Hall of Famer Bill Polian’s Five Greatest Moves as NFL Executive

In the NFL, the head coach is often the recipient of the most praise when things go well but takes the most heat when things head south. However, there’s one time of the year when the coach takes a back seat to another member of an organization and that’s during the spring when general managers are busy putting together a team they hope turns out to be a champion. There may not have been a more popular general manager than Bill Polian. Today, the football archives looks back at Mr. Polian’s five greatest accomplishment as an NFL executive.

5) Carolina Panthers

Polian didn’t get a ton of superstars to play for the 1995 and 1996 Panthers. Yet, he helped field a team that went 12-4 in their second season as a franchise and stunningly made it all the way to the NFC championship game. The Panthers were a mediocre offensive squad led by their first ever draft pick, Kerry Collins. Polian said he wanted Steve McNair, but after he traded away the top choice to the Cincinnati Bengals because he din’t want Ki-Jana Carter, he figured McNair would be gone. Kerry Collins out of Penn State was the second highest-rated quarterback of the 1995 draft so Polian went with him. Collins had a decent career and played reasonably well for the ’96 Panthers.

The strength of that squad was defense. Sam Mills. Eric Davis and Kevin Greene were free agents Polian wooed to join Carolina and they revived their careers with stellar performances. Polian’s Panthers finally ran out of steam in the NFC championship against Brett Favre and the eventual World Champion Green Bay Packers.

4) Marv Levy

There’s so many things that Polian accomplished for the Buffalo Bills, it’s hard to narrow it down to a few of his greatest accomplishments. However, deciding to hire his dear friend, Marv Levy, to guide the ship was integral in the forward direction of the franchise. Prior to obtaining Levy, the Bills posted a 6-35 record. With Levy, they won 80 of their next 120 ball games. Marv was a master motivator and a magnificent mentor with a masterclass memory. Levy’s great leadership was put to test early in the 1990 season when the Bills seemed to always getting at each other. He held the thing together and they launched an AFC dynasty for the ages.

3) Tony Dungy

Polian picked the right man for the job again for the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy was a defensive mastermind with the talented but raw 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When they let him go ahead of the ’02 season, Polian jumped all over that opportunity. Dungy forged the Colts into a balanced football team utilizing his wise scheme with great pros like Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. He also allowed Peyton Manning to be an offensive coordinator on the field understanding his high football IQ.

2) Peyton Manning

Polian’s decision to take Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf has been well-documented. Indeed, last week, we ranked Manning as the greatest first pick overall in NFL history. At the time, though, it was not a slam dunk because Leaf was a monster athlete out of Washington State. Ultimately, Polian listened to his gut and his friend, Peyton’s father, Archie.

1) Jim Kelly

Polian’s greatest move of all-time was convincing Jim Kelly to sign with the Bills. Let’s be real about this: Frank Reich was a nice player, but without Kelly, the Bills weren’t going to four Super Bowls and may not have even made it to one. While Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas were the team’s most skilled ballplayers, Kelly was the heart and soul. Signing Kelly away from the defunct USFL was an arduous process for Polian and his staff. Once Polian assured Kelly that they were building a winner and that he could get him extra money for working behind a young offensive line, Jimbo was reeled in. The Kelly tough era was born thanks to Polian’s dogged nature.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills

Who Will be Better in 2018: Dallas or Washington?

With the draft looming and the NFL’s regular season less than five months away, it’s not too early to wonder aloud about who the more complete football team in 2018 will be between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. There’s no certain thing in pro football due to injury and roster turnover. However, it seems very likely the champion Philadelphia Eagles are the best the NFC East has to offer while the New York Giants are bringing up the rear. Let’s look at the two teams in the middle of the NFC East and who’s better at this pre-draft stage of the 2018 campaign.

OFFENSE

The Cowboys’ running game was dynamite in 2016 thanks to a historically good offensive line and the emergence of stud rusher Ezekiel Elliott. Due to injury and suspension, Dallas fell back to earth. As a unit, the Redskins were decimated as Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine all flashed brilliance briefly before heading to the injured reserve list. Still, Elliott is so ultra-talented, we must give the edge to Dallas.

Dak Prescott’s sensational rookie season was followed by a downer in 2017. This is a pivotal season for Prescott to see if his star will ascend or if 2016 was a mirage. It’s safe to say we all know what Washington has with Alex Smith. He’s played at an above average level for many seasons. He’ll never be listed among the game’s best. Yet, his won-loss record over the past few years has been quite impressive both with the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

At the moment, the Skins have the better receiving weapons. Dallas is working things out with Dez Bryant and probably will add a wideout in the draft. Alex Smith, though, will have Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and those fine receiving backs we named above. Thus, Washington will have the better passing game in 2018.

DEFENSE

Washington ranked dead last in rushing defense in 2017 and that’s why they finished below the Cowboys in the standings. The ‘Skins will have Phil Taylor, Jonathan Allen and free agent acquisition Pernell McPhee to shore that up for the 2018 season. Dallas lost Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber off their eighth-ranked defense with Hitchens being the huge blow. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to think that Dallas would slide below Washington in this area especially with 22-year old Maliek Collins coming back after starting all 16 games in 2017. He’s going to be a good one.

The Redskins lost a lot of their depth, but what remains is better than what Dallas has. Interestingly, Washington obtained Orlando Scandrick via free agency from the Cowboys roster. Scandrick and Josh Norman give the Redskins dependable veterans on either side of the formation. Jay Gruden has a history of coaching his secondary well, so I don’t see a drop off despite trading away future star Kendall Fuller to Kansas City for Smith.

The Cowboys have a great player on the edge in Demarcus Lawrence. In fact, I think he’s a top ten player at his position in the NFL. If there was one thing I truly enjoyed from watching the film of the 2017 Cowboys, it was reviewing Lawrence’s play to play motor. The Cowboys’ best offseason move thus far was making sure Lawrence didn’t sign elsewhere.

INTANGIBLES

The Cowboys were significantly better on special teams than the Redskins in 2017 despite placekicker Dan Bailey’s woes. Punter Chris Jones was fantastic, and Ryan Switzer offered glimpses of greatness as a return man. Simply put, Dustin Hopkins will have to be better. Extra points are not automatic any more as evidenced by the two misses in the Super Bowl, but professional kickers must make all their 33-yard kicks in a league that prides itself in parity.

Both teams also should expect more from their coaching staffs. Washington especially blew games largely due to poor game management by Gruden and company. Their opening day loss against the Eagles set the tone for the season and their collapses at Kansas City, and most excruciating, at New Orleans, were season-definers. The ‘Skins should’ve easily been 10-6 when you review their 2017 campaign.

 The Verdict: The Cowboys Should Finish Higher in the Standings

Dallas finished 9-7 in a very disappointing season. They did sweep Washington, though. Thus, as it stands, they’ll come into 2018 as the team with higher expectations. There will be more pressure on Jason Garrett in the upcoming season than ever before. If he folds under the pressure and they run into any problems with Elliott or their offensive line, their fanbase will turn on them and the season will be a nightmare. In that scenario, Washington will leapfrog them in the standings.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert..@spot_Bills

The History of the New England Patriots by Jersey Number #31-#32

NUMBER THIRTY-ONE

Fred Marion was a mainstay at safety throughout the 1980’s for the Pats. He had a phenomenal season in 1985 with seven interceptions for an incredible 189 yards. His success continued in the postseason where he picked off three more balls for 69 additional yards. He was right at home in the Orange Bowl for the AFC championship game. He played his college ball for the University of Miami and made a key interception off Dan Marino in the 31-14 victory.

Jimmy Hitchcock wore #31 during his first stint as a member of the Patriots. He played nickel back for Coach Parcells and Coach Belichick for the 1996 AFC champion Patriots. Hitchcock got a lot more playing time and a 100-yard interception return in 1997. His best season by a landslide, though, occurred in 1998 when Hitchcock played for the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings. He piled up 242 yards and three touchdowns on interceptions. He played one more uneventful season late in his career with New England wearing #37.

Brandon Meriweather was a very talented safety for New England from 2007-10. In fact, he made the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2009 and 2010. Meriweather was a bright spot on an inconsistent defense in ’09 as he picked off five passes for 149 yards. He played five more seasons with three different teams, but never got back to the Pro Bowl and never even played another full season after his time in New England.

Aqib Talib had kind of a strange tenure with New England. When he was on the field, he was lights out on the corner. The bad news for the Pats is he was knocked out early in consecutive AFC championship game defeats. In the second of those contests, it was Wes Welker that delivered the shot that eliminated Talib from the contest. Talib has recorded an unreal 10 lifetime interception return touchdowns and owns a Super Bowl ring with the 2015 Broncos.

Larry Centers was a long time member of the Cardinals and one of the all-time leaders in receptions by a running back in NFL history. Centers earned a Super Bowl ring in his last pro season with the 2003 Pats. His play of the season was a 28-yard reception versus the Colts in the AFC championship game. The Super Bowl XXXVIII victory over Carolina was Centers’ last game in an excellent 14-year career.

NUMBER THIRTY-TWO

Georgia-alum Andy Johnson was drafted by the Patriots in 1974 and played his entire nine-year career in New England. He had a fine 1976 season in which he scored 10 touchdowns and gained over 1,000 yards all-purpose.

Craig James was the next #32 worthy of mention. James came out of SMU highly touted as Eric Dickerson’s backfield mate in the “Pony Express.” James had his standout season in 1985 as he rushed for over 1,200 yards. In the Super Bowl, James was humiliated as was the rest of the Pats that night. One of the iconic plays from that Super Bowl was James getting smashed by Richard Dent, fumbling the ball and unable to retrieve it as he was being mauled by half the defense.

James became far better known as a college football analyst with ESPN.

Leonard Russell was a throwback runner for the Patriots from 1991-1993. He only averaged 3.4 yards per rush during his time with the Patriots, but carried the ball some 700 times in 43 career games so he was a workhorse. He was really good at getting touchdowns at the goal line.

Respect if you remember that Willie Clay was New England’s starting free safety in Super Bowl XXXI. His best season with the Patriots came in 1997 when he intercepted six passes for 109 yards.

Antowain Smith was a very important contributor for the Patriots’ first two Super Bowl-winning teams. In 2001, his power rushes helped young Tom Brady keep the offense on the field just long enough to score a few points. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Smith smashed home for a huge fourth quarter TD in a win over the Panthers. He was let go after 2003 and replaced with Corey Dillon.

Our last #32 will retire as the best of the bunch. Devon McCourty came on to the scene as a rookie cornerback in 2010 and made the Pro Bowl right off the bat. In addition to playing corner well early in his career, McCourty was a solid kick returner. McCourty eventually made the move to safety where he has been one of the NFL’s best over the past 5 seasons. He has gone 2-2 in Super Bowl appearances and was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 2016 season.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills

The History of the New England Patriots by Jersey Number #27-#30

NUMBER TWENTY-SEVEN

Terrell Buckley was a tremendous talent at Florida State and parlayed those skills into a long time NFL career. Buckley has the distinction of being the player with the most interceptions in NFL history to not make a single Pro Bowl. He had some sensational seasons with the Dolphins, an excellent year with Denver and two fine seasons as a member of the Patriots.

During the Pats’ 2001 Super Bowl run, Buckley was a key contributor in the defensive backfield and on special teams. He picked off Kordell Stewart to ice the AFC championship and played very well in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams.

Ron Bolton was another defensive back to last 11 seasons in the league. He intercepted 18 passes over three seasons with the Pats in the early 70’s. After the ’75 season, he departed for Cleveland and had his best seasons as a member of the Browns.

It’s bittersweet to bring up our next player. Ellis Hobbs was a fine kick returner for the Patriots from 2005-08 but was beaten for the game-losing touchdown in Super Bowl XLII.

Hobbs had a crucial 80-yard kickoff return for the Patriots against the Colts at the end of the 2006 AFC championship game and picked off passes in the 2007 AFC championship game and the subsequent Super Bowl.

He tried to revive his career in Philadelphia, but injuries forced his retirement.

NUMBER TWENTY-EIGHT

We have a trio of outstanding running backs to wear #28 for the Patriots. Let’s start with the best of the bunch going back to the 1990’s. If one was to look up running back in a dictionary, there should be a picture of Curtis Martin next to it. Martin was a phenomenal professional for the Patriots and Jets over his 11 seasons in the NFL, truly one of the best players in NFL history.

He was such a workhorse as Coach Parcells pounded him into the line play after play. New England won the AFC championship in 1996 because Martin and Drew Bledsoe were in their prime. While Martin’s best seasons were definitely in New York, his three campaigns in New England featured some amazing performances. His finest hour wearing #28 for New England occurred in a divisional playoff game versus the Steelers wear he tore through their defense for a 78-yard touchdown run in the fog and totaled 166 yards on just 19 carries.

In 2004, Corey Dillon had a tremendous season as a member of the Patriots. After a long career of carrying a hapless Bengals offense, Dillon found his paradise in New England and went off for over 1,600 rushing yards. His powerful rushing style complemented Tom Brady’s sharp passing attack and vaulted the Pats to their third world championship over four seasons.

He split carries with Laurence Maroney during his final season in the NFL, 2006, and played a strong final game at Indianapolis in the ill-fated AFC championship game.

Finally, who doesn’t love James White? His performance in Super Bowl LI is the stuff of legends. He also had a great touchdown scamper in Super Bowl LII.

Against the Falcons, other than Tom Brady himself, nobody was as instrumental in leading New England’s comeback than White. Then, from the 2-yard line in overtime, with Dion Lewis unavailable due to injury, Brady pitched right. White swept inside the two…to the one…to the goal line and as a Bob Socci said, “It was a touchdown and a title for the Patriots.” As long as there is Patriots football, the name James White will be immortalized.

NUMBER TWENTY-NINE

Sharing the backfield with White during the Patriots tremendous 2016 championship run was power back LeGarrette Blount. Blount has had a very interesting career. It started back in Oregon when he punched a guy. Then, he went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he established himself as a guy who would run over people.

When New England got him in 2013, he made a big splash in a torrential downpour at Gillette in the season finale versus Buffalo. In the very next game in the Divisional Round against the Colts, Blount scored four times and killed Indianapolis.

One season later, he started with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but didn’t jive with the coaching staff and walked out. The Patriots picked him back up and killed the Colts again, this time in the AFC championship game. In the 2016 AFC Championship game against the Steelers, Blount was at it again with a power run where he carried about eight guys to the one-yard line. From there, he scored. Therefore, Blount won two Super Bowls as a member of the Patriots. In 2017, he added another fine moment in his career with a touchdown run against the Patriots as he helped Philadelphia to a 41-33 Super Bowl LII victory.

Sterling Moore didn’t play very many games for New England, but he made the key play to get them into Super Bowl XLVI. The Pats only led Baltimore 23-20 with seconds left. Joe Flacco hit Lee Evans for an apparent championship winning touchdown only to have Moore rip it away. Moore went on to play decently in the big game.

He’s bounced around the league since his Patriots’ days came to an end in 2012.

Myron Guyton wore #29 for the Patriots for his mentor, Bill Parcells, for the 1994-95 seasons. Guyton won a Super Bowl under Coach Parcells and Bill Belichick for the 1990 Giants. Guyton was a versatile defensive back and special teamer known for his hustle.

Finally, at #29, we have to go way back to a guy who played brilliantly at wide receiver for the always competitive Los Angeles Rams of the 1970’s. Before his Rams days, Harold Jackson was a Pro Bowler for the Eagles. After he plays in LA, he joined the 1978 Patriots.

He played outstandingly for four seasons with New England. Jackson was a crafty veteran wideout by that time and teamed up with Steve Grogan to give the Pats some solid offensive production as well as a playoff spot.

NUMBER THIRTY

Mosi Tatupu was one of the first ace special teamers in NFL history and one of the most popular Patriots of all-time. Tatupu was taken in the eighth round of the 1978 draft out of USC and immediately anchored the third unit on a fine Chuck Fairbanks-coached squad. He played in New England for an incredible 13 seasons.

His son, Lofa, was a great linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. Sadly, Mosi suffered a heart attack in 2010 and died.

Duron Harmon has been a clutch player for Coach Belichick’s teams over the past few seasons and even picked off a pass in Super Bowl LII after a gratuitous bounce. He’s a closer as he’s often on the field in a dime package when teams are trying to come back.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_BIlls 

What in the World Will the Broncos do With the Fifth Pick?

The Denver Broncos are one of those teams in the NFL that seems to always be in the mix. Since acquiring John Elway in 1983, Denver has just six losing seasons over the last 36 years. Their consistency has been unmatched in the AFC West landscape.

With that said, their 2017 season and first under head coach Vance Joseph was a disaster. They compiled a 5-11 record, rotated subpar quarterbacks and finished 27th in the NFL in points scored. Even their normally magnificent defense faltered as they ranked 22nd in points allowed. Therefore, the question begs to be asked: What will the Broncos do with the fifth overall selection in upcoming NFL draft?

It’s very likely a top-rated quarterback will be available at five, but will Denver even go there? If he’s available, will Denver go after pass-rushing specialist Bradley Chubb to line up across from Von Miller? Will they opt for the best offensive lineman of the draft, Quinton Nelson, to give new quarterback Case Keenum and veteran running back C.J. Anderson some help? Finally, could they trade up to get the exact quarterback they want, or will they trade down to stockpile draft picks as teams such as the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals may want the fifth selection to get their quarterback of the future?

The Broncos are in a position where they could compete for a division championship right away if this fifth pick decision goes well. If it doesn’t work out, they could be among the worst teams in the NFL once again. Even worse, a bad draft and another poor season from coach Vance Joseph could set the Broncos back years as Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders, the Los Angeles Chargers improving defense, and the Kansas City Chiefs led by Patrick Mahomes emerge. Yes, this fifth pick is a big deal!

Broncos fans are skeptical about the quarterback position. Keenum had a fine season with the Minnesota Vikings, but his career hasn’t exactly been on the level of a superstar. Aside from a miracle, his last six quarters as a Viking were brutal. Likewise, Denver’s offensive line is nowhere near as good as Minnesota’s so that won’t especially when Keenum throws up one of those lollipops he’s been known to do.

The alternative is Paxton Lynch. When Lynch has been on the field, the Broncos offense has been stagnant. However, it’s been difficult to even get Lynch on the field due to injury. Lynch’s lack of success may be a lesson for Elway to not go after his quarterback via the draft. Even if the goal is to draft a quarterback, the guy they want might be gone by the fifth pick. Here’s how: The Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and New York Jets take Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen respectively. Then, the Browns trade their fourth pick to Buffalo who grabs Baker Mayfield.

In this scenario, Denver won’t draft a quarterback. Rather, they’ll obtain the best player on their board. Is that Chubb or Nelson? While I believe it would be one of those players, don’t discount Denver going after Penn State freak, Saquon Barkley. The Broncos only carry three running backs on their active roster: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson. Anderson’s body could be due for a breakdown, Booker isn’t number one running back material and Henderson is a sixth-round draft pick competing for a spot on special teams. Barkley just may be this season’s Ezekiel Elliott or Kareem Hunt.

The Broncos themselves probably won’t know what they’ll do until draft day. They still might know what they’ll do until the fourth choice is made. Whatever happens, this will be the compelling move the Broncos make since signing Peyton Manning prior to the 2012 season. That move panned out well, thank you very much. Here we are six years later primed for another potential franchise-altering day for the Broncos.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills

The Top Ten Best Ever First Overall Selections in NFL Draft History

In a few weeks, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce something like this, “With the first pick in the draft, the Cleveland Browns select…” At that point, NFL history will be made. The player who has his name announced will either be listed among the legendary like Peyton Manning or he will forever be linked with infamous draft busts such as Courtney Brown. There’s so many articles and television shows that pontificate about the latter that I have chosen instead to celebrate those who lived up to their hype and rewarded the team with this first overall pick with an outstanding career. Let’s list the top ten greatest number one overall draft picks in NFL history.

Before we dig into our top ten, let’s name drop a few players that just missed the cut. Orlando Pace was the first ever player selected during the Dick Vermeil renaissance for the St. Louis Rams. He was a seven time Pro Bowler at left tackle protecting Kurt Warner during the “Greatest Show on Turf” seasons. Billy Sims out of Oklahoma and Texas-alum Earl Campbell were two outstanding running backs from a time period when the starting running back was almost as important as the starting quarterback. Also, speaking of quarterbacks, Drew Bledsoe carved out for himself a nice career starting in 1993 for three different teams and Matthew Stafford is in the process of trying to get the Detroit Lions to the next level. Those were the best of the rest. Let’s now look at our top ten.

#10 Ron Yary, 1968 Minnesota Vikings

Yary was the first offensive lineman ever selected with the first overall pick and to this day, he goes down as the best. He was part of a Minnesota Vikings that won four NFC championships and he blocked for the likes of Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman. He was outstanding when lined up against great players like the Los Angeles Rams’ Jack Youngblood and Dallas Cowboys’ Harvey Martin. He was enshrined in Canton in 2001.

#9 Eli Manning, 2004 San Diego Chargers

Manning obviously ended up as a member of the New York Giants. With the G-men, Manning has carved out for himself a career which will likely land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s won two Super Bowls and has been named to four Pro Bowls. He’s had some poor seasons along the way, but his good days definitely have outnumbered his poor ones. He’s also been a tremendous ambassador for the game and a Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recipient.

#8 Too Tall Jones, 1974 Dallas Cowboys

Ed Jones played for a long time on the Dallas “Doomsday” defense. Watch the 1978 Super Bowl if you want to see Jones at his nastiest and finest. He took one season off from football for boxing in 1979, but came back strong in 1980 and played ten more seasons. “Too Tall” is synonymous with the Cowboys “America’s Team” era and goes down as one of the franchises’ most popular players.

#7 Lee Roy Selmon, 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Selmon was the first ever player taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they nailed it. Over the first 20 years of the franchise, he was far and away the best player to wear the classic pirate logo. Selmon was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year during the Bucs’ magical 1979 season and six Pro Bowls overall. Sadly, Selmon passed away in 2011 at the age of 56.

#6 O.J. Simpson, 1969 Buffalo Bills

Simpson was a sensation out of USC when the Buffalo Bills took him with this first overall pick. His talents were somewhat wasted over his first few seasons as Buffalo had no offensive identity. When Lou Saban took over as head coach, everything changed. In 1973, Simpson put together a season for the ages becoming the first ever runner to eclipsed the 2,000-yard plateau.

#5 Troy Aikman, 1989 Dallas Cowboys

Aikman was a key cog of Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys reclamation project. Highly touted out of UCLA, the Cowboys chose Aikman over USC’s Rodney Peete and they hit the jackpot. Aikman led the Cowboys to three world championships during his Hall of Fame career and after football, he has become a highly respected game analyst.

#4 Terry Bradshaw, 1970 Pittsburgh Steelers

Terry Bradshaw, another FOX employee, didn’t start his career on the path to the Hall of Fame. However, he developed into a championship-caliber quarterback by his fifth season. Bradshaw was not an all-time great at the position, but he was outstanding when he needed to be and a 4-0 record on the biggest stage speaks for itself.

#3 John Elway, 1983 Baltimore Colts

Elway never played a down with the Colts forcing a deal that landed him in Denver. As a member of the Broncos, Elway became the signature player in team history leading them to five Super Bowls over 16 seasons and winning it all in his final two years. He still works for the team and was instrumental in obtaining Peyton Manning prior to the 2012.

#2 Bruce Smith, 1985 Buffalo Bills

Smith was the first Hall of Fame piece acquired by the Bills ahead of their reign atop the AFC in the early 1990’s. He ended up as the NFL’s All-Time sack leader and regularly disrupted offensive game plans. Smith was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 alongside original team owner, Ralph Wilson. It was a glorious day for the Bills.

#1 Peyton Manning, 1998 Indianapolis Colts

Manning is easily the top choice for this category. He was simply one of the best players ever to wear a uniform on a football field. Incredibly, there was much pre-draft debate about whether the Colts should select Manning or Washington State-great Ryan Leaf. General manager Bill Polian made the right choice and Manning rewarded the Colts with 13 unbelievable seasons and a Super Bowl championship. He’ll likely be in NFL record books as long as records are kept; for he is a true legend of the game.

 

The History of the New England Patriots by Jersey Number #24-#26

NUMBER TWENTY-FOUR

We are into those jersey numbers where we’ll be talking repeatedly about a lot of defensive backs and some running backs. Today, we’ll start with one of the finest Patriots defensive players in franchise history, Ty Law.

When ESPN’s “NFL PrimeTime” was in the peak of its powers, Chris Berman would famously say about opposing quarterbacks, “They fought the law and Ty Law won!” It’s likely Law will someday find himself in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Taken with their 1st round choice in 1995, Law played his first ten seasons in New England. Law was arguably the most important player on the team for the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowl championship teams. In ’01, it was Law’s pick-six and excellent man to man coverage that put the Pats in a position to win against the heavily-favored Rams.

In 2003, Law’s performance against Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC Championship game was one for the ages. He knocked around Marvin Harrison and crew all day as well as intercepted three passes. His coverage was so brutal and so tight, the league changed illegal contact rules during the subsequent offseason.

After Law left the Pats following their third Super Bowl win, he joined the Jets. As a member of the Jets, Law had his best season in 2005 with ten interceptions for 195 yards. Law retired after 2009 and was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2014.

Law was the best DB to ever wear number 24, but not the first. That distinction belongs 1962 All-Star Dick Felt. Felt picked off 12 balls for Boston in the ‘60’s.

Running back Robert Weathers wore #24 for a few seasons in the ‘80’s where he played mostly special teams. His finest hour came in the 1985 AFC Championship at the Orange Bowl versus the Dolphins. He rushed for 87 yards in the slop as the Pats took advantage of grinding out the clock on a day Dan Marino and company were stuck in the mud.

Kyle Arrington wore 24, 25 and 27 during his Patriots career. Arrington was a dependable special-teamer and sometimes starting cornerback during the Belichick era. He played in two Super Bowls, but not well as you’ll recall. Indeed, his lackluster coverage of Seattle’s little-used Chris Matthews allowed Malcolm Butler to get into the game and my guess is you remember what happened from there.

The Patriots now employ veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore as the bearer of #24. He had an up and down tenure with the Bills before signing on with New England for huge money. As the 2017 season progressed, Gilmore improved. His penalty against Carolina cost the Pats the “W” in that one. However, Gilmore made a pivotal play in the AFC Championship game against the Jags and was practically the only person in Minnesota’s Stadium during Super Bowl LII to play any kind of defense.

NUMBER TWENTY-FIVE

Props to you if you remember Ross O’Hanley wearing #25 for the Patriots from 1960-1965. The 6’0” defensive back was a true New Englander, born and raised in Everett and playing at Boston College. Sadly, O’Hanley passed away due to a malignant brain tumor in 1972 and the tender age of 33.

Rick Sanford played free safety for the Patriots in the early 1980’s and scored on a 99-yard interception return in an otherwise crummy 1982 performance against the Bears.

Larry Whigham was probably the best #25 in team history as he played seven of his nine years in New England. Again, he was a core special teamer, but so good at his craft, he made the Pro Bowl twice.

Finally, there’s good ole’ Eric Rowe. Rowe played admirably in coverage of Julio Jones in Super Bowl LI. However, he was no match for Alshon Jeffery in Super Bowl LII. Rowe’s height would seem to give him an advantage on the outside but he’s failed to be consistent stopper as an Eagle and with the Pats.

NUMBER TWENTY-SIX

At #26, Eugene Wilson career started like a lion and ended like a lamb. He was the starting free safety for the most part during the Patriots 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl championship teams but was relegated to backup during the 2007 almost perfect season.

The play I remember the most from his career was Mushin Muhammed’s touchdown against him in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Wilson was burned badly on a play that gave the Panthers a 22-21 in the fourth quarter. Adding injury to insult, Wilson was lost for the game on the play.

Logan Ryan was another two-time Super Bowl champion who wore #26. Ryan was a solid, under-the-radar corner on the 2015 and 2016 teams. He played great football in postseason wins against Houston and Pittsburgh on the road to the Super Bowl LI championship. He signed with Tennessee following the season and was missed in 2017.

Since we started this article with one of the best defensive players in team history, we’ll end it that way. Raymond Clayborn was a starting cornerback for the Patriots for an unreal 12 seasons. It’s safe to say that will never happen again. Clayborn intercepted 36 career passes and made it to three Pro Bowls.

He was primarily a kick returner in 1977 but was fantastic at that as well. He brought three to the house. In 1978, he was lined up across from Hall of Famer Mike Haynes forming the best cornerback duo in Pats’ history. After Haynes left for the Raiders midway through the 1983 season, Clayborn assumed the CB1 duties. He was at his best during the 1985 season leading New England to Super Bowl XX.

The History of the New England Patriots by Jersey Number #22-#23

NUMBER TWENTY-TWO

There’s a lot of cool names that donned the #22 for the Patriots through the years. Asante Samuel was possibly the best of the bunch during his time with New England. His four seasons were filled with drama at his cornerback position. In 2004, he was part of the Super Bowl winning starting lineup on defense due to an injury in midseason to perennial All-Pro Ty Law.

Two seasons later, he would make his greatest play against the Colts in the AFC championship game. Samuel finished the 2006 with 10 regular season interception but it was his pick six off Peyton Manning to give the Pats a 21-3 lead that sticks in my memory. Unfortunately, Samuel struggled the rest of the evening as Indy blew past New England to make it to the Super Bowl.

In 2007, Samuel had another strong season for the perfect 2007 Patriots. Indeed, he could’ve sealed immortality as he got both hands on a sideline pass by Eli Manning late in Super Bowl XLII. Sadly, the ball slipped through his grips and so did the perfect season. Samuel moved on to Philadelphia after the season.

Running back Stevan Ridley is another product of the Belichick era to wear #22. Ridley’s ascension to starter for the Pats was as quick as his decline. Ridley had an excellent 2012 season that ended when he got destroyed on a hit by the Ravens in the AFC championship game. In 2013, Ridley saw his playing time decrease as he shared the role with LeGarrette Blount. Amazingly, Ridley rushed for 773 yards to Blount’s 772. In 2014, Ridley was lost early in the season to a torn ACL and never played a snap for New England again.

Ron Burton was the first #22 in Patriots history going way back to 1960-1965. He was one of these kinds of players that possessed a high motor every time he was on the field. Boston used him as a halfback, pass catcher, and kick returner and he did a fine job in all three phases.

Dave Meggett was a guy from the 1990’s who wore #22 for the Patriots that played a similar game to Burton. While Meggett’s best days were spent wearing #30 for the Giants including a key role in the Super Bowl XXV championship, Meggett latched on with his beloved Coach Parcells with the Pats starting in 1995. He made the Pro-Bowl for the Patriots on their 1996 AFC championship team.

Meggett’s life after football has seen one issue after another. He’s currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for several crimes and misdemeanors.

Terry Allen and Chuck Foreman were two other brilliant running backs who each spent one season in New England. Foreman was rarely used in 1980 after an incredible stint with Minnesota. Allen also had some solid seasons as a member of the Vikings. He ran well for the 1999 Patriots finishing the season with nearly 900 yards rushing.

NUMBER TWENTY-THREE

There’s a lot of average players in this history of the Patriots that wore #23. Let’s start way back in the Boston days with by far the best of the bunch, DB Ron Hall. He possessed superb ball skills evidenced by his 1964 AFL All-Star season when he grabbed 11 interceptions in just 14 games.

Patrick Chung has to be the second-best Patriot ever to wear #23. He’s another player that Belichick is enthralled with and not just for his playing ability. He’s a leader on and off the field. When he started with New England, he wore #25. He left for Philadelphia for the 2013 season only to come back and be a pivotal piece in the 2014 World Championship defense. Chung struggled in the Super Bowl LII loss to Philly as he attempted to play through head injuries.

Kudos to you if you remember who scored the three touchdowns in the Patriots 2001 AFC championship game victory over Pittsburgh. You may have guessed Troy Brown and David Patten, but if you got Antwan Harris, you know your Patriots history! The Steelers had a field goal blocked, recovered by Brown who lateraled to Harris who took it the rest of the way. Other than that singular play, Harris had an uneventful four seasons as a prime special-teamer. He earned two Super Bowl rings for his efforts.

Three other core special teamers spent several seasons wearing #23. Horace Ivory was a backup running back from 1977-1981. Like the Patriots themselves, he had an outstanding 1978 campaign as he rushed for 11 touchdowns. However, he couldn’t crack the starting lineup and went into oblivion following the 1980 season.

Rod McSwain was a backup defensive back through most of the 1980s and even played in the Super Bowl on his 24th birthday. He was a dependable tackler, but unspectacular in pass coverage. Thus, he too never got an opportunity to start on defense.

Finally, Terry Ray was a defensive back for New England in the early ’90’s. He played his last ever game in the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. His best season was in 1995 as he recorded over 70 tackles from his strong safety position.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills

A Curious Thing Regarding the Comeback of Tiger Woods

The last two weeks we’ve seen Tiger Woods contend in a PGA tour event, something we haven’t seen with any regularity since 2013.  The golf world is legitimately excited to see the one man that makes golf interesting to watch a door step away from winning again.

But one thing has struck me as curious over these two weeks, and that is the extraordinary swing speed that Tiger now possesses.  His swing speed has been measured as high as 129 mph, which, last week, was the third highest swing speed in the tournament, and even greater than his swing speed in 2013, a campaign that saw Tiger win five times.

What’s curious about that is Tiger is now 42 years old and has had multiple back surgeries in the intervening five years.  How is it possible he could have such a high swing speed, especially at an age when the body’s fast-twitch muscles begin to atrophy?

The only other athlete I’m aware of who saw an increase in swing speed at a relatively advanced age was Barry Bonds, whose bat speed was higher in his late 30’s than in his early 30’s.  And we know how that turned out.

Tiger shares another commonality with Bonds.  Together with Lance Armstrong, no athlete dominated their sport more, before or since, when they were all at their peak in the early 2000s.  And, of course, we now know that two members of that triumvirate used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Would it be so far-fetched to speculate that Tiger Woods is guilty of the same sin?  Tiger has a similar personality to the other two in that they’re all highly narcissistic, with a win-at-all-costs attitude.

And consider this: As we know, Tiger cheated on his wife with a rather alarming enthusiasm.  Plus, he’s the worst tipper on tour, despite his many millions.  What does that have to do with anything, you ask? Clearly, “doing the right thing” is not at the forefront of his decision making.

The other thing to note is the constant slew of injuries that have befallen him in recent years.  Do you know of any other golfer that has had the variety of injuries as had?  That can often be a sign of steroid use.

And, finally, one more thing.  You might argue that the PGA tour has a testing policy, and, in fact, a handful of tour players have been suspended because they’ve tested positive.  But, remember, Tiger Woods is the face of that franchise.  His success has brought many additional millions of dollars to the tour, and, I’m sure, to a number of tour officials.  If Tiger were to test positive, do you honestly think any tour official would make such news public?  That would be financial suicide.

In sum, I really don’t know whether Tiger uses PEDs or not.  But, the elements are there, and the increase in swing speed should give one pause.

Thank you, Greg Frank for your inspiration in the creation of this blog.

Jim Kelly’s Three Greatest Comebacks

Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly announced last month that his jaw cancer has come back. This will be the third time Kelly will have to deal with this terrible ailment. Kelly vows to continue his brave battle and if he handles it the way he dealt with adversity on the field, cancer’s in for a tough fight.

Kelly deserves any accolades he receives. He was the heart of a team that personified resiliency as the Bills of the early 1990’s won an incredible four AFC championships. Let’s look back at Kelly’s three best comebacks as Buffalo’s quarterback.

September 1989 at the Miami Dolphins

The Bills went into the ’89 season as huge favorites to repeat as AFC East champion. Conversely, the Dolphins were coming off a comparatively miserable 1988 campaign. However, on opening day, it was Don Shula’s team that jumped in front. Led by Dan Marino, the Dolphins took a 24-13 lead late into the fourth quarter.

Kelly got hot midway through the period mostly connecting with second-year running back Thurman Thomas. His 26-yarder to Flip Johnson moved the Bills within a score. Moments later, Nate Odomes picked off Marino so Buffalo had it at around midfield with time running down. Kelly completed five of six passes before an offside penalty against the Dolphins left the ball at the 2-yard line with two second left.

Out of the shotgun, Kelly took the snap, moved back, then bolted for the end zone. He leaped for the goal line just as Louis Oliver and David Frye blasted him from opposite sides. The Bills came out on top 27-24 on Kelly’s first career rushing touchdown. The victory proved to be pivotal as Buffalo won the AFC East at season’s end by one game.

December 1991 at the Los Angeles Raiders

By late in the 1991 season, the Bills offense was operating like a well-oiled machine. Jim Kelly was having a second consecutive phenomenal season. Late in the season, though, they went into Los Angeles to play a Raiders team that was bent on revenge for their embarrassing 51-3 loss in Buffalo in the previous season’s AFC championship game. The Raiders possibly played their best game of the season as they grabbed a 27-14 lead headed to the fourth quarter.

Kelly mounted a fantastic comeback using tight end Keith McKeller on the short routes and Andre Reed for the big-gainers as Buffalo started moving the ball effortlessly. While the Bills were playing well, the Raiders began to self-destruct. Scott Norwood’s kicking now became the issue. After Kenneth Davis plunged in for a score, Norwood missed the extra point. Then he missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer. It was Kelly, though, that saved the day, when he threw a dart to a well-covered James Lofton for the tying score.

In overtime, Norwood got another shot and snuck it in. The amazing 1991 Bills were well on their way to the second consecutive second Super Bowl.

September 1996 at the New York Giants

The Bills started the 1996 season in sleep mode and Kelly took a beating over the first three quarters. This game late in Kelly’s career serves a microcosm of his career. He was sacked seven times, but he never quit. Trailing 20-10 late in the third, Kelly hit Reed to get the Bills back in it. The heavily-favored Bills more than doubled the Giants in yards in the second half and eventual won in overtime.

It’s well-documented that Kelly has lost big games in his career, but nobody can claim that was due to a lack of effort. He embodies the spirit of a battle-hardened city. His passion and drive for life will shine through in the coming months and years as he endures the trials that come with cancer. The city, the franchise, the fans have his back because he always had ours. He is #Kellystrong and we love him.

 

Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills