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Sports Then and Now



Happy Birthday Jim Brown & Michael Jordan! 0

Posted on February 17, 2020 by Dean Hybl

It isn’t everyday that you can say that two athletes who arguably were the best ever to compete in their sport are celebrating birthdays. But you can say that about February 17th as that happens to be the birthday of Hall of Fame football star Jim Brown (born in 1936) and Hall of Fame basketball star Michael Jordan (born in 1963).

Happy 84th Birthday Jim Brown!

Though it has been 54 years since he last played in the NFL, just about anyone who was alive to watch him play still will insist that Brown is the best player ever to put on shoulder pads. His combination of power and speed were unlike anything that had previously been seen in the NFL and his domination of the league during his nine year career with the Cleveland Browns has never truly been matched. He won eight rushing titles in nine years and averaged 104 yards rushing per game for his entire career.  His 12, 312 career rushing yards was a record that stood for 19 years and still ranks 11th in NFL history.

As the NFL celebrated 100 years throughout the 2019 season, Brown was regularly touted as being one of the greatest players in NFL history. In fact, he was ranked by Sports Then and Now as the number one player in NFL history in our look at the NFL’s all-time top 100 players.

Read the rest of this entry →

NFL at 100: Top 100 Players of All-Time – 25-1 1

Posted on February 02, 2020 by Dean Hybl

As part of our celebration of the NFL at 100, Sports Then and Now is finishing our list of the top 100 players in NFL history with picks 25-1.

One of the cool parts of the NFL celebrating 100 years is remembering the great moments and players that have helped shape the history of the game.

The NFL Network has been sharing their selections for the top moments, game-changers, teams and characters. They also picked their All-Time top 100 team, though they did not rank the players 1-100.

In a sport that has seen great change and evolution over 100 years, creating any comprehensive all-time list is going to be subjective and open to interpretation.

That is likely even more pronounced when trying to choose the top 100 players of the NFL’s first 100 years.

Some will certainly rely heavily on statistics as a guide, but my opinion is that while individual season statistics and the number of seasons leading the league in a statistical category can help identify greatness, career and all-time statistics are not as helpful and can be misleading when trying to pick an all-time team.

Whether it is related to the number of games played each season, move from playing both ways to position specialization or rule changes that impact offensive production, there has been enough change over the history of the game that I believe reduce the importance of career statistics.

 That is why for the Sports Then and Now list of the Top 100 Players in NFL history we chose to give greater emphasis to other factors. The things we looked at when choosing our top 100 included All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, number of times leading their league in statistical categories, how they compared to other players from within their era and peak performance. Team success was given greater weight in ordering quarterbacks, but played only a minor role in selecting players from other positions.

The result is a Sports Then and Now Top 100 list that includes many of the players selected by NFL Network, but does have quite a few differences. For our list, we made sure not to forget those players from the 1920s-1950s whose career statistics are well below players from future decades, but who were clearly all-time greats.

The distribution of players by era for the ST&N Top 100 is very interesting: 1920s-1930s: 8; 1940s-1950s: 13; 1960s: 24; 1970s: 15; 1980s: 12; 1990s: 12; 2000s: 8; 2010s: 7. However, 14 of our top 20 played a majority of their career after 1980.

You can read our players 100-76, 75-51 and 50-26 in previous articles.

25. Bulldog Turner – Chicago Bears – 4 Pro Bowls; 7 time 1st Team All-Pro: A two-way star for the Chicago Bears, Clyde “Bulldog” Turner helped lead the Bears to four NFL Championships. As a rookie in 1940, he played center on offense and had an interception return for a touchdown as the Bears defeated the Washington Redskins 73-0.  Playing primarily center on offense and linebacker on defense, he was an eight-time first team All-Pro.

24. Mike Webster – Pittsburgh Steelers – 9 Pro Bowls; 5 time 1st Team All-Pro: Considered by many to be the greatest offensive center in NFL history, Mike Webster helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles. He played in 245 career games, including 150 consecutive starts from 1976-86.

Merlin Olsen

23. Merlin Olsen – Los Angeles Rams – 14 Pro Bowls; 5 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of five players in NFL history to have been selected to 14 Pro Bowls, Merlin Olsen teamed with Deacon Jones to anchor the Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome defensive line during the 1960s. As a defensive tackle, Olsen was a stalwart against the run. A durable player, Olsen missed only two games in his 15 year career. He was the NFL rookie of the year in 1962 while earning the first of 14 straight trips to the Pro Bowl.

22. Chuck Bednarik – Philadelphia Eagles – 8 Pro Bowls; 6 time 1st Team All-Pro: One of the last of the two-way players, Chuck Bednarik earned All-Pro honors as an offensive center and defensive linebacker during his career. Nicknamed “Concrete Charlie”, Bednarik was known for his ferocious hits. In the 1960 Championship Game he tackled Green Bay running back Jim Taylor at the 9-yard line on the final play of the game to ensure a 17-13 Philadelphia victory.

21. Bronko Nagurski – Chicago Bears – 0 Pro Bowls; 4 time 1st Team All-Pro: At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Nagurski was one of the largest running backs in the NFL in the 1930s and larger than many linemen of the era. He threw a touchdown pass to Red Grange to help the Chicago Bears defeat the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 in the first-ever NFL Playoff Game. Nagurski was a first or second team All-Pro in each of his first seven NFL seasons. He retired following the 1937 season, but returned to the team in 1943 and played tackle and fullback to help the Bears win the NFL Championship.

Read the rest of this entry →

Waiting for the Weekend: O.J. Simpson – Trapped Between Two Worlds 4

Posted on July 21, 2017 by Dean Hybl

During the 1970s, O.J. Simpson was the best player in football, despite being relegated to Buffalo.

During the 1970s, O.J. Simpson was the best player in football, despite being relegated to Buffalo.

Typically, one of the great results of sports is in its ability to unite. Whether it be a team of players from different backgrounds coming together to create one cohesive unit or a group of fans with little more in common than their fondness for a team or player who come together to cheer, celebrate and agonize over the successes and failures of that chosen favorite.

As I join the rest of society in viewing the latest chapter in the nearly 50 year saga of former athlete O.J. Simpson, it seems clear that whether intended or not, instead of being someone that people unite around, O.J. has more often served as a divider.

Born and raised in the housing projects of the Potrero Hills section of San Francisco, Orenthal James Simpson joined a gang as a teenager and was incarcerated at least three times. His life could have very easily been one led quietly in jails and the neighborhoods of his hometown had he not possessed a number of characteristics that ultimately helped him rise above his potential path.

Regardless of whether it was a meeting with superstar Willie Mays or the encouragement he received around his own athletic ability, or a combination of factors, eventually Simpson moved off the path to destruction and became a standout high school athlete.

However, as this story from the 1973 book Power Football illustrates, even once Simpson moved onto a path with success as a potential end, he seemed to teeter on the edge.

A star athlete at Galileo High School, Simpson told writer Murray Chase about an incident that very nearly could have gotten him thrown off the junior varsity team.

Nor was it a bad beginning for a fellow who almost had his football career cut off before it started by coming within a lie of being thrown off the high school junior varsity football team.

On the day of a big game, Simpson and two teammates were spending some time shooting dice in the bathroom at school. They all crapped out, though, when Jack McBride, their coach, walked in and found them playing their little game. Many coaches in that situation would simply warn the players never to do that again and let them go. But McBride, in a move for which Simpson could later be thankful (even though he escaped punishment) took the boys to the dean’s office.

“When we went to the dean’s office,” Simpson recalled, “the other two guys, Joe Bell and Al Cowlings, walked in front of me. Coach McBride told the dean he caught us shooting dice in the rest room. He gave the dean the dice and left. When he did, the dean told me to close the door. So I started out and began to close the door from the outside, but the dean called, ‘Where are you going, O.J?’ So I said, “I wasn’t shooting craps. Coach just asked me to help him bring these guys down.’ Then the dean told me I could go and the other guys got suspended.”

The other two boys, one of whom (Cowlings) later became Simpson’s teammate at USC and Buffalo, couldn’t resent O.J.’s little ploy. “They thought it was pretty smart for me to think that quick,” Simpson said. “Al said there was nothing he could say about it. He said if I could get away with it, I deserved it.”

As we now very well know, Simpson has continued to live on that edge for his entire life.

After winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Southern California in 1968, Simpson was relegated to the NFL’s equivalent of Siberia in Upstate, New York as a member of the Buffalo Bills. However, even though he struggled over the first three years of his career and some thought he might end up being an NFL bust, he still managed to catch the eye of television and advertising executives. Read the rest of this entry →

Where are They Now? 7 Sports Stars after Retirement 2

Posted on March 14, 2016 by John Harris

Going from having millions of fans worldwide watching your every move and genuinely being one of the best – if not the best – at what you do on the planet, to the realms of being mere mortal is a difficult transition. And it isn’t one that every sportsman is able to navigate successfully. Largely due to a combination of a startling lack of business acumen, poor decisions, lavish lifestyles and divorce (reputedly around the 80% mark for top US athletes), it doesn’t take long for one time heroes to become zeros – sometimes literally when it comes to finances.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated published a report highlighting just how bad this problem is. It found that an astonishing 78% of NFL players find themselves in “financial distress” within just 2 years of retiring. Around 60% of NBA players, who with an average salary of $5million is higher than every other sport, are bankrupt within 5 years of calling it a day on the court.

This isn’t always the case however, here are some examples where top sportsmen have gone on to build a successful – and occasionally surprising –  career after retiring from their former profession.

 

1. Magic Johnson

One of the finest basketball players of all time, the point guard achieved practically everything there was to achieve in the game. During his 14-year career which included 2 comebacks, Johnson won 5 NBA titles, 3 Final MVPs, and 3 regular season MVPs, and even found the time for an Olympic gold medal. He still has the highest average assists per game in history – 11.2, and playoff assists – 12.3.

His career since retirement has been no less successful. Despite a less than auspicious start (his TV show was pulled after 2 months) Johnson found a taste for business and never looked back. He was one of those who invested in Starbucks before anyone had even heard of the now omnipresent coffee shop brand. His company – Magic Johnson Enterprises – has its fingers in many industries from banking to entertainment and has helped the former Laker star earn a reputed $500 million.

 

 

2. George Foreman

Foreman’s recent career has become so successful and high profile that anyone who can’t remember back to a time when everyone didn’t have a cell phone could be forgiven for thinking that this is what he has always done. The rest of us of course know that he was one of the most formidable and talented heavyweight boxers of all time. He will always have a place in boxing folklore due to his part in the Rumble in the Jungle – one the most famous and entertaining fights of all time, but his record stands up for itself: 81 fights, 76 wins, 68 of those by way of KO, and just 5 defeats. And don’t forget that most of those were during the golden era of heavyweight boxing.

ALI FOREMAN

When he came out of retirement at age 45 to knock Michael Moorer (then 27) out, he became the oldest heavyweight world champion in history.  When he finally retired for good, he teamed up with Russell Hobbs Inc, and launched the George Foreman Fat Reducing Grill, which he had helped design. It was an instant success and has sold over 100 million units in less than 15 years. Though he has never disclosed how much he has made from the grill, it is believed at its peak the preacher was earning $4.5 million a month. In total, it is estimated he has earned in excess of $200 million from the endorsement. A lot more than he than he ever made in the ring, actually. Read the rest of this entry →

Happy 80th Birthday Jim Brown 2

Posted on February 17, 2016 by Dean Hybl

Happy 80th Birthday Jim Brown!

Happy 80th Birthday Jim Brown!

Though it has been 50 years since he last carried a football in the NFL and most of his records have long been broken, Jim Brown still stands among the greatest ever to play professional football and is arguably still at the top of that list. We wish this legend and American treasurer a happy 80th birthday!

When he retired following the 1965 season at the age of 29, Brown held the NFL record with 12,312 career rushing yards. Though his mark was first passed by Walter Payton in 1984 and has since been eclipsed by seven other players, Brown remains the only player in NFL history to average more than 100 yards rushing per game (104).

Brown was the epitome of a player retiring at the peak of his greatness. In his final NFL season, Brown rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns as the Cleveland Browns reached the NFL Championship Game.

In the 1963 NFL season, Brown rushed for 1,863 yards, which was the NFL single season record at the time. The following season, he gained 1,446 yards rushing and then had 114 yards to lead the Browns to what remains the last NFL Championship for Cleveland.

During his nine NFL seasons, Brown led the NFL in rushing an amazing eight times. At the time of his retirement, Brown’s career rushing total was nearly 2,600 more than second place Joe Perry. He also scored a then record 106 career touchdowns.

In the ensuing 50 years since he last wore an NFL uniform, Brown has spent time as an actor, but most importantly he has been a vocal leader in civil rights and supporting inner city youth. It is amazing to think that not only was Brown a great football player, but he was also one of the best college lacrosse players of his era. He was recently prominently involved when Hampton University, a predominantly African American school in Virginia, recently started a varsity lacrosse program.

It is interesting that arguably the greatest player in NFL history shares a birthday with the greatest player in NBA history, Michael Jordan. In fact, when ESPN ranked the top athletes of the 20th Century, Jordan was first and Brown fourth. Read the rest of this entry →

What a Day! Happy Birthday Jim Brown and Michael Jordan! 2

Posted on February 16, 2013 by Dean Hybl

Happy 50th Birthday Michael Jordan!

Happy 50th Birthday Michael Jordan!

It isn’t everyday that you can say that two athletes who arguably were the best ever to compete in their sport are celebrating birthdays. But you can say that about February 17th as that happens to be the birthday of Hall of Fame football star Jim Brown (born in 1936) and Hall of Fame basketball star Michael Jordan (born in 1963).

Though it has been 48 years since he last played in the NFL, just about anyone who was alive to watch him play still will insist that Brown is the best player ever to put on shoulder pads. His combination of power and speed were unlike anything that had previously been seen in the NFL and his domination of the league during his nine year career with the Cleveland Browns has never truly been matched. He won eight rushing titles in nine years and averaged 104 yards rushing per game for his entire career.  His 12, 312 career rushing yards was a record that stood for 19 years and still ranks 9th in NFL history.

What is perhaps most extraordinary for Brown is that some have claimed that in addition to being the greatest football player of all-time, he may also have been one of the best lacrosse players ever. He was an All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse, scoring 43 goals in 10 games as a senior. He also was the leading scorer on the Syracuse basketball team as a sophomore and lettered in track.

It is hard to believe that it has been more than 30 years since Michael Jordan emerged on the scene as a basketball star at the University of North Carolina. He hit the shot that propelled UNC to the NCAA Championship during his freshman season of 1981-82 and two years later helped lead what was likely the finest collection of amateur basketball players in history to a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

In the NBA, Jordan eventually evolved into the best player of his generation and ultimately is considered by many as the best to ever play the game. He averaged more than 30 points per game for his entire 15 year career and won the scoring title 10 times. Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Rocky Colavito: Super Slugger
      March 30, 2020 | 7:24 pm
      Rocky Colavito

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was just the fifth player in Major League Baseball history to have 11 straight seasons with 20 or more home runs, yet could not sustain that greatness long enough to earn a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

      In some sense, the legend of Rocco “Rocky” Colavito Jr. began long before he ever started pounding home runs at the major league level.

      Born and raised as a New York Yankees fan in The Bronx, Colavito was playing semipro baseball before he was a teenager and dropped out of high school at 16 after his sophomore year to pursue a professional career. The major league rule at the time said a player could not sign with a pro team until his high school class graduated, but after sitting out for one year, Colavito was allowed to sign at age 17.

      Read more »

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