Thinking Out Loud — The Super Bowl 50 Golden Team

In honor of Super Bowl 50, Pro Football Hall of Fame voters selected a Super Bowl Golden Team team this week. Like with the FWAA’s 75th Anniversary All-American team, picking and debating these teams can be a lot of fun.

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers (8), Dallas Cowboys (4), Oakland Raiders (3), Green Bay Packers (3), and San Francisco 49ers (3) dominated the roster. The Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Giants each placed one player. Additionally, two players (Charles Haley and Deion Sanders) who played in Super Bowls for both the Cowboys and 49ers earned spots. Adam Vinatieri, who played in Super Bowls for both the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts was named kicker.

Let’s look at who made the team, and then discuss what players could have been included.

OFFENSE

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QB – Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers

RB – Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys

RB – Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

WR – Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers

WR – Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers

TE – Jay Novacek, Dallas Cowboys

OL – Mike Webster, Pittsburgh Steelers

OL – Forrest Gregg, Green Bay Packers

OL – Art Shell, Oakland Raiders

OL – Gene Upshaw, Oakland Raiders

OL – Larry Allen, Dallas Cowboys

DEFENSE

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DL – Reggie White, Green Bay Packers

DL – Charles Haley, 49ers, Cowboys

DL – Joe Greene, Pittsburgh Steelers

DL – Randy White, Dallas Cowboys

LB – Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants

LB – Jack Ham, Pittsburgh Steelers

LB – Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh Steelers

LB – Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

CB – Mel Blount, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB – Deion Sanders, 49ers, Cowboys

S – Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins

S – Ronnie Lott, San Francisco 49ers

SPECIAL TEAMS

VINATIERI

K – Adam Vinatieri, Patriots/Colts

P – Ray Guy, Oakland Raiders

KR – Desmond Howard, Green Bay Packers

COACH

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Chuck Noll

 

MY TWO CENTS

Overall, I think the voters did a pretty good job. Many of these players – Montana, Swann, White, and Lambert would have unquestionably made my ballot. A few players that would have made my ballot, however, were left off. There are so many ways to look at this, such as number of rings or great moments, that there really aren’t many right or wrong answers. I’ll take a leap give this my best shot from what I remember.

At running back, I’d likely have replaced Franco Harris with Larry Csonka. I’d also give some thought to either Timmy Smith or Ottis Anderson based on their great performances in a single Super Bowl. Smith owns the rushing record with a 204-yard day, and Anderson left the Buffalo Bills offense off the field for nearly a quarter. Marcus Allen and John Riggins certainly garner consideration for their epic moments. Franco had an awesome performance in Super Bowl 9, and owns the SB career rushing record, but when I think of the Steelers winning championships, I more think of their passing game and defense. Franco’s a deserving pick, but Csonka likely would have gotten my vote.

Larry Allen clearly is one of the top linemen of his era. But the voters might have forgotten that he only played in one Super Bowl – SB 30. People tend to group him in with all those stars who won 3 out of 4 championships, and I think that’s how Allen made this team. Dolphins Larry Little or Bob Kuechenberg would have gotten some consideration from me, as well as Joe Jacoby, Steve Wallace, Randy Cross, and Steeler Steve Furness. In the end, however, I probably would have picked Allen’s teammate Erik Williams.

Ronnie Lott played corner as much as safety, and from what I remember, Steve Atwater played a huge role in the Broncos winning SB 32. I’d likely give Atwater the nod. I would also likely replace Deion Sanders with either Herb Adderley or Ty Law.

At linebacker, Lawrence Taylor was an absolute beast on the field, but I don’t recall great SB moments from him. Rams linebacker Mike Jones saved a SB win tackling Titan Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line in SB 34. He’d be on my short list. Clay Matthews also would get serious consideration for his forced fumble and overall great performance in SB 45. Ken Norton Jr. and Lee Roy Jordan would also top my list. Nick Buoniconti’s name likely would have been marked on my ballot, however. He anchored a Dolphin defense that yielded zero points in SB 7 (a Washington fumble recovery for a TD was their only points). In SB 8, that same defense shutout Minnesota until the fourth quarter. That’s 7 consecutive shutout quarters for the Dolphins.

No question Chuck Noll is one of the greatest coaches in the history of pro football. My choice for this team, however, would have been Vince Lombardi. After all, it’s the Lombardi Trophy that’s awarded every year. Noll, however, is a superb choice.

HONORABLE MENTION AND SUMMARY

The quarterback position finds many players deserving. Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, and Tom Brady all deserve the highest consideration. I agree with Montana, but Bradshaw and Starr are nearly equal in SB stature, in my opinion.

At tight end, who could forget Mark Bavaro’s SB toughness? I’d choose Novacek over him, but Bavaro scores high.

There really are too many running backs to name in addition to those listed above. For fun (and possibly more realism), a blocking back could’ve been named – Tom Rathman, Rocky Bleier, and Daryl Johnston are the first names in my mind.

The lack of Patriots on this team implies that voters don’t believe current championship teams match up with those from previous eras. Adam Vinatieri and Ray Lewis are the only players appearing after SB 32.

What do you think? How do current champions match up against the vintage Steelers, Packers, and 49ers? Who would you put on the Super Bowl Golden Team?

 

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This Might Surprise You: What Was the World Like Last Time Your Team Won a Title? Part 2

This is part 2 in a series.

Knowing how much I love history, my wife bought me a birthday card listing facts about the year I was born. I started wondering what was happening the last time certain teams won a championship. Let’s find out, and I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had researching.

We started with the NFC East and NFC North Divisions. We cover the rest of the NFC here. Not too many championship rings in this bunch, San Francisco 49ers not withstanding.

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FLACONS – The Falcons franchise debuted in 1966, with first-overall draft pick Tommy Nobis from Texas leading the charge. The Falcons continue searching for their first championship nearly 50 years later. The team showed promise during the Steve Bartkowski and Alfred Jenkins years, but the Cowboys, Rams, and Vikings always proved better. Atlanta’s lone Super Bowl appearance was against the Broncos in Super Bowl 33 on January 31, 1999. The Falcons found an auspicious start as a Morten Andersen field goal hoisted them to an early 3-0 lead. By the fourth quarter, however, it was 31-6 in favor of the Broncos, ending as a 31-19 rout. Since the gun sounded ending the game, we’ve entered a new millennium. What was it like to party in 1999? Smart partiers invested in gold, a mere $279 an ounce. Gas cost $1.30 a gallon, and movie tickets averaged around $5. You might have spent that $5 seeing The Phantom Menace, Toy Story 2, or American Beauty.  

CAROLINA PANTHERS – The Panthers entered the NFL in 1995. Showing promise, coach Dom Capers had them in the NFC Championship the next year. John Fox coached the franchise to Super Bowl 38 a few years later, where they faced the Patriots on February 1, 2004. The teams combined for 37 points in the 4th quarter, including 17 in the final three minutes. Jake Delhomme hit Ricky Proehl for a 12-yard go-ahead touchdown with scarcely over a minute left, but Adam Vinatieri’s last-second field goal crowned the Patriots champions. Unfortunately, people seem to remember Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” more than one of the most exciting quarters in Super Bowl history. Not only did Panther fans experience a sad ending to the game, TV fans bid tearful goodbyes to the sitcom “Friends” that off-season. We also said goodbye to President Ronald Reagan, who passed away in June, 2004.

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The Friends cast facing their own wardrobe issues.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – The Saints, synonymous with losing for decades on end, beat the Indianapolis Colts for their only championship in Super Bowl 44. Drew Brees and company lifted the Lombardi Trophy on February 7, 2010. A lot of America celebrated with them in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The first iPads were 10 days old at the time. There’s been an entire tablet revolution since the Saints won. Perhaps the first YouTube video Saints fans watched on their iPad was this:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – Like Saints fans, Buccaneers fans suffered tremendously. Tampa, however, had a few bright years in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Coach John McKay, quarterback Doug Williams, and defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. They hungered for a title, however, until Super Bowl 37 in January of 2003. The Buccaneer defense showcased 3 pick-sixes (2 by Dwight Smith, 1 by Derrick Brooks) in the 48-21 trouncing of the Raiders. 2003 might marked the first official year of the Homeland Security Department, the Do Not Call List, and of U.S. Marshalls flying undercover on flights. Gas prices rose significantly, nearing the $2/gallon mark. In much cooler news, Harley Davidson celebrated its 100th Anniversary, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became California’s governor. The Buccaneers, however, haven’t been back.

 NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS – The Cardinals won their last championship in 1947 — as the Chicago Cardinals. “You had to have been there” is an appropriate phrase for Cards fans because the game wasn’t on television. Only 44,000 Americans owned television sets when the Cards triumphed. Saints fans have merely waited through the iPad Revolution – Cards fans endured the entire Television Revolution as well. Not to mention the Inflation Revolution. Gas in 1947 cost 15 cents per gallon. A new car cost $1,500. The average house cost about $13,000. Still, it was likely tough to make ends meet on the 40 cents per hour minimum wage.

Charley Trippi recalls winning the 1947 NFL Championship just before Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James, Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cardinals took on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 43. Unfortunately for Cards fans, the Super Bowl loss extended the title drought indefinitely.

ST. LOUIS RAMS – Speaking of Kurt Warner, he and his teammates sport the only St. Louis Rams championship rings. “The Greatest Show on Turf” featured Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Marshall Faulk. They defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl 34 on January 30, 2000, right after the Y2K panic instantly subsided. At least they won this millennium. What was the world like when the Rams won? Well, Clinton was still president. Gas averaged around $1.25 a gallon. A stamp cost 33 cents. And 51 million people gathered around the television to watch the first season-ending finale of “Survivor.” Maybe you remember the Los Angeles Rams? Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy Hirsch, and Tom Fears led them to their only league championship in 1951. At least their fans could watch on national television a scant 4 years after the Cardinals championship.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – When I think of the 49ers, I think of Super Bowl dominance featuring Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, John Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, and so many other stars. Only Rice and Taylor remained out of those players when San Francisco won their last championship. The 49ers topped the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl 29 in January of 1995. Nearly 20 years ago. A lot happens in 20 years. There’s this whole Internet and email thing that’s taken off. . If you wanted to watch Steve Young, Ricky Watters and the rest of the 49ers on Super Bowl Sunday , you called your friends on a touch-tone phone. No email, no text, no cell phone calls 20 minutes before kickoff….and yet we all still threw killer Super Bowl parties.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – Well, we currently live in a world where the Seattle Seahawks stand atop of NFL’s landscape. The Seahawks face tough sledding to repeat, their early season dominance but a dwindling memory through their mid-season tumble.

SUMMARY

As we learned in an earlier blog post, history gives Seattle an advantage over many teams who don’t possess a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Russell Wilson joins Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger on the roster of previous Super Bowl winners on teams with winning records. Don’t be too surprised if one of those QBs topples teams with better records in this year’s playoffs.

Thinking Out Loud — Johnny Manziel

The NFL hasn’t experienced rookie hoopla like Johnny Manziel since, well, since Tim Tebow. There’s a reason why players dub the league “Not For Long.” Tebow had his fifteen minutes of Tebow Time in the NFL and it’s over. Debating whether Manziel will prove a star or another Tebow (or Colt McCoy, or Heath Shuler, or Ryan Leaf) is a hot topic. The real answer is that nobody knows, not even Johnny himself.

Maziel gave the finger to the Washington bench Monday night. Speaking on the Mike and Mike show, Washington safety Ryan Clark, leaked the trash talk that set Manziel off. It was akin to, “Hey kid, this ain’t college. We’re all faster than you.” Nothing much more than one of my favorite sayings: “The fastest player in college is the slowest player in the NFL.”

Few rookies break into the NFL with complete poise, but many shake off such comments. Other rookies undoubtedly heard similar things this weekend. Finger Gate tells me one very important thing about Manziel: the opponent got into his head, and quite easily. Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t compile “QB Winning Percentage After Defense Got In Your Head” statistics, but my educated guess is that it’s somewhere around zero for most QBs.

I’m coincidentally reading an excellent Bart Starr biography by John Devaney. Starr alluded to the perils of desiring “emotional revenge” on your opponent. Emotions distract you from your game plan and technique. Emotional decisions, on and off the field, lead to mistakes. Mental toughness is as important as physical toughness.

Recall of few of your favorite Super Bowls. Did the quarterback demonstrating the most composure win? This doesn’t just factor into the Super Bowl. Watch any big game with and pay attention. The mentally toughest of the two QBs on that day will most likely win.

Earlier we looked at the remarkably low number of quarterbacks to win Super Bowls. Some, like Manziel, possessed exciting athletic abilities in addition to a strong arm. Others wouldn’t impress you with their combine numbers. But the top ones had one thing in common — they defined mental toughness. Starr. Joe Montana. Terry Bradshaw. Mental toughness. Bob Griese. Tom Brady. Mental toughness. Jay Cutler. Catch my drift?

I don’t mean to pick on Cutler, but I do want to stress that quarterbacks who have a tendency to get rattled also have a tendency to lose. Especially in big games. Cutler plays very well at times, but when the defense is in his head, he’s awful. Indeed, most quarterbacks skills deteriorate when shaken, and that’s usually done with a flooding pass rush. Occasionally, however, players can take their opponents off their game.

People criticize Manziel’s lifestyle, but players with robust lifestyles can succeed. Joe Namath and Paul Hornung are two wonderful examples. Conversely, players who let on-field emotions get to them usually fail. Manziel must learn to shake off the talk before he experiences any real success in the NFL. Otherwise, it truly will be “Not For Long” for him.

 

 

A Brief History of Hash Marks

In the NFL’s early years, there were no formalized scheduling rules. Some teams played more games than others, and the team considered to have the best overall record was declared champion, sans playoff. Adding confusion was a crazy agreement to disregard ties when determining the NFL champion. The 1932 season brought this mishmash to a pinnacle.

What the heck does all that have to do with hash marks? Well, the 1932 season ended with the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans tied with 6 wins and 1 loss.  Forget that the Bears played to 6 ties and the Spartans 4, including two against each other. Unable to determine a champion on paper, the NFL blazed a trail college football would follow a scant 80 years later, and held a playoff.

REALLY NOW, WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH HASH MARKS?

The championship game was scheduled to be played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, but brutal weather forced the game indoors, to the NHL’s Blackhawks home, Chicago Stadium. Situated for hockey rather than football, the playing area was only 80 yards long and much narrower than usual, with hockey boards acting as sidelines. At least sod was already installed for the playing surface, the benefit of a recent circus needing it for elephant routines.

Football rules of the day were similar to golf in that plays began at the exact location the previous play ended, rather than placing the ball toward the middle of the field. If you were tackled 5 yards from the sideline, that’s where the ball was snapped. Hockey boards cramped the logistics of ball placement for this game, so the offense was given the choice of starting plays on the hash marks. Choosing the option would cost the offense a down. The Bears beat the Spartans (now the Detroit Lions) 9-0, fueled by a Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange touchdown pass that might have been overturned by today’s instant replay (given conclusive evidence, of course).

The game influenced several rule changes the NFL made in the offseason, including the decision to regularly initiate plays on the hash marks. The 1933 and ’34 seasons would use hash marks 10 yards from the sidelines, stretching to 15 yards in 1935 and 20 yards in 1945.

HOW THE HASH MARK CHANGED THE NFL FOREVER

The Miami Dolphins weren’t the only ones who making history in 1972. Alarmed that 75 fewer touchdowns were scored in 1971 than in 1969, the NFL moved the hash marks closer together, to over 23 yards from the sidelines, less than 20 feet apart. The change ignited a power shift from defense to offense that remains in effect to this day.

The league continued to limit defense with rule changes since, but squeezing the hashes opened up the field, forcing defenders to cover more ground on each play. Before the hash marks closed in, the defense could count on one side of the field being several yards narrower than the other, leading to the classic saying, “Old Man Sideline never misses a tackle.”

It took a few years for the passing game to detonate, but the NFL’s running game exploded. Thirteen teams rushed for over 2,000 yards in 1972, and two others plowed for 1,995+. Comparatively, only 12 teams reached the 2,000 yard plateau over the course of four seasons, 1967-70. Individually, ten rushers gained over 1,000 yards in 1972, compared with only 2 in 1970 and 1 each in ’67-69. O.J. Simpson totaled 1,927 in his three-year career before tighter hash marks, then burst for 1,251 and 2,003 in wake of the new field design.

The change even helped special teams. “In the old days those hash marks were a lot wider. They moved them in to help offenses and inadvertently helped the kickers,” former NFL kicker Chris Bahr told The Game Before the Money. He then pointed out how hash marks now line up directly with the goal posts. Ray Wersching, the San Francisco 49ers kicker throughout their glory years with Joe Montana, would keep his head down and aim between the hashes rather than peer up at the goal posts.

SUMMARY

The humble hash mark played a key role in pro football’s development, subtly yet profoundly shaping the modern game. Imagine the Houston Oilers Run-and-Shoot offense or the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” with the ball placed 10 yards closer to the sideline at the start of a play. Would immortal plays such as the “Hail Mary” and “The Catch” seen different outcomes had players lined up on the short side? Would great open field runners such as O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders have racked up quite as many yards on unbalanced fields?

Note the hash mark differences in these two videos: The first video contains highlights from the 1943 NFL Championship. It’s amazing how close to the sidelines some of the plays start. The second video is of the incredible Eric Dickerson. Picture a few of Dickerson’s plays starting from the same spot as the ’43 Championship.