise is out of the way. Now let me nitpick a couple of things. In perhaps the most intriguing chapter of the book, The Darwinism of the Coaching Forest, Joyner posits the existence of two separate coaching alignments: Personnel/Scheme and Athletic/Hitter. The first alignment divides coaches into those who try to beat opponents with superior talent and those who try win with superior play-calling. The second alignment, as Joyner explains it, divides coaches into those who try to beat opponents with athleticism and those who try to win by administering punishment to the other team. This part of the book is of extra interest to a Dolphin fan since Joyner uses Don Shula's place on each coaching axis to illustrate what Joyner's talking about. Joyner contrasts Shula with Tom Landry to show the difference between a Personnel coach and a Scheme coach. Shula, according to Joyner, designs his offensive and defensive schemes to fit the talent he's got, while Tom Landry runs the offense and defense he wants to run regardless of the talents of his players. Shula tries to acquire the best players he can and makes the most of their talent; Landry tries to obtain those players who best fit into the system he already plans to run. I suppose I can accept that coaches have tendencies along these lines and that Joyner has Shula and Landry pegged correctly. But can we really classify coaches so easily?

Bill Walsh is your classic Scheme coach right? Mr. West Coast Offense. But if you read Dr. Z’s classic column "The real West Coast Offense" you see that Walsh, as offensive coordinator for Cincinnati in 1970, only came up with the seeds of his West Coast Offense after the Bengals QB Greg Cook got hurt. Cook was “a big, strong armed kid who could also throw with touch”. When he went down the team replaced him with Virgil Carter “smaller, agile, quick-thinking”. As Dr. Z puts it:

Carter was able to go through his progressions quickly and throw on the go; not blessed with a big arm, but accurate. So Walsh crafted an offense to suit him, a horizontal offense with a lot of motion and underneath routes and breakoff patterns an attack that now goes by the misnomer "West Coast Offense."
This indicates Walsh might not in fact have been a true scheme coach at all. Rather he designed an offense to fit his personnel. Ok, he was just a coordinator back then, not the coach. And maybe he hadn’t developed his coaching philosophy yet. But how do you explain this? Years later Dr. Z asked Walsh what his system would have been like if he'd had Cook for 10 or 12 years and Walsh said "Completely different…It would have been down the field." So Walsh himself says he would have installed an offense that fit the talents of his quarterback, one totally different than the West Coast Offense.  If Walsh had gotten John Elway or Dan Marino to run his offense then I'm guessing it would have looked a lot different than the West Coast Offense he designed for Virgil Carter.  And something like that happened in reality with Don Shula who abandoned his run-dominated offenses of the 70’s for downfield passing once he installed Marino as his QB. 

Joyner categorizes Bill Belichick as a Scheme coach and claims the reason for Belichick’s refusal to coach the Jets after Bill Parcells stepped down in 2000 was that Belichick knew it couldn’t work since Parcells, a Personnel man, would still be running the organization. That’s certainly a more than interesting hypothesis but I’ve never heard anyone else suggest anything like that as the reason for the schism .  It would have been nice if Joyner actually cited to something in support of his theory.  I doubt he finds another sportswriter to back that up.  (Money and/or power, as is so often the case, seem the more likely answers). 

I have even more of a problem with Joyner's second axis, the Athletic/Hitter one. Here Joyner contrasts Shula, the Athletic coach with Chuck Noll, the Hitter coach. Now obviously Noll's teams were known for hitting while Shula's teams weren't. But was that because Shula didn’t stress hitting or because Noll had better hitters than Shula? And even if we can say Joyner’s right on Shula and Noll on the Athletic/Hitter axis why would that axis continue to exist today? Joyner’s got a table of every Super Bowl winning coach and that coach’s Scheme/Personnel Alignment. Lombardi’s Personnel/Hitter. Shula is Personnel/Athletic, Shanahan is Scheme/Athletic, etc. In the first 42 Super Bowls, just ten of the winning coaches are on the Athletic coaching tree. And out of the first 30 Super Bowls, coaches favoring the Athletic alignment won just four of them (Ewbank, Shula twice, and Walsh in his first SB. Joyner has him switching to the Hitter alignment for his two later wins). We know the NFL’s a copycat league. Soccer-style kicking. The Shotgun. The West Coast Offense. If something works other teams are going to adopt it. If something fails miserably teams drop it like a live grenade (anyone bringing back the single-wing?). So why would any coach in his right mind have favored the Athletic Alignment if the Hitter Alignment was going to give you a far better chance of getting a Lombardi trophy? It makes no sense. According to Joyner coaches on the Athletic side have had more success in recent years but were the 2002 Bucs and 2007 Giants really Athletic squads? They sure seemed like hitting teams to me. Well, PI may not have been able to make much sense out of Joyner’s alignments but it sure made for a fascinating read at least.

My one other quibble with the Football Scientist was with his Hall of Fame chapter, specifically with his contention that Ray Guy needs to be in the Hall of Fame. Seems to me you have to do two things to make the case for Guy. First, you have to show a pure punter, any pure punter deserves induction. In other words, quantify a punter’s contribution to his team. What’s the difference between a really good punter and a really bad one? How much greater are a team’s chances of winning with a great punter? Clearly HOF voters don’t think it’s that much as they’ve yet to vote in any pure punter. But you’d think a football scientist could come up with a formula to show us the actual value of a punter. But Joyner doesn’t do that. He simply asserts that since punters are already honored with All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections they ought to be picked for the Hall. The obvious problem with what he’s arguing is that an entire starting lineup is named for the All-Pro team and you get two entire rosters of Pro Bowlers. Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame can only induct a maximum of seven players a year so who wants to waste a valuable spot on a friggin’ punter at the expense of a “real” football player?

But assuming for the sake of argument that the HOF should immediately induct the greatest pure punter ever we also have to know who that is. Is it Guy? Joyner says it is but he doesn’t refer to any stats at all in support of this; he just highlights Guy’s nine selections to All-Pro teams (six consensus All-Pros). I’ll admit that’s impressive but All-Pro selections can’t be the be-all end-all of the “best ever” argument, especially at a position, like punter, where we actually have numbers that can show us how good somebody actually was. And right now Guy stands at 67th place all-time in punting average. And his net average is even worse! Unless you want to argue it’s become a lot easier to post better punting averages since Guy retired how can anyone say Guy was the best ever? Plus there’s like 23 guys ahead of Guy in gross average who started their careers before his anyway. Tommy Davis punted over a decade before Guy came into the league, his average is much better, he punted in much tougher conditions (San Francisco), and he also doubled as a very good placekicker. Why shouldn’t he go in before Guy? Davis retired over 40 years ago and he’s still ranked 9th in punting average!

Guy had a fairly long career for a punter, 14 years, but Jeff Feagles just retired after playing for 22. Guy’s career average is half a yard more than Feagles but what about their other stats? Guy kicked 210 punts inside the 20. They didn't count the stat for his first 3 years so let's be really really generous and bump him up to 300. Jeff Feagles has 497. Guy had 128 touchbacks. Feagles has only 122 in a much longer career. Feagles owns every cumulative punting stat in the book. And his net average, the more important stat anyway, is higher than Guy’s (35.9-33.4). Guy’s touchback, inside the 20, and net average numbers would all indicate that while he might have had a big leg and great hang time he wasn’t all that accurate at dropping his punts where they needed to go. Joyner finesses this by saying he once talked to a special teams coach who told him that when it comes to a punter the only thing that mattered was hang time. Say WHAAAT?! If that’s true then why is Joyner expending all this effort to make a case for Ray Guy? One punter with decent hang time’s as good as the next. Are we going to put them all in the Hall? Or rely solely on All-Pro selections to sort them all out?  That doesn't sound like Football Science to me.

Ok, so what about all this All-Pro stuff? Guy had to be great to get picked all those times no? Well, I have a theory about this. Hear me out (or rather, read on). Back in Guy’s day there was no such thing as the internet. There were no pro football databases to access. No websites to check. What you had was the newspaper. And once a week the paper would list the league’s punters in order of gross average. That was it. If you wanted to find out who the leaders were in net average (gross average minus return yards and touchbacks), you couldn’t. If you wanted to know who was the best at dropping kicks inside the 20, too bad. All you had was one stat: gross average. And in his day Guy had a pretty good gross average, better than most of his fellow punters. If you were sportswriter voting for the All-Pro team you looked at the same list everybody else was looking at. Plus Guy played for a great team and was on TV a lot where he could uncork a big punt for all to see. He also had a well-liked coach, John Madden, who told everyone Guy was the best. And without access to the statistics that would sort it all out who could argue? And when you get in once, you've got a good chance to make it again.  So Guy would make the All-Pro team year after year based on gross average and reputation. That couldn’t happen today. It’s also likely Guy was aided by weak competition at the position. We might living in the Golden Age of Punting today but when Guy kicked there weren’t a whole lot of quality punters out there. It wasn’t until the late great Reggie Roby debuted near the end of Guy’s career that we had another guy with a big leg and some serious hang time to talk about.

Look, if Guy really had such great hang time on a consistent basis he’d have the high net average to go with it. But he doesn’t. So he’s not the all-time greatest punter. Not even close. Sorry KC. I still loved your book though. And here’s an idea for your next one: come up with a way to mathematically value the contributions of the punter. The world needs it.

Rosy Grier

Rosy Grier's one of those rare athletes who becomes even more famous for something he did off the playing field. In his case he'll forever be the man who acted bravely in the midst of unspeakable horror and tragedy when he pried the gun from the hand of Bobby Kennedy's assassin. At least Grier helped make sure nobody else got shot on that terrible evening.  

Past Interference feels a bit proprietary about Mr. Grier. I have no memory of him as a player but I was just the right age to have witnessed, and in some way been affected by, his brief performing "career", something I once had a bit of fun writing about.

But Rosy Grier's a complicated person, a serious person, who's certainly done a lot for others over the years. And he's still out there trying to make the world a better place. He's worked with troubled street kids, helped organize the construction of federally financed senior housing projects, founded an organization offering job training and housing to inner city residents, and currently he helps the cause of prostate cancer prevention awareness and, an ordained minister, "speaks and preaches frequently on the need to end violence, greed, hatred and racism." It's all here. Read it. 

I have nothing profound to add. Good people who do good things deserve some recognition and since this is a football blog I'm using it to salute the good works of one Roosevelt Grier. A great guy. The end.

The Decision

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately (I love using the word "dearth"). 

Pundits of all colors and stripes have spent the past two week rightfully excoriating the combination of egomania and stupidity that Lebron James showed in allowing something like “The Decision” to ever see the light of day. No need for Past Interference to beat that dead horse. As for the decision itself, I asked my friend and ex-Cleveland resident Jim for his opinion and he said simply, “He gave them seven years” and “stars always leave Cleveland”. That says it all. No matter how big a jerk King James might have acted towards his now former fans in Ohio they should probably remember Lebron never chose to play there. He was drafted. He might be from there but he never picked them. Only upon the expiration of his contract did Lebron have a chance to choose the place he wanted to play. He did. And he didn’t pick Cleveland. As a free agent he gets to do that. That’s sports. He doesn’t owe them anything (beyond common courtesy).

Past Interference is old enough to remember a time when free agency didn’t exist in sports. A team drafted a player and that team then owned the player’s rights for the rest of his career. And with no bargaining power players in the pre-free agency era could either take whatever money their teams offered them or hold out. Players made just a tiny fraction of what they were worth to their team. NFL players actually had jobs in the offseason. Jobs! Until the free-agency era began, no matter how well they performed NFL players had no leverage whatsoever. With one exception. Or maybe that should be four exceptions.

Four happens to be the number of professional football leagues in the post-war era that made a serious attempt to challenge the dominance of the NFL in America. Ironically, one of those leagues birthed the greatest moment in the history of South Florida sports, the creation of the Miami Dolphins, while another of those leagues was responsible for maybe the saddest moment in Miami Dolphins history.

Each time one of those new leagues came along established NFL players and/or college stars would receive higher-paying offers from the new league than they ever could have expected to receive from the older established league. This is turn created upward pressure on salaries for everybody as NFL owners responded by trying their best to keep their players in the fold. The AFL was so successful in the 60’s that it forced a merger with the NFL that ended the costly bidding wars and brought the Dolphins into the NFL. Another rival league, the WFL, didn’t even last two full seasons but on the way to its own funeral the WFL hastened the demise of the Dolphin dynasty of the Seventies.

The WFL tried to make a splash in 1975 by fielding some top NFL talent, namely three Miami Dolphin stars: Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, and Jim Kiick. The announcement was made during the 1974 season and so the gut wrenching playoff loss to the Raiders that ended Miami’s year symbolized the devastating consequences of the impending loss of two future Hall of Famers plus another quality RB. Miami never could adequately fill the huge holes at the skill positions those players left behind. Not that you could ever truly replace players of that magnitude, especially Csonka the heart and soul of the Dolphins. When those guys left the era of Dolphin dominance ended and to this day the franchise has never again fielded a team approaching the quality of the Csonka-Warfield era Dolphins.

But who could blame them for leaving? Csonka got over a million to sign with the Memphis Southmen, Warfield $900,000 and Kiick $700,000. All guaranteed. That was huge money back then for a professional athlete and they weren’t getting anything close to that from Joe Robbie. The athlete’s career’s a short one, especially in football, so take the money and run. With free agency (or what the NFL calls free agency anyway), a star player can expect to earn millions off of his labors today No such situation existed in 1974. The WFL’s brief existence came along at a bad time for the Miami Dolphins, but at a great time for Csonka, Warfield and Kiick.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tommy Thompson

An odd little debate recently erupted in the football world on the matter of whether the late Pat Tillman should be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. I most definitely do not want to besmirch Tillman's memory, and do not believe I am doing so, when I say I don't even see how this even is a debate. Election to the Hall of Fame is for the game's greatest players and nobody considered Tillman to be on that level when he left the game for the military. Nor is anybody arguing (I don't think) that Tillman would have become one of the all-time greats had he lived. So that settles it. Past Interference certainly does hope everybody long remembers Tillman's patriotism and sacrifice. Without question he deserved whatever military honors the military posthumously bestowed upon him. But the NFL doesn't give out those military honors, the U.S. goverment does. Sure I understand the thinking behind wanting to induct Pat Tillman; it would be a thank you and a show of respect for the man's service and sacrifice. But Tillman is not alone in deserving the respect of the NFL and its fans. Well over 1000 NFL players have served in the military at one time or another and, including Tillman, 26 of those men made the ultimate sacrifice. If Tillman is to be honored it would only be right to also honor the other 25 who fell. And maybe the league should indeed do something to commemorate all of them but it should be something other than induction to the Hall of Fame.

Past Interference does have a suggestion for the Hall of Fame though. If you're looking for a Hall of Famer there is somebody out there who both served his country with distinction in wartime and also played some brilliant football, somebody who despite all that has for some reason been kind of forgotten. (It was really hard finding out anything about this man beyond the basic historical details).  When you're arguably the greatest quarterback in your longtime franchise's history you ought to be better remembered. There's only a few candidates for the title of "Greatest Quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles History" but if your number one criteria is winning then the title has to go to Tommy Thompson.

From 1947-1949, Thompson led the Eagles to three consecutive NFL championship game appearances and back-to-back titles. Including Thompson only 12 QB's have ever won back-to-back titles and they're ALL in the Hall of Fame...except for Thompson (and Tom Brady who will be inducted as soon as he's eligible) (see List 1 below). And, including Thompson, only 8 QB's have ever led their team to three or more consecutive title game appearances and they're ALL in the Hall of Fame...except for Thompson (see List 2). And, including Thompson, only 6 men have accomplished both of the above feats and they're ALL in the Hall of Fame...except for Thompson (see List 3). It can't be said those Eagles teams carried Thompson to the title game--he led the league in passer rating in '48 and '49 and was second in '47. Nor can it be said those were the only three good years of his career. Thompson ranked third in passer rating in 1941 and 1942.

Thompson's career passing numbers look like nothing special today of course. Drew Brees' total passing yardage for the past three seasons alone blow away Thompson's career passing yards. But you have to judge a player by what he does in his own era and Thompson was one of he best QB's of the 1940's. His numbers don't approach those of his Hall of Fame contemporaries Baugh and Luckman, but they're certainly comparable to another HOF contemporary, Bob Waterfield. Waterfield has a small advantage in yards and touchdowns but Thompson's career passer rating is a good five points higher. Both men quarterbacked their teams to two titles and while Waterfield made it to one more title game than Thompson, Thompson has the better postseason winning percentage. Thompson may not have been as versatile a player as Waterfield (who kicked and punted), and Thompson may not have shagged any movie stars, but he didn't share quarterbacking duties in any of his championship years either (like Waterfield did with Norm Van Brocklin).

The reason Thompson's passing numbers aren't bigger than Waterfield's has nothing to do with Thompson's play on the field. World War II was to blame. Thompson missed both the 1943 and 1944 seasons serving in the United States Army. And while fighting overseas he "received the Purple Heart when he was wounded while landing with the second wave at Normandy."  He returned to the NFL in 1945 but played very little as the Eagles stayed with the guy holding down the fort in Thompson's absence, Roy Zimmerman. Thompson got his job back in '46 but only part-time; he played well but had to split time with Zimmerman. When the Eagles traded Zimmerman after the season and gave the full-time gig back to Thompson he rewarded them by leading the Eagles to what remains their greatest period of dominance in franchise history.

Had Thompson's career not been uninterrupted by military service, his career passing numbers would have far surpassed Waterfield's and there was also a good chance he would have thrown for more career yards than another Hall of Fame contemporary: Sid Luckman. If that had happened, then Thompson would almost surely have been elected to the Hall of Fame. And I submit to you that if Thompson would be in the Hall of Fame but for his military service, then he should be in the Hall of Fame regardless. He didn't play himself out of a job. He didn't get injured on the field. No, the man fought Nazis in combat. He got wounded at Normandy for crying out loud! He absolutely has to get credit for the yards he would have thrown for in those three years of football he lost in serving his country. And if you give him that richly deserved credit then he's a Hall of Famer. So vote him in already Veteran's Committee. Do the right thing.

1) Back-to-back Titles: Luckman, Thompson, Layne, Graham, Unitas, Starr, Griese, Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman, Elway, Brady

2) Three-or-more conecutive title game appearances: Luckman, Thompson, Layne, Graham, Starr, Tittle, Griese, Kelly

3) Both of the above: Luckman, Thompson, Layne, Graham, Starr, Griese