Posted on: March 5, 2010 4:49 pm
The age of thirty is a scary age for a running back. If a man goes over the hill at 40, a running back goes over the NFL hill at 30.
Some persevere for a few years. Curtis Martin was still usefull until the age of 32. So was Emmitt Smith. We can only speculate on the post 30 production of Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. Both went out at the top of their game, before age became a detriment to their skills.
A running back is unique among NFL positions in one respect. Barring injury, most players gradually wear down over time. A running back can be the NFL MVP one year and worthless the next. Curtis Martin and Shaun Alexander both went from record years to Nfl journeymen from one season to the next.
For some reason the age of 30 is when this usually happens. I used to own a 1993 Plymouth Voyager. It was common knowledge among mechanics across the nation that the transmissions in those vans always seemed to die at around the 130,000 mile mark (give or take a few miles).
So when my transmission started to show signs of slippage at 200,000 miles I considered myself lucky and traded it in for a new car.
This offseason has shown that, like most mechanics, NFL executives are aware of the risks of employing running backs who are over 30. Ladanian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, and Thomas Jones are all casualties of exceeding their age, mileage and usefullness.
Every year that passes in the NFL another group of skilled running backs fall victim to this curse. Every year brings me more admiration for the one running back who refused to fall victim to the dredded age of thirty.
Like my old van, John Riggins defied all logic and precedents. He played the position of running back at an elite level until the age of 35 and retired on his own terms after the 1985 season, at the ripe old age of 36.
Riggins was never one to pay attention to rules, standards, and precedents, and defied them at every turn. Maybe it was that attitude that allowed him to thrive well past his 30 year expiration date.
Unlike Emmitt Smith, who played until the age of 34 but was only a shell of his former self, Riggins excelled after turning 30. In fact, a closer examination of his stats would make a compelling argument that he never would have made the NFL Hall of Fame if he had retired at 30.
Riggins had journeyman stats during his early career with the Jets and the Redskins, only surpassing the thousand yard mark twice. After he turned thirty Riggins had three more thousand yard seasons, and a fourth season where he rushed for over a thousand yards in 13 games during a strike year.
Riggins rushed for 1153 yards and twelve touchdowns in 1979, at the age of 30. The next year he had the guts to sit out the season over a contract dispute at the age of 31. I dare any currant NFL player to try a stunt like that today!
Riggins knew he could still play, and fortunately, the Redskins realized this as well. Riggins followed a successful return season in 1981 with a Super Bowl winning effort in 1982.
He rushed for over 500 yards in eight games before destroying the competition almost singlehandedly in the playoffs. In five postseason games he rushed for well over 600 yards and was the MVP of Superbowl XVII. He was 33 years old.
He followed that season up with probably his two best seasons in 1983 and '84. He rushed for 1347 and 1239 respectively, and led the league in touchdowns scored with 24 and 14. In 1983 his 24 touchdowns set a new NFL record for touchdowns in a season. He was 34 at the time.
After one more moderately successful season in 1985 where he gained 700 yards and scored eight touchdown Riggins finally retired at the age of 36.
Riggins is in the NFL Hall of Fame for many reasons. He was a great player, and he was a pioneer. He was the first NFL running back to sport a mohawk. He was the first white running back to sport an afro. He was the last great white running back. He was the first, and maybe only, running back to win a contract dispute by sitting out an NFL season. But today I am celebrating him for being the running back who did his thing successfully well past the age of 30.
And if current NFL trends hold true there won't be another like him for a long time.
Posted on: January 25, 2010 11:02 am
I just enjoyed an NFC Championship Game between two teams that I really like. I was pulling for the Vikings , but will certainly be pulling for the Saints in two weeks. Their fans deserve it after putting up with years of ugly football. Pete Prisco claims that this win has singlehandedly helped overcome the Saints' loser legacy.
Not so fast.
I believe that the only single win that can overcome their legacy is a win in the Super Bowl. Is that a callous statement? Does it belittle the Saints' accomplishments this year? Let's take a closer look.
The Arizona Cardinals are a franchise with a pathetic history in the Super Bowl era. They went to the Super Bowl last year and lost. Did their NFC Championship victory alone make us forget their legacy of losing?
They still have a good team, and NFL historians may point out that the Cardinal franchise has won a world title (although 90% of football fans don't know this or know that they were once the St. Louis Cards, let alone the Chicago Cards). But let's be serious. They are more famous for losing.
The Bengals have played in not one, but two Super Bowls. They lost both. Despite two very good seasons they are more famous as the "Bungles" than they are for "the Icky Shuffle".
If you think just getting to the big show can wipe away years of futility in the memories of the masses just ask the Viking fans or the Bills fans. Both teams played in four Super Bowls. Both lost all four Super Bowls. And both share the distinction of being the best of the loser franchises (although Buffalo gets the slight loser edge for losing four in a row, a truly unique achievement in loser franchise history).
Maybe you still don't believe me. Let's look at this from a different angle.
The Tampa Bay Buccanneers were the poster children for loser franchises. They had the original perfect losing season in their first year as a franchise in 1976. They kept the loser brand going strong for over two decades of historically bad football.
One Super Bowl win(and one uniform change) later they have shed their loser image. Although this season served as a vague reminder, the memory of the "Yucks" remain firmly in the past. The Tampa Bay/Green Bay game is no longer referred to as the "Bay of Pigs".
The New York Jets are one of the historically pathetic franchises in the NFL. They played in only one Super Bowl, and that was in the late sixties. I wasn't even alive yet to see it, and many players who played in that game aren't alive now.
But the Jets won the game, and by doing so engraved their own special niche in NFL history. To this day if you stumble upon any NFL Films special you are ten times more likely to see a segment about the Jets than you are about the Saints, Bengals, Bills, or Vikings (unless it is an NFL blooper special).
I hope the Saints take destiny in their hands and write their own chapter in the NFL history books.
But if they don't the story won't be about the Saints regaining respectability. It will be about the unbelievably ironic bad luck that resulted from the son of the Saints' most celebrated QB dealing the Saints their hardest blow in their sad history. It will be on a par with Cubs fan Steve Bartman reaching out and ruining the Chicago Cubs best chances of winning a World Series in a hundred years.
The difference between winning and losing this Super Bowl for the Saints is the difference between purging the past and becoming a loser franchises most shining example of failure.
Posted on: September 29, 2009 9:55 pm
Every fan in Redskin nation had every right to want every coach and player fired, the team sold, relocated, and renamed, and FedEx Field burned to the ground last Sunday.
But now that we have had a chance to cool off a little let's honestly look at our choices.
No interim coach has ever made a deep playoff run in the NFL. I'm not sure if any have even made the playoffs (let me know if one has).
On the opposite note, there have been many coaches that have lost two out of their first three games and went on to turn their season around and win a Superbowl. The most recent example is Tom Coughlin and the Giants two years ago. He was just as ridiculed and despised by Giants fans early in that season as Zorn is this year by Redskins fans.
Now he has a key to the city.
I'm not saying that Zorn is likely to turn this team around, I'm just reminding people of the reality of the Redskins' situation. If you are going to fire someone you better have a better person waiting to replace him.
Firing Zorn would effectively kill the season. Let's not be too hasty. After the next three weeks we will all see if Zorn should be fired or not. Until then keep your expectations low but hold on to what is left of your optimism.
Posted on: July 13, 2009 4:02 am
The summer is my least favorite sports season.
No football, no basketball, and the World Cup once every four years. Baseball is mildly entertaining to me, but not until August or September. By that time I have football back.
Anyway, to keep me entertained throughout the slow months of summer I sometimes turn to youtube. I can look at Redskins and Tarheels videos that I may never have seen before. Even if I have seen them there is nothing like a trip down memory lane to remind me of why I like sports.
This article is not about the Redskins or the Tarheels. But it is my humble attempt at giving recognition to one of the most entertaining and hardworking NFL teams of the eighties: the Chicago Bears.
I stumbled across the Bears innocently enough. I put in Joe Theismann into the youtube search engine to see what I could find. When the results came up there was one that intrigued me. The title of the clip was “A Bad Day for Joe Theismann,” submitted by Beerzgood5.
What I saw was a video that included highlights of the 45-10 thrashing that the Bears gave to the Redskins that autumn day in 1985. The highlight (or lowlight) occurred early in the game after the Bears had injured the Redskin’s punter and Joe Theismann was forced into emergency kicking duties.
The result was a highly pressured kick that yielded a net total of four yards.
I was going to write this article solely about this one game, but I decided to broaden my scope for two reasons.
First of all, when I looked up the box score for this game it showed that the Redskins didn’t get dominated as much as the score and video would indicate. They won the time of possession and out gained the Bears by 160+ yards. Although Theismann gave up three turnovers and was sacked four times his overall stats weren’t that bad.
The second reason was that this video led me to other Beerzgood5 submissions that highlighted those classic Bears’ teams in a way that America’s Game can’t accomplish.
Each video had a catchy title like “Bad day for Phil Simms (part one and two)” and “Bad Day for Cowboys QB’s”.
Also, each video was accompanied by an ACDC soundtrack (with a Who song thrown in here or there).
I’m not a huge ACDC fan or a huge Bears fan, but the combination somehow fits. ACDC represents blue collar America. So does the late eighties Bears’ football team. There is nothing pretty about either the songs or the videos, but the results are powerful.
As I watched video after video it occurred to me. This defense slaughtered some of the best offenses of all time.
Between 1983 and 1993 the NFC East accounted for seven out of ten Superbowl titles. Yet here was video proof that the Bears made these teams look like the expansion era Bucs.
The most revealing video was the two part video set against the Giants that documented a playoff game in 1985 and a MNF game in 1987, which pitted the two most recent Superbowl winners against each other.
The results are awe inspiring. I have never seen a Bill Parcells led team get out muscled like this in the trenches. I also have never seen so many quarterback substitutions in one game (other than the Redskins/Eagles body bag game in 1990).
Simms starts, and gets mauled.
Then Rutledge comes in, and gets the wind knocked out of him.
Then Simms comes back in, and goes back out, after a monstrous hit that had me screaming obscenities into a computer screen 22 years after the event.
Rutledge comes back and gets slaughtered again. There is one frame in the video that shows the two QB’s talking to each other. It looks like they are drawing straws as to who must go back into the game.
I know that the Chicago defenses of the 1980’s get a lot of respect, and are mentioned along with the all-time greats.
But seeing them in the proper context (beer in hand, ACDC blaring, and crucial hits highlighted) has given me a new appreciation for what they were all about.
Plus seeing Mike Ditka sporting a black Kangol makes it all worthwhile.
If you are like me and are desperately searching for anything to keep you entertained during the next month I suggest you watch these videos. Even a Packer fan might get inspired by watching the Fridge grab Walter Payton at the three yard line and throw him towards the goal line in a prime display of sheer will to win.
Stand up and be counted!