Sunday, August 21, 2011

#15 - TERRY BRADSHAW, QB, Steelers

As you can see, this one is a bit dog-eared. It may be one I pulled from a pack back in 1973 and kept ever since. Young Terry Bradshaw. Looks focused and ready to go on this card.

In 1969 the Steelers won their first game of the season and then lost the last 13. If a rookie head coach did something like that today, he'd be gone at the end of the season. Chuck Noll, however, stayed on. It was going to take a lot of work to build the Steelers into champs from chumps, and they'd started by drafting Joe Greene in 1969. This dismal unit was led by Dick Shiner, Kent Nix and Terry Hanratty.....time to get a quarterback.

One of the biggest wins in Steelers' history was the coin flip with the Bears for the #1 pick in 1970. With that pick they selected Terry Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech. Later in the draft they would take another fair player named Mel Blount...and the building had begun.

Bradshaw had a terrible rookie season, completing just 38% of his passes and throwing four times as many interceptions as touchdowns. The team improved, though, to 5-9.

The next season, seeing Bradshaw didn't have enough friendly targets to throw to, Pittsburgh drafted WR Frank Lewis in the first round. They also took Gerry Mullins for the offensive line later, and a few defenders of note....Jack Ham, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and Mike Wagner. Bradshaw's percentage went up, to 55% but he was still throwing way more interceptions than touchdowns and the team improved only one game, to 6-8. Bradshaw was getting extreme heat from critics for his perceived lack of intelligence and was becoming withdrawn and moody with the press. Steve Sabol from NFL films did a retro piece on the young Bradshaw and how the criticism affected him in the day.

The sub-.500 record just gave the Steelers another chance to pick high and well in the draft, and they did, taking Franco Harris. His 1000-yard running took the pressure off of Bradshaw and the rapidly developing Steel Curtain defense added up to a 11-3 record, and two playoff games. The Steelers were now THE STEELERS and would be for some time, especially after they drafted 4 Hall-of-Famers in five rounds in 1974.

How much of this can be attributed to Bradshaw? Well, not all of it, but he was the center of the offense (aside from a short benching in 1974) for one of the most dominant teams in NFL history. After his first two seasons, the Steelers won 99 games and lost just 38 when he started. You do the math.

Of course Bradshaw came out of his shell more as the wins started to come, but every once in awhile you can see some bitterness come out in his TV studio coverage. Maybe he wasn't ever the most talented QB or the book-smartenest one either, but if you wanted to win a football game from 1972 to the early '80s and your life depended on it, you better have had Terry Bradshaw behind center.

Cartoon: Big Football Guy has a BIG FOOTBALL TROPHY that looks nothing like the Heisman. Maybe that's what it looked like when Jay Berwanger won it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#14 - PHIL OLSEN, DT, Rams

Meet Phil Olsen, younger brother of all-time great Merlin. Before you go placing him in the Tommie Aaron/Ozzie Canseco unfortunate brother category, check out his story.

This Olsen was a great football player. In college he was a monster, one of the greats to ever put on a uniform in the state of Utah, and he was drafted in the first round of the 1970 draft by the Patriots. He suffered a terrible knee injury in a practice for the College All-Star Game (my bet this resonated in the cancelling of the entire concept of that game) and never played a down for the Pats. Traded to his brother's team, the Rams before 1971, he injured the knee AGAIN, but still recovered quickly enough to join the starting lineup later that season. In 1972 he was again at DT alongside Merlin for a good part of the season. That 1972 defensive line didn't have the vaunted Fearsome Foursome name, but listen to who they had: Merlin and Phil Olsen, Coy Bacon, Jack Youngblood, Fred Dryer and a rookie named Larry Brooks who would be in the All-Pro game five times.

After becoming a reliable backup for two seasons, he was traded to the Broncos for 1975 and 1976, Switching to offense at center, he was big on special teams, and I see where at least one source has him with four blocked kicks in 1976. He finished his NFL career on the injured list in Buffalo.

So just because he wasn't the Hall-of-Famer in the family....don't cha know. Besides, there was a third Olsen brother in the pros: Orrin, who was a center for the Chiefs in 1976.

I had a chance encounter with Mr. Phil Olsen in the late 1980's. While working as a postgame co-host for the flagship radio station for the Fighting Illini football team in Champaign, IL, and after the Illini beat up on the visiting Utah State squad, my also-young co-host went on a screed about how Utah State was bad and always had been and always would be.

Phil Olsen was in town, as I think he was working the radio booth for Utah State, and was driving to the airport when he heard this. He called us on the air, rather angry at what he just heard. My co-host's eyes got huge and he clammed up...all I could think about was the thought of this guy from the football card above lunging at me in anger...

I let him get his frustration out, then slowly edged the talk into an interview about how Utah State had been having rough times and what they needed to do to get back to where they were when the Olsens were there. Everytime my co-host started to open his yap, I stopped him. He got us there in the first place.

Eventually, Mr. Olsen was calmed and it turned out to be as pleasant as one could have hoped for. Thank you Mr. Olsen for not squashing two young loudmouthed radio guys way back when. You are a gentleman and very large.

By the way, the co-host went on to some real success in the business, running several stations in some good sized markets. And here *I* am.

The cartoon is about Night Train Lane! And of course there's a train, engineered by Big Football Guy holding a football again and smiling that big smiley smile.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

#13- CID EDWARDS, RB, Chargers

Cid Edwards, looking every bit the fullback in this picture. Cleophus J. Edwards was an undrafted free agent when he made the Cardinals in 1968 out of Tennessee State. In his first year as a pro, he carried only 31 times but he averaged 6.9 per carry. He kept up the high per-carry marks in 1969 and 1970 (4.7 and 5.0) but dropped dramatically in 1971 to 2.9. The Cardinals decided to go for a younger, former first round draft pick for their backfield, so they traded Edwards to the Chargers for Leon Burns. Burns had fizzled with San Diego in his rookie season. He fizzled even more with the Cardinals, averaging 2.7 per carry in the lone year he was there.

Edwards flourished at first with the Chargers. He was second on the team to Mike Garrett's 1000-yard rushing season, and caught 40 passes to boot. His 1973 year was almost as good, and he led the team in rushing that year, but San Diego faltered to a terrible 2-11-1 season as Dan Fouts was in his rookie year and Johnny Unitas was 40. Time for a new head coach.

Tommy Prothro took over, and newspaper reports say he and several veterans did not see eye to eye. Edwards was quoted as saying "The man never communicates with his players" after he was suspended indefinately by Prothro when he didn't show up to a pre-game meeting before a 34-0 destruction at the hands of the Packers. A bad flight home afterwards saw future All-Pro Coy Bacon suspended as well, and several other Chargers fined. Edwards said he'd never play for the Chargers again, and he didn't.

By the way, Prothro's team finished 5-9 in 1974 with an amazing season from Don Woods at RB. In 1975 they lost their first 11 games, 3 by shutouts, and finished 2-12. Prothro would stick around until Don Coryell took over in 1978.

Edwards was dealt to the Chicago Bears on draft day 1975. Unfortunately for him, the Bears drafted a couple of guys named Walter Payton and Roland Harper, so Edwards wasn't utilized very often. He was waived after the season.

Cartoon: Big Football Guy is smiling big, carrying a boatload of footballs in this one. Kind of a random subject, but Mel Renfro was a great player, so ok.

#12 - GREG LANDRY, QB, Lions

A big welcome to Greg Landry and his very 70's haircut!

Greg Landry was the Lions' number one pick in the 1968 draft. He didn't play much his rookie year, as Bill Munson got all but two of the team starts. Those two would alternate as starting QBs in two winning seasons for the team, then Landry took over in 1971, finishing second in the league in passing. In 1972, not only did Landry finish in the top 10 in passing again, he had over 500 yards rushing, good for second on the Lions. He also rushed for *9* touchdowns that year. The Lions were 8-5 with a good young QB, a strong rushing attack (Altie Taylor, Mel Farr, Steve Owens) and looking up.

In 1973, Landry suffered a knee injury and sat out a lot of the season. Bill Munson and Landry would share the duties through a couple mediocre seasons and would be joined by 49ers castoff Joe Reed later. Landry bounced back for a good 1976 season (17 TD/8 INT) but was sacked a league-high 55 times in the process.

Still hobbled by knee problems, Landry went to the Colts in 1979 and threw the most passes in his career that season as Bert Jones was injured. Unfortunately the team around him was lousy and his personal won-lost record was 2-12. Jones was back the next season and Landry backed him up for two years before moving on the the USFL, and back for one game with the Bears in 1984.

His won-loss record reads 25-17-2 from 1968 to 1972, and 19-34-1 from 1973 to 1984. Logically, the injury had something to do with the decline.

Landry was involved in some off-the-field controversy after the 1971 season, as his contract was about ready to run out. The Lions squawked openly about teams meeting with Landry and his agent before Landry's contract was to expire. Landry eventually re-signed with the Lions, of course.

Later in his coaching career, Landry would become the University of Illinois offensive coordinator under Lou Tepper. He installed a high-performance passing offense but was booted out right after a bowl win. Covering that story locally was not easy and some of the facts still haven't come out about it, but Landry had been angling for other jobs while out on the recruiting trail. That did not please Tepper, and Landry was gone.

In his NFL career he completed 55% of his passes for over 16,000 yards, and rushed for 2,000+ yards at 6.2 per carry. Would have been interesting to see what might have been had there been no injury, or if he was around in today's mobile-QB days.

In the cartoon Big Football Guy is still running, though exhausted and apparently he fumbled the football somewhere. Forrest Gregg's record at that time has been LONG eclipsed, and is currently held by a PUNTER. Jeff Feagles. Yes, Jeff Feagles with 352.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

#11 - RANDY JACKSON, T, Bears

Meet Randy Jackson of the Bears. No I'm not doing any American Idol joke.

This picture of Jackson ranks right up there with Mel Tom's in that it is clean, with the perfect blue in the background. Jackson is striking the generic blocking pose that picture takers loved to get in the fifties through the seventies. "I'm not holding, Mr. Referee!"

On second look, I've noticed a bit of an outline over the right shoulder of the lineman...could the impossibly blue sky behind this man be a photo trick? Eh. At least his uniform is correct.

Randy Jackson was a 4th round draft pick of the Bears in 1966 out of Florida, and Pro Football Reference has him listed as a starter all 14 games of the 1967 season, despite what the short bio on the back says. He was a solid, unspectacular player, never an All-Pro, but certainly reliable. This is his Topps rookie card, though he is on a Sunoco stamp for 1972. He would be in the 1974 and 1975 sets, and one of the cards in the Pro Draft Milton Bradley game. (loved that game) He was done after the 1974 season, after an eight-year career.

The back of this card shows one of  Topps' mortal weaknesses in football cards: the meaningless stat. Instead of a couple more lines about Jackson, we get to see that he did not pick up the ball on a kickoff return in 1972, but he DID pick it up once SOMEtime in his career, and fell on it for no yards. Big whoop. Research says it was all the way back in 1967 in the SECOND GAME OF HIS CAREER. This is worthy of taking up valuable bio space on a card? Unfortunately, more of that to come.

Hope you can see the back better, I'm trying something new. The cartoon shows huge football guy again, measuring the crossbar. At least this time he isn't running with a football again, but he is smiling. I wouldn't be smiling standing on a crossbar eight feet off the ground in metal slippery spikes, I'd be planning my fall and hoping medical insurance would cover it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

#10 - JOHN NILAND, G, Cowboys

Here is John Niland taking a break on the sidelines with fellow linemen Rayfield Wright and Blaine Nye. Looks like Calvin Hill in the far back there.

Niland was a great lineman for the Cowboys, starting in 1966, drafted in the first round out of Iowa. He made it to six pro bowls and a dozen post-season games and should be a Hall-of-Famer eventually. He finished his career with a stop in Philadelphia in 1975.

Topps didn't think that Niland was worthy of a card until 1972, when they also gave him an All-Pro card. Both his regular and All-Pro rookies are in the all-expensive third series, so they are worth a pretty penny. Niland did have a 1969 Glendale Stamp. (Credit: Vintage Football Gallery. Go there!)

Topps used some game action shots in a "Highlights" subset in the 1961 set, and used black-and-white small shots on the 1962's. Of course some of those 1962's weren't of the actual player on the card, but there you go. That was it for Topps and game day shots for awhile, though the Philadelphia cards had some nice team play cards with in-game shots.

We would have to wait until 1971 for in-game and sideline shots to come back. Joe Kapp and Dennis Shaw each had game action shots on their card, and O.J. Simpson had a sideline shot. 1972 saw a few sideline (or at least game day) pictures, and three IN ACTION subsets. The playoff and Super Bowls cards had action shots too.

The 1973 series brought back the in-game action, in a sometimes confusing way as we will see later. This is the first horizontal individual player card of the set...Topps used these with varying success this year after bringing them back in 1972.

The back shows the TD he scored against the hapless Eagles, and there's that monster player again in the cartoon, carrying a football! Looks like he is Cali bound.