Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:17 am
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
With the death last Saturday of Raiders owner Al Davis, we got to see a side of him that most people under 35 never got to experience. When Davis was an innovator, a kick-ass coach and owner, a fighter against The Man and one of the most important figures in NFL history. It was nice to be reminded of that with tributes all over the Internet, newspapers and in NFL stadiums on Sunday.
Maybe we didn’t think about it in terms like this, but Davis, though largely reclusive to the public, was a living legend, and in the final years of his life, we probably didn’t appreciate him as much as we should have.
That said, here are 10 other living legends who hold (or who should hold) a special place in the league’s heart. No matter what they’ve become today -- those who are outspoken for and against their old teams, those who spend their time behind the scenes, and those who have disappeared for now -- it’s not too late to show them our appreciation for all the good they’ve done and the lives they’ve led.
10. Ron Wolf: Another of Davis’ protégés, Davis gave Wolf a job as a scout for the Raiders in the early 1960s, and after helping the Raiders to a plethora of wins, he helped set up a 1979 division title in Tampa Bay before moving on to Green Bay as the general manager. He hired Mike Holmgren as the head coach, traded for a backup quarterback named Brett Favre, revitalized that franchise that led to Super Bowl riches and restored the name of a storied organization that had fallen into disrepair.
9. Mike Westhoff: The only man on this list who’s still active in the game, you might remember Westhoff from his turn on Hard Knocks where he played the Jets awesome special teams coach. It wasn’t much of a stretch, because Westhoff has been an awesome special teams coach. Aside from that, he’s a bone cancer survivor (he had to have nearly a dozen surgeries to get rid of it), and he’s one of the most respected working coaches today. But he won’t be around much longer. After 30 years of coaching, he’s said this season will be his last.
8. Ray Guy: Last year, I made him my No. 1 former player who deserves be in the Hall of Fame, but since he probably won’t ever get to Canton, that list and this one will have to suffice. Once Shane Lechler’s career is over, he’ll be considered the No. 1 punter of all time (maybe he’ll have a chance at the HOF!), but Guy was the one who showed the NFL how important a punter could be to his team.
7. Jerry Kramer (seen at right): He was a better football player than Jim Bouton was a pitcher, but both opened up the world of sports that fans had never seen before. Bouton’s tome, “Ball Four,” is a masterpiece that shocked those who had watched baseball and thought of players like Mickey Mantle as pure of heart. Kramer’s 1968 book, "Instant Replay," was a diary he kept of the 1967 season in which he gave glimpses of what life was like inside the Packers locker room under coach Vince Lombardi while chronicling some of the most famous moments in Green Bay history.
6. James “Shack” Harris: He was the first black player in the NFL to start at quarterback for the entire season in 1969, and in 1975, he led the Los Angeles Rams to an 11-2 record and an NFC West division title. He wasn’t a dominant quarterback in his day, but he was a trailblazer. And after retirement from playing, he was the head of pro player personnel when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. He’s currently a personnel executive with the Lions.
5. Chuck Noll: We don’t see much of Noll -- who’s rumored to be in declining health -- these days, but his impact is unmistakable. He won four Super Bowls as head coach of the Steelers in the 1970s, and Al Davis thought so much of him that he once tried to sue him (the two were on the same staff in San Diego in the early 1960s). And he was the first coach to allow his team to take baseline concussion tests -- which, as we know today, was a pretty important development.
4. Joe Namath: The legendary Jets quarterback has become a thorn in coach Rex Ryan’s side. Namath is constantly on Twitter, exhorting or back-handing his former team, and because he’s Joe Freakin’ Namath, the media has to pay attention. With that -- and his on-air exchange a few years back with Suzy Kolber -- it’s not difficult to forget just how good Namath was as a signal-caller. He was the first to throw for 4,000 yards (in a 14-game season no less), and he boldly guaranteed victory for the underdog Jets in Super Bowl III and then went out and delivered.
3. Joe Gibbs: One of my colleagues recently called him the greatest coach of the last 40 years, and considering Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien), he’s one of the legends. His return to the Redskins from 2004-07 didn’t go so well (a combined 30-34 record), but before that, his complete career winning percentage was better than all coaches not named John Madden or Vince Lombardi.
2. John Madden: We don’t get to hear much from John Madden these days, and that’s too bad. I liked him on Monday Night Football -- his football knowledge and his enthusiasm -- and though he was before my time, you have to admire his coaching record. He took over the Raiders job in 1969 at the tender age of 33, and when he retired after the 1978 season, he had a coaching record of 103-32-7. That is a winning percentage of .763, and to go with it, he won a Super Bowl and seven division titles in 10 years.
1. Bum Phillips: The old Oilers coach -- and 3-4 defense innovator -- is still kicking around in Texas, attending Texans games, wearing his big cowboy hat and writing books about his life (OK, it’s one book, but you should check it out). He’s a fun guy to speak with, and he’s fully into philanthropy. But aside from his defensive prowess, the dude is a great storyteller. Quickly, one of my favorites: when he was an assistant coach to Sid Gillman, one of the earliest believers in breaking down film, Phillips barely could keep his eyes open one night as Gillman continued studying game tape. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Gillman excitedly claimed that watching film made him feel so awesome that it was better than having sex. Responded Phillips: "Either I don't know how to watch film, Sid, or you don't know how to make love."
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Posted on: June 13, 2011 4:30 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 8:34 pm
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
As the NFLPA and the NFL Alumni continue to bicker with each other – Alumni president George Martin said he STILL hasn’t sat down with trade association executive director DeMaurice Smith to discuss his group’s concerns – legendary Packers OL Jerry Kramer gave a clue to the possible reason both groups don’t get along.
And he blames late executive director Gene Upshaw for the problem.
“The problem is we are not on the same page,” Kramer, who made five All-Pro teams during his 11-year career, told Packer Chatters. “The alumni and the players need to have one voice and to be part of one organization, so you could focus on your objectives. The problem with that is that Gene Upshaw screwed the older players for so long, and so badly, that the guys can’t get over it. There is still a lot of bad taste in our mouths from the Upshaw days. DeMaurice Smith is looked at with a jaundiced eye and we look at him with a show me attitude. A lot of guys are still sitting on the fence and waiting to see what happens.”
The NFL, on the other hand, has been more helpful, Kramer says.
“The NFL is playing their games too, and muddying the water by helping the alumni,” he said. “The NFL has loaned the alumni association money, for instance. Roger Goodell has really been doing a hell of a job up to this point, but I’m not sure how much further it will go. Goodell has made the 88 fund available, which is a dementia fund. He has also helped with the Mackey fund, in which players that take early retirement would be eligible for disability, which they weren’t before. Goodell has really made some strides for the older players. It really comes down to this new collective bargaining agreement and if they can do something to improve the pension situation. Most older players are getting less than $500 dollars a month for their pension. That includes 180 Hall of Famers, I believe.”
Look, we know Smith is extremely busy, but Martin has claimed that he’s not even responding to requests to sit down and chat. And yes, Smith works for the current players and not for the old-timers. But somebody inside the NFLPA -- a player, an administrator, anybody -- needs to know that one day in the future, today’s players are going to be the old-timers suffering from dementia and hobbled by injuries.
To ignore the NFL Alumni is not only inhumane. It’s short-sighted and stupid.
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Posted on: December 1, 2010 12:19 am
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
The Pro Football Hall of Fame this past Sunday released the names of the 26 semifinalists that could be inducted into the HOF for 2011. Most of the names you know. You’ve watched them play. You’ve watched them win. You’ve watched them etch out fantastic careers.
Last year, you knew guys like Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were going to make their way into the HOF in their first years of eligibility. These players were some of the best of all time. It was no contest.
But each year, there are certain players or coaches or executives that are left out who deserve to enter the hallowed halls of the … well … Hall. This Top Ten With a Twist isn’t about the players you know who full well will be inducted into next year’s induction class, minus Prime Time. These are the guys who might not, but who probably should be.
10. George Young, executive: I wonder if Young’s enshrinement has been held off because his skills had declined noticeably late in his career (ie. when free agency was introduced to the game in the early 1990s). But there’s no denying that Young was the NFL executive of the year five times and the teams he worked for won three conference titles and one Super Bowl title. For an executive, he was pretty damn important.
9. Jerry Kramer, OG, Packers (1958-68): While he was a very good player in his day – as the three Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections and the oodles of championships attest – he did the world a favor when he wrote Instant Replay in 1967, giving fans an inside look at what occurs during an NFL season and at coach Vince Lombardi. No, it’s no Ball Four by Jim Bouton (that guy never could get in baseball’s HOF, by the way), but Kramer’s impact on how the fans view the game is an important piece of the NFL’s history.
8. Steve Tasker, WR/ST, Oilers (1985-86), Bills (1986-97): During his 14-year career, Tasker started a total of 15 games. He never had more than 21 catches in a season, and he caught nine touchdown passes. But the fact he’s perhaps the best special teams player ever to compete in the NFL should give him a path to the HOF. He was a 5-foot-9, 180-pound gunner, and he was fast and lethal. He went to the Pro Bowl seven times, and he was named the MVP of the Pro Bowl in 1993. He didn’t make it to the semifinals this year, but that’s not surprising. Special teamers are not given their just due (see No. 1).
7. Andre Reed, WR, Bills (1985-99), Redskins (2000): Reed has gotten caught up in the WR numbers game. He’s been eligible at the same time as Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Art Monk and Cris Carter, and I can see why it’d be tough to select Reed instead of those kinds of receivers. But you have to remember that Reed ranks ninth in career receptions all time and 11th in receiving yards. At some point, he deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Don’t expect it to happen this year, though.
6. Dermontti Dawson, C, Steelers (1988-2000): Simply put, he’s one of the greatest centers of all time. He made the Pro Bowl seven-straight seasons, and with his athletic ability and his knack for getting out in open space and making key blocks for his running backs, he changed the perception of what a center should be. He’ll probably become a finalist for the second time in as many years. One of these days, he should get the welcoming phone call.
5. Cris Carter, WR, Eagles (1987-89), Vikings (1990-2001), Dolphins (2002): Much like Reed, Carter is overshadowed by other receivers. He finished his career as the No. 2 WR (behind Jerry Rice) in receptions and touchdowns. He’s been passed by Marvin Harrison on the receptions list and by Randy Moss and Terrell Owens on the touchdowns list since he retired, but at some point, Carter should be in. It’s actually a little surprising that he’s not in already.
4. Don Coryell, coach: Yes, he wasn’t the originator of today’s modern offense – that’d be a combination of Sid Gillman, Paul Brown and various others – but his Air Coryell teams in the late 1970s to mid 1980s with the Chargers helped innovate the passing game we still see today. He’s already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Now, it’s time for him to join Gillman as the only two coaches to be enshrined in the college and the pro Halls of Fame.
3. Deion Sanders, CB/PR, Falcons (1989-93), 49ers (1994), Cowboys (1995-99), Redskins (2000), Ravens (2004-05) : The reasons why are obvious. Just look at the video below. This is his first year eligible, and there’s little chance he won’t make it in immediately.
2. Ed Sabol, contributor: Enjoy watching NFL Films productions? You like watching the behind-the-scenes spots of the players woofing at each other on the sidelines and your favorite coach’s pregame and postgame speeches? If yes, you can thank Sabol, who helped found NFL Films in the mid-1960s. How differently would we view – and think about – the NFL if Sabol hadn’t been such a visionay? That’s unanswerable of course, but the fact NFL Films plays a big role in an NFL’s viewing experience makes Sabol HOF worthy.
1. Ray Guy, P, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (1973-86): Simply put, Guy is the greatest punter in the history of the game. But there are no kickers enshrined in the HOF. That must mean they’re less important than anybody else, right? Well, we all know that’s not true. It’s time to get Guy into the Hall. He deserves it.
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