Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chuck Howley

Chuck Howley
6'3" 228
Dallas Cowboys
15 Seasons
180 Games Played
25 Interceptions
18 Fumble Recoveries
3 Touchdowns
6 Pro Bowls
Super Bowl V MVP

Charles Louis Howley was drafted in the first round of the 1958 draft by the Chicago Bears. He was the seventh player selected overall.

Howley went to college at West Virginia University. He was a tremendous athlete who starred in five different sports while with the Mountaineers. He was named the 1956 Southern Conference Athlete of the Year and helped his diving team win a championship.

He was used as an offensive lineman on the gridiron,playing guard and center. Three times he all named All-Conference, and his senior year saw him named the Southern Conference Player of the Year. Howley in an inaugural member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.

Bill Roehnelt, a 19th round draft pick that year, beat Howley out for a starting job, but the two rookies shared the position during games and Howley picked off a pass. He blew out his knee early in the 1959 so bad that he thought his career was over, so Howley retired.

During the spring of 1961, Howley discovered his knee was healthy again during an alumni game. A former Bears teammate, guard Don Healey, had joined the Dallas Cowboys and told Hall of Fame head coach Tom Landry that Howley could really help a team that won no games in their 1960 expansion year.

Landry took a chance and dealt a second and ninth round draft pick to Chicago to attain Howley's services. Landry, a defensive guru, worked hard to develop the exceptionally athletic Howley and the 10.1 speed he brought.

Howley won a starters job in training camp and would hold onto it the next 12 seasons. While Dallas often used the speedy linebacker on the weak side, Howley was gifted enough to play several seasons on the strong side as well.

He was an excellent blitzer, so nimble that many who saw Howley play swear he could have been a Pro Bowl running back too. Yet Dallas needed him on defense, where he and Lee Roy Jordan were important members of the "flex defense" led by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly.

Jordan, Howley, and Dave Edwards were the starting linebackers until 1972. Howley and Jordan were Pro Bowl players, while Edwards and Howley could man the strong or weak side with ease.

One huge strength of the trio was their ability to defend the pass. The group ended their careers with an amazing 70 interceptions and 52 fumble recoveries for Dallas. Yet it was the athleticism and versatility of Howley that many considered to be the glue that held the unit together.

Landry said "I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody better at linebacker than Howley."

Howley made the first of five straight Pro Bowls in 1965. He made the first of five consecutive First Team All-Pro nods in 1966 after taking a fumble 97 yards fotr a touchdown.

The Cowboys started winning and would go to the NFL Championship Game in 1967, against the Green Bay Packers, in what is now known as the "Ice Bowl."

The 1968 season was one of his best. Howley had a career best six interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Though he had five in 1970, he was not selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1964.

The Cowboys reached Super Bowl V in 1970 to play the Baltimore Colts. Super Bowl V was the best game of his career. "It was one of those kind of games when I was in the right place at the right time, all the time, said Howley." Even when I made mistakes and was out of position, I was in the right place."

Though Dallas lost the game, often called the "Blunder Bowl" for all of the penalties and turnovers committed, Howley was named MVP after intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble. Not only was he the first defensive player to win this award, he is still the only one on a losing team to garner it.

The 1971 season saw Howley earn his final Pro Bowl honor. Dallas reached the Super Bowl again and won the first championship in franchise history. Howley played well enough to win the MVP Award again, recovering a fumble and returning an interception 41 yards, but it was given to quarterback Roger Staubach instead.

Dallas made a bid for a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance in 1972, but were thwarted by the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. Howley picked off one pass that season, the last of his career.

Landry asked Howley to spend the 1973 season on the taxi squad so he could try to develop rookie linebackers Rodrigo Barnes and John Babinecz. Though he did suit up for one game that season, he retired at the end of the year.

The career Howley had with Dallas might be best described as a miraculous gift. While he was once content with the fact his football career was over, the knee healed well enough to make him one of the most durable players in Cowboys history.

Excluding the 1973 season, Howley missed just four games his entire 13 seasons with the team. This durability has left his name written all over the Cowboys record books.

Not only is his 97-yard fumble recovery return for a score the longest in franchise history, but his 191 career yards off fumble recoveries is too. The 17 fumbles he recovered is tied with Edwards as the fifth most ever by a Dallas defender.

His 24 career interceptions with Dallas is the tenth most in franchise history and the most ever by a Cowboys outside linebacker. His 395 return yards off of those interceptions is ranked eighth.

His five First Team All-Pro honors are the fourth most in Dallas history, and his six Pro Bowls are the most ever by a Cowboys linebacker. Howley was the fourth player to be inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

It is quite amazing that he still waits for his induction into Canton. Howley's exclusion, may Dallas fans feel, is proof the voters have a anti-Cowboys bias. Howley, Jordan, and Cliff Harris were members of one of the best defenses ever, and all should have been inducted long ago.

When you talk to his peers, all say how difficult is was to try to block or catch when opposing Howley. His speed allowed him to blanket opponents and his athleticism allowed for him to quickly recover from any mistakes.

He isn't only the most athletic linebackers Dallas ever had, but one of the most athletic players period. Landry asked Howley to punt the ball once in a game, and the linebacker put it 37-yards in the air without a return.

When you see Tom Landry call Howley the best linebacker he ever saw, this must give one pause. Landry wasn't just a legendary coach, but he was a Pro Bowl defensive back as well.

Landry played alongside Hall of Famers like Emlen Tunnel, Arnie Weinmeister, Rosey Brown, and Frank Gifford, then later coached Huff, Andy Robustelli, Bob Lilly, Randy White, Mel Renfro, and many Pro Bowlers on defense.

Not only did Landry play for and against legends, he coached them as well. For him to say Howley was the best should have put the linebacker in Canton years ago. Even without those kudos, the numbers Howley put up is worthy.

As I have stated in other linebackers I have profiled, it is a shame a player as well-rounded as Howley has been excluded to the point of being buried in the deep seniors pool while inferior players have gone in on the regular vote decades later.

When you look at a Ricky Jackson, Andre Tippett, and Derrick Thomas go in ahead of Howley, one has to question of the validity of the voters football knowledge. While all three are worthy, they were one-dimensional players and playing linebacker well isn't just rushing the passer.

With Chris Hanburger finally getting his respect, it hopefully will start a run on outside linebackers long overdue for induction. Men like Howley, Maxie Baughan, Matt Blair, and Robert Brazile are just a few of many well deserving.

It has almost been fourth decades since Chuck Howley hung up his cleats. Hopefully he will not have to wait another decade to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Notable Players Drafted In 1958 ( * Denotes Hall of Famer )

2. John David Crow, RB, Chicago Cardinals
3. Dan Currie, LB, Green Bay Packers
4. Lou Michaels, OT, Los Angeles Rams
5. Red Phillips, WR, Rams
9. Charles Krueger, DT, San Francisco 49ers
10. Alex Karras, DT, Detroit Lions
11. Lenny Lyles, DB, Baltimore Colts
15. Jim Taylor, FB, Packers *
18. Willard Dewveall, WR, Bears
19. Clendon Thomas, DB, Rams
27. Dick Cristy, RB, Packers
31. Bill Anderson, WR, Washington Redskins
32. Billy Krisher, G, Pittsburgh Steelers
36. Ray Nitschke, MLB, Packers *
39. Jerry Kramer, G, Packers
42. Erich Barnes, DB, Bears
45. Wayne Walker, LB, Lions
55. Frank Ryan, QB, Rams
58. Bobby Joe Conrad, WR, New York Giants
59. Billy Atkins, DB, 49ers
61. Jim Gibbons, E, Cleveland Browns
62. Ken Gray, G, Packers
66. Dick Lynch, DB, Redskins
84. Bobby Mitchell, RB, Browns *
93. Floyd Peters, DT, Colts
108. Bernie Parrish, DB, Browns
126. Darrell Dess, G, Redskins
137. Johnny Morris, WR, Bears
141. Tom Addison, LB, Colts
159. Bob Schmidt, C, Cardinals
189. Archie Matos, LB, Colts
218. Sonny Randle, WR, Cardinals
244. John Madden, OT, Philadelphia Eagles * (Hall of Fame Coach)
289. Dave Whitsell, CB, Lions

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Best Middle Linebackers Not In Canton

Randy Gradishar
6'3" 233
Denver Broncos
1973 - 1984
Ten Seasons
145 Games Played
20 Interceptions
4 Touchdowns
7 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.

Not only is he a member of the schools All-Century Team and their Hall of Fame, but Radish 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.

Radish 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. 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 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 at a casino.

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.

Tommy Nobis
6'2" 240
Atlanta Falcons
1966 - 1976
11 Seasons
133 Games Played
5 Pro Bowls
1966 NFL Rookie of the Year

Thomas Henry Nobis Jr. was the first draft pick ever by the expansion Atlanta Falcons in the 1966 NFL draft. He was also the first player chosen overall.

Nobis is a legend in Texas. He was was the only sophomore starter on the Longhorns' 1963 National Championship team.

No bis averaged nearly 20 tackles per game at Texas, and was a two-way player on teams that were ranked first in the nation at some point during each of his three years.

He graced the covers of Life, Sports Illustrated and Time magazines. Nobis won the Knute Rockne, Outland, and Maxwell Awards and finished seventh in the Heisman voting.

Nobis was selected to the Football News All-Time All-America Team, Sports Illustrated's All-Century Team, and the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-Century Team.

He is also a member of the Texas and Georgia State High School Halls of Fame, Thomas Jefferson High School Alumni Hall of Fame, the San Antonio Hall of Fame, the Longhorn Hall of Honor and the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame.

Nobis started right away for the Falcons, and was very busy on a new team that struggled to a 3-11 record.

He set a Falcons record, that still stands today, when he amassed 294 tackles. It may be an NFL record, but that stat is unofficial and kept by individual teams.

He was named to the Pro Bowl and was the 1966 NFL Rookie of the Year.

Nobis intercepted the first three passes of his career the next season, and returned one for a touchdown. He was also selected to his second Pro Bowl and only First Team All-Pro honor.

In 1968, he was named to his third Pro Bowl, as the struggling Falcons went through a coaching change by hiring Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin after the third week of the season.

Nobis was injured in the fifth game of the following year, and missed the rest of the season. He came back in 1970 and was named to the Pro Bowl. He then was injured in the fourth game of the following season, and missed the rest of the year.

Nobis would only miss two games for the rest of his career. He made his last Pro Bowl in 1972, and also scored the last touchdown of his career.

The 1973 season would be the best record the Falcons had during Nobis' career. They went 9-5. Atlanta won 50 games in his eleven seasons.

His number 60 the first number retired by the team, and he is a member of the Falcons' Ring of Honor, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame.

He has also been named the NFL Man of the Year (Dodge and Vitalis), and Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. award, due to his work with the Special Olympics as a member of the Falcons front office, and in his own foundation.

Nobis is on the NFL's All-1960s team, which is quite an accomplishment if you consider he didn't even play half of the decade.

It is TRULY astounding that 'Mr. Falcon' still has yet to be inducted into Canton. While he played on many lousy teams, but he was outstanding.

Atlanta got little publicity during his time as a player, but the voters cannot use this as an excuse. These voters are supposed to represent the whole NFL, not just the media driven franchises.

They are supposed to be experts, or at least this is what their positions as voters implies. The exclusion of Nobis for all of these years belies that thought.

Tommy Nobis epitomizes what a Hall of Fame football player is supposed to symbolize. Both on and off the field. It is truly disgraceful, and disrespectful, that he is not in Canton.

Lee Roy Jordan
6'1" 221
Dallas Cowboys
1963 - 1976
14 Seasons
186 Games Played
32 Interceptions
18 Fumble Recoveries
3 Touchdowns
1 Safety
5 Pro Bowls

Lee Roy Jordan was the Dallas Cowboys first draft pick of the 1963 draft. He was the sixth player chosen overall. Jordan was already a gridiron legend in college, after a spectacular career at Alabama University.

In his last game with Alabama in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma University, Jordan piled up a whopping 30 tackles and was named the games MVP. He is a member of the Alabama Hall Of Fame and the College Football Hall Of Fame.

He only suited up for seven games in his rookie year, but started each game at outside linebacker on the left side. He ended up swiping three interceptions and recovering a fumble.

He was moved to middle linebacker in 1966 and would stay there the rest of his career. This was the time the famous "Doomsday Defense" was at its beginnings, and Jordan was the leader.

He picked off one pass that year and returned it 49 yards for a score that year. Jordan had three interceptions the next year for a career best 85 yards, while scoring another touchdown and recording a safety.

The Cowboys would end up making it to the 1967 NFL Championship Game before losing to the Green Bay Packers in the famous "Ice Bowl". He was named to the first of three consecutive Pro Bowls that season.

Jordan ended up playing in Super Bowl V, the first Super Bowl after the NFL/ AFL merger. The Cowboys ended up losing in the waning seconds to the Baltimore Colts in a game dubbed "The Blunder Bowl" because it was a game that featured 11 turnovers by both teams and 10 penalties against Dallas.

Jordan had two interceptions and a career best three fumble recoveries in 1971. The Cowboys would go on to beat the Miami Dolphins 24 - 3 in Super Bowl VI. It is the only Super Bowl where a team was prevented from scoring a touchdown.

Jordan had two more swipes in 1972, then had a career high six interceptions in 1973. In one game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Jordan picked off three passes in a five-minute span.

He took one ball for a 31 yard touchdown, and was named to the Pro Bowl after the season. He made his final Pro Bowl in 1974 after getting two interceptions.

The 1975 season saw Jordan tie his career high of six interceptions, while leading the Cowboys to Super Bowl X. The Cowboys ended up losing a close game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jordan again started every game in 1976, but did not record any turnovers for only the second time of his career.

He then retired after that season as the franchises all-time leader in tackles, and his 32 interceptions are still tied for the third most ever by a linebacker in NFL history. Jordan is a member of the Cowboys Ring Of Fame.

There are a few theories as to why Jordan still awaits his call to Canton. One is that he was a member of a fantastic defense that featured Hall Of Fame Defensive Tackle Bob Lilly, along with such greats as George Andrie, Chuck Howley, Jethro Pugh, Charlie Waters, Cornell Green, and Cliff Harris.

Then there is some that say is was because of the genius diagramming of Hall Of Fame Coach Tom Landry that the "Doomsday Defense" was so effective.

Others believe that the voters have some anti-Cowboys bias from that era as well. Maybe all those points have some validity, but you cannot ignore the facts that Jordan has placed in front of all to see through his play on the field.

He was a true leader who always gave it everything he had on every play without fail. Not only was he a tackling machine, but the man helped get the ball back for his teams offense over 50 times in his career.

Jordan gathered a turnover in every 3.72 games he played in his career, an outstanding percentage. His three interception game was named one of the ten most memorable moments in the history of Texas Stadium in 2008.

Not a big man in size or stature, Jordan's heart was immeasurable, and he was one of the top linebackers in the NFL almost every year that he played.

When you see the late Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs inducted, though deservedly so, it can make one wonder. Thomas was known for just rushing the passer, and was not the complete player that Jordan was.

Lee Roy Jordan certainly is deserving of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.

Sam Mills
5'9" 229
New Orleans Saints
12 Seasons
181 Games Played
23 Fumbles Recovered
4 Touchdowns
5 Pro Bowls

Samuel Davis Mills Jr. went undrafted in 1981, then tried out with the Cleveland Browns and was cut. He then tried out with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and was cut again.

The United States Football League began playing in 1983 and Mills tried out for the Philadelphia Stars. Not only did he make the team, he became an instant success. Nicknamed the "Field Mouse", the 5'9" Mills was known for his leadership and intensity both on and off the field.

The USFL folded after 1985, but it did have many successes. Six members of the USFL are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including four players. Mills played in the USFL Championship Game all three seasons, winning twice. He is a member of the USFL All-Time Team, and was named All-USFL, their version of the Pro Bowl, all three years.

David Dixon created the USFL. He also was instrumental in bringing the Saints to New Orleans. His connections with the USFL proved to be valuable when that league folded as he signed many former USFL personnel.

He hired Jim Mora Sr. as his head coach, Bobby Hebert as his starting quarterback, Chuck Commiskey as a starting offensive guard, Buford Jordan as the starting fullback, Antonio Gibson as the starting strong safety, Mel Gray as the return specialist, and Mills and Vaughn Johnson as his starting inside linebackers. Mora had coached Mills, Commiskey, and Gibson in the USFL.

The Saints already had Hall of Famer Ricky Jackson at one outside linebacker slot, and had just drafted future Pro Bowler Pat Swilling to bookend him. Teamed with Mills and Johnson, New Orleans has one of the best linebacker corps in NFL history. The group was so devastating that they were called "The Dome Patrol".

Mills was the leader of the group and made his first Pro Bowl in his second season. He was always around the ball and averaged almost 100 tackles a year in his nine season with the Saints. He also took two fumble recoveries in for touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl four times total.

When his contract expired in 1994, the Saint allowed the 36-year old to leave despite the fact he had just piled up a career high 155 tackles that year for them. Mills signed with the expansion Carolina Panthers determined to show he had a lot of football still in him. He became an instant hero for the Panthers.

The 1996 season was one of his best. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was also given his only First Team All-Pro honor. Mills had a career best 5.5 sacks to go with 122 tackles and became the oldest player in NFL history to recover a fumble and return it for a score.

He retired after the 1997 season and became a linebackers coach for Carolina. He found out he had intestinal cancer and only had a few months to live in 2003, but kept coaching and pleading for his players to "keep pounding". This inspired Carolina to reach Super Bowl XXXVIII that year.

Mills died in 2005 and the Panthers have a statue of him outside of their stadium in his honor. He is a member of the Panthers Hall of Honor, the Saints Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey, and the College Football Hall of Fame.

There is still a good chance Mills will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. Though critics may say his five Pro Bowls with the NFL isn't enough for induction, that means they are discounting what he did in the USFL.

The USFL was professional football, and Mills was a huge star in that league. The building in Canton has the words Pro Football" engraved on their buildings, signs, and letterheads everywhere. The USFL obviously had tremendous impact and influence on the NFL as well.

His is a story of perseverance. The "American Dream" that became reality. Even if Mills never gets into Canton, he is probably the greatest inside linebacker the Saints franchise ever had wear their jersey.

Bill Bergey
6'4" 243
Philadelphia Eagles
12 Seasons
159 Games Played
27 Interceptions
21 Fumble Recoveries
5 Pro Bowls

William Earl Bergey was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the 1969 AFL draft out of Arkansas State and was an AFL All-Star in his first year. Bergey started for the Bengals for five years.

He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1974 for two first-round and one second-round draft picks because he had signed a "futures contract" with the World Football League.

The WFL folded, so he went to Philadelphia. With the Eagles, Bergey went to four straight Pro Bowls, and became the highest-paid defensive player in the league.

He earned Eagles MVP status three times. Bergey recorded 233 tackles in a single season with the Eagles. After Philadelphia lost to Oakland in Super Bowl XV, Bergey retired in 1980 with 48 turnovers, which means he got the ball back for his teams every 3.3 games.

Bergey is a member of the Bengals 40th Anniversary Roster, the Eagles Honor Roll, and the city of Buffalo's Hall of Fame. Though he was excellent in Cincinnati, it was with Philadelphia he enjoyed his best years in the NFL.

In his five years with the Bengals, Bergey had 9 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries.

He accumulated 18 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries in seven seasons as an Eagle.

He was a tackling machine that allowed fellow Eagle linebackers John Bunting, Frank LeMaster and Jerry Robinson to excel.

When you talk of the rich history of the Eagles, names like Van Buren, Bednarik, McDonald, White, Montgomery, Carmichael, and Bill Bergey roll off the tongues of most die hard Philly fans.

He may not get into Canton, but he is a Hall of Fame player in my book.

Hardy Nickerson
6'2" 230
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
16 Seasons
225 Games Played
1990s All-Decade Team
5 Pro Bowls

Hardy Otto Nickerson was drafted in the fifth round of the 1987 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After spending his rookie year as a reserve, he soon moved into the starting lineup and became a solid member of the team.

He signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent in 1993, and blossomed in the 4-3 base defense that head coach Tony Dungy ran. He was named First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl in his first season after setting a team record with a whopping 214 tackles that still stands today.

Though he never exceeded 147 tackles in a season for the rest of his career, Nickerson was the fiery, intelligent leader of the defense and was called "The Dragon" by teammates and fans.

In 1996, he went to the Pro Bowl again, something he would continue to do until 1999. He also was named First Team All-Pro in 1997, and was honored with the Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award for his work in the community and country.

He became a free agent after his last Pro Bowl season of 1999, so he signed a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He got hurt after six games, missing the rest of the season.

The 2001 season saw him get a career high three interceptions and nine defended passes. He then signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2002, then retired at the end of the season.

Nickerson is a member of the NFL 1990's All-Decade Second Team. No other Buccaneers middle linebacker has more tackles than him and he has the third most in team history.

His getting inducted into Canton may seem a long shot to some, but Nickerson's career stacks up next to some of the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history. His longevity also shows how tough he was and how much he had.

Karl Mecklenburg
6'3" 240
Denver Broncos
12 Seasons
180 Games Played
79 Sacks
6 Pro Bowls

Karl Bernard Mecklenburg was drafted in the 12th round of the 1983 draft by the Denver Broncos, the 310th player chosen overall. He made the team as a rookie, but started out playing defensive end.

He was able to work his way on the field by impressing the coaches with his determination. After getting a pair of sacks as a rookie, he was used as a pass rush specialist the next year and got seven more. He also picked off two passes and returned them for 105 yards.

Denver knew they had to find a way to get Mecklenburg on the field, and they also wanted to upgrade their linebacking unit. Joe Collier, the Broncos legendary defensive coordinator, decided to try him at inside linebacker.

Though he split time with incumbent starter Rick Dennison, Mecklenburg was still able to rack up a career high 13 sacks. He was named First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl despite starting just nine games.

He took over as a full-time starter in 1986 and was named First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl again after getting 9.5 sacks. Denver would reach the Super Bowl, but lost.

The Broncos would go back to the Super Bowl in 1987 and 1989, but lost each time. Mecklenburg was a big reason for their success. In 1987, he went to the Pro Bowl after getting the last three interceptions of his career.

He was named First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl in 1989 after scoring the first touchdown of his career, which came off of a fumble recovery. He scored off another fumble the next year, as well as recording a safety.

From 1986 to 1997, Mecklenburg was one of the best linebackers in all of football. He wasn't just a pass rusher, though he did pile up 55.5 sacks over that time, but he was also a tackling machine.

Starting in 1986, Mecklenburg had at least 100 tackles every year until 1986 except for the 97 he had in the strike shortened 1987 season. He had 99 tackles in 1997. After getting 68 in 1998, his lowest total as a full-time starter, he retired.

Nicknamed the "Albino Rhino" by teammates, he has the second most tackles and sacks in Broncos history. His 180 games played are the third most ever as well.

No other Broncos linebacker has been to the Pro Bowl six times, and his three First Team All-Pro nods are tied as the second most in franchise history. He is a member of the Broncos Ring of Honor.

Mecklenburg was a winner, as shown by his helping Denver reach the Super Bowl three times. His was career not expected, so the term "self-made man" certainly applies in his care.

Through determination, he ended his career on the same level as Randy Gradishar. Many consider Gradishar the greatest Broncos linebacker ever, but Mecklenburg is not far behind.

Besides missing seven games in 1988, and one the next year, he took the field every time his team did. Consistent, tough, and fiery, Karl Mecklenburg had a career certainly worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jessie Tuggle
5'11" 230
Atlanta Falcons
14 Seasons
209 Games Played
6 Touchdowns
5 Pro Bowls

Jessie Lloyd Tuggle Jr went undrafted in 1987 despite having a career at Valdosta State University that had him inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He signed with Atlanta and soon found himself starting at left inside linebacker after 1980 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Buddy Curry went down with a career-ending injury.

He split time with Joel Williams the next year, starting in eight games. He was still able to rack up 103 tackles and score a touchdown off of a fumble recovery. Atlanta then handed him the job full-time the rest of his career, and he missed just three starts over that time.

After getting 183 tackles in 1989, he had 201 tackles and a career high five quarterback sacks the next year. He also took a fumble 65 yards for a touchdown.

He followed that up in 1991 with a career-best 207 tackles, and scored again off of a fumble recovery. He also had his first career interception.

The 1992 season saw him finally get recognized as a Pro Bowler after somehow not being named in either of his two previous stellar seasons. He had 193 tackles, and interception, and he scored off a career-long 69 yard fumble recovery.

After getting 185 tackles the next year, he returned to the Pro Bowl in 1994 after getting 93 tackles. The 1994 season was the last time he exceeded 100 tackles, when he had 111.

He also had a career high three interceptions, the last of his career. One was returned for a touchdown, and he made the Pro Bowl again.

After making the Pro Bowl in 1997, he made his last Pro Bowl the next year. He also scored his last touchdown, which happened off of a fumble recovery.

The Falcons would reach Super Bowl XXXIII, their only championship appearance in franchise history, but lost.

He had 3.5 sacks in 1999, but missed two games. After missing half of the 2000 season, he retired with a Falcons record of 1,640 tackles.

His five fumble recoveries for touchdowns was an NFL record until Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins surpassed it by one in 2009.

"The Hammer" has his jersey retired by the Falcons, and he is a member of the team's Ring of Honor.

Tommy Nobis may be the best Falcon middle linebacker ever, but Tuggle is right up there with him. Being the ultimate team player that he was, Tuggle still has a shot at induction into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.

Mike Curtis
6'3" 232
Baltimore Colts
14 Seasons
166 Games Played
25 Interceptions
3 Touchdowns
4 Pro Bowls
1970 AFC Defensive Player of the Year

James Michael Curtis was drafted in the first round of the 1965 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He initially played fullback and even ran the ball six times as a rookie, as well a catching a pass.

The Colts switched him to linebacker the next year, where he played on the weak side. Though he started seven games in 1966, he did score off a fumble recovery. He got hurt in the third game of 1967, missing the rest of the year.

Curtis rebounded strong in 1968, helping lead the Colts to Super Bowl III after being named First Team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl. In Baltimore's first playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, Curtis took a fumble 60 yards for a touchdown.

He had an interception in the Colts 34-0 win over the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship and helped hold Cleveland's powerful running game to 58 yards.

Baltimore switched him to middle linebacker in 1969. Curtis responded by being named First Team All-Pro. He got a career best five interceptions in 1970, helping the Colts win their division.

After getting an interception in a first round win over the Cincinnati Bengals, he picked off another pass in Super Bowl V as the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys 16-13.

He was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Year by the NFL 101 Club for all of his accomplishments that year.

He was a captain on the Colts most of his time with them, known for his intensity and mean streak. Many called him the meanest player of his era.

He made the Pro Bowl in 1971 and 1974 again for Baltimore, and was named the team MVP in that 1974 season. He got hurt in 1975 and was able to play just six games.

The Colts left him exposed to the expansion draft, so the Seattle Seahawks grabbed him. He was moved to outside linebacker again, where he started every game.

Curtis, who grew up in suburban Maryland, asked to be traded closer to home. Seattle acquiesced by dealing him to the Washington Redskins before the 1977 season. Curtis retired after 1978.

Many fans who saw him play think Curtis is one of the most underrated middle linebackers of his era, in spite of the many accolades he attained. They point to Hall of Famers like Willie Lanier and Nick Buoniconti being in his way of more Pro Bowl accolades.

The fact is that Curtis was more than a vicious hitter who brought violent collisions. He was very athletic, being one of the very first players to ever retire with at least 20 interceptions and sacks in a career.

His 21 interceptions with Baltimore is still the third most ever by a Colts linebacker. His presence also helped fellow linebackers, and Colts legends, like Stan White and Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks be even more effective.

As the years pass, his chances for going into Canton dwindle. Yet Mike Curtis certainly did have a career worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp
6'1" 201
Buffalo Bills
11 Seasons
122 Games Played
7 Pro Bowls
1965 AFL MVP
AFL All-Time Leader In Passing Yards
AFL All-Time Leader In Attempts / Completions
5 AFL Title Games In 7 Seasons

Jack French Kemp was drafted in the 17th round of the 1957 draft by the Detroit Lions. He had went to Occidental College previously, a small private liberal arts school. Occidental has produced six NFL players and Kemp is the most successful.

Kemp is also probably the most famous alumnus of Occidental, though Terry Gilliam of Monty Python should be considered. Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, attended the school for two years before transferring.

Kemp's college roommate was Jim E. Mora, who would later become a head coach for several professional football teams. Kemp was an All-Conference player who was the nation’s No. 3 small college passer as a senior. He even set a school record throwing the javelin with the track team.

Not only did Kemp's wife attend Occidental, but two of his children and his younger brother did as well. Occidental is unveiling a statue of Jack Kemp on April 29, 2011 to celebrate all of his accomplishments.

Detroit cut Kemp during training camp, but the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him to backup Hall of Famer Len Dawson and the legendary Earl Morrall. Though Morrall made the Pro Bowl that year, Kemp got in on four games and completed eight balls for 88 yards.

Pittsburgh acquired Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne the next year, so they released Kemp. He signed on with the San Francisco 49ers, spending a few weeks on their taxi squad before being cut.

The New York Giants signed him to their taxi squad, where he remained all season as the Giants made it to the title game and lost in "The Greatest Game Ever Played". It was the first post-season game that had an overtime period, where the Baltimore Colts prevailed.

The Giants then used their 1959 first-round draft pick on quarterback Lee Grosscup, the innovator of the shovel pass. Kemp was released and found no NFL teams interested. He joined the Calgary Stampeders on the Canadian Football League, but was cut after one game.

Having being cut by a CFL and four NFL teams did not discourage Kemp. Though his family was trying to coax him to quit playing football and get on with his life, Kemp saw an alternative.

The American Football League was to begin play in 1960. Since Kemp did have NFL experience, the Los Angeles Chargers signed him as a free agent. Bob Clatterbuck, who had last played in 1957 after four years with the Giants, was Kemp's primary competition in camp.

Kemp won the starting job and his leadership skills quickly catapulted him to being a team captain. He was named First Team All-Pro that year, but the AFL did not yet have their Al-Star game. The Chargers reached the title game, but lost.

He was named to the very first AFL All-Star squad in 1961 after helping the Chargers, now playing in San Diego, win their first ten games. They reached the title game and again lost to the Houston Oilers for the second straight year.

The 1962 season was one of his most difficult. He severely hurt his shoulder in 1961 when he was serving in the military and had to go to Germany when the Berlin Wall was erected. He had went through most of that year taking up to ten pain killer shots each game.

He broke two fingers on his throwing hand in the second game of the year. The Chargers had drafted John Hadl that year, but planned him to spend his rookie year on the bench. With Kemp out, the Chargers won just four games.

Hall of Fame head coach Sid Gillman made the mistake of trying to hide Kemp on the taxi squad, as he recovered, by waiving him. Three teams immediately tried to claim him and he was awarded to the Buffalo Bills.

He recovered from his injuries well enough to play the last four games of that 1962 season. Though he played just six games that year, he was named an All-Star. It showed the respect Kemp had from his peers.

Buffalo named Kemp a captain as well. This move paid off when star running back Cookie Gilchrist was frustrated one game by the lack of touches and refused to go back on the field. Head coach Lou Saban was about to release Gilchrist, but Kemp convinced Saban to keep a very important member of the team.

Though he made the All-Star team again in 1963, Buffalo had another young quarterback to push Kemp in camp. Daryle Lamonica was drafted in the 24th round, but impressed the Bills coaches enough to start two games that year.

The Bills had the best defense in the AFL in 1964. With the combination of the multi-talented Gilchrist, the swarming defense, and Kemp's leadership, Buffalo won the AFL Championship Game that year by defeating the defending champion Chargers 20-7.

Buffalo went back to the title game in 1965 and beat the Chargers again for the ttle. It is still the last time the Bills franchise has won a championship. Not only was Kemp named an All-Star, he was named First Team All-Pro.

Not only was he named the MVP oh the 1965 title game, but he also shared the AFL MVP Award with ex-Chargers teammate Paul Lowe.

Buffalo reached the championship game again in 1966. They faced the Kansas City Chiefs for the right to oppose the Green Bay Packers in what later would be called the first Super Bowl game ever. Kansas City won, yet Kemp was named an All-Star again.

Buffalo then traded Lamonica to the Oakland Raiders for quarterback Tom Flores, who was coming off a Pro Bowl season himself. Flores, who later led the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories as a head coach, lasted just over two years as a reserve for Buffalo.

Kemp struggled in the 1967 season as he would not be named an All-Star for the first time in his career. He looked to rebound the next year, but teammate Ron McDole fell on his knee in practice and Kemp had to miss the season before it started.

The Bills drafted 1968 Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson, a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 1969. Kemp returned and was named an All-Star for the last time, making him one of the few players to have played in the first and last All-Star games.

He also successfully lobbied to have all AFL teams wear a patch that year to honor a league that had tremendous impact on professional football. Kemp had already shown intense support of his peers by co-founding the AFL Players Association and served as president five times.

Though just 34-years old and holding a four-year no-cut contract, Kemp decided to try politics in 1970. He was elected to Congress, where he stayed until 1989. He then ran the Housing and Urban Development Department until 1993 and ran for Vice-President in 1996.

After getting out of politics, Kemp worked with children as vice president of NFL Charities and worked with youth football. His son Jeff was an NFL quarterback for 11 seasons, and his som Jim played quarterback in the CFL for nine years.

He is the only person to start at quarterback the entire 10 years the AFL existed. Besides leading his teams to five championship games, Kemp was an All Star every year but two. He is also one of just 20 men to have played all 10 years of the AFL's existence.

Though Kemp was not named to the AFL All-Time Team, where Hall of Famers Dawson and Joe Namath were, he holds many league records. He has the most passing attempts and completions, as well as passing yards, in AFL history for a career and in championship games.

He and Frank Tripucka became the AFL's first 3,000-yard passers in AFL history in the last week of the 1960 season. Tripucka won the title of most yards passing by 20 yards.

Critics of Kemp point out how he took a lot of sacks and had 69 more career interceptions than touchdown passes. He was once sacked 11 times in game, which is an AFL record and is tied with 12 others as the second most ever in professional football history.

The truth is that Kemp liked to throw the ball deep down the field for significant gains. His career average of 14.8 yards per completion is still the 11th best ever. He is still ranked in the top-100 in many quarterbacking categories as well.

Not only was Kemp a winner, but he was also a role model for young players. Lamonica went on to be a five-time Pro Bowler who was named AFL MVP twice and won three championships. He also has the second best winning percentage ever by a quarterback.

Hadl went on to be a six-time Pro Bowler who won a championship and was the 1973 NFC Player of the Year. Kemp also mentored a young James Harris, the first black quarterback to begin the season as a starter and second ever to start any game as a quarterback.

Harris, who coincidentally replaced Hadl in 1974, went to his only Pro Bowl in 1974 and was named the Pro Bowl MVP. Much like his political career, Kemp sought equality while playing.

When in Louisiana in 1965, Kemp was with Gilchrist and Ernie Warlick to play in the AFL All-Star Game to be held in New Orleans. When they tried to catch a cab to the hotel, the cabbie told Kemp only he could ride and Gilchrist and Warlick would have to take a "colored cab".

Kemp refused to ride in the cab, saying if it wasn't good enough for his teammate then it wasn't good enough for him. Gilchrist led a players petition to boycott playing the game in New Orleans, which was joined by Kemp. The game was moved to Houston in what was one of the first civil rights stands in professional football history.

When you look at Kemp's career, it is much like his entire life. The man was a winner with an unquenchable thirst to be his best. Not only did he lead by his play, his toughness was legendary.

Besides playing with the bad shoulder in 1961 and broken fingers in 1962, Kemp was given a waiver by the military because of knee problems. Hall of Fame offensive tackle, and Chargers teammate, Ron Mix noted that "it sounds weird, but he could play football and not be fit to serve in the Army".

His is a story of never giving up on his dream, even after five teams cut ties with him and his own family doubted his dreams. A dream that can be called an "All-American Dream", Kemp lived it for 11 years while losing three in between for various reasons.

There are quite a number of people in Canton because they won titles. While Kemp's passing numbers might not blow away the modern fan, the rules of the era must be considered. Despite an era where defenses could actually play defense, Kemp often got the ball deep down the field.

Though Hall of Famer Jim Kelly now owns most of team records for Buffalo Bills quarterbacks, Kemp went to two more Pro Bowls and was named First Team All-Pro one more time than Kelly. His five title games is tied with legends like Hall of Famer Sid Luckman, while Kelly played in four.

He had just three years where his teams had losing records and he won 28 more contests than he lost. Kemp was also a good running quarterback, having scored 40 times. He was second in rushing touchdowns during the Bills 1965 title season.

Not only did he give back to the game both as a player and retiree, Kemp was a rare man who truly believed in dignity after football. He often reminded people of the AFL's impact, something the Canton voters seem to have ignored much too often.

As I often say in the AFL legends I profile, the building in Canton clearly says Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some voters have tried to turn it into the NFL Hall of Fame by spurning the deserving candidacies of several gridiron greats who wore uniforms for other leagues like the AFL and AAFC.

When you look at his body of work, Jack Kemp belongs in Canton. Not only did he win too much to be ignored, but his contributions to the game can no longer go on being slighted. Wake up the Canton voters in your area and let them know that Kemp's long overdue respect is still waiting.

Notable Players Drafted In 1957 ( * Denotes Canton Inductee )

1. Paul Hornung, RB, Green Bay Packers *
2. Jon Arnett, RB, Los Angeles Rams
3. John Brodie, QB, San Francisco 49ers
4. Ron Kramer, TE, Packers
5. Len Dawson, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers *
6. Jim Brown, FB, Cleveland Browns *
8. Jim Parker, G, Baltimore Colts *
11. Del Shofner, WR, Rams
12. Bill Glass, DE, Detroit Lions
14. Jack Pardee, LB, Rams
15. Abe Woodson, CB, 49ers
17. Milt Plum, QB, Browns
19. Billy Ray Barnes, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
21. Joe Walton, TE, Washington Redskins (Notable Coach)
24. John Gordy, G, Lions
31. Tommy McDonald, WR, Eagles *
36. Terry Barr, RB, Lions
43. Sonny Jurgensen, QB, Eagles *
47. Lamar Lundy, DE, Rams
52. Henry Jordan, DT, Browns *
70. John Nisby, G, Packers
78. Gene Hickerson, G, Browns *
94. Charlie Bradshaw, OL, Rams
109. Don Maynard, WR, New York Giants *
128. Tommy Davis, K, 49ers
291. Jimmy Orr, WR, Rams

Kemp with Jim Mora Sr.

Kemp with Sid Gillman