Friday, August 20, 2010

Harold Jackson

Harold Jackson
5'10" 175
Wide Receiver
Los Angeles Rams
Philadelphia Eagles
1968 - 1983
16 Seasons
208 Games Played
579 Receptions
10,372 Yards Receiving
76 Touchdowns
5 Pro Bowls

Harold Leon Jackson was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 12th round of the 1967 NFL Draft, the 323rd player chosen overall. He was just the 11th of a now 56 players drafted from Jackson State University. There have been 92 players from the school to have played pro football so far.

Led by Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Jackie Slater, and Lem Barney with other gridiron legends like Robert Brazile, Coy Bacon, Speedy Duncan, Leon Gray, Wilbert Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, and Rickey Young. Jackson's five Pro Bowls are only exceeded by Payton, Slater, and Barney, and matched by Smith.

He only appeared in two games during his rookie season, not recording a statistic. The Rams then dealt him to the Philadelphia Eagles before the 1968 season, where he would soon be known throughout the league. He was their only offensive Pro Bowler, and one of the three they had that year.

On a Eagles team that struggled to four wins, he caught nearly half of starting quarterback Norm Snead's passing yards and touchdowns with an NFL leading 1,116 yards and 9 scores on a career best 65 receptions. His career best 79,7 receiving yards per game also led the league.

The Eagles struggled in mediocrity the next two years, and juggled Snead, Pete Liske, and Rick Arrington at the quarterback position. They ran the ball mostly, and Jackson caught 88 balls for eight scores over that time. He exploded in 1972 with another Pro Bowl season, leading the NFL with 62 receptions, 1,048 receiving yards, and 74.9 receiving yards per game.

The Rams decided they wanted Jackson back, so they traded three time Pro Bowl quarterback Roman Gabriel for him. The trade benefited both teams, as both men made the Pro Bowl that year with their new teams.

Jackson accrued his only First Team All-Pro honor as well that season, leading the NFL with a career high 13 touchdown catches with a career best 21.9 yards per catch on 40 receptions. One game saw him score four times on seven receptions for 238 yards that year.

He stayed a productive deep threat for the Rams over the next four years, making the Pro Bowl in 1975,, averaging over 16 yards per catch on 160 balls. He made his last Pro Bowl in 1977, then joined the New England Patriots the next year.

He added another component to an explosive Patriots passing attack led by quarterback Steve Grogan with wide receiver Stanley Morgan and tight end Russ Francis. They were called "Grogan's Heroes".

Jackson averaged over 20 yards per catch in three of his four years in New England. Though Grogan never earned a Pro Bowl nod, he enjoyed the finest years of his career with the trio. Morgan also averaged over 20 yards each year, going to a pair of Pro Bowls. Francis was a top tight end during that era, having made his third and final Pro Bowl squad that year. The team was in the top ten in the league in offensive yards and points in Jackson's first three years with the team.

Now 36-years old, he joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1982. It was the only year he did not have the number 29 on his jersey, and it proved to be a jinx. He was hurt in the first game, not getting any statistics and missing the rest of the year. He then joined the Seattle Seahawks the next year, catching eight passes before retiring at seasons end.

He was back in uniform in 1987 with the Patriots at the age of 41. The NFL players had went on strike, so New England asked him to suit up for two games. Though he was their receivers coach, he obliged but did not appear in a game.

In the decade of the 1970's, no other player caught more balls for more yards and more touchdowns than Harold Jackson. His feat is even more of an amazing accomplishment, considering he had over 14 different quarterbacks throwing him the ball in his career on some teams that generally struggled at that position.

He helped Pat Haden make his only Pro Bowl, helped John Hadl make his last and his only First Team All-Pro honor. He caught some of Hall of Famer Joe Namath last passes, and improved the games of Grogan, Liske, James Harris, and John Reaves.

Most people look at his career average of 17.9 yards per catch, or the fact he averaged over 20 yards four times, and assume Jackson was strictly a deep threat. While he was torturous on defensive backs on the long ball, he also ran precision routes and had excellent hands.

Of the four wide receivers that were chosen on the NFL's 1970's All-Decade Team, only two are in Canton. Not only did Jackson outperform them with catches, yardage, and touchdowns, but he averaged more yards per catch than any of them. The closest to him is Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and fellow All-Decade selection Drew Pearson with their 17.1 yards per catch. Pearson played seven years that decade, Swann had six. Jackson averaged 18.2 over the entire ten years.

One probable reason for his not being chosen was the fact he played on just a few teams that made the playoffs a few times. Mostly his teams struggled, where he was all they had as a deep route threat. He often was met with double teams in an era where the ten-yard chuck was legal, thus making it much more difficult to get open. Teams also generally had their defensive backs play man-to-man, another way making getting open much harder in the ten-yard chuck rule era.

If Jackson got to play in this era of zone defenses and the 5-yard chuck rule, you could easily pump up his career statistics to even more astonishing numbers. Yet with all the rules since 1979 that helped the offense, he still ranks 29th in NFL history in receiving yards, 23rd in career yards per touch, and 24th in receiving touchdowns.

Though the casual football viewer might see him as a sexy choice, and the voters in Canton have not really voted much for him since his retirement, the numbers do not lie. The newer fan might not appreciate his numbers, not understanding the game or the rules of his era.

The fact he still ranks 67th on the All-Time receptions list in NFL history shows his productivity and that he was more than a deep threat. Some critics might point to his five Pro Bowls not being enough, but Jackson played in an era where your peers voted him in. Not a computer generated fan vote like today that is a popularity contest seemingly based more of histrionics than actual football play.

Of the 19 wide receivers inducted into Canton, only eight have appeared in more Pro Bowls than Jackson. What got many of those with lesser Pro Bowls inducted was the fact they played on teams that won championships. This is a debate on whether a teams accomplishments should be part of the reasoning for induction or if a players actual individual accomplishments on the gridiron constitutes worthiness.

If he had played on just one championship team, the theory that Harold Jackson already being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame seems fathomable. Cliff Branch, though somewhat comparable to Jackson but with lesser numbers, played on three championship teams and came fairly close to induction a few times.

Perhaps it is time to look more at what the player does with what he has to work with around him, than what his team does while with him. Harold Jackson most certainly belongs in Canton.

Notable Players Drafted In 1968 (* Denotes Hall Of Fame)

1. Ron Yary, OT, Minnesota *
2. Bob Johnson, C, Cincinnati
3. Claude Humphrey, DE, Atlanta
4. Russ Washington, DT/ OT, San Diego
8. Larry Csonka, FB, Miami *
9. Haven Moses, WR, Buffalo
11. Greg Landry, QB, Detroit
13. MacArthur Lane, RB, St. Louis Cardinals
14. Tim Rossovich, LB, Philadelphia
15. Forrest Blue, C, San Francisco
23. John Williams, OT, Baltimore Colts
26. Bill Lueck, G, Green Bay
31. Curley Culp, DT, Denver
33. Charlie West, DB, Minnesota
42. Bob Atkins, DB, St. Louis
43. Bill Lenkaitus, C, San Diego
47. John Garlington, LB, Cleveland
48. Mike Livingston, QB, Kansas City
52. Ken Stabler, QB, Oakland
69. Skip Vanderbundt, LB, San Francisco
73. Dick Anderson, DB, Miami
74. Charlie Sanders, TE, Detroit *
77. Elvin Bethea, DE, Houston Oilers *
80. Art Shell, OT, Oakland *
81. Dick Himes, OT, Green Bay
82. Paul Robinson, RB, Cincinnati
84. Jess Phillips, RB, Cincinnati
98. Johnny Fuller, DB, San Francisco
105. Jim Beirne, WR, Houston
110. Charlie H. Smith, RB, Oakland
117. Mike Bragg, P, Washington
118. Jim Kiick, RB, Miami
124. Mark Nordquist, G, Philadelphia
127. Cecil Turner, WR, Chicago
130. Blaine Nye, G, Dallas
156. Essex Johnson, RB, Cincinnati
159. D.D. Lewis, LB, Dallas
167. Oscar Reed, RB, Minnesota
176. Bob Brunet, RB, Washington
181. Willie Holman, DE, Chicago
190. George Atkinson, DB, Oakland
222. Paul Smith, DT, Denver
249. John Outlaw, DB, Boston Patriots
261. Tommy Hart, DE, San Francisco
275. Greg Brezina, LB, Atlanta
277. Marv Hubbard, RB, Oakland
288. Henry Davis, LB, New York Giants
289. Rich Coady, C, Chicago
291. Dennis Partee, K, San Diego
297. John Pergine, LB, Los Angeles Rams
301. Bob Trumpy, TE, Cincinnati
305. Jim Cheyunski, LB, Boston
317. Jeff Queen, RB, San Diego
330. Charlie Greer, DB, Denver
351. Dean Halverson, LB, LA Rams
357. Marlin Briscoe, WR, Denver
375. Robert Holmes, RB, Kansas City
417. Rocky Bleier, RB, Pittsburgh
428. Larry Cole, DE, Dallas
441. Bob Lee, QB, Minnesota

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Randy Gradishar

Randy Gradishar
6'3" 233
Middle Linebacker
Denver Broncos
1973 - 1984
12 Seasons
145 Games Played
20 Interceptions
4 Touchdowns
Seven Pro Bowls
1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Randolph Charles Gradishar was drafted in the first round of the 1973 draft by the Denver Broncos. He was the 14th player chosen overall. He attended college at Ohio State University under legendary coach Woody Hayes. Hayes, who sent over 98 players to the professional football level in his Hall of Fame career, called Gradishar the finest linebacker he ever coached.

In his three years as a Buckeye, starting in every game, he set then-school records for 320 tackles in a career and 134 in one season. He was ejected in the 1971 game against rival Michigan University, causing a ten minute brawl after he punched a Wolverine in the face. It happened one play after a famous meltdown by Hayes, where the coach threw a penalty flag and yard marker he had previously destroyed after being thrown out of the game himself.

Not only is he a member of the schools All-Century Team and their Hall of Fame, but Gradishar is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. An excellent student in college, he is also inducted into the GTE Academic Hall of Fame and is on the ABC Sports All-Century team.

Denver brought him along slowly in his rookie year, starting just three of 14 games behind veteran Ray May. May was the 1971 NFL Man of the Year and a member of the Super Bowl V champion Baltimore Colts.

He started every game the next year, the last season the Broncos would run a base 4-3 defense during his tenure with the club. He was named to the Pro Bowl after grabbing three interceptions and taking one in 44 yards for a touchdown. He scored once again the following year off of another three picks and had seven quarterback sacks.

Denver went into the 1977 season running the 3-4 defense under coach Joe Collier. With players like Gradishar, Louis Wright, Tom Jackson, Bill Thompson, Reuben Carter, Bob Swensen, Lyle Alzado, and Barney Chavous, the Broncos had one of the most feared defenses in all of football history.

They were dubbed the "Orange Crush", and a soft drink named after them soon became very popular. Five members of the defense was named to the Pro Bowl that year and four were named First Team All-Pro, including Gradishar. They led Denver to a 12-2 record and an appearance in Super Bowl XII. Though they lost the game, the defense left a permanent mark on NFL history with their excellence by allowing just 10.6 points per game that year.

Gradishar may have had his finest season the following year, where he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by both the Associated Press and UPI. He also was named the winner of the George Halas Award and Linebacker of the Year by Football Digest. Denver's defense was second in the league in points allowed, and Gradishar was one of five Bronco defenders to go to the Pro Bowl.

Football Digest named him NFL Linebacker of the Year again in 1979 despite not starting in one of the 16 games he played. Other than his rookie season, it was the only game in his career he failed to start. He was once again selected to the Pro Bowl.

Though he failed to make the Pro Bowl in 1980, he did take one interception a career long 93 yards for the last touchdown of his career. He was also named First Team All-NFL by the Sporting News.

Gradishar then made the Pro Bowl the next three years before retiring after the 1983 season. He never missed a game in his entire career, an amazing feat for someone playing such a violent position where he had to give up his body on virtually every play to prevent the opponents from success.

Not only was he durable, very intelligent, quick on his feet, and a big hitter, but Gradishar was also a masterful technician. He had the innate ability to diagnose a play and was seldom fooled. This, along with his foot speed, allowed him to defend just about any opponent on a pass play. This ability allowed Denver the luxury of blitzing their outside linebackers, knowing he could cover their assignments.

His specialty may have been the short yardage situation. With a superb ability to sift would-be blockers, he often filled the holes the opposing running backs would run to. Though he didn't have the toothless snarl of Jack Lambert or easily seen nastiness of Dick Butkus, he was just as good as those two Hall of Famers.

Some of the best running backs in NFL history, Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett, are on record espousing his tremendous hitting ability. "The chance for a real good shot comes very seldom, but when it's there I take full advantage of it." Gradishar once said.

There have been few linebackers to take the gridiron on his level. He is a member of the Broncos Ring of Honor and Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Why he has yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is beyond bewildering. He has been a finalist twice and a semi-finalist four times.

Now he is in a gigantic pool of candidates in the Seniors Committee list. Though he should have long been inducted before he made it that far, he is caught in a quagmire of a selection process where no more than two candidates yearly can just make it to the final vote process.

It would behoove Canton to double that, allowing the Seniors Committee to try to induct at least four each year. The backlog of excellent players is too long, and it is frustrating seeing lesser modern players go in as superior players are caught in a numbers crunch that is much harder to win than a slots machine jackpot.

Watching a player as great as Randy Gradishar wait this long to get his deserved respect truly shows the ineptness of the Canton voter. Though no one can question the recent inductions of linebackers like Andre Tippett, Ricky Jackson, and Derrick Thomas, no one would ever say that any were better football players than Gradishar. Though deserving, it is a travesty the much more deserving Gradishar continues to wait on his rightful placement in the hallowed walls of Canton.

Notable Players Drafted In 1974 (* Denotes Hall of Famer)

1. Ed "Too Tall" Jones, DE, Dallas
5. John Dutton, DT, Baltimore Colts
19. Henry Lawrence, OT, New Orleans
21. Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh *
24. Roger Carr, WR, Baltimore
34. Steve Nelson, MLB, New England
35. Keith Fahnhorst, OT, San Francisco
45. Dave Caspar, TE, Oakland *
46. Jack Lambert, MLB, Pittsburgh *
49. Delvin Williams, RB, San Francisco
51. Matt Blair, LB, Minnesota
53. Danny White, QB, Dallas
78. Nat Moore, WR, Miami
82. John Stallworth, WR, Pittsburgh *
87. Mike Boryla, QB, Cincinnati
88. Frank LeMaster, LB, Philadelphia
109. Henry Childs, TE, Atlanta
116. Steve Odom, WR, Green Bay
125. Mike Webster, C, Pittsburgh *
169. Efren Herrera, K, Dallas
199. Eddie Brown, S, Cleveland
365. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, WR, Houston Oilers