Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday – Roy Green

Not all of the most versatile players in the history of professional football are well-known.

For every Chuck Bednarik and Paul Hornung, there is Roy Green. Green, who played in relative anonymity for the moribund St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals for 12 seasons (1979-90) and Philadelphia Eagles (1991-92), was equally adept at performing on offense, defense and special teams early in his career.

Green, a two-time Pro Bowler as a wide receiver for the Cardinals, began his National Football League career as a defensive back and kickoff returner. As a rookie in 1979, Green had a 106-yard kickoff return touchdown en route to a 24.5-yard average and 1,005 yards for the entire campaign. In 1980, he averaged 23.3 yards per kickoff return and 10.5 yards per punt return, and picked off his first professional pass.

Then, in 1981, Green truly became an all-purpose threat. Sometimes playing more than 100 snaps in a game, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Green caught 33 passes for 708 yards and four touchdowns, ran three times for 60 yards and a score, returned eight kicks for 135 yards and intercepted three passes for 44 yards.

At the time, Green was noted as the most versatile player in the NFL. He caught a pass and intercepted one in a game three times in 1981, and spent time as a wide receiver, defensive back, return man and as a member of the punt team.

Green eventually became a full-time wide receiver, and ended his NFL career with 559 catches for 8,965 yards and 66 touchdowns. He had back-to-back seasons in 1983 and 1984 (78-1,227-14 and 78-1,555-12) that can be put up against any of the top receivers of that decade.

In addition to his receiving prowess, Green finished his career with 23 rushes for 140 yards and a touchdown, 27 punt returns for 230 yards and a score, 89 kickoff returns for 2,002 yards and a TD, four interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

It isn’t impossible to imagine an A11 Professional Football League player participating in as many plays in a game as Roy Green did in 1981. Any A11FL team would be lucky to have an athlete do as many things well as Green did that season, as well.

Dusty Sloan is the A11 Professional Football League’s Senior Editor/Vice President of Editorial Content.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The XFL’s epitaph gets a re-write at Super Bowl XLVIII

The epitaph of the XFL was written by many quickly after its only spring season in 2001.

Little did anyone know that nearly 13 full years later, that epitaph would need a re-write.

Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon is the last remaining active National Football League player who played in the XFL. He also most likely will be the Broncos’ starting middle linebacker Sunday night – just as he has been every game since early December.

Lenon, who finished 10th on the Memphis Maniax’ defense in total tackles in the spring of 2001, has fashioned quite a career for himself, mostly as a starter, in his 12 NFL seasons since. He’s played for the Green Bay Packers (2002-05), Detroit Lions (2006-08), St. Louis Rams (2009), Arizona Cardinals (2010-12) and the Broncos, starting roughly two-thirds of his 189 regular-season games played.

Interestingly, Lenon won’t be the only former member of the only Maniax squad on the MetLife Stadium field come Sunday night. The Seattle Seahawks’ wide receivers coach, Kippy Brown, was Lenon’s Head Coach in Memphis. Brown was an assistant coach in the NFL for nine seasons before the XFL, and has been for 11 seasons since.

Lenon and Brown aren’t the only spring professional football ties in Super Bowl XLVIII.

-          Broncos Head Coach John Fox began his professional football coaching career as an assistant with the United States Football League’s Los Angeles Express in 1985.

-          Seahawks quarterbacks coach Carl Smith was an assistant for three seasons (1983-85) with the USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars.

-          Broncos assistant secondary coach Sam Garnes was the defensive backs coach for the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe in 2006.

-          Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson started all 10 regular-season games for the Centurions in 2007, and was an all-NFL Europa selection.

      Dusty Sloan is the A11 Professional Football League’s Senior Editor/Vice President of Editorial Content.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dusty vs. Dusty – A11FL Head Coaching Options

Just as there is no set blueprint for starting a successful professional football league, there is no set blueprint for said successful professional football league to choose the right Head Coaches for its teams.

It’s a great debate for A11 Professional Football League fans to have amongst each other – should teams go for the “name” candidates, the unknown innovators, the longtime assistants who haven’t gotten their chance to lead a team or a combination of Head Coaches from all those categories and more.

It’s also a great debate for someone to have amongst one’s self…

Dusty Sloan: The A11FL is going to debut in the spring of 2015, and with that, the league will have to hire eight Head Coaches to lead its charter franchises. There are a number of ways the league could go in terms of emphasis.

DJ Sloan: You know what happened when the United Football League tried to go with “names.” Yes, the league had quality football teachers like Jim Fassel and Marty Schottenheimer, but the UFL’s downfall was overpaying for those names – which led to that league’s rapid end.

DS: Having “names” can boost a league’s profile nationwide. Look what George Allen’s joining the Chicago Blitz did for the United States Football League, pre-launch. Not only did Allen’s presence add gravitas to the first-ever spring professional football league, it gave the USFL a “marked team” (and, thus, a storyline besides the signing of Herschel Walker) before the first ball was kicked off.

DJS: True, and there can be room for a few “names” in the A11FL, as long as the price is right. But one of the misnomers about “names” in new pro football leagues is that they draw more fans in the stands. In the UFL’s best season of 2010, the attendance leader was the Omaha Nighthawks, who routinely drew sellout crowds of 23,000-plus fans. The Nighthawks’ Head Coach was former Boston College Head Coach Jeff Jagodzinski – the rest of the league’s Head Coaches were former National Football League bosses Dennis Green, Jim Fassel and Chris Palmer, and new Washington Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden.

It is at this point in my 1-on-1 conversation with myself that I add a note from my great friend, former co-worker in the UFL and fellow spring pro football connoisseur, Nation Hahn:

"It is important to remember that while the coaches were important for the UFL to gain respect in the media, we had little evidence to show that they sold tickets. The biggest UFL success story in ticket sales was in Omaha, which had Coach Jagz, the least-known coach of all. Meanwhile, we paid him far less than big names in other markers that were struggling financially.

“A new league would do well to put more money in to marketing and less in to staffing salaries. College coaches would likely bring more diversity and fun to the A11 ranks, too."

DJS: Can’t argue with any of that! The best advice comes from those who have lived it through trial, and, unfortunately, error.

In addition, the history of spring professional football shows that while higher-profile Head Coaches draw headlines, they don’t necessarily draw championships to the cities in which they coach.

DS: Here comes another history lesson…

DJS: In the USFL, the three championships were won by Jim Mora (spent previous five seasons as an assistant in the NFL, and the 17 years before that in college football) twice and Jim Stanley (spent prior 22 seasons in college, in the Canadian Football League as an NFL defensive line coach). In the first incarnation of the World League of American Football (1991-92), the two league titles were won by Larry Kennan (was a high school, college and NFL coach for 24 years) and Kay Stephenson, who had been a professional quarterback and spent three seasons as the Buffalo Bills’ Head Coach. And the only XFL title was won by Al Luginbill, who had been the head coach of the Amsterdam Admirals of WLAF/NFL Europe for six seasons, and a collegiate coach for 26 seasons before that.

In each case, a lesser-known Head Coach won a title, instead of a “name” – Mora and Stanley over names like Allen, Jack Pardee and a young Steve Spurrier; Kennan and Stephenson over the likes of Run “N” Shoot mastermind “Mouse” Davis and former University of Florida Head Coach Galen Hall and Luginbill over the likes of Ron Meyer and Hall again.

DS: The point, of course, being that in order to win in a spring pro football league, the “name” Head Coaches aren’t necessarily the way to go, even if they might bring some added exposure outside of the stadium. And, in almost all of those cases, the championship-winning coaches were used to having little time (and no preseason games) to get ready for their collegiate seasons, so that translated well to spring pro football.

DJS: Indeed. The USFL didn’t have preseason games in 1983, the WLAF didn’t have them in 1991 and the XFL didn’t in 2001. In each case, coaches had training camp practices, whittled their rosters down and away they went. That’s why someone like Barcelona Dragons Head Coach Jack Bicknell got his team to back-to-back postseason appearances in 1991 and 1992. Bicknell jumped from being the Head Coach at Boston College to the World League, and he did so with the same preseason mindset – little time to get a team ready for an opener, so get coaches and players as familiar with the system as possible, and let’s go.

DS: But for a league like the A11FL, in which the league’s offensive rules allow for so much innovation, wouldn’t it be better for the league and its teams to go away from past spring pro football experiences and think “outside the box” for Head Coaches?

DJS: Perhaps. Innovative offensive minds who already have A11FL concepts in place, or offensive concepts which are easily adaptable to the A11FL’s rules, would make more sense here than in any other spring pro football league, of course. But those minds don’t necessarily have to be Head Coaches. You would want them to, at the very least, be each of the teams’ offensive coordinators, but you would think that the league and its teams would gravitate toward some of the more innovative coaches around for the top spots.

DS: It seems as if the A11FL has a treasure trove’s worth of possibilities for Head Coaches, just like it does for a player pool. It’s going to be fun to see if there is a clear trend among the league’s Head Coaching hires, or if there will be a mix to see which style or background comes out on top.

DJS: Yes, yes, yes. Now on to the next story…

Dusty Sloan is the A11 Professional Football League’s Senior Editor/Vice President of Editorial Content.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday – Chuck Bednarik

Think of versatile football players, and how they would fit into the A11 Professional Football League today.

Now think of a rarity, both in modern professional football and “back in the day” – Hall of Fame center/linebacker Chuck Bednarik.

Bednarik was a star two-way player for the Philadelphia Eagles for 14 seasons (1949-62), imposing his will on opponents for 60 full minutes game in and game out.

The National Football League’s last true “ironman,” Bednarik (6-foot-3, 233 pounds) came to the Eagles from the University of Pennsylvania as a bonus draft pick in 1949. Doubling as a both a punishing blocker and tackler, he missed only three games in his entire NFL career.

Bednarik finished his career as a nine-time all-NFL selection and an eight-time Pro Bowler. He also earned the title “NFL champion” for the second time in 1960 (the Eagles also won the 1949 NFL championship) by playing 58 of 60 minutes (after not having played both ways for a few years) and making the game-saving tackle in a 17-13 home win over the Green Bay Packers.

No. 60 played in 169 regular-season games in the NFL, recording 20 interceptions for 268 yards and a touchdown and 21 fumble recoveries. Bednarik even dabbled in special teams during his storied ironman career (12 punts for a 40.3-yard average in 1953, two punt returns for 26 yards in 1954 and four kickoff returns for 57 yards in 1954 and 1956).

While it might be unlikely for an A11FL team to employ a center/linebacker, as well as find someone as tough as Bednarik, it isn’t impossible to think an A11FL team could find a player as versatile as one of the game’s true greats.

Dusty Sloan is the A11 Professional Football League’s Senior Editor/Vice President of Editorial Content.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Past spring leagues have attracted prime NFL-caliber talent

As a National Football League rookie in 1987, Kansas City Chiefs running back Paul Palmer led the league in number of kickoff returns, kickoff return yards and kickoff return touchdowns.

In 1988, Palmer was 10th in the NFL in all-purpose yards and was tied for seventh in the league in catches by a running back.

By March of 1991, however, Palmer was the starting running back for the World League of American Football’s Barcelona Dragons. Was Palmer not good enough to play in the NFL a few years after all those accomplishments? Not at all.

At age 26, Palmer still had NFL skills. His mouth had gotten him in trouble in Kansas City, Barry Sanders arrived and made him unneeded in Detroit, he was the leading rusher for a 1-15 Dallas team in 1989 and he was caught in a numbers game in Cincinnati in 1990. At the time Palmer was released in training camp in 1990, then-Bengals Head Coach Sam Wyche said he thought all the players he cut, including Palmer, could play in the NFL.

The three-decades-long history of spring professional football is replete with examples of players who have played at the highest level of professional football, and have ended up in the United States Football League (1983-85), WLAF (1991-92, 1995-97)/NFL Europe (1998-2007) and/or the XFL (2001) due to a better contract, being the sixth receiver on a team that kept five, injuries or whatever.

When the A11 Professional Football League says it will have NFL-caliber talent which fits the A11 game, it means it. Will the A11FL have a former league Most Valuable Player like quarterback Brian Sipe, who was the NFL’s MVP in 1980, then jumped to the USFL’s New Jersey Generals in 1984?

Will the A11FL have a former fourth-overall draft pick/Pro Bowler with nearly 40 career sacks like defensive end Bruce Clark, who continued his career with the WLAF’s Barcelona Dragons in 1991-92?

Will the A11FL have a former heir-apparent first-round quarterback who just needs an extended chance on the field to perform like Tommy Maddox, who won a league title and a Player of the Year award in the XFL in 2001?

Only time will tell. But the past tells us that the A11FL will have more than enough NFL-quality players to choose from in about 11 months.

Dusty Sloan is the A11 Professional Football League’s Senior Editor/Vice President of Editorial Content.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Setting the scene – Detroit at Chicago

A look ahead at a possible Detroit at Chicago A11 Professional Football League game, provided these are two of the eight charter franchises beginning in March of 2015.

Week 1 of the first-ever season of the A11 Professional Football League saw a Midwest battle royale between Detroit and Chicago at legendary Soldier Field.

Chicago took the opening kickoff and raced down the field behind first-year quarterback Jordan Lynch, the Northern Illinois Heisman Trophy candidate whose only National Football League shot came as a safety/special teamer. It didn’t take long for Lynch to get re-acclimated to being in the shotgun, gaining 10 and 12 yards on option runs and throwing a 25-yard screen pass to running back Michael Turner, another ex-Husky who is rejuvenated after two-plus years away from the field.

Turner ultimately scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, and that 7-0 Chicago lead would hold up until just before halftime. That Detroit two-minute drill was played to perfection, thanks to a two-headed quarterback lineup featuring ex-Canadian Football Leaguer Dan LeFevour and former Jacksonville Jaguars “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson.

LeFevour pitched to Robinson for a 15-yard gain to midfield, then LeFevour then found wide receiver Ruvell Martin for a 22-yard gain to the Chicago 28. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, LeFevour then gave to running back Javon Ringer for a 12-yard run on a draw.

First-and-10. Chicago’s 16-yard line. Fifteen seconds left until halftime. Of course, this is the time for some “trickeration” – LeFevour throws a lateral out wide to Robinson, who proceeded to toss a touchdown pass to veteran tight end Tony Scheffler to tie the game just before halftime.

The third quarter was a wild one, seeing 21 points in short order. First, Chicago linebacker A.J. Edds picked up a Detroit fumble and raced 36 yards to give his team a 14-7 lead. Then, on the ensuing possession, LeFevour found Scheffler for a 22-yard scoring strike to re-tie the game at 14. Detroit’s special teams then got into the act when safety Haruki Nakamura fell on a blocked Chicago punt in the end zone to make it a 21-14 contest.

In the fourth quarter, Chicago took over, took the lead and never looked back. Lynch kept the ball on an option play and raced 27 yards for the tying score. Then, with 5:05 to play, kicker Rhys Lloyd’s 48-yard field goal gave Chicago a 24-21 advantage.

With one last chance to tie or take the lead, Detroit fell short when Chicago defensive end Alex Hall, a former Cleveland Brown and CFLer, sacked LeFevour on fourth down to turn the ball back over to the offense.

One week in, and at least one close thriller in the books. It’s what A11FL fans can come to expect in the weeks, months and years to come.

Dusty Sloan is the A11 Professional Football League’s Senior Editor/Vice President of Editorial Content.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday – Troy Brown

Any A11 Football League team would be very lucky to end up with a player as versatile and productive as former New England Patriot Troy Brown.

Brown starred for 15 seasons (1993-2007) with the Patriots after being drafted in the eighth round (there are seven rounds in the National Football League Draft these days) by New England in 1993. He did so mostly as a wide receiver/return specialist, but Brown also added defensive back to his position line later in his career.

The three-time Super Bowl champion retired as the Patriots’ all-time receptions leader, finishing with 557 catches for 6,366 yards and 31 touchdowns in 192 career games. His best three-season stretch, by far, was 2000-2, during which Brown caught 281 passes.

Also on offense, Brown ran the ball 29 times for 178 yards during his NFL career, including 11 runs for 91 yards in 2001.

Brown was a prolific punt returner, as well, taking 252 boots back for 2,625 and three touchdowns. As a kickoff returner early in his career, he averaged 21.4 yards on 87 returns.

In all, Brown scored 35 touchdowns in his NFL career, including one on a 75-yard fumble return in 1995. And it could be argued that Brown had one of the best all-around seasons in league history in 2001 – a career-high 101 catches for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns, the aforementioned 11-for-91 rushing, a 14.2-yard average and two touchdowns on 29 punt returns and a kickoff return for 13 yards.

It was in 2004, however, when Brown began to add the moniker of “ballhawk” to his resume. Brown picked off three passes for 22 yards in returns – and did so as an emergency slot cornerback. In fact, his three picks were tied for second on the team with linebacker Tedy Bruschi, and ranked only behind safety Eugene Wilson, that season.

There is a good chance you saw see some A11FL players go both ways. Fans and coaches alike can only hope if they do, they will be as good as Troy Brown.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A11FL finalist markets have posted strong attendance showings in previous leagues

The thinking of the higher-ups in the A11 Football League in terms of target markets for the eight charter franchises in the spring of 2015 is simple – go big.

Of the 12 finalist markets announced last month, 11 are in the top 17 television markets in the United States. And all of the markets love their football – especially in the spring.

Here are the top single-game spring professional football attendance figures for each of the 12 A11FL finalist markets:

DETROIT – 60,237 – July 10, 1983 – United States Football League – Oakland Invaders at Michigan Panthers – The week before the Panthers won the first-ever USFL title in Denver, they played host to the Invaders in a league semifinal before more than 60,000 people in the Pontiac Silverdome. Rookie quarterback Bobby Hebert was 18-for-27 for 295 yards, one passing touchdowns and one rushing score, and Michigan won, 37-21.

TAMPA – 58,777 – April 7, 1984 – USFL – Oakland Invaders at Tampa Bay Bandits – The Bandits had many impressive home crowds at Tampa Stadium over three seasons (1983-85), but this was the best. Tampa Bay improved to 4-3 by winning 24-0, thanks in part to two 1-yard touchdown runs by running back Gary Anderson, while the Invaders slid to 0-7.

NEW YORK – 58,741 – March 10, 1985 – USFL – Los Angeles Express at New Jersey Generals – This game, a 35-24 Generals win at Giants Stadium, certainly didn’t lack for star power. New Jersey rookie quarterback Doug Flutie ran for three touchdowns and 97 yards, Generals running back Herschel Walker ran 19 times for 70 yards and a TD and Express quarterback Steve Young passed for 214 yards and a touchdown.

DENVER – 50,057 – June 3, 1984 – USFL – Houston Gamblers at Denver Gold – The Gold couldn’t stay with the Gamblers’ Run “N” Shoot offense, losing 36-20 at Mile High Stadium. But it wasn’t because of Jim Kelly’s passing, but because of rookie running back Todd Fowler, who ran for a then-league-record 208 yards and added two touchdowns.

PHOENIX – 45,167 – March 6, 1983 – USFL – Oakland Invaders at Arizona Wranglers – The Sun Devil Stadium crowd for the Wranglers’ first-ever game was very good, but the Wranglers themselves were not. Arizona lost, 24-0, and allowed journeyman Invaders quarterback Fred Besana to go 15-for-22 for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

SAN FRANCISCO – 38,253 – February 4, 2001 – XFL – Los Angeles Xtreme at San Francisco Demons – While the Xtreme eventually beat the Demons in the league’s title game, it was the Demons who won the first round on Opening Day, 15-13. Kicker/punter Mike Panasuk’s 33-yard field goal at the final gun gave San Francisco’s big crowd at Pac Bell Park a thrill.

PHILADELPHIA – 38,205 – March 13, 1983 – USFL – New Jersey Generals at Philadelphia Stars – In the Stars’ first-ever home game at Veterans Stadium, the big partisan home crowd saw a 25-0 shutout of rookie running back Walker and the Generals. Philadelphia’s own rookie runner, Kelvin Bryant, ran 24 times for 114 yards and a touchdown.

LOS ANGELES – 35,813 – February 10, 2001 – XFL – Chicago Enforcers at Los Angeles Xtreme – It easily was the best Saturday-night game the short-lived XFL had, and it saw the home-standing Xtreme outlast the Enforcers in double overtime, 39-32, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

CHICAGO – 32,182 – April 25, 1983 – USFL – New Jersey Generals at Chicago Blitz – In a Monday-night ESPN telecast from Soldier Field, the Blitz used a 27-yard field goal from veteran kicker Frank Corral with 2:47 left in overtime for a 17-14 win over the Walker-led Generals. The Blitz withstood 36 carries, 138 yards and a touchdown from the ballyhooed Generals rookie.

SAN ANTONIO – 21,822 – March 10, 1985 – USFL – Tampa Bay Bandits at San Antonio Gunslingers – A 31-18 loss at Alamo Stadium was one of many for the ’Slingers. San Antonio was victimized by three touchdowns and 298 yards through the air by Bandits veteran quarterback John Reaves.

Of the 12 finalist markets, only Dallas and Seattle never have had a previous spring outdoor pro football team.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Could the A11FL take a WLAF-like ‘Team Dallas’ approach to in-season player pool?

The A11 Football League has announced its initial draft procedure prior to its inaugural season in the spring of 2015 – two regional allocations and two common drafts.

One of the aspects of the A11FL in which the finishing touches are being made is how the league will allow each of its eight charter franchises to restock their rosters during the season in the event of players’ injuries and ineffectiveness.

The original World League of American Football (1991-92) came up with a unique way to allow teams to sign players in the event they were needed throughout the season. It was called “Team Dallas,” a group of players under contract to the WLAF who practiced at Pennington Field in Bedford, Texas, outside of Dallas, in the event one of the 10 league teams might have a need.

The WLAF’s “11th team” of practice squaders were supposed to have a leg up on regular free agents, because the original plan was for each WLAF team to have the same offensive and defensive terminology, allowing Team Dallas players to fit right in with their new teams once their name was called. Former college football head coach Mike Gottfried drew up the league’s offensive playbook, and longtime Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier designed the WLAF’s defensive playbook. (That plan was blown up, however, when, for instance, the New York/New Jersey Knights utilized head coach Mouse Davis’ Run “N” Shoot offense and a 4-3 defense, where the rest of the league played a 3-4).

Team Dallas had a size of 40 players, and those players were played $500 per week. The “head coach” of Team Dallas in 1991 was John Ralston, former National Football League, United States Football League and college coach. In 1992, the leader of Team Dallas was Doug Kay, the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks’ defensive coordinator in 1991.

Team Dallas scrimmaged throughout the week, but didn’t play any games.

The most desperate WLAF team in terms of having to go to Team Dallas early in 1991 was the San Antonio Riders, who needed to sign a pair of Team Dallas quarterbacks (Mike Johnson and Mickey Guidry) to replace injured Jason Garrett (yes, THAT Jason Garrett) and Lee Saltz. Johnson ended up starting most of the season for the Riders.

Given that A11FL teams will run a similar offense, a Team Dallas-type practice squad may very well work. Whether or not the league will go with this approach will be one of the facets of the A11FL that will be fun to discover in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday – Sammy Baugh

While A11 Football League quarterbacks will need to be able to do more than just drop back and throw, they will be hard-pressed to be as versatile – and play at an All-Pro level at so many positions – as Pro Football Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh.

Baugh is best known as a quarterback, both as a collegian at Texas Christian and as a 16-year professional with the National Football League’s Washington Redskins (1937-52). With Washington, Baugh threw for 21,886 yards, 187 touchdowns, a completion percentage of 56.5 and a passer rating of 72.2 – all numbers unheard of for that era. Baugh led the league an amazing nine times in completion percentage, including five seasons in a row (1945-49).

But not only was Baugh a standout quarterback in the NFL, he also saw time at single-wing tailback, punter and defensive back. Baugh’s career totals, in 165 regular-season games, include a 45.1-yard average on 338 punts, nine rushing touchdowns, 31 interceptions for 491 yards (all in his first six NFL seasons) and 11 punt returns for 99 yards.

Two months ago, Dan Daly of asked if Baugh’s 1943 season was the best in NFL history. In 1943, the Redskins went 6-3-1 and tied for the Eastern Division title, then lost the NFL title game to the Chicago Bears, 41-21.

During the regular season, all Baugh did was the following – throw for 1,754 yards and 23 touchdowns, and complete 55.6 percent of his passes; averaged 45.9 yards on a career-high 50 punts; intercepted a career-high 11 passes for 112 yards in returns and returned two punts for 13 yards.

Then, in a playoff game against the New York Giants, a 28-0 victory, Baugh threw a touchdown pass while going 16-for-21 for 199 yards, picked off two passes and averaged 41 yards on four punts. Even in the title game loss, Baugh was 8-for-12 for 123 yards and two touchdowns and punted twice for a 39.5-yard average.

A11FL teams most likely won’t have a quarterback who also can play in the secondary and punt. But if they can find a quarterback to revolutionize this league like Sammy Baugh did in the NFL, that’s the start of a winning formula.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

QB possibilities begin to crystalize with finalist markets announcement

The quarterback is the lifeblood of any football offense, at any level.

This certainly won’t be an exception in the A11 Football League. Not only will A11FL teams need to have a strong, accurate and mobile starting quarterback, but they also will have to have all those qualities in their backup pivot, too.

On Tuesday, we looked at the territorial college possibilities for each of the 12 finalist cities for the eight charter A11FL teams. Today, we look at how those possibilities may translate into quarterbacks for each finalist city.

Of course, perhaps the most-watched A11FL quarterback situation so far is in Tampa, where a potential team clearly would be the home of one Tim Tebow (Florida). Beyond Tebow, however, a Tampa team could draw from a pool which might include ex-Florida State Seminoles Christian Ponder and Adrian McPherson, and ex-Georgia Tech option quarterback Tevin Washington.

A potential Dallas A11FL franchise would be an attractive option for former Longhorn and Tennessee Titan Vince Young, who immediately would be the face of that team. But it might also have the option of a couple former Kansas State Wildcats – Josh Freeman and Collin Klein – as well.

A Chicago A11FL might deal with an overflow of top-quality A11-type pivots, led by Northern Illinois standout Jordan Lynch. Northwestern alum and ex-Philadelphia Eagle Mike Kafka could be in the mix, along with current Wildcat QB/slot receiver Kain Colter, recent Illinois standout Nathan Scheelhaase and Nebraska dual-threat Taylor Martinez.

Staying in the Midwest, a Detroit A11FL team would have a lot of run-pass quarterback options, led by current Jacksonville Jaguars “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson (Michigan), former Miami Dolphin Pat White (West Virginia) and current Canadian Football Leaguer Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan). LeFevour would have the edge with as much professional experience as he has, but White is intriguing in potential two-quarterback sets.

A New York A11FL team could feature youngsters like Boston College’s Chase Rettig or Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton (who could be the A11FL’s version of Matt Cassel), or it could go with a veteran like Troy Smith (Ohio State), who has signed a long-term deal with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.

A San Antonio A11FL squad might want to take a flyer on former LSU and NFL No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, a more current former LSU pivot in Jordan Jefferson (the leading rusher and second-leading passer for the Arena Football League’s Pittsburgh Power last year) or two former Texas college standouts in Graham Harrell (Texas Tech) and Stephen McGee (Texas A&M).

Moving to the Northwest, a potential Seattle A11FL team may have the services of ex-Oregon quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Darron Thomas, or perhaps an intriguing option like current Detroit Lion and former Boise Stater Kellen Moore.

The best possible Denver A11FL quarterback is former Chicago Bear and Colorado State Ram Caleb Hanie, a Philadelphia team could be led by Virginia Tech standout Logan Thomas and a Phoenix franchise could go with Arizona lefty B.J. Denker. But those teams, along with Los Angeles and San Francisco, depending on what cities ultimately are chosen, may have to lean heavily on the common draft and free agency for their quarterbacks.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A11 Football League teams will have no trouble acquiring top local talent

The A11 Football League will open full-season play in March of 2015, and it will do so following a series of drafts which, in part, will allow all eight teams to acquire top local talent.

The A11FL’s initial draft process will go as follows:

-       A territorial allocation of players who were eligible for the National Football League Draft from 2009-14.
-       A common draft of non-territorial players who were eligible for the NFL Draft from 2009-14.
-       A territorial allocation of players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2015.
-       A common draft of non-territorial players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2015.

Therefore, there will be some choices for A11FL higher-ups to make prior to this process, chief among them this – how to select each team’s five territorial schools, to provide for the ability to have a good portion of each team’s roster be “hyper-local.”

“Territorial schools will not be definitively decided without input from various football and personnel people once we are underway,” said Michael Keller, A11FL President/Chief Operating Officer, who has vast experience with spring football territorial drafts in both the United States Football League and the XFL. “The territorial schools we used in the old USFL are a good framework. That study and decision was made 30 years ago, so there may be some updating once we are under way.”

Here is one set of possibilities for territorial schools for each of the 12 A11FL finalist markets. These, of course, are not in any way official, and schools would be moved around based on the selection of the final eight charter markets, using the criteria Keller mentioned.

Chicago – Illinois, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Notre Dame. The very definition of “hyper-local,” and plenty of Big Ten flavor for a possible Midwestern squad.

Dallas – Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas. Not only do you see highly-successful Texas-based programs on this list, but you would have cats and dogs (Texas and Oklahoma) having to get along here.

Denver – BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Utah and Utah State. A strong regional showing here, and there are some intriguing quarterback possibilities based on these schools.

Detroit – Central Michigan, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State and West Virginia. Another strong Midwestern flavor here, and the influence within the state of Michigan would be strong.

Los Angeles – Hawaii, Fresno State, San Diego State, USC and UCLA. Obviously, a strong California influence here, led by the two big-time Los Angeles-based programs.

New York – Boston College, Miami, Ohio State, Rutgers and Syracuse. The biggest of the possible A11FL markets, New York could be a combination of local/regional programs, as well as a few other well-known programs to add some star power.

Philadelphia – Clemson, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Penn State and Pittsburgh are no-brainers, and by reaching south for Clemson, South Carolina and Virginia Tech, that would provide more top talent not too unfamiliar to local fans.

Phoenix – Arizona, Arizona State, New Mexico, New Mexico State and UTEP. Another potential market with strong local potential, Phoenix definitely would have a strong Southwestern influence.

San Antonio – Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Imagine an A11FL team which would draw from Texas A&M, Texas Tech and three of the top Southeastern Conference programs. It would have a great shot to be an instant winner, for sure.

San Francisco – California, San Jose State, Stanford, Nevada and UNLV. This is an intriguing group of schools which combines a strong California influence with a perfect college offense to draw A11FL talent from in Nevada.

Seattle – Boise State, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. Seattle’s possible territorial schools are no-brainers. Oregon’s offense is great to pluck A11FL-type talent from, and the local interest from this group of schools would be strong.

Tampa – Central Florida, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech. A team with a lot of Gators, Seminoles, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets would make for strange bedfellows, but it would have some high-caliber talent. Add those players to those from an up-and-coming UCF program, and a Tampa team wouldn’t want for good players.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Throwback Thursday – Paul Hornung

There have been versatile players in the vast history of professional football, and then there was Paul Hornung.

A Professional Football Hall of Famer, Hornung could be put anywhere on the field during his nine-season career with the Green Bay Packers (1957-62, 1964-66), and he was going to do the job.

Hornung was the original “Slash,” seeing time for the Packers at halfback, fullback, quarterback and kicker for a decade. And what numbers he put up over a 104-game career during the regular season:

-          He ran for 3,711 yards, a 4.2-yard average and 50 touchdowns.
-          He caught 130 passes for 1,480 yards and 12 touchdowns.
-          He kicked 66 field goals and 190 extra points, making 97.9 percent of his PAT tries.
-          He was 24-for-55 passing for 383 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
-          In 1958, he returned 10 kickoffs and 248 yards.
-          In all, Hornung scored 62 touchdowns, giving up a total of 760 points when his placekicking totals are added.

Hornung, the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner as a quarterback at Notre Dame, also led the National Football League in scoring every year from 1959-61, and set a league record with 176 points scored in 1960.

In addition to all those statistics, Hornung, nicknamed “The Golden Boy,” very much proved his versatility by his superb blocking prowess.

While with the Fighting Irish, Hornung honed his versatility by playing quarterback, left halfback, fullback, safety and kicker. From 1954-56, Hornung was 110-for-223 for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns passing, ran for 1,051 yards, caught three passes, returned five punts and 23 kickoffs and scored 121 points (15 touchdowns, 25 extra points and two field goals.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A11FL finalist markets have been home to great spring football games of years past

Fans in the 12 finalist A11 Football League markets, announced last week, are eagerly waiting to find out if their city will be home to one of the eight A11FL charter franchises, beginning in March of 2015.

And there’s no doubt that last week’s announcement got fans in those markets to thinking about the great spring football games they have seen in those cities over the years.

Games such as…

-         Remember the double-overtime XFL game in 2001 between the Chicago Enforcers and Los Angeles Xtreme – the one that delayed the start of Saturday Night Live? Chicago was ahead 25-13 after both halftime and the third quarter, but Los Angeles scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to force overtime. After both teams scored a touchdown and converted the non-kick conversion in the first overtime, the Xtreme won in the second OT period on a Tommy Maddox-to-Darnell McDonald touchdown pass. Maddox threw 65 times for passed for 412 yards, and wide receiver Jeremaine Copeland caught 17 passes for 190 yards and a score.

-         The most memorable early United States Football League game was in Week 3, when the clear underdog Denver Gold, on the road in a heavy snow storm against the title-favorite Chicago Blitz, prevailed 16-13 on a last-minute one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ken Johnson. The game was memorable because of the conditions, but also because the Blitz, coached by the legendary George Allen and bolstered by many high-priced rookies and veterans, fell to 1-2 with the loss.

-         And there were only two original World League of American Football teams in A11FL finalist markets – the New York/New Jersey Knights and the San Antonio Riders. The more competitive of their two meetings came in 1992, when the Riders rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit to win 9-3. It was memorable, but not for the right reasons – no touchdowns, four field goals, six fumbles, two turnovers, 16 penalties for 148 yards, 10 sacks and a total of 459 yards of offense on both sides.