History Lesson : Jerry Rice

As long as we’re talking about receivers this week, we might as well talk about the best one to ever play the game: Jerry Rice. While easily regarded as the best wide receiver in NFL history, many would conclude that Rice is the best player, period, in NFL history.

Besides owning basically every meaningful statistic for receivers, he also owns the record for most seasons played by a receiver: 20. Twenty. How in the world do you maintain that level of performance for two decades?

Rice would likely point to hard work as the answer to that question. For as much as he’s regarded as the best of the best, he’s even moreso regarded as having the greatest amount of work ethic. He famously reflected on his habits by saying, “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”

And he did.

I love this interview with Jerry Rice and Steve Young. Just one of many goosebump-inducing stories of his legendary level of commitment:

“He outworked the work ethic guys.” I love that. What a testament to the value of hard work.

Do you guys remember watching Jerry Rice play?

History Lesson : Deacon Jones

It was recently announced that the player with the most sacks each season will receive the newly minted Deacon Jones award. The award receives it’s name from Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, which is an apt honor to bestow on the man who coined the term the award recognizes – the quarterback sack. As per this article in Bloomberg, “He described it this way: ‘You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag. You’re sacking them. You’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.'”

He was never one to mince words.

It’s both a blessing and a curse that he pioneered the defensive end position and the art of the sack. He revolutionized defensive play, but record-keeping for those statistics – namely, sacks – weren’t even recorded until the 80’s, long after his career ended. If the numbers counted, he would still hold the record for the highest single-season sack record with 26 and be third on the all-time list of career sacks (behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith).

Perhaps more than sacks, Jones is known for being the man behind the head slap – which is precisely what it sounds like. While illegal now, it certainly served him well then.

(Also, if you have yet to see the A Football Life on the Fearsome Foursome, of which Deacon Jones was part, you need to see it! It’s impossible not to love those guys.)

History Lesson : Vince Lombardi

Ever wonder how the Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the winning Super Bowl team, got it’s name?

It’s thanks to this man, Vincent Thomas Lombardi, whose story is told here by legendary Packers guard, Jerry Kramer:

Would you believe that Coach Lombardi’s original career path was as a priest? Yep, it’s true. After two years of study he decided to switch paths and finish prep school before attending Fordham University. He played football there (as a fullback), but decided to pursue another carrer path – this time, law school – after graduation. Luckily, that didn’t last long. He soon opted for a job as an assistant coach for a local high school and continued to move onwards and upwards, always leaving a trail of success behind him.

His first job in the NFL was coaching as an offensive assistant for the New York Giants (at which time another iconic coach, Tom Landry, was the defensive assistant). In 1959, he became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

(And the Packers fans rejoiced.)

Coach Lombardi led the Packers to three consecutive championships – five total –  including the first two Super Bowls. He was recently named the Greatest Coach in NFL History by ESPN, a fact that has never been widely disputed.

Perhaps greater than his winning record (96-34-6) was his work ethic and the charisma that acted as a delivery agent of that ethic. I love these thoughts from former Packers quarterback Bart Starr:

For the folks who weren’t in the meeting rooms and on the practice field, I would tell you the story of how Coach Lombardi approached us when he first came to Green Bay. I had already been there for three seasons, and we had not had much success.

Well, in our first session, he was so strong and dynamic and powerful; when we took our first break after 30 minutes or so, I ran down the hall and into one of the offices and called my wife back here in Alabama. I said, “Honey, we’re going to start winning.” I mean, it was that obvious.

His charisma, his manner was very, very impressive. One of the first things he said was, “We’re going to RELENTLESSLY pursue perfection — even though we know full well that we won’t catch it, because nothing is perfect.” Put the “relentlessly” in capital letters because that’s how he said it.

(That last part reminds me of a recent press conference with current Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. We get the good ones in Green Bay.)

Ready for a video that will start your day right? Here’s a pep talk from Coach with audio clips from his famous speech, What It Takes to Be Number One:

(Want a portable version? Check out the book + CD, available here!)

History Lesson : Johnny Unitas

People…I can’t even believe I’ve been depriving you of the film portion of these lessons. Somehow I missed the memo that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a Youtube channel…so we’ll be picking up the best episodes with a vengeance for the next few weeks as we continue on with our history lessons!

Today we are taking a trip down memory lane with legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas. Get your popcorn ready!

I think my favorite fact about Johnny U was that he was released by the Steelers before the season ever began. It would have been so easy – even logical – for him to call it quits then. Instead, he worked construction during the week to support his family and played quarterback, safety, and punter for a local team on the weekends for $6 a game before going to a Colts tryout with a friend the following year. The Colts signed him…and he remained their quarterback for 17 seasons.

It just goes to show that if you know you are meant to be or do something, no setback in the world is too great to overcome.

Want more Johnny U? Be on the lookout for an upcoming movie – featuring a current Baltimore star – projected to release in 2014.

History Lesson : One Yard Short

Remember the Music City Miracle? The play that sent to Titans to Super Bowl 34? They were in need of another miracle in that game, but it was the Rams who came up on the receiving end.

Most Super Bowls don’t come down to a final play in the red zone. This one did. The Titans were on the Rams 10-yard line. The score was 23-16. The time on the clock was 00:06.

In the waning seconds of the miraculous game before, it was Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson to Super Bowl. This time around it was the same cast of characters, but a much different outcome.

The plan was for Frank Wycheck to run straight up the field to draw attention away from Dyson, who would be running into the end zone for the touchdown. It didn’t quite go according to plan. Rams linebacker Mike Jones stayed with Wycheck…until he saw Dyson catch the ball. He then turned and made The Tackle that will live in infamy for St. Louis, and caused the One Yard that Tennessee will never forget.

A play has probably never been quite so accurately described as, “so close, and yet so far.”

History Lesson : Music City Miracle

Let’s continue with the miracle theme, shall we?

The first part of this history lesson should probably focus on reframing your perspective: there was a time in the not-so-distant past when it wasn’t at all abnormal for the Buffalo Bills to be perennial playoff hopefuls. Really. The 80’s and 90’s were the Bills’ golden years. They made the playoffs 10 out of 12 years in those decades, and even went to four Super Bowls back to back to back to back in the 90’s. They didn’t win any of them, but still, that’s a huge feat.

Then, in the ’99 season wildcard round in an away game against the Titans, something happened. And the Bills haven’t made a post-season appearance since.

That something, as you might surmise, was the Music City Miracle.

It was the 4th quarter. The Bills had just taken a 1-point lead by kicking a 41-yard field goal and were kicking it off to the Titans with 16 seconds remaining. The Bills objective was clear: do anything to run out the next 16 seconds and prevent the Titans from getting into field goal range.

Bills kicker Steve Christie kicked the ball off, and the Titans’ Lorenzo Neal made a standard catch. He then pitched it back to tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw it across the field to Kevin Dyson. Dyson proceeded to run, untouched, 75-yards for the touchdown, and the victory.

But it would be a few minutes before that victory was confirmed. Throwing a forward pass during a kickoff return is illegal, and if Wycheck’s pass had landed further ahead than where it was thrown, the touchdown would be revoked. It had to have been a lateral pass – a pass that goes either perfectly sideways or behind (and is legal at any point in the game).

The ref goes in. The ref comes out.

It was a lateral. Titans win a Music City Miracle, and eventually advance to the Super Bowl.

(That “1 Yard”? That’s another significant history lesson you can be looking forward to next week!)