Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Nov 2013

Running Rivals

Tanier here! Had a lot of fun researching this one: the greatest running back rivalries in pro football history. Get your weekly dose of Nagurski!

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 20 Nov 2013

13 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2013, 2:06pm by Aaron Brooks Good Twin


by Travis :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 10:21am
by Ryan D. :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 10:53am

"Sanders gained just 54 yards on 21 carries with a short touchdown catch, Smith 16 yards on 65 carries."

That's got to be a record for futility.

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 11:04am

At the risk of stating the obvious, I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be 16 carries for 65 yards.

by my name is my password (not verified) :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 12:12pm

Don't be such a killjoy. The DYAR would be -150? worse?

I'm imagining:

10 .25 yard gain by Smith
20 .25 yard gain by Smith
30 10 yard pass by Aikman
40 goto 10

how else to get 65 carries?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 3:36pm

If it were Sanders, it would have been 5 rushes for -70, then 60 for 400. Which actually might be a decent DVOA day.

by justanothersteve :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 12:28pm

In the 1994 playoff game between Green Bay and Detroit, Sanders ran 13 times for -1 yard. The Lions overall had 15 rushes for -4 yards. The Packers (who won 16-12), weren't much better. Starting RB Edgar Bennett ran 22 times for 70 yards (barely 3 yds/carry). Backup Reggie Cobb also rushed 8 times for 12 yards. The Packers total was 35 runs for 81 yards.

While it was a playoff game in GB, the weather was not a contributor. It was 32F at game time and only a 7 mph wind, pretty good for the end of December in Green Bay.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:06pm

I listened to this game on the radio. The field was noted to be quite slippery. Given that Sanders' running style was predicated on quick direction changes, you can understand why that favored GB.

by sn0mm1s :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 1:36pm

Emmitt Smith the best runningback of his generation?! Uh, no.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 3:26pm

He held on long enough you could call him a Bettis/Tomlinson/Martin peer, as opposed to Sanders/Thomas/Davis. In which case, he might be.

by Bobman :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 2:43pm

For fans of a certain age, all I will ask is what year did the Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me come out? (Theme song: "Nobody Does it Better") Without checking I'll guess '78-'80.

Whatever year that was, the rushing title came down to the last day of the season and one of the networks (remember when it was just NBC/CBS? Ah, simpler timers...) had like a half hour pregame show devoted to the rushing crown, featuring... I am assuming Payton and Dorsett, but cannot recall, with Carly Simon's song really capturing their awesomeness with every slo-mo cut, pivot, and plunge. For a few years around that time, at least, nobody did it better. The network cut back and forth from game to game to keep viewers updated.

by Travis :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 4:07pm

The movie came out in 1977, but Payton ran away with the rushing title that year.

What you probably was either in 1978 or 1979. Going into Week 16 of 1978, Earl Campbell led Payton by 68, Delvin Williams by 121, and Dorsett by 169. However, cutting back-and-forth between games doesn't make sense though since none of the games were at the same time - Payton had temporarily taken the lead by running for 90 on Saturday, Dorsett's game was in the early Sunday slot, Campbell's was in the later Sunday one, and Williams's was on Monday night.

Going into Week 16 of 1979, Ottis Anderson led Campbell by 3, Payton by 113, and Wilbert Montgomery by 114. The Cardinals played the Bears in the early Sunday slot, while the Oilers played the Eagles in the later one. Payton (who played the entire 42-6 game, including an 11-yard run with 22 seconds left) outrushed Anderson (who injured his knee in the 3rd quarter) 157 to 39 to take the NFC rushing title by 5, but Campbell later ran for 134 to take the NFL title.

by Scott Crowder (not verified) :: Wed, 11/20/2013 - 3:25pm

Larry Brown and Larry Csonka was a great rivalry. The two were great RB's in the late 60's/early 70's, culminating with their showdown while at their peaks in SB VII.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:18am

It wasn't rivalry on field. They ongly met one time,besudes Suoer Bowl 7. Met jn 1974 game and Brown anx Csonka both didn't have good stat games.