Monday, December 4, 2017

Hooray for Christmas! (1971)

It's kind of hard for me to understand right off the bat what this post has to do with Christmas, but maybe I'll figure it out in the comments.


  1. I like the phrase "pro grid standings"

  2. With three regular-season Pro Grid weekends to go, the playoff contenders in the AFC are the Dolphins, Colts, Browns, Steelers, Bengals, Raiders and Chiefs and in the NFC are the Cowboys, Redskins, Vikings, Lions, Bears, 49ers, Rams, Falcons and Saints.

  3. AFC Eastwise, everybody’s over the moon for Miami (9-1-1). SPORT and The Sporting News (as pictured!) put Bob Griese on their current covers, and that was even before the Dolphins whipped the Bears, 34-3, on ABC’s NFL Monday Night Football television program in Week 11. Miami has now won eight straight games.

    In Baltimore, everybody loves "Easy Rider" Don McCafferty, and it appears the Colts (8-3) might be coasting right back into the playoffs. The defending champs close the regular season with three home games at Memorial Stadium--against Buffalo, Miami and New England. So the division championship remains within reach; plus, Baltimore is the leading candidate for the AFC's "wild-card" postseason berth. Johnny Unitas is back to starting at quarterback from the defending champs.

  4. The AFC Central was Pittsburgh's to own, but the young Steelers (5-6) have been too inconsistent to seize the opportunity.

    Cleveland (6-5) is still leading the division despite losing four straight over the end of October and start of November; Coach Nick Skorich has moved to some younger faces in the old lineup, and now the Browns have won two straight. Cincinnati (4-7) lost seven straight, but even the Bengals are now in the mix with quarterback Virgil Carter back from injury and sending rookie Ken Anderson back to the bench.

    The Steelers (5-6) are getting there in Year 3 of Chuck Noll. After one win in 1969 and five in 1970, Joe Greene has now been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Noll appears to have settled on Terry Bradshaw as his quarterback. (Terry Hanratty has said during the season that he expects to be traded because the Steelers will want a veteran quarterback to back up Bradshaw.) But there have been some maddening moments--Dave Smith's Week 5 celebration fumble, most infamous among them--and now Pittsburgh has a tough row to hoe to make the playoffs.

    Here are the contenders' remaining games:

    -- Cleveland is at home against Cincinnati, at New Orleans and at Washington.
    -- Pittsburgh is at Houston, at Cincinnati and at home against Los Angeles.
    -- Cincinnati is at Cleveland, at home against Pittsburgh and at the Jets.

  5. The AFC West likely comes down to Dec. 12: Raiders at Chiefs. In Week 13, the Raiders (7-2-2) are at Atlanta and Chiefs (7-3-1) are at San Francisco. Then comes the rematch of the division powers in Kansas City; the teams tied back in Week 7. Oakland then closes at home against the Broncos, and Kansas City stays home to finish against the Bills.

    There was a wire item the other day that the Raiders cut their 1968 first-round draft choice, Eldridge Dickey (a former Tennessee State quarterback Oakland picked one round ahead of Alabama’s Ken Stabler but then shifted to wide receiver), because of “disciplinary reasons.” Dickey’s Wikipedia page notes only that he was "cut from the team 7 games into the season after dropping a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs that could have been a touchdown.

    There are some crazy personnel problems for the Raiders at wide receiver this season. Warren Wells, an NFL70 Pro Bowler, is not with the team either. Again, Wikipedia:

    Before the 1971 season started, Wells' career was cut short following legal difficulties relating to his divorce and subsequent criminal charges. Following the Pro Bowl game in Los Angeles on January 24, 1971, Wells was met by police in the locker room and arrested on a warrant for a probation violation originating from his conviction in 1969 for aggravated assault (Eugene Register Guard, Jan 25, 1971 "Warren Wells Nabbed After Tilt"). Further, according to an article in the Dallas Morning Star, dated July 7, 2016, (Flashback: DFW produces a ton of football talent, but another part of Texas is 'the pro football capital of the world') "in 1969, he was charged with rape, a charge later reduced to aggravated assault. His probation was revoked in 1970 because he was drinking in a bar, a violation further complicated when a woman stabbed him in the chest. He missed the 1971 season while serving 10 months in a California prison.

    I love Wikipedia.

    1. Oh, by the way, Baltimore clobbered the Raiders, 37-14, in Week 11, and the game was in Oakland.

  6. The NFC East has boiled down to the Cowboys (8-3) and Redskins (7-3-1), and here has started what is going to be a hot-and-heavy rivalry of 20 years at least.

    Washington was the hottest thing in NFL71 through the season's first half. The Redskins opened 5-0 (including a 20-16 win at Dallas), but the offense really bogged down once Charley Taylor got hurt back in Week 6 against the Chiefs. In Week 10, the Cowboys came to Washington and pillaged, 13-0. That capped a 0-2-1 run for the Redskins, and now Washington needs a Dallas hiccup to claim the division. The NFC wild card is a dicey proposition, as well--Detroit also is 7-3-1.

    Sonny Jurgensen is back and starting at quarterback for the Redskins, whose final three games are against the Giants in Washington, at Los Angeles (big George Allen clash) and at home against the Browns.

    Since Duane Thomas has re-established himself as Dallas's top runner and Tom Landry has settled on Roger Staubach as his quarterback, the Cowboys have gotten something going. Dallas is on a four-game win streak with the Jets coming to town in Week 12. There's a trip to New York to play the Giants and a home date with the Cardinals to close out the regular season.

  7. At 9-2, the Vikings look awfully darn good in the NFC Central. Tex Maule, however, is going ga-ga for Greg Landry (and, to a lesser extent, his 7-3-1 Lions) in the new Sports Illustrated; Landry’s combination of running and passing skills makes Detroit’s the new offense of the NFL future, Maule opined.

    But back to the Vikings … they’re really good. They established the black-and-blue division tone (purple) by opening the season with a 16-13 win at Detroit, and then, shockingly, they came home and lost, 20-17, to the Bears. In the nine games since, no Minnesota opponent has scored more than 13 points in a game, and the Vikings have won eight—that loss also being at Metropolitan Stadium, 13-9 to the 49ers (note that one).

    Anyway, in Week 13, the Vikings take a trip out to sunny San Diego to toy with the 4-7 Chargers, before coming back to close out business in the NFC Central with home against the Lions and at Chicago. My wife, daughter and I typically take a little weekend away together in the early days of December, and I think that’s always a nice way to transition from Thanksgiviing into Christmas. I imagine Bud Grant and the Vikings are looking forward to their trip to warmer environs.

    Detroit’s remaining schedule is Philadelphia at home and then at Minnesota and at San Francisco. That’s a doozy of a last two weeks for a team currently tied with Washington for the NFC’s wild-card spot.

    Of course, it’s a better score than Chicago’s hail-Mary chance; the 6-5 Bears finish at Denver, at Green Bay and at home against Minnesota. I spent a lot of the summer reading the old Chicago Tribunes about the Bears, and I’m shocked they have had as good of a season as they have. The only first-round draft choices from the last decade still on the Bears’ roster in NFL71 are Dick Butkus (who is playing but hobbled), Gale Sayers (who is hobbled and not playing) and rookie running back Joe Moore (who was injured for much of the season). Chicago got some magical performances from a retread reserve quarterback, Kent Nix, early in the year, but the bloom’s off the rose now. Since a crazy 16-15 win over Washington (!), as Butkus (!!) snagged a game-winning pass on a botched extra-point try to complete a comeback from 15-3 down in the second half (!!!), the Bears have lost 28-3 to the Lions and 34-3 to the Dolphins.

    One final thing on this division … had Zeke Bratkowski ended up playing in seven games or more this season, the Vikings were going to get the Packers’ second-round draft choice in 1972. Bratkowski had last played with Minnesota and had been working as a Green Bay assistant coach when he came out of retirement to give the Packers a veteran quarterback with Bart Starr injured. I don’t think Zeke has played much, however; Dan Devine gave most of the snaps this season to Scott Hunter (my dad’s guy). Now Bart is back, and the 3-7-1 Packers are seeing if Starr has anything left in the tank. Tex Maule had an item that the Packers have installed Starr as a team captain here at the end of the season. As I understood the story, this had never been the case, which I was shocked to learn, and Maule wrote that Starr said he was quite touched to be so called.

  8. George Allen left the Rams, but the curiousness stayed back in Los Angeles. The Rams swept the regular-season series with San Francisco, but they opened the season with a loss at New Orleans and a tie at home with Atlanta. So, with three to go, it’s the 7-4 49ers atop the NFC West, with 6-4-1 Los Angeles on the outside of the playoff bubble. Here are the last dates for the leaders:

    — at home against the Chiefs, Falcons and Lions for San Fran

    — at home against the Saints and Redskins and at Pittsburgh for L.A.

    Merlin Olsen, who now plays with his brother on the Ram defensive line, early this season complimented the Rams’ new coach, Tommy Prothro, on his willingness to lose preseason games, in order to trial new players. Prothro in this regular season has become noted, too, for his willingness to punt on third down. Per Wikipedia, he came from UCLA, where he was renown for carrying a briefcase onto the sidelines for games. Eventually, also per Wikipedia, he’s going to know success as Omar Shariff’s bridge partner.

    (No offense to Wikipedia, which is awesome, but it should be noted that Prothro was a multiple-times coach of the year in Matthew’s Front Page Sports 1970s and ‘80s NFL recreation, which also was awesome.)

  9. Pittsburgh's loss, combined with Cleveland's Leroy Kelly-powered win in Cincinnati, cinched the AFC Central title for the Browns. That's the only division championship that has been determined through Week 12 of NFL71.

    1. I love Frank Pitts, and, in 2008, I wrote him this letter:

      Dear Mr. Pitts,

      I’m a freelance writer and a lifelong football fan. At some point, I plan to put together a book or some articles (or something) about the NFL players of my 1970s youth. I’m not sure what I will ultimately write (and I certainly don’t have a publisher interested at this point), but I would appreciate getting your thoughts on a variety of topics:

      -- Did you have the opportunity to play outside of the South for larger schools than Southern University? If so, why did you choose Southern? Was it the right choice? What did you study?

      -- In your first three years with Kansas City, did you ever feel you were close to losing your roster spot?

      -- Coach Stram once said in an article that, early in your career, you were having problems relaxing enough to catch the ball consistently; do you feel this was accurate? If so, what changed for you?

      -- How did the working out with George Atkinson, Willie Williams and Ken Reaves during the 1968 offseason come about? Did you all live near each other? If so, where? What park was it where you practiced together? Were you four the only ones involved? Did you scrimmage or just work out and train? Was it a fun experience?

      -- How did your playing career come to a close?

      -- What were your favorite NFL road destinations? Do you remember any particular experiences from road trips beyond the football games themselves (for example, a visit to a particular site or restaurant)?

      -- Beyond getting to play football for a good wage, what were your favorite parts about playing pro football?

      -- Who were some of your favorite people in the game, and why?

      -- How did football prepare you for life after playing sports? What did football keep you from learning until later in life?

      -- Do you have a mission statement? If so, what is it?

      -- One of your Topps cards indicated you owned a 1936 model car … whatever happened to the car?

      If you care to respond, you could e-mail me at {redacted} or phone me at {redacted}. I appreciate your consideration. In any event, thanks for your football career, and good luck.

      Peace, ...

    2. I never heard back from Frank Pitts. I don't blame him. I used some address I found for him in an autograph-seekers guide, so it might not have been accurate. And he might've thought I was trying to scam him or something. So, really, I don't blame him, and I still love Frank Pitts.

  10. The (fantastic) pictures for that Tex Maule feature on Greg Landry in Sports Illustrated that I mentioned several comments ago were actually from the Lions’ shocking loss to the Eagles, so I imagine this was another case where events got in the way of storytelling and the logistics planning and budgeting that it requires.

    It’s really cool that Tom Dempsey, cut in the preseason by the Saints, came back with the Eagles to set their team long-field-goal record, too.

  11. Johnny Unitas's return in Baltimore and Jim Plunkett's bizarre, birthday upset of Miami set up a real Week 13 humdinger in the AFC East: 9-2-1 Dolphins at 9-3 NFL70-champion Colts.

  12. It's one of three divisions that will be pairing their top two teams in Week 13. The 8-3-1 Chiefs host the 7-3-2 Raiders in the AFC West, and the 9-3 Vikings host the 7-4-1 Lions in the NFC Central.

  13. In the NFC West, we have a key second-place/third-place clash coming up, as the 7-5 49ers host the 6-5-1 Falcons. This is the only division with as many as three teams still vying for postseason berths. The 7-4-1 Rams host the 8-3-1 Redskins in Week 13.

    Two additional notes from Week 12 in this division:

    -- Flag-football fans might want to check out the clips of the Angry Women’s Liberation Football League game preceding the Rams’ win over the Saints at the Los Angeles Coliseum linked here.

    -- There was also a model-rocket launch preceding the Falcons’ win over the Raiders in Atlanta!

  14. That Washington trip to Los Angeles is huge in terms of both the NFC wild-card chase and the Eastern Division championship. The 9-3 Cowboys--now the hottest team in football, with a five-game win streak--head to New York to play the Giants.

  15. Here's how Sports Illustrated rounded up the Week 13, Dec. 12 and 13 action in its Dec. 20, Lee Trevino/Sportsman of the Year issue:

    FOOTBALL—AFC: With one week to go, BALTIMORE climbed atop the East Division, half a game ahead of Miami, with a 14—3 win over the Dolphins (pane 14). KANSAS CITY whipped San Francisco 26-17 in the Monday night TV game and then knocked off second-place Oakland 16-14 on Jan Stenerud's 10-yard field goal with 1:34 remaining to win the Western Division title. Central champion CLEVELAND edged New Orleans 21-17 when Tackle Walter Johnson recovered Archie Manning's fourth-period fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. PITTSBURGH clinched second place by beating Cincinnati 21-13 as Terry Bradshaw came off the bench in the final quarter and threw two touchdown passes. Rookie John Riggins, who gained 91 yards overall, plunged one yard for a TD in the third period to lift the NEW YORK Jets past New England 13-6, while SAN DIEGO walloped Denver 45-17 as John Hadl tossed four touchdown passes. HOUSTON defeated Buffalo 20-14, and the Bills, who have won only one game, were assured of the first pick in the NFL draft.

    NFC: MINNESOTA won the Central Division title, beating Detroit 29-10 on a safety, two field goals, a three-yard run, a 29-yard return of an intercepted pass for a TD and a recovered blocked field goal attempt in the end zone for another score. It was the most points the Vikings scored all season. DALLAS, half a game ahead in the East, bashed the New York Giants 42-14 as Roger Staubach threw three touchdown passes, including an 85-yarder to Bob Hayes. It was the Cowboys' sixth straight win—all with Staubach at quarterback. Tom Dempsey kicked four field goals—the longest, 54 yards—in leading PHILADELPHIA to a 19-7 victory over St. Louis. Rookie John Brockington gained 63 yards to become the first player to top 1,000 yards this season as GREEN BAY beat Chicago 31-10. SAN FRANCISCO stayed alive in the West with a 24-3 win over Atlanta.

    1. Tex Maule's SI article on the Dolphins' crushing loss at Baltimore might is a brilliant Rodin sculpture of Johnny Unitas:

      (H)e was superb and preeminently clearheaded.

      He engineered two long, thoughtful drives for touchdowns in the first half and was the very model of an aging, classic drop-back quarterback. He took advantage of all the cracks in the Dolphin zone defense and at the half he had the Colts in front 14-0. The drives lasted nine minutes and 53 seconds and nine minutes and 36 seconds respectively and comprised a total of 34 errorless plays. It is very likely that no quarterback in the long history of professional football has ever been as good for as long.

      Before the game, sitting in the training room under the stands, Unitas was massaging his right shoulder with a vibrator. The shoulder was covered with a white cream and he moved the vibrator back and forth over it methodically. He looked calm and relaxed, as he always does.

      "I feel good," he said. "I can play. It's another game. We've been in big games before. We'll be in big games again. You do what you can. You can't do any more than that."

      Unitas is an unheroic figure stripped, shoulders bowed in, skin almost deadly white, no muscles showing anywhere, not even on the right arm that has accounted for more yards and touchdowns than that of any other quarterback.

      "What do you think you can do against them today?" someone asked, and Unitas looked up and smiled.

      "I don't know," he said. "I'll take what they give me. They got to give you something. All you got to do is find out what it is."

    2. Week 13 of NFL71 is just steeped in Kentucky ... The Browns clinch their division as rookie/beanied-coach Nick Skorich extends a winning streak after benching a bunch of former stars of Blanton Collier (native of Millersburg, former Paris High player and coach, Georgetown College player and UK coach) ... Johnny Unitas of U of L picks apart the gestating defense of Bill Arnsparger of Paris, Paris High and UK in a key AFC East clash ... Future UK coach Bill Curry jabs at Arnsparger ... Cadiz's Coy Bacon and the Rams are about to go down to Washington ...

  16. This Monday-night Week 13 game was tied at 10 until late in the first half when the Redskins blew open a lead largely because of special teams, blocking a Ram field-goal try and then recovering a fumble on a kickoff return. The Washington special teams is going to become a bit famous over the first half of the 1970s, and I wonder if this nationally televised game with huge playoff implications is where that is all going to really start.

    Los Angeles, it should be noted, has missed some chances.

  17. The Rams, of course, are going to be really strong throughout the 1970s, led by a new generation of stars (Robertson, forthcoming Lawrence McCutcheon, etc.) But this game is starting to have a feel of the window sliding shut for the close-but-no-cigar 1960s generation of Rams (Roman Gabriel, Merlin Olsen, David Jones, etc.)

  18. Oh, interesting, my YouTube hero Newton Minnow has given us 45 minutes of mystery video at the end of this MNF telecast.

  19. So, going into the final week of the regular season, the postseason contenders remained ...

    -- AFC East: Colts 10-3 and Dolphins 9-3-1
    -- AFC Central: Browns 8-5
    -- AFC West: Chiefs 9-3-1
    -- NFC East: Cowboys 10-3 and Redskins 8-3-1
    -- NFC Central: Vikings 10-3
    -- NFC West: Rams 7-4-1 and 49ers 8-5

  20. And so that did it. Los Angeles was eliminated, and the playoffs were set:

    -- Dallas at Minnesota at noon Central on Christmas
    -- Miami at Kansas City at 3 p.m.
    -- Baltimore at Cleveland at noon Sunday, Dec. 26
    -- Washington at San Francisco at 3 p.m.