Where are they now: Jim Ray Smith

Known for his incredible speed, Smith became a mainstay on the Cleveland line for seven years and was considered one of the best offensive linemen of his era.

Smith attended Baylor University, where he earned two All-America nods. “My mother always wanted me to finish high school. No one in my family on either side had gone past the sixth grade. Well, my brother and I and my sister all graduated from high school and we went on to college and got our degree. If it hadn’t been for football, I would never have gone to college without a scholarship.”

In 1954, during his sophomore season at Baylor, Smith was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round.

After college, Smith served in the Army. “I was in [the Army] for 23 months, from January 1955 through December 1956,” recalled Smith. He joined the Browns midway through the 1956 season. “I took a 30-day leave during training camp to see if I could make the Browns. I did, but I sprained my ankle during an exhibition game in California. They said, ‘Why don’t you go back to the Army until you get that well. Then we will bring you on up.’ There were six or seven games left when they said, ‘Well, we will bring you back now.’ I took another leave to finish out the 1956 season. I think it was the Philadelphia game in Philadelphia that I took a flight back to Fayetteville, North Carolina when I mustered out of the Army. Then I went back to Cleveland and finished out the season.”

In his rookie year with the Browns, Smith played defensive end. “I had gone to Cleveland to take Lenny [Ford’s] place,” recalled Smith. “I weighed 218 pounds. Of course, Lenny weighed about 265 and was 6’4” or 6’5”. In 1955, I played in the College All-Star Game and I played offensive tackle. I was lined up in front of Don Colo and Lenny Ford. [The Cleveland Browns] thought they saw something there as an offensive lineman instead of a defensive end. When I went to camp in 1956, I was a defensive end, but they made me learn all of the offensive guard plays.” After one year, head coach Paul Brown switched him to offensive guard and his career took off.

Smith recalled his experiences playing for legendary coach Paul Brown. “At first, not knowing who he was, it was interesting,” said Smith. “He was very demanding. He demanded perfection. He was probably the most organized person I have ever known. He could have run any company in the world, particularly in America, the way he organized things.” Smith continued, “You had a playbook. If you lost that playbook, it was [a] $500 [fine]. When you weren’t making any money, $500 is a whole lot of money.”

Smith had the opportunity to block for arguably the greatest running back of all time: Jim Brown. Smith’s speed and Brown’s ability made Cleveland’s end sweep a powerful weapon. “I was there in ’56 and Jim came in ’57,” recalled Smith. “As a pulling guard, you went out to block for him. We would get together to talk about what we were going to do in different situations.” That relationship built one of the best running games in history.

After the 1961 season, Smith announced his retirement from the game in order to focus on his real estate business. According to Smith, “Ray Renfro and Mike McCormack got me to come back and play in 1962.”

He played one more season for the Browns. After the 1962 campaign, Smith again announced his retirement. That was around the same time as the firing of legendary coach Paul Brown by majority owner Art Modell. According to Smith, “We left at the same time.” Smith continued, “Our oldest son was going to start school. My wife didn’t want to put him in school up there [in Cleveland] for half a year and then bring him down here [to Dallas] for the second half of the year. I was in the real estate business in the off-season and I was doing decent. I just wanted to stay in the Dallas area, so that is what I did.”

“Art [Modell] tried to get me to talk to the Cowboys,” recalled Smith. “I said, ‘I do not want to talk to them.’ I know [head coach] Tom [Landry] and other players who play for him. I have no qualms about playing for him. I just did not want to play anymore. I was well. I didn’t have any major disasters, like knee problems. I had a few concussions and a shoulder problem, but nothing to keep me from playing. Then Art comes along and he says, ‘You are a good player and we would like to get something for you. We would like for you to talk to the Cowboys so that we can make a trade.’ I said, ‘I do not want to talk to them. I would rather leave it just like it is.’ After a couple of hours of listening, I said, “OK, I will talk to them, but I am here to tell you that I am not going to play for them.’ Before I got back to my office, [the Cowboys] had called and we had lunch. I said, ‘No. No. No.’ We had lunch the next day and I said, ‘No. No. No.’ Finally, they put some pressure on and they thought I had to play. So, I played.” Smith was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for tackle Monte Clark.

Commenting on the differences playing for Paul Brown versus Tom Landry, Smith said, “It was different. [Landry and I] were friends in the off-season. Tom is a good man. He was good because he is hard-headed. Paul Brown was hard-headed. Most great leaders are hard-headed. It is not a negative saying that. They are set on what they want to do and they are going to do it. Tom looked at an offense from a defensive standpoint. Paul Brown looked at an offense from an offensive standpoint. Paul says, ‘Every play that you run goes for a touchdown.’ Tom’s theory was that you go for two yards or five yards or ten yards. Then you throw the bomb for a touchdown. Paul Brown thought that if you had a short pass and everyone did what they were supposed to do, it’s a touchdown. Everything goes for a touchdown.” Smith continued, “One thing Tom did was that he changed blocking assignments during the week. Once, twice, maybe three times. You get in the heat of a game and they call the play that you had been going over. Now, was it the one we did on Tuesday, or Thursday, or was it this morning? He has changed it and I forgot what blocking scheme we were going to use. But, it all worked out.”

After two injury-riddled seasons with the Cowboys, Smith retired for good after the 1964 season. Smith commented, “My first year [with the Cowboys], I was on a kickoff and got rolled up on my knee. I didn’t even see the play. I tore my knee up in the middle of the season and again the second year. I had two knee operations with the Cowboys. I had two broken hands with the Cowboys and I had two concussions with the Cowboys.”

Smith focused his time on his real estate business. Smith explained, “Well, it was on the commercial end. Some leasing and some warehouse development. I was basically a broker. I ended up meeting Ed Gaylord here in Dallas. He owned Opryland, Oklahoma Publishing, and several television stations. I handled their land in the Dallas area for about 28 years. It was a good relationship. It helped me put three kids through college.”

In 2005, Smith was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends.

In 2008, Smith was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. Formed in 2003, the Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I thought that was great. Somebody is still looking after the old guys!”

“It is kind of like a lot of things that have happened since I retired, especially since the calendar has gone to 2000. You sit back and think that you have been forgotten. One of the things, when I left Cleveland, the managers said, ‘We are going to clean up your uniform and send it to Canton, because you will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a few years and we want to make sure that they have got it.’ Well, I went over there one day and I was looking around and I asked if they had Ray Renfro’s uniform there. They said, ‘Yup.’ I said that I would like to see it. So, we went down into the vaults. They bring it out and I take pictures holding it. As we left, I said, ‘By the way, is my uniform here?’ They said, ‘Oh, no. You are not here.’ When I got home, I had a message from the Cleveland people. They said, ‘The guy is extremely embarrassed, because your uniform is down there.’ I said, ‘Well, tell them to send it on to me. If they are not going to let me in the Hall of Fame, I would like to have it here and give it to my kids.’ They said, ‘No. No. We can not do that.’ I said, ‘What are you going to do, just hide it?’ So, it is still there. It is probably like Ray Renfro and a lot of other guys who have their stuff there, but will never get in. Some of them need to be [inducted]. Maybe I was never that good.”

When asked about his Hall of Fame chances, Smith commented, “I am not mad. I don’t think that I have ever been selected to go through the process. I am 81 years old and I have lived without it.”

Currently, Smith is semi-retired. “I like to call it tiddling,” joked Smith. “I still do a little bit of [real estate]. A little bit in the oil business. I bought a little land. I was born and raised about 50 miles south of Houston in West Columbia. I have a little land down there. Nothing big. Just a few little acres. I just watch my retirement portfolio. I try to play a little golf.” He also enjoys spending time with his family. “We have three kids and four grandkids. Hopefully, we will add some more on.”

Smith is also feeling the impact of his playing days. “In the last three years or so, both of my shoulders have started hurting. Finally, it got so bad that I had the ball in my left shoulder removed and another put in.” He joked, “I tell everyone that they cut your arm off and they take a drill and drill down your arm bone. Then they put this titanium shaft with a ball on it and take a sledgehammer and drive it in there and then tie it all back together.” He continued, “I am still having a little problem with it, but I am having more problems with the other one. Part of it is football and part of it is just aging. You just kind of laugh and bear it, and keep going and enjoy life and your kids and grandkids. And try to make a hole-in-one every once-in-a-while.”

For the last 30 years or more, Smith has been on the Board of Directors for the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. “It was set up with three representatives from each of the schools in the Southwest Conference. One of the members from Baylor was going out and he didn’t want to come back in. He said that they should get in touch with me. That was in the 70s sometime. I have been involved with it ever since. It has been a great experience.”

“The good Lord said, ‘Boy, we are going to make a football player out of you until we figure out what to do with you.’ I guess he made a pretty good football player. I don’t know.”

Smith currently lives in Texas.

Teams:
• Cleveland Browns (1956-62)
• Dallas Cowboys (1963-64)

Awards:
• Named to the Pro Bowl five times
• Inducted into the Baylor University Athletics Hall of Fame (1968)
• Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (1987)
• Inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends (2005)
• Inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame (2008)
• Inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Hall of Very Good (2008)


Ken Crippen
is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

Remembering Willie Richardson – Part II

Caddying at the Greenville Country Club as a teenager, Willie Richardson had the good fortune to come under the tutelage of a DeWitt Walcott Jr., who offered valuable instruction.

Born in Hollandale, Miss., and raised in Greenville, Walcott attended the University of Mississippi for three years, before joining the United States Army in 1942. A

Caddying at the Greenville Country Club as a teenager, Willie Richardson had the good fortune to come under the tutelage of a DeWitt Walcott Jr., who offered valuable instruction.

Born in Hollandale, Miss., and raised in Greenville, Walcott attended the University of Mississippi for three years, before joining the United States Army in 1942. A sports enthusiast with an abiding love for the game, Walcott won several amateur events in Mississippi and mentored dozens of teens in the Greenville area for most of his life. He passed away in 2003.

“My dad would hit balls before work in the morning and then after work at night,” said his son DeWitt Walcott III, a graduate of Greenville High School in 1964, who lives in Austin, Tx. “You’d have a bag of 80-100 balls. Willie would shag balls for my dad and then my dad would shag balls for Willie.

“From the beginning, Willie showed a tremendous natural ability to play golf,” said Wolcott.

Those instructions shaped a game that was fundamentally sound in all phases.

“Whatever lessons Willie got from Walcott were definitely helpful,” said Judge Reuben Anderson, a close friend of Richardson. “He was always so fundamentally sound in everything he did.”

Despite the rigorous pounding during his football career, Richardson never underwent surgery. His good health and southern climate enabled him to get on the course almost daily.

Richardson’s quartet included Anderson, Paul Covington and A.D. Jones. Through their many travels to golfing tournaments, Anderson was able to see how many lives Richardson impacted, across the state.

“I didn’t know Willie until he came back to Jackson,” said Anderson, who was the first African American Supreme Court Justice in Mississippi [1985-90], the first black to graduate University of Mississippi Law School (1967) and first black President of the Mississippi Bar Association. “I guess facilitator would be a good word to describe Willie; he was a very unique individual. He had a special connection to coaches at all the colleges in the state. He was a big brother and mentor to so many in athletics and business. He helped a lot of people get started in city government. He was involved with many non-profit and fundraising projects. He always worked to make things better in Mississippi.

“He ran for Mississippi’s Department of Transportation Commissioner, in the early 1990s, and Johnny Unitas came down to campaign for him.

“Willie had an incredible memory, he never forgot a name or place. He always felt blessed and had a unique perspective on life.

“In my 30 years as friends, I never knew him to have an argument or falling out with anyone. He was very committed to Jackson State and helped the school as much as possible.”

His easy stroke and nimble touch on the course never faltered.

“It was a bad day if Willie didn’t shoot his age,” said Anderson. “He shot 74 the Friday before he passed away. He had a great swing and was always consistent with his chipping and putting. I don’t think his skills ever diminished a bit in 30 years!”

There were many avid black golfers in Mississippi, but most of the courses were restricted until the 1980s.

“We had a strong group of black golfers and caddies in Jackson, going back to the 1950s,” said Anderson. “There were guys here who caddied for Calvin Peete and Raymond Floyd.

“We played what we called the Chitlin Circuit. The better courses didn’t open up until the 1990s.

“For competition we’d go to Natchez, Miss. Vicksburg, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., Mobile, Ala. and Baton Rouge, La. The public courses there were much better. We’d play two days, Saturday and Sunday. There would be a full field with 90 guys, but only three-four guys could compete with Willie. I’d say he won 50 percent of the tournaments. We did that until almost 2010. He won a lot of the charity events as well.”

In 1992, Judge Anderson brought Richardson with him to The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, 12 miles south of Jacksonville, Fla. The Monday after the tournament concluded, Richardson played for Jim and Mark McCumber to assess his game.

“They were impressed with Willie and wanted him to give the PGA Senior Tour a shot, but with his work schedule it just wasn’t going to work out,” said Anderson.

Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached atseth.schwartz@sbcglobal.net

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Remembering Willie Richardson

It seems only fitting that Willie Richardson passed away of natural causes February 8, 2016, at age 76. Natural is the appropriate description for the genial Richardson.

Moving adroitly on the gridiron, golf course and all walks of life, Richardson was one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League from 1967-69 as

It seems only fitting that Willie Richardson passed away of natural causes February 8, 2016, at age 76. Natural is the appropriate description for the genial Richardson.

Moving adroitly on the gridiron, golf course and all walks of life, Richardson was one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League from 1967-69 as a two-time pro-bowler during his tenure with the Baltimore Colts 1963-71 [and Miami Dolphins in 1970].

Former University of Mississippi Law School Dean, Bob Farley, once said, “Mississippi is not a state, it’s a family.”

On many levels, Richardson’s life parallels this theme. Family, friends and relatives from across Mississippi were intertwined throughout his life.

W.C. Gorden, a high school coach [1956-66], defensive coordinator for Jackson State coach Rod Paige [1967-77], head baseball coach [1966-76] and head football coach at Jackson State [1977-91], shared a friendship of nearly half century with Richardson.

“Willie was known throughout the state and that started with high school football,” said Gorden. “He was an outstanding community servant and a natural at connecting with people.

“When I got to the church, I saw white and black professionals and people from all walks of life. You had over 1,800 people; many had come from all over the state. It was the largest funeral I’d been to. That’s when I understood just how beautiful a person Willie was.”

Growing up in Greenville, Miss. Richardson and his five brothers: Gloster, Ernie, Thomas, Charles and Allan made a name in football, basketball and baseball.

The majority of the black students attended Coleman High School established in 1926 and named after Lizzie Coleman on the north side of the city [rival Weston High School was on the south side]. Taking pride in their students’ achievements was palpable throughout the community. A person who had a sizeable hand in developing Richardson, his brothers and hundreds of kids during his tenure was coach Davis Weathersby. A native of Liberty, Miss., he grew up with six brothers and three sisters helping farm the 65 acres his father owned, where they raised cotton, vegetables, sweet potatoes and also had their own sugar cane mill. Attending Alcorn State in 1951, Weathersby learned from a strong senior class that included running back Medgar Evers and 6-0, 230 pound fullback Jack Spinks, who became the first black from Mississippi to play in the NFL. Weathersby started three years as a 5-10, 185 pound offensive guard and defensive lineman.

Head coach at Coleman High School from 1956-70, Weathersby posted a 112-26-6 record, which included state championships in 1957 and ’67 and four Big Eight Conference titles. Richardson’s junior year, they went 9-0-2 and beat Laurel 19-14 for the conference championship. The following season they started 0-2, Weathersby moved Richardson from receiver to quarterback [he started at free safety] and they went 8-2-1 the rest of the way. In 1961, wide receiver Gloster Richardson paired with quarterback George Scott and they went to the conference final against Rowan in 1961. Scott went onto play major league baseball [1966-79] with the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. A receiver in the NFL from 1967-74, Gloster was on Super Bowl championships with the Kansas City Chiefs [1969] and the Dallas Cowboys [1971]. A South Side Chicago resident in the South Shore neighborhood after his career ended, Gloster returned to Mississippi for two years where he was the wide receiver coach at Mississippi Valley State in 1983-84 working with future NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.

Teachers and administrators at Coleman High School made certain every opportunity was extended to the students.

“Coleman was a great school,” said the 83-year old Weathersby, who lives in Greenville. “We called it the school of champions. We had a great band and glee club; we excelled in everything. We had dedicated teachers and parents who were very supportive. We had people come in before and after school to teach advanced calculus and other subjects. We were strict and had complete control of our kids.”

In a state overflowing with football fever, Friday afternoons for home games brought the community out to celebrate. The 70 member award winning band, led by renowned director Roy P. Huddleston, festooned in stylish attire, stepping with drum majors and majorettes, led the march down Nelson St. before a crowd of a couple thousand.

“I grew up wanting to be a drum major,” said Wilbert Montgomery, who was part of the integration of Greenville High School in 1970 [the same year the high school ended up 90 percent African American]. He played with younger brother, Cleotha, for coach Gary Dempsey, winning a state championship in 1972 going 11-0 before attending Abilene Christian. A four year starter with the Wildcats, Montgomery set a record with 37 touchdowns as a freshman,  teaming with quarterback Clint Longley to help win a NAIA National Championship. Montgomery gained over 6,700 yards playing with the Philadelphia Eagles [1977-84]. Younger brothers Cleotha, Tyrone and Fred Montgomery also played professional football; nine of the 10 brothers played college football. “You’d see them out in front of everyone with their stylish uniforms high-stepping in their routine.

“Later at night, I’d get out in the street and practice my own routine.

“As a child, we’d go to watch the games. It cost a quarter and we couldn’t afford it so we’d watch from outside the fence.

“Most kids grew up dreaming of playing for Coleman. My brother Alfred played there and my mom and aunt went there.

“Willie was a pioneer. He set and raised the bar for everyone. He showed you could go to college and play ball and even beyond that. You could see that life didn’t stop after high school.”

 

Willie Richardson

Photo Courtesy: Indianapolis Colts

Yazoo City native Willie Brown went up against Richardson throughout high school in the Big 6 Conference and then in college.

“He did everything and we couldn’t stop him,” said Brown, who played cornerback for the Raiders [1967-78, Broncos 1963-66] and was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame. “Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson and the staff told me Willie was going to Grambling, but they took me there in the summer before my freshman year and Willie never came. I guess Jackson State did the same thing with him.

“Willie was dating a girl I went to school with. I had to give my approval before he could go out with her. We ended up going to the high school prom together.”

Following visits to Grambling, Tennessee State and Michigan State, he ended up at Jackson State after coach John Merritt came to his home.

“Coach Merritt told my mother [Alice] if Willie came to Jackson State, the rest of us could play there, too,” said Gloster. “He had the vision to see what was down the line.”

Younger brothers Charles, Allan and Tom, [with the New England Patriots 1969, 70] all played at Jackson State during the 1960s.

Born in Clarksdale, Richardson moved to Greenville at age five, but went back periodically to visit his aunt. During his time there, he became good friends with Higgins High School quarterback Roy Curry.

Teaming with Curry, the duo executed an offensive machine that was unstoppable in the SWAC [Southwestern Athletic Conference] with a 19-3 record from 1961-62.

In a rematch against Florida A&M, they were dominant with a 22-6 win at the 30th Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Fla. before 47,791 breaking the Rattlers 21 game win streak.

The team was feted with a parade through the city of Jackson and a celebration on campus.

“We’re still celebrating!” Gloster insisted.

A four-year starter at receiver and free safety, and two-time All-American, Richardson tallied 171 receptions and 36 touchdowns for the Tigers.

He and Florida A&M’s Robert Paremore were the first blacks to play for the Southern team in the 17th annual North-South Shrine game. Catching two touchdowns, Richardson was voted MVP.

He also played in the North-South All-Star game. A few days later, they had a parade for him in Jackson and a Willie Richardson day was held in Greenville.

“There were about 4,000 people lined up down Washington Ave. that ended at City Hall,” said Weathersby. “After that, we had a dinner with 200 people at Coleman High School with all the coaches from Jackson State.”

At the time of Civil Rights unrest, the fanfare for Richardson portrays the complexities of race in Mississippi.

A native of Moss Point and lifelong Mississippian, Dr. Robert Khayat holds a distinguished resume of service at the University of Mississippi. A member of the Rebels 1960 championship and an academic All-American and all SEC catcher, kicker for the Washington Redskins [1960, ’62 and ‘63], a 1966 law school graduate and professor at the school of law. Khayat was Chancellor of Ole Miss from 1995-2009 and had the law building named in his honor in April, 2011.

“Mississippi is much discussed. It produces a diverse group of incredibly successful people and Willie was one of those,” said Khayat, who lives in Oxford, Miss.

“Willie was widely respected across the state. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t admire him. He was involved in a many projects that always had to do with helping people. Wherever you saw him, he was always upbeat. He mixed well with everyone whether it was at Annandale Golf Course or any other venue.”

During the 17th annual North-South All-Star game in 1962 he became friends with Syracuse tight end John Mackey, who was a second round selection of the Colts. Richardson caught two touchdowns and was named MVP as the South won 15-14 a few days before the NFL draft.

A post-game interview impressed the viewers including Mackey’s wife, Sylvia, who was watching the game with her mother at home in Washington, D.C.

“Willie was so eloquent and at ease in the interview; we were spellbound,” said Sylvia. “John called me after the game, I told him how impressed we were with Willie and he said, ‘That’s my man Willie!’”

The 1962 draft was held Dec. 4 at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Chicago. A seventh round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts and third round selection of the New York Jets, Richardson’s relationship with Mackey was a significant factor in signing with the Colts.

The two roomed together in training camp for the 1963 College All-Star team that beat the Green Bay Packers, 20-17, before 65,000 at Chicago’s Soldier Field in the 30th annual game.

“Coach [Vince] Lombardi told me, ‘If I had that all-star team, I’d win a championship in three years,’” said Dave Robinson, who was the last pick in the first round [No. 14] by the Packers after playing linebacker-tight end at Penn State. Among the guys who went on to exceptional careers were: Lee Roy Jordan, Kermit Alexander, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Lee Roy Caffey, Walt Sweeney, Ray Mansfield, Fred Miller, Jim Dunaway and Ed Budde.

He got a good look at Richardson during practice and when he lined up against the Colts.

“I really hadn’t seen a wide receiver like Willie [in college],” said Robinson. “Willie didn’t make breaks in his routes, he just went from one part of the route to another; he was that smooth. Guys who came from the black colleges were coming from wide open offenses; it was a different style of play. It was an untapped market, a lot of those guys went to the AFL. It wasn’t an easy time for any of us. For blacks players to make it [in the NFL] you had to be great. If you were borderline, you had no chance. We all had respect for each other’s ability; there were no prima donnas.

“When we played Baltimore we double covered Willie often. We brought the free safety over so we wouldn’t get beat deep. He was the guy we were worried about.”

How would Richardson’s career differed had he signed with the Jets?

“Oh my gosh! He would’ve broken all Don Maynard’s records,” said Larry Grantham, who played on the University of Mississippi’s national championship team in 1959 and was a starting linebacker for the Jets from 1960-72 at 6-1, 195 pounds. “It sure would’ve been interesting to see. I think it would’ve benefitted Joe Namath and Willie. [Namath’s rookie season was 1965].”

In the spring of 1963, Grantham received a call from a Jackson State coach who wanted to introduce him to Richardson. After a workout, the two went for coffee and felt a common ground. Richardson was invited to Grantham’s home in Crystal Springs [20 miles from Jackson] for dinner. Richardson reciprocated and the two became friends.

“We did a number of events together in the offseason in and around Jackson during the 1960s,” said Grantham. “Willie was always a gentleman; you enjoyed being around him.”

Stepping in with some of the best to ever play the game takes adjusting. A master of the craft and meticulously detailed, Raymond Berry gave Richardson a few pointers, but was also impressed with the rookie’s tools.

Willie Richardson

Photo Courtesy: Indianapolis Colts

“Willie had a tremendous combination of size, speed, quickness and great hands,” said Berry. “He was a tough competitor; the complete package. That’s the reason he became a super wide receiver.

“Physically, Willie could match up with anyone. Once he learned the double and triple fake he became extremely effective.

“As a receiver, you had to communicate with Unitas. He would ask you, ‘What can you get open with?’ And you better be prepared to tell him! That was a key thing; John depended on that constant feedback.”

Behind Berry and Jimmy Orr his first four years, Richardson waited in reserve, grabbing 35 receptions. In 1967 with Orr injured and Berry in his last season, the league got a full view of Richardson’s talents as he caught 63 passes [eighth in the NFL] and made all-pro. Richardson followed that with 37 and eight touchdowns [1968] and 43 grabs [in 1969], but only 17 his last two years. He led the Colts with eight receptions in their famous 16-7 Super Bowl III loss to the New York Jets.

The Colts multipurpose running back Tom Matte [1961-72] explained one of the reasons for the team’s success.

“Willie was a great competitor and phenomenal Jack of all trades guy,” he said. “He paid his dues and came up through the ranks. The guys always made sacrifices, putting in extra time and Willie fell right in line. He worked his butt off after practice. I worked with him on different patterns, reading defenses and man-to-man adjustments. He was unselfish and fell into the same crowd of Art Donovan, Johnny Unitas and others; we always hung out together.

“We had a basketball team in the offseason where we traveled around and played about 30 games. It was a way to stay in shape and raise some money for charity. It was Mackey, Unitas, Geno Marchetti and a few others. Willie was one of the best players.

“We had a group that would play golf frequently and Willie was the best. He was right at par, I was a three-four handicap. He was always 30-yards longer off the tee.

“We’d all go out for beers together, we had a lot of great times together. His wife [Earline] was a real sweetheart and was good friends with my wife.”

In 1965, Richardson made an instinctive interception which resulted in a joyful 50-year marriage and three kids [Sonji Nicole, Willie III and Shawn Elizabeth].

One of seven children, who spent her first five years on the famous Hopkins Plantation outside of Clarksdale, Earline Outlaw’s family roots go back before the Civil War in the same city. Earline’s father drove a tractor at the Hopkins Plantation, but he died of heart failure when she was five. She moved into town with her grandparents [her grandfather was a barber].

“My grandparents and everyone else emphasized education and the importance of going to college and bettering yourself,” said Earline.

During her freshman year at Jackson State, she met Willie. While never dating, the two kept in touch through letters and occasional phone calls. When Richardson found out Earline was getting engaged, he made a quick decision.

“He told me, ‘Don’t marry him…wait for me!’” said Earline, laughing at the memory.

Married June 6, 1965, by a Justice of the Peace in Clarksdale, their honeymoon was postponed as Richardson prepared for training camp. Earline finished her degree at Coppin State and began teaching elementary school in Baltimore.

“I never really knew all the things Willie did, but at the funeral so many people came up and said, ‘Willie helped me get my first job in city government or in other areas,’” said Earline. “That’s when it hit me how many people he reached.”

As one of the premier cornerbacks in the league [1963-69 with the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams 1970-71, free safety the Philadelphia Eagles 1972-73], Kermit Alexander lined up against Richardson many times, beginning with the College All-Star team.

“It didn’t matter if he was double-covered, whenever they needed a big catch, on third down, he’d get it,” said Alexander, who was All-Pro in 1968 and second in the NFL with nine interceptions [he had 43 in his career and ranks third in 49er history with 36]. “He would destroy a zone [defense] so we’d switch to man-to-man to cut down his opportunities. You had to pick and choose when to double cover him. You couldn’t intimidate him and you never saw him drop a pass.

“Willie ran terrific routes and had very deceptive speed.  He would glide along and then change gears, separate from you and break a pattern so quickly. Unitas would throw the ball before he finished the route and the ball would be there right when he made his break. We’d have guys on our team cussing each other out because we couldn’t stop him.

“Unitas and his receivers worked for an hour after practice to perfect their timing.

“When I was with the Rams we double-teamed him, but he still owned the red zone. Even in double coverage, he could out-jump you for the ball. His hands were so strong. I thought Willie was like Berry in that they were masterful in running their routes; of course Willie had more speed.”

A common thread was woven through the Jackson State players. They were primarily from small towns across the state and grew up laboring long hours picking cotton and were the first of their family to attend college. Taking full advantage of opportunities on the field and in the classroom, relationships cemented 50 years ago are intact, as hair grew gray and gaits slowed.        Raised in Clarksdale, John Outlaw watched his older cousin, Roy Curry, star as a quarterback at Higgins High School.

Outlaw, who battled receiver Harold Jackson in practice, was drafted in the 10th round in 1969 by the Boston Patriots. Before training camp, he moved in with Richardson in Baltimore and worked out with Berry, Unitas, Ray Perkins and a few others.

“What I learned in one month was invaluable,” said Outlaw, who played with the Patriots from 1969-73 and the Eagles from 1973-77. “There was a slew of talented receivers and you had Unitas at quarterback. I didn’t shy away.

“Willie’s hand-eye coordination was at another level. He knew how to set you up. He’d get you leaning one way and then cut the other way; he had incredible body control.

“Playing at Jackson State, Willie was a guy everyone looked up to and aspired to be. He was a straight shooter and a huge asset to the school.”

A case of deja vu occurred in 1971 when Outlaw found himself lined up against Richardson during the final game of the season. In the second quarter, he picked off a Unitas pass and sped 60-yards for a touchdown as the New England Patriots held off the Colts 21-17.

A year behind Richardson in college, Speedy Duncan enjoyed the opportunity to square off against the best.

“[Assistant coach] Joe Gilliam Sr. taught us to play bump-and-run,” said Duncan, who joined the San Diego Chargers as a free agent in 1964. Defensive coordinator Chuck Noll put Duncan in as a starter in 1965, at right cornerback, where he became a four-time All-Pro in addition to returning punts and kickoffs. He was a special teams ace with the Washington Redskins from 1971-74.

“Willie knew how to get you where he wanted in his route and then make his cut. He knew how to separate from you under any situation. He was a tremendous competitor and never made a dirty play [in practice].

“I went against Lance Alworth [for six years] and there were similarities between the two. Both had a mindset when the ball was in the air it belonged to me! It didn’t matter what position you had, or how close you were, they would find a way to go up, position their body and come away with the ball. Both had incredible hand-eye coordination and were also great golfers.”

Gulfport, Miss. native Lem Barney, who was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame with John Mackey in 1992, has close ties to the Richardsons.

“I remember watching Willie when Jackson State played Grambling and then during the Blue-Gray All-Star game,” said Barney, who was a seven-time pro bowler with the Detroit Lions [1967-77]. “He was an inspiration for me signing with Jackson State.”

Barney’s roommate was Thomas and Gloster lived across the hall.

“I felt like I was part of the Richardson family, we had a great relationship,” said Barney, who was a three-time All SWAC selection. “We spent a lot of time talking about Willie and watching him when the Colts were on television. You talk about a loaded team, they had it all with Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry.

“When Willie came back to Jackson he was very encouraging with me. He said, ‘You have great footwork, you’re fundamentally sound, you’re going to get drafted high.’”

It wasn’t long before Barney was lining up against Richardson, who caught five passes against him in a 41-7 Colts win in 1967.

“When Willie went up in the air, he was impossible to stop. He had long arms, great body control and his hands were like nets. He was as good as any receiver I faced.”

Barney and Richardson went at it in the Pro Bowl held in Los Angeles in 1967 and ‘68. Afterwards, they joined their wives, Jacqui and Earline and enjoyed the sights in Los Angeles.

The day after the 1965 draft, Bill Curry woke up to a phone call from his brother-in-law telling him he was the second to last player drafted in the 20th round, by the Green Bay Packers. Curry hung up thinking it was a joke. It wasn’t. Making the squad in 1965, Curry became their starting center in 1966 and then started for the Colts from 1967-72. His memories are still vivid recalling Richardson’s artistry that helped the Colts beat the Packers.

“Willie was a dominant receiver in those three years [1967-69],” said Curry. “He made a number of big catches to win games for us. In 1967 [at Baltimore], Willie stepped in front of [Hall of Fame cornerback] Herb Adderly on a post route and caught a [23-yard] touchdown pass [from Johnny Unitas] in the fourth quarter to give us the win [13-10]. That snapped a four-game losing streak to the Packers.

“The next year at Green Bay, I desperately wanted to win that game. Willie went up and reached over the top of Adderly at the goal line to take away the ball and complete a 26-yard touchdown pass [from Earl Morrall]. I remember running down there picking him up to celebrate [a 16-3 win].

“The other thing that sticks out about Willie is he was always upbeat and ready for the next thing, like most of the guys on the team.

“The Packers had a passionate fan base, but Baltimore, there was nothing like it. They called Memorial Stadium the World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum and that’s what it was. We played on what we called the astro-dirt. We had pep rallies, we had the Colts’ Corral in the offseason. It was a special time and place.”

Making a seamless transition to television, he worked as a sports anchor for Fox 45, in Baltimore from 1972-82.

In 1982, Governor William Forest Winter called Richardson and offered him a job in the tax division, where he ended up working for 25 years.

“Willie was very close with his mother,” said Earline. “It was a little more of an adjustment for me. I taught at an elementary school in Rankin County for two years and then at Barr Elementary for nine years.”

 

Pastor Jerry Young of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson was an extended family member and eulogized Richardson.

“Willie’s mother [Alice] was my second grade teacher,” said Young, who has been pastor since 1980. “She convinced me I could be successful. I went to her class from second grade to high school. His father W.L. Richardson and my dad E.L. Young were preaching buddies. They went to a number of churches in the delta.

“I went to high school in Benoit at Nugent Center.”

A few years younger Willie, Pastor Young followed his career. Richardson was a member of his church for over 30 years.

“Willie Richardson represented all of us,” he said. “It wasn’t just pride, but hope and aspiration of what was possible. To come out of Jackson State and make it.

“The Richardson family were tremendous people. I can’t tell you how proud we were of Willie and his brothers.

“Sometimes, when a man has accomplished what Willie had, by the grace of God, he reads his own press clippings and becomes pompous or arrogant. I know Willie understood the power that came through him, not from him and was a gift of God.

“Willie was a great person who was always humble. I did the eulogy for his mother and brother Ernie. I was pleased and proud to be a friend. He was in church the Sunday before he passed, sitting in his usual spot. I looked out and said, ‘There’s Willie.’”

Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached atseth.schwartz@sbcglobal.net

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Retired NFL Players Congress and NFL Sign Historic Deal

This past week, the Retired NFL Players Congress and the NFL were able to finalize a landmark deal. For those of you not familiar with the Retired NFL Players Congress, here is a little background.

They represent the Retired NFL Players and their Widows. It is controlled by and operates for the benefit of

This past week, the Retired NFL Players Congress and the NFL were able to finalize a landmark deal. For those of you not familiar with the Retired NFL Players Congress, here is a little background.

They represent the Retired NFL Players and their Widows. It is controlled by and operates for the benefit of same. The Congress works to develop business partnerships that create revenue to serve the needs of Retired Players both collectively and individually. Its aim is to reduce litigation battles and dependence on charity so that they can focus their resources and efforts on identifying new revenue sources for their 18,000+ members. They give the retired players and their family members a voice that has been missing for far too long.

Below are some quotes from the Retired NFL Players Congress Press Release, which can be read in full here.

Greetings Retired/Former Players and Widows:

We are pleased to announce that the Retired NFL Players Congress has entered into a historic apparel licensing  agreement with National Football League Properties, the NFL Player Care Foundation, and JH Design Group on your behalf. This is a profit making venture that the Congress has been working on for the past eighteen months to generate real income for retired players while supporting the many other benefits/programs that are already in place.

Former Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, Eugene Upshaw, properly advised us before his death that he did not work for, or legally represent us. “The bottom line is I don’t work for them,” Upshaw told the Observer. “They don’t hire me and they can’t fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote. That’s who pays my salary.” He went on to compare our value as retired players to “dog food” that no one wanted.  Mr. Upshaw was correct in his first statement. We accepted what he publicly stated and verified the legality of his statement. That is why we went to work filing the necessary legal paperwork to insure that we as retired/former NFL players have a legal entity that does represent us independently and directly. (Retired NFL Players Congress, Inc.)  Upshaw, then Executive Director of the NFL Players Association was wrong, we have found, on the $$$ value that we have  to the NFL and other companies in corporate America who recognize our contribution to the game.

We know retired players need tangible ways to supplement pensions, retirement income and beneficial programs that the Owners already fund and contribute to both directly and indirectly. This innovative NFL licensing initiative is the first in a series of money producing business ventures planned by the retired players and widows of the NFL who are now the Retired NFL Players Congress.

Our aim is to reduce, and ultimately eliminate the seemingly never ending litigation battles and dependence on charity and focus our resources, efforts and energy on identifying new revenue sources for all of our family. We intend to work toward including our unvested 1, 2 and 3 year men into our pension programs.  Another goal is to raise our pension programs to the same level as that of Major League Baseball. The question is not one of whether or not it can be done, it is rather one of what can we do to make that happen. The Congress also plans to purchase various tangible assets that will directly benefit the Congress and its members.

Our goal this year is to fund and institute, with our earnings, the first of two programs for financial assistance to the roughly 70 former players who are 90+ years old and have received less than we believe they are entitled to. We believe this oversight should be addressed immediately and  we have strong support from the League office and some of the team owners. The apparel licensing program is one of thetools that the Players Congress, working with the NFL Player Care Foundation will use to fund improved payouts to these deserving men and their families. This new relationship between the NFL and the Players Congress is an important step in addressing the decades long missing business link between the NFL Owners and retired NFL players collectively.  The Retired NFL Players Congress is “The Missing Link” and it has the support of all of the living men who formed the original NFLPA and the Players Union back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Through our new NFL apparel licensing and sales program, which allows us to manufacture and sell an exclusive line of high-end NFL team jackets in leather, wool, and mixed leather and wool, the Congress will provide income, education, training, and other opportunities for NFL alumni. We are partnering with JH Design Group, one of the nation’s leading sportswear apparel manufacturing and licensing companies.

NFL Player Care will help structure the 90+ year old program and some of our other benefit programs so that we can minimize administrative expenses. Initially, revenues may be reduced because we have a limited product line, and we are getting a late start on season sales for 2015. Nevertheless, we are excited at the prospect of becoming an actual business participant in the upcoming 50th Anniversary Super Bowl. We are also confident that with your support and small membership payment, we can grow our licensing program and
expand business relationships and opportunities, in the long term, with others in corporate America…

Read further at playerscongress.com.

I understand the Players Congress also hopes to improve the current pension program for players that played prior to 1993 to that of Major League Baseball. According to Vice Sports, former MLB Players become eligible for pensions after spending 43 days on the active roster. Once that feat is accomplished, MLB Players are eligible for $34,000 a year pension. Furthermore, former MLB Players are rewarded with a $100,000 a year pension if they play 10-plus years in the Majors. It would take a Pre-1993 NFL player 11 credited seasons to earn the MLB’s 43 day (not game) pension and 30 seasons to earn the $100,000 a year pension. Not to mention, the average NFL player’s tenure is roughly three years compared to the MLB’s 5.5 years.

Furthermore, Vice Sports states that roughly 3,641 former players receive an average monthly pension of $1,656 and 90% of former players also receive $723 a month from the Legacy fund. Those amounts roughly equate to $28,550 dollars a year, which is far less than Major League Baseball players and far harder to obtain.

The Retired NFL Players Congress, which represents retired NFL Players and their widows, will continue to work tirelessly to develop business partnerships that create revenue to serve the needs of the Retired Players.

I hope I was able to shed some light on what a tremendous job this organization is doing and to spread the word to all players, current and retired, in the hopes that they will become members and stand with their brothers who fought for them so long ago.

https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/battle-for-benefits-part-3-dont-make-proud-men-beg

Michael Freas

Graduate of both NFP’s Intro to Scouting 101 course and Sport Management Worldwide’s Football GM & Scouting course. Relevant experience includes shadowing former NFL Players & Coaches/Scouts, Bob Pellegrini and Dick Bielski as well as current New England Patriots Front Office Executive, Michael Lombardi during his tenure with NFP.

Fantasy Football and Daily Fantasy Football enthusiast.

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Historical Scouting Report: Mike Curtis

NAME: Mike Curtis
POSITION: Linebacker
TEAMS: 1965-75 Baltimore Colts, 1976 Seattle Seahawks, 1977-78 Washington Redskins
UNIFORM NUMBER: 32

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Very good agility and quickness
• Excellent instincts
• Transitioned well
• Very good tackler

WEAKNESSES
• Slow to shed blocks
• Does not have

NAME: Mike Curtis
POSITION: Linebacker
TEAMS: 1965-75 Baltimore Colts, 1976 Seattle Seahawks, 1977-78 Washington Redskins
UNIFORM NUMBER: 32

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Very good agility and quickness
• Excellent instincts
• Transitioned well
• Very good tackler

WEAKNESSES
• Slow to shed blocks
• Does not have the straight-away speed to cover running backs and flankers

BOTTOM LINE
Curtis displayed excellent instincts, as well as very good quickness and agility. He transitioned well in coverage and showed very good tackling skills. However, he had a habit of going high and missing on tackles. He was slow to shed his blocks and had a habit of getting sealed away from the play. He did not have the speed to cover running backs or flankers that he was responsible for covering. But, he did show the ability to cover from hash mark to hash mark. He did not always take the best angles, but his quickness allowed him to recover and make up ground.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 7.4
QUICKNESS: 7.7
AGILITY: 7.5
BALANCE: 7.2
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 7.7
COMPETITIVENESS: 7.8
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 7.6
INSTINCTS: 7.7

OVERALL GRADE: 7.6

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 7

GAME: December 10, 1966 – Green Bay Packers: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Curtis lined up as a left outside linebacker and played on the line of scrimmage for the bulk of the game. He showed very good quickness and agility in both run stopping and pass coverage. He could get out of his transition quickly in pass coverage. He was quick to react on the line of scrimmage. However, he could sometimes be slow to shed blocks to make plays. He was willing to take on blockers, but had a habit of being sealed and kicked out. A very good tackler, however, this film did not show many tackles of his. There was one missed tackle of Elijah Pitts (#22) in the fourth quarter. He shed the block of Marv Fleming (#81), but failed to make the tackle of Pitts. In the second quarter, he left his feet, which allowed him to be cut blocked. He was around the ball on many occasions. He was good in zone coverage.

GAME: January 12, 1969 – New York Jets: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: Curtis lined up as a left outside linebacker and played on the line of scrimmage for the bulk of the game. When he played off the line of scrimmage, he would move from the end of the line to between the left defensive end and left defensive tackle. Curtis showed very good quickness and agility in both run stopping and pass coverage. He could get out of his transition quickly in pass coverage. He was a little slower than the running backs and flankers that he was covering, but he could quickly close to make the tackle with little yards after the catch. The Jets primarily ran to the weak side, away from Curtis. He was quick to react on the line of scrimmage. However, he could sometimes be slow to shed blocks to make plays. A very good tackler. He made several excellent open-field tackles throughout the game. Could cover from hash mark to hash mark quickly to make a play. He had trouble staying on his feet.

GAME: September 28, 1970 – Kansas City Chiefs: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: Curtis played middle linebacker in the game. He was quick and aggressive in his play. He showed excellent instincts and was quick to diagnose plays. He didn’t take the best angles in his coverage, but he was able to make up ground. Very good tackling, but he had a habit of hitting high and missing the tackle. He displayed a very good ability to shed blocks.

GAME: October 18, 1970 – New York Jets: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: This is a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Curtis made an excellent interception in the second quarter. Excellent instincts. Quick to react to the play. On an interception, he quickly got into position to assist in blocking downfield. Late in the second quarter, Curtis had a missed tackle on receiver Eddie Bell (#7) in the middle of the field. Curtis was quick to cover ground in zone coverage.

GAME: January 17, 1971 – Dallas Cowboys: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: This is a television broadcast. Curtis played middle linebacker throughout the game. Curtis was aggressive, but he tended to overrun the play at times. He was quick to diagnose plays and was always around the ball. He was walled off a few times, but did a very good job shedding blocks and getting through traffic. In the first quarter, Curtis showed excellent red zone play when he pushed the center back into the leading back and stopped Duane Thomas (#33) for a short loss. He showed very good coverage skills. In the fourth quarter, Curtis intercepted a Craig Morton (#14) pass.

GAME: October 25, 1971 – Minnesota Vikings: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: Curtis played middle linebacker in the game. In the first quarter, he dropped into coverage and almost had an interception. However, later in the quarter, Curtis was covering tight end Stu Voigt (#83). Voigt caught the ball ahead of Curtis and streaked down the sideline. Curtis just stopped on the play. Curtis also struggled in zone coverage. He was aggressive in his coverage, but did not take good angles and spent too much time on the ground.

GAME: October 12, 1975 – Buffalo Bills: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film, and not all plays are shown. The Colts’ defense focused on the run. The Colts stacked the box, with Mike Curtis focused on the running backs. He lined up as a middle linebacker. In the first half, the Colts were able to hold O.J. Simpson (#32) to minimal gains. However, Simpson exploded in the second half. Curtis showed excellent reaction times to the running back. He also showed smooth transitions in pass coverage and showed very good tackling skills. However, he was a little slow in pass coverage. In the third quarter, he was covering tight end Paul Seymour (#87). Seymour got a step on him and caught a pass for a 26-yard gain. Curtis did not make the tackle. In the second quarter, Curtis was called for a holding penalty on a sack, which kept a Buffalo drive alive. Also in the second quarter, Curtis failed to make a tackle on Simpson.

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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Historical Scouting Report: Del Shofner

NAME: Del Shofner
POSITION: Split End, Flanker, Tight/Closed/Left End
TEAMS: 1957-60 Los Angeles Rams, 1961-67 New York Giants
UNIFORM NUMBER: 29 (1957-60), 85 (1961-67)

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Ran excellent routes
• Excellent hands

WEAKNESSES
• Did not give full effort to plays run to the opposite side

NAME: Del Shofner
POSITION: Split End, Flanker, Tight/Closed/Left End
TEAMS: 1957-60 Los Angeles Rams, 1961-67 New York Giants
UNIFORM NUMBER: 29 (1957-60), 85 (1961-67)

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Ran excellent routes
• Excellent hands

WEAKNESSES
• Did not give full effort to plays run to the opposite side of the field
• Struggled at times with blocking

BOTTOM LINE
Shofner ran excellent routes. However, he did not sell the route when the play went to the opposite side of the field. He had excellent hands and concentration when catching in a crowd of defenders. Excellent run after the catch. Competitive and fought for extra yardage. However, his competitiveness was lacking when he was not the target. Shofner was inconsistent on blocking. He showed very good ability at times, but was not always willing to complete the block.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 7.9
RELEASE: 8.0
QUICKNESS: 7.8
PASS ROUTES: 8.0
AGILITY: 7.9
SEPARATION: 8.1
BALANCE: 7.9
RECEIVE LONG 8.0
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 7.5
RECEIVE SHORT: 8.1
COMPETITIVENESS: 7.3
HANDS: 8.2
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 8.0
ADJUST TO BALL: 8.0
INSTINCTS: 8.0
RUN AFTER CATCH: 8.0
INITIAL QUICKNESS: 7.9
BLOCKING: 7.3

OVERALL GRADE: 7.7

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 5

GAME: December 31, 1961 – Green Bay Packers: 7.9
BOTTOM LINE: Shofner played split end, flanker, and tight/closed/left end in the game. He was primarily a split end and strictly on the left side. The tight camera angles made it difficult to evaluate the entire route. On the second offensive series, Y.A. Tittle (#14) threw a pass to Shofner along the left sideline. The pass was under-thrown and Shofner lost his footing. Incomplete pass. Charley Conerly (#42) replaced Tittle in the second quarter. Late in the second quarter, Shofner lined up tight. Off the snap, he released and blocked downfield for a sweep to his side. He showed very good blocking skills. Tittle returned late in the third quarter. He threw to Shofner running a quick slant pattern. Shofner caught the pass with three defenders around him, and still gained about five yards after the catch. Shofner showed good hands to not only receive the ball, but strength to hold on to it with multiple defenders tying to strip the ball. Excellent concentration. Tittle hit Shofner again in the third quarter for a short gain. Shofner ran a quick slant pattern and caught the ball. He was hit in the head by the defender, ran a yard or two before being tackled. In the fourth quarter, Tittle threw a long pass on a nineroute. The ball was slightly underthrown and was intercepted by the trailing defender. Shofner rode him for a few yards before he brought him to the ground. Later in the fourth quarter, Tittle threw a short slant to Shofner, who caught it with Jessie Whittenton (#47) hanging on him. No yards after the catch. Tittle threw a pass on an out pattern along the left sideline. The pass was short and uncatchable. On catchable passes, he made the catch on all but one, which was a low pass on a sideline out in the fourth quarter.

GAME: December 30, 1962 – Green Bay Packers: 7.6
BOTTOM LINE: The way this film was edited, not all plays were shown. However, there were no interruptions in the broadcast audio to fill in the detail on missing plays. Shofner played split end, flanker and tight/closed/left end. Always on the left side of the line. On the first offensive series, Shofner was penalized for pass interference. He pushed off defensive back Jesse Whittenton (#47) on a sideline out pattern. Later in the series, Y.A. Tittle (#14) overthrew Shofner. The play was not shown to see if the ball was catchable. On the second offensive series, Shofner was lined up tight. He broke through the defense on a crossing route and Tittle hit him in stride. The defenders closed quickly, but there was decent yards after the catch. On the next play, Shofner was split wide to the left and ran an out route. Tittle hit him along the sideline. Shofner showed very good hands and the ability to keep his feet inbounds for the catch. No targets in the second quarter. On the first offensive series of the third quarter, Tittle threw an out to Shofner, who showed very good hands and concentration to pull in the ball and keep his feet in bounds. The ball was a little high and outside. Shofner had to stretch out to get the reception. On the next offensive series, Shofner was targeted, but Whittenton knocked it out of his hands. The play was described on audio, but no video was shown. On the next play, Shofner was targeted and made an excellent catch with Whittenton hanging on him. Shofner leapt into the air to catch the high pass, but was tackled immediately. On the same series, Shofner ran a crossing pattern. Tittle targeted Shofner, but Willie Wood (#24) interfered and was penalized. Wood was ejected from the game for bumping the official. On the next play, Shofner was targeted in the end zone, but the pass was overthrown. In the fourth quarter, Tittle targeted Shofner on a long nine-route, but the ball was overthrown. Uncatchable. On the final offensive series, Shofner was targeted, but the pass was incomplete. No video of the play. Also, no video of Shofner’s last reception a minute before the end of the game. Blocking was good to very good, but inconsistent.

GAME: September 15, 1963 – Baltimore Colts: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: This is an NFL Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Shofner played split end, flanker, and tight/closed/left end in the game. The tight camera angles made it difficult to evaluate the entire route. In the first quarter, Y.A. Tittle (#14) threw an out pass to Shofner for a 14-yard gain and a first down. He did a great job to get both feet in bounds for the completion. In the second quarter, Shofner ran a curl pattern. Tittle threw the ball high and it went through Shofner’s hands for an incomplete pass. A few plays later, Tittle hit Shofner on an out pattern, but it was negated due to a penalty on the offense. A few plays later, Tittle hit Shofner on the same out pattern for a nine-yard completion. Two plays later, Tittle threw a pass to Shofner at the side of the end zone. The pass was overthrown. Shofner had a few fingertips on it, but he was out of bounds. In the third quarter, Tittle hit Shofner on a short pass for a five-yard gain. A few plays later, Tittle hit Shofner on a slant. Shofner continued to streak across the field for a 43-yard reception. Very good hands and speed. Tittle is injured on a touchdown run and is replaced by Ralph Guglielmi (#9). Also in the third quarter, Guglielmi threw a sideline pass to Shofner. The pass was under thrown and was intercepted by the trailing defender. Shofner tackled the defender in the end zone. Shofner showed good to very good blocking abilities. He was able to knock linebacker Don Shinnick (#66) to the ground in the fourth quarter. He did an excellent job getting open on out routes.

GAME: November 24, 1963 – St. Louis Cardinals: 7.9
BOTTOM LINE: Shofner played split end, flanker and tight/closed/left end. Shofner showed very little effort when the play was not run to him. No receptions for Shofner in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Y.A. Tittle (#14) threw an out pass to Shofner. The ball was incomplete. Hard to tell if it was catchable. A few series’ later, Shofner had a very good reception near the left sideline. After the catch, he was hit immediately by two defenders and stopped without yards after the catch. Shofner showed very good hands with the reception. Later in the quarter, Tittle threw a long pass to Shofner, but the ball was underthrown and almost intercepted by Larry Wilson (#8). Two plays later, Tittle hit Shofner on a mid-range pass. Shofner got his body in front of the defensive back to get the ball. He broke away from the tackle of Wilson and gained an extra 12 yards. Very good effort to get yards after the catch. In the third quarter, Shofner ran a deep post pattern. The ball was underthrown by Tittle and intercepted by Wilson. Shofner ran back over 30 yards to make the tackle. Excellent hustle. Later in the quarter, Tittle underthrew a sideline pass to Shofner, which was again intercepted by Wilson. Later in the quarter, Tittle threw an out to Shofner, who showed an excellent ability to turn upfield to gain yards after the catch. The reception went for 20 yards. In the fourth quarter, Shofner caught a short out. He was hit immediately and had no yards after the catch. A few plays later, Shofner ran a deep post, beating the defender by about two yards. Tittle hit him in stride. Jimmy Hill (#41) caught him and tripped him up at the one-yard line for a 48-yard reception. Excellent concentration and hands to catch the over-the-shoulder pass.

GAME: December 29, 1963 – Chicago Bears: 7.2
BOTTOM LINE This is a highlight film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Shofner played split end, flanker and tight/closed/left end. In the first quarter, Shofner beat Dave Whitsell (#23) to the end zone. Tittle threw the pass but it was a little high and slightly behind Shofner. It hit the hands of Shofner, but he was unable to catch it. It should have been a touchdown reception. Tittle left the game in the second quarter when he was hit in the leg by linebacker Larry Morris (#33). He was replaced by Glynn Griffing (#15). No targets for Shofner in the second quarter. Tittle returned at the beginning of the third quarter. On the first offensive series of the third quarter, Shofner was targeted by Tittle on a curl route. Dave Whitsell stepped in front of Shofner for the interception. Shofner tackled Whitsell for only about a one-yard return. Shofner was targeted again at the end of the third quarter, but the pass was too far in front of him. With about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Shofner ran a deep post. He beat his defender, but Tittle’s pass was overthrown. Shofner did not have a reception in the game. His competitiveness was good at best in this game.

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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Historical Scouting Report: Pat Fischer

NAME: Pat Fischer
POSITION: DB
TEAMS: 1961-67 St. Louis Cardinals, 1968-77 Washington Redskins
UNIFORM NUMBER: 37

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Very good in run support
• Tight coverage downfield

WEAKNESSES
• Can get beat long
• Has a habit of trailing receivers, preventing him from breaking up passes

NAME: Pat Fischer
POSITION: DB
TEAMS: 1961-67 St. Louis Cardinals, 1968-77 Washington Redskins
UNIFORM NUMBER: 37

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Very good in run support
• Tight coverage downfield

WEAKNESSES
• Can get beat long
• Has a habit of trailing receivers, preventing him from breaking up passes
• Not aggressive towards the ball

BOTTOM LINE
Fischer showed very good skills in both run stopping and pass coverage. In the run game, he was quick to react and showed good instincts. He had some aggressiveness in run support, but was not consistent in his aggressiveness. His size worked against him when attempting to tackle larger running backs. In coverage, Fischer displayed very tight coverage. At times, he was turned around by the receivers and they were able to exploit that flaw and beat him long or with sharp cuts. His recovery speed was excellent, which helped him mask that flaw.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 7.8
QUICKNESS: 8.0
AGILITY: 8.0
BALANCE: 7.5
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 7.2
COMPETITIVENESS: 7.7
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 7.6
INSTINCTS: 7.6

OVERALL GRADE: 7.5

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 5

GAME: November 24, 1963 – New York Giants: 7.4
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Fischer played left cornerback in the game. The Giant threw many short outs and crossing routes to Frank Gifford (#16) to attack Fischer’s side of the field. In the second quarter, Fischer almost intercepted a pass when he was fighting for the ball with Gifford. Gifford won the battle for a reception with no yards after the catch. Throughout the game, Fischer was tight in coverage and did not give up many yards after the catch. However, Gifford did get behind him in the third quarter, but failed to make the reception as the ball was overthrown. Even though Fischer had tight coverage, he did not seem to be in a position to break up the pass. Fischer was good in run support, but in the first quarter, Phil King (#24) ran through his tackle. In the third quarter, right guard Bookie Bolin (#63) was able to block Fischer away from the run. But, in the fourth quarter, he shed the block of Bolin to assist on a tackle of Joe Morrison (#40) for a loss.

Fischer chasing the Cardinals’ Mel Gray

GAME: December 13, 1971 – Los Angeles Rams: 7.7
BOTTOM LINE: This was a television broadcast. Fischer played left cornerback in the game, but occasionally played the right side when the Rams put two receivers on the weak side of the line. In the first quarter, Fischer was tested deep in man coverage against Jack Snow (#84). Fischer got his hands on the ball, but failed to make the interception in the end zone. Later in the first quarter, Fischer was beat inside by the receiver, but the receiver failed to make the catch. Fischer had a nice breakup of a pass across the middle, also in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he was quick to react to a pass to a back, but over ran him and failed to make the tackle. In the third quarter, Fischer had very tight coverage of Snow and intercepted a Roman Gabriel (#18) pass. In the fourth quarter, Fischer made a good breakup of a pass.

GAME: December 22, 1973 – Minnesota Vikings: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: Fischer played left cornerback in the game. In the first quarter, Fischer was badly beaten by Joe Gilliam (#42), but Gilliam failed to make the catch. Also in the first quarter, Fischer forced a fumble when he hit Fran Tarkenton (#10) on a scramble. Tarkenton recovered the fumble. In the second quarter, Fischer broke his ribs on a tackle of Oscar Reed (#32). Fischer left the game for a series, returned, and then left the game for good.

GAME: January 14, 1973 – Miami Dolphins: 7.5
BOTTOM LINE: This was a television broadcast. Fischer played left cornerback in the game. Very good in run support and was quick to react to the play. In the first quarter, he shed a pulling right tackle Norm Evans (#73) to knock Mercury Morris (#22) out of bounds for a loss. The play was negated due to a holding penalty on Miami, but Fischer made a very good play. In the second quarter, he made a nice tackle of Morris to get him out of bounds. In the third quarter, he brought down Larry Csonka (#39) in the middle of the field. A short time later, Csonka broke loose and ran down the middle of the field. Fischer was able to run him down, but bounced off Csonka on the attempted tackle. In pass coverage, Fischer played tight to the receiver. However, first quarter, Fischer was easily beat by Howard Twilley (#81) for a touchdown. Fischer was turned around and was not able to keep up on Twilley’s cut back. Fischer recovered to get his hands on Twilley, but Twilley muscled his way into the end zone. In the fourth quarter, Fischer showed excellent recovery speed to break up a pass to Twilley near the goal line.

GAME: December 18, 1976 – Minnesota Vikings: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE This film was a television broadcast that ended with 11:37 remaining in the game. Fischer played left cornerback in the game. Overall, he showed excellent coverage downfield and had an opportunity for an interception in the second quarter, but failed to make the catch. In the first quarter, tight end Stu Voigt (#83) pushed his way through Fischer’s tackle to score a touchdown. Fischer was not very aggressive with his tackle on the goal line. In the second quarter, Ahmad Rashad (#28) got behind Fischer for a reception. Fischer could not keep up with Rashad.

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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Historical Scouting Report: Johnny Robinson

NAME: Johnny Robinson
POSITION: DB
TEAMS: 1960-62 Dallas Texans, 1963-71 Kansas City Chiefs
UNIFORM NUMBER: 42

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Excellent instincts
• Great play-making ability

WEAKNESSES
• His aggressiveness can get him in trouble
• Tackling can be an issue

BOTTOM LINE
Robinson showed excellent instincts, quickness

NAME: Johnny Robinson
POSITION: DB
TEAMS: 1960-62 Dallas Texans, 1963-71 Kansas City Chiefs
UNIFORM NUMBER: 42

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Excellent instincts
• Great play-making ability

WEAKNESSES
• His aggressiveness can get him in trouble
• Tackling can be an issue

BOTTOM LINE
Robinson showed excellent instincts, quickness and agility in his play. He is aggressive in reacting to the ball, but that can get him into trouble. He is quick to jump a route, but if his timing is not correct, the receiver gets the ball and makes a play, sometimes for a touchdown. However, when his timing is correct, he has a big impact on the outcome of the game. He is always around the ball and willing to make a play. He made excellent tackles, but there were times where he struggled in his tackling technique. Overall, an excellent player.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 8.1
QUICKNESS: 8.1
AGILITY: 8.1
BALANCE: 8.1
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 8.0
COMPETITIVENESS: 8.0
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 8.2
INSTINCTS: 8.1

OVERALL GRADE: 8.2

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 4

GAME: December 23, 1962 – Houston Oilers: 8.2
BOTTOM LINE: This film was a television copy, but some of the plays were missing. Robinson had an excellent game. He played right safety. He showed excellent quickness and instincts, and was always around the ball. In the first quarter, Robinson was in the vicinity to intercept a George Blanda (#16) pass, but it was just out of his reach. In the second quarter, Robinson made nice tackles of Billy Cannon (#20) and Bob McLeod (#81). In the third quarter, Robinson was in on tackles of Charley Tolar (#44) and Willard Dewveall (#88). However, on a pass to the end zone, Robinson jumped the route of Dewveall and missed. Robinson was too deep and did not react quick enough. The pass was completed for a touchdown. This was Robinson’s only noticeable mistake in the game. In the fourth quarter, Robinson was in on tackles of Dewveall and Cannon. He intercepted a pass on the Dallas two-yard line and returned it to the Dallas 37-yard line. He also broke up two passes in the quarter. In the first overtime period, Robinson was in on tackles of Cannon and Tolar. He also intercepted a pass in the middle of the field.

GAME: January 11, 1970 – Minnesota Vikings: 8.1
BOTTOM LINE:  (Crippen: Overall Grade: 8.3) This game was a television broadcast. Robinson played free safety in the game. Due to the tight camera angles, the safety play was not always visible. The evaluations are based on what could be seen as the play progressed downfield. In the first quarter, Robinson made a hard tackle of John Beasley (#87) on a pass across the middle. In the second quarter, he was very quick to react to a fumble and recovered it. In the third quarter, Robinson was blocked and did not take a good angle on the goal line touchdown run by Dave Osborn (#41). Another negative in the game is that in the second half, he failed to wrap up on a tackle of John Henderson (#80), and Henderson was able to gain an extra nine yards. However, on the next play, he intercepted a Joe Kapp (#11) pass and returned it nine yards. Quick in coverage and quick to react to the play. Can be a hard hitter, but does not always wrap up on the tackle. This allowed Henderson to escape his grasp in the second half. Excellent instincts.

GAME: September 28, 1970 – Baltimore Colts: 8.3
BOTTOM LINE: This is a television broadcast. Robinson played free safety in the game. He displayed great instincts as was always around the ball and showed excellent play-making ability. In the first quarter, he played in the box for a handful of plays while Baltimore was in the red zone. Also in the first quarter, Robinson intercepted a Johnny Unitas pass when the receiver fell. Robinson returned it 15 yards. In the second quarter, he stepped in front of a Unitas pass for another interception, returning it 27 yards. In the second quarter, he recovered a fumble, which took down the sidelines for a touchdown. However, Robinson did have two negative plays in the second quarter. First, he missed on a tackle on a short pass to a back out of the backfield. Also, he misjudged a pass down the middle where he jumped to make a play on the ball, but the receiver caught it in front of him. This allowed the receiver to run past him for an extra ten yards. In the fourth quarter, Robinson intercepted an Earl Morrall pass on the last play of the game.

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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Historical Scouting Report: Dick Schafrath

NAME: Dick Schafrath
POSITION: LT
TEAMS: 1959-71 Cleveland Browns
UNIFORM NUMBER: 80 (1959), 77 (1960-71)

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Excellent downfield blocker
• Very competitive

WEAKNESSES
• Can lose his balance on occasion
• Can get pushed back in pass protection
• Defenders could stand him

NAME: Dick Schafrath
POSITION: LT
TEAMS: 1959-71 Cleveland Browns
UNIFORM NUMBER: 80 (1959), 77 (1960-71)

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Excellent downfield blocker
• Very competitive

WEAKNESSES
• Can lose his balance on occasion
• Can get pushed back in pass protection
• Defenders could stand him up, getting him to lose leverage

BOTTOM LINE Schafrath’s game had some deficiencies. In pass protection, he could get pushed back, beaten on the edge and lose his balance. However, it did not often result in negative plays. Defenders could get pressure on the quarterback, but did not sack the quarterback. He was effective in getting downfield to block on sweeps and screens. Was weak with his cut blocks. Struggled to maintain balance in pass protection.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 7.4
QUICKNESS: 7.5
AGILITY: 7.8
BALANCE: 7.0
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 7.1
COMPETITIVENESS: 7.9
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 7.5
INSTINCTS: 7.5
RUN BLOCKING: 7.6
PASS BLOCKING: 7.2

OVERALL GRADE 7.5

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 4

GAME: December 27, 1964 – Baltimore Colts: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE The film is of poor quality. This film is a highlight film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Schafrath played left tackle and faced right defensive end Ordell Braase (#81). He was very good in both run blocking and pass protection. At one point in the third quarter, Brasse got around Schafrath and caused a fumble in the backfield. It was not shown how Brasse got around Schafrath. He may have released Brasse in order to block downfield, as he had on a few other plays in the game. The film did not show Schafrath getting beat, but it did show him getting pushed around and pushed back. Schafrath was knocked off balance on occasion. Very competitive. Very good athleticism to get out in front of screens and sweeps.

GAME: October 8, 1966 – Pittsburgh Steelers: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: This is a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Schafrath played left tackle and faced right defensive end Ben McGee (#60). Schafrath struggled at times in pass protection. McGee was able to get good penetration into the offensive backfield, especially on a bull rush. In the second quarter, Schafrath blocked McGee low. McGee jumped over him and pressured quarterback Frank Ryan (#13). Later in the second quarter, Schafrath did an excellent job picking up a stunting linebacker Rod Breedlove (#63). Schafrath was knocked off balance on a few occasions. Very good run blocking downfield. Schafrath left the game in the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand. He was replaced by John Brown (#70). Overall, Schafrath was beaten around the edge, pushed back, thrown around and missed some cut blocks. However, none of this led to negative plays.

GAME: October 30, 1966 – Atlanta Flacons: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: This is a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Schafrath played left tackle and faced right defensive end Sam Williams (#88). Excellent downfield blocking. In the second quarter, he made a very good block out in front of a sweep. Very good in pass protection. However, there were times when he stood too straight up and lost leverage against the defender. He was repeatedly pushed back into the pass pocket, as well as knocked off balance.

GAME: September 21, 1970 – New York Jets: 7.0
BOTTOM LINE: Schafrath played left tackle. Depending on the formation, he faced either right defensive end Verlon Biggs (#86) or right defensive tackle John Elliott (#80). Schafrath was very good in run blocking. However, he was a little slow when pulling to the opposite side of the field to block on the sweep. He struggled in pass protection. Lateral movement was not smooth and he was slow to get into his stance, which made him relatively easy to knock off balance. On several occasions, the defender was able to get by him to pressure quarterback Bill Nelsen. In the first quarter, he made a good cut block on a screen pass. However, in the same quarter, he was run over by Biggs. He was repeatedly beat on the edge. With all of these struggles in pass protection, he did not give up a sack.

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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Historical Scouting Report: Eddie Meador

NAME: Eddie Meador
POSITION: DB
TEAMS: 1959-70 Los Angeles Rams
UNIFORM NUMBER: 21

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Excellent tackler
• Quick and Aggressive

WEAKNESSES
• Can get caught out of position due to his aggressiveness

BOTTOM LINE
A very good defensive back. Quick and aggressive. Always around

NAME: Eddie Meador
POSITION: DB
TEAMS: 1959-70 Los Angeles Rams
UNIFORM NUMBER: 21

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS
• Excellent tackler
• Quick and Aggressive

WEAKNESSES
• Can get caught out of position due to his aggressiveness

BOTTOM LINE
A very good defensive back. Quick and aggressive. Always around the ball. Very good at reading the play and adjusting. A solid tackler and can take on the ball carrier one-on-one. His aggressiveness can get him in trouble. Receivers can get behind him to cause damage. There are times that he can recover quickly, but there are times when he is too far out of position. Very good instincts and competitiveness.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 8.0
QUICKNESS: 8.2
AGILITY: 8.0
BALANCE: 7.9
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 7.5
COMPETITIVENESS: 7.9
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 7.9
INSTINCTS: 7.9

OVERALL GRADE 7.7

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 7

GAME: October 31, 1965 – Detroit Lions: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: This was a NFL Play by Play Report film. Meador showed quickness and aggressiveness throughout the game. However, several times he was caught out of position or too far downfield to make a play. Receivers were able to get behind him. This was evident early in the game as Joe Don Looney (#32) ran past him for the first score of the game. Later in the first quarter, Terry Barr (#41) also got behind him to catch a touchdown pass. Meador showed excellent tackling skills. However, in the third quarter, Joe Don Looney ran through him for a touchdown. When in position, Meador was able to make a play. However, frequently, he was caught out of position and the Lions were able to capitalize.

GAME: September 25, 1966 – Green Bay Packers: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Meador played the weak-side safety position in the game. Overall, he played well. He showed excellent speed and mental awareness to always be around the ball. His speed was on display in the third quarter, when he chased down Paul Hornung (#5) to not only tackle him, but to strip the ball away from him for a fumble. He was quick to react to the play and was in on a few tackles. He was very good in run support. A very good game for Meador. He showed excellent quickness and aggressiveness.

GAME: December 18, 1966 – Green Bay Packers: 7.6
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Meador had a very good game. He was injured in the third quarter, but returned in the fourth quarter. In the first quarter, he chased down Elijah Pitts (#22) on a screen pass to knock him out of bounds. He made a good solo tackle in the second quarter, but had a few missed tackles throughout the game. In the third quarter, he was run over by Jim Taylor (#31). When he returned in the fourth quarter, he undercut a receiver to intercept a pass. He left the game again later in the fourth quarter. He showed very good competitiveness and quickness.

GAME: December 9, 1967 – Green Bay Packers: 7.6
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Meador played free safety throughout the game. He made an excellent touchdown-saving solo tackle on Donny Anderson (#44) in the first quarter. He also made another tackle later in the game to prevent a long gain. However, there were few plays of his shown in the film.

GAME: December 8, 1968 – Chicago Bears: 7.7
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. There were few plays of his shown in the film. Meador played right safety throughout the game. He showed very good mental awareness. He also had a very good 39-yard punt return in the second quarter.

GAME: November 16, 1969 – Philadelphia Eagles: 8.1
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Meador showed excellent quickness, speed and mental alertness. He made a few downfield tackles, but occasionally was sealed away from the play. This was seen twice in the second quarter. He had an outstanding third quarter. He showed excellent toughness on a fake field goal, where he ran the ball to the right and powered his way through a few defenders for a five-yard gain and a first down. Later in the quarter, Meador recovered a fumble by Tom Woodeshick (#37). Still in the third quarter, Meador cut in front of Leroy Keyes (#20) to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown. His excellent third quarter made up for a few shortcomings earlier in the game.

GAME: October 26, 1970 – Minnesota Vikings: 7.7
BOTTOM LINE: This film was an original television broadcast. Meador played free safety throughout the game. The field conditions were rainy and muddy, making footing difficult. Meador showed excellent tackling skills throughout the game. He was consistently around the ball. In the first quarter, he was looked off by quarterback Gary Cuozzo (#15) on a touchdown pass to Bill Brown (#30).

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

Read More 931 Words

Historical Scouting Report: Jerry Kramer

NAME: Jerry Kramer
POSITION: RG
TEAMS: 1958-68 Green Bay Packers
UNIFORM NUMBER: 64

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS

• Excellent quickness and agility
• Run blocking is exceptional
• Can pull effectively and seal the blocks

WEAKNESSES

• Can get off-balance

NAME: Jerry Kramer
POSITION: RG
TEAMS: 1958-68 Green Bay Packers
UNIFORM NUMBER: 64

Overall Analysis

STRENGTHS

• Excellent quickness and agility
• Run blocking is exceptional
• Can pull effectively and seal the blocks

WEAKNESSES

• Can get off-balance on pass blocking
• Occasionally pushed back on a bull rush
• Has a habit of not playing snap-to-whistle on pass plays

BOTTOM LINE

Kramer is excellent at run blocking, but not as good on pass blocking. Whether he is run blocking or pass blocking, he shows good hand placement. He missed many games in 1961 and 1964 due to injury. Also kicked field goals and extra points for the team in 1962-63 and 1968. He led the league in field goal percentage in 1962. Run Blocking: When pulling, he is quick to get into position and gains proper leverage against the defender. While staying on the line to run block, he shows excellent explosion into the defender and can turn the defender away from the runner. Pass Blocking: He can get pushed a little far into the backfield and lose his balance. He also has a habit of not playing snap-to-whistle. If a defender gets by him, he gives up on the play. He can also get high and flat-footed on pass blocking, which leads to his balance issues. When he sheds a blocker, he is good (not great) at picking up a new blocker. He also has trouble deciding who to block and sometimes makes the wrong decision. However, he is excellent when he is pulling to pass block on the screen. His skill and instincts are on par with his run blocking.

GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 7.8
QUICKNESS: 8.0
AGILITY: 8.1
BALANCE: 7.4
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 8.0
COMPETITIVENESS: 7.3
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 7.5
INSTINCTS: 7.7
RUN BLOCKING: 8.0
PASS BLOCKING: 7.7

OVERALL GRADE 7.8

NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 27

GAME: December 26, 1960 – Philadelphia Eagles:  7.5
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer showed excellent quickness and agility throughout the game. However, he did have issues with balance. He showed good drive and leverage in run blocking. In pass protection, he did not always finish the block or make the block when in position to do so. He frequently dove at defenders.

GAME: December 30, 1962 – New York Giants: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: This was a radio broadcast with available video footage shown. As a result, not all plays were shown. In fact, very few plays were shown. Depending on the blocking scheme, Kramer either faced Dick Modzelewski (#77) or Sam Huff (#70). In the first quarter, Kramer recovered a Jim Taylor (#31) fumble. After the play, he left the game for a few plays. He returned, but left a few more times throughout the game. In the second quarter, Kramer gave up a sack to Modelewski. Later in the quarter, he made an excellent block on Modelewski on the Taylor touchdown run. Also in the second quarter, he picked up a rushing Jim Katcavage (#75) to protect Bart Starr.

GAME: October 27, 1963 – Baltimore Colts: 8.1
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer had an excellent game against Jim Colvin (#75) of the Baltimore Colts. He showed excellent quickness and agility as a pulling guard. He was able to get good penetration on run blocking. He could also seal the block. Pass blocking was a little weaker as he occasionally got pushed back or lost his balance. In the first quarter, he blocked Colvin, then quickly shed him to block Jackie Burkett (#55). He also recovered an onside kick in the first quarter.

GAME: October 3, 1965 – Chicago Bears: 6.4
BOTTOM LINE: This was an NFL Play by Play Report film. Kramer hit the ground on a few occasions against Bob Kilcullen (#74). A lack of balance has been an issue for him. Also, competitiveness was lacking on a few occasions as he gave up on the play before the whistle. Kramer showed some waist bending. However, he did show good hand position throughout the game. He kept his knees bent and flexible ankles. He repeatedly turned his back toward the defender after initial contact. Not Kramer’s best game.

GAME: October 10, 1965 – San Francisco 49ers: 6.4
BOTTOM LINE: This was an NFL Play by Play Report film. Dan Grimm (#67) started. Kramer only played briefly toward the end of the first half. He did not play in the second half. Kramer showed good run blocking and pass blocking skills in the short time he was in the game. However, he also exhibited balance issues. He repeatedly fell to the ground after initial contact.

GAME: October 31, 1965 – Chicago Bears: 7.5
BOTTOM LINE: This was an NFL Play by Play Report film. Kramer had a rough start versus Bob Kilcullen (#74), but he improved as the game progressed. Toward the beginning of the game, Kilcullen beat Kramer to Kramer’s left, went around Kramer and straight to Bart Starr. As Kilcullen shed the block, Kramer stopped playing and watched Kilcullen run straight to Starr. A little later in the quarter, Kramer was pulling to the right. He failed to hit either defender in his path. However, as mentioned previously, he improved as the game progressed. He showed better run and pass blocking. Overall, he showed improved balance than in previous games. He also showed very good quickness, agility, explosion, foot placement and flexibility. Competitiveness was lacking in the beginning, but improved later in the game. In the first quarter, Kramer made a very good down block on Jim Taylor’s run.

GAME: November 21, 1965 – Minnesota Vikings: 8.3
BOTTOM LINE: This was an NFL Play by Play Report film. Exceptional game for Kramer. Few to no mistakes. He showed exceptional skill in all phases of his game. He was able to get good penetration on run blocking. He showed excellent pass blocking against Gary Larsen (#77). But, Kramer left the game in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Dan Grimm (#67).

GAME: December 19, 1965 – San Francisco 49ers: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: This was an NFL Play by Play Report film. Kramer struggled in the first offensive series against Charlie Krueger (#70). Krueger was able to get excellent penetration into the Packer backfield, including shedding Kramer’s block to get in on a sack of Starr. However, Kramer strengthened his skills after that series and put together an exceptional game. Few mistakes were made.

GAME: December 26, 1965 – Baltimore Colts: 7.9
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer faced Fred Miller (#76) for most of the game. However, in the third quarter, Miller was replaced by Guy Reese (#75). Kramer Held his own in both run blocking and pass protection throughout the game. However, there were two occasions where Miller bull rushed Kramer and got the better of him. On one of those occasions, Miller easily tossed Kramer aside. Kramer was out of action for a few plays in the fourth quarter. He was replaced by Dan Grimm (#67). There was no noticeable drop-off in the quality of play when Grimm was in for Kramer. However, it was only for a few plays.

GAME: September 10, 1966 – Baltimore Colts: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: Excellent game by Kramer. He showed quickness, agility and balance. Good drive and leverage. In run blocking, he got excellent penetration into the defense. On pass blocking, he maintained his balance and was very effective. On screen passes, he got outside quickly and sealed the block effectively.

GAME: September 18, 1966 – Cleveland Browns: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Overall, an excellent game by Kramer. However, I need to grade him slightly lower based on a play late in the fourth quarter. Matched up against Walter Johnson (#71), Kramer held him off momentarily. But, Johnson was able to get around him. Once Johnson got around him, Kramer stopped playing for a few seconds. To his credit, though, when Bill Glass (#80) was running unabated to Starr, Kramer kicked it in gear and blocked Glass. You never want to see a player stop playing before the whistle blows. Excellent hook and seal blocks.

GAME: September 25, 1966 – Los Angeles Rams: 7.6
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer’s run blocking was excellent in the game. His opponent was Merlin Olsen (#74). However, he did struggle at times in pass blocking. Olsen was able to get good penetration into the backfield and disrupt plays. Kramer did get help from center Ken Bowman (#57) and right tackle Forrest Gregg (#75) at times.

GAME: October 2, 1966 – Detroit Lions: 7.6
BOTTOM LINE: Alex Karras (#71) had a good day pass rushing against Kramer. On a bull rush, Karras was able to push Kramer back or push him to the side. On run blocking, Kramer did well. There was an instance late in the third quarter where Jim Taylor (#31) ran through the B gap. Kramer had Karras turned toward Taylor. Karras easily shed the block and stopped Taylor for minimal to no gain. Kramer was also aided on a few occasions by center Bill Curry (#50) in blocking Karras. Also, Kramer regularly pulled away from Karras. In the fourth quarter, Kramer gave up a sack to Karras.

GAME: October 9, 1966 – San Francisco 49ers: 7.9
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer had a good game against Charlie Krueger (#70). There was one instance where Krueger easily pushed Kramer aside on a pass rush. Kramer lost his balance and was out of the play. Otherwise, Kramer put together a solid performance.

GAME: October 16, 1966 – Chicago Bears: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: Bob Kilcullen (#74) and Dick Evey (#79) swapped DT positions throughout the game. The Bears also sprinkled in Frank Cornish (#73) at LDT in the fourth quarter. Kramer played well throughout the game. He especially had a great play against Cornish in the fourth quarter. On a pass rush, Kramer easily knocked Cornish to the ground and out of the play. However, in the first quarter, Kramer fell backwards to the ground out of his stance.

GAME: October 23, 1966 – Atlanta Falcons: 8.1
BOTTOM LINE Kramer had another excellent game. This time, against Karl Rubke (#74) of the Falcons. Very few mistakes. However, he did give up on a play in the first offensive series. The same series, he was tossed aside.

GAME: November 6, 1966 – Minnesota Vikings: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer had an excellent game. Very few mistakes. His primary responsibility was left defensive tackle Gary Larsen (#77). Kramer maintained excellent positioning and leverage in both the run and pass game. He was quick to pull and cover the sweep and screen pass. He lost his balance on a few occasions due to waistbending and not maintaining good leverage, but overall had a good base under him.

GAME: November 20, 1966 – Chicago Bears: 8.0
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer mainly lined up against Bob Kilcullen (#74), but the Bears also shifted Dick Evey (#79) and Frank Cornish (#73) into the left defensive tackle position. Overall, a very good game from Kramer. However, he did miss a few blocks on the power sweep. Also lost his balance a time or two. On pass blocking, Evey blew through the A gap and Kramer was slow to react.

GAME: November 27, 1966 – Minnesota Vikings: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: Faced Gary Larsen (#77) at left defensive tackle. For the most part, Kramer had a very good game. Pass blocking was an issue on occasion, as he gave up on a play before the whistle and did a little waist-bending. Fortunately, it did not impact the game to any degree. Run blocking was excellent.

GAME: December 4, 1966 – San Francisco 49ers: 7.9
BOTTOM LINE: This film was more of a highlight reel and a play-by-play game film. As a result, not all plays were available. Of the plays I could see, Kramer did an excellent job against Charlie Krueger (#70). A few times, Kramer was knocked to the ground. However, the turf was very icy and players were easily losing their footing. I will not mark him down much for loss of balance at the iciest portions of the field. Kramer did miss a block on Krueger, who made a tackle for a loss.

GAME: December 10, 1966 – Baltimore Colts: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer faced Fred Miller (#76) throughout the game. Miller was able to get a few plays against Kramer. On a passing play, he got around Kramer by tossing him aside. Kramer did not have a solid base and could not get leverage on him. Miller also was able to get penetration on Kramer when Kramer went low to block. Kramer missed hitting Miller squarely and Miller was able to get into the backfield and almost make a play. On a screen pass, Kramer went to block an outside defender, but missed the block.

GAME: December 18, 1966 – Los Angeles Rams: 7.7
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. For the most part, Kramer handled left defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (#74) well. However, there were a few issues in the game. When Kramer went low to block Olsen, Merlin was able to shed the block and make a play. An example of this was a handoff to Jim Grabowski (#33) in the second half. Kramer went low, Olsen pushed him aside and penetrated the backfield. Olsen hit Grabowski to force a fumble.

GAME: January 1, 1967 -Dallas Cowboys: 7.6
BOTTOM LINE: Not many plays were shown. In the third quarter, Larry Stevens (#77) went around Kramer and Stevens tripped over another player. Stevens had easily beaten Kramer and had a clear path to Starr until he tripped. The play resulted in a touchdown pass, but it was not a good play for Kramer.

GAME: October 22, 1967 – New York Giants: 8.1
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Kramer had an excellent game against left defensive tackle Jim Moran (#74). Both run blocking and pass blocking were excellent. On one occasion, he did not play snap-to-whistle, but he was competitive the remainder of the game. Kramer did exhibit waistbending on pass blocking on occasion.

GAME: November 5, 1967 – Baltimore Colts: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Kramer did well on run blocking against Billy Ray Smith, Sr. (#74). However, he struggled against him in pass blocking. Smith was able to get deep penetration into the backfield, including getting in on a sack of Starr in the first half. The second half was more of the same. In the third quarter, Smith was able to get around Kramer for a sack of Starr. NOTE: The quality of the film is very poor.

GAME: December 9, 1967 – Los Angeles Rams: 7.4
BOTTOM LINE: This was a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays were shown. Kramer struggled in this game against Merlin Olsen (#74). In the first half, Kramer was called for holding as Olsen was pushing past him. Olsen regularly was able to get penetration into the backfield to disrupt plays. Kramer was also susceptible to getting knocked down.

GAME: December 15, 1968 – Chicago Bears: 8.2
BOTTOM LINE: Kramer only played a partial game against Frank Cornish (#73). In the fourth quarter, Kramer was replaced by Bill Lueck (#62). In the time that Kramer was in, he played well. No glaring issues were seen in his game.

 

HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE

Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional

Hall of Very Good
7.5  – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good

Other
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

Read More 2561 Words

Too good to pass up

With 30 players drafted in the 1960s, scouts in the National Football League became well versed on the route to Grambling, La., home of the Grambling State University. In the fall of 1968, wide receiver Charlie Joiner [drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Oilers and voted into the NFL Hall of Fame

With 30 players drafted in the 1960s, scouts in the National Football League became well versed on the route to Grambling, La., home of the Grambling State University. In the fall of 1968, wide receiver Charlie Joiner [drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Oilers and voted into the NFL Hall of Fame after a 18-year career] and quarterback James Harris were putting on quite a show.

“We had seven or eight scouts at every game,” said Douglas Porter, who was the offensive coordinator from 1966-74. He was the head coach at Howard [1974-78 and Fort Valley State [1979-1996] before returning to live in Grambling. “With the players we had: running back Essex Johnson [1968, sixth round by Cincinnati], defensive back Delles Howell [1970, fourth round New Orleans] and receiver Frank Lewis [1971, first round Pittsburgh] there were always guys here. Jackie Graves [who became director of player personnel with the Eagles], Joe Perry [49ers], Emlen Tunnell [Giants], Bill Nunn [Steelers] and Elbert Dubenion [Bills] were some of the regulars. They’d come in on Wednesday and stay through Saturday.”

Still, there was no indication if Harris would be drafted.

Harris drops back to pass with the Buffalo Bills.

“The scouts were very discreet,” said Porter. “We thought there might be an opportunity with the Rams because of Tank Younger, but we really had no idea. He was planning on getting into coaching after college. In our mind, there was no doubt that Harris could be a starting quarterback in the NFL. With his arm, size and overall understanding of the game, we knew he’d be able to adapt to any offense. We had a great quarterback with Mike Howell [1964], but he didn’t have the size and the Browns [1965-72] made him a defensive back.”

The Howell brothers [Lane, Mike and Delles] grew up across from Harris on Atkinson St. in the Bryant’s Addition neighborhood and attended Carroll High School in Monroe, La. All three went to Grambling and played in the NFL. “Coach Rob [Eddie Robinson] felt he would be our first quarterback to make it into the NFL when he brought him in,” said Porter. “I had a chance to see Harris against Coleman High School [of Greenville, Miss.] and you could tell he was a special player. They beat Coleman which was quarterbacked by George Scott [who played first base for the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers] and the top team in Mississippi. We always tried to get as much information on any techniques we could use from all the scouts who came through. Coach Rob was always adding new things on offense and defense. We learned a lot from Dub Jones.” Jones was quarterback Otto Graham’s primary receiver when the Browns won titles in 1950, ’54 and ’55 and their offensive coordinator from 1963-68. Jones lived in neighboring Ruston, La., his son Bert Jones was a quarterback for the Baltimore Colts in 1973-81.

Two scouts responsible for Harris getting drafted were Bill Groman and Elbert Dubenion. Growing up in Tiffin, Oh., Groman lived at home while attending Heidelberg University, riding his bike one mile to campus. Setting a number of records in football and track, Groman was signed as a free agent by the Houston Oilers [1960]. Catching 72 passes and 12 touchdowns from George Blanda as a rookie [he was tied for second in the AFL with Don Maynard], he followed up his second year with 50 and 17 touchdowns. The Oilers beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-16 for the title in 1960. They beat the Chargers 10-3 for the championship in 1961 [the Chargers moved to San Diego in ‘61]. The Oilers lost in 1962 to the Dallas Texans 20-17 in double overtime. Groman’s last two years were with the Bills 1964 and ‘65 championships; they beat San Diego 20-7 and 23-0. His roommate was quarterback Jack Kemp.

Dubenion, who grew up in Griffin, Ga., attended Bluffton University in Bluffton, Oh. Drafted in 1959 in the 14th round by the Browns, a leg injury prevented him from attending training camp. Picked up by the Bills as a free agent, Dubenion [1960-68] is ninth on their all-time receiving list with 294 receptions, and 35 touchdowns. Nicknamed ‘Golden Wheels’, in 1964 he was All-Pro catching 42 passes for 10 touchdowns and a 27-yard average. Dubenion became an area scout in 1969.

Groman, who spent 36 years scouting for the Bills, Blesto, Oilers and Falcons, was absolutely certain about Harris’ NFL makeup. “There was no question about James Harris,” said Groman, who was the Oilers director of player personal in 1977 and ’78. “We both gave him high grades and said he should be drafted in the top three rounds. If he was white and from a big school that’s where he would’ve been drafted. He was like a black Joe Namath, but bigger [at 6-4]. Harris had size, was strong, threw the ball very well, was able to take a hit and get away from the grasp of the defender. He was a leader and you could see what he was doing would translate well at the pro level. Harris and Charlie Joiner had a special chemistry, they complimented each other; they understood the offense and knew how to play the game. I traveled to games working [only] on the weekends then. I had the Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma area. I’d watch tape with coach Robinson; he offered me a job coaching the wide receivers. Going to Grambling or Jackson State [In 1968 Jackson State had 11 players drafted and five signed as free agents under coach Rod Paige, who later became the United States Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush] back then was like going to Alabama or USC today. You’d have eight- ten-twelve guys to watch who had the ability to play in the NFL.
“When we gave our report to the general manager Harvey Johnson a couple weeks before the draft, he asked, ‘Can he play tight end?’ I said, ‘He’s not a tight end, he’s a quarterback!’ We kept pushing for him and it’s a good thing [area scout] Elbert Dobinion was there to back me up. I think he just got tired of us talking about Harris and finally pulled the trigger.”

Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached at seth.schwartz@sbcglobal.net

Read More 1025 Words

The Johnnie Walton story

"Around The Five Leagues in 15 Years" could be the title of a book about Johnnie Walton’s rollercoaster journey in professional football.

In 1969, a starting black quarterback in the National Football League was less common than a man on the moon. While James Harris was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the eighth round

“Around The Five Leagues in 15 Years” could be the title of a book about Johnnie Walton’s rollercoaster journey in professional football.

In 1969, a starting black quarterback in the National Football League was less common than a man on the moon. While James Harris was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the eighth round in 1969, Walton was signed as a free agent with the Rams. Growing up in Elizabeth City, N.C., a small port town on the Atlantic Ocean, football and farming were staples for the Waltons. Family roots were planted firmly when his great grandfather, John Walton, settled on that land in the 1890s. A dirt patch in the midst of a cornfield and other spots on their 19 acres served as playing fields. Engaging in scrimmages were brothers William, Nathan, Lonnie Walton and a few others in the neighborhood. Torn clothes, tattered in blood were how games concluded.

Watching brother Nathan, four years older, excel on the field, Walton observed his moves and the position. When Nathan earned a scholarship to Shaw University, Johnnie considered that was a route to pursue.

Sharing in chores was part of the daily diet. Uncle Bertrand Barclift owned 250 acres, outside the city limits, since the late 1940s, where he grew corn, cotton, peas and other produce along with two dozen pigs. Throughout the year, the Walton brothers and extended families members all assisted Barclift in a variety of tasks. The farm is still owned and run by his heirs. When chicken was on the menu, Walton or a sibling would go out in the back yard, grab one from the dozen, chop the head off, pluck feathers then boil or bake it for dinner.

Since retiring from football, Walton served on the Elizabeth City council.

During recess as a freshman at PW Moore High School, coach Walter Hunter observed Walton throwing the ball. Seeing a potential prospect, Hunter pulled him aside and issued an order, ‘Next year, you’re coming out for football!’ An enrollment of 400 students and a varsity team with 45 kids, PW Moore held their own against schools often double or triple their size in Winston-Salem, Raleigh and southern Virginia.

Hunter’s strategy opened Walton’s mind and generated a potent aerial attack. “We used a lot of trapping and play-action,” he said. “There weren’t many teams doing what we did. We were a very disciplined team. Coach could always adjust the offense to give us an advantage; everything he did made sense. Learning his offensive philosophy, at that age, gave me a great foundation as I progressed in the game.”

Junior year, they lost in the state semifinal. Leading a long drive for the go-ahead touchdown in the closing moments, Walton made an impression in Fayetteville, N.C. against E.E. Smith High School and star quarterback Jimmy Raye II, who went to Michigan State. A backup quarterback on their 1966 Rose Bowl team, Raye II started for the Spartans in 1967. Drafted in the 16th round by the Rams in 1968, he was moved to defensive back, traded to the Eagles in 1969 and ended up as an assistant in the NFL for 36 years.

“When we got the lead I was sure we were going to win,” said Raye. “I remember how poised Walton was in the last drive. There weren’t too many teams that beat me. Walton operated a two-minute offense you just didn’t see at that time. I remember watching him throw a deep out and outside breaking ball. He had a classic delivery; you could see there was a lot of talent there.”

After an impressive prep career, Walton committed to Norfolk State, but when his sister, Phyllis, passed away he opted to stay home and attend Elizabeth City State University. Starting midway through his freshman season, the Vikings finished 3-5. Coach Thomas Caldwell’s affection for the forward pass suited the angular 6-2, 160 pounder. Utilizing a pro-style offense, the Vikings were putting it in the air over 30 times a game. As Walton developed, he elevated the Vikings, who improved to 5-3, 8-2 and 9-1 in the Central Intercollegiate Association Conference.

Starting linebacker Willie Stewart knew Walton tipped the balance. “We had a couple of good running backs, Grover Armstead and Grady Sessome, and Eugene Snipes at wide receiver,” he said. “Johnnie always had a great arm. With the other guys coming in, they all complemented each other and our passing took off the last two years. I don’t remember us being behind in too many games. I think the guys on the team thought Johnnie had a shot at the NFL.”

Throwing for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns, the Vikings came up a few percentage points short of qualifying for the playoffs Walton’s senior year. After the season, Caldwell received a call from a scout in Canada expressing an interest in Walton, but nothing materialized. Invited to an all star game for the best players in North Carolina, Walton pitched two touchdowns including a 50-yarder to Pete Davis. The next day, newspaper headlines called him the man with the million dollar arm.

Walton played with the USFL’s Boston Breakers

While Southwestern Athletic Conference powers like Grambling State University, Jackson State and Texas Southern had been sending players to the NFL since the late 1950s, the Central Intercollegiate Association Conference consisted of lower level Division II schools and barely registered for professional scouts.
Opening the door to the NFL was made possible because of Caldwell’s friendship with Rams’ renowned scout Tank Younger. No other team expressed any interest.

Attending an award dinner for black colleges in Washington, D.C., Walton met Younger and signed a free agent contract for $200 in January, 1969. “He [Younger] talked about how tough the situation was and what I’d have to go through to make it,” said Walton. “I thought it’s funny, I am the guy with the million dollar arm, who’s signing for $200. But I welcomed the challenge and was grateful for the opportunity. My mindset was I wanted to see what I could do against the best. The Rams community accepted me; I felt I was in a great position.”

Coming out of Grambling in 1949, Younger was signed as a free agent and became the first player from a historically black college to join the NFL. A 6-3, 225, bruising fullback, he was a four-time pro bowler, who helped the Rams to a 24-17 win over Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns in 1951. The Rams were runner up in 1949, 1950 and 1955. After a ten-year career [1958 with the Steelers] he became a scout working for general manager Elroy Hirsch [the Rams Hall of Fame receiver from 1949-57]. Younger’s astute eye kept the roster well stocked with talented finds from traditional black and white college powers and remote outposts. He became the first black assistant general manager in league history with the San Diego Chargers in 1975.

Innate confidence in his powerful right arm, Walton wasn’t awed taking the field against Deacon Jones and the Rams vaunted Fearsome Foursome. “I always had the mentality of, ‘Why not me,’” he said.
Getting acclimated to the speed and hitting, he received a welcome to the NFL. “Deacon Jones came in and put me in the ground real good,” said Walton. “[Hall of Fame lineman] Bob Brown told me, ‘I got you Rook.’”
Brown punched Jones in the sternum knocking the wind out of him. Jones responded with, ‘I am going to save it for Sunday.’

Since stepping on the gridiron as a teenager, Walton had the fortune of learning from innovative, offensive minds. This time, he was paired with a master of the craft in offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda, whose meticulous instruction was instrumental in Walton’s digesting the nuances of defensive formations.

“I was a raw talent,” said Walton, who was behind pro bowler Roman Gabriel and veteran Carl Sweeten. “I was accurate and knew where to go with the ball, but I wasn’t familiar with the defensive schemes. Coach Marchibroda was one of the best. He taught me what to do with pre-snap reads and decision making. He wanted you to identify what the defense was doing at the line; was it press coverage or man-to-man. Recognize where you were going with the ball in your third step, then confirm and get rid of it in your fifth step.

“You could tell by the way the cornerbacks left or right foot was positioned. After you got the concepts down it takes care of itself. I was very fortunate Marchibroda was teaching then, it turned out to be a very positive experience.” Finding a comfort zone with the right coaching staff is often the difference in a successful career. At quarterback, it’s imperative.

Drafted with the second pick overall out of N.C. State in 1962 [he was the first pick of the Raiders in the AFL], Roman Gabriel spent time at linebacker, wide receiver and tight end during his first four years with the Rams. Getting his start in professional football with the Los Angeles Rams in 1957 under Sid Gillman, George Allen moved to the Chicago Bears joining head coach George Halas the next season. Architect of the Bears stifling 1963 championship defense, Allen became head coach of Rams in 1966 with Marchibroda as the offensive coordinator. Signing with the Raiders [1966], Allen made a visit to his house and persuaded him to stay with the Rams. [Gabriel’s option year required him to play for the Rams].

Taking Gabriel under his wing, he and Marchibroda put in long hours in the film room which translated to pro bowls in 1967, 68, 69 [with the Rams] and 1973 for the Eagles. Prepping at New Hanover High School in Wilmington, N.C., he was four years behind Sonny Jurgensen. The field is named Gabriel-Jurgensen in their honor. As a native North Carolinian, Gabriel felt a connection with Walton. “I thought John was ahead of the game [when he came to the Rams],” said Gabriel, who was the league MVP in 1969. “I was impressed with his arm and he had a good feeling of where to go with the ball. Ted taught him how to throw when his back foot hit the fifth step. John’s smart; he picked things up quickly. I think it was a case where coach Allen liked experience. I felt John had talent and you could see him progress. He was able to see the field better his second and third year.”

Farmed out to the Continental Football League with the Indianapolis Capitals that fall, Walton took over midway through the season and was named offensive MVP of the league throwing for 1,700 yards, which included 15 touchdowns in his last six games. They beat the defending champion Orlando Panthers 27-7 in the semifinal.

In the championship game, the Capitals were ahead 38-28 with a minute left, but the San Antonio Toros scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and converted a field to force overtime. The Capitals came back and got a rushing touchdown in overtime for a 44-38 decision, with Walton adding two touchdowns during the game. At that time, he was the only black to quarterback a team to a professional football title.
“The Continental League was a great experience,” said Walton, who made $4,900 for the season. “There wasn’t an opening in Los Angeles and no one was going to trade for me. We had some good wide receivers [at Indianapolis] and I was able to put up some numbers. I applied what I learned with coach Marchibroda and it gave me confidence.”

“You learn a lot of the [NFL] business is about who you know, and who knows you,” said Walton.
A proper diet and ample use of the weight room added a well needed 30 pounds to his frame. 1970 he was on the taxi squad impersonating the opposing team’s quarterback while gaining valuable experience.

Under new coach Tommy Prothro [1971], Walton was having a strong preseason going into the last exhibition game. Dropping back to pass, Raiders 6-8, 275 pound defensive end Ben Davidson wheeled around from the blindside and tackle Tom Keating barreled through the middle making a sandwich out of Walton. The full force of 500 pounds-plus landed on top, cracking his sternum and separating his clavicle.
“I woke up on the sideline counting fingers,” said Walton. “They sedated me, took me to the hospital and put me in a body cast [for eight weeks].” Coming off injured reserve, Walton played on the taxi squad the rest of the season.

Growing up in Watts, Kermit Alexander spent Sunday afternoons watching the Rams offense slice through NFL defenses. Attending Mount Carmel High School and earning a scholarship to UCLA, he became an All-American running back. Alexander was San Francisco 49ers eighth pick in the first round of the 1963 draft. A six-year starter and kick-punt returner with the 49ers, he was traded to the Rams and became a starter at right corner back [1970] and free and strong safety [‘71]. Traded to the Eagles, Alexander was relegated to special teams [’72, 73] because of his involvement as a union representative. The next two seasons he was placed on the taxi squad. In 1976, he was released before the season started. “Johnnie had a tremendous arm, but was just short on experience, he was a great talent and teammate,” said Alexander.

Near flawless execution by Walton elevated a premier defense. Frequently staying after practice, he’d throw balls helping Alexander cover the post corner route. “He became an all pro taxi squad player, who made our defense better,” said Alexander. “Once he learned to read defenses and hit the alternate receiver, he performed at a high level. He was going against an all pro defense. The veterans loved him because he made us work our asses off. He was better than half the quarterbacks in the league; we told him to persevere until he got a chance. Johnnie had a great attitude; his perseverance is a tribute to his character. He was always upbeat and guys pulled for him. We called him Johnnie Cool, because he’d stand tall in the pocket and never get rattled. He kept our moral up which is another reason [coach] Allen kept him. Allen recognized the defense needed guys prepared to play; he wanted to win and didn’t have to teach. Johnnie was very adaptable; he had to be to imitate all the opposing quarterbacks. I think his [over-the-top] delivery-motion was a lot like [Johnny] Unitas. He had a very strong arm with tremendous touch, long and short. He could make every throw.”

Released after the preseason in 1972, a team from the Canadian League called and asked Walton to come up and tryout. “My mindset was, if I can’t play against the best, I don’t want to play,” he said. It was a long three day drive back to Elizabeth City in his new Toronado. He spent the season working as a volunteer with his former high school and college team. Oddly enough, Harris, who sat out the 1972 season after being let go from the Buffalo Bills, was signed by Younger and ended up playing an integral role bringing the Rams close to a Super Bowl [1974] as they lost 14-10 to the host Minnesota Vikings, in the championship game. Named All-Pro, Harris posted a 21-6 record as a starter; he was with Rams four of his 10 years in the league.
“I first heard about John Walton when I visited Michigan State [in 1965] and Jimmy Raye was my host,” said Harris. “He told me there was a great quarterback at Elizabeth City. I saw John in an exhibition game. He had a good delivery, was accurate, poised in the pocket with a big-time NFL arm, all the things you look for in a quarterback. I thought he was a cut above the rest.”

During the fall of 1973, Walton moved to Columbus, Ohio and got a job with the Ohio Youth Commission. In the afternoons he practiced with the Columbus Barrons of the Midwest Football League and coach Perry Moss. Starting with 45 guys, the number quickly dropped under 30. Games were played in high school stadiums with less than a couple thousand fans. One player was cut after getting lost and ending up at the wrong school.

While much of the action surrounding the team was dysfunctional, Walton took over the offense, putting up quality numbers and gaining valuable reps. Trying out for the Chicago Fire [of the World Football League] in the spring of 1974, he was released and out of football as former Bear Virgil Carter was named the starter. When the Florida Blazers moved from Orlando, Fla. and became the San Antonio Wings [spring 1975], they hired Moss as their coach. Bringing in Walton, he issued a message that was music to his ears. “The position belongs to you. It’s yours until someone takes it away,” he said. “That was a great feeling, it was encouraging; I’d never been told that before.”

“Moss was an offensive genius,” said Walton. “He had a great temperament and was real easy to work with.”
Implementing three-four wide receiver sets, Walton lifted the Wings’ aerial attack with 2,405 yards, 19 touchdowns and a 96.3 passer rating, leading the league in passing, he received All-Pro nomination. At 7-6 and undefeated at home, the Wings were anxiously awaiting a trip to Hawaii when the league folded [Oct. 22, 1975].

As starting middle linebacker for the Vikings [1965-70, including the Super Bowl IV loss to the Chiefs], Lonnie Warwick had seen his share of great quarterbacks. Taking the field, the hard-nosed, grizzled veteran was in for a surprise. “The first day of practice coach Moss said to me, ‘Lonnie, we got a guy who can really throw the ball.’ Man was he right,” said Warwick. “I was so amazed how good Johnnie was. I didn’t think anybody could throw like him; he was the best quarterback in the league by far. I said, ‘We got us a QB; we’re going to win some games! I played against [Johnny] Unitas many a time; he was so accurate it was unreal. Johnnie Walton reminded me of Unitas with his high, overhand release that was hard for defensive linemen to block. He could throw the deep ball with such a tight spiral and was very accurate. Coach Moss was an offensive genius. He said, ‘I like your attitude,’ and let me take over and call the defense. ‘All you have to do is hold them to a fewer points than we score.’ Johnnie and I would eat lunch together and he’d pick my brain about what teams were doing defensively. When the ball was snapped, he knew what to do and how to beat them. Our offense was almost impossible to stop. We had a good core of linebackers, if we had a few more linemen, we wouldn’t have lost a game. Our first 22 players were very good. I thought we could’ve beaten some of the bottom teams in the NFL.”

Emphatic about Walton’s ability, Warwick laments a career that could’ve been. “I would’ve loved to see Moss get an NFL job and bring Walton with; that would’ve been ideal,” he said. “He had an offensive mind like [49ers coach Bill] Walsh; he loved scoring points.” The margin for entry into the NFL was minute in the 1960s and’70s; becoming a starter hinged on an odd set of variables.

Tired of being broke in college, Warwick departed Tennessee Tech during winter break of his junior year and went to Douglas, Az. Laying track with a crew for the Southern Pacific Railroad, he was making $9.10 an hour on the night shift. Vikings director of player personnel Joe Thomas had stopped at Cookeville, Tn. and the film on Warwick caught his eye. The coach told him where to look. One day, a man rode over 30 miles down a dirt road on a scooter carrying a telegram from Western Union. “I thought someone had died,” said Warwick, who has lived in Mount Hope, West Virginia where he was born and raised since the early 1980s. The contract said, if you’re interested in playing for the Vikings, call back by 5 p.m. I hopped on the back of the scooter with this little Mexican guy, went back and called Thomas. I asked for a $10,000 signing bonus. He said no, so I signed for $9,500. I took a cut in pay and went straight to training camp.”

After a year on the taxi squad, Warwick started and called the defensive signals, while leading the team in tackles four of the next five years. Epitomizing the Black-and-Blue Division middle linebacker, Warwick was a key component as the Vikings defense took shape and became dominant in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Starting nine games while battling injuries in 1971 and ’72, he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons and played two years behind Tommy Nobis. Warwick assisted Washington Redskins coach George Allen in 1976 and 77. Calling friends after the WFL folded, Warwick made a point of detailing Walton’s abilities. “I talked with Jim Finks [general manager for the Vikings 1964-73, Chicago Bears ’74-82, Saints ’86-92], the Rams and Redskins,” he said. “They all said to send film. I really don’t know if they followed up or not. Could Johnnie have started in the NFL and been successful? Oh gosh yes! It was hard to break into the NFL, especially if a coach didn’t know you. You had to really know the system and teams usually went with the guy they had. I saw a lot of guys that I thought could play in the league come and go. With the roster limit [of 40 and five on the taxi squad] they just didn’t get picked up. If Johnnie was coming out [of college] today, he’d have a 15-year career in the league. I played against Unitas, Bart Starr and Joe Namath; Johnnie could do the same thing. He was a rhythm passer who could absolutely thread the needle. He threw a beautiful spiral that was easy to catch. If we’d had Johnnie on those Vikings teams in the late 1960s and early 70s, I don’t know how many Super Bowls we’d have won. After seeing what he did in the WFL, I could never understand why someone did not take him right from there. He was already a polished player. How come he didn’t catch on and become a star in the NFL I don’t know? Maybe it’s me and that I liked him too much.”

Wings defensive coordinator Larry Grantham, who was a five-time pro bowler and signal caller as a linebacker for the New York Jets [1963-72, New York Titans 1960-62], was equally impressed with Walton.
“[Perry] Moss was a master with play-action passing, he spread people all over the field and Johnnie did a great job executing the offense,” said Grantham. “He was very accurate and could put the ball wherever it needed to be thrown.”

Extenuating circumstances that resembled a Three Stoogies episode came into play, following the 1975 season.

“I really thought Johnnie could go to an NFL team and start; I thought he had a great future,” said Grantham. “He’d gone through the learning process and was ready to play.

“The NFL looked down on the WFL. We tried to help a number of our players get placed with NFL teams. Everyone said, ‘Send film.’ We couldn’t get film from opposing teams and nobody could find the film from our own games. I called the Jets, but they were set at quarterback [Joe Namath was in his last year and Richard Todd was their first round pick].

“In pro football, when you’re on the outside looking in as a quarterback, it’s hard to get in unless you have a great college history behind you.

“I think the stigma of a black quarterback in the NFL was gone then, but for some of the southern teams it was still a no-no. We had a contact with our line coach Del Williams [Saints offensive lineman 1967-73]. Williams tried to get Walton there [with New Orleans], but couldn’t do it. We gave the Saints information on Walton, but when they found out he was black the conversation got real cold. They didn’t say it, but they whispered it.”

The Saints starting quarterbacks in the 1976 season were Bobby Douglas [six games] and Bobby Scott [eight games]. Archie Manning was sidelined after corrective surgery on his right shoulder.

 

Dick Vermeil, who was the special teams coach with the Rams in 1969 and offensive assistant in 1971-73, was making a national name as an offensive mind. In his second year at UCLA, he took the Bruins to the Rose Bowl [1976, for the first time in a decade] where they beat top-rated and undefeated Ohio State 23-10.

Moving into the NFL, he understood Walton’s professional makeup.

“Coach Vermeil called and said, ‘I am the head coach and he’d love for me to come to camp and tryout as a backup,” said Walton.

A strong showing in training camp [1976] put him behind Gabriel [traded to the Eagles in 1973 and retired after 77] and Mike Boryla when the season started.

“I understood the terminology, knew what defenses to look for and became good at it,” he said. “I developed a good relationship with the coaches.”

Alexander said the difference in Walton’s game was considerable.

“Johnnie read defenses well, was able to adjust and make the right calls,” he said. “He was capable of leading a team. He could’ve started for a few teams [at that point].

On the field, Walton’s mettle was palpable.

“Johnnie’s big change was his confidence in himself,” said Vermeil. “When you are confident, the spin off is you are also more accurate. I think it took awhile for him to really believe he belonged in the NFL. He gradually developed an attitude, ‘I can play’ and demonstrated it every day he came to practice.”

Placed on the inactive list after four games in 1977, Walton had a strong camp in ‘78, but the Eagles had traded for Ron Jaworski in 1977 [the Rams drafted Jaworski in 1973 in the second round] and considered him the future.

“I competed well in seven-on-seven drills and felt I was right with Jaworski [in 1978 and ‘79],” he said.

 

Since 1966, the Cowboys had been the dominant team in the NFC East winning the conference 11 times. The Eagles were 2-19 against Dallas and hadn’t won there since 1965. By 1979, the Eagles were anxious to prove they belonged at the top of the ladder. Coming in with a three-game losing streak, they prepared for a mid-November Monday night tilt. Vermeil was 0-6 versus the Cowboys and there wasn’t much money bet on his squad. Meeting with the team Sunday night, he woke the 6-4 Eagles up stating they’d beat the Cowboys in another 24 hours.

With 1:35 left in the half, Jaworski received a hard hit by Cowboys defensive end Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones. Walton was summoned from the bench. A fumbled punt gave the Eagles great field position and Walton followed up connecting with Charlie Smith in the corner of the end zone, for a 29-yard touchdown. After an Eagles interception, Tony Franklin converted a 59-yard field goal as they went on to a 31-21 victory.

Vermeil didn’t hesitate with Walton.

“I was the offensive coordinator and called the plays,” said Vermeil. “I was asked after

the game about having Walton go in and putting the ball in the air.

“I believed he’d be successful; I knew he’d perform well because he’d done it in                                                       practice all season. I stayed with the game-plan to throw this specific pattern when he

went in. He fired a difficult corner pattern for a touchdown that was right on the money.”

As the Eagles sideline erupted, the shift in energy was evident as the teams filed into

the locker room.

“The stadium was quiet as a city morgue,” said Vermeil. “That was the first time                                                                                                                  we’d beaten them and it gave us momentum for the rest of the season.”

Going 5-1 the rest of the way, the Eagles had a 24-17 loss to the Cowboys. Tying for the NFC East title, they beat the Chicago Bears 27-17 in the wild card game, but lost to Tampa Bay 24-17 the next week. The following season, they lost to the Raiders in the Super Bowl.

Walton’s steadfast approach made an impression on Herman Edwards.

“Johnnie taught me about professionalism,” said Edwards, who was the Eagles’ starting right cornerback from 1977-85 and head coach with the New York Jets [2001-05] and Kansas City Chiefs [2006-08]. “As the scout team quarterback, he was always prepared and didn’t make mental mistakes. If anything happened he was able to enter the game cold and show up big for us. I think everyone knew we were in good hands [against Dallas] and it was fun watching him play. The game was never too big for him.

“Practice for him was like a game. He’d come out and try and wheel-and-deal; he was constantly pressuring our defense and we had a very good defense. He challenged us all the time and it helped me become a pro football player.

“Johnnie threw one of the prettiest balls I’ve seen. We called him Smooth because he was never in a panic and always kept his composure. He was a classic pocket quarterback; he read the defense and got rid of it.

“At that time, some teams had reservations about a black quarterback and some didn’t. There was a mindset and perception about the position. There were other positions that were tough [for blacks] to play in the league. There was still an Old Guard in the league. The NFL has evolved and it’s a different league now. It’s a level playing field as well as college football. The best players are put on the field to have it play out. We’ve come a long way.”

 

When the year ended, Walton was offered the head coaching position at his alma mater. He accepted, opting to retire.

“Coach Vermeil tried to talk me out of it and said the door was open if I changed my mind, but it was a decision I made,” said Walton, who taught at ElizabethCity Middle School through most of the 1970s in the offseason. In 1978 and ’79, he assisted with his alma mater’s football team in the spring semester. “It’s nice to have options. It was a great opportunity to go back home and I never was a money person.

“I knew the Eagles were headed to the Super Bowl, I was not sure how long it would take. Looking back, it’s a decision I regret, but that’s what decisions are about.”

Walton’s second year, the Vikings qualified for the DII playoffs. Flying into Marquette, Mich., at the end of November, the snow, cold and opposition were overwhelming as they lost 55-6.

“When we landed, all you could see was snow,” he said. “We had the wrong shoes, the wrong everything; it didn’t go well.”

Dr. Jimmy Jenkins, current president of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. was chancellor at Elizabeth City State University [1977-95] and responsible for hiring Walton.

“Johnnie was a great role model and example for our players,” said Dr. Jenkins. “He proved what determination, tenacity and hard work can do and what happens when you take advantage of your opportunities and never giving up. That resonated with our athletes. They knew Johnnie was someone who did it on a big stage.

“He has a great name in Elizabeth City. He’s the boy who made good, but didn’t forget his roots. He came back and passed it forward.

“Johnnie and his siblings were overachievers. They were dedicated and ambitious. We hit if off well. The thing I stressed and he understood was that we wanted to have student-athletes, not people training for the NFL. My views about the classroom were consistent with his.”

Stewart, who went on to become a coaching icon at Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C. retiring in 2009, kept up their friendship. Coming down periodically in the offseason, he soaked up all Walton’s offensive acumen.

“Our coaches drilled and drilled John to make the right reads and understand where the primary and secondary receivers were,” said Stewart. “The defenses weren’t that sophisticated. Johnnie had all the tools he just didn’t have the fine points until he got to the pros. You could see how he developed [in professional football] after he refined his game.

“When I saw him play in the USFL [against Federals in Washington, D.C.], I said, ‘That’s the guy I remember from college.

“Johnnie’s a real country boy. I always went down there [to Elizabeth City] in the offseason to pick his brain. He was very helpful showing me what they did [offensively] with the Rams and Eagles’ passing game. I was able to use the three and five step drops and avoid the blitzes. It was beautiful. It worked perfect for us because we had a smaller line.

“I think the reason John made it was he loved to play that much. I don’t think it mattered that he was out of the NFL. His knowledge of the game always grew from his experiences.”

 

When the USFL got going in the spring of 1983, former Eagles receivers coach Dick Coury was hired by the Boston Breakers as head coach and general manager.

A three-sport athlete at Athens High School in Ohio, Coury, at 5-9, 150 pounds, had dreams of playing for Notre Dame. A week into preseason practice, coach Frank Leahy sent a message through Coury’s roommate, running back Jack Landry.

“Leahy said he was afraid I’d get hurt; it was the nicest thing I’d heard,” said Coury, who graduated with a physical education degree [1951] and went into coaching. Earning his way through the ranks, he first served as head coach of Mater Dei High School [in Santa Ana, Calif., going 85-9-5] where he tutored John Huarte, who went on to win the Heisman trophy at Notre Dame [1964] and a eight-year career in the NFL.

There was no question who he wanted as his starting quarterback.

“Johnnie was the first guy I called. I knew he was the guy we needed to lead the team; I

had no interest in anybody else,” said Coury. “As soon as you watched him work out you could see how talented he was. At the time, you couldn’t find many guys that threw like him. Johnnie was phenomenal with the go route, he could hit a receiver in full stride as good as anyone. Once you met Johnnie, you knew right away he’s the guy you want to build a team around. His attitude, the way he worked in practice and understanding of the offense, were what you wanted in your quarterback. We gave him the option to audible because we trusted him that much.”

It was a special time for Coury who had his sons, Steve and Tim, on the staff. Steve coached the wide receivers and Tim, who handled public relations, was on the field for the games.

Someone who knows quite a bit about quarterback play was Breakers co-owner Randy Vataha. Grabbing 89 passes and 12 touchdowns from Heisman trophy winner, Jim Plunkett, at Stanford over two years, the duo were instrumental in leading the Cardinals (9-3) to a 27-17 Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State. His 10-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter helped seal the win, which denied the Buckeyes (9-1) a national title.

A 17th round pick by the Rams, he was released after preseason. An encouraging word from Plunkett got Vataha a tryout with the New England Patriots. Making an immediate impact, he was fifth in receptions with 51 catches and 17 yard average. [The Raiders Fred Bilentnikoff was the NFL leader with 61. Bilentnikoff and Vataha tied for second with nine touchdowns. Miami’s Paul Warfield led the league with 11]. From 1971-76, Vataha caught 178 passes, he also led the team with 46 receptions in ‘75.

Oddly enough, in the 1971 Hall of Fame game, Walton threw two touchdowns passes against the Houston Oilers. The first one was to Vataha on a post pattern.

“When Dick [Coury] told me who they were bringing in at quarterback, I liked the idea of a guy who spent time at the pro level,” said Vataha, who is president of Game Plan LLC in Boston, Ma. “Being away from the game that long, you wonder if his instincts and reaction time were up to speed.

“Once I saw him throw the ball and how he reacted in the offense, it quickly dispelled any concerns I had. The adjustments Walton made were immediate. You have to give Dick a lot of credit for taking the steps to get him here. We were very fortunate to have Johnnie, he was a great leader.

“We had some great quarterbacks in our league [Jim Kelly, Steve Young], Walton showed he could compete with any of them.

“Could he have that type of success at the NFL level? From my observation, I think Walton had all the pieces to succeed as a NFL starter. But if I had the answer I’d be making a lot of money as a personnel director. It’s a strange animal at the highest level; you really need the right opportunity.”

Throwing the ball in practice at Elizabeth City State kept Walton’s arm well tuned.  He didn’t miss a beat. Passing for 3,772 yards with 20 touchdowns and completing 56 percent Walton was second in the USFL in yards and touchdowns. The Breakers went 11-7 finishing second in the Atlantic Division behind Philadelphia, who lost in the championship to the Michigan Panthers, 24-22.

A midseason classic at Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University against the Panthers, the Breakers drove 76-yards to the two-yard line before time expired in a 28-24 loss. Providing plenty of excitement, Walton was 37-of-48 for 423 yards and three touchdowns [a record at the time].

Picked to finish last, the Breakers dropped three games by a total of 14 points, but rallied going 6-2 missing the playoffs by one game. They had the third best offense in the league.

One of the highlights was beating Jim Mora’s Philadelphia Stars 19-17 in Boston snapping their eight-game win streak. Driving the field, they were in position on the 14-yard line. Dropping back, Walton uncoiled a fastball that ricocheted off Charlie Smith’s left hand and into the arms of Frank Lockett for the game-winner. A month earlier at Philadelphia, they lost 23-16 with Walton just missing a potential game-tying pass, also on the final play.

Carl Peterson, tight end and special teams coach with the Eagles [1976-82], general manager of the Philadelphia Stars and general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs [1989-2008], was well versed with Walton and how the USFL opened the field for dozens of players to showcase their talents.

“John had one of the strongest arms and was a person of great character,” said Peterson. “He threw a beautiful tight spiral, the same type of ball Warren Moon threw. He had a stronger arm than Gabriel [at that time] and Boryla. His arm was similar to Jaworski’s, but with a tighter spiral.

“Dick [Coury] wanted veteran guys he was comfortable with and John ended up doing a great job; I was happy for John.

“I remember the loss distinctly [at Boston]; it was very disappointing. We thought we won, but John brought them back and throws a great pass and they win. He was the difference in the last drive.

While fans poured onto the field and the Breakers celebrated in the end zone, “We ran for the locker rooms,” said Peterson.

Guys were taking their pads off and there was a knock on the door. It was the referees insisting the team come back out for the extra point.  “I said listen, I am not going to take the team back out I don’t care what the league does,” said Peterson, who was fined $10,000 for his comments. “Jim Mora felt the same way.

“The USFL was a great league that accomplished a great deal. It allowed guys to resurrect or continue careers for a lot of young aspiring players. There were many guys who went onto the NFL to have great and even Hall of Fame careers.”

Moving to New Orleans for their second season, Walton put up 3,500 yards [second most total yards in the league] and 17 touchdowns. He posted 93.3 and 95.4 passer ratings for his two years in the USFL. Walton’s numbers from the WFL, Eagles and USFL were 10,069 yards, 59 touchdowns and 62 interceptions.

“Our offense was similar to the one we had with the Eagles,” said Coury, who was named Coach of the Year in 1983. Now 84, he’s retired and living in San Diego, Ca. “We used a lot of spread formation, pack rolls, drop back and play action. John’s leadership was outstanding. He had a strong arm, was very accurate with the short passing game and read defenses well. We had tremendous faith in him. He dominated the league and was great from day one for two years.

“John played very well with the Eagles, but Jaws [Jaworski] was a hell of a quarterback. He should’ve played in the NFL longer than he did.”

Making it a habit to drive the length of the field when the game was on the line, Walton earned the respect of everyone in the league. Breakers’ offensive coordinator Gabriel was effusive about Walton’s command of the position.

“John was a great leader,” he said. “Our offensive line wasn’t the greatest, but he stood in the pocket like a pro; he had no fear.

“Nobody expected us to be in the playoff hunt. John was amazing, without him we never would have been close. I trusted his judgment as much as mine. We put the game plan in together.”

Raised in the Baptist church and a man of faith, Walton never complained about his musical chairs positions across the country and felt God always had an assignment. “You never know how life takes its course,” said Walton. “It was in the back of my mind to prove I could play at that level. This was the last opportunity, against great competition and I decided to give it a shot. I felt I was at my peak and I had a chance to be a starter.” The Breakers’ offense was an ideal fit.

“We used the run-and-shoot which I was familiar with,” said Walton. “It was passer friendly which was perfect for me. We had Smith and Lockett as receivers and [former Cincinnati Bengal] Dan Ross at tight end. Not everybody gets a chance to do something they love. The only thing you can ask is a chance to prove what you can do.”

Never short on last second heroics during his two-years, Walton came up big against the Chicago Blitz in the Superdome in 1984 before 43,692 fans. Engineering the Blitz was former Bears quarterback Vince Evans, who played eight years with the Oakland Raiders [1987-95 after seven with the Chicago Bears, 1978-83]. Tied at 35 in overtime, wide receiver coach Steve Coury called a pump-and-go route. Dropping back to the 50-yard line, Walton rifled a rope over Lockett’s right shoulder, just inside the 10-yard line for the game-winner, 41-35. He finished 29-of-43 for 440 yards and four touchdowns.

Packing the proper punch, Walton’s easy touch carried weight.

Buford Jordan, who led the team in rushing [1,276 yards] and was third in receiving [45], knew his instruction was invaluable.

“I caught 12 passes my entire career in college [at McNeese State],” said Jordan. “Johnnie knew where everybody on the offense was supposed to be. He took me aside and threw the ball with me after practice every day, running routes and drills until I was comfortable. If anyone had a question, Johnnie would have the answer. The way he explained each situation made it real easy to understand.

“A lot of times during the games there were really tight spots, on a seam route or swing pass, but Johnnie would put it in where you didn’t lose stride. When he got hurt, everything went down hill. [A knee injury against the Birmingham Stallions knocked Walton out for a couple games]. The Breakers, who were 5-0 at that time, finished the year 8-10.

“He was a very humble person. I patterned myself after him. There were a lot of guys in the NFL who were better than me, but didn’t have it mentally and didn’t want to study the mental side. That was the difference in my career.”

Switching to fullback with the Saints [1986-92], Jordan carved out a nice career paving the way for Rueben Mays, Dalton Hilliard and a few others. A native of Iota, La., he now lives in Kenner, La., and owns Rock Hard Performance Training. In 2011, Jordan was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Rehabbing an injured knee, Coury asked Walton to assist the Breakers as quarterback coach, when the team moved to Portland for their third season.

Walton got back into coaching for one year when the World League of American Football put together the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks [1991]. Gabriel was hired as the head coach and brought Walton in as offensive coordinator.

Unlike most of his former teammates, Walton says he’s in great shape and never had a major surgery over the course of his career.

“I’ve been quite fortunate,” he said. “When you walk behind Roman Gabriel [seven knee surgeries and one reconstruction], you hear a constant clickety-clack.”

Retiring last January after teaching health and physical education at an alternative school, Walton is enjoying the gentle southern pace with his lovely wife, Earline, who was a year behind him in high school. His father, Booker Walton, celebrated his 95th birthday Jan. 28.

Walton served on the Elizabeth City council the last 10 years. He ran for mayor in 2013 the last election and lost by 300 votes [1,600-1,300]. His five children are in Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte and Baltimore and visit frequently.

“I don’t want to spend time in traffic,” said Walton, who always returned to Elizabeth City in the offseason. “I never liked the hustle and bustle of the big city.”

Family ties have always carried weight. The annual summer family reunion has over 250 relatives, who come in for the festival the third week in July.

Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer and can be reached at seth.schwartz@sbcglobal.net

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Throwbacks #4: Origins

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How did the draft and the NFL become what it is today? We tell you the stories of the first NFL Draft, as well as the one

Download/Subscribe on iTunes
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How did the draft and the NFL become what it is today? We tell you the stories of the first NFL Draft, as well as the one man whose vision molded the league you know and love.

Music featured in this episode by the following (in order of appearance):  
Ending Satellites – A Day in Port-Royal

Dexter Britain – Summers Coming

Simon Robinson – Country Trouble

Jaakko – Rosa Mota

Monster Rally – Sun Bum

Dexter Britain – From the Dream of Life

Explosions in the Sky – Welcome, Ghosts

The Freak Fandango Orchestra – Requiem for a Fish

Our first story, “Joe Carr’s Vision” was written by Chris Willis and originally appeared in a 2003 edition of the Coffin Corner. 

Our second story was written by Ken Crippen and originally appeared on National Football Post.

If you like the show, want to be a part of it, or want to see us cover a great story, please reach out to me at erik.oehler@nationalfootballpost.com.

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The PFRA honors the 1964 Cleveland Browns

On Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7, 2014, members of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) gathered for their Biennial Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. They traveled from all over the country, and were also joined by two members from Mexico City and a member from Canada. Hosted by the Cleveland Browns, the meeting

On Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7, 2014, members of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) gathered for their Biennial Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. They traveled from all over the country, and were also joined by two members from Mexico City and a member from Canada. Hosted by the Cleveland Browns, the meeting was dedicated to honoring the 1964 NFL Championship team of the Browns. “The PFRA meetings are always great, but meeting as guests of the Cleveland Browns was unprecedented. The organization has come a long way,” said PFRA president Mark L. Ford.

The PFRA is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to pro football history. Incorporated in 1979, the PFRA has steadily grown to over 400 members in 10 countries. Six times a year, they publish a magazine called The Coffin Corner. In it, the PFRA tells the stories of the players, teams and leagues that made professional football the game that it is today.

The Friday night festivities started at the Cleveland Browns’ practice facilities with a speech from longtime Cleveland Sportswriter and Radio/TV analyst Tony Grossi. Currently, Grossi is a Browns and NFL analyst with WKNR 850/ESPN Cleveland, SportsTimeOhio and ESPNCleveland.com. Prior to that, he was the Browns beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Since 1994, he has been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. Grossi took time to talk about his career and the Hall of Fame selection process. The bulk of the questions from the audience were directed toward the Hall of Fame.

The next guest speaker was Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson, who currently lives in Ohio. Robinson played for the Green Bay Packers from 1963 through 1972, before finishing his career with the Washington Redskins. He was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. Robinson talked extensively about his career under Lombardi, as well as the Hall of Fame. Robinson is on the Board of Directors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The final speaker of the night was Gregg Ficery, who spoke on The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Pro Football. It was a discussion focused on his great-great grandfather – Bob Shiring – who played for the strongest teams of early professional football.

The evening ended with a tour of the Cleveland Browns’ practice facilities. The Browns gave the group unprecedented access to their facilities, including access to the weight room, locker room, both the indoor and outdoor practice fields, and the administrative offices. Tour guide Tony Dick provided incredible stories on the construction of the facility, the filming of Draft Day (featuring Kevin Costner), and other items throughout the facility.

Saturday morning, the group met at First Energy Stadium in downtown Cleveland for the business portion of the meeting. Topics of discussion included an update on membership, an update of PFRA Football Publications and a discussion of the PFRA’s Hall of Very Good. It concluded with a discussion of the next meeting location: Green Bay, Wisconsin. The meeting will be held in 2016, but the exact date has yet to be determined.

The session continued with a speech by Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto. He is a nine-time winner of the Ohio Sportswriter of the Year award and has been inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. He is also the author of over 20 books, including Browns Town 1964, a history of the Browns’ 1964 championship season. His presentation focused on the history of the team, with a focus on the 1964 NFL Championship team.

Pluto was followed by Jonathan Knight, the author of The Browns Bible: The Complete Game-by-Game History of the Cleveland Browns. Knight is also a columnist for TheClevelandFan and is a regular contributor to Cleveland radio station WKH’s The Sports Fix. He discussed his efforts to write and research The Browns Bible, as well as his difficulties in obtaining information on the early teams.

The afternoon session honored the Browns’ 1964 NFL Championship team with a roundtable discussion with members of the team, as well as the viewing of a highlight film for the 1964 Browns and a viewing of the 1964 NFL Championship game film. In attendance for the panel discussion were linebacker Jim Houston (1960-72 Cleveland Browns) and tackle Dick Schafrath (1959-71 Cleveland Browns). The discussion was moderated by veteran Cleveland sportscaster and sportswriter Dan Coughlin. He covered the 1964 NFL Championship game for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The discussion was very informative and gave the attendees a look into the team and what it was like to play for legendary coach Paul Brown.

Heavy underdogs heading into the title game against Baltimore, the Browns did not feel intimidated. They had a strong offense and a tenacious defense. The Browns limited Johnny Unitas to just 95 yards passing and two interceptions. With the score 0-0 heading into the second half, the Browns’ offense exploded. Quarterback Frank Ryan connected with receiver Gary Collins three times for scores. With two field goals by Lou Groza, Cleveland took the game 27-0. The 1964 Browns were the last to win a championship for the city of Cleveland.

The last speaker was collector Danny Tharp, who spoke on his project The Greatest Day in Cleveland Sports, an audio recreation of the 1964 NFL Championship game. Copies of the project were distributed to the attendees.

The meeting ended with a tour of First Energy Stadium. As with the tour of the training facilities, the Browns gave unprecedented access to the stadium, including the press box and locker rooms.

Fun Fact: Nobody is allowed to use the Cleveland Browns’ locker room except the Cleveland Browns. There are two visitors’ locker rooms in the stadium. When two college teams play at the stadium, they use the two visitors’ locker rooms.

The PFRA would like to thank the Cleveland Browns for an incredible weekend of events. 

Photos courtesey of Mark Palczewski – Professional Football Researchers Association

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Where are they now: Nick Lowery

Before landing the kicking job in Kansas City, Nick Lowery was cut eleven times by eight teams in his young professional football career. However, after he unseated future Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud, Lowery went on to become the Kansas City Chiefs’ all-time leading scorer (1,466 points) and earned a bust in the Kansas

Before landing the kicking job in Kansas City, Nick Lowery was cut eleven times by eight teams in his young professional football career. However, after he unseated future Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud, Lowery went on to become the Kansas City Chiefs’ all-time leading scorer (1,466 points) and earned a bust in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame.

Not knowing if he would ever make it as an NFL kicker, Lowery focused on his education. According to Lowery, “I had a chance to go to some of the big colleges, but I was fortunate to go to a wonderful school called St. Albans school in Washington, D.C. I was able to really focus on my education, knowing that the chances of making it in the NFL for anyone wasn’t that high. I figured that if I was a good placekicker, I would be able to count whether I had a good percentage and did well. I got into Princeton and Dartmouth, and went to Dartmouth. My goals were to get a good education. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to study. I started off in theatre.”

Lowery continued, “That was the era of Watergate in the Washington, D.C. area. Growing up next door to a Supreme Court justice named Byron ‘Whizzer’ White, who led the NFL in rushing twice (1938 and 1940), and the award named for humanitarian work by players is named after Justice White. That was my next door neighbor.”

He added, “I was inspired out of that Watergate era to think about, ‘Gosh, what is missing in government?’ That was also six years after Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were killed, and the Vietnam War and that era. I was thinking about leadership and I switched to a government major and interned for Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island. He was the last of a generation of Republicans and Democrats who could work together. It is kind of a tragic thing to say. He was a Republican in a Democratic state, was able to get Clean Water Act passed, and the Clean Air Act. He just knew how to pass legislation that would improve the quality of life; more important than political party. I can’t express how highly I respected Senator Chafee. What a great role model he was. That is what I was aiming to do if I didn’t make it in the National Football League.”

While working with Senator Chafee, Lowery mentioned, “I worked on Carter’s Energy Program. Even back in the mid-70s, you might remember that we were thinking about how much we were dependent on foreign oil. I worked on coal conversion for Senator Chafee as an intern. I actually worked under the steam pipe tunnels, under the Capital in the summer of 1976 with Jim Rehnquist. He was the son of Chief Justice Rehnquist of the Supreme Court.”

But, he had aspirations of making in in the NFL. Lowery’s journey was one of persistence. Lowery recalled, “I went through a lot of rejection before I finally made it.” He continued, “I graduated in 1978. I signed with the Jets. I did well, but I screwed up in the third preseason game and they cut me. I went up to Dartmouth to do some theatre and language stuff. I got a job as a waiter. The opportunity with the New England Patriots came.” Patriots’ kicker John Smith suffered a thigh injury and was out. After he finished his shift at the restaurant, Lowery drove to Foxboro. Lowery continued, “I literally showed up on their doorstep in the fading light at Foxboro. Luckily, [head coach] Chuck Fairbanks was still there. I convinced him to take a look at me. I kicked lights out. A week later, they signed me. I played two games for the Patriots. We beat Oakland, in Oakland. It went down to the last few minutes. A guy by the name of Steve Grogan ran 22 yards down to the two-yard line with about a minute left. We scored a touchdown. Otherwise, I would have had to try a 42-yard field goal to beat the Raiders. We won both games, the next week against San Diego. But, I wasn’t ready for prime time yet, and they cut me. A lot of my story, to me, is how if you keep putting yourself out there, that is the only way to make it in the NFL. Whether you are a number one pick, or if you are somebody who didn’t even get drafted, like myself. It takes a while to get used to that level of pressure. You have to learn a lot about yourself.” Lowery was replaced by David Posey.

After being cut by the Patriots, Lowery returned to government work. “I got a job again with Senator Chafee. I worked on the Title V Regional Commissions with the Environment and Public Works Committee, which he was the ranking minority on.”

Lowery never gave up on his dream to kick in the NFL. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it [in the NFL]. The plan was that I was going to work in the U.S. Senate, and then try out for a bunch of teams the next year in 1979. One was Cincinnati [Bengals]. I remember Homer Rice, their coach, saying, ‘I don’t remember seeing you miss any field goals. Ever.’ I said, ‘Then why did you cut me?’ But, they did. Then the [Washington] Redskins signed me. I came back home. I played two games with the Redskins. The long and the short of it is that each time in the 1979 season, I tried out with San Diego. I almost made it when Rolf Benirschke was near death.” In 1978, Benirschke was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of colitis that forms ulcers on the large intestine. While returning from a road game, Benirschke collapsed on the team plane. After having two surgeries to remove his large intestine, Benirschke returned to the field the following year.

Lowery continued to list the teams where he received tryouts: “With New Orleans. Again with the Baltimore Colts. Each of these times, I was getting so much closer and out-kicking guys that I was not clearly out-kicking the year before, so I knew I was getting better. But, I didn’t make it.”

Lowery went back into government. “I got a permanent job with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. There were eleven attorneys, and me and a lady by the name of Chris Wilkes. We were the only non-attorneys. That was what I was going to do. I was going to work on the Senate Committee, which is great. If you know about a Senate Committee, if your Senator loses the election, you do not lose your job. You are still on the committee. If you worked for a Senator, if he or she loses, you are done.”

While with the Committee, Lowery worked on airline seat safety. “I could go into chapter and verse on that. Things that 30 or 40 years later, still have not been addressed. Aviation seat regulations are one-sixth as stringent as cars. If you plane has an issue, and your plane is not going 60 miles-per-hour, but going 250 to 350 miles-per-hour, those seats are going to come apart. That was the last thing I was working on.”

Lowery left his work on the committee after getting a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs. “I left in May. They brought me out several months early. I got to train. I got to get over that intimidation factor and to prepare earlier. It was tough to give up a job like that in Washington. Those kind of jobs are jewels. As I look back, I am glad that I did.”

Lowery recalled how he got the opportunity in Kansas City. “Right after the season, I will never forget, it was the Saturday of the first wildcard games. A guy by the name of Jim Schaaf, then the general manager of the Chiefs, called up and said, ‘I am sorry, but I just had back surgery. Marv Levy, our coach, really believes in special teams and we think that you have some real potential.’ I said, ‘Thanks, but I have this great job,’ and I hung up. I think about how many of us have those moments of truth, where the path can go one of two ways. As I hung up, I was thinking, ‘What a minute. Why did I just hang up?’ I had to find him back in his hospital room. Meanwhile, I turned down offers from the Colts and the Cleveland Browns. But, something about the tone of voice of this guy said that I should trace him back. I didn’t know how to spell his name. I called the directory and started asking for hospitals. I finally said, ‘Where would he be if he had back surgery?’ I found him at Research Hospital. I kind of impressed him that an hour after he called me that I was able to find him. We talked for an hour. A week later, they flew me to Kansas City to get the physical and to meet with Marv Levy and Jim [Schaaf]. They gave me a $2500 bonus, which today would be something of a joke for a lot of players, but for me it was a sign to try just one more time.”

But, Lowery needed to beat out mainstay and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud. “Jan was the heart of the team.” Lowery continued, “He was the last member of the Super Bowl champions that was still on the team. Jack Rudnay had been a backup on that team, but Jan was the star on that team. He was kind of a father figure. He was 37 and going into what would have been his 14th year with the Chiefs.” Lowery won the job.

Lowery said, “Needless to say, he didn’t like me a whole lot when he was cut, but now, all of these years later, we are friends. Now, he sees how that rejuvenated his attitude on how to prepare, and if you look at his career in Green Bay and Minnesota, he kicked really well. He got a little more practice snaps during the week, which head coaches back in the 70s didn’t understand how important that was. He finished his career with a flourish. Jan was, career-wise, 58-percent at Arrowhead Stadium. I was 85-percent at Arrowhead Stadium. It was good for Jan to leave Kansas City in the long-run, and I think he agreed with that. It was hard, because he had his whole life there. It was hard for me after 14 years to leave for the Jets. I knew it would be a great challenge, but I knew I was ready and I think that I proved that.”

He recalled how persistence helped him win the job: “What is interesting is that if you pay your dues and you work as hard as you possibly can, what may seem impossible or hard to understand from other people, can seem more natural. I felt that I had paid so many dues. I had so much heartache. Being cut by the Patriots. Being cut by the Jets. Outkicking Mike Wood in San Diego, and yet he got the job in San Diego. Outkicking the kicker in New Orleans, Russell Erxleben. He was supposedly the new god of kicking, the first number one pick of a kicker. I will never forget coming into the showers afterwards and here is this guy, who is supposed to be the ultimate kicker, going, ‘How do you kick the ball so far and so high?’ I just knew that I was getting better and that I paid the price. By the time that I got to Kansas City, I knew that I had to outkick Stenerud every day, at everything. I was really clear about that. I had noticed how much better I had gotten. I had just turned 24. Everyone on the outside, and probably some on the inside like my family members, thought I was crazy. I just knew that it was my time.”

He recalled how he improved over the years: “You have to learn to get the ball up more quickly and you had to get the ball off more quickly. Back then, the goal posts were almost 25-percent wider. Those are adjustments that you have to make. The biggest adjustment is believing that you belong there. There was physically getting stronger. I was skinny. I was 6’4 ½” and 187 pounds. I finished my career at about 225 pounds. I am very proud to say that it was from hard work. You get older and your metabolism slows down. Dave Reading was our conditioning coach in 1989. By 1989, I was 33. In 1989 and 1990, Dave said, ‘Stop running distance. As a kicker, you are not a marathon runner. You are doing sprints.’ I went that year from about 205 pounds to about 217 pounds. I got a lot stronger and led the NFL in scoring that year [139 points] and hit 24 field goals in a row going into the playoffs. I hit 21 in a row the next year and was 22 for 24 the next year. I don’t know how many kickers have had those types of years in a row. That process of constantly working to get better, that to me was what was refined. Realizing through all of those rejections: eight teams and eleven rejections. You never stop working to improve. You can never take things for granted. As Jan would say, it is always a phone number away for a kicker as a replacement. Learning that you always have to work to get better. Also, making the connection that you can do all of the physical training in the world, but you also have to do that mental training – particularly as a kicker – so that you are in the right place for those very few seconds you have to be totally on.”

Now – as he had throughout his adult life – Lowery spends his time giving back to his community and helping others. That sense of community and helping others goes back to his time living next door to Supreme Court justice Byron ‘Whizzer’ White. According to Lowery, “There are different types of mentors. Some mentors are with you every day, or almost every day, like Dick Johnson who was my mentor in kicking. He was a retired stockbroker and kept saying, ‘It is not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up.’”

Lowery continued, “I had a different kind of mentor. A Mount Rushmore figurehead human being. I will never forget. We moved in the same day. Byron and Marion White, and next door was Sidney and Hazel Lowery and their family. I remember the very next day, there was Bobby Kennedy with what I think was a Labrador retriever next to him. He walked over from Hickory Hill, which was about three miles away. Byron, unlike some of the Supreme Court justices today, was very careful about what he talked about that might reflect on any decision that he would have before the court. The discussions we would have would be about history and who he admired. He really admired Lincoln. If you look at Byron White, he was a guy that finished number one at Yale Law School the same year he led the NFL in rushing. There is a lot of weight behind every single word a man like that had. When he offered an opinion, it really counted. I asked him – in the midst of being cut by all of those teams – his advice. He said, ‘You will be respected not by anything you say, but by being a consistent performer on the field. Just learn to shut up and do your job, and that is how you will gain respect.’ Byron White just helped me have higher goals. I think that without Byron White, I would not have thought, ‘Why not? Why not try to make it in the NFL?’ Those are the things that help you stay with it, even when the other teams in the NFL are saying that you are not good enough.”

According to Lowery, “I see the work I do as doing what the government used to do, to some degree, and what the best of our leaders called us to do. John F. Kennedy being one of the most famous.” He continued, “The notion of service and the idea of solving problems that need to be solved. For me, it’s inspiring kids to realize when they are sitting at that desk in the classroom, that they are working toward a purpose that is unique to their God-given gifts and that they deserve to have a life and that they do great things that are an extension of their God-given abilities. When kids feel that purpose, they feel powerful, and they feel meaningful and important in the best way, not in an ego-based way. Giving that gift to kids, which pro football players can do. That encouraging few seconds of time that we have with a fan can change a life sometimes. I really admire the Walter Paytons of the world. Deron Cherry of my team and Albert Lewis were that way. They had a really great understanding of making a difference.”

Lowery continued, “What I do today is an extension of that. The NFL can do more, but it does a lot of great things in the community. I would like to help the NFL do more programs in the area of creating a leadership culture among varsity athletes. If you look at the school shootings that happened at Columbine and other places – not all of them, but a hauntingly high percentage of them – had a toxic environment where the varsity football players were a bit too cool. To me, when you interrupt the pattern with varsity athletes in general, you say that a true champion shares his power with others and doesn’t take it away. Those are wonderful things that are consistent with Commissioner Goodell’s vision that the players today have a privilege, they are stewards of the game, just like the owners are. Everything that we can do to express that sense of gratitude for having such a fantastic career in America’s best game, giving the kids that sense of power and purpose is the least that we can do. I think that a lot of players get it and I am hoping that maybe if we start encouraging kids when they start to be recognized early in their lives, that it becomes a habit. If you look at people like Steve Largent and other great NFL Hall of Famers that got it early, all of those lessons helped them become better football players. They had congruency in how they lived their lives on the field and off of the field. Government and charity. To me, it is about how we can give to everyone that we meet in our lives, in the few seconds that we have – if not more – the sense that their lives matter and that we can help encourage them to make the world a better place. That is what life is about.”

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The first NFL draft

Today, the NFL Draft is a prime-time event. The multi-day extravaganza is preceded by months of mock drafts, dedicated draft publications and people making a living solely analyzing the draft. However, the first NFL draft was held in relative obscurity.

Bert Bell, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and future NFL Commissioner, came

Today, the NFL Draft is a prime-time event. The multi-day extravaganza is preceded by months of mock drafts, dedicated draft publications and people making a living solely analyzing the draft. However, the first NFL draft was held in relative obscurity.

Bert Bell, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and future NFL Commissioner, came up with the idea as a way to keep the league from going broke. He introduced the concept at the league meeting in May of 1935. His thought was that the stronger teams would always attract the best college football players. Since Bell’s team had struggled – they had only won 9 games since their inception in 1933 – he wanted a shot at top collegiate talent.

The official league minutes state:
SUNDAY, MAY 18, 1935 at the Fort Pitt Hotel, in Pittsburgh: Motion by Bell, seconded by Marshall, that the following rule relative to the selection of players entering the National League for the first time become operative beginning with the season of 1936:
(1) At the annual meeting in February and each succeeding year thereafter, a list of first year eligible players to be presented by each club and their names placed upon a board in the meeting room for selection by the various clubs. The priority of selection by each club shall follow the reverse order of the championship standings of the clubs at the close of the preceding season; for instance, the club which finished last in either division to be determined by percentage rating shall have first choice; the club which finished next to last, second choice, and this inverse order shall be followed until each club has had one selection or has declined to select a player; after which the selection shall continue as indicated above until all players whose names appear on the board have been selected or rejected.
(2) Any first year player who was not chosen or whose name does not appear on the list referred to above is eligible to sign with any club in the league.
(3) If for any valid reason it would be impossible for a player to play in the city by which he has been selected, or the player can show reasonable cause as to why he should be permitted to play in a city other than that designated for him than through such arrangements as can be made by sale or trade with another club, he shall be permitted to play in the city he prefers if the president of the league approves his reasons as valid. (The fact that a job is to be secured for a player in any city as an added incentive to sign a contract shall not be considered sufficient reason for his transfer from the club by which he has originally been selected.)
(4) In the event of controversy between a selected player and a club, the matter shall be referred to the president and his decision shall be accepted by all parties as final.
(5) In the event a player is selected by a club and fails to sign a contract or report, he shall be placed on a Reserve List of the club by which he was selected.

(ALL CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY)

The first draft was held February 8-9, 1936 at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. Approximately 90 players were on the board. After the first five rounds, Bell moved that the draft continue for an additional four rounds. George Preston Marshall of the Boston (now Washington) Redskins seconded the motion. The motion carried unanimously.

The Eagles had the first draft pick, as a result of their 2-9-0 record in 1935. They selected Jay Berwanger, the All-American halfback from the University of Chicago. Berwanger won the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy after the 1935 collegiate season. That trophy was renamed the Heisman Trophy, after the club’s athletic director: John W. Heisman, who passed away in 1936. Along with the trophy, he won a trip for two to New York City. According to the National Football Foundation, Berwanger said, “No one at school said anything to me about winning it other than a few congratulations. I was more excited about the trip than the trophy because it was my first flight.”

However, the Eagles had a problem with their first pick. Berwanger was hesitant to play professional football. First, he wanted to finish his studies at Chicago. Next, he wanted to maintain his amateur status in order to try out for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. He had aspirations of becoming a decathlete at the Summer Games. According to the Associated Press, Berwanger said, “I haven’t decided what I will do. I may play professional football next fall, because of its practical advantages. I might take a coaching job, although it is my ultimate intention to enter business in preference to making a career in professional athletics. For the time being, I am mainly interested in finishing my courses at Chicago, graduating next June, and then trying to win a place on the Olympic team.”

After failing to make the Olympic team, Berwanger started negotiating to play professional football. Rumors leading up to the draft had Berwanger asking for $1,000 per game. The average at the time was approximately $200 to $250 per game. The Eagles’ best offer was $150 per game. Failing to reach an agreement, the Eagles traded his rights to the Chicago Bears for tackle Art Buss. A report came out in 1948 that the trade was actually arranged before the draft. According to the report, Halas knew that the Eagles needed players and would not be able to pay Berwanger his asking price. Halas would send a player or two to Philadelphia if the Eagles drafted Berwanger. In exchange, the Bears would get the local star.

Now that the trade was finalized, it was George Halas’ turn to try and reach a deal with the star player. Berwanger reportedly asked for $25,000 per year to play for the Bears. Halas balked. After additional negotiations, Berwanger dropped his asking price to $15,000 per year. Halas never went above an offer of $13,500 per year. A deal was never reached and Berwanger never played professional football.

From 1936 through 1939, Berwanger coached football at the University of Chicago. He also wrote a column for the Chicago Daily News. He died of lung cancer in 2002, at the age of 88.

Over the history of the NFL draft, Berwanger was one of only two first picks to not play a down in the NFL regular season. The second was Ernie Davis, the Syracuse star running back. In 1962, Davis was selected by the Washington Redskins, as well as the Buffalo Bills of the rival American Football League. He was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1962 and passed away in 1963.

The second selection of the draft (and the first draft pick to play professional football), was Riley Smith out of Alabama. The versatile All-American could play practically any position. He was selected by the Boston Redskins. According to Bob Barnett of the Professional Football Researchers Association, Smith said, “I signed because I wasn’t ready to quit playing ball. I just wanted to keep playing. I signed for $250 a game and a little bonus. We won the Eastern Division championship twice and made the NFL championship once in the three years I played and the most I ever got was $350 a game. I made more money in the off-season. I quit in 1938 and took a coaching job at Washington and Lee for a lot more money. But we had it good because some of those fellas down in Philadelphia were playing for $60 and $70 a ball game.” Smith’s career was cut short by injury. After retiring from coaching football, Smith became a real estate developer. He passed away in 1999.

The Eagles failed to sign any of their 1936 draft picks. After going 1-11 in the 1936 season, they again had the first draft pick for the 1937 draft, which they used to select Sam Francis out of the University of Nebraska. He did not sign with the Eagles, either. Their second pick was used to select Fran Murray out of the University of Pennsylvania. He did sign, as well as their third pick Drew Ellis out of TCU. The remaining seven selections never played a down of professional football in the NFL.

Four future Pro Football Hall of Famers were selected in 1936: Joe Stydahar, Tuffy Leemans, Wayne Millner, and Dan Fortmann.

In 1976, Halas was quoted to have said, “The National Football League college draft has been the backbone of the sport and is the primary reason it has developed to the game it is today.”

Here is how the 1936 NFL Draft played out:

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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Where are they now: Gino Marchetti

Gino Marchetti was one of the greatest defensive ends in pro football history. Most historians rate him in the top four, along with Reggie White, Deacon Jones, and Bruce Smith. Selected to eleven straight Pro Bowls, Marchetti only missed playing in one Pro Bowl due to injury. He was inducted into the Pro Football

Gino Marchetti was one of the greatest defensive ends in pro football history. Most historians rate him in the top four, along with Reggie White, Deacon Jones, and Bruce Smith. Selected to eleven straight Pro Bowls, Marchetti only missed playing in one Pro Bowl due to injury. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

As a high school senior, Marchetti joined the Army. According to Marchetti, “They had a program there that if you joined the service, they would give me my [high school] diploma. One day after school, I drove over to Pittsburgh and I joined. I was only 17 or 18.” Marchetti continued, “I was in the 69th Infantry Division, the 273rd Regiment, 4th Platoon. I was a machine-gunner, and our company was the first company to make contact with Russian soldiers during the end of the war.”

After the war, Marchetti still had the itch to play football. He formed a semi-pro team called the Hornets in his hometown of Antioch, California. He elaborated, “When I got out of the service in 1946, I still had an urge to play football, but I could not go to college to play football. I really was not good enough. Me and my buddies from Antioch High [School] got together and formed a semi-pro team. We started playing local teams around the Bay area and Antioch, just to play. It was a lot of fun and good experience.”

That lasted for about a year, until he had a chance to go to Modesto Junior College. Marchetti said, “This is interesting. We were going to play San Rafael on one Sunday afternoon. I was driving a ’41 Chevy. It only held three passengers. I took my brother with me. At that time, he was a hell of a lot better football player that I was. Also, a receiver by the name of Nick Rodriguez, who was an excellent football player. There were three of us. We were driving out of town and I happened to look up Seventh Street to see my house and saw someone there. We stopped at the house to see who it was. It was a coach from Modesto Junior College named Josh and a line coach named Stan Pafko. They really wanted my brother and Nick to go. That is who they were trying to recruit. We were sitting around and they were talking to them about going to Modesto. They said that they would be interested in going. Everyone started to leave the room and all of a sudden, this guy Stan Pafko comes up to me and says to me in a joking way, ‘You look like you are big enough, why don’t you tag along?’ I said, ‘I just might do that.’ On the way up, I talked about it with my brother and Nick, and I decided to go. When we got there, Nick and my brother made first string after the first week. Then, we had a home game. I hadn’t played a lick. I started to improve. The defensive tackle got hurt. I got in and never went out. I played well enough in the game. The coach called me in and said that I will be starting at left defensive tackle. I stayed there and I finished the season.”

Marchetti’s football luck continued, “I then went home and I was going to stay home. I was working for my brother as a bartender. One afternoon around three o’clock, a guy came in. I served him a beer. He then asked, ‘Do you know a kid by the name of Gino Marchetti?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Why?’ He said, ‘I am interested in giving him a scholarship to the University of San Francisco.’ I will never forget it. I was smoking a cigarette. I threw it on the ground. They didn’t care if you smoked a cigar. I said, ‘That’s me.’ So, we talked and he said, ‘Come up and look around and let me know if you would be interested.’” Marchetti continued, “I drove up to San Francisco, which was about 40 miles from where I lived. I saw Brad Lynn again and he took me in to see Joe Kuharich. So, Brad Lynn told me after his meeting with Kuharich that Kuharich said, ‘Where did you get that hookie? He don’t know nothing about football.’ Brad talked him into bringing me up there. So, I went up there. They put me in at the first scrimmage. I wasn’t dumb. I knew that they would run away from me to see if I was fast enough, or at me to see if I was strong enough. I did that pretty well. He invited me to stay and I stayed for three years. It was the best time of my life.”

It was the 1951 season that would go down in college football history. The team went undefeated with a 9-0-0 record. That put them into a position for an Orange Bowl bid. Marchetti explained, “We were playing our last game against Loyola. We played our next to last game against the College of the Pacific. Eddie LeBaron was their quarterback. He was a good quarterback and played a few years in the NFL. They were undefeated. The rumor was going around that if we went undefeated, we would get a Bowl bid. We beat them 47-14. The following week, we beat Loyola 20-2. That gave us an undefeated season.”

However, attitudes at the time, especially in the South, were still racially divisive. According to Marchetti, “It came back that we would not get invited to a Bowl game unless we left the black players home. We had six or seven on the team, but the two they meant were the best guys you would ever meet. One was Burl Toler and the other was Ollie Matson. I said ‘Hell no!!’ I served in the Army with Burl and he was one of my best friends on the team. So, we voted it out. The thing that I love the most about it, nobody complained about it. I never heard to this day, nobody ever said ‘Hey, do you ever wonder how things would have turned out if we had changed our vote?’ Never thought about it for a minute, because I would never do that. Nobody on that team ever said that they regretted the decision that we had made. It was 100 percent in favor of not playing. So, we didn’t go. I went home and went back to work.”

That team is famous for other reasons, as well. Eight players from that team went on to play pro football. Five of them earned Pro Bowl nominations and three were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Also, athletic news director Pete Rozelle became one of the most influential commissioners in NFL history. Burl Toler became the first African-American referee in the NFL and officiated games for almost 25 years.

Marchetti never really considered playing professional football. “I never had a thought when the 49ers played at Kezar Stadium. I was not that big, really. I was 6’4” or 6’5”, but I only weighed 215 [pounds]. What I had going for me was I had the desire, that’s for damn sure. I was also fast and strong for a guy that weighed 215.”

However, he received a chance when he was drafted by the Dallas Texans in 1952. Some consider the Texans to be an offshoot of the New York Yanks, who folded in 1951. That is an easy assumption to make, since thirteen of the Yanks players made it to the Texans’ roster. However, Yanks owner Ted Collins sold his franchise back to the league for $100,000 after the 1951 season. The league then awarded a franchise to Dallas. Halfway through the 1952 season, the owners gave the franchise back to the NFL. To confuse things even more, When Baltimore was awarded a franchise in 1953, they were awarded a NEW franchise, not the Dallas franchise. However, they were awarded all of the players, even though only twelve of them played for the Colts that inaugural season.

Marchetti discussed his time with the Texans: “I was so excited about going to play professional football. However, I went to the most disorganized camp in the world. The equipment manager burned all of the ankle wraps. He didn’t know what they were. We didn’t practice for six or seven weeks. When [head coach] Jimmy Phelan called practice, we really didn’t practice. We would play volleyball – with a football – over the goal posts. Two-hand touch. We did a lot of running and fooling around, but I never saw a professional film. I am thinking, ‘Is this really professional football?’” Marchetti continued, “I had just gotten married and I was thinking about giving it up, because that is not what I expected. We only had three coaches. The trainer was the line coach. If you got hurt, you went to see the line coach.”

However, not all memories were bad from his days with the Texans: “The first touchdown I ever scored was in the Coliseum. Some of the old guys hid, because they did not want to go in and possibly get hurt. So, Phelan turned around and asked, ‘Who here can play tight end?’ So, I raised my goddamn hand. He said, ‘Come here. Go in for [Stan Williams],’ who had gotten hurt. The quarterback was Hank Lauricella. I went in the huddle and Hank said, ‘What are we going to call?’ I said, ‘Well, we have been practicing that thing where you throw the ball up as high as you can and as far as you can. I’ll chase it. They may not cover me, because I just play defense. We ran the play. The ball bounced around. I caught it and scored a touchdown. I was as happy as can be. The announcer said, ‘Touchdown. Six points by Gino Marchetti.’ I felt pretty good. Then, I heard the announcer say, ‘And now, the score is L.A. 42, Dallas 6.’ We were so bad, but that was one of my good experiences.”

After a miserable 1-11 season with the Texans, Marchetti moved to the Baltimore Colts. Marchetti commented that compared to the Texans, “It was better.” However, head coach Keith Molesworth placed Marchetti at offensive left tackle. He commented, “I started one year in Baltimore under Molesworth. I was the most unhappy guy the whole year, but I played the position. He had planned on me playing it the next year, but he got fired and Weeb [Ewbank] came in. Weeb saw some film and said I was going to be third on the depth chart at defensive end. I felt so good there, I am not sure that if he had asked me to go back there, that I would have. At tackle, I would have been small. At defensive end, I was small, but big guys never scared me. I was quick and agile. Playing tackle helped me become a better defensive player. I would think about all the guys that I blocked against. [Norman] ‘Wildman’ Willey. Goddammit, that guy must have thrown me around like a baseball. I took everything down, including what hurt me the most. I practiced stuff that would help me against guys like that. I had to neutralize his speed. I played against Don Joyce. He was easy. Why was he easy? He just tried to bowl me over. He wouldn’t give me moves. The guys that would give me moves were trouble. When I went back to defensive end, I tried to learn new moves and study the film to see what would help me.”

Marchetti continued his comments on Ewbank: “When it really got good was when Weeb Ewbank came in. He was on the Cleveland Browns’ staff. He was so organized, I couldn’t believe it. Everything, we had to write down. How to tackle. How to block. The right way to position your feet. The position of your hands. We had to keep notebooks. We had to show him that we took all of the notes, then he would let you go to town or do what you wanted to do on your day off. That was a shock. I joked with Fatso (Art Donovan), that if I had done this at USF (University of San Francisco), I would have graduated. Our meetings were an hour-and-a-half in the morning and an hour-and-a-half in the evening. There were two-a-day practices. He worked you.”

Under Ewbank, the Colts continually improved and won championships in 1958 and 1959. The 1958 game has been called “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Marchetti commented, “To be honest, it wasn’t the ‘Greatest Game Ever Played. I think that it was the most important game played in the NFL. People like to say it was the Greatest Game, but it really wasn’t.” There were 17 Hall of Famers in some way associated with that game, from players to coaches to owners.

Unfortunately for Marchetti, he did not see the entire game. He sustained an injury late in the fourth quarter. He commented, “Usually, they leave me alone on sweeps. It was about a minute and 10 seconds left. If they punt it, then we get a chance. If they do not kick it and we stop them, we really had a chance. They decided not to kick it. When they were going around, I happened to be there and made the tackle. Then, ‘Big Daddy’ [Lipscomb] comes across and he didn’t want the guy to go an inch further. He drives him. Today, they call it ‘head spearing.’ He stopped him, but also broke my ankle. It was a guy on my own team that broke my ankle. Then Frank Gifford yelled, ‘Get up Marchetti. God dammit. The play is over. Get up. Get up.’ I said, I can’t get up. I can’t walk.’ I couldn’t. Now every time I see him, he tells me that he made the first down. They proved it. They took us to New York and showed us how he made it. They did a hell of a job. So, every time he says that he made the first down, you know what I tell him? ‘Hey, who got the ring?’ That shuts him up pretty quick.”

When asked about why it was so important to be on the field to see the game, Marchetti joked, “I played on such shitty teams.” He continued, “It was so much fun to be out there. I may never get here again. I wanted to see whether they won or lost. They wouldn’t let me. In sudden death, they put me in a stretcher and walked me around to the other side of the field. I told them to put me down. I saw the kickoff. The next thing I knew, they had about four or five policemen around me. They took me in. I said, ‘Why? I ain’t hurting nobody.’ They said, ‘Just think of it. If the Colts win, we will never get you off the field.’ They were probably right.”

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

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Throwbacks #3: Mysterious

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President Nixon wasn't the only president to resign on August 8th, 1974. This week, we tell the story of the downfall of the WFL, as well as

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President Nixon wasn’t the only president to resign on August 8th, 1974. This week, we tell the story of the downfall of the WFL, as well as the story of the most hyped player to never play a game. Or did he?

Music featured in this episode by the following (in order of appearance):  

et_ – Kopeika
YACHT – Holly Roller

Milt Buckner – The Beast

Los Amigos Invisibles – ChaChaborro

Remus – Resistance main theme

Charles Atlas – Demus

Jose Travieso – Zombie Nation

Hugh Masekela – Grazing in the Grass

The Freak Fandango Orchestra – Requiem for a Fish

Our first story, “Papergate and the demise of the WFL” was written and read by Denis M. Crawford. He is a freelance writer in Boardman, Ohio. He is the author of “McKay’s Men” and “Hugh Culverhouse and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers”. Denis is an assitant editor of the Coffin Corner and his currently working on this third book, a biography of sports entrepreneur John Bassett.

Our second story was written by Michael D. Benter. He is a freelance writer and sports historian from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and the North American Society for Sport History, Benter has written three books, two football-related: The Badgers: Milwaukee’s NFL Entry of 1922-1926 (St. Johann Press, 2013) and The Green and Gold Glory Years Quiz Book: Green Bay’s Championship Teams of the 1960s (Benterprises Publications). He is an occasional contributor to Coffin Corner, a publication of the PFRA. 

If you like the show, want to be a part of it, or want to see us cover a great story, please reach out to me at erik.oehler@nationalfootballpost.com.

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The Roy Curry story

Fall afternoons are still reserved for football practice. Following his second hip surgery in six months, Roy Curry, 71, assists at Robeson High School on Chicago’s South Side. A master of his craft, he’s at home detailing and dispensing nuances of the game to impressionable teens.

Known among his peers as an exceptional

Fall afternoons are still reserved for football practice. Following his second hip surgery in six months, Roy Curry, 71, assists at Robeson High School on Chicago’s South Side. A master of his craft, he’s at home detailing and dispensing nuances of the game to impressionable teens.

Known among his peers as an exceptional coach and one of the best college quarterbacks of his day, there’s a chapter in his story that’s left incomplete.

Could Curry have been the National Football League’s first black quarterback?

Today, he lives with his wife of 45 years, Carolyn, in the Calumet Heights neighborhood. An easy gait, unarming smile and amiable southern demeanor radiate warmth to friends and strangers. Well dressed and a solid 195 pounds, Curry looks like he could get behind center or model men’s clothes.

Navigating his way from the wrong side of a dirt road was a testament to a relentless will and mental makeup.
“It was very rough growing up then,” said Curry. “There were a lot of places you couldn’t go unless you were cooking or cleaning or cutting the yard at their home. There was a curfew at 11 p.m. It was difficult to see the way people were treated; you had to act a certain way and you knew your place.”

A loving home, strict work ethic and positive perspective propelled him to succeed. “I had fantastic parents,” he said. “I was always a good kid and stayed involved in sports.”

Just before Curry started kindergarten, the family left Lula, Miss. in the middle of the night, piling their belongings into a truck and moved 21 miles to Clarksdale. His dad, Lawrence, was a sharecropper and mother, River Lee, taught grades first-eighth in a one room school. From age five-fifteen, mid-May through mid-October, Curry working the fields in the area, which included the 4,000 acre Hopson Plantation, Stovall and the 17,000 acre King & Anderson spread.

Arriving on the corner of Fourth St. at 6 a.m., Curry and scores of other African Americans hopped on to one of the 10 trucks that drove out to plantations via highway 61, 49 and unpaved roads surrounding Clarksdale. Stifling humidity and heat often caused people to pass out periodically from a workday that ended at 5 p.m.
Chopping cotton paid 30 cents an hour and began in mid-May when school got out. Picking was four dollars for 100 pounds and began in August and concluded mid-October when school started.

Cotton was the economic engine of the Mississippi Delta and in Clarksdale everything revolved around crop production. “I was smaller and the cotton came up to my chest,” said Curry. “It was hot and it was hard to get any air. When I was 10-15 years old, we didn’t start school until mid-October. My dad had 10 acres he worked on his own, but the landowner was a terrible guy who always kept him in debt. When I started football, we’d work from 6 a.m.-3 p.m. and then hitch a ride to practice. Most guys on the team had the same schedule.”

Serving as the team’s water boy for a few years, Curry’s career began one game into his sophomore season when the starter was injured. Higgins High School coach Isaac Watts came into gym class on Tuesday, fitted Curry with his gear and brought him to practice. The team traveled 19 miles to West Helena, Ark., taking a ferry [a 10 minute trip] across the Mississippi River and ended up winning the game. Higgins, a school with 150 boys and 30-plus kids on the squad won three conference titles and lost two games over three years. Friday nights the entire town mobilized with roughly 2,000 people to view the action. Curry had free-reign of the offense, which put the ball in the air 20-plus times a game against Tupelo, Corinth, Avery, Oxford, Columbus, Starkville and Aberdeen, in the Little Six Conference.

“The games were competitive,” said Curry, who lettered in basketball and track. “You had teams with guys who had served in Korea and then came back and were playing at age 18 and 19. There were a lot of very talented and tough kids; every game was a battle.”

While Clarksdale was lacking in amenities, the music scene was thriving. “We’d have Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner and Tina Turner, Bobby Bland and a number of great acts play at the high school,” said Curry. “There’d be 500-600 people; there were always great shows.”

The youngest of four sisters and one brother, who all moved to Chicago before him, Curry, at 15, began spending summers working as a bus boy in downtown Chicago and then in Rogers Park, on the North Side. Going from $15 to over $100 dollars a week and taking in what Chicago offered opened up a new world that he was anxious to see.

“That was fantastic,” said Curry. “We’d work from 5 p.m. until 3 a.m. and then I’d catch the El home to my sister’s place.

“The first time I came to Chicago I was 10,” he said. “I stayed with my sister [Earline] on 26th and State St. I went to the 31st Beach, I went to the movies and had buttered popcorn. There was a place to get Polish sausage on 47th St., next to the El tracks. I spent every summer there beginning in 1954. On the weekends I’d go to the Regal Theatre and sit there all day [from 1p.m.-8 p.m.]. There’d be four-five acts and then a movie or stage show. It was a great experience, there was nothing like that in Clarksdale.”

Following his senior year, Jackson State coach John Merritt came to the school and recruited Curry and two tackles, James Carson [who later became the head coach] and Ed Holmes. From 1961-62, Jackson State assembled a team on par with any in the country. They went 9-2 and lost to Florida A&M 14-8 in 1961 for the championship. In a rematch the following season [going 10-1], they beat the Rattlers 22-6 before 47,791 at the 30th Annual Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Fla., with Curry voted MVP. The victory had national implications on a number of levels. Florida A&M was riding a 21 game winning streak and had a backfield that featured Hewritt Dixon, Robert Paremore and Bob Hayes, who ended up in the National Football League Hall of Fame. Hayes set a world record with a 10.6 in the 100 meters and ran a leg of the 4×1 relay in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo which also earned a gold medal.

When the team returned to Jackson, they were given a police escort down Capital St and stopped at Mayor Allen Thompson’s office. “We brought national recognition to the city and everyone wanted to be apart of it,” said Curry.

How long did the festivities last? “We’re still celebrating,” said Gloster Richardson, who earned Super Bowl rings with the Chiefs (1969) and Dallas Cowboys (1971). “When we get together, guys always talk about beating Florida A&M.”

At 6-0, 195, Curry operated a lethal aerial attack calling the signals as they put up over 30 points a game. With the Tigers throwing 60 percent of the time, Curry had 2,053 of total offense with 15 touchdowns passes. Several members from the squad had careers in the NFL: receivers Willie Richardson (1963-71), Gloster Richardson (1967-74), Thomas Richardson (1969-70), tight end Al Greer (1963), cornerback-return specialist Speedy Duncan (1964-74) and offensive tackle Pappa Hayes (1965-66).

A stifling defense was anchored by ends Verlon Biggs (1965-74) and Coy Bacon (1968-83). Tackle Ben McGee (1964-72), linebacker Roy Hilton (1965-75), tackle Frank Molden (1965, 68, 69) and defensive back Taft Reed (1967). The University of Mississippi and USC both went undefeated and were voted national champions in 1962. It’s hard to figure how Jackson State would stack up against them.

“I think it would’ve been a great game,” said Willie Richardson. “We were really deep on both lines that year and had the speed to match up. Win or lose it would’ve been close.”

Duncan saw it differently. “I don’t think there was a team out there that could’ve beat us,” said Duncan, who was a four-time pro bowler as a corner back and punt-kick returner with San Diego (1964-70 and Washington Redskins (’71-74). “Those three yards and a cloud of dust teams wouldn’t have been able to stay on the field with our offense. What [offensive coordinator] Joe Gilliam Sr. taught was so far ahead of what everyone was doing; other teams couldn’t match up with us. We had the whole package. Other teams didn’t have the type of people we had at the skill positions. “Everyone has their opinion, but that’s something I’ll take to my grave. I would’ve loved to play any of the SEC schools, but it wasn’t meant to happen [at that time].”

Coming in to assist head coach Merritt in 1961, Gilliam Sr. was instrumental in Curry’s development. Installing a series of plays that were a precursor to the west coast offense, opposing defenses found themselves outmatched mentally and physically. “I really enjoyed coaching at Jackson State,” said Gilliam Sr., who passed away in January, 2013 at 89. Moving with Merritt to Tennessee State from 1963-82, Gilliam orchestrated undefeated teams in 1965, ’66, ’70, ’71, ’73 and ’82 and national champions in ’79 and ’81 [he was head coach from 1989-92]. “The kids had a thirst for knowledge and were a joy to work with.”

“We used the option, drop back, play-action and rollout. Our plays looked the same when they started, but ended up having a number of options. Our offense was all over the field. Richardson was as good an athlete as you’ll find and could go up and get it. Speedy Duncan was a great player; we moved him around as a flanker in passing situations. We used him at running back as well.”

“Curry was a great runner and very tough; he was never hurt. We used him with naked bootlegs, power sweeps and a series of rollouts. He was very accurate and knew where to go with the ball. Curry had the leadership qualities you wanted in a quarterback.”

“At that time, the NFL was not ready for a black quarterback, period! He should’ve been given the opportunity to fail or succeed. Coaches wanted a pocket quarterback. If he had gone to Canada he would’ve had a long career.”

Gilliam was quite familiar with pro football’s position regarding black signal callers. A star quarterback from Big Red High School in Steubenville, Ohio, Gilliam started as a freshman at free safety and punt returner while George Taliaferro [the first black to be drafted in the NFL by the Chicago Bears in 1949] powered the offense at running back for Indiana University. It was the Hoosiers only undefeated season [9-0-1] in 1945 and their highest finish at No. 4. Army, behind Heisman trophy winner Doc Blanchard, was the national champion.
Married, with a child on the way, as a college freshman, Gilliam received a monthly stipend from a Steubenville businessman-bookie, who America came to know as Jimmy The Greek.

“Jimmy looked out for me,” he said. “He bought me the first suit I ever owned [before I left for college]. It was a white cashmere suit with a top hat and shoes. He worked at the Rex Cigar Store on Market St. in the back [where they had gambling]; Dean Martin worked there too.”

After a year in the army, Gilliam finished his career as a two-time All-American quarterback-free safety [1948-49] at West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia. In 1950, he received a contract to the tune of $7,000 from Green Bay Packers owner Curly Lambeau. Convinced he could lead the troops, Gilliam called Lambeau.

“I said, ‘I’d like a chance to play quarterback,” said Gilliam. “He said, ‘There are no colored quarterbacks in the NFL!’

“I was sure I could play. We threw the ball a lot in college and I said I’d like an opportunity to play quarterback. He said the contract is for free safety and then added, “I’ll tell you again, there are no colored boys playing quarterback in the league.”

“I talked it over with my wife and decided if I can’t play quarterback, I didn’t want to play.”
By the early 1970s, the possibility of a black signal caller in the NFL wasn’t a complete misnomer.
For years, star college quarterbacks were forced to change positions for an opportunity at professional football. The Buffalo Bills’ James Harris broke the barrier becoming the first black quarterback to start a game in 1969. Harris’ greatest success came when he led the Rams to the NFC championship and a MVP in the pro bowl [1974] and into the playoffs in ’75. Joe Gilliam Jr. [1972-75] had a brief run with the Steelers and Doug Williams had a nine-year tenure beginning in 1978 which included a Super Bowl MVP in 1987 with the Washington Redskins. Warren Moon was not drafted out of the University of Washington and played with the Edmonton Eskimos in Canada for five years before embarking on a 17-year career [commencing in 1984] which included nine pro bowls and induction as the only black quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
New York Times writer, William Rhoden and researcher, Lloyd Vance, chronicled the definitive book on the subject, Third and a Mile, (2007) which was made into a documentary and shown on ESPN in 2008. Curry, however, was not mentioned. Several notable quarterbacks preceded Harris. A strong case can be made that Curry was the best of the group.

A nine-year career in the NFL, which included pro bowls in 1967 and ’68, with Baltimore Colts’ legend Johnny Unitas [the 1970 season with Bob Griese in Miami], Willie Richardson is aware of what it took to excel.
A quarterback at Coleman High School in Greenville, Miss., he made an easy transition to receiver and became a starter in his second game. A two-time All-American, Richardson caught 171 passes and 36 touchdowns in his career at JSU and was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The first black player selected to the Blue-Gray College All-Star game on Christmas Day in Montgomery, Ala., Richardson quickly proved he was among the best catching two touchdown passes including the game-winner and was voted MVP of the game.

“Roy was better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league,” said Richardson, who was one of six starters who went both ways started at free safety. “He could throw, throw on the run and had a great feel for the game. He was an accurate passer up to 50 yards, who had great touch. When the pocket broke down, he was dangerous as a runner.”

Oakland Raiders Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown was a linebacker at Grambling and clearly remembers their difficulty matching up against Jackson State to whom they lost twice.
“Curry had everything you’d want in a quarterback,” said Brown, who had a 16-year career in the NFL and spent 17 seasons in player development for the Raiders. “He had exceptional athletic skills: a great arm, size, speed and the intelligence to run a team. Coach [Eddie] Robinson told us the key to the game is to contain number 19. They used a number of different options with their offense that kept you off balance.
“We double-teamed Richardson and we still couldn’t stop them; their timing and feel for each other was at another level. I think we had more talent than they did, but they beat us and those two were the main reason. Of all the guys [black quarterbacks in the latter 1950s and early ‘60s] I saw before Harris, Curry was the best.
“Do I think Curry could’ve started in the NFL and performed well? Absolutely!”

Among those who attended the Jackson State home games was former United States Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, Dr. Rod Paige, who played football at JSU [1951-55], was the head coach there from 1964-68 and at Texas Southern [1971-75].

“Roy Curry was the total package,” said Paige. “I’d say he was similar to Steve McNair, but much more mobile and accurate as a passer. I think Gilliam brought an academic approach to the game that not many had seen. There’s no question in my mind that Curry could have been a superstar player in the NFL. Because of his arm strength, speed and intelligence I think he could have revolutionized the position. There really wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.

“Unfortunately, it’s a matter of timing. Like the great players from the Negro Leagues who were before Jackie Robinson. Curry was ahead of his time, there was a stereotypical view that blacks didn’t have the cerebral dexterity to handle the position.”

James Harris was in high school in Monroe, La., when he saw the aerial show Jackson State put on against Grambling in Ruston. “You could see they were running NFL routes and that Richardson was a pro prosect,” said Harris, a senior personal executive with the Detroit Lions. “The kind of throws Curry made, you knew he was a special talent and student of the game. From what I saw he had everything you needed to play in the league. “You felt bad that you couldn’t find out how good he could be, but Curry was one of many. There was a guy from my hometown, [Grambling quarterback] Mike Howell, who had to play defensive back for the Cleveland Browns [1965-72]. I think there were several guys where were denied an opportunity by the time and the system. I think there was a progression before me and a progression after me. Things really had to be perfect. There was an expression that you needed to have an ooh-wee arm to make it.”

“You had Matthew Reed [of Grambling drafted by the Bills in 1973, played a year in the WFL and three years in Canada], Jim Kearney [Prairie View, who played 12 seasons at safety], David Mays [Texas Southern, made the Cleveland Browns as a free agent and played 1976, 77 and a season with the Bills], Jimmy Jones [1973 USC graduate who played seven years in Canada] that might not have been stars, but could’ve backed up.”

Detroit Lions’ Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney has clear memories of Curry’s tools. Coming out of Gulport, Miss., Barney was recruited by Gilliam and saw the Tigers play twice. “Their offense was way ahead of its time and Curry was a phenomenal player,” said Barney. “Watching him work with Richardson was a thing of beauty. It’s a shame; Curry definitely should’ve been the first black quarterback to play in the NFL.”

Originally recruited as a quarterback, Barney found the Tigers were set with Bennie Crenshaw. The new offensive coordinator, Bob Hill, who came from Hattiesburg, brought in Bobby Thompson, who started as Barney moved to defensive back and return specialist.

Before heading to training camp with the Lions in 1966, he stopped in Chicago and worked out with Gloster Richardson and Curry for four days.

“Curry had a great football mind and love for the game,” said Barney. “He told me what I was doing right and gave me some pointers on my footwork and other technical tips which were helpful. I covered Gloster and Curry quarterbacked. Whatever throw needed to be made he could do it: the deep post, the out, touch when it was required.”

According to Duncan, Gilliam’s teaching coupled with Curry’s ability to absorb and implement the offense made it run with precision and efficiency. “Roy was really a born leader,” said Duncan. “He was a diligent student of the sport and knew how to approach each game as a student and a teacher. He was able to read any defense, was very organized and knew how to treat people. Roy had a superb arm and was able to deliver it on the money wherever you were on the field. He was the total package. Gilliam and Curry were innovative and way ahead of their time. After the 1962 season, a scout from the Canadian Football Leauge told Curry, ‘You should come to Canada, you can play your natural position. You’ll never play quarterback in the NFL.’ I wish I would’ve listened to him; I would’ve been there a long time,” he said.

Drafted in the 12th round by the Steelers, Curry’s 4.4-40 speed was a contributing factor in making the squad. Coach Buddy Parker told Curry they wanted to use him as a runner and thrower, but he had difficulty picking up the blocking schemes. Next, he was moved to defensive back.

A comment by Pittsburgh Courier editor Bill Nunn [and Steelers scout from 1969-87] that Curry was being played out of position seemed to help. Toward the end of training camp, they put Curry, a long-strider, at wide receiver where he began to develop. Pro Bowl linebacker Andy Russell, who played on the Steelers 1974 and ’75 Super Bowls, was a rookie in 1963.

“Roy was a gifted athlete who was very fast and could catch anything,” said Russell. “I had no idea he was a quarterback in college. It wasn’t easy [then]. There were very few blacks [Brady Keyes, John Baker, Bob Ferguson, Joe Womack and John Henry Johnson] and Parker hated rookies.” Starting at quarterback was Ed Brown with USC rookie Bill Nelsen his backup.

“Brown had a big arm, he could throw the ball through a wall,” said Curry. “I thought I had a better arm than Nelsen.”

Initially they put Curry at halfback with the idea of utilizing his arm as an option threat. By mid-season, Curry found a comfort zone on special teams and receiver. Playing in six games, he made an impression when the Steelers hosted the Chicago Bears at Forbes Field, three days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Coming into the game, Curry was matched up against All-Pro safety Rosey Taylor, who led the NFL with nine interceptions that year. Beating Taylor on a corner route, Curry caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ed Brown tying the game at 14 with 31 seconds left in the half. The highlight many became familiar with and made famous by NFL films was Bears’ Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka who caught a pass from Bill Wade, ran through the Steelers defense breaking five tackles before being caught from behind and then rolling over and lying on his back in exhaustion. The game ended tied at 17.

Against Philadelphia the next week with a sub-32 degree temperature, Curry was summoned from the bench midway through the first quarter. Accelerating for an overthrown pass, he pulled a hamstring. Less than a month later, a 33-17 defeat to the Giants at a freezing Yankee Stadium put New York into the championship. The Bears beat the Giants 14-10 in Wrigley Field for the title.

The following season, with the hamstring still on the mend, he was released at the end of training camp.
In 1965, he tried out with the Bears. Keeping pace in practice, Curry survived a couple of bone-rattling hits by rookie middle linebacker Dick Butkus. A strained hamstring at the end of training camp moved coach George Halas to put him on the taxi squad. Instead, Curry opted to retire, a decision he still regrets.

“Biggest mistake of my life,” he said. “Halas was doing me a favor; I just wasn’t thinking.” A few weeks later, receiver Jim Jones broke his collarbone during warmups and Jim Hill was activated. Curry came back in 1966, but his hamstring wouldn’t hold up and he moved into coaching.

“We had Johnny Morris, Dick Gordon and myself at receiver,” said Jones, who joined Curry as a defensive coordinator in the late 1970s and early 80s at Robeson High School. Jones and his wife Willa own the popular nightclub, 50 Yard Line, on the South Side in the Chatham neighborhood. “You could see Roy had the talent [at receiver] to play in the league. But coming in as a free agent you had to be extraordinary and be in the perfect situation because there were a limited number of spots. I don’t think it was any knock against Curry, there were just some great players ahead of him.”

Through the late 1960s and early 70s, Curry worked out in the summers at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field with the Bears’ Jones, Gordon, Andy Livingston, Gloster Richardson [who was with the Chiefs] and a few other pro players. He was the quarterback as the group kept their timing sharp for the ensuing NFL training camps.

An assistant for two years at Dunbar Vocational High School, Curry was head coach at Robeson High School from 1969-2000. A highlight was the 1982 squad that went to the state championship with only 25 players.
“Roy is a beautiful person; that’s why I went over to Robeson to work with him,” said Jones. “He had a great feel for the kids and the community. He was a no-nonsense guy who brought a lot of new ideas onto the field and that’s why we were so successful.”

There is a special bond among the group who played in the black colleges from the 1960s. Held in high regard as a player and person, Curry often socialized with friends in Chicago and Jackson, Miss., [where his wife is from and they have a second home].

One of Curry’s trips was in 1971 when he and his wife, Carolyn, hopped into his new Cadillac Eldorado and drove to Las Vegas. On the way, they stopped in Kansas City for four days and stayed with Gloster Richardson and Otis Taylor, who were enjoying their Super Bowl IV victory over Minnesota. Staying at The Sands Hotel, they went to see Ike and Tuner at the International Hotel. Curry’s sister, Earline, had dated Ike Turner in high school. He told the waiter who he was and asked if they could see Turner. They were quickly escorted backstage and paid a visit.

“My wife has a great personality and she got along with the girls,” he said. “We had a real nice time reminiscing with Ike; he introduced us to everyone. Colonel Parker walked in and when he heard we were from Clarksdale he invited us to see Elvis Presley, who was playing next door. We ended up staying for the second Ike and Tina show. My wife still kids me she missed out on seeing Elvis.”

A record of 240 wins against 73 loses put Curry into the Illinois Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A passionate teacher whose affection for the game was palpable, he left an indelible mark on his players and many coaches he mentored. Over a dozen of his former players are coaching in the Chicago Public League.
Mickey Pruitt was a running back-free safety on the 1980 group that lost to Mt. Carmel in the Chicago Prep Bowl and the miraculous 1982 team that had 14 of the 25 players who went both ways and finished second in state. Pruitt played three seasons with the Bears and two with the Dallas Cowboys including the 1992 Super Bowl.

“In practice we went over play after play so the game was more like a dress rehearsal,” said Pruitt. “We always felt prepared; we knew everything he put together would work well. Coach loved to teach and he was always willing to help a lot of other coaches. Going from what he taught made it easier for me in college [at Colorado] and at the pro level to pick things up.”

Handing over the head coaching reins to Fabray Collins in 2000, Curry remains an invaluable resource. Putting out just over 20 players, who enter high school with minimal football experience, the four-person staff places a premium on players ability to absorb a wealth of information. Carrying a firm voice and guiding hand, Curry relays instruction wherever it’s needed.

“You need to look left to hold the linebackers before you come back [right] and throw the ball,” he said to first-year senior quarterback Lamont Barnes. “The slot receiver needs to be closer to the line. You need to run the skinny post to take the cornerback with you so this spot is open for the running back.”

Preferring to watch from the stands during the game, Curry outlines a number of points offers a brief input at the half and after the game. Every year, a number of students will receive scholarships from smaller colleges. Quarterback Johnny Johnson and wide receiver Brandon Green [2008 graduates] teamed with Charles Brown [2007] for three years and a record of 28-7 [they started for four years on the varsity]. Johnson and Green received scholarships to Minnesota and are in the process of earning masters degrees in education. Brown lettered four years at Northwestern and is working for Chicago Scholars as a launch program manager. Now a financial analyst for Allina Hospitals in Minneapolis, Minn., Johnson lettered four years at defensive back; Green did the same as wide receiver special teamer.

“I was 5-8 and 160 pounds, but ran a 4.48-40,” said Johnson, who started at quarterback for two years. “Coach Curry explained I would have to go back a little further in my drops and roll out to find the hole between the line and I’d have to be faster mentally. Everything was about attention to detail. We were so versatile. We’d run the spread half the time, the pro-style and sometimes in the fourth quarter we’d run the wishbone or the Wing T; other teams just couldn’t defend our passing attack. We adjusted throughout the game. He’d show the receivers how to find the hole in the defense and how to run the right route. We’d drill everything in practice until we had it perfect, so in the game it was second nature. Coach Curry always stressed being accountable and responsible in everything you do. When I got to college I felt ahead of the game because of the background I came in with. The whole staff stayed in touch with me while I was at Minnesota. When we played at Purdue or Illinois, there would be 40 people from Robeson who would come to the games. It’s a genuine family atmosphere that we had and it is a big help for me to get where I am at today.”

Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached at seth.schwartz@sbcglobal.net

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Where are they now: Tommy Nobis

When you hear ‘Mr. Falcon,’ you immediately think of Tommy Nobis. A graduate of the University of Texas, Nobis was named to five Pro Bowls during his career. He is also part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade team for the 1960s, a team that includes Hall of Fame linebackers Dick Butkus, Ray

When you hear ‘Mr. Falcon,’ you immediately think of Tommy Nobis. A graduate of the University of Texas, Nobis was named to five Pro Bowls during his career. He is also part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade team for the 1960s, a team that includes Hall of Fame linebackers Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Dave Robinson.

Nobis was an All-State football player in high school. That continued into his time at the University of Texas, where he played both offensive guard and linebacker. Nobis won All-American honors twice, once as a linebacker and once as an offensive guard. He also won the Outland Trophy (1965, awarded for college football’s best interior lineman) and the Maxwell Award (1965, awarded to the best college football player in the country), and was named All-Southwest Conference three consecutive years. “Linebacker was a little more fun,” recalled Nobis. “Offensive line is very important to what your team was going to do. We had a really good offensive line when I played there, and I was proud of being a part of that. But the excitement for me was stopping a guy for no gain, or knocking a guy to cause a fumble. Playing linebacker, there were opportunities to really help your team and the excitement was there.”

He recalled the defensive schemes employed at Texas; “We shifted around a little bit. It was probably a 5-3, but it could have been a 5-4. The linebackers shifted around pretty good. We would bring in different secondary. At times, you would have five defensive backs. Other times, you might only have three defensive backs. The conference was naturally more running than passing. There were teams that would pass a good bit, but most of it was running.” He continued, “With Texas, I was more of an inside linebacker. We didn’t have what I grew to know as a middle linebacker in pro ball in a 4-3 defense. We didn’t play a lot of that defense at Texas. We geared up toward the run and you put in more linemen.”

Nobis also commented on his coach at Texas; “Coach [Darrell] Royal was real good at talking about priorities and what they need to be. When you are playing a team sport, your number one priority needs to be geared toward the team. We were coached that way and most of us thought that way. That is how we were coached and really, how I was brought up with my dad. He talked a whole lot like Coach Royal. He taught me that if you are going to play a team sport, you need to hold up your end of the deal. That is what I always try to do.”

In 1966, Nobis was drafted by both the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League and the Houston Oilers of the American Football League. He chose to sign with the Falcons. Nobis recalled, “Back then, the two leagues were still in existence and competing against one another. I always wanted to be in the NFL, because it had a little more prestige when it came to pro football. If I could do it, I wanted to take a shot to make it with the so called ‘better teams.’ That was a dream come true for me when Atlanta chose me and I was able to work that out.”

He was named NFL Rookie of the Year after the 1966 season. It is said that Nobis recorded 294 tackles that season. However, that cannot be confirmed as tackles were not an official statistic.

Nobis entered the league as a middle linebacker during the time of Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke. He commented, “I knew who those guys were and knew that they were good football players. We used to have 16mm film that we would watch on the opposing team coming up from week to week. Our coaches would have film built up on different players, and if I could find film that had a Butkus or a Nitschke, that was a film that I really studied. They were outstanding during that time and they would probably be outstanding any time. If they were playing today, I am sure that they would be dangerous because of their will to be a good player.”

Norb Hecker was the coach with the Atlanta Falcons his rookie season. “I got along with Norb very well,” recalled Nobis. “It was going out and doing your job to the best of your abilities. Coach Hecker was a good coach and he certainly wanted to win, just like any coach. He probably did not have the players. He probably had too many players like myself that had the desire, but maybe didn’t have the top abilities to go all the way and to do something like win a Super Bowl.”

In 1968, after just slightly over two years as head coach of the Falcons, Norb Hecker was replaced by Norm Van Brocklin. Over the 31 games coached by Hecker, he had a record of 4-26-1.

Nobis recalled, “Norm was an old-school guy. You did things his way.” He continued, “You worked hard and you listened to the coaches. You learned and you progressed through the season, then you would be alright with Coach Van Brocklin. If you deserved to be treated like a man, he was going to treat you like a man. If you didn’t, then it was going to be hard to deal with Norm Van Brocklin.”

The team improved under Van Brocklin, posting their first winning record in franchise history, but it faded quickly. The 1973 team went 9-5, but quickly dropped to 3-11 in 1974. He was replaced by defensive coordinator Marion Campbell after eight games through the 1974 season. The team went 4-10 in 1975 and 1976.

Nobis called it a career after the 1976 season. “I had played eleven years,” he said. “The old body had taken a pretty good beating. If you think about major college football, and you think about pro football, and you think about the position I played, which was a contact position, there were not many plays where there was no contact involved. Most guys know when it is time. The smart ones go ahead and close it out and move on to whatever is next in line for them.”

Nobis wanted to get into coaching after he retired as a player. He recalled, “I was a physical education major in college and I always wanted to be a coach. But, if I couldn’t be a coach, then I wanted to work in a professional organization around the coaches, and learning and succeeding in that area.” However, the opportunities did not exist for Nobis. Instead, he joined the front office of the Falcons. “Mr. [Rankin] Smith was the owner of the team. I always had a good relationship with him. He made a statement along the way that when I decided to retire, that he would like to talk to me about staying with the organization. That was something that I really welcomed. It was just a potential opportunity at that time. It worked out well, I would like to think, for the Falcons. It certainly worked out well for the Nobis family.”

He had various roles within the organization. “Over the years, I did all kinds of things,” recalled Nobis. “I never coached. I would help some at practice with holding dummies and things. I did help some with the coaching, but I never really was a coach. I did scout. I was on the road for a period of time. I am talking about several years. I would look at the upcoming graduating classes and write up reports. The travel and writing up reports is certainly very important to the success of any professional team. You need to have a good scouting program. It is something that does not get the credit that it deserves. When I was scouting, we had about five men that did nothing but scout. It was exciting for me at the time, but the thing that I didn’t like about it was the travel. One day you might be at the University of Texas, and the next day at the University of Oklahoma or at the University of Southern California. That travel took a toll on me, so I got out of that after a while. My wife and I were building up a family, and to be on the road for four or five days a week was not the ideal situation. Thank goodness the Falcons went along with my decision.”

After scouting for the Falcons, Nobis moved into the marketing department. “There is a real marketing effort that each team does in selling their logo and their identity. Teams that win, obviously, have an easier time with selling that relationship. At the time, going out and selling the Falcons was tough. But, it was the NFL and it was a way for the businesses in the Atlanta area to become associated with the team. There were some people, win or lose, that were true Falcons fans. A lot of those fans were business people. Thank goodness, because it made my job a lot easier.”

After marketing, Nobis moved into the pro scouting department. He recalled, “That was where we were dedicated to scouting players on the other NFL teams. There would be time when teams would cut a player or teams would try to trade a player, and you would need information if your team was going to get involved. I was one of the people in our organization and did that for a couple of years. That was a real good challenge.”

Currently, Nobis has no official role with the organization. “I have been a season ticket holder, and certainly a Falcon fan. There are times that I will do something for the franchise and there are times that the franchise will do something for me. We still have a relationship, but it is more like a friendship. I am still a big Falcon fan.”

Nobis had always been active in the community, including during his playing days with the Falcons. In the mid-1970s, he started the Tommy Nobis Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing job training, as well as vocational and employment support for people with disabilities. The Center is now called Nobis Works. According to Nobis, “Nobis Works is strictly non-profit. I never took a salary from them. I was a volunteer and worked in a non-profit, but it was a real profit for me by helping people who needed help. Most of these people were young, and in a lot of cases school-aged.” He continued, “The big thing with a non-profit is to have a need that is truly there and is really a need. The need was that there are people that wanted to work, but they couldn’t get a job unless they had some kind of training. It just all made sense. You take a young man or young lady out of high school, and they are not quite ready on their own to go out and get a job or hold a job without some additional employment-type training. That is what the center was. We were that step that they could take that would help them go out and get a job and keep a job.”

He was also heavily involved with the Georgia Special Olympics. “For years, I was on the board and had the title of State Coach. The Special Olympics is what got me involved with young people that needed help in some way. The Special Olympics is a recreational organization for people with disabilities, and I can certainly relate to that because recreation was a big part of my life with sports. I saw what it could do for me, and here you had people who needed opportunities to have recreation and in a lot of cases, were not getting it. That is why I got involved and I saw the good things that could come out of it. The principles of having a good team. If you follow those principles and are a good team player, then more than likely, you will be able to go out in your own life and take care of things that are required of you to be successful.” His work with the organization earned him the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Award.

When asked if he thought that he would ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he joked, “If you have got a vote, I would appreciate it.” He continued, “That is not a mystery to me. I see people that are inducted annually. In most cases, I feel that it is well deserved. You think about the number of men that played the game, and the number of men that had outstanding careers, and the number of men that really deserve that kind of recognition and haven’t received it, there are a lot of guys out there. I may be one of them, depending on what you think of my abilities and what I did. I may not be one of those. The fact that you asked that question, it is important to me and the NFL was a big part of my life. If somebody wants to recognize me for having that type of commitment, it would certainly make me feel good. You don’t always have to receive a paycheck or receive a gift, but recognition of some sort is very meaningful. I find that to be more meaningful to me than putting a dollar in the bank or whatever.”

In 2005, Nobis was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When the topic of the Hall of Very Good came up and this author mentioned that the Professional Football Researchers Association felt that his career was worthy of recognition, Nobis responded, “That type of statement is certainly very, very meaningful to me.” He continued, ‘To hear that the people of the organization think enough about me to voice the opinion that you voiced, I feel very good about that. That is what keeps me ticking. I know where I have been and I know what I have done. If other people want to recognize me for that, then I am very grateful and thankful.”

When asked what he is doing now, he joked, “Talking to you on the phone.” He continued, “It is interesting that you ask that. From time to time, I have different projects that I get involved with. Most of them are non-profit. I have friends that have different things that they are involved in. Most of my friends have helped me over the years, so I try to help them. But, I do not have to look too far to get involved with things.”

Nobis currently enjoys retirement in Georgia with his wife Lynn.

Teams:

  • Atlanta Falcons (1966-76)

Awards:

  • NFL Rookie of the Year (1966)
  • Named to the Pro Bowl (1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1972)
  • Inducted into the Texas Longhorn Hall of Honor (1976)
  • Named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Century Team (1869-1969)
  • Named to the Football News’ All-Time All-America Team
  • Named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-Century Team
  • Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (1981)
  • Inducted into the State of Texas Sports Hall of Fame
  • Inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1983)
  • Inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame (1995)
  • Inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame
  • Inducted into the Atlanta Falcons Ring of Honor (2004)
  • Inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Hall of Very Good (2005)
  • Inducted into the Thomas Jefferson High School Alumni Hall of Fame (2007)
  • Named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s

Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.

Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen

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