Friday, September 16, 2011

#18 - BOB ATKINS, S, Oilers

Here is Bob Atkins, making his debut on a Topps card despite having been in the league since 1968. He would get one more card, in 1975. He had a perfectly respectable career in the pros, starting with the Cardinals as a second-round pick and going to the Oilers with QB Charlie Johnson for DB Miller Farr and QB Pete Beathard. He was injured for awhile in 1973, and was done in the NFL in 1976.

Atkins came from Grambling. Looking it up on Pro-Football-Reference , I see about 110 other NFL pros from that storied college. Some great ones, too.

Just from Grambling alone you could have a starting defensive line of Buck Buchanan, Ernie Ladd, Willie Davis and Gary Johnson. Try running through that line. And your defensive backfield could have Willie Brown, Everson Walls, Rosey Taylor and Albert Lewis. A few Pro Bowls there.

Tank Younger was the first Grambling player to make the NFL, in 1949. The next one wouldn't be until Younger's last year in 1958 (Willie Davis), then the floodgates opened, thanks a lot to the AFL creating more opportunities for players like Willie Brown, Buchanan and Ladd. Do yourself a favor and look up some of the articles on how the AFL helped integrate football.

Back to Atkins and the Oilers. Despite having some pretty good players on their defense like Atkins, George Webster, Elvin Bethea and Ken Houston they managed to win just ONE game. They allowed the second-most points in the league and scored the second-fewest. That ain't a blueprint for success.

With their #1 pick in the draft and first overall, they took John Matuszak, who didn't come around for the Oilers and was in a Chiefs uniform the next season. With their second first-round pick they chose RB George Amundson, who averaged less than three yards a carry in his three-year career. They lost their first five games in 1973, brought in Sid Gillman, and went 1-8 the rest of the way.

Cartoon! Big Football Guy is confused by spinny ball thing! In case you can't read the off center scan, it says Garo Yepremian was born in Cyprus. Spinny ball thing bad!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

#17 - WALKER GILLETTE, WR, Cardinals

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Walker Gillette. Gillette was a solid receiver for the Cardinals and Giants, but had the unfortunate start of his NFL career on the Chargers. He was drafted in the first round by San Diego to a team that had both Lance Alworth and Gary Garrison. Not a whole lot of playing time there.

Alworth went to Dallas the next season, but Gillette still did not get a lot of playing time. The Gray Ghost Garrison was still there, plus rookie Billy Parks had passed him on the depth chart and Jerry LeVias had been added from Houston. Still no playing time.

The Chargers dealt Gillette and another former first round pick Leon Burns to the Cardinals for RB Cid Edwards and WR Dave Williams...check Edwards' entry in an earlier blog for details of his career. In St. Louis Gillette found himself teamed with Ahmad Rashad and Jackie Smith at receiver on what should have been a pretty good offensive team.  It wasn't, with an unsettled QB situation, and the Cards finished 4-9-1.

Mel Gray came back from losing almost the year before to injury for the 1973 season, and, again, Gillette found himself an extra wheel on the bus. He was 6th on the team in receptions behind Gray, Rashad, Smith, and RBs Johnny Roland and Donny Anderson. Gillette was waived before the 1974 season.

Picked up by the Giants, Gillette helped a terrible team improve from 2-11-1 in 1973 to 2-12 in 1974. Wait, that's not an improvement. Anyway, Gillette could have been Gale Sayers wrapped in Jerry Rice and the 1974 Giants weren't going to win much. Gillette improved to 29 passes caught, third best on the team behind RB Joe Dawkins and solid TE Bob Tucker.

1975 would be Gillette's career year, as he led the Giants with 43 catches for 600 yards. The Giants still weren't very good. The next year would be the final one in the NFL for Gillette, as the Giants would demote him after some drops in favor of free agent Jim Robinson. Gillette was waived in early 1977. One Canadian newspaper had the Saskatchewan Rough Riders talking about bringing him in after that, but I could not see where he played for them or anyone else after 1976.

Talk about a tough career path.

 This 1973 Card was Gillette's rookie card, and the picture was used, airbrushed very badly into Giants colors, on his last Topps card in 1976. Topps couldn't find the time to get ANY pictures of Gillette on the Giants as his 1975 card was also airbrushed.

Walker Gillette was a Sporting News All-American from Richmond for 1969. On that same team were Phil Olsen (card 14) and Al Cowlings (card 16). Three members of that team in three cards!

CARTOON: Two Big Football Guys, one wide, one skinny. One appears to have lost his down, but his teammate has volunteered to help find it for him! TEAMWORK!

Monday, September 5, 2011

#16 - AL COWLINGS, DE, Bills

What must it be like to live in the shadow of a great player who went so wrong?

Al Cowlings was a very good college player, an All-American, followed O.J. Simpson from his neighborhood to USC and then the Bills. He wasn't a bad NFL player, never an All-Pro, but not bad. After this card came out, his first with Topps, he was dealt to the Oilers for a draft pick. He would have his second and last card as an Oiler in 1974. But that wouldn't be the end of his career.

Cowlings, then a linebacker, was dealt to the Colts in July of 1975 according to one newspaper article here. I could not find anything else to back that up, I do know that he signed with the Rams in Nov. of 1975. That article said he was cut by the Oilers in the spring...oh well...mysteries...

Some newspaper pundits called him "gimpy-legged" so one could assume his knees were failing. He was picked up by the Rams because they had lost a couple players to injury, and would be cut in Sept. of 1976.

Just in time for the fledgling Seahawks to snap him up! He lasted one game. waived by Sept. 30. (The same day the Seahawks signed Cowlings, they traded Ahmad Rashad to the Vikings for draft picks. Not a great day for Seahawk history.)

Cowlings ended up back on the Rams for 1977, and was cut again before the 1978 season. The only article I could find mentioning Cowlings and the Rams was one mentioning his part as O.J. Simpson's stand-in in the movie "Capricorn One."

When O.J. Simpson decided to give a second year a go with his home town 49ers in 1979, Al Cowlings was back in the league after a year away, and with his old friend. Well, kind of. He spent the first few weeks of the season on injured reserve after knee surgery. Coming back, he got into a fight with teammate Ron Singleton, which then-49er Tony Dungy talked about in this article. That's about all I could find about Cowlings on the Niners, and he and Simpson retired together. 

And now all Cowlings is remembered for is the drive he took with Simpson that everyone watched.

Cartoon! No Big Football Guy, but the kick is good! And the record for Lou Groza still stands!