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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things Missed, And Not...

Sports illustrated had an interesting article, or two about things we miss and do not miss in football.

Me, I am not sure I agree about the Miss or Not Miss part for all of the examples, but it gets me thinking about the old days and reminiscing...

Remember When...

1. The USFL:
Unlike its wayward uncle, the World Football League, the USFL had Hall of Fame talent (Jim Kelly, Sam Mills, Steve Young, Reggie White, Gary Zimmerman), brainpower on the sidelines (George Allen, Dom Capers, Jim Fassel, John Fox, Marv Levy, Steve Mariucci, Jim Mora, Steve Spurrier) and in the front office (John Butler, Carl Peterson and Bill Polian) and even a network-TV contract (ABC). It offered an opportunity for all-comers, with little egos from the players (outside of those involved in a bidding war with the NFL), plenty of offense (including the two-point conversion) and innovation (the use of instant replay). What it didn't have was smart owners, who foolishly blew the salary cap to overpay for stars and voted to switch from playing in the spring to competing directly with the NFL in the fall. –Richard Deitsch .

2. Over-the-top touchdown/sack dances:
Why is there a push to sterilize a game that's born of pure aggression and raw emotion? "Act like you've been there before," they say. You know who says that? People who have never been there. Any one of us would turn into Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens if we reached the end zone in front of a national audience. We'd bust out Mark Gastineau's double-arm pump dance if we brought down a quarterback with 30,000-plus screaming fans egging us on. The way Barry Sanders would simply hand the ball back to the referee after scoring a touchdown was so novel because it was so different. If everybody did that, the NFL would be as dull as, well, baseball. Give me spontaneity. Give me Owens pulling a Sharpie out of his sock and autographing a ball. Give me Ernest Givens' electric slide and shimmy. Celebrations breathe unconformity into a league that punishes a player whose socks are too high. Come on, NFL, let these guys express themselves. I just did my part by breaking out the Ickey Shuffle. –Cory McCartney.

3. Al Davis when he was a football genius:
Raiders owner Al Davis takes a lot of flak for being stuck in a time warp and rightly so. The only thing more dated than his sartorial taste (how ‘bout those jumpsuits?) is his football mind. From the team's half-baked personnel decisions (paging Robert Gallery) to its dubious coaching hires to its bone-headed playcalling, there isn't a problem Davis hasn't made worse. The more he meddles, the harder it is to remember a time when Davis was the football equivalent of King Midas. When he took over the Raiders at age 33, he refashioned them into one of the most successful teams in pro sports. (The ledger: 13 division championships, an AFL championship, three Super Bowl titles and 15 playoff appearances in 19 years.) When the AFL was written off as a joke in the early 1960s, Davis, as its commissioner from 1966-70, remade it into a powerhouse, poaching so much of the NFL's top playing and coaching talent that the two leagues eventually merged. An equal-opportunity trailblazer as well, he didn't shrink from starting a Latino (Jim Plunkett) at quarterback, making a black man (Art Shell) his head coach or putting a woman (Amy Trask) in his front office. For a while there, it seemed like Davis couldn't miss. But then, somewhere in the between his LA-related legal battles with the NFL and his haggles with Jon Gruden, the old man lost his way. Moreover, the losses are mounting right along with the fans' restlessness. Will the Raiders ever get back to their winning ways? Probably, but it'd take one more genius move from Al to make that happen: He'd have to butt out. –Andrew Lawrence

4. Single-Bar Facemasks:
Once upon a time NFL players weren't afraid to reveal their mugs to millions of fawning fans. Back in the 1980s, the only thing separating a gridiron great from an oncoming 300-pound (OK, back then they were probably more like 250) lineman was a gray, acrylic bar. Former Cardinals and Browns kicker Scott Player was the last pro to wear the classic facemask: a single strip worn below the chin, rendering its protective qualities absolutely useless. Still there's no way to mask our disappointment that uni-bar was banned from the NFL in 2004, nearly 50 years after its inception. It was a simple, understated look that imbued those manly enough to bare their chin with an aura of uniqueness and grit – and also provided him clear lines of vision. And those vintage facemasks reassured fans that, yes, the Gary Anderson in the box score is clearly the one lining up his kick on the field. Instead of the single bars, we now have models such as ION 4D ROPO-UB-DWs, a jaw-like mask and reflective visor LaDainian Tomlinson (at least we think that's Tomlinson in there) straps on before heading to the line of scrimmage. Nowadays, players sport more facial coverage than Darth Vader. - Nicki Jhabvala

5. The College All-Stars vs. defending Super Bowl champions game:
Imagine top draft pick Matt Stafford facing the Steelers defense. Or Wake Forest All-America linebacker Aaron Curry chasing down Ben Roethlisberger. Well, it used to happen annually. A group of college all-stars played against the defending NFL champions (1933-1966) or Super Bowl champions (1967-75) every year except 1935 (when the Bears represented the pros). The series was canceled in 1977, with the NFL champions holding a commanding lead (31-9-2). The game folded because of the salary demands of the pros, but can you imagine the interest if this game replaced the current yawn-inducing Pro Bowl today? –R.D.

6. Well-dressed coaches:
When Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram roamed the sidelines in a black suit jacket and tie, along with a matching red vest and handkerchief, his players took notice. So did fans and opponents. Quite simply, the man looked like he was going to work. In 1990, after the NFL mandated that coaches don officially licensed NFL gear instead of blazers, the sport lost the couture classiness of men like Stram and Tom Landry. (We also long for the days of smartly-dressed college coaches such as Paul (Bear) Bryant.) San Francisco coach Mike Nolan had to negotiate with the league for three years before it finally allowed him to sport a suit on the sideline in 2007. If only Stram were around to admire Nolan's perseverance -- and to tell hoodie-wearing Patriots coach Bill Belichick he ought to draft a tailor. –N.J.

7. College football games played only on Saturday:Long ago you could fit your entire week's college football viewing experience into one tidy day. There wasn't this Thursday-Saturday smorgasbord with the occasional Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday games sprinkled in. It was part of what made a fall Saturday so special, the fact that the entire nation's focus was, for that one day, entirely on campuses across the land. It was our rite of autumn, a shared experience. Fridays were for high school football, Saturdays were dedicated to college contests and Sundays devoted solely to the NFL. Sure, giving us a Big East clash on Thursday feeds our 24/7 appetite for sports, but frankly it has killed some of the novelty of Saturdays, the one day alone that should belong to college football. –C.M.

8. The Statue Of Liberty Play in the NFL:
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses -- as long as they aren't huddled at the 20-yard line and considering running what was once America's favorite sandlot play. The most famous use of the Statue of Liberty play in recent times came during the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and Oklahoma. The play, dubbed "Statue Left" by the Broncos, featured quarterback Jared Zabransky faking a pass and issuing a behind-the-back handoff to Ian Johnson for the game-winning conversion. NFL teams rarely use the play, though the Dolphins did successfully execute the Statue of Liberty sequence for a two-point conversion in a 2007 game against the Jets. "The Statue of Liberty [play] has a high explosion rate, meaning that if it blows up, it blows up bad," former Bengals Sam Wyche told SI in 1987. "Coaches don't use it much, because they know if something looks tricky and doesn't work, they get labeled as 'tricky.'" –R.D.

9. Old Mile High Stadium:
How can you not love a stadium where home fans sustained the world's loudest roar for 10 seconds (a reading of 128.74 decibels in 2000, beating the previous world record by 3.34 decibels)? The fact is Invesco Field, which opened in 2001, simply doesn't generate the noise old Mile High did. Rocky Mountain News columnist Dave Krieger described the old stadium as an erector set. "The upper decks bounced when the people bounced," Krieger wrote. "This scared the bejesus out of novice national TV announcers, who thought the whole thing was about to come apart. They had a tendency to sit down suddenly, as if this would steady things." Denver fans haven't tasted a title in the new stadium: The Broncos last won a Super Bowl in 1998. –R.D.

10. Quarterbacks calling their own plays:
It's a skill that's become all but extinct. Today's quarterbacks (save for Peyton Manning) rarely call their own plays except for the occasional audible. Offensive coordinators are in constant contact with today's NFL signal-callers thanks to high-tech equipment. Sure, you can argue that the addition of new technologies shows how much football strategy has evolved, but what's been lost is some of the natural and instinctive quality of the game, even with the formation and route adjustments quarterbacks have to make. Will the Steelers feature a full-fledged machine at QB in 10 years? Stay tuned. –N.J.

11. Frank Broyles:
More Southern than sweet tea and grits, Broyles teamed with Keith Jackson to form college football's definitive announcing team, back before it took a network roster to figure out who was in the booth. What made Broyles so indelible was in the way he could coax "ATH-uh-lete" into three syllables in that Dixie-bred drawl. It was also the way he'd always manage to ask Jackson, at least once a game, "Where was the safety-man?" And it was in his impeccable style, a trademark that he still maintains at age 84. Broyles, who retired as Arkansas athletic director in 2007, was recently spotted in New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport wearing a three-piece suit … at 6 a.m. What made Broyles' performance in the booth so much more impressive is that he did it while serving as the Razorbacks' AD, yet managed to remain an objective analyst. Yet he did it with ease and defined the role of college football analyst, before we even knew it was being defined. –C.M.

12. Straight-on kickers:
The NFL hasn't had a full-time straight-on kicker since Mark Moseley retired in 1987. The prevailing wisdom nowadays is soccer-style guys -- like the foreign-born innovators of the 1960s, such as Charlie and Pete Gogolak, Jan Stenerud and Garo Yepremian -- can kick it longer and their accuracy is better. But Moseley, who played until age 38 and was a 65.6 percent career kicker, thinks the straight-ahead style could make a comeback if coaches start teaching it again. Too bad you can't find a square-toed shoe anymore. –R.D.

13. Spiked Footballs after TDs:
Before "The Fun Bunch," before Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, before the "Ickey Shuffle," and long before the "Lambeau Leap," there was Homer Jones. On Oct. 17, 1965, after he caught his first touchdown pass against the Eagles, the Giants receiver performed what he called his ultimate act of defiance: He spiked the football. Jones said he was trying to avoid the $500 league fine for throwing the ball in the stands. His act spawned decades of awkward, they're-so-bad-I-can't-help-but-watch post-touchdown celebrations, and the NFL has continuously upped the ante by levying additional fines. Thankfully there are no such restrictions in the flag football leagues where weekend warriors, living vicariously through their NFL idols, almost ritualistically celebrate lumbering into the end zone by spiking the pigskin. Homer's legacy lives on. —N.J.

14. Drop kicks:
Yes, they're legal, according to Rule 3, Section 8 of the NFL Rule Book. They're also cool, as Burt Reynolds proved in the original (and only one worth watching) The Longest Yard. Doug Flutie converted the league's last drop kick (on an extra point) in New England's 2005 regular-season finale against the Dolphins. His point-after attempt was the first successful drop kick in the NFL since Ray McLean of the Bears nailed one in the 1941 NFL Championship Game. Hall of Famer Earl "Dutch" Clark is the last player to successfully drop-kick a field goal in the NFL. According to, he dropkicked a 17-yard field goal in the Lions' 16-7 victory over the Chicago Cardinals on Sept. 19, 1937. It's time for another attempt. –R.D.
Yes, they're legal, according to Rule 3, Section 8 of the NFL Rule Book. They're also cool, as Burt Reynolds proved in the original (and only one worth watching) The Longest Yard. Doug Flutie converted the league's last drop kick (on an extra point) in New England's 2005 regular-season finale against the Dolphins. His point-after attempt was the first successful drop kick in the NFL since Ray McLean of the Bears nailed one in the 1941 NFL Championship Game. Hall of Famer Earl "Dutch" Clark is the last player to successfully drop-kick a field goal in the NFL. According to, he dropkicked a 17-yard field goal in the Lions' 16-7 victory over the Chicago Cardinals on Sept. 19, 1937. It's time for another attempt. –R.D.

15. The NFL in L.A.:
Like David Beckham's reputation, the interest in bringing an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles has waned in recent years. But the City of Angels has plenty of football memories worth remembering. L.A. hosted the first Super Bowl and the first three Pro Bowls; it was also home to the first pro scout (Eddie Kotal was hired by the Rams in 1948), the first black player to be drafted out of college (Paul "Tank" Younger, out of Grambling State) and the "most dominant line in football history" (The Fearsome Foursome). Though L.A. has two powerhouse programs in USC and UCLA, the college game can't fill the void left by the NFL. Then again, some would argue the Trojans are already a professional program. –N.J.

16. Two-bar facemask:
Terry Bradshaw wore one. So did Ken Anderson, Steve Largent, and Jim Plunkett. Though players tweaked the style over the years, the classic two-bar facemask was hard to miss in the NFL, with the bottom bar aligned with the base of the helmet and the top bar angled at about 30 degrees, like a pair of lips protruding from an oversized head. Today's NFL star could not care less about minimalist facemasks. Like cell phones, the more bars, the better. – N.J.

17. Tearaway jerseys:
You've seen the footage countless times: running back Earl Campbell runs around and over the Rams in November 1978, his No. 34 Houston Oilers jersey ending up in tatters before defenders finally bring him down. Campbell's run might be the defining moment of what might have been the worst-possible era to have been a defensive player in the NFL or college football. Russell Athletic's invention was a headache for defenders and lengthened games as players frequently had to go to the sidelines to don a new jersey when theirs fell apart. (Texas estimates that during Campbell's Heisman Trophy season of 1977 he went through 90 jerseys.) But boy did it look cool. Give me the old "T-shirt with numbers" over these newfangled high-tech fabrics any day.–C.M.

18. Jack Buck and Hank Stram calling CBS Radio's Monday Night Football games:
For nearly 20 years (beginning in 1978 and lasting through the 1995 season), Jack Buck and Hank Stram, the legendary gravel-throated sports broadcaster and the exuberant Super Bowl-winning Hall of Fame coach, entertained millions of NFL fans with a winning chemistry and Stram's remarkable ability to forecast a play before it happened. As SI's William Oscar Johnson once wrote of Stram, “he manages to avoid the roles of unemployed messiah and jargon-strangled technician so often foisted upon helpless football fans.” Both are gone now, which means a whole generation of football fans will never enjoy the pleasure of falling asleep listening to one of the great sports broadcasting partnerships. –R.D.

19. Stickum and Eye-Black:
The image of Lester Hayes smeared head-to-toe with Stickum is iconic in NFL lore. While others (primarily his Raiders teammates) used the sap-like substance sparingly, the cornerback nearly bathed in it. And, really, what was so bad about that? Hayes found a loophole in the system and capitalized on it, helping Oakland to two Super Bowl championships and himself to five Pro Bowls. Stickum was banned from the NFL in 1981 and, as a result, Hayes' stats took a nose dive. He became a “mere mortal,” he said. The eye black of old was made of actual grease, not over-priced tape with a cute little logo that is merely an extra licensing/merchandising arm for the league. Our take? Bring back the grease. –N.J.

20. The Wishbone:
Remember the tight end and the fullback? We do. Long before the spread was the formation du jour in college football, the triple-option wishbone attack dominated the college football landscape and made the Southwest Conference the place to play. Following the 1967 season, Texas coach Darrell Royal promoted linebackers coach Emory Bellard to offensive coordinator. As a former Texas high school coach Bellard was a proponent of option football and he changed the landscape of the college game. The wishbone delivered 30 straight wins for the Longhorns, national titles in 1969 and '70 and the “Game of the Century” -- a heart-stopping 15-14 victory over Arkansas in December 1969. –R.D.

21. Pete Rozelle:
Simply the best commissioner to ever serve a sport, Rozelle promoted financial equality between clubs and created the Super Bowl. As SI's Peter King once wrote of him, “Rozelle had a vision of what he wanted his sport to be. He would push and negotiate and persuade until he achieved it. His vision: closely contested games played in full stadiums and all over national television.” And that is the NFL we have today. –R.D.

22. The Orange Bowl in the Orange Bowl:
It was one of the few things that ever made sense about the Bowl Championship Series. Miami's Orange Bowl hosted its namesake game 60 times, featuring some of college football's most memorable moments. Best of all was the 1984 championship game, on the 50th anniversary of the Orange Bowl Classic, when hometown favorite Miami upset top-ranked Nebraska 31-30. Sure, the place was a rust bucket, the locker rooms were crappy, the facilities were pathetic and the quarters were cramped. But the game-time atmosphere was unlike any other, and its history as rich was as they come. Today the namesake game is played in a stadium temporarily named after Jimmy Buffett's beer. Turns out you can steal the Orange Bowl queen. –N.J.

23. Barefoot kickers:
The era of the barefoot kicker was relatively brief, but damn entertaining. Tony Franklin and Rich Karlis were the league's most famous shoeless booters, and ironically both played the majority of their careers in bad-weather cities. Franklin kicked for five years in Philadelphia and four in New England before finishing in Miami; Karlis was in Denver for seven years before playing for a season in the domes of Minnesota and Detroit. Both players claimed they had a better “feel” for the ball when kicking without a shoe, though no one seems to think that “feel” is worth much anymore as no NFL kicker has gone barefoot since the Rams' Jeff Wilkins did so briefly in 2002. Fans of Karlis and Franklin would sit in the stands without a shoe on one foot in support of their practice, even when the weather was freezing in those cities. In 1983, Karlis used a sanitary sock over his bare foot on a frigid day in Kansas City. “There was a 28-below-zero wind chill,” Karlis told SI in 1984. “I made a 24-yard field goal. But later, a woman stopped me in a Denver bank and told me I was a wimp.” – Bill Trocchi

24. Brent Musburger beginning a telecast on CBS: “You are looking LIVE …” :
He still wields that iconic opening line with the same smooth inflection, which invariably makes you think that wherever “you are looking” is the center of the sporting universe. Musburger's intro still sends a chill up my spine, but there's something lacking now that he no longer does it for CBS. The call never seemed better than when he issued it on The NFL Today during the opening montage of the day's marquee games. Musburger was dumped by CBS on April Fool's Day 1990, but the real joke was on the network. Musburger's signature still sounds great during college football broadcasts on ABC or ESPN. But as good as Greg Gumbel, Jim Nantz (who has even used Musburger's call, with his approval) and James Brown have been for CBS, it's just not the same. –C.M

25. Aloca Presents … Fantastic Finishes:The words immediately grabbed your attention at the tail end of an NFL broadcast in the 1980s. Upon the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, Harry Kalas' unmistakable voice announced the coming of that day's “FAN-tastic finish.” Then, Kalas' deep-throated voice detailed harrowing escapes from impossible situations. Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass to Drew Pearson against the Vikings in 1975 was on regular rotation, as was Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception and Steve Bartkowski leading the Falcons to a huge fourth-quarter comeback against the Packers. The Alcoa commercials came before ESPN Classic, HBO Sports, the NFL Network and the Internet, during the days when sports fans were not numb to dramatic, game-winning plays because they didn't come at us on a daily basis. –B.T.


Sam August 5, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

I could add #26 to this great list: Howard Cosell's "Halftime Highlights" on Monday Night Football. Classic stuff.

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