Join Date: Mar 2007
Whelp, still going.
1960's All-Decade Team, AFL Squad:
Before we start on the AFL team, a quick word about 'Incumbents' and 'Upstarts'.
In theory, an upstart league fighting against an established incumbent will always have lesser quality people, either at athletes or coaches. The presumption is that if any of them were good enough to play in the incumbent league, they WOULD be playing in the incumbent league. The problem with that theory is two-fold. First, the structure of competing leagues is poison for such a concept; you need a draconian 'feudal' system like Major League Baseball and its Minor League affiliates for that to be the established norm, otherwise the upstarts will grow and start stealing away talent, and take on whatever 'trusts' the incumbent has set up to protect their monopoly. Baring sheer organizational incompetence or deliberate saboteurs (I'm looking at YOU, Donald Trump) the upstarts will have time to grow up. The second problem is that incumbents have a horrifying tendency to play conservative- few innovations, rarely rocking the boat, going with what has worked rather than trying to explore what COULD work. The upstarts by contrast have no choice but to open up their capacity for invention because excitement can go a long way to off-setting the disparity in actual talent, which in turn leads to better profit and survivability. That same aggressive style soon pays dividends in competing for blue-chip athletes who may enjoy the wide-open play more than the established tradition.
Besides, it's not like the incumbents have an omnipresent eye for talent on any level. Our Head Coach in particular was not sought after in the NFL.
Head Coach: Hank Stram- 1969
Stram gets the not essentially for his work in Super Bowl IV, when the Kansas City Chiefs demolished the Minnesota Vikings.
Already you wondering, 'if I'm placing such a major emphasis on the AFL beating the NFL in a Super Bowl, then why not go with Weeb Ewbank who coached the New York Jets during their stunning upset victory in Super Bowl III?' Well, the reason is because you could make the case that the Jets were beneficiaries of half a dozen separate moments of luck, were reduced to a ground-control offense because their vertical attack was mostly absorbed by the Colts Zone Defense and hampered by Don Maynard's injury, and never ever looked like they had complete control of the match. The Chiefs, by contrast, had that dominating factor, and were not hampered at any point by injury or the opposition being able to neutralize their strengths. And the biggest key may very well have been the innovation Stram brought to the Chiefs since the AFL was officially born.
In a Sports Illustrated article from around that time, Stram's offensive formations were described as a 'bewildering variety'. Another brief note says there were 66 formations in all (this one isn't really provable; it's possible '66' is the codename of said formations and not the actual number) but the article about Super Bowl IV listed at least 18 formations the Chiefs used during that game, with plays numbering in the hundreds. A far cry from the 'standard' outlook in the NFL. Among the innovations were a form of the I-Formation backfield, which actually involved moving the Tight End or one of the receivers into the 'up' position behind the QB, where nowadays you expect the fullback to be, and then a 'stacked' 4-3 defense. Stacked in this case means the linebackers are all bunched 'inside' the defensive line. So better illustrate this, imagine a traditional 4-3. You have the outside linebackers spread out past the defensive ends, naturally. Now bring the linebackers in, tighter than the ends. That's a stacked 4-3. The entire philosophy behind these formations was to create a 'moment of doubt' against a defense that would expect offenses to be run in traditional ways via standard formations. (The aforementioned 'I' had the Up-back, that 'TE/WR' player we mentioned, go in motion to either side just before the ball was snapped. That screws with defensive playcalling.)
(By the way, I'm sure some of you are now thinking why I didn't go with Tom Landry for the NFL squad in a innovator vs. innovator battle. And my response is the faults Landry had are still prevalent, Don Shula is still adaptive enough on the defensive end, and quite frankly, an ALL-NFL team with better players overall and better coaching overall has a better chance of standing their ground against the AFL team anyways).
The assistants are less notable;
Assistant Coach: Tommy O'Boyle- 1969
RB Coach: John Mazur- 1965
WR Coach: Pete Brewster- 1969
OL Coach: Bill Walsh- 1969
DL Coach: Tom Pratt- 1969
LB Coach: Tom Caitlin- 1964
DB Coach: Tom Bettis- 1969
STR/CON Coach: Stan Jones- 1969
A few things; The only three coaches who weren't part of the Super Bowl IV team are Mazur, Caitlin, and Jones. Caitlin was actually part of the Chiefs staff until '66. Mazur was mainly backfield coach and offensive coordinator for Lou Saban in Buffalo but he's only coaching the backfield here. There are no offensive or defensive coordinators here because Stram did not use them, and Tommy O'Boyle was more of an aide-de-camp than someone specializing in a whole section of the team. Stan Jones you may remember from the 50's squad, who revolutionized weight lifting as part of strength development. Bill Walsh is NOT the same Walsh that led the 49ers in the 1980's.
Time to pick our poison at Quarterback, and boy is it an easy decision;
Starting Quarterback: Len Dawson- 1969
-6'0 190. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1957-59/ Cleveland Browns, 1960-61/ Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1962-75
Yes, I just threw 'Broadway Joe' under a bus.
Remember what I said about how Head Coaches who are picked to run these teams are often best served by the Quarterbacks who ran their systems? It's the same principle here. Stram ran such a complex and innovative system that it practically demands a Kansas City Quarterback to run it, and it's providence that not only was Dawson that Quarterback throughout the Chiefs' period of success but that he also quarterbacked at Purdue where Stram was working as an assistant coach. And Len was really the AFL's answer to Bart Starr to begin with. By Super Bowl IV, articles were describing Dawson in the same cool-headed surgical-assassin quality attributed to Starr. It's arguably a better accomplishment given Stram's system against Lombardi (I debate it because Starr dissected and punished defenses with a gameplan that only LOOKED simple).
That said, Namath is the superior passer of the two. Namath had greater range in his arm. (Len Dawson's team utilized something called a 'Moving Pocket' which is basically a roll-out package, but there's been contention the pocket was used not just to exploit Dawson's scrambling ability and throw off the pass-rushers but because Len couldn't make the long bombs drop-backers are known for) Namath also had capable scrambling ability before his knees went bad on him and was arguably one of the better intelligent Quarterbacks of his time (his performance in Super Bowl III was the sort of disciplined control that would've been right at home in KC). But a QBs familiarity with the system is often the trump card, even more so here. (An AFL coach compared backup Pete Beathard to Joe Namath by saying if they had switched teams when drafted, Pete would be a star while people wondered what happened to Joe. A very glaring spotlight on the comparison.)
Starting Halfback: Clemon Daniels- 1963
-6'1 220. Dallas Texans, 1960/ Oakland Raiders, 1961-67/ San Francisco 49ers, 1968
When discussing famous Halfbacks in the AFL, two typically stand out; Abner Haynes, the first real 'star' in the AFL who played for the Texans and went to KC with them, and Billy Cannon who started out as a great prospect of a Halfback but was converted to Tight End in Oakland. In addition, most would only remember Cookie Gilchrist at Fullback, and maybe a handful would know of Jim Nance. Beyond that, virtually nothing. Which is why its so surprising that the leading rusher in AFL history was NONE of these candidates.
Clem Daniels won this job over Abner Haynes for a very specific reason. Most people would list Abner as the superior of the two, due to his reputation and his dazzling open-field running. A 'Franchise Player before anybody ever heard of Franchise Players', Haynes could conceivably do it all- run, catch, return- anything you need to spark the offense, Haynes could do. Daniels meanwhile was Haynes' equal or better in speed and could get outside and be a lethal threat as a receiver, but was regarded more as an inside runner with an aggressive style. So why Daniels over Haynes? Haynes didn't block. Daniels did.
Really, even if Abner Haynes hadn't been traded away after '64, you have to wonder if he could've found a niche in the evolving KC Backfield, which by the late 60's was boasting an overall solid group of players who had multidimensional roles, and to a man could block quite competently. Haynes by contrast was one of those 'LOOK OUT' type of 'blockers'. And against the likes of the NFL Defense, which would you trust in that department?
Starting Fullback: Cookie Gilchrist- 1962
-6'3 251. Buffalo Bills, 1962-64/ Denver Broncos, 1965, 1967/ Miami Dolphins, 1966
On paper, this is an easy selection. Cookie was thought to be the most destructive bulldozer of a runner the AFL ever had, was shockingly fast for a guy of his height (though predictably his agility was only so-so) and to sweeten the deal, he wasn't a 'Jim Brown' guy; he was a punishing blocker when well motivated.
Sadly, motivation is one of many reasons why Cookie is often downgraded. Put simply, you ran your ground-attack (and mainly your offense) through him, or things started going wrong. Cookie was NEVER afraid to speak his mind, no matter how controversial. His many business ventures made one think he never fully had his mind committed to football (though he denied otherwise), and all his off-field antics would often rub a franchise the wrong way (as proven in Buffalo). Still, you can work around off-field issues in a scenario like this. It's that mindset of giving Cookie the ball which is crippling. There was a game near the end of the '64 season, where Buffalo was gunning back and forth against their opponent in a do-or-die air attack because their defense wasn't worth crap on that day and Cookie wound up getting mere scraps. He was mainly a pass blocker on that day.... and he refused to block. This isn't a flipping joke; he flat-out neglected to block the blitzers and may have totally ruined Buffalo's chances (they lost), because he felt him running the ball was the key to winning. Then after the game, he went about his off-field business ventures and ended up blindsided when Buffalo put him on waivers. And this was after three straight superstar seasons in a league that was starved for them.
So why did I pick him?
In the first place, nobody else stands out or offers anything beyond a competent performance. Guys like Matt Snell and Hewritt Dixon are the best of the lot as pure Fullbacks, but are otherwise unexceptional. Ground-Pounders. Warriors. Three yards and a cloud of dust players in a game that may be above their collective talents. Jim Nance is a bulldozer in his own right, albeit one who quickly lost his treads after two high-quality seasons and played for mostly cellar-dwellers during his time. Keith Lincoln was easily the most explosive of the fullbacks, but was part of a San Diego offensive attack that simply relied on flash and electricity to make their team go- in reality he was undersized as a true fullback.
In the second, Stram's offenses were always ground-driven, control the line, control the clock, you name it. He worked his innovative style around those concepts. And even when Cookie wasn't complaining about touches he averaged around 15 a game typically. Co-existing with Stram is a giant mystery, however. It stands to reason that Cookie would chafe at the complicated offense or simply never get along with the coach (though to be fair Hank Stram is utterly different from Lou Saban, which gives him a fighting chance). Then again, there were many formations, but the players weren't usually asked to do crazy stuff. A lot of it was still straightforward, which is Cookie's game. As for the coach-player relations, Stram has just as much of a chance as getting along with Cookie's idiosyncracies as he does turning this into an unmitigated disaster.
Starting Split End: Art Powell- 1963
-6'3? 211. Philadelphia Eagles, 1959/ New York Titans, 1960-62/ Oakland Raiders, 1963-66/ Buffalo Bills, 1967/ Minnesota Vikings, 1968
It was between him and Lionel Taylor. Here's how it broke down; Powell had the superior athleticism of the two. Taylor had the greater hands of the two though Powell wasn't a slouch (bad hands are why Charley Hennigan didn't make the cut) and probably more intelligence (this is debatable, most people use intelligence to 'get over' comparatively unathletic players while usually ignoring the trait on the uber-athletes, which is why you don't see brains among Powell's listed strengths). Both were consummate professionals and hard workers. Powell doesn't have any bad character issues (he had racial-related incidents during his career, but what African-American athlete DIDN'T during that time?) and is more of a loner, though he once said he'd have a friend if Cookie Gilchrist was on the same team, so there's a bonus.
But really, it all comes down to multidimensional talents. Taylor is by all accounts a superior version to Chris Burford- one of the original KC Receivers- and therefore a natural fit for their gameplan, but Powell could duplicate that function and add to it. Granted, Len Dawson isn't a deep thrower, but the roll-out passing game compensates for that easily enough. As far as blocking goes, Powell was enough of a professional to accomplish that task, so no worries there.
By the way, we're not kidding about that Cookie Gilchrist bit. Whatever keeps him happy and willing to dominate the way we want him to dominate.
Starting Flanker: Otis Taylor- 1969
-6'3 215. Kansas City Chiefs, 1965-75
Ask people who the greatest AFL receiver was and they'll say Lance Alworth. Second best? Don Maynard. Third best? they'll probably end up with Fred Biletnikoff after a long period of frantic thinking. Such is human memory. And all of them are flankers. So why do I go with a comparative unknown in Otis Taylor, even though he too appeared in a Super Bowl(twice!) and had just as much of a reputation as the others for his stellar play?
I want to say something like 'Whiteness', but the truth of the matter is Alworth and Maynard were recipients of High-Octane offenses which relished in the long bombs. Had Joe Namath been the quarterback you might've seen Taylor shifted to Split-End while Maynard or Alworth flanked. (or a tandem of Alworth and Maynard, which sounds so sex-ay to most AFL afficionados that they soil their pants.)
Taylor by contrast was part of the KC Offense which was balanced and crazy in its unpredictability but also favored the run more often than not when at their peak and was sometimes hampered by Len Dawson not having a cannon for an arm. This in turn kept Otis from achieving the back-breaking numbers that would've put him on an equal footing with Maynard and Alworth. But in the process, he became more of a complete player, who Stram actually described as a 'Young Art Powell'. High praise, and worth a lot when pairing him next to the actual Art Powell. Taylor had the same size and athletic gifts as Powell did, and had just as great a reputation for catching receptions, enough so that he was Len Dawson's favorite target throughout their careers.
So even with Otis beating the holy crap out of the likes of 'Bambi' and Maynard in sheer athletic talent, it's his connection with Dawson which ultimately seals the deal.
Starting Tight End: Fred Arbanas- 1967
-6'3 240. Dallas Texans/ Kansas City Chiefs, 1962-70
In December of '64, Arbanas suffered an eye injury (whether it was from an accident or an actual mugging I am not certain) which eventually led to a loss of sight in his left eye by January of '65. I mention this because KC's season ended on December 6, with no playoff berth or championship appearance, and if I could be assured that I could pluck Arbanas BEFORE that incident, I would go with the '64 version, because like it or not that eye injury DID downgrade his effectiveness as a genuine receiver.
Not to discount him anyways. Arbanas is regarded as the finest Tight End of the AFL era, a true professional who blocked vigorously and was a competent receiver though not as swift as either Ditka or Mackey. There truly is no better in this player pool (This includes a reclaimed Billy Cannon).
Starting Left Tackle: Jim Tyrer- 1969
-6'6 280. Dallas Texans/ Kansas City Chiefs, 1961-73/ Washington Redskins, 1974
How well do I put this? Tyrer was HUGE, a mountain of a man in a sport that hadn't really seen many of those since the days of World War 2, at least not on the offensive side. And despite that size, he was quick on his feet to go along with his amazing strength. He was totally proficient in both run-blocking and pass protection, and could absolutely survive the 'roll-out' offense, but he was most devastating as a drive blocker on running plays. Really, the closest equivalent in size and power might very well be Bob Brown on the NFL squad. Nobody else in the AFL comes close to his overall talent.
Of course, he's not in the Hall of Fame, whether because of his AFL background or the tragedy he took part in thirty years ago. (A note that's too important not to mention; at least ONE OF YOU is going to have it in their mind to complain about certain players on these teams did may have or definitely did some questionable activities off the field. My policy on that is a bit complicated. If he did those things in the prime of his career and it made major headlines, then sure, it makes sense to leave him out in order to avoid drama. But things that happened well after their playing careers? Remember, we're plucking these guys out of a time machine, so that's way out in the unknown for them and makes said criticism unfair. A guy like Tyrer falls under the latter category, and admittedly his case is mild; he's not quite OJ Simpson, and he sure as heck ain't Michael Vick, but somebody somewhere is going to have a stink over it).
Starting Left Guard: Ed Budde- 1969
-6'5 265. Kansas City Chiefs, 1963-76
You normally don't think of Offensive Lines, or at least sections of them, as cohesive units. Shoot, more often than not I'll throw in a mesh of players rather than whole sections of units if the talent dictates it. But when a real strong side emerges, you should value their collective chemistry as a team and give them the benefit of the doubt, provided their talent is good enough for the elite level. As is the case with the Tyrer/Budde combo on the left side.
By himself, Budde is a powerful lineman, sometimes considered the best lineman on the KC roster during his time. He was fast and explosive and technically proficient. High Quality for a Guard both in those days and today. Even with that, Budde had to contend with the likes of Billy Shaw at this position, so individual talents weren't going to be enough. That's where the connection to Tyrer comes in. Both men were mobile enough to roll left with Dawson in the 'moving pocket', but were also strong enough to anchor the blind side when Dawson rolled right (it would seem that Dawson rolled right more often than left, but that's mostly a nitpick). They were also the favored direction to go when resorting to the running game.
Starting Center: Jim Otto- 1967
-6'2 255. Oakland Raiders, 1960-74
Unlike Mel Hein, I can't use something as simple as 'League MVP in 1938 as a [BLEEP]in' CENTER' to describe why he's the starter, even though he dwarfed just about EVERYBODY ELSE in the AFL at his position. So lemme just add these bullet points; tough as nails (the list of surgeries during and AFTER his career would scare you to death), superior blocking ability, shocking range for a center, played with the sort of intensity that describes 'Old School', very intelligent (called line plays for Oakland and made few mistakes doing so), packed all the intangibles you wanted in a leader, led by example, and if that wasn't enough he demonstrated a fantastic sense of loyalty that always makes you well up with manly tears.
As an added tidbit, there's a perfectly good reason why NOBODY in the NFL took a chance on him. He left college at less than 210 pounds. NFL Centers were risky ventures in the 230 range to begin with. By the time he bulked up and proved his worth after his first season, NFL teams wanted him, but he stayed loyal to Oakland.
There aren't too many AFL players who would have a better than even chance of unseating their NFL contemporaries in a 'United' squad. Otto is one of them.
Starting Right Guard: Billy Shaw- 1964 (Off-Position)
-6'2 258. Buffalo Bills, 1961-69
The only Hall of Famer to NEVER play in the NFL. Of course, this is only possible because of the merger in 1970, but that's just nitpicking.
Shaw's ability to block (highly capable at both run and pass blocking) combined with the speed to run sweeps made him the top candidate even though he played left guard as opposed to right. Sometimes, when blocking for the right (read, not too fast) runner, he could block downfield all the way to the end zone (which he did at least once during his career). A variation of his pull-out ability was used in the goal line, where he could sweep out while joined by the bruisers of the Buffalo backfield (usually Cookie and Wray Carlton), paving the way for an unmolested Jack Kemp to scramble his way into the end zone. (Imagine him doing that in this lineup, sweeping right behind Jim Tyrer and Ed Budde, joined by Cookie and Clem Daniels? That's the power sweep on steroids!! That same mobility makes Shaw an ideal candidate to man the right side of the 'moving pocket' alongside our next Hall of Famer:
Starting Right Tackle: Ron Mix- 1963
-6'4 250. Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, 1960-69/ Oakland Raiders, 1971
I'm tempted to describe Mix as a more athletic version of Forrest Gregg, no matter how inaccurate that might be. Fact is, his technical play was so proficient that he supposedly was caught holding only twice in ten years. He was a proponent of weightlifting and showcased remarkable strength and speed for his position- capable of making an initial block, then moving downfield to get the next defender. A lineman with the finesse and skill to actually draw attention from onlookers during the game. Would be highly adept at the 'moving pocket' alongside the just-as-mobile Billy Shaw, making for a quality makeshift duo.
Mix chose the Chargers over Baltimore for the money, even though at the time Los Angeles was his hometown. He was only planning to play a couple of years and then go into law. Played ten years. Still went into law. Got named the 'Intellectual Assassin' in traditional stale nickname fashion because of that law degree.
Mix rounds out an AFL line that has a fighting chance against the NFL in the trenches. Onto the defense.
Starting Left Defensive End: Earl Faison- 1964
-6'5 270. San Diego Chargers, 1961-66/ Miami Dolphins, 1966
Most don't expect a quality defensive unit to emerge from the AFL, mainly because of the perception of the times; AFL teams were Mickey Mouse ballclubs that could score big because their defenses were crap, and so on. Pass defenses were largely preyed upon mainly due to factors of inexperience and a wide open style which actually wasn't endorsed by everybody in the league, but enough teams went vertical to exploit it. Run defenses weren't as gouged, mainly because running the ball sometimes had to be foregone in order to keep up with the opposition. But really, when you pick out the cream of the crop for an AFL defense, you'd be stunned by how many exceptional athletes there were on the line alone. Take Faison, who has the frame of Deacon Jones and in AFL circles considered one of the finest pass rushers of that decade.
Here's where history treats Faison unfairly. It's not just the AFL stigma which stagnates his recognition (the only total-AFL player to make the Hall of Fame is Billy Shaw, remember), but also an injury history, troubles with team management, and his presence at the forefront of the Equal Rights issue. Problems with Team Management revolved around money (a sad fact of life no matter what decade, but this was the barest beginnings of players taking some control from the owners). The Equal Rights issue is actually something to take pride in, and Faison has been a man who took what that crusade gave him and used it in the RIGHT way as an upstanding citizen. The back injuries probably did the most damage though. Faison's career spanned six years. Had he gone twelve he probably would be a Hall of Famer and be talked about in the same conversations with Deacon and his contemporaries.
So he was quick enough to be a devastating pass rusher and actually nab an interception from time to time. Of his run defense, nothing is said. This is both a bad and good thing. Bad in the sense that it wasn't excellent and therefore you have a fighting chance running to him, but good in that he wasn't awful at it or worse, totally disdainful of it- because something like that WOULD be mentioned- which meant it wasn't an actual weakness.
Plus, there's his partnership with...
Starting Left Defensive Tackle: Ernie Ladd- 1964
-6'9 300+. San Diego Chargers, 1961-65/ Houston Oilers, 1966-67/ Kansas City Chiefs, 1967-68
On the one hand, Ladd was large enough to be effective on the line regardless of his actual talent- sort of like how Andre the Giant was an unstoppable force in Wrestling even when he was stiff and slow and really just a bear-hugger. But on the other, Ladd had genuine athleticism- his quickness for his size was surprising, and he was genuinely strong- making him more like the Undertaker than someone like Andre. The wrestling comparisons are deliberate, because wrestling is what ultimately caused Ladd to retire from football when he should've been in his prime; it paid more! He honestly got more from doing ring-work than on the gridiron. (Make no mistake, he was a high quality wrestler as well- the only NFL alumnus who could arguably have done better than him was good ol' Bronko Nagurski).
But back to football. Ladd was part of an innovation which drew defensive lines into a sort-of 'Odd' formation. Ladd would be lined up directly over center with the rest of the defense adjusting accordingly. This is notably destructive even without someone like Ladd being the anchor because the typical strategy offensive lines used was to have the Guards block the tackles, have their tackles block the ends, then have the Center pitch in on either one of the tackles or go for one of the linebackers. The odd formation then skewers this strategy and forces offensive lines to adjust not only in order to save their center from being squashed, but also to re-locate and engage the remaining targets. In time teams would use this and other methods involving putting a defender directly over a center to help disrupt whatever protection schemes they used.
Ladd even spent two years with the Chiefs and a knee injury prevented him from taking part in the '69 season, which meant Ladd just missed being a valuable contributor to a Super Bowl team. That alone should be enough to totally endorse him on this list, but then again he wasn't the starter at that time, playing behind Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp. Maybe Ernie Ladd in his actual prime might be more of a problem for Hank Stram (Ladd was a hellacious eater and Stram's biggest peeve probably was body fat), but Stram was also worlds better in working with free spirits than the likes of Sid Gillman or Lou Saban. Plus, he came up with a wrinkle; sometimes he would put Ladd and Buchanan on the same side- probably pushing Buck to Defensive End as a result- during pass rushes. It was probably more of a gimmick, but it's worth noting here.
Starting Right Defensive Tackle: Julious "Buck" Buchanan- 1969
-6'7 270. Kansas City Chiefs, 1963-75
Here's an interesting note on the Hall of Fame's All-AFL team. Have you given it a look? It's much the same as their standard NFL teams, but it comes with first and second lineups. But lets not kid ourselves here; it's just as merit-driven as most other all-time lineups are... well, except for one area. The first team defensive tackles are Tom Setsak- an otherwise exceptional player for the Bills- and Houston Antwine, of the Patriots. Both are highly talented in their primes and deserve mention among the very best of their league. But you can't really call it merit-driven because Buchanan collected more accolades than either of those two did.
So is there a fundamental reason why Buchanan was left out in the cold for Setsak and Antwine?
Setsak is described as the defensive anchor for the Bills during their mid-60's run, someone who had few to no peers at his position while he was healthy. Antwine was described as impossible to dislodge from his position on the line, making him a bona-fide 'Nose' Tackle. That's great and all, but Buchanan had the greater physical talent out of all of them. Only Ladd was unmistakably larger. His speed was clocked at 4.9 in the 40- name another Tackle on either side in the NFL history who did that and wasn't hulked up on Steroids- and could go sideline to sideline. His strength could easily rival Setsak's. He was a lynchpin of the KC Defense, the anchor of the line. Alongside Ladd, he's the destructive force taking advantage of Ladd having to be double-teamed out of survival instincts. Fuzzy Thurston once quipped before Super Bowl I that the only way Buck would see him is if he tripped over him. He could challenge Bob Lily or Merlin Olsen for a starting spot on the NFL Squad, and probably win one.
It baffles me, much the same way Weeb Ewbank made first team Coach purely on his Super Bowl III win.
Starting Right Defensive End: Rich "Tombstone" Jackson- 1969 (Off-Position) (Four Year Exemption)
-6'3 255. Oakland Raiders, 1966/ Denver Broncos, 1967-72/ Cleveland Browns, 1972
Earl Faison may have had the frame of Deacon Jones, but Jackson had the mindset AND the moves. He wantonly used the headslap, once infamously BREAKING an offensive lineman's helmet during a play, along with an array of similar moves designed to get past the lineman blocking him. And while he may be the smallest player on the line, that's not a knock on his physical ability. Most would've described Jackson as a 'tweener', someone with the mobility to play linebacker but the strength to play End. These days, he'd just be a linebacker. But back then, a lineman that fast and that strong was nigh uncontrollable.
Much like Faison, Jackson is practically unheard of nowadays because his career was sidelined by injuries in the late 70's. Had he lasted another five-plus years, you would've learned at least a little more about him as he would've led the Orange Crush to their Super Bowl appearance against Dallas. (Those who say Lyle Alzldo would've taken the reigns from him should listen to a story Lyle himself says where as a rookie he went in showing himself as the hardest and meanest sum[BLEEP] on the team... which lasted until a shirt was dropped on his hands while he was tying his cleats, and he looks up and sees it's Mr. Jackson, and he turns meek as you please. Good golly)
By '69 Jackson had developed a sense of finesse work because the referees had started paying closer attention to him. The reason is because he basically started out with just an illegal club move, and had to develop more to stay out of trouble. A reasonable improvement, but this was also the time when Jackson was shifted from the right side to the left. Hence the 'Off-Position' bit.
Starting Left Linebacker: George Webster- 1969 (Three Year Exemption)
-6'4 220. Houston Oilers, 1967-72/ Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972-73/ New England Patriots, 1974-76
To recap, I normally only include players who spent at least five years in any decade. Normally. There are always exceptions. I'll go down to four years minimum should said player be good enough to overshadow a specific position in the player pool or offer an unique ability that would benefit the squad as a whole. If I go down to three years, then that player had better be 'special'. To date, it's only happened twice in the 20's, with Mike Michalske and Walt Kiesling as the starting Guards. It possibly should've happened once more in the 1930's with Sammy Baugh(the fact I used Cecil Isbell, with TWO years, underscores that). But these are people you most likely have heard about, or at least know they were Hall of Famers. George Webster is none of these things, who didn't grace a Super Bowl, who actually was part of the budding Steel Curtain Defense for two years but wound up in New England before they officially became a dynasty.
Have you heard of the 'Rover' position- sort of a hybrid between safety and linebacker? Those who competed in the DCFL know one of the star players was utilized in that same manner. But Webster was really the pioneer of the job back in Michigan State. Head Coach Duffy Daugherty invented the position as a means to utilize Webster's exceptional speed along with his ability to deliver a solid pop. (Webster would go on to demonstrate his speed in an exhibition game in '67 by running down Bullet Bob Hayes). When George reached the AFL, he was converted fully to Left Linebacker, and did enough in three short years to be a starter on the All-Time Team as picked by the Hall of Fame in 1970.
Here's what the Left Linebacker was primarily responsible for; since Tight Ends were usually placed on the right side of the offense, which faced the defense's left side, the linebacker on that side would have to focus on covering said tight end when not stopping the run game on that side. The right side linebacker was more likely to 'dog' or blitz because he often didn't have someone at the line of scrimmage he had to cover. So the Left Linebacker was more of a covering linebacker than anything else. And most would agree that Webster was probably the fastest linebacker in the AFL, ever. So he's the ideal choice to man that part of the field and watch the passing game, even in the 'Stacked Defense' that Stram operates.
Starting Middle Linebacker: Willie Lanier- 1969 (Three Year Exemption)
-6'1 245. Kansas City Chiefs, 1967-77
Look up a typical All-Time AFL team from this era and the typical selection at Middle Linebacker is Nick Buoniconti, who was around for almost the entire decade with the New England Patriots, but would go on to greater fame as the leader of the No-Name Defense in Miami. Look up Buoniconti's ability and it's pretty much a cliche about how he was undersized going into professional football, but ultimately played bigger than he was once he was shifted to linebacker and how his leadership was inspiring to his teammates. Basically they rate him as the best almost entirely by virtue of his intangibles.
Lanier by contrast is rarely discussed in those same circles, more likely because he was only around for three years in the 60's. Maybe because he was the first African-American to play Middle Linebacker (a position that carried an intelligence stigma, the same reason African-Americans have had such a difficult time making progress at Quarterback in the history of professional football). Maybe because after Super Bowl IV, Lanier and the Chiefs were downgraded to either playoff flavoring or almost-rans.
But here's the thing; Lanier's intangibles are DEAD EVEN with Buoniconti's.
Talk about being an inspiration and overcoming our stature and making the most out of your physical talents and yadda yadda yadda. You use the 'intangibles' argument when your competition is lacking in that department. You see it more often in Basketball, when the very nature of the game is biased towards the more athleticially skilled and ironically corrupts those athleticially skilled players into not getting the most out of their abilities, while it's the less talented players who do get over. It's not as prevalent in football, because of the same specialization principle. But Lanier could do everything that Buoniconti could do outside of physical talent, and he has a bonus in that he ran Stram's defense. And if the intangibles are even, you go to physical talents. And Lanier was superior to Buoniconti in every department. Faster, stronger, probably even smarter (I'm not finding anything about how good Buoniconti was at calling defenses, or even if he did). He was the undisputed anchor of the KC Defense, and in a league that is devoid of superstar players matched up against the NFL, you need that anchor to lead your unit.
By the way, those of you that have seen photos of Lanier in action may note that funny looking helmet he's wearing, with that large bump down the middle of it. That bump is actually padding put on by the Chiefs equipment manager at the time, Bobby Yarborough. It was on the outside NOT to protect Lanier from concussions and the like, but to protect the players he was tackling. At the time Lanier was named 'Contact' for the way he went in helmet-first against his opponents. He wisened up before the decade was out, thankfully. Then they knew him as 'Honeybear', of which there is no way to use it without feeling... 'funny', if you get my drift.
Starting Right Linebacker: Bobby Bell- 1969 (Off-Position)
-6'4 228. Kansas City Chiefs, 1963-74
If we went by traditional positions only, I'd be deciding between Bell and George Webster on the left side, and living/dying with whatever was left at Right Linebacker. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of capable players in that spot, but most range from ordinary to competent at best, especially with the bar raised as high as it is in a NFL/AFL brawl. Thankfully, Bobby Bell saves me from that hard choice because to call him 'adapatable' is miles away from the actual truth. It's quite possible that Bobby Bell was the most coachable player to ever exist in Professional Football. It has been said that he could learn any position on the fly, no less an authority than Hank Stram himself saying that Bell "could play all 22 positions on the field, and play them well."
If that wasn't enough, Bell was blessed with a next-generation athleticism that saw him clocked in the 4.5 range while in college. Enough to be a devastating open field tackler who could run down ball carriers even if he blew the initial tackle. He was also an electrifying blitzer but wasn't called for it often, because he actually played on the left side, and we all remember the responsibilities on the left side, right? But with George Webster manning that spot, we're free to utilize Bell as more of a blitzer than normally. And the end result is without question the most athletically dynamic linebacker trio we've seen yet.
Starting Left Cornerback: Emmitt Thomas- 1969 (Off-Position) (Four Year Exemption)
-6'2 192. Kansas City Chiefs, 1966-78
One of the more unknown AFL players amongst this Starting Lineup. Most wouldn't have guessed this man is a Hall of Famer. Even more wouldn't have guessed that while the majority of his career was spent in the 70's, he was already one of the best cornerbacks in the league in '69. That's not just measured by interceptions either. Pretty much everyone who has played alongside him as discussed him under a recurring theme; 'Teacher'. He was a teacher of the game (enough so that he has been a long-lasting coach in the NFL, usually teaching the secondary if not at times the Defensive Coordinator) but before that he was a student, learning the intricacies of his position, but at the same time challenged by his position coach Tom Bettis to learn the jobs of those around him; safeties, linebackers, anyone that had an effect or were effected by what he did in covering his man. This is much like how Cornell Green learned his job in the Dallas Secondary, and is a very useful trait to have when trying to pull together a pass defense that will match up against the NFL.
Starting Left Safety: George Saimes- 1965 (Off-Position)
-5'11 186. Buffalo Bills, 1963-69/ Denver Broncos, 1970-72
Much like the NFL team, the AFL side utilizes a defense that tends to favor two 'free' safeties rather than the traditional 'Free/Strong' formation. The defense is the Kansas City model, which thrives on the exceptional play of its linebackers to force the issue and allow a more balanced secondary. Therefore it's reasonable to put the second-best safety in the AFL pool on the left side rather than his usual right.
While the majority of AFL Safeties are described in sort-of vague terms in regards to their skillsets (none of whom are described as 'Field Generals' for instance) Saimes is considered a very close approximation to the starting Right Safety on this team. Going in greater detail, Saimes is described as one of the best and surest open-field tacklers in AFL history. That's a pretty hefty honor given he might actually be a little smaller than his given height and weight. In short, he almost plays more like a strong safety anyways. And putting him on the left side means he benefits from the expertise of Thomas at the left corner.
Weird thing, Saimes was drafted by the Chiefs, but ended up in Buffalo. Can you imagine Kansas City having Saimes alongside...
Starting Right Safety: Johnny Robinson- 1968
-6'1 205. Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1960-71
I would have used Robinson after the Super Bowl victory in '69, but he suffered several broken ribs in a game against Oakland in the playoffs and had to be injected with novocaine to keep going. I'm not screwing with that.
Robinson's skillsets are more vague than his endurance, though he has the reputation of a first-rate thief with exceptional intuition. But since he's widely regarded as the greatest safety in the history of the AFL, I suppose you can't really pick nits. Besides, it's very easy to think he's an an equal footing with the great safeties the NFL has to offer anyways. (People already think he's one of the top Hall of Fame snubs in existance).
Starting Right Cornerback: Willie Brown- 1969
-6'1 195. Denver Broncos, 1963-66/ Oakland Raiders, 1967-78
The Bump and Run style of man coverage. You heard a little bit about it in regards to Pat Fischer, one of a number of 'Just Missed' cornerback candidates on the NFL team. Here's the basic gist; Bump-and-Runners back in this era could initiate physical contact with a receiver all the way until the ball was in the air. Not actually tackling, but enough shoving to direct the receivers where the defenders wanted them to go. In short, depriving them of their assigned routes. The concept became so effective that it was outlawed beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage in 1978.
Willie Brown was one of the very first people to learn the system. He learned it from Jack Faulkner while he played for the Broncos. He didn't get to utilize the tactic while in Denver, mainly because Faulkner was replaced by Lou Saban, who promptly traded Willie to Oakland. Willie went right ahead and taught it to Kent McCloughan, his contemporary on the other side of the secondary, and the results were no less than stunning. They almost immediately brought down the opposition completion rates to that of the prior decade and beyond. And in the process they spawned so many imitators and jammed up the receiving game so badly that the rules HAD to be changed just to spice up the offenses again.
Not that Willie will likely operate exactly under the same conditions. I'm sure he'll have the freedom to bump at his leisure, and there will be help given to him from the rest, but all in all he won't be a pure jammer like he was with Oakland. (As a note, his regular coverage skills are quite fine).
Special Teams now, before we dabble in the bench;
Starting Kicker: Jan Stenerud- 1969 (Three Year Exemption)
-6'2 187. Kansas City Chiefs, 1967-79/ Green Bay Packers, 1980-83/ Minnesota Vikings, 1984-85
Starting Punter: Jerrell Wilson- 1968
-6'2 222. Kansas City Chiefs, 1963-77/ New England Patriots, 1978
There is no need for Home Team favoritism when it comes to Special Teams players, mainly because the Kickers and Punters are not typically involved in strategizing and gameplans other than their individual performances. So no, Stenerud and Wilson aren't here because they are Chiefs. They're here because they are far and away the best in the AFL in their positions.
Remember how Lou Groza was so far ahead of his contemporaries in the 40's and 50's due to his superior range and steady accuracy? Stenerud is the next great step, the first of the truly accurate placekickers, and he would set the benchmark for the next decade or so. In fact, he's so far above the others in the AFL that he had to be brought in even though he only played three years in the 60's.
As for Jerrell Wilson, would his selection make any more sense if I mentioned Ray Guy? As in, Wilson was Guy's closest competitor during the 1970's, and EVERYBODY by now knows who Ray Guy is? Granted, Wilson isn't a carbon-copy of the guy; he boomed punts as hard as he could unless he was very close to the opposition's side of the field. That's when he went high. As for his distance, there's a perfectly good reason why he was nicknamed "Thunderfoot".
AFL Quarterbacks came in a variety of shapes and sizes, more so than other positions. Len Dawson was one of the 'NFL Fringe' players who occupied roster spots and little else before the AFL came along and provided opportunity for those stuck in the depths of depth chart hades. Then there were the old vets such as George Blanda, Tobin Rote (remember him from the 50's squad), Frank Tripucka, and Vito "Babe" Parilli. These four had lengthy NFL careers of varying success, but were promptly at the top of the heap in the newly minted and still developing AFL. Veteran NFL savvyback in the first few years was worth its weight in gold. It wasn't until the mid 60's when young talent started to gain equal ground to the old hands and upstarts such as Joe Namath, Daryl Lamonica. and John Hadl earned their places. Our choice for Backup was like Dawson in that he had a brief NFL career that was headed nowhere until the AFL came a'calling.
Backup Quarterback: Jack Kemp- 1965
-6'1 201. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1957/ Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, 1960-62/ Buffalo Bills, 1962-69
They say your Backup Quarterbacks should ideally be one of two things; either he is similar enough to the incumbent starter that he can execute the initial gameplan without too many hitches, or he is so widely different to the incumbent that putting him in totally reverses the gameplan and coldcocks the defense upside the head for a psychological advantage. When it comes to All-Time teams, however, the emphasis should almost always be on the former. The lone exception should be when your choice at backup plays under the same system as the incumbent. Then you can employ an extreme contrast at your leisure.
Failing that, you want a QB who compares relatively equal to the starter in overall skills, and Kemp in 1965 was probably the closest any AFL quarterback came to Len Dawson.
Kemp's year in '65 underscores the benefit of the Wine Cellar process, as it took advantage of circumstances that don't show themselves easily via statistics. Cookie Gilchrist was gone, traded to Denver. There were really no exceptional running backs to rely upon, which naturally forced Buffalo to alter its strategy and take to the air. Then the main receivers started coming down with injuries. Most Quarterbacks fall to pieces, and Kemp at this time had a reputation for being erratic as well as not quite a student of the game (this started changing in '64, but perceptions don't change at the drop of a hat). But Kemp still persevered, guided Buffalo to the AFL Title, and won MVP honors. He had become a more complete passer, relying not just on the receivers he had left but also the running backs. In short, the situation demanded he become a precise Field General or his team would sink.
On the field, Kemp's physical attributes were capable. Good arm, solid mobility, would scramble. Off the field, he was known as a "Locker Room Lawyer", which in most contexts sounds bad but in this case it underscored Kemp's capacity as a mediator. This is doubly notable because he was frequently smoothing things over between Cookie Gilchrist and Lou Saban, as well as managing the four-year competition between himself and Daryl Lamonica (this finally ended when Daryl was traded to Oakland). So the idea that he could smooth Cookie's ruffled feathers, connect with African-American athletes, possibly establish a connection with Hank Stram, and maybe not sabotague the QB dynamic by fighting with Dawson goes a long way here.
Going on to the backfield, a word or two about versatility. Obviously, your All-Time teams should have players who can do multiple things with equal skill, but there's actually a difference between the starters and the backups. For the starters, you can get away with a lack of versatility at a given position, provided the player you selected has an elite skill somewhere that borders on the GODLY. For the backups however, you can really only go with the specialist route for one of two reasons; One, the few elite skills they have are sorely lacking by the rest of the roster, or two, said candidate is by far the best of a paltry lot in his position. Otherwise, versatility is at a total premium. Such is the case in the backfield, where open-field running is valuable but not worth as much when you can't block worth a lick, or where a bruising fullback can be left out because he doesn't contribute anything as a receiver.
Backup Halfback: Keith Lincoln- 1963 (Off-Position)
-6'1 215. San Diego Chargers, 1961-66, 1968/ Buffalo Bills, 1967-68
There aren't really a shortage of Halfbacks in the AFL who were open-field runners. We discussed Abner Hayes, who got screwed because he didn't block. Others include Billy Cannon, who had the speed but none of the cut. As far as Multidimensional Halfbacks with good-to-great outside speed goes, there's Mike Garrett and Emerson Boozer. Boozer however is Jekyl-or-Hyde as far as his career goes; after a positively electric beginning to his career, an injury robbed him of his explosiveness, ala Red Grange. He compensated for this by rededicating himself as a blocker and as someone who does the little things. Garrett by comparison is everything you want in a backup halfback. He runs outside with capable skill, he's stout and durable enough to pound it inside. He's capable of receiving, he's a willing blocker, he's a total team player.
Instead we went with a 'Fullback'.
Oh, by the way, this is the LAST time you will see a White Halfback on these lists. Fair warning.
Lincoln was always a Halfback moved over to a position he would normally be unsuited for to make room for Paul Lowe, a real open-field Maestro. However, he and San Diego could get away with this because the Chargers did NOT run a traditional ground-pounder offense. They relied on airstrikes and dazzling dashes, more akin to a pace-wacky offense in the days of Air Coryell. As an undersized fullback, Lincoln's versatility added a freakish dimension to the Charger attack. He could run, presumably both inside and outside, he could catch the ball, he could really do anything that Mike Garrett could, including taking a ton of abuse. But there were three skills that put Lincoln at the top. First, he probably wasn't Frank Gifford or Paul Hornung but he was a genuine threat when he executed the Halfback Option and threw the football. Second, he was an often utilized part of the return game, both punts and kickoffs (whether he was the best of them all in the AFL is debatable and actually kinda irrelevant because nobody truly stands out here). And Third, most would say he had a true 'Clutch Gear' that showcased itself in the playoffs and championships, though most can only point to his performance in the '63 AFL Championship as an example.
(By the way, many people would think the '63 Chargers would beat the '63 Bears in an actual 'Super Bowl' matchup. Personally, I think 63 and maybe 64 are the only Pre-Super Bowl years that the AFL could've taken... but then again I'm a Packers homer and I don't believe they would've lost in those theoretical games, so there you go)
Backup Fullback: Curtis McClinton- 1966
-6'3 227. Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1962-69
Most only know McClinton for his touchdown against the Packers in Super Bowl I, the first ever AFL touchdown against the NFL. Just a stat and a footnote.
Finding versatility in a fullback is a little bit tougher than a halfback, mainly because most Fullbacks aren't very exceptional in regards to running or passing (that was true even in the 50's and 60's where running games ruled the day). And when you find a versatile fullback, it's usually a converted halfback who wasn't a good enough pure runner to be the workhorse. Most times when looking for a backup fullback, you're willing to settle for a jack-of-all-trades type if no one else truly stands out. McClinton is a little bit of both.
I'll explain. McClinton had numerous talents, bruising runner on the inside, competent on the outside once he learned finesse at the professional level. Capable receiver out of the backfield. Stalwart blocker, good enough to have been referred to as a "Third Guard". Great team player, going by the opinions of his teammates and coaches. Actually could throw the ball every now and then. Jack-of-all-Trades mentality, but actually had a skillset that was exceptional. You LOVE these types as your backups, mainly because they'll do the dirty work on Special Teams and still play whatever you need them to play on Offense. McClinton actually spent some time at Halfback, in the brief period between Abner Haynes and Mike Garrett, and even played Tight End in '69, albeit as a Backup who contributed no stats.
Backup Split End: Lionel Taylor- 1963
-6'2 215. Chicago Bears, 1959/ Denver Broncos, 1960-66/ Houston Oilers, 1967-68
For virtually all the positives laid out when I was debating him or Art Powell as the starter. My policy on superstars on bad teams is erratic; sometimes they are good enough to be taken purely on skill level rather than team success, sometimes lack of team success downgrades a player enough to leave him off. Taylor fit the latter mainly because he was probably one of the few good players on the Broncos for the first couple of years. About the best passer he had during his stint in Denver was Frank Tripucka, a former NFL and CFL veteran who was actually brought onboard as one of the coaches but laced up his cleats after the other Quarterbacks were found wanting. Solid passer, nothing to write home about. And there were no real weapons alongside Taylor, which is why he could crack the century mark in receptions. So with defenses keying on him constantly, he would fake out defenders with smooth moves despite his lack of elite speed, and catch the ball in all sorts of ways, especially in traffic.
Here's a chuckle; his stint in Chicago? He spent it as a Linebacker.
Backup Flanker: Gino Cappelletti- 1964
-6'0 190. Boston Patriots, 1960-70
You wouldn't think it'd be hard to find a suitable flanker, but hooooooo boy are you wrong. Where do we start? Okay, Lance Alworth and Don Maynard are still the most electrifying players left in the pool. They also are not route-runners, which I imagine is a sticking point in a KC-Style offense. (I also feel route-running is NOT easily learned, which dismisses the idea of a quick study) Elbert Dubenion is just as electrifying pre-1965, but had even less moves than Alworth or Maynard. After that it's only a few names, then we get to Gino here.
The same 'Heart and Desire' comments that were said about Nick Buoniconti can be said about Cappelletti. As a receiver, his athleticism was unremarkable... one would say mediocre. And like all 'mediocre' athletes who rose above their limitations, he responded by becoming one of the most meticulous route runners in the league, employing a variety of moves to juke off defenders to get open. He was also an exceptional blocker for his size and position. And then there's his placekicking. A good solid step or two behind Stenerud, but good insurance should the worst happen. And he was a quality team player, once essentially giving up his job as a pure placekicker because his competition kicked soccer style, and it worked out better during a quagmire of a game.
Among the negatives are that same lack of athletic talent(the intangibles can only go so far on their own) and his connection to Babe Parilli. Not only were they totally in synch on pass plays, but Babe held for Gino on kicks, a major problem considering Babe was not chosen to be the backup. One hopes that it won't be a problem.
Backup Tight End: Dave Kocourek- 1963
-6'5 240. Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, 1960-65/ Miami Dolphins, 1966/ Oakland Raiders, 1967-68
Unlike the NFL, the AFL squad comes with a 2-TE package courtesy of Coach Stram, so issues of playing time and team chemistry aren't as volatile. Not that Kocourek was likely to rouse any dissent if he wasn't on the field.
As a Tight End, Kocourek is really everything that Fred Arbanas is; he just had the better fortune of playing for a wider-open offense with the Chargers. Intelligent, team player, quality receiver and blocker, probably the best person you could hope to find as a second TE as he had no real genuine holes. In addition, he briefly spent time as a 'flanker' with the Chargers before shifting to tight end to accommodate Lance Alworth's arrival, so he also fills another need elsewhere.
(There's an article involving the '63 Chargers actual experimenting with an early form of Steroids during training camp. According to the accounts of those involved, the players were given pills(dianabol) by the coaching staff for a period of three to six weeks before they became more aware of the physical dangers and supposedly quit the practice. Supposedly, because some of those same accounts say Charger coaches still implored players to take those pills the next season, and usage of 'supplements' continued sporadically(maybe more than that) and individually through the decade. So we have our first real case of steroids and their impact on All-Time lists. I'm not a zealot; I subscribe to the idea that steroids are not permitted in this 'exercise', but I won't condemn a player from these teams simply because he is 'suspected' of performance enhancement. There needs to be some genuine proof in the matter first. If I ever do Baseball teams under this format, I'm very sure this is going to be a major scandal)
Backup Tackle: Winston Hill- 1968
-6'4 270. New York Jets, 1963-76/ Los Angeles Rams, 1977
Most would probably argue between Jim Tyrer or Winston Hill for the starting Left Tackle position. The attributes are surprisingly near equal; I'd say Tyrer is the superior run blocker, but Hill was just as devastating. I'd also say Hill is the superior pass blocker, though Tyrer is no slouch either. It's Tyrer's familiarity with the KC system that gets him the nod anyways, as Hill might not adapt well to the 'roving pocket'.
From an athletic standpoint, Winston was truly exceptional. Agile and strong, he might not have been considered the best blocker of the Jets line in any specific category, but he was considered to be the best all-around blocker of the bunch (his performance alone in Super Bowl III says more than enough about how dominating he had become). More to the point, he was the consummate professional, quiet and workman-like. Qualities you want if you have to have him as a backup rather than a starter. Supposedly he switched to the right side in '71 even though his pass protection was so good he should've always covered the QB's backside, and at one point in '65 subbed in at Center. So the ability to play multiple positions is there.
Backup Guard: Dave Herman- 1968
-6'1 255. New York Jets, 1964-73
I really REALLY wanted to put Walt Sweeney in this spot, mostly because I stumbled upon a profile of him stating he was versatile enough to play anywhere on the offensive line. Please understand, a guy who could do that is worth his weight in gold in professional football. Imagine having a 6th Man as an offensive lineman, who could plug any hole that developed on the line due to injury or other circumstances, someone who could blunt any catastrophic degradation of the unit as a whole.
Then I read deeper about Sweeney and discovered the drug usage. Walt is one of the few who admitted to not only taking the initial usage of steroids in '63 but also continued to use whatever was available during his career. He spent pretty much his entire career strung out on a series of drugs- not even his first years were safe, describing an exhibition in '63 where he tore up the field on special teams but did so totally smacked on speed. So I had to leave him out, not out of morality but out of concern that he wouldn't adjust very well if suddenly and forcibly 'cleansed'. (By the way, there's going to be some of you criticizing me for being 'wishy-washy' in regards to my selective nature in regards to players who may have or definitely did use drugs. I'm not the Baseball Writers of America here, okay? I refuse to be a Holier-than-Thou Evangelist when it comes to player selection and drugs, and if you think that deserves ridicule, then I'm immature enough to say 'go [BLEEP] yourself on a railroad spike'.)
Bob Talamini would have been next in line. I say next, because I didn't look into his merits a second time around. He was a left guard, you see, and I already have two of them in Ed Budde and Billy Shaw. If anything, I want a backup guard with experience on the right side, and few of those have any real merit. Which leads us to Herman.
Depending on where you come from as far as the AFL goes, Herman might be better or lesser than most of his contemporaries at Right Guard. I regard him as consistent and steady. Nothing to sneeze at when stabilizing the depth chart. However, what won me over was Herman's performance in Super Bowl III. He was asked to move over to Right Tackle. His 'mark'? None other than Bubba Smith, he of immense size and 'Don't-Screw-With-Me' physicality. Bubba was what made the Colts line so fearsome that year. Herman largely kept him under control despite surrendering six inches and about forty or more pounds to Bubba. The clutchiest of performances (enough for an opinion that Herman should've been named MVP, which is a laughable pipe dream to begin with. Was there EVER an offensive lineman named MVP in the Super Bowl?)
Backup Center: Jon Morris- 1966
-6'4 254. Boston/New England Patriots, 1964-74/ Detroit Lions, 1975-77/ Chicago Bears, 1978
There's not much of, if ANY, difference between Jon Morris and John Schmitt of the New York Jets, nor is there much detail about either player. To be honest, that's kind of a drag, since we can only pick one as our backup, and there's really nobody who played for KC that's worth much at this position. So we went with the guy who collected more honors and labored for a lesser ballclub, the theory going that he had more to do with whatever meager success the Patriots had, including two killer years from Jim Nance, than Schmitt had for the more successful Jets.
Backup Defensive Lineman: Jerry Mays- 1966
-6'4 252. Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1961-70
Mays couldn't beat out Faison at defensive end- Faison had the greater athleticism- or anyone at tackle, but his versatility makes him very valuable as an intangibles guy with quality speed. He might seem undersized on the inside and he never actually played on the right edge, but most of his contemporaries agreed he could handle those tasks, especially Hank Stram. (Stram also said Mays could play any offensive line position, which is only speculation rather than cold hard fact... but it's promising if the injury bug strikes HARD)
Backup Defensive Lineman: Tom Sestak- 1964
-6'5 267. Buffalo Bills, 1962-68
Most AFL historians would argue venomously that Sestak is a greater player over Buchanan and Ladd and deserves a genuine starting spot. It's a fair argument; during Buffalo's championship peak in '64 and '65, Sestak was the lynchpin of an overpowering run defense that went seventeen straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown. And Sestak himself defined 'overpowering', his strength so memorable that you'd think he was a demi-god according to the Buffalo faithful (ask Bills fans to name an all-time defensive line. Bruce Smith and Tom Sestak will most likely be the top two candidates.)
He's backing up Ladd and Buchanan because of his knees. Unfortunately by the time he got over the rookie hump and learned the proper moves of a defensive lineman, his knees started to fail him, frequently swelling to the point he had to constantly drain them. And the opposition knew this, often going for his legs when trying to cut him down. Even with that problem Sestak is too much of a solid worker and even personality to throw away.
Backup Linebacker: Nick Buoniconti- 1969
-5'11 220. Boston Patriots, 1962-68/ Miami Dolphins, 1969-76
Just because I said Willie Lanier had equal intangibles to Buoniconti and superior athleticism does not mean I found Buoniconti to be too weak for the roster.
Nevermind the heart for a moment, because here's Buoniconti's skillset. He was plenty mobile and strong, even above his meager size. He could stand firm at the point of attack and stymie the run, he could range out and make open field tackles. He also could blitz and had to do a lot of that early on because Boston had a lousy secondary for a while. But by '69 he was not blitzing as such and already made Defensive Captain for his new team. Granted, he described himself as more of a freelancer and didn't truly learn discipline until challenged by Don Shula in the early 70's, but as a backup you can work with that. If nothing else, he'll be one of the best contributors on Special Teams.
Backup Linebacker: Larry Grantham- 1968
-6'0 210. New York Titans/Jets, 1960-72
The weight says 210, but Gratham himself has admitted he played under 190. Dubya. Tee. Eff.
Grantham is here for a very specific skillset; he was a genuine 'Coach on the Field', aware of the opposition and his teammates, always knew how to avoid serious injury in the heat of the moment, and called the defensive plays for the Jets during his career. The playcalling thing is golden, as it provides this team with a backup should something happen to Lanier. But aside from that, Grantham showcased just about everything you could want in a proficient linebacker despite his lack of bulk. Great reaction and read, quality tackler, reasonable in coverage.
Backup Cornerback: Kent McCloughan- 1967
-6'1 190. Oakland Raiders, 1965-70
A surprising selection, McCloughan was in reality an underrated corner up until a knee injury in '68 took away his potential. As far as this squad goes, he's here because he's the other half of the bump-and-run tandem with Willie Brown. If you get both men on the secondary at the same time, you'll have a better chance of executing their style of man coverage against the NFL Wideouts... in theory anyways. Outside of the bump-and-run, McCloughan was mobile enough to own a state track record for fifty years and was never considered a weak coverage player.
Backup Safety: Dave Grayson- 1968
-5'10 187. Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1961-64/ Oakland Raiders, 1965-70
Grayson was an accomplished cornerback when Willie Brown joined the Raiders in '67. He had a reputation as a fantastic closer when the ball was in the air, an attribute alongside his competitive and studying nature which made him one of the quality ballhawks in the AFL. But when Brown taught the Bump-and-Run to Kent McCloughan, suddenly Grayson was shifted to Safety. After a year of debatable adjustment, by '68 he was back to his ballhawking status.
Grayson by all accounts could still play cornerback at this time, which gives him a very valuable form of versatility on a secondary trying to punch above its weight. He was also a notable kick returner early on in his career. That provides an option alongside Keith Lincoln, even though by that time Grayson was fading as a returner. Even though there's still...
Backup Cornerback: Leslie "Speedy" Duncan- 1966
-5'10 180. San Diego Chargers, 1964-70/ Washington Redskins, 1971-74
We want Duncan for his return skills- nobody in the AFL comes close to his electricity. With him and Keith Lincoln the AFL is guaranteed a major punch in the return game. But Duncan isn't a slouch at cornerback either, having moved up the depth chart under the tutelage of Chuck Noll while he was still a part of the AFL. By '66 he was established as a starter and a genuine interceptor threat, which is great for the depth. But all in all, we want him returning kickoffs and punts as much as humanly possible.
Now that the dual league mes is over and done with, it's time to move onto the 70's.
Last edited by Zycho32 : 08-08-2013 at 07:39 PM.