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THE COFFIN CORNER - VOLUME 27 - 2005

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Number 1:

Don Maynard by Jim Sargent. When Don Maynard ended his outstanding football career after two games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973, he was the all-time leading pass receiver in pro football history. The free-spirited Texan had caught 633 passes from more than two dozen quarterbacks—mostly from Joe Namath after 1964—and picked up 11,834 yards.

Sports Illustrated's 2003 Football Predictions by Bob Irving. Sorting out the speculative data about the forthcoming NFL season.

Gordy Soltau by Andy Piascik. Gordy Soltau, an excellent pass receiver and reliable placekicker, was a key contributor throughout his years with the colorful, competitive 49ers in the 1950s.

Indoors on a November Sunday by Jim Kiel. A participant in an indoor semi-pro game on the weekend of President Kennedy’s assassination describes the jumbled emotions and surreal atmosphere.

Dazzling Doak Walker by Jim Bankes. The modest but gifted Heisman Trophy winner from Southern Methodist starred alongside his high school teammate, Bobby Layne, in Detroit’s backfield from 1950 to 1955. “The Doaker” won two NFL championships and two scoring titles and retired as the league’s third-highest scorer despite playing just six seasons.

Landry and Lombardi, Legendary Coaches by Patrick Gallivan. Studying the contrasting personalities and coaching strategies of Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.

Then and Now by Bob Irving. Comparing the average height and weight of players in 1967 and 2002.

The Hall of Very Good 2005. Introducing the latest HOVG class: Maxie Baughan, Jim Benton, Lavie Dilweg, Pat Harder, Floyd Little, Tommy Nobis, Pete Retzlaff, Tobin Rote, Lou Rymkus, and Del Shofner.

2004 Player Deaths. Gary Ballman, Glenn Presnell, and Reggie White are just some of the former players who died in 2004.

Number 2:

The College Game Is Easier by Red Grange with George Dunscomb. 1932 Saturday Evening Post. In an article originally published in a 1932 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, the famous back gives his opinion of college vs. pros. “I believe that in blocking the collegians have the edge on the pros; that in ball carrying it is about a toss-up; that in tackling and general defense the professionals are far superior; that in headwork and in cool sureness, in utilizing every ounce of immense brawn, the professionals have a marked advantage.”

Talking with a Legend: Charlie Sanders by Doug Warren. An interview with the former Lions tight end and receivers coach, who talks about such figures as Dick Butkus and Herman Moore.

Vince Banonis by Andy Piascik. The center and linebacker, a three-time NFL champion, remembers glory days with the Cardinals of the ‘40s and the Lions of the ‘50s.

Bill Hewitt: The Oddside Kid by Don Smith. Many call Bill Hewitt the best two-way end in history. During his nine years with the Eagles and Bears, Hewitt—who played most of his career without a helmet—was known as “The Offside Kid” because he got such a terrific jump on the center snap that many times he was bringing down the rival ball-carrier almost before the ball arrived.

Dick Barwegan by Jim Campbell. A thumbnail bio of the guard and linebacker who played eight seasons (1947-54) and was voted to the first four Pro Bowls.

Harlon Hill: The Lance Alworth of His Era by T.J. Troup. An essay examining the impact Chicago Bears end Harlon Hill had on his team and the rest of the league during his first three seasons, 1954-56.

In the Wake of the News from Chicago Daily Tribune 1931. Originally published on August 2, 1931, a Chicago newspaper published data illustrating that George Halas’s athletes were “not wasting their times and money in the pursuit of professional football,” but rather using their paychecks to start businesses, pay off debts, and raise families.

Shakespeare in Cleats: The Story of Bill Fisher by Ace Hendricks. The free safety from California was a minor-league vagabond for many years and a Shakespeare aficionado who later pursued a teaching and theatrical career, pursuing both interests out of passion.

Number 3:

Getting a Charge Out of the Postseason by Ed Gruver. Recalling the “Air Coryell” years of 1979-82 in San Diego.

Benny Friedman courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Considered the NFL’s first great passer, Benny Friedman was first-team All-NFL his first four seasons, 1927-30, and in 1928 led the leage in touchdown passes and rushing touchdowns, a feat that has never been replicated. Friedman’s gate appeal was so great that following the 1928 season, New York Giants owner Tim Mara purchased the Detroit franchise just to secure his services.

Dan Marino courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dan Marino became the Dolphins’ starter in the sixth week of his rookie season, 1983, and by the time of his retirement 17 seasons later was the most prolific passer in NFL history, tossing for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns. In 1984 he became the first player ever to pass for 5,000 yards in a season while throwing a then-record 48 TD passes.

Fritz Pollard courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fritz Pollard was a pioneer, the first African American head coach in NFL history with the Akron Pros in 1921. An exciting, elusive runner, Pollard played and sometimes coached four different teams during his NFL career. Later he organized and coached the Chicago Black Hawks, an all-black squad that became popular as a touring team on the West Coast.

Steve Young courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After starting his pro career with two seasons in the USFL and two more with Tampa Bay and then as the back-up to Hall of Famer Joe Montana, Steve Young took over the San Francisco offense in 1992. The left-handed quarterback went on to win six passing titles, two NFL MVP awards, and the MVP trophy in Super Bowl XXIX, when he threw a record six touchdown passes as the 49ers beat San Diego. In addition to his 232 lifetime TD passes, Young also was a running threat, picking up 4,239 yards and 43 touchdowns on the ground during his 15-year career.

Why the AAFC Browns Were the Best Team in Football 1946-49 by Andy Piascik. Could Paul Brown’s squad have beaten the NFL champions of 1946-49? The author lays out the reasons, point by point, why he believes the Browns were the better team, primarily because of the significant advantages they had in the passing game, on defense, in the kicking game, and at head coach.

Cecil 'Cece' Grigg courtesy of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Cecil Grigg, a Texan and World War I veteran, was Canton’s quarterback for four years, with the Bulldogs winning pro titles in 1920, 1922, and 1923. The Bulldog backfield was composed of Jim Thorpe, Pete Calac, Joe Guyon, and Grigg—who was so darkly tanned from summer baseball in the Texas and Southern leagues that the group often was called the “All Indian” backfield. Grigg won another with the 1927 New York Giants before he retired from pro football.

Eric Dickerson by Roger Gordon. The well-traveled runner, who played with the Rams, Colts, Raiders, and Falcons between 1983 and 1993, had a knack for eluding tacklers. It allowed him to win four rushing crowns, including a 2,105-yard season in 1984 that broke O. J. Simpson’s record.

Larry Brown by Michael Richman. Larry Brown’s fearless style of running during his eight years (1969-76) as a Redskin was a double-edged sword. After gaining more than 5,000 yards in his first five seasons—then only the second player in NFL history to do so besides the great Jim Brown—his undersized body eventually succumbed to the pounding and he was little threat his last three seasons.

The 'Trump' Method of Measuring Coaching Greatness by Greg Thomas. Using a statistic called “percentile,” the writer attempts to rate the greatest coaches in NFL history.

New Books by PFRA Members. A review of Steve Norwood’s Real Football: Conversations on America’s Game and some observations from self-publishing guru John T. Reid.

Sid Gillman courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sid Gillman took the Rams to the NFL title game in his first season as a head coach and coached Los Angeles for five seasons. Moving on to San Diego, Gillman’s coaching and organizational genius paid off with the Chargers playing in five of the first six AFL title games.

Number 4:

Wallace 'Wally' Triplett by Jim Sargent. The speedy and outspoken back with Detroit and the Chicago Cardinals struggled for success in the early 1950s.

The Toe by Rick Gonsalves. The career of Lou “The Toe” Groza, an All-Pro offensive tackle and all-world kicker during his 21 seasons with Cleveland. When he retired following the 1967 season, he had scored 1,349 points on 244 field goals and 641 PATS, all lofty NFL records then. Groza was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.

Burial Places of Hall of Famers by Michael Frank. An alphabetical listing of the gravesites of Hall of Famers, from George Allen to Alex Wojciechowicz.

World War 2 and the Hall of Fame by Andy Piascik. Looking at five players whose wartime service may have hurt their chances to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bob Waterfield vs. Bill Willis by Bill Pepperell. The writer zeroes in on a single still-frame moment from the 1950 NFL title game to explore both men’s greatness.

Dick the Bruiser by John Maxymuk. Dick Afflis wasn’t the greatest lineman the Packers ever had, but he was one of the most interesting characters. Afflis left the game after the 1954 season to go into professional wrestling as “Dick the Bruiser,” from which he made a lucrative income for 35 years.

Don Hutson by Chris Willis. A biography of the legendary Green Bay end, who finished his 11-year career with 488 catches for 7,991 yards and 99 touchdown receptions, all records when he retired. He led the league in receiving eight times, as well as leading the league in scoring five times. In 1942 he led the league in scoring with 138 points, a record that lasted until Paul Hornung’s 176 points in 1960. Hutson won back to back NFL MVPs in 1941 and ‘42 and he was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

Ozzie Newsome by Roger Gordon. Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome is credited with revolutionizing the tight end position during his 13 seasons (1978-90) with Cleveland. According to one coach, before Newsome entered the league, tight ends were either too heavy to do the light work or too light to do the heavy work. "Ozzie was the prototype because he could play tight end, and he threatened the defense just like a wide receiver.”

Verne Lewellen by Dr. Gregory Selber. Running, passing, receiving, and punting, Green Bay’s Verne Lewellen was one of the most versatile gridders of his era.

Ernie Smith by John Maxymuk. The career of Green Bay tackle Ernie Smith in the 1930s is illustrative of players’ work ethic and employment opportunities during that era.

Number 5:

PFRA-ternizing: Pittsburgh Myths. Common mistakes about Pittsburgh, the city and the team.

The Perfect Tackle by Chris Willis. The popular and highly gifted tackle, nicknamed “Fats,” might have been the most talented player in the early days of the NFL.

A Rosey Career by Rick Gonsalves. Rosey Grier was a New York Giant for 51 years—first as the game’s first “pulling tackle” and then as an assistant coach and scout. Said Frank Gifford: “I would not be in the Hall of Fame, if it weren’t for him.”

One Big Problem by Rick Gonsalves. Perhaps no other scoring play in pro football has posed so many problems as the simple extra point.

Gale Sayers: Rookie by Chris Willis. Flashing back to Gale Sayers’s incredible freshman season of 1965, when the electrifying Bears halfback set several NFL game and season records, capped by his six-touchdown performance against the 49ers.

Grosshandler Lists by Stan Grosshandler. Dr. Stanley Grosshandler, a PFRA member who passed away in January 2003, was an anesthesiologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, and an authority on two-sport stars. The four lists featured here include NFL Players and the Baseball Teams That Drafted Them; Baseball Players and the NFL Teams That Drafted Them; the All-NFL Baseball Teams; and the All-MLB Football Team.

Obscure Lone Star Heroes of the NFL by Gregory Selber. The stories of a handful of lesser-known but talented Texans in the pro ranks, including Dick Todd, Adrian Burk, Cloyce Box, and Verda “Vitamin T” Smith.

I Didn't Do It! by George Taliaferro. The triple-threat back of the postwar era explains why he shouldn’t be regarded as the first black T-formation quarterback. That distinction belongs to Willie Thrower of the ‘53 Bears.

Winning Percentages by Andy Piascik. In 1972, the NFL changed the way it calculates winning percentages. Beginning that year tie games were no longer disregarded, but instead counted as half a win and half a loss. The author digs into the past to see where on five occasions the new system would have significantly altered the standings.

New Books by PFRA Members. Reviews of Chris Willis’s Old Leather and Frank Henkel’s illustrated history of the Browns.

Number 6:

The First 'NFL Europe' by Mark L. Ford and Massimo Foglio. In 1974, two European entrepreneurs met with the NFL owners and persuaded them to loan players to a six-team football league in Europe. The NFL abandoned the project reluctantly, and only after a discussion between the U.S. State Department and Pete Rozelle. What happened has been a mystery—until now.

Complete History of African American Quarterbacks in the NFL, Part 1 by Lloyd Vance. Black quarterbacks have historically been shunned, converted to other positions, fought for inclusion, stereotyped, and chased opportunities in other leagues, but they have persevered to go from an unwanted oddity to flourishing leaders.

Derrell Palmer by Andy Piascik. A stroll down memory lane with the two-way tackle from Texas, who played in championship games in seven of his eight seasons in the AAFC and NFL.

Cecil Isbell by John Maxymuk. A comparison of the passing statistics for Cecil Isbell and two contemporaries, Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman.

Hail Mary on Snopes. Exploding the myth that a controversial officiating call in the Super Bowl led to the death of Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s father.

Hometown Hero by Roger Gordon. If you knew Marion Motley, you knew a great man. A tribute to the powerful but mild-mannered Cleveland fullback prompted by his recent death.

DeBunking DeMyth by Jim Campbell. Tracing the origins of Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing.”

Wayne Miller by Michael Richman. They called Wayne Millner “The Money Player.” When the stakes were highest, the Washington end had an uncanny knack for delivering.

Shula's Connections by Timothy Howell. The Don Shula-Paul Brown connections went full circle with Miami’s victory over Cincinnati in the 1973 playoffs.

Muha by John Maxymuk. Fullback-linebacker Joe Muha fought as a Marine on Iwo Jima and earned a doctorate in education. In between, he helped the Eagles capture two NFL titles.

This month's Coffin Corner

1958 Baltimore Colts

The 1966 Green Bay Packers

The All-America Football Conference

The Early History of Professional Football

A Minor Masterpiece