Originally Posted by Zycho32
1920's All-Decade Team, the Starting Lineup and Coaches:
As I've alluded to before, the initial problem with selecting an All-Time team comes with finding a coach who has the ideal formation to best exploit the collective talents of the roster. This was a decade where the variety of offensive formations was gretly skewered to extremes and where the player pool wasn't supposedly capable of 'adapting' to multiple styles. The formations aren't the problem; by far the most revolutionary styles incorporated in this particular decade were the T-Formation and the Notre Dame Box. Both were leaps and bounds above what the Single Wing offered.
The problem comes with the coaches who ran the formations.
George Halas ran the T-Formation, having learned it in Illinois under Bob Zuppke. He stuck to it all throughout his coaching career with the Chicago Bears, and never deviated from it even though he ultimately lacked several crucial pieces which would make the formation thrive in the future. Curly Lambeau ran the Notre Dame Box, having learned it in Notre Dame under Knute Rockne. While initially more innovative and pass-happy than the T-Formation could've dreamed of, Lambeau also suffered from extensive stubborness in regards to his strategy. And this isn't even mentioning the animosity the both supposedly had for each other on game day, which removes the one feasible compromise; a hybrid system which incorporates the basic structure of the T-Formation with the various benefits of the Notre Dame Box such as split ends and backfield shifting and better emphasis on the passing game. Combine the two and you have a reasonable fascimile to what the T-Formation ultimately became in the 1940's.
With that in mind...
Head Coach: George Halas- 1929
-Chicago Bears, 1920-29, 1933-42, 1946-55, 1958-67
Assistant Coach: Earl "Curly" Lambeau- 1929
-Green Bay Packers, 1921-49/ Chicago Cardinals, 1950-51/ Washington Redskins, 1952-53
And here's why; their collective animosity extended only to their single-minded desire to win. Only one incident between the both of them occured off the football field, when Halas blew the whistle on the Packers using College Ringers in 1922, and even this is tempered by the supposed story that he lobbied for the Packers to be brought back into the NFL for the '23 season. The theory goes that if you can point these two in the same direction, their mutual desire to win should override all other concerns. In theory, mind you.
In an ideal word, Lambeau only influences Halas' T-Formation in several key areas designed to greatly boost the offensive attack (Bears teams of the 20's were Defense-First, remember). Splitting the Ends gives greater opportunity for receiving threats, as well as a better blocking angle on the outside runs. The backfield shifting, sometimes a Notre Dame Box, sometimes something else, makes the offense more unpredictable.
So, with the Offensive Formation the hybrid so desperately needed to maximize the attack, the first priority for the roster is to find a Quarterback. The T-Formation didn't thrive until Sid Luckman arrived in Chicago. The Quarterback in the Notre Dame Box was often the best passer during this decade (at least by the late 20's anyway). Both styles at their best required an Intelligent Quarterback with a quality arm and an efficient ability to get that ball to the receiver.
The best passer for these traits in the 1920's is...
Starting Quarterback: Benny Friedman- 1929
-5'10 183. Cleveland Bulldogs, 1927/ Detroit Wolverines, 1928/ New York Giants, 1929-31/ Brooklyn Dodgers, 1932-34
Friedman is thought to be the greatest passer in the 1920's by a wide margin. How wide? Imagine a football league with Tom Brady and 31 Quarterbacks from Division III. The man threw for 20 Touchdowns in '29. I don't think anybody in the whole of the decade managed half that in a year... maybe a career. Maybe.
But enough about the hyperbole, lets get down to the skills. As great of an arm that Friedman had, and he was easily one of the best of his era there, it was his touch which outdid everyone else. He learned how to turn long bombs into high floaters which drifted into the arms of the receiver, a practically unheard of ability at the time. And this was with a fatter ball! With horrid rules designed to prevent passing! And an even greater emphasis of how cowardly passing was! As if that weren't enough, he was the first passer to throw with an overhand style, which gave him the added bonus of being missed more often by onrushing defending Tackles because his throwing style pushed him forward and juuuust out of the way.
And it wasn't just a one-dimensional skill either. Friedman played as a Tailback in the Single Wing, which in those days meant you had to be a Triple-Threat star for the offense to succeed. You had to run, you had to pass, and you had to kick. And you had to do all three well. And Friedman did all three. His physique also made him a quality Blocker and a reasonable Defender- something that I KNOW you need to be educated on because you looked at his 5'10, 183 measurements and thought 'twig', didn't ya?
Friedman initially tried to train himself to be a strongman, more specifically "The World's Champion Strongman" as a child. That's a fact of his life and you can look it up. As a result of that dream and the effort he put into reaching it, he came out a surprisingly strong individual which not only benefitted his development as a passer- not just arm strength but shoulders and legs too- but also helped him withstand the 60 minute Two-Way style that was prevalent in those days. He never got knocked out of a game.
Key question is, can he learn the T-Formation? Well, the better question is, why can't he? There's something in his history that stated he lacked the brainpower to run the position- he wasn't just winging it on a prayer, he was looking downfield and finding the open receivers and properly gauging distances to boot. He's also described as cool and unflappable, both additional key qualities you want in your passer.
Anyway, Friedman's your passer. Now onto the rest of the backfield. First Position is T-Formation, second is Notre Dame Box.
Starting Left Halfback/Tailback: Red Grange- 1925
-6'0 183. Chicago Bears, 1925, 1929-34/ New York Yankees, 1926-27
This is kind of a cheat, since I'm cutting off Grange's year after the NFL season ended but before the barnstorming tour. It's also a rather controversial selection given the presence of multiple Triple-Threat Tailbacks, players such as Paddy Driscoll, Verne Lewellen, Fritz Pollard, and even the great Jim Thorpe. So why Grange? Because out of all of the potential candidates, he had the greatest athletic potential out of all of them as a runner and receiver.
You probably don't need me to point out the particulars, presuming you'd studied the history of the NFL once or twice. But for the unenlightened, I'll elaborate; Red Grange at the time posessed the greatest blend of speed and agility ever seen in a Halfback. Remember what I said about the T-Formation requiring viable Gods at Halfback to make the running plays worthwhile? Grange came the absolute closest. He was a dangerous Home Run threat who could not only carry the ball but catch it, a much-needed dose of versatility. There's not much info about his ability as a passer, but he seems to be underrated at it. Much like his defense, which only gained notoriety AFTER a 1927 injury robbed him of his elusiveness and he became an ordinary runner.
The lone problem with using Grange comes off the field; having to deal with his sum[BLEEP] of an agent, C.C Pyle. This is the same man who orchestrated a competing league with Grange at the helm of a New York Franchise in 1926 and would unquestionably give you headaches. But it's worth dealing with that, especially when getting Grange before the popularity has truly sunk in.
Starting Fullback: Ernie Nevers- 1929
-6'0 204. Duluth Eskimos, 1926-27/ Chicago Cardinals, 1929-31
As much as all the sources describe Nevers as a "Football Player without a Fault", he comes with three glaring questions. First Question, can he adjust to not being the absolute focal point of the offense? Second Question, can he adjust to a Formation that is NOT the Stanford Double Wing? And finally, how skilled is Nevers at blocking?
These aren't nitpicking. Nevers spent his entire career playing in a Double Wing formation where he inherited the Triple-Threat role normally reserved for the Tailback(who became a second wingback by the way). He could do the job, no question. He was a gifted runner, passer, and kicker. But that formation, and his near monopoly of importance in the formation, raises major concerns about his ability to fit in. That same importance overshadowed whatever ability he had as a blocker because he was needed to do other things on offense. On this team greater emphasis will be spent on his blocking.
As far as I am concerned, I want to believe Nevers can adjust. I've read nothing that indicated he was wholly selfish- just surpremely talented compared to his teammates. And at least one column described his blocking as 'expert', though this one was about his days at Stanford and not the NFL, but I suppose the "Football Player without a fault" wouldn't slack off in that area if called upon. And if those same columns are worth the computer bytes sacrificed, Nevers is also what you describe as a "Foxhole Player", someone who would rise to the occasion. Once he played against the Four Horsemen and Notre Dame on two broken legs and earned accolades despite the fact that Stanford lost. Then there was the Barnstorming tour Duluth made in '26, with Nevers the key point behind the offense. In short, his intangibles and athletic ability are both up to snuff. And I like to think players weren't as inflexible about the formations they played in as one would think.
As a side note, Nevers' ability as a Triple-Threat actually gives the T-Formation an added layer of unpredictability, not to mention the option of shifting to an actual Double Wing, giving opposing defenses an additional headache.
Starting Right Halfback/Wingback: Johnny "Blood" McNally- 1929
-6'1 188. Milwaukee Badgers, 1925/ Duluth Eskimos, 1926-27/ Pottsville Maroons, 1928/ Green Bay Packers, 1929-33, 1935-36/ Pittsburgh Pirates, 1934, 1937-38
It was down to either McNally or fellow Hall-of-Famer Joe Guyon. The breakdown went like this; Guyon was the superior blocker and had greater versatility all around. McNally meanwhile was the more dangerous receiver and had enough versatility of his own. In a Single-Wing, Guyon would be the choice at Wingback. In a Notre Dame Box, McNally was listed as a Tailback but could be 'hidden' as the Wingback. In the T-Formation? McNally may just be the closest to matching Red Grange in pure explosiveness as a running/receiving threat.
A lot of accounts rate him as the greatest receiver before Don Hutson arrived, great praise considering he was a halfback in a league loaded with explosive halfbacks and more than a few talented Ends. Also rated as a quality blocker and defender (one source described him as a ball hawk while another said he was a great tackler. Maybe he was both). The only concern is his off-field behavior, which was mischevious rather than ugly. Lambeau got along with him for the most part despite his antics. Halas might just kill him.
With the starting backfield settled, it's time to work on the line. The key attributes are basically the toughest and best linemen, while the Ends need to double as both effective blockers and receiving threats.
Starting Left End: Guy Chamberlin- 1922
-6'2 196. Chicago Bears, 1920-21/ Canton Bulldogs, 1922-24/ Frankford Yellow Jackets, 1925-26/ Chicago Cardinals, 1927
The funny thing is you can't really find anything especially revealing about Chamberlin's athletic ability beyond the cliche bukkake of "The finest Two-Way End of his era." The closest you come to anything concrete is his college career at Nebraska, where he played Halfback. His career as a player is also overshadowed by his career as a Coach- winning the most championships in the decade will do that. But so far nothing has come out that condemns his ability as a receiver, which means if he truly is as good as they say about being a Two-Way End, there's no reason not to have him as a starter. Shoot, he was the top choice for George Halas when he started the Bears franchise in the NFL. That alone probably makes him worth it. He gets the benefit of the doubt until somebody unearths a unforgiveable flaw.
Starting Left Tackle: Link Lyman- 1928
-6'2 233. Canton Bulldogs, 1922-25/ Frankford Yellow Jackets, 1925/ Chicago Bears, 1926-34
Modern defensive players credit Lyman with pioneering the 'shifting' method employed on the Defensive Line pre-snap. Lyman's inclusion is based on that innovation and several other factors. His size and strength for one (the reason his 'year' is so late into his career is due to a comment from Halas stating he was stronger and tougher in his last two years than when he started out). Another is his pairing on the left side with Chamberlin for three years. By the way, if you haven't noticed, the aim is to get players into the closest position to the one they played in their careers. That's trickier in the backfield, not so much on the line. So Lyman was unquestionably as Left Tackle in his career.
Starting Left Guard: Mike Michalske- 1929
-6'0 210. New York Yankees, 1927-28/ Green Bay Packers, 1929-35, 1937
Funny thing about NFL Linemen in the 1920's, many of them were about Michalske's size, if not actually smaller. So it's a lucky thing that "Iron Mike" is actually the smallest starter on the line, including the Ends. This is roughly by design, remember. The bigger your line, the better they probably would be at the point of attack. Granted that's a biased viewpoint from someone who has grappled with the overall importance of size his entire life. So since Mike is smaller than I would like and he's still the starter, it stands to reason he is talented.
Michalske had a reputation as a true Iron Man, as his nickname would imply. This is more significant since he plays on the line both ways. But Michalske wasn't just a durable stalwart in the trenches. He came into the NFL as a Fullback from Penn State, and was converted to Guard. In fact, Michalske served as the template for several College Fullbacks to be converted to Professional Guards. It was more than just a novelty, for Mike had greater burst and acceleration than his fellow contemporaries- that same burst made him an effective blitzer on the defensive side, back when defensive 'blitzing' was essentially a balls-out charge for the ballcarrier and lacked anything resembling technique.
Starting Center: George Trafton- 1924
-6'2 230. Chicago Bears, 1920-32
There are truly no other Centers in this decade who stand out the way Trafton does. In fact, it's such an obvious selection that I'm having trouble working up the bother to justify it, but I'll try. Trafton was known for being one of the roughest competitors of his era, to the extent that he was just about hated everywhere except for Chicago. In addition to that rather bland description of intangibles, Trafton also possessed a speed and fluidity comparable to a Halfback, making him the first 'rover' of sorts on defense. In addition, his snapping technique was considered top-notch, though this may not offer the benefit one would want in a hybrid offense since he spent his entire time in the Pros under the T-Formation, making his work in other formations iffy.
Starting Right Guard: Walt Kiesling- 1929
-6'3 260. Duluth Eskimos, 1926-27/ Pottsville Maroons, 1928/ Chicago Cardinals, 1929-33/ Chicago Bears, 1934/ Green Bay Packers, 1935-36/ Pittsburgh Pirates, 1937-38
A rule I made for myself was to limit the 'applicants' of a particular decade to a minimum of five years spent in said decade. It eliminated two camps of players- the young bucks at the tail end who might make the roster purely on potential, and the old vets getting by on experience in the early years. Get enough of those guys and you can come up with a strong enough performance to justify selecting them over someone else. Still, it is a rule that is meant to be broken at times. The 1920's is one such time, with such a stark lack of consistancy. As such several players fail to meet the five-year requirement but were simply too good to ignore. Both Guard spots, as a matter of fact, require breaking said rule.
If anybody, anywhere, remembers Walt Kiesling, it is probably for the display of ineptitude he showed in his final coaching years at Pittsburgh in the 1950's (Cutting a young Johnny Unitas was sadly only the cherry on the turd sundae). Most wouldn't remember him as one of the key stalwarts of his time. He was a particularly rugged blocker paving the way for players such as Ernie Nevers, and you can't scoff at his immense size, all the better for the right side of the line which to this day is accepted as the primary avenue of rushing attacks.
Starting Right Tackle: Cal Hubbard- 1929
-6'2? 250. New York Giants, 1927-28, 1936/ Green Bay Packers, 1929-33, 1935/ Pittsburgh Pirates, 1936
The bias of size shows its ugly head again. Hubbard made the starting lineup over Pete "Fats" Henry, an early 20's star by virtue of better size; Henry was listed as 5'11 and 245 while Hubbard matched the weight and had a good number of inches on the guy and was just as impossible to run against. Hubbard also happened to be surprisingly mobile for such a big man of his era, enough so that he could in fact run down a play that went to the other side (which happened quite frequently). In fact, it led to him playing just off the line in much the manner of a linebacker- there is nothing to indicate this made him less capable of taking on a run directly at him, which keeps him from being a liability.
Starting Right End: LaVern Dilweg- 1929
-6'3 200. Milwaukee Badgers, 1926/ Green Bay Packers, 1927-34
Dilweg bends the rules a bit as he was listed primarily as a Left End. However, the extensive lack of stability at Right End (I think the most consistant players in the pool were guys like George Halas and George Kenneally, who were more blockers than receivers) forces him to switch sides for the overall good of the offense.
But it's not as if Dilweg couldn't swtich sides to begin with. He's considered one of the best of this particular era to NOT be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, was described as the best two-way end before Don Hutson came onto the scene, and was equally adept at blocking and tackling as he was at receiving. In short, he's a solid two-way option just the same as Chamberlin is.
What's the Defense?
Defensive formations were pretty much neanderthalic even by the standards of the decade. The primary formation was the 7-2-2... which is pretty much like it sounds. Seven men on the line from End to End (Ends were not pure receivers, remember), with two linebackers and two defensive backs. The linebackers were usually the Quarterback and Fullback, with the Tailback and Wingback comprising the secondary. For the time it worked because teams rarely threw, a reality we are presuming won't be the case in this theoretical 'Battle for the Planet'.
The 'Passing' Defense was really a 7-Diamond scheme, with the Quarterback dropping back beyond the halfbacks as a deep safety. This didn't offer much of a downgrade in run defense, since Linebackers were expected to usually be followers of the play rather than aggressive rushers- the majority of the rushing was handled by the line even when the Ends were forced to cover their counterparts in the open field.
There was a variation to a 6-2-2-1 Formation, where the Center dropped back to assume a linebacker role while the Quarterback played the deep safety, but there's nothing to indicate this was used in the 1920's.
Anyway, onto the reserves. As this is a 25-Man roster, you will see a backup for each position, with three miscellaneous players behind that. And this is where these All-Decade teams will greatly diverge from other All-Time teams assembled in the past. Most teams of this nature are often established purely on merit, which is why you'll find all kinds of hall-of-famers in reserve roles on these rosters, when people will bother to assemble a team beyond the starting lineup to begin with. Since we are assembling a team that could win a game if their lives depended on it, the crucial importance of PT- Playing Time- becomes the Elephant in the Room. Simply put, substitutes were rarely brought in at this time, which makes for a bit of a bruised ego if you just sit on the bench all day, which in turn makes you a rather negative influence on team chemistry as a whole. So when you look for backups, you really are looking for a specific mindset. In short, you're looking for a guy who won't let sitting on the bench get to his head. An 'Intangibles' guy who can still perform in a pinch if you need to.
And since this is a decade which tends to lack information about players who DIDN'T make the Hall-of-Fame, this is a spotty quality to go by, but the effort has to be made. When we return we shall have the remaining roster on hand.