Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust — Blocking Backs

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I know. The NBA draft is going on right now as I type 35,000 feet in the air. Apparently the Knicks maintained their recent tradition of picking a teenager with their “not high enough” first round draft pick. I can hardly wait to read all the quotes about “raw talent”  and “wingspan” sure to be coming my way in the next few days. Yippee. Who knows, maybe they caught lightning in a bottle tonight? It won’t change the fact that there are likely 60+ losses coming our way next year as the odds continue to increase I may never witness another championship banner hanging at MSG.

So in an effort to focus on happier subjects, I turn my attention to the gridiron.  The Jets are currently tied for first place in the AFC East (maybe the last time I’ll be able to say that in 2018), and thus currently occupy first position for me as I root for something (anything) positive to happen from one of my teams (yup, scary thought that the Jets are my great hope currently, and double-yup, it’s almost July, so time to wave the white flag on the Mets season and begin deciding who I’m going to root for to upend the Yankees in the playoffs come October).

Rather than dwell on the present, I got to thinking about those ground and pound days of my football fan childhood. Back then it seemed like every NFL team had an iconic featured halfback grinding out first downs, and 1000 yard rushing seasons meant something because the schedule only had 14 games. And in front of every one of those storied featured backs racking up the yardage on Sundays was a monster of a fullback clearing the way.  So I figured I’d take a quick crack at a few NFL thoughts and lead off with props to a couple of those unsung bad asses of the early-’70’s.

  1. My three favorite fullbacks (not named Matt Snell — who should have been MVP of Super Bowl III, for those of you keeping score at home). Oddly, when I began thinking about those “good old days,” of NFL seasons past, the teams that came to mind are three of my least favorite today.  I can’t stand the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, and the Cleveland Browns are mostly irrelevant to me, except for the fact that, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I do enjoy a good run of futility, believing it is good for the fabric of any sport. So thanks for that anyway, Browns. Funny how biases form and evolve through the years, isn’t it? Because when I harken back to those years of youthful innocence the first badass, blocking backs that spring to mind are Bo Scott of the Browns, Jim Braxton of the Bills and Charlie Harraway of the Redskins. Don’t ask me why, but I loved those guys and still have football cards of all three today.  They cleared the way for LeRoy Kelly, O.J. Simpson and Larry Brown on some strong, talented teams of that era. What is also funny to me is how huge those fullbacks seemed back in the day.  Scott and Harraway were 6’3, 215 and Braxton weighed in at 6’1, 245. Guys that size are running 4.4 40-yard-dashes today at the combine and getting drafted as tailbacks. Back then they were good for a few screens out of the backfield, the occasional carry when the A-lister was getting a breather, and otherwise spent Sunday afternoons cracking helmets with the likes of Willie Lanier, Mean Joe Greene and Bob Lilly as they cleared the way for LeRoy, O.J. and Larry up the middle.  Interestingly, both Harraway and Scott were a bit older than their backfield counterparts, and the  steep, end of career decline in yardage for both Larry Brown and LeRoy Kelly began immediately following the retirement of their trusted fullback. Not a coincidence if you ask me. When I was looking at Braxton’s stats, I also had a surprise. I was completely convinced he was the sole fullback leading the way for O.J. in his 2003-yard 1973 season. Wrong. Thanks to NFL.com I learned that Braxton only played in six of the Bills’s 14 games that year and that Larry Watkins was the fullback leading the way for Juice the majority of games during that record breaking season.  Larry Watkins? Huh. Anyway, as a kid I was always fascinated on Monday mornings to see the contrasting rushing stats that would show a line something like Brown going for 27-118-1 and Harraway with 6-14-1. Who was more important to their team’s success though? Hard to say.
  2. Over-Under Win Totals! The over-under win thresholds for 2018’s NFC squads were released today, and for some reason this really excited me (three hour flight delays at Newark Airport — thank you United Airlines — will lower my excitement bar considerably). I quickly identified two absolute gimmes right out of the gate in the NFC east, with the Eagles coming in at 10.5 and the Giants at 6. Give me the under on the Eagles and the over on the Giants right now, please. You can’t tell me there isn’t a Liberty Bell-sized hangover heading like a freight train toward the entire Philadelphia Eagles organization.  They sneak up on no one this year. The offseason banquet circuit always exacts a toll on the stars, and all the coin flips that came up heads for them in 2017 will inevitably see a few landing tails in 2018. I don’t think they’ll even get to 10, but that extra 1/2 makes this one an easy one. The Giants on the other hand are quite likely this year’s Eagles. They get OBJ back along with the already HOF-enshrined Saquon Barkley (yes, New York Football-Giant fans are a wee bit enthused about Mr. Barkley coming to town), a competent coach and a better O-line, plus a last place schedule.  Their defense can’t be as bad as it looked all last year, can it?  The Giants are my pick to win the East this year and an over/under of only six wins seems like a layup. I didn’t see any other obvious ones in the NFC, although I was  tempted to go under on the Saints’s 9.5 and the 49ers 9. I think the Niners are still at least a year away, but maybe I’m swayed by all the euphoric Bay Area fans predicting great things, so I can’t say they don’t get to nine with any degree of certainty.  I’m staying away from that one. And are the Saints really a 10-win team?  Doesn’t seem like it, but that division is so difficult to handicap that I’ll stay away from that one, too.  The Gints and Iggles are gifts from Vegas, so I’ll rest on those two for now and see what the AFC brings me when I wake up tomorrow.
  3. Snell, Boozer and Namath, my all-time favorite backfield. My earliest football memories are from the seasons of 1970 and 1971.  In other words, I just missed the Jets only Super Bowl win back in January of 1969. Yet the positive sentiment of that unexpected upset of the Colts was still quite alive and well when I first began forming my fan allegiances, so my team became the Jets and my favorite Jet a running back.  Emerson Boozer, he of the high-kneed running style that invited injury but was still super cool back then. Boozer was followed closely by Broadway Joe and the aforementioned Matt Snell in my personal pecking order of favorites.  In time Richie Caster would take over for the retired Snell as third on my depth chart of idols. What I find somewhat fascinating when I think back on that time, was that I never saw a Jets team with any combination of those players finish above .500 as a kid.  But to this day, those are the guys on my personal Mount Rushmore of New York Jets legends. Same with the Giants. The Giants were my second favorite team growing up (and even overtook the Jets for about a twenty year period from the mid-’80’s to early-2000’s  as my bandwagon of choice, before I resumed my Gang Green fanaticism — more on that embarrassing about face in a future post). When I think of my all-time favorite Giants players, I start with Spider Lockhart and Ron Johnson from those terrible Yale Bowl Giants squads of the ’70’s, way before I begin waxing poetic about LT, Harry Carson and Phil Simms (but man were those Big Blue teams of Parcells fun to watch) from the Super Bowl winners in ’86 and ’90. Point being that it isn’t the record, it’s the uniform that creates that early bond, and those first, larger than life heroes stay on that pedestal forever. I suppose we can file this last point under the category of “just sayin.'” Nothing like a little nostalgia to kill time on a six hour flight.

Regardless, I am ready for some football.  Get them into the camps and let’s go already.  J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS! We’re tied for first with 16 games to go, who could ask for more than that?

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2 thoughts on “Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust — Blocking Backs”

  1. Always loved the true Fullback. I always picture 1 guy-Robert Newhouse. Huge thighs. Huge neck. Not only a great blocker but also a very good ball carrier. By no means am I even close to a cowboys fan however I think you need to give credit where it is due. By the way how lucky was Tony Dorsett to have him???

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    1. Great call on Newhouse! Yes, the thighs were incredible and you’re right he could run. He had something like 940 yards as a rookie (I think in a 14 game season), but when Dorsett came along he became a blocking back. A great one.

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