Walkthrough: Faith, Hope, Gradkowski

Walkthrough: Faith, Hope, Gradkowski
Walkthrough: Faith, Hope, Gradkowski
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

I am the Bruce Gradkowski of NFL journalism.

Last week, I went to NFL Films for another NFL Top Ten studio session. Trips to NFL Films are always exciting, even if the energy at the facility itself was a little slack this time. The NFL Films cafeteria, which has been mentioned once or twice in past Walkthroughs (Rueben soup), has been closed as a cost-cutting measure during the lockout.

Closing the cafeteria makes little sense. It's a pay cafeteria, mind you, and not a cheap one. It's run by a food services contractor that probably bid for the right to set up shop. It's not a high school cafeteria, so I can't imagine there's some kind of league subsidy in place to make sure Ron Jaworski doesn't have to pay too much for his pierogies. NFL Films is in a huge commercial park, and the nearest food is about a mile away, across a busy highway in a crowded shopping complex, so the cafeteria had almost no competition and a large clientele of hungry people (remember, many staffers are ex-football players, and many interns are 24-year-old, 230-pound ex-Villanova linebackers) willing to pay for a hearty lunch. How can the NFL not make money off a cafeteria in these circumstances? Why, they have a virtual monopoly on an extremely desirable product that sells itself, yet they claim they must shut down food service in the name of protecting long-term profits! I cannot think of any analogy here.

Perhaps they should open the books and show where all of that soup money went.

At any rate, when you see me on Top Ten these days, I am probably quoting a statistic. I am one of the last people they call in to shoot scenes, and I am often asked to highlight particular statistics so the voiceover announcer is not stuck explaining that Kurt Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns in 1999. I am very good at clearly reading off long lines of numbers because I taught math for 17 years. It is not as easy to do as you think. Read Warner's stat line above -- four thousand, three hundred and fifty-three yards and forty-one touchdowns -- and do it with some enthusiastic inflection in your voice. Now, do it without looking at the numbers. Tricky!

That's my talent. If Top Ten were Star Trek: The Next Generation, I would be Levar Burton, forced to spout all of the scientific babble that has nothing to do with the drama of the show and translates to: "there's something wrong with the engines that prevents us from escaping right now. I will fix it with four minutes left in the show." They may even give me a VISOR next time, which would help, because I could just duct-tape the stats inside of it and read them on camera.

But this Walkthrough is about how I am the Bruce Gradkowski of NFL journalism, not the Jordi LaForge of football television programming.

One of the segments required me to comment on Gradkowski. The episode is not about Gradkowski, mind you -- there's no Top Ten Polish Quarterbacks in the queue, though it might be interesting to see Jaworski and Steve Bartkowski battle for the top kielbasa -- but Gradkowski comes up when talking about one of the other players on a list. I would say more, but I sign a long legal document every time I film a Top Ten segment, and I fear that it is a non-disclosure statement that will land me in jail if I reveal secrets like:

  • There's an all-Brett Favre episode coming up, which I fear will be watched by no one outside of Green Bay or Mississippi.
  • I don't get paid for appearing on the show, but hearing other Little League dads say "I saw you on TV last night" is ample compensation.
  • The NFL Films cafeteria is closed as a cost-cutting measure during the lockout.

I don't actually read the document, mind you, I just sign it; so I imagine it is full of non-disclosure horrors. So, let's just leave it at this: Bruce Gradkowski may or may not come up in a future episode of Top Ten, and I might comment upon his merits. I might also say something to the effect that Gradkowski is FEMA, because if he shows up in your huddle, it means there has been a disaster.

It's true, right? Gradkowski became the Buccaneers starter when Chris Simms ruptured his spleen. He took over in Cleveland when three other quarterbacks got hurt. He resurfaced in Oakland in 2009 as the quarterback least likely to stumble around Walgreens at 3 a.m. waving a stack of bills and muttering about big daddy having post-nasal drip. Gradkowski's presence in the huddle is typically a sign that Plan A is FUBAR and Plan B was Derek Anderson.

So I made my Gradkowski jokes. Then I wondered, how different am I from Gradkowski?

Let's backtrack a week or so. I attended the draft this year, not to mention several NFLPA "events," some of which deserved those quotes more than others. I was at the pre-draft luncheon, during those giddy moments when the lockout was lifted and DeMaurice Smith could crow about it being "a great day for America." It was a fascinating nanosecond in history, like being in Washington during the few hours Alexander Haig thought he was president. (Haig was the Bruce Gradkowski of 1980s politics).

Smith fit an entire offseason's worth of grandstanding into those few hours, and the media presence at the first Rookie Debut event was substantial, all of us huddled in the hallway of a Manhattan hotel, squabbling over the few seats and fewer AC outlets. I recorded lots of interviews and asked several questions -- not of Smith, who was snappy and nearly tore the head off one journalist known and loved by FO readers -- but of Kevin Mawae, Von Miller, and others. I wrote a New York Times article that was long on humor and light on content, and good thing I did because everything discussed and crowed about at the pre-draft event became completely irrelevant less than 24 hours later.

The next morning, after a long night of draft blogging, I went back to the same hotel. It was then that I began to feel Gradkowski-like. Media attendance was sparse, and rookie attendance was even sparser. The reporter next to me had braces, which confused and worried me. Draft Day was also "Take Your Child to Work" day, but this was Friday, and I doubted that media credentials extended across generations. When Prince Amukamara took the podium, two hours after the event began, no one asked a question for the first 10 seconds. This was the Giants' new No. 1 pick, at a press conference, in Manhattan, and none of the 15 reporters on site had an immediate question. I broke the silence with the first question, which is unusual, because I usually wait for veteran beat writers to ask things like "how does it feel," or "who are your role models" before I ask things like what the player had for breakfast or how he sets his feet in press coverage when he knows he has help over the top. Amukamara (who was in New York for the first time in his life and had never even ridden a subway before) was nervous, referring to the NFL's "18 teams" at one point. The press conference was among the most awkward, muddled spectacles I have ever been a part of. Which saying something, as I am the patron saint of awkward, muddled spectacles.

At least the kid with braces got his questions in. He was Brad Wolff, webmaster of the King of Sports blog and the latest wunderkind for whom I will be working in eight years. Wolff is a little like the kid from Almost Famous, except that he covers sports instead of music, which means less interactions with Kate Hudson and more with Prince Amukamara. Wolff did a bang-up job with his questions, but for all his merits as a young phenom, the NFLPA would probably rather have seen Jason La Canfora and Jason Whitlock in the front rows than me and someone young enough to classify Selena Gomez as a "cougar." I couldn't shake the feeling that a) I am incredibly old and b) the Friday Rookie Debut event hadn't turned out the way the NFLPA had hoped. It was not the worst thing that happened to them that day, mind you.

If you are curious, Wolff was chaperoned by his father. Later in the Rookie Debut, Cameron Jordan and his father (former Vikings tight end and labor leader Steve Jordan) took the podium and filibustered to kill time in the long gaps between rookie arrivals. It was Take Your Child To Work Day 2, and I felt guilty about leaving eight-year-old CJ at home. He's very emo, and he's good at playing the "Cats in the Cradle" card, even when I am only going away for 36 hours. "Cats in the Cradle," by the way, makes no internal sense. Harry Chapin neglects his kid horribly, then when the kid gets older, he blows his dad off by saying "my new job's a hassle and the kids have the flu." The narrator realizes -- oh, the irony -- that his son is exactly like him! Except that he isn't. One of the son's main stressors is his sick children, which means he is helping to take care of him instead of jet setting around the country while they learn to walk. So the son is a much better father by the narrator, but the narrator is a narcissistic wuss. So instead of reassuring his boy to take care of the grandkids and let ole grandpa get drunk in front of the Phillies game, he whines that he himself is being ignored. The putz.

Where was I? Oh yes, Friday, April 29th, Manhattan.

My teacher instincts kicked in when sitting next to Wolff, which meant I wanted to help him while simultaneously using his advanced technical knowledge for my personal gain. Wolff is more advanced in his understanding of Twitter than I am -- there are aboriginal medicine men more advanced in their knowledge of Twitter than I am. He also followed most of the first-round picks, whereas I only had access to J.J. Watt and a few other players. Wolff read off a list of new draftees scheduled to appear at Rookie Debut who instead Tweeted about hopping on planes and heading straight for their team's practice facilities. I verified Wolff's tips and plopped them straight into an article. Exploitive? I have counted on 14-year-olds to fix my classroom VCRs and help me use my cell phone for years; it was a student first showed me how to put my phone on silent mode back in 2008. And those kids' parents, the taxpayers of New Jersey, paid me thousands of dollars so I could use their kids as tech support. Wolff got off easy, as far as I am concerned.

I left the Rookie Debut thinking of the sparse turnout, and noting that several reporters I spoke to at the draft gave me the "better you than me" treatment when I told them I was covering the Friday morning pressers. Culture critic Joe Queenan published a book in the 1990s, If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must be in Danger. Queenan, who wrote for Spy at the time, was such a snarky gadfly that he only got blood-in-the-water assignments, and publicists only answered his queries as a last resort for clients who could actually benefit from some public ridicule. I feared after the Rookie Debut that I might acquire a Queenan-like reputation. If You Are Credentialing Tanier, Your Event May Have More Humor Value Than News Value. Or, worse, your event is a sinking ship, and I am on hand to perform the media equivalent of pouring one last cognac and striking up the band. Extreme unction, they called it in religion class. In football, they call it Last Gradkowskis.

It was a lot to think about. Outside the rookie debut, crowds of Times Square visitors sat on bleachers watching the royal wedding on those enormous screens that always make me think of replicants and origami swans. The Prince and Princess (or Duchess, for I am told that is her official title; it kind of makes the marriage sound more like perma-adultery, which may be the royal turn-on that started the tradition) kissed on the jumbo screen, and the crowd cheered. "It won't last," said the lady next to me, wearing a royal wedding T-shirt. The day before, the EA Sports people crowned new royalty in front of those very bleachers: Peyton Hillis was granted the cover of Madden 12 by popular uprising. Soon, young gamers will have no idea who John Madden was, and it may not be very long before we forget who Peyton Hillis was. I fear that this great video football franchise, like British royalty, may soon be on its way to ceremonial irrelevance.

Those were the dark thoughts that filled my mind on an otherwise beautiful Manhattan morning. I was trapped in an alternative world where the NFL Commissioner gets booed and the prince of England is cheered, where pretty good players earn the Madden cover and the arrival of the Giants No. 1 draft pick is met with media silence. While waiting for a lunch meeting on Friday, I discovered that the lockout was back in place, which tomahawked the last of my surviving optimism. It was time to return to Philly, where everything was back to normal, except that I couldn't get a darn sandwich at NFL Films, and I kept stumbling over Kurt Warner's stat lines.

So yes, the last few weeks left me feeling a little typecast, as a court jester on the one hand and as the plot exposition character on the other. Blame the lockout. It was making me whiny about my chosen fate, like the "Cats in the Cradle" dad. I love writing "wacky world of sports" articles, and events like the Rookie Debut are my briar patch -- the goofier they are, the less I have to write about how much Cameron Jordan admires his father.

I love filling a specific need for Top Ten, and spouting specific stats is vastly preferable to going on and on about how much of a "winner" somebody was. These are fun gigs, and walking around Times Square on a cool April morning kicks the holy daylights out of standing in front of a class of kids who would rather just escape. Really, what's wrong with being Gradkowski? He is in year six of what could be a long, lucrative career. His coaches respect him. He gets to play football for a living, or at least wear a headset and stand at the ready on the sideline for a living. Gradkowski isn't the joke. Guys like JaMarcus Russell are the joke -- overpaid and terrible and disrespected. Gradkowski shows up, tries hard, and finds a niche.

I am happy with the little rut I have carved. I just want free agency, minicamps, and football to write about. When the football world is buzzing, this is a lively gig. Right now, it's like a Cormac McCarthy journey through a wasteland that only bears a haunting resemblance to the NFL offseason. And I am becoming the monster, hoarding resources, stealing from adolescent boys, and scratching at the door of a closed cafeteria, hoping for a scrap of food.

The lockout isn't really a cataclysm, but it can feel like one when you are in the middle of it. And in the event of an actual cataclysm, do you know who is 24th in line for the presidency, behind the Secretary of Agriculture? You guessed it: Bruce Gradkowski.

Cover Boy

Here it is, folks: the long-awaited cover art to The Philly Fan's Code

In case you missed the news, I had to change the title from The Phanatic Code because the Phanatic is the registered trademark of some organization or another. I just finished copy edits, and I am waiting for galleys, pages, and other things I don't quite understand. All of the Russian names from the Flyers chapters have been spell-checked, and some last-minute adjustments have been made. The book should be available by the summer!

Rams Top Five

I have been going division-by-division ranking the top five quarterbacks in each team's history, but the NFC West has two teams with a lot to write about -- the Rams and the 49ers. Instead of giving either team short shrift, or going on for 12,000 words, I will devote this segment exclusively to the Rams. That gives you two full weeks to sharpen your Joe Montana versus Steve Young arguments!

The Rams' Top Five may be the thorniest in the league to untangle. Here's what we are up against:

  • Two 1950s Champions, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, who force us to deal with both the difficulties of decoding 1950s statistics and the "he's a winner" hooey. Throw in the fact that these two split time during some of their best seasons and one was married to Jane Freakin' Russell, and objectivity is not easy to come by.
  • One 1960s quarterback, Roman Gabriel, with great numbers and an exceptional win-loss record whose accomplishments have been erased by history because he never won a championship.
  • A recent quarterback, Kurt Warner, with two mind-boggling seasons but a short career with the Rams.
  • Jim Everett and Marc Bulger, two players with long careers and impressive stat totals who had reputations as stat compilers and non-winners.
  • Hanging around the fringes of the Top Five is a historic figure (James Harris) and a guy who nearly beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl (Vince Ferragamo). Neither is a serious candidate for No. 1, but both could lay claim to the fourth or fifth spot, depending on your opinion of guys like Bulger and Everett.

How muddled is the Rams quarterback history? Everett and Bulger rank first and second in Rams all-time passing yards. If you look at the all-time franchise page at Pro Football Reference you will see that, for most franchises, the all-time leading passer has a pretty good case for being the all-time best quarterback. The Browns and Redskins are exceptions, but the Rams are the only team for whom many would argue the all-time passer does not even belong among the Top Five. We can solve the problem by ranking Bulger at No. 5 and leaving Everett off the list, but that denies how similar their two careers were. We can ditch both of them and put Harris or Ferragamo on the list, but then we are ignoring 45,000 passing yards and about 15 years of team history, and that just doesn't feel like the correct choice.

Speaking of Pro Football Reference, their Approximate Value statistic makes a fine bull detector. I don't rank a quarterback ahead of another one whose Approximate Value is 40 points higher without doing a lot of extra research to make sure I am not off the mark. Roman Gabriel and Norm Van Brocklin are tied with an approximate value of 96, which is frustrating because they are nearly tied in my mind as well. Both Van Brocklin and Gabriel spent several seasons as spot starters or in quarterback rotations, both put up some great-for-their time numbers when they finally earned uncontested starting jobs, and both had important seasons for the Eagles after leaving the Rams. (That isn't supposed to count for their Rams rankings, but it shows how similar they are). Van Brocklin helped the Rams to a championship in 1951, but he was in a rotation with Bob Waterfield. Gabriel never won a championship, but he led the Rams to a series of 11-1-2 and 10-3-1 seasons before losing to the Lombardi Packers or Bud Grant Vikings in the playoffs.

Ranking Gabriel and Van Brocklin first and second sounds easy enough, but there's the Kurt Warner factor. Warner is the only non-committee quarterback to lead the Rams to a championship since the end of World War II, and neither Van Brocklin nor Gabriel was statistically dominant in his era, the way Warner was in 1999 and 2001. If Warner had hang-around years -- three or four of Bulger's seasons -- he would be a unanimous choice as the Rams best quarterback ever. Why should those hang-around years matter? If I were being technical, using Bill James' "peak value" and "career value" as parameters, I could rank Warner first in peak value and happily slide him down below Gabriel, Van Brocklin, and others in career value. But we're going for something more esoteric here, so that's a hard call.

Then there's Waterfield. Peter King wrote about Waterfield very disparagingly in Sports Illustrated back in 2001, suggesting in the end that Waterfield got into the Hall of Fame because of his "tryst" with Jane Russell (they were married for 25 years and adopted three children; if that's a tryst, my wife and I are still on second base). In his Quarterback Abstract, John Maxymuk responds sharply to King's comments. Waterfield shared the quarterback position with Van Brocklin during the 1951 championship season and had several fine seasons in the 1940s, leading the NFL in touchdown passes in 1945 and 1946 and taking the Cleveland Rams to the 1945 championship. He was a defensive back, punter, and kicker in addition to being a quarterback, and Maxymuk points out that it was not his fault the Rams had two all-time great quarterbacks on the roster in 1951.

Waterfield was one of the NFL's biggest stars in his era, though you have to think back to those times to understand why: There was no football on television, and if you wanted your athletic exploits to be featured on pre-movie news reels, it helped to be in Hollywood where all the cameras were, and to have Jane Russell standing next to you in photo shoots. I think both King and Maxymuk are correct and that they are arguing sideways from one another (which will happen when a 2009 book responds to a two-paragraph 2001 article). It goes back to the familiar leather-helmet problem of comparing a multi-position star from early football with someone like Warner. Waterfield is a true Hall of Famer because of his all-purpose performance and proto-Namath contribution to the league's popularity. As a pure quarterback, it takes a lot of gymnastics to flip him above the other contenders.

The whole point behind this Top Five exercise is to make tough decisions, then let you guys tear them apart. So it's time to stop philosophizing and choose:

1. Roman Gabriel. An absolutely incredible quarterback from 1967 to 1969, Gabriel is forgotten because his story does not fit the NFL narrative of that era. When the Rams of the late-'60s do get mentioned, usually as foils for the Packers, Cowboys, or Vikings, we usually talk about coach George Allen or the Merlin Olsen-Deacon Jones Fearsome Foursome defense. Gabriel led the league in touchdown passes in 1969 and was a mobile gunslinger-type early in his career. Like many Los Angeles Rams, he also had an acting career, appearing on Gilligans Island once as a native and showing up in the brilliantly awful 1960s comedy Skidoo.

Gabriel was the Eagles quarterback during my early childhood, and he had a few fine seasons throwing to Harold Carmichael and the Fire High Gang. His Eagles accomplishments are even more forgotten than his Rams accomplishments. (Remember the "100 Greatest Quarterback Seasons" article from Pro Football Prospectus 2005? Gabriel's 1973 season was 11th.) NFL history in the 1960s and 1970s is all about the Packers, Cowboys, Dolphins and Steelers, with the Raiders providing a villainous foil and Joe Namath a splash of Broadway. If you weren't on one of those trains, history pretty much left you at the station.

2. Norm Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin led the NFL in yards per attempt three times when he shared the quarterback position with Waterfield and once afterward. Waterfield's yards-per-attempt were never close to Van Brocklin's, and there's plenty of evidence that Van Brocklin should have taken over the starting job in 1950. The Rams had Crazy Legs Hirsch on one side and a speedster named Bob Boyd on the other in those days, so it's easy to see how Van Brocklin could average 19 yards per completion, like he did in 1954. In fact, most of the quarterbacks on this list had amazing receiving corps; Gabriel didn't in Los Angeles (Jack Snow was his best receiver for several years), which is supporting evidence for giving him the top spot.

Van Brocklin came up in both the Eagles and Falcons lists. He was a terrible coach who went 66-100 in his career but kept holding on to jobs. He liked to fight with the media and his quarterbacks. He played the Tough Old Football Bird to a "T," which I think improved his name recognition over the years. I don't want the guy kicked out of the Hall of Fame or anything, but I feel the need to justify ranking Gabriel ahead of him, and thinking long and hard about Warner.

3. Kurt Warner.

4. Bob Waterfield. Waterfield once kicked an 88-yard punt. I put a tracer on that punt, and discovered that it happened on October 17, 1948, during a 16-0 loss to the Packers. Waterfield happened to throw seven interceptions in that game; he threw 18 in the 1948 season, when he split the job with Jim Hardy, whose passing stats were superior.

I found a game summary of that Packers-Rams game in a Wisconsin newspaper, and reporters were blasé about the interceptions and silent about the punt. (I needed another article to confirm that I had the correct game). Reporters in the 1940s did not think of five-, six-, or seven-interception games as noteworthy; I noticed this when researching Jonny Lujack a few years ago and reading about how he had "a fine game" even when he threw five interceptions. Quarterback was still an evolving position in the 1940s and early 1950s, and I think both coaches and reporters were catching up to the idea that these guys weren't supposed to execute a million fake handoffs, run the ball, punt and return punts anymore, but to throw the thing 20 times per game and not let the opponents catch it.

That evolution plays into the King-Maxymuk argument, though neither of them quite addresses it. Waterfield was not nearly as good as Van Brocklin, and he also put up inferior numbers to Bob Hardy, with whom he shared the job in the late 1940s. Coaches were still catching up to the idea that the best kicker, punter, free safety and ball handler wasn't automatically the best choice at quarterback. Waterfield was a transitional fossil, but he was a very good one. It's not like he was a mess as a quarterback, just one of a disappearing breed.

5. Jim Everett. Going back to Maxymuk, he devotes most of the Everett article to two events: the Jim Rome interview and the Phantom Sack in the 1989 playoffs. These two events, which occurred five years apart, define our memories of Everett, and by devoting most of his time to them, Maxymuk gives credence to the perception of Everett as some kind of all-time weakling.

The Phantom Sack occurred in a playoff game after the 1989 season, which the Rams lost 30-3. It was Everett's only sack in the game, but he was knocked down several times. On the play, Larry Roberts (credited with the sack) and Charles Haley converge on Everett, who briefly looks downfield, appears to get confused, and crumbles to the turf. Everett later admitted to taking "a dive," and the play looks horrible on film. That said, it also occurred in a lost cause of a game against a vastly superior opponent, and it took place a week after Everett threw two touchdown passes (and endured two Lawrence Taylor sacks) to lead the Rams past Bill Parcells' Giants. Two weeks earlier, Everett threw two touchdown passes and endured Reggie White and Jerome Brown sacks, leading the Rams to victory against Buddy Ryan's Eagles. Everett, in his prime, could deliver against some scary defenses.

As for Jim Rome, well, he's a ninny. If calling a quarterback by a woman's name is really your A-material, well, heck, you are on television and I am not, but you are still a ninny. The worst thing about the Chris Everett joke is that it was more of an insult to Chris Evert than to Jim Everett. Chris Evert was one of the best athletes in the world in the 1980s, and anyone who ever spent time with female tennis players (even at the college level) knows that these are incredibly strong individuals, both mentally and physically. Evert was nearly 40 when Rome and Jim Everett did their little table dance on television, and I am certain she could have beaten the living crap out of Rome if she wanted to, without a racket. Rome's jokes were obvious, sexist, and completely unfunny, and Everett's response was even dumber.

It sounds like I am trying to defend Everett here; I am really just trying to justify his place as the No. 5 quarterback on this list. Like Bulger, he took over a pretty good team, took them to a few playoff games, then hung around for years as his supporting cast got worse and worse. Both managed to keep their jobs through 3-13 seasons. Both threw to amazing receivers -- Everett to Henry Ellard and Flipper Anderson -- and survived massive paradigm shifts when the Rams changed coaches. They were similar, but Everett has an awful reputation, while Bulger will probably be remembered as the little kitten hanging from the clothesline in the inspirational poster. Given either in their prime, I would probably take Everett. Jay Cutler is on his way to having Everett's career, so if you want to understand where Everett stood circa 1990, think of Cutler now.

Bulger, of course, shares honorable mention with Harris and Ferragamo. Pat Haden also deserves mention; the Chuck Knox-Ray Malavasi Rams were running-and-defense teams in a running-and-defense era, so it was hard for any quarterback to compile interesting statistics. Sam Bradford is years away from cracking this list, of course.


92 comments, Last at 25 May 2011, 5:30pm

#1 by Theo // May 12, 2011 - 3:27pm

Whoah! On Cats in the Cradle, you're right.
I always wondered "will you teach me to throw" was about football or baseball.

Points: 0

#2 by SFC B (not verified) // May 12, 2011 - 3:31pm

This... was... brilliant.

Points: 0

#3 by mawbrew // May 12, 2011 - 4:06pm

If Roman Gabriel was ever mobile it must predate my football viewing experience. In my memory, Gabriel is indistinguishable from the QB/K in the old electric football games. Once he set up I don't remember him ever moving anything but his arm.

That said he was a terrific QB of that era. I would probably put Warner ahead of him (not old enough to ever see Van Brocklin play, though it was funny to watch him coach) just because those few years were so great. But Gabriel is deserving too.

Without looking at the numbers I would have placed Hayden above Bulger and Ferragamo. Harris seems out of place on this list, again based on memory.

Points: 0

#5 by JonFrum // May 12, 2011 - 4:34pm

Back in the NFL Stone Age of the 1960s and early 1970s, we got all our national coverage from either televised games or mags like Sports Illustrated. Living in Boston, I had cut out action photos of the Rams, Cowboys and Packers on my wall in Boston, with at least one of Gabriel in the pocket. Roman Gabriel wasn't considered on the level of Unitas or Starr, but he was on the next level, which considering the place of those two in the history of the game, wasn't any shame. I certainly haven't forgotten him, but I have wondered why he never seems to get any props these days.

The Everett years are a blur to me - can't help you there.

Points: 0

#53 by Kevin from Philly // May 16, 2011 - 9:13am

Also, Gabriel had a bit part in a John Wayne movie (I forget which one, but it was one of the bad ones before True Grit). So he has that going for him.

Points: 0

#6 by JasonK // May 12, 2011 - 5:16pm

Nice piece, but I dock you 5 nerd points for misspelling "Geordi LaForge."

Points: 0

#7 by MilkmanDanimal // May 12, 2011 - 5:27pm

I still refer to the Tampa year as "the Bruce Gradkowski era", which was the worst year of my Bucs fandom of around 20 years or so. The highlight of that season was either a QB throwing a TD after his spleen exploded or a really long field goal. Gradkowski is symbolic to me of complete, utter crap, fair or no.

Don't be Gradkowski.

Points: 0

#8 by D // May 12, 2011 - 5:28pm

Montana, Young, Tittle, Brodie and Garcia. Yeesh. Outside of maybe Bears MLB is there another position as loaded as 49ers QB?

Points: 0

#13 by BigCheese // May 12, 2011 - 6:51pm

Bears RB?

Sweetness, Sayers, Nagurski, McAfee and Casares. That's one more HoF than 49ers QB or Bears LB (until Ulracher gets inducted, that is :P)

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

Points: 0

#15 by BaronFoobarstein // May 12, 2011 - 7:11pm

Steelers OLBs - Chad Brown, Robin Cole, Jason Gildon, Kevin Greene, Jack Ham, James Harrison, Greg Lloyd, Mike Merriweather, Joey Porter, John Reger, Andy Russell, Lamarr Woodley.

Points: 0

#22 by justanothersteve // May 12, 2011 - 11:35pm

I'm a Packers fan, so admittedly biased. Packers QB - Starr, Favre, Rodgers, Dickey, Herber. I'd also submit Bears RB - Peyton, Sayers, Grange, Nagurski, Anderson, Casares. (Matt Forte can't crack the top 6). Cowboys QB - Staubach, Meredith, Aikmen for top 3. If you consider moves, I'd also consider Browns/Ravens RB - Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Marion Motley, Jamal Lewis, Byner?. Raiders CB is pretty good too - Haynes, Hayes, Asomugha, & Charles Woodson.

Points: 0

#25 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 13, 2011 - 12:19am

"Raiders CB is pretty good too - Haynes, Hayes, Asomugha, & Charles Woodson"

You're right except that you forgot to list Willie Brown, who's in the Hall of Fame.

I'm surprised Raiderjoe didn't catch that.

Points: 0

#26 by Raiderjoe // May 13, 2011 - 12:59am

did not see post beforoe you.

Yes, Brown belong on lust. Haynes and Brown best two Raiders CBs ever. Asomugha greta too but Haynes and Brown have rings. Played great in big games, Asomugha no only because not in big gamems yet due to guys like crap coach N. Turner and jerk/coach L Kiffin and A. Shell who was like beached Sfan Fran seal during 2nd stint as Raiders HC. T Cable no help either. Al Davis made mov e tro make Hue Jackson head coach and you know this move goign to work out well. Going to be beszt Raiders HC since T. Flores. A. Davis going to hold and kiss VL Trop[hy once afain.

Points: 0

#45 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 15, 2011 - 3:17am

Mike Haynes was an alltime great but don't ever forget he played for the Patriots from 1976-1983. He'd be in the Hall even if he never played for the Raiders.

Tom Brady, John Hannah and Haynes are the 3 greatest players the Pats ever drafted. I cringe whenever I think of Mike in the Silver & Black. He was simply magnificent while he was with New England.

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#47 by Raiderjoe // May 15, 2011 - 9:40am

No lying there. Haynes great even befoore play for Raiders. If retired duirng contratct dispute wuith Pates, maybe woudl ahve had to wait a couple extra years to get in HOF but woudl ahve been in with short career like Sayers and Stephenson and some others.
When get to LA in 1983 put tema over top and was great for Raiders down stretch and in playofofs.

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#23 by Aaron Brook's … (not verified) // May 12, 2011 - 11:39pm

There are some odd possibilities (given their modern futility):

Detroit Lions DB - Barney, Lane, LeBeau, Lary, Christiansen, (and all played at about the same time)

There are 22 DBs in the HOF and 5 played for the Lions.

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#24 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 13, 2011 - 12:14am

They could've had Tom Brady as well. Shortly before the 2000 draft, Niners head coach Steve Mariucci and resident genius Bill Walsh invited prospective qbs to a sort-of pro day at Candlestick Park. Mooch & Walsh were not impressed with Brady and used their 3rd round pick in the ensuing draft on Fordam's Giovanni Carmazzi, who is now herding goats in northern California.

If the Niners had drafted Brady instead, their dynasty may never have ended.

They could've (and probably should've) selected Aaron Rodgers number 1 in 2005 instead of Alex Smith.

The Niners' qb history is probably the best of any team in the league, but it should've been better.

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#31 by Spielman // May 13, 2011 - 7:54am

I doubt even Tom Brady could have elevated the Niner teams of '03, '04 and '05 to dynastic levels; those '04 and '05 teams were putrid through and through. I have great respect for Tom Brady, but San Francisco's management in that period was worse than he was good. That dynasty was doomed unless they drafted Clark Kent.

This is not to say that passing up Brady for the goatherder was a good idea, of course.

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#36 by Karl Cuba // May 13, 2011 - 12:21pm

I could be wrong but I think that Walsh had cleared out his office in the niners building by then. He'd lost influence over Mariucci after suggesting that his offensive scheme was flawed and then walked away following a lecture that John York gave him on how to run a franchise (seriously).

The last I can remember of Walsh picking qbs for the niners was recommending Jake Plummer in the 2nd over Jim Druckenmiller in the first and finding Garcia in Canada.

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#43 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 15, 2011 - 3:02am

i learned about the pseudo pro day from watching ESPN's documentary "The Brady 6." Steve Mariucci described it and said that Walsh was there.

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#44 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 15, 2011 - 3:08am

During the documenatry "The Brady 6" there was archival footage of the 2000 draft where ESPN interviewed Walsh and he talked at length about Giovanni Carmazzi and what he could do in the Niners' offense.

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#34 by Mr Shush // May 13, 2011 - 8:54am

It's the depth that really makes it incredible. I think there's at least a case for Unitas-Manning-Jones over Montana-Young-Brodie, but it's a very close call, and Harbaugh-Morrall (or whoever you think would be the Colts 4-5) can't really compare to Tittle-Garcia.

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#88 by JimZipCode // May 23, 2011 - 12:21am

Yuck, as a Baltimore football fan I still recoil at text that says Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones played for the same team as Peyton Manning. No they didn't!

[fingers in ears]La la la la la la la la la la la[/fingers in ears]

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#9 by Jacob Stevens (not verified) // May 12, 2011 - 5:34pm

I thought Jim Everett's was pretty good, actually.

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#10 by Jacob Stevens (not verified) // May 12, 2011 - 5:35pm

Response. Jim Everett's response. To Rome. Was good. And funny. And punchy. Eh screw it.

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#11 by uosdwiS (not verified) // May 12, 2011 - 5:57pm

He only did what thousands of people would like to do every day: forcefully throw Jim Rome across a table. Inviting a guest on your show just to taunt him isn't exactly professional either, but then again I don't think anyone has ever accused Rome of being a professional.
And the Phantom Sack... yeah, that was horrible enough to ruin a career. Describing how bad that play was doesn't do it any justice.

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#68 by bengt (not verified) // May 17, 2011 - 8:33am

Going from memory, Everett forcefully threw a table across Jim Rome, didn't he?
I remember a 40-year-old Chris Evert simply refusing to surrender to a in-her-prime Steffi Graf in a French Open final. She definitely would have thrown Jim Rome across a table, or vice versa, or both.

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#14 by Thomas_beardown // May 12, 2011 - 6:53pm

It is crazy how badly those 70s Rams teams are ignored. I'm a fan in my 20s, and I hardly know anything about them, 75% of what I know probably just came from this article.

Oh, and Mike, you'll always be Johnny Unitas to me.

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#16 by Raiderjoe // May 12, 2011 - 7:40pm

M. Tanier mention periogiies above. what do they have in them? Like sauerkraut, prootiaotes, cheese, mushrooms- basiclaly all typical peirogies materials will eat. So if those are choices it going to be goood when go to nfl filsm next year

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#19 by Bowl Game Anomaly // May 12, 2011 - 8:54pm

"prootiaotes"- anyone care to guess? I'd say potatoes but that's too obvious.

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#17 by Raiderjoe // May 12, 2011 - 8:07pm

Cover of Tanier's book remimf of old Baseball hall of Shame and Football Hall of shame books. Very funny bookd. Liked baseball ones most of all. Good learninh material when in grade svhool. learned about how Fats Fothergill bit umpire in 1928. Al;so gerat was crappy outfielder (blue jays think was team) who would urinate againt outfield wall before gamnes and eventuallu sprayed every AL: ballpark.
Anyway, coiver remind of those covers, except only have drawing of one person. hall of shame bookkds have many peoplr in drawings which done by jack Davis who drew for EC comcs amnd MAD mahazine. excellent drawer. EC Comciis excellent stuff. Tales from the crypt, Valut of Horror, Haunt of Fera, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy and Weird Science-Fantasy trmemendous stuff. Those comics = 1976 Raiders of comics. Joe Orlando another gerat artist of that company. he espeically did wondrous artowkr ofr the science/fantasy oens.

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#18 by Mike_Tanier // May 12, 2011 - 8:48pm

The cover is by an illustrator contracted by Temple, but it reminds me of the cartoons that sometimes accompany my Times pieces. I like the silliness of it, which plays off the silliness of my jokes.

As I recall, sauerkraut pierogies made the rounds of NFL Films once when I was there, which allowed me to ask Jaws if he cooked them. Strictly potato pierogies in my grandmother's household. She was Polish; I cannot give the name for credit card security reasons.

I cannot speak for the other ingredients RaiderJoe mentioned, possibly because of the variant Slavic spellings.

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#20 by Jerry // May 12, 2011 - 9:17pm

Was Rick Bosetti the outfielder?

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#21 by MilkmanDanimal // May 12, 2011 - 9:56pm

The utterly terrifying thing here is, if we're talking "Faith, Hope, Gradkowski", then "Gradkowski" = "Love".

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#28 by Rob Navarra (not verified) // May 13, 2011 - 3:01am

Great job Tanier really enjoyed your article. Very good writing for a ex math teacher by the way.

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#29 by ammek // May 13, 2011 - 5:03am

I found the first section of this article oddly moving. Thank you. This sounds like a back-handed compliment, but nobody writes better about nothing than Mike.

Devoting a whole section to Rams QBs was a good idea: they're worthy. In fact, would anybody disagree that the Rams have had the best skill position players of any franchise? Their top five RBs would be Dickerson, Jackson, Faulk, McCutcheon and Dan Towler (so no room for Wendell Tyler, Jerome Bettis, Charles White, etc); at WR you could easily stretch beyond five, but there must be room for Ellard, Fears, Bruce and Holt; the fifth spot could be Jim Benton, Crazylegs Hirsch, Harold Jackson, Red Phillips, Boyd, Preston Dennard, Flipper Anderson…. In fact, seeing the Rams without a competent receiver these last couple of years is as shocking as watching JT O'Sullivan taking snaps for San Francisco.

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#30 by Theo // May 13, 2011 - 7:16am

Steven Jackson is their all time rushing leader... making a case for 'best player on a team that sucks'.

They drafted Torri Holt in 1999 (yes he was a rookie in that season) and after that? The 'best' would be Kevin Kurtis.

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#33 by Mr Shush // May 13, 2011 - 8:49am

Not much at tight end, mind you: as far as I can tell the only Rams tight end ever to be selected for a Pro Bowl was Marlin McKeever. Carroll Dale made three after switching to wide receiver and moving to Green Bay, but that's it.

Still hugely impressive.

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#38 by Karl Cuba // May 13, 2011 - 12:43pm

The niners don't do too badly at the skill positions:
(in no particular order)
RB: Perry, McElhenny, Craig, Hearst, Gore (when healthy Garrison Hearst was awesome, HOF caliber IMHO but without the longevity to get in. Gore's talent has frankly been wasted in SF, he's a HOF talent but has played on one of the worst teams in the NFL since he entered the league)
Honerable mention: Stautner, Tyler, Watters, Eshmont
FB: John Henry Johnson, Tom Rathman (Who I think deserves to get in the Hall as the best FB in the past 30 years) HM: William Floyd, he was just devastating as a rookie and then blew his knee at the start of his second year and never came back.
TE: Russ Francis, Brent Jones
HM: Vernon Davis has caught as many TD passes as anyone over the past two seasons and could breakout under Harbaugh
WR: Fella named Rice, Terrell Owens, John Taylor, RC Owens, Dwight Clark,
HM: Freddie Solomon, JJ Stokes, Lance Alworth (OK Stokes is/was a joke but Alworth wa a 1st round pick for the niners who went to the Chargers in the AFL, he never played a snap for the niners so isn't really considered but it's irritating that they did pick one of the top ten WRs of all time and he never played for them)

And thankyou for reminding me of JTO, I'll be crying out in my sleep, "Throw the damn ball!"

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#42 by Theo // May 14, 2011 - 8:51pm

His 3 year wow period was maybe better than Jackson's wow period, but Jackson puts 1000 yards after 1000 yards like bacons strips at epic meal time. Including a 1528 yard season.
Wrapped in 1000 yard seasons...
Oh no, he is not bad at receiving. When he took over the Marshall job he still had 800 receiving, bro.
Sure he dropped after that, because his team dropped.

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#46 by Mr Shush // May 15, 2011 - 6:38am

Jackson's been a terrific player, but there's no way he belongs ahead of Faulk. The interesting debate is Faulk versus Dickerson, both of whom had three absolutely out-of-this-world seasons in St. Louis but not a huge amount else. Personally, I'd still go for Faulk, but it's very close.

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#50 by Independent George // May 15, 2011 - 6:48pm

The issue is really that only half of Faulk's career is with the Rams. His total career is unquestionably the best, but if we're talking about the best Rams RBs, we're excluding five pretty outstanding years on some very bad Colts teams.

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#51 by Shattenjager // May 15, 2011 - 10:02pm

There is no way that his 1996 season was "pretty outstanding."

Rushing: 198 carries, 587 yards (2.96 ypc), -70 DYAR (rank 37), -16.5% DVOA (rank 32).
Receiving: 56 catches, 428 yards (7.6 ypr), 80 targets (5.35 ypt, 70.0% catch rate), 51 DYAR (rank 29), -2.1% DVOA (rank 38).

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#52 by Mr Shush // May 16, 2011 - 7:31am

Hence the comparison with Dickerson, who also spent half his career with the Colts. Each of them had three seasons in St. Louis with over 2000 yards from scrimmage, and a fourth around the 1400 mark. The difference is that those were the first four years of Dickerson's career, and he moved to Indianapolis early in the next season. Faulk, on the other hand, had already done his time in Indy and stuck around as a not-particularly-good committee back for three more years in St. Louis. Dickerson had a couple of hundred more rushing yards in St. Louis than Faulk, because his attempt counts in those four seasons were so high (they both averaged 4.8ypc there) but Faulk had over 3000 more receiving yards. One might also note that Faulk had only 13 fumbles to Dickerson's 51, even posting two seasons in which he had 250+ touches and didn't fumble at all (2000 and 2003).

Jackson is the franchise's all-time rushing leader, but only by 1000 yards or so, and he still trails Faulk by 400-odd in Rams yards from scrimmage. He also fumbles more than Faulk did, though considerably less than Dickerson. If Jackson has two or three seasons of great play left in him (not impossible: he turns 28 in July) then he could go first. For now, I say Faulk-Dickerson-Jackson.

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#57 by Independent George // May 16, 2011 - 11:58am

That's really interesting - fumble rates always get overlooked in evaluating RBs. I think it makes for a rather interesting research project - what are the league-wide fumble rates & Std Devs over time? If you limit it to just the top RBs, fumble rates seem to be dropping over time- my best guess for the cause is a combination on tighter restrictions on what defenders are allowed to do to ball carriers, and changing interpretations on when the ground causes a fumble. Dickerson seems is at the lower end of his peer group, but seemingly not by much (Std. Dev would be a very useful tool here).

The ones that jump out at me are Marion Motley, Curtis Martin, and Tomliinson on the plus side, and Gale Sayers & Mercury Morris on the minus side.

I also included Tiki Barber and Adrian Peterson for comparison, two notorious modern fumblers who would have been right about average thirty years ago, and very good forty years ago.


M Motley......1946-1955.... 828... 85... 9...101.44
J Brown.......1957-1965...2,359...262...57... 45.98
J Taylor......1958-1967...1,941...225...34... 63.71
G Sayers......1965-1971.... 991...112...34... 32.44
M Morris......1969-1976.... 804... 54...32... 26.81
OJ Simpson....1969-1979...2,404...203...62... 42.05
F Harris......1972-1984...2,949...307...90... 36.18
W Payton......1975-1987...3,838...492...86... 50.35
T Dorsett.....1977-1988...2,936...398...90... 37.04
M Allen.......1982-1997...3,022...587...65... 55.52
E Dickerson...1983-1993...2,996...281...78... 42.01
R Craig.......1983-1993...1,991...566...42... 60.88
B Sanders.....1989-1998...3,062...352...41... 83.27
E Smith.......1990-2004...4,409...515...61... 80.72
J Bettis......1993-2005...3,479...200...41... 89.73
M Faulk.......1994-2005...1,836...767...36... 72.31
C Martin......1995-2005...3,518...484...29...138.00
T Barber......1997-2006...2,217...586...53... 52.89
L Tomlinson...2001-2010...3,099...582...30...122.70
S Jackson.....2004-2010...1,878...327...21...105.00
M Jones-Drew..2006-2010...1,141...235...13...105.85
A Peterson....2007-2010...1,198...119...21... 62.71

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#58 by Shattenjager // May 16, 2011 - 2:23pm

P-F-R has done a post that included fumble rates over time (though not standard deviations): http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=522

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#59 by Mr Shush // May 16, 2011 - 2:27pm

I think you underestimate the importance of technique: compare late and early career Tiki Barber.

You've also typoed Faulk's career carry total: it should be 2836, not 1836, meaning his career fumble rate was actually once every 100.08 touches. It actually breaks down quite markedly between his spells in St. Louis and Indy: with the Rams, it's absolutely outstanding: once every 147.46 touches, compared to 73.30 for the Colts. It actually looks like the change happened before the 1998 season, but that still doesn't really clarify whether it was a technical or environmental issue given that I seem to remember the Colts changing starting QB around then . . .

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#61 by Independent George // May 16, 2011 - 2:52pm

Goddamn I love PFR. It's ironic because I got all of those numbers from PFR, but somehow missed that post. They have even better numbers, because I didn't include special teams (though I believe Sayers is the only one I listed with significant time returning punts/kicks).

And good catch on my faulk typo. I've updated my spreadsheet, and he does indeed look dramatically better. Funny how big an effect understating the denominator by a third has, eh?

Anyway, I don't deny the importance of technique, but I have trouble believing technique for carrying the football changed all that much over the last 40 years. Coughlin changed Tiki's technique, but he'd been a HC for over a decade at that point; presumably, he'd already been teaching that technique to every other RB he ever coached. It shouldn't have any effect on the aggregate numbers.

but that still doesn't really clarify whether it was a technical or environmental issue given that I seem to remember the Colts changing starting QB around then...

"Goddammit Marshall!!!"

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#62 by Thomas_beardown // May 16, 2011 - 5:03pm

I don't have a hard time believing carrying technique has changed a lot, just watch some Walter Payton highlights. He often is carrying the ball away from his body for balance, and that was as recent as the mid 1980s. That was when stickum was still legal of course, and a back could hold onto the ball with one hand.

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#70 by Mr Shush // May 17, 2011 - 11:53am

Um, yes. Good point. I actually had to check whether his Colts were in Baltimore or Indy, but completely forgot to do the same for the Rams.

He still only spent four years playing for them, though.

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#76 by Mr Shush // May 18, 2011 - 10:03am

I was four years old the last time Dickerson played for the Rams, and I'm English, so my memories of him as a player are, shall we say, limited.

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#55 by Dean // May 16, 2011 - 11:44am

Faulk is quite possibly the most underrated player of my lifetime. I would put him among the top 10 or 20 RBs of all time.

Jackson is a stud, but it's not an insult to put him behind a guy like Marshall Faulk. That'd be like saying that Thurman Thomas was the second-best Bills RB because of OJ Simpson. Well, aside from the whole murder thing.

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#60 by Mr Shush // May 16, 2011 - 2:31pm

I'd put him among the top 5 (with Brown, Simpson, Payton and Sanders), and if I was a modern team with a time machine looking to pick any back from history to play in this era, he would be number 1. It's not just Faulk, though: most people haven't really cottoned on to how important a running back's contribution in the passing game is. Adrian Peterson is over-rated, for the same reason.

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#63 by Thomas_beardown // May 16, 2011 - 5:04pm

I would still take Walter Payton.

He was a receiving back before it was cool.

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#69 by Dean // May 17, 2011 - 9:09am

Walter Payton is by far the single greatest back of my lifetime. Barry Sanders is the only one who could even pretend to being close, and OJ Simpson is a distant 3rd. I suspect Jim Brown, Steve Van Buren and a half-dozen or so others would be in that company based on the film I've seen of them, but they're before my time.

Marshall Faulk is on the short list of Best of the Rest, and it's a pretty short list.

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#71 by Independent George // May 17, 2011 - 1:18pm

I was two years old when he retired, but I'd still put the double-murderer at the very least on the same level as Payton & Brown.

I honestly have no idea where Barry Sanders belongs. I know the numbers, I know all the arguments in favor & against, but the fact is I can't think rationally about him. I remember always wanting to watch his games, mostly not caring about the score - I just wanted to see him run. He gave me more "Holy s**t" moments than any other player I've ever seen, before or since. I can only imagine people who remember Gale Sayers having similar feelings.

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#72 by Raiderjoe // May 17, 2011 - 2:34pm

Not surue what poster means about it beignn cool or not but many guys doing it in 70s and 80s during time perod when Payton play for Bears. C. Foreman, Rickey Young, Ted Bronw with Bikes, F. Willis Oiler,s, Lydell Mitchell & D. McCauley with Clots, Wiliam andrews Falcs, Joe Washington Clots and skins, C. Gaines with jets, Tony Galbreath Saints and some others. All those guys had some good amount of cathhches in careere.

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#73 by Thomas_beardown // May 17, 2011 - 4:29pm

I know there were others, but how many of them lead their team in receptions?

I was just trying to make a point about how Payton was able and willing to do anything to help the team.

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#74 by Raiderjoe // May 17, 2011 - 4:42pm

a bunch of them lwed team in catching or even cinference or whole leahue.

agree with you about payton. jyst didnt know what meant avout RBs catchikng being cool

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#79 by Shattenjager // May 18, 2011 - 1:58pm

I was intrigued by this question, but it took forever to look it up.

Here are all of the running backs to lead their team in receptions in the '70s:
Roland Harper in 1976; Walter Payton in 1978; Dave Williams in 1979; Chuck Foreman in 1974, 1975, and 1976; Rickey Young in 1977 and 1978; Johnny Roland in 1972; Donny Anderson in 1973; Terry Metcalf in 1974; Art Malone in 1971 and 1972; Boobie Clark in 1973; Bo Scott in 1970; Hugh McKinnis in 1974; Cleo Miller in 1977; Walt Garrison in 1971; Calvin Hill in 1972 and 1973; Preston Pierson in 1978; Bobby Anderson in 1971; John Keyworth (apparently taking a break from his spectacular music career) in 1975; Otis Armstrong in 1976; Steve Owens in 1971; Altie Taylor in 1972; Horace King in 1977; MacArthur Lane in 1972, 1973, and 1976; John Brockington in 1974; Barty Smith in 1977; Don McCauley in 1973; Lydell Mitchell in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1978; Joe Washington in 1978 and 1979; Ed Podolak in 1973, 1974, and 1975; Tony Reed in 1978; Ted McKnight in 1979; Jim Kiick in 1970; Mack Herron in 1974; Andy Johnson in 1976; Sam Cunningham in 1977; Alvin Maxson in 1974 and 1975; Tony Galbreath in 1976, 1977, and 1978; Joe Dawkins in 1974; John Riggins in 1971; Clark Gaines in 1976 and 1977; Lee Bouggess in 1970; John Fuqua in 1971; Larry Schreiber in 1974; Wilbur Jackson in 1976; Paul Hofer in 1979; Lawrence McCutcheon in 1974; and Fred Willis in 1972 and 1973.

There were a few of those who even did it for multiple teams: Rickey Young for the Chargers and Vikings, Lydell Mitchell for the Colts and Chargers, and MacArthur Lane for the Packers and Chiefs.

That's a total of 47 players and 65 player-seasons leading their teams in receptions in the 1970s. I knew it happened some, but it was considerably more common than I thought.

I did notice that most were on terrible teams with terrible quarterbacks (sometimes decent teams with terrible quarterbacks, but that doesn't happen often) or were coached by Don Coryell. A few (notably John Riggins) had extremely low yards per reception figures on teams where the wide receivers had very high yards per reception and thus appear to have been nothing more than dump-off options for deep passing teams.

Note: I included fullbacks, since they were also often the main runners for their teams. Everyone on this list did get significant carries, no matter their position.

As Raiderjoe mentioned, several running backs have also led the league in receptions, mostly during the 1970s:
1974: Lydell Mitchell (Colts)-72 rec
1975: Chuck Foreman (Vikings)-73 rec
1976: MacArthur Lane (Chiefs)-66 rec
1977: Lydell Mitchell (Colts)-71 rec
1978: Rickey Young (Vikings)-88 rec
1979: Joe Washington (Colts)-82 rec
Since then, only Roger Craig (1985) has done it.

Is it funny to anyone else that three of the seven seasons since 1970 where a RB has led the league in receptions were by Colts and none of them were Marshall Faulk?

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#81 by ammek // May 18, 2011 - 2:50pm

Aagh, Barty Smith. (Going off at a tangent here:) In that 1977 season when he led the Packers in receptions, he famously ran the ball 166 times with a longest gain of 11 yards. I've always wondered: has any other RB rushed as often (say, at least 10 att/g) without breaking a run longer than 11 yards?

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#82 by Shattenjager // May 18, 2011 - 7:14pm

That's amazing.

I looked through some of the lowest ypc seasons with at least 150 carries and didn't find anyone in the top 100 worst ypc who had a long less than 12 (Kevan Barlow in 2006, which was not part of the search since he had 131 carries in 12 games, was the only 12 I found who had at least 10 carries/game).

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#77 by Mr Shush // May 18, 2011 - 10:23am

Here is a list of all seasons by a running back with 750 or more yards rushing (to exclude players who were really WRs that took some carries), sorted by receiving yards per game.

Faulk has four of the top ten seasons on that list, including #1 (1999, at 65.5y/g). Payton's best receiving season, 1983, is at #74, with 37.9y/g.

Payton was a fine receiver, and was probably a better back in his era than Faulk was in his (especially given his astonishing longevity). But considered solely as receivers there's really no comparison.

P.S. Can anyone tell me what the hell the deal was with Roger Craig's 1985 season? Why was his Y/R that one year so much higher than the rest of his career?

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#78 by Thomas_beardown // May 18, 2011 - 11:57am

Faulk played with Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner, Payton played with Bob Avenelli and Vince Evans and Steve Fuller, and occasionally Jim McMahon.

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#84 by Mr Shush // May 19, 2011 - 9:12pm

Faulk played with Rookie(PeytonManning) not !!!PEYTONMANNING!!! on an offense that was below average overall (-4.3% DVOA) despite both of them playing on it.

But yeah, sure, Faulk played in a friendly environment and Payton didn't. That's still a hell of a gap in productivity to explain away.

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#87 by Thomas_beardown // May 22, 2011 - 11:05pm

I'm pretty sure Manning as a rookie was better than any QB Payton played with. Certainly better than any QB except McMahon.

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#80 by Shattenjager // May 18, 2011 - 2:09pm

I noticed that about Craig before and looked at it and I saw a few things that looked like they might be driving it.

1. His ypc also was a career-best 4.9 that year--he only even came close to that one more time in his career. He might simply have been at his peak that year.
2. That was the last year Wendell Tyler caught any passes in the NFL, and he caught 20 with an average of 7.7 yards per reception. Some of the passes that had been going to Tyler might have moved to Craig. That, of course, would also boost his sheer number of receptions, if not for 3.
3. Rookie Jerry Rice caught 49 passes for 18.9 yards per reception that year. In the future, his receptions went way up and his yards per reception went down noticeably except for a shocking 20.4 in 1988. Perhaps some of the intermediate passes that were previously going to Clark got shifted to Rice.

This was just what I guessed from looking through the numbers for a few years a while back, though.

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#35 by bubqr // May 13, 2011 - 11:34am

Great article, I enjoy those so much that I can't wait for your book.

This balance of humor, geekiness and football knowledge (order depending on article) is unmatched.

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#37 by Danish Denver-Fan // May 13, 2011 - 12:27pm

Fantastic peice. Although with a slight overuse of the "mind you" phrase, but I'm just being an asshole.

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#39 by mrh // May 13, 2011 - 12:43pm

"When the Rams of the late-'60s do get mentioned, usually as foils for the Packers, Cowboys, or Vikings, we usually talk about coach George Allen or the Merlin Olsen-Deacon Jones Fearsome Foursome defense... NFL history in the 1960s and 1970s is all about the Packers, Cowboys, Dolphins and Steelers, with the Raiders providing a villainous foil and Joe Namath a splash of Broadway. If you weren't on one of those trains, history pretty much left you at the station."

Taking a broad definition of the "late-60s" as 1964 to 1970 - and yes, I'm cherry-picking the endpoints - who's the forgotten franchise in this discussion? How about the team that won 74 games in that period, EIGHT more than the 2nd place Raiders and Browns, 15 more than the Packers. They went to 3 championship games, lost 2 badly when heavily favored, and won perhaps the worst-played Super Bowl ever. They had two one-loss seasons - and didn't even make the playoffs in one of the two. They nearly went to another championship game despite playing their 3rd string QB (and regularly-scheduled halfback) in a playoff game against the Lombardi Packers, who required OT and a questionable made FG call to prevail (resulting in the goal posts being made taller). The late-60s Colts are still waiting at the station, ahead of the Rams in the queue.

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#40 by Mountain Time … // May 14, 2011 - 2:56am

This kind of storytelling makes me miss Hunter S. Thompson.

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#54 by Kevin from Philly // May 16, 2011 - 9:22am

So Mike, when you signed the non-disclosure agreement, did NFL films let you see the spaceship that Al Davis came to Earth in?

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#66 by Raiderjoe // May 16, 2011 - 7:10pm

A. Davis did noyt come from another planet althouhbh with great genius minf it make some poeple think Davis extrraterrestrial. Al Davis supreme football being but is Earthly,. Knows more football than anyobdy in universe.

Aklways thought if aliens wannted to cme to earth and do things woudl mkae more sense if did somehting that only benefit them. Like for example many people think aliens come here to help USA ogvernment produce better weapons and planes and stuff. Or if aliens wanted to be nice thye could cure canncer or AIDS. But they aere not that nice.

Good chancen some of them come here to take poeple for sex to create hybrids. Maybe wopudlnt be bad thing to do if the alien woman was good lookign. PLus you know it would be safe. Very doubtfyl you'd get STD becuausue you would need to be adbucted many other times so for to see hybrid and teach him/her things on spacecraft.

Also evry good chance they come here for fuel. Maybe Earth is boring for them. Maybe another planet better and earth just like a rest stop. On Married with Children episode aliens used Al Bundy's sitnky socks as fuel. In rela life not socks but maybe cow's milk is fuel. That's why you sometime s hear about spaceships being seen and cows foudn mutilated next day.

Points: 0

#90 by Kevin from Philly // May 25, 2011 - 3:34pm

OK, I'll jump back in. Assuming they exist, I doubt aliens would give us weapons tech. First of all, we already seem to do too well at that. Second, we've always been a species that takes new ideas and improves them. Why would the aliens take a chance on us coming up with something better than what they have? As far as curing diseases, how do we know that the aliens are good doctors? I know a lot of guys who are real smart on technology that I wouldn't trust to cut my hair let alone accept their medical advice.

As far as there being alien hybrids here for sex, I'm pretty sure Carmen Electra is the only likely candidate on Earth today. Maybe David Becham's wife.

And milk as rocket fuel? If that were the case, they'd be stealing French cows not ours. You ever had French butter? Man, it's so much better than what we have.

Points: 0

#92 by Raiderjoe // May 25, 2011 - 5:30pm

If aliens got here it means they are smart beasts so woild assume tehcnological mastery. Om earth we learmed how to clone shep and cows and some others. So it make sense aliens many steps ahead and probably have beem breeding hybrids for lonv time. Good hance when get abducted sperm goikg to be analyzed for potentcy and also you going to get good physocal. If helth not good or if good but sperm bad you gettimg sent offf spaceship in jiffy. If good them you goimg to stay om board a little while longer.

That guy travia waltpn get shipped out fats probably bexaise had somethimg wrong with dna. Sperm okay though becauuasse did producw offspring

Points: 0

#56 by Dean // May 16, 2011 - 11:46am

I forwarded a link to the book out on Amazon (available for pre-order, hint, hint!) to my friends. The explianation was...

"Tanier. Book. Philly. Sold.

Coming in August."

Points: 0

#83 by Bruce Lamon // May 19, 2011 - 5:37pm

Roman Gabriel was not mobile, but he was huge for the era and was able to prolong plays by fending off tacklers, sort of like Culpepper. I started watching the Rams in the 60's so didn't see Van Brocklin or Waterfield, but agree he's #1, even though Warner brought the joy, while frankly my most vivid memory of Gabriel is him trotting off the field on 3rd down late in a crucial loss ('68 against the Bears?) thinking it was fourth down.

Points: 0

#85 by Michael LaRocca (not verified) // May 20, 2011 - 9:25am

Will Mike Tanier finish posting his Top 100 NFL Players or will the Rapture cut him short? Let's start a betting pool on that.

Points: 0

#86 by Mike_Tanier // May 21, 2011 - 3:33pm

The Rapture will not cut me short. The Preakness might.

Join me @FO_MTanier on Monday when I finish the list, or make more excuses for prolonging it.

Points: 0

#91 by Kevin from Philly // May 25, 2011 - 3:38pm

I bet Shackleford to show, and it paid a crappy $3.80. On the plus side, I had the under on the rapture, so I did pretty good with that zero souls total.

Points: 0

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