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Sports Then and Now



50 Years Ago: Joe Namath and the Jets Shock the World 0

Posted on January 11, 2019 by Dean Hybl
Joe Namath dominated the attention prior to Super Bowl III, but few expected his team to win.

Joe Namath dominated the attention prior to Super Bowl III, but few expected his team to win.

With apologies to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, the most shocking sports victory of the 1960s took place 50 years ago on January 12, 1969 when the underdog New York Jets lifted the fortunes of an entire league by defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Though the American Football League (AFL) was completing its ninth season and the champions of the AFL and National Football League (NFL) were meeting for the third straight year, most people did not consider the two leagues to be equal. In fact, it is reported that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle believed it might be another decade before the AFL would be an equal to the NFL and that a new format for the Super Bowl might be needed.

In hindsight, we know that the two leagues were indeed much closer in competitiveness than Rozelle believed, but at the time his reasoning was hard to argue against. The NFL Champion Green Bay Packers had claimed the first two Super Bowls by a combined margin of 68-24 and the current NFL Champion Baltimore Colts were perhaps an even more dominant champion than Green Bay.

While the Colts were an established NFL power, the New York Jets were an AFL upstart that had just completed the second winning season in franchise history and were making their first-ever trip to the playoffs.

However, one “ace in the hole” for the Jets was roaming their sidelines. Head Coach Week Ewbank had won two NFL Championships during his nine year tenure as coach of the Baltimore Colts. After moving to the Jets, he had taken the team from a basement dweller to league champions.

During both his time with the Colts and the Jets, Ewbank had the benefit of having an elite franchise quarterback leading the offense.

In Baltimore, he turned Johnny Unitas into an all-time great. Though New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath had not yet reached that status level, in 1967 he did become the first quarterback in pro football history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. Read the rest of this entry →

Can Peyton Manning Finish His Climb to the Top of the NFL Quarterback Mountain? 53

Posted on December 23, 2013 by Dean Hybl
At age 37 and just two years removed from major neck surgery, Peyton Manning is having arguably the finest season of his career.

At age 37 and just two years removed from major neck surgery, Peyton Manning is having arguably the finest season of his career.

After watching Peyton Manning toss four more touchdown passes against the Houston Texans to bring his season total to a new NFL record 51 with a game left in the season, it seems hard to believe that it was just 18 months ago that legitimate questions existed as to whether Manning would ever throw another pass in the NFL.

It is easy now to downplay the severity of his neck injury and the four surgeries that forced him to miss the entire 2011 season and put into play the events that have led him to Denver after spending his first 13 seasons in Indianapolis.

However, in the spring of 2012, it was not over-reacting to question if Manning would ever play in the NFL again, much less wonder if he could ever return to MVP form.

You might wonder now if the Indianapolis Colts might have made a different choice had they been able to look in their crystal ball and see that Manning was going to pass for 10,000 yards and 88 touchdown passes over the next two seasons. Would they have passed on quarterback of the future Andrew Luck to stay with the quarterback of the present in Peyton Manning?

I think if you ask Jim Irsay and the Colts, he would probably say “no”, and that his team made the difficult, but correct decision for the long-term success of his franchise.

Given that Luck has quickly developed into a top-12 NFL quarterback and has led the Colts to consecutive double digit-win seasons and playoff appearances, you have to believe him.

Plus, Irsay saw first-hand what can happen when the team no longer has the services of Manning during their 2-14 disaster campaign of 2011. So even though Manning has been the better player over these two seasons, I’m not sure he would have helped the Colts win many more games and at age 37, he has only so many more seasons left before he rides off into the sunset. Read the rest of this entry →

NFL: The Storylines From Week Five 0

Posted on October 10, 2012 by Andy Larmand

Drew Brees celebrates with teammate, Devery Henderson after he threw a record-breaking touchdown pass on Sunday. Bress now has a TD pass in 48 straight games – breaking the record set by Johnny Unitas.

As always, it was another exciting week in the NFL with records being broken, upsets being recorded and Tim Tebow leading the Jets to a win. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Nevertheless, it was still another very exciting week in football that made us fans all grateful that we get to watch the game every week – and that the replacement referees are gone for good.

Now’s the part when I reminisce about both the good and the bad that the games had to offer.

First and foremost, Saints quarterback, Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game – a new NFL record. The previous record was 47 held by Johnny Unitas. The record-breaking pass was one of four for him on the night and came in the 1st quarter to Devery Henderson from 40 yards out. More importantly, the Saints picked up their first win of the season, 31-24 over the Chargers.

Five teams did not allow a touchdown in their Week 5 games. It’s not surprising that three of them were the Ravens49ers and Bears. It is surprising, however, that the other two were the Rams and the Chiefs. The Chiefs were the only team to not allow a touchdown and lose the game. The Ravens beat them, without scoring a touchdown, 9-6.

Two teams – the Bears and the 49ers won by more than 38 points. The 49ers beat the Bills 45-3 and the Bears crushed the Jaguars 41-3.

The Cardinals suffered their first loss of the year, falling to the Rams 17-3 on Thursday night.

San Francisco set a franchise record with 621 yards of total offense in their win against Buffalo. It was also the most yards that the Bills have ever given up. Alex Smith threw for 303 yards and three TD’s. The Bills also became the first team to allow 550+ yards of offense in consecutive weeks since 1950.

The Bears recorded an interception return in their third straight game for the first time in their history. Charles Tillman returned a Blaine Gabbert pick 36 yards in the 2nd quarter to make the score 13-3 Bears.

The Patriots scored 3+ rushing touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since 1978. Touchdowns were scored by Shane VereenStevan Ridley and Tom Brady. Brady also threw a touchdown pass in his 38th straight game – remaining ten behind Brees for the all-time record.

Green Bay blew an 18-point halftime lead to the Colts and lost the game 30-27. Andrew Luck threw two touchdowns and Reggie Wayne had 212 yards receiving as the Pack blew their largest halftime lead since 1957.

In case you were wondering, the Browns are still winless. They fell to 0-6 after blowing a 14-0 lead against the Super Bowl Champion Giants. Dating back to last season, Cleveland has now lost 11 straight which is tied for the longest losing streak in its franchise history. On the bright side, rookie running back, Trent Richardson, recorded  a rushing touchdown in his fourth straight game.

Read the rest of this entry →

Brees Looks To Break The NFL’s “Unbreakable” Record 1

Posted on October 05, 2012 by Dean Hybl

Drew Brees has matched the “unbreakable” record of Johnny Unitas.

With a touchdown pass in the New Orleans Saints game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Drew Brees will break the NFL passing record most considered to be unbreakable. Yet while tossing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game will eliminate Johnny Unitas from the record book, that it took more than 50 years and a complete change in offensive philosophy for the record to be approached makes the Unitas streak seem even more impressive.

When Johnny Unitas started his streak as a rookie for the Baltimore Colts on December 9, 1956, the passing game was used quite differently than it is today. The 1956 Colts ranked sixth in the NFL with 1,921 passing yards on 279 total attempts. By comparison, they were second in the NFL with 2,202 yards rushing on 432 attempts.

In 1956 the Green Bay Packers were the only team in the NFL to throw the ball more than they ran it (353 pass attempts, 337 rushes) and it wasn’t surprising that they finished last in their division with a 4-8 record. Overall in the NFL in 1956 there were 5,453 rushing attempts (37.9 per team per game) compared to 3,282 pass attempts (22.8 per team per game). There were a total of 162 touchdown passes thrown during the season (13.5 per team).

Fast forward to the 2011 season and the change is quite staggering. Drew Brees and the Saints attempted 662 passes in 2011 while running the ball 431 times. Only four teams in the NFL had more rushing attempts than passes. Interestingly enough, of those four teams (Jacksonville, San Francisco, Denver and Houston), three of them made the playoffs. Overall in 2011, there were 17,410 pass attempts in the NFL (34 per team per game) and 13,971 rush attempts (27.3 per team per game). There was a total of 745 touchdown passes thrown (23.3 per team). Read the rest of this entry →

Best Quarterbacks in NFL History: Where Does Favre Rank? 8

Posted on December 27, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Where does Brett Favre rank among the top quarterbacks in NFL history?

Now that it appears Brett Favre’s 20-year NFL career is finally in its last stages, it provides an opportunity to analyze where the gunslinger ranks among the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

There have been many superstar quarterbacks who fall short when selecting the all-time greats because while they may have posted excellent career numbers, they never measurably made their team better.

The best quarterbacks make an average team good, a good team great and a great team into a champion.

Trying to analyze the value Favre brought to the Packers and recently to the Jets and Vikings can be challenging. Given his tendency for risk taking and the subsequent risk-reward results, did Favre make average teams perform at a higher level than they would have otherwise or did he make key mistakes at inopportune times that kept great Packer and Vikings teams from going as far as they maybe would have had he not been such a gunslinger?

During his 19 years as a starting quarterback, Favre has led his team to at least eight victories 17 times and to double digit win totals 10 times. However, Favre has a 2-3 record in NFC Championship Games and late interceptions cost his team in each of his last two trips to the conference title game.

Favre will retire as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards, pass attempts, pass completions, touchdown passes, passes intercepted and times sacked. However, he ranks only 17th in completion percentage and 21st in passer rating. So, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between how great he has been and how many of his records are purely a result of his longevity.

Since the game of football and the quarterback position have evolved so dramatically from the early days of the NFL, for the purpose of creating this list, I have included quarterbacks whose primary careers occurred after 1955. There is no question that Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham and Sid Luckman deserve to be recognized as among the best quarterbacks of all-time, but to try and thoughtfully compare their careers to those of today’s stars in virtually impossible.

Because quarterback stats have increased so dramatically even during the last 55 years, using just single season or career stats to analyze all-time greatness isn’t really an accurate assessment of where a player ranks among the best of all-time. Other qualities such as team success, comparison to others from that particular era and quality of the skill position players around the quarterback also can be used to chronicle success.

Below is my take on the top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history. In general, the selections are not significantly different than those listed in many other all-time quarterback lists.  Rather, there are some differences in my order than on other lists. If you have an opinion, please feel free to provide your own top 10. Read the rest of this entry →

How Joe Willie Namath Saved Football from Itself and Changed a Nation Forever 2

Posted on July 25, 2009 by L.J. Burgess
Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath each personified an era in Pro Football history.

Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath each personified an era in Pro Football history.

I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow…’Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day“…words to live by.

I was a 10-year-old farm boy when Joe Namath signed the biggest contract in pro football history.

The war between the AFL and NFL had reached its apex, and the news of Namath’s choosing the upstart AFL traveled far and wide—even to our local weekly, the little ol’ “Reidsville Review” down in Carolina.

At that point in my life, my knowledge of professional football was gleaned from family gatherings around a huge woodstove on Sundays and an occasional peek at a snowy black and white TV that the men huddled around after church…as long as I was quiet.

Out of those bull sessions, I surmised that Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts were, and always would be, the greatest group of athletes in the history of the game…forever, 1958’s “Greatest Game Ever Played” being the benchmark against all who would challenge their superiority.

Read the rest of this entry →

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Iron Man Randy Smith
      February 2, 2019 | 5:58 pm

      Randy Smith-BravesThe Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month may have had a pretty common name, but his iron man streak as an NBA player was anything but ordinary.

      In a streak that lasted more than a decade, Randy Smith played in 906 consecutive NBA games to establish an NBA iron man record that lasted more than a decade.

      That Smith made it to the NBA at all was somewhat of an underdog story.

      A three-sport standout at Bellsport High School in Long Island (basketball, soccer and track), Smith also was a three-sport All-American at Division II Buffalo State College. He helped lead the Bengals to three straight basketball conference championships and a spot in the 1970 Division II Final Four.

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