Most Iconic Plays Involving the Seahawks By Franchise

This post is based on a post on that is based on a slideshow at  So it’s a retread of a retread — but with a twist. FP and SN give the most iconic play in franchise history for each team in the NFL; I do the same with the added criterion that each play must involve the Seahawks.  So another way to look at this list is that it is an approximation of the 31 most iconic plays in Seahawks history.  (1 is the most iconic, 31 is the least iconic.)  It’s not an exact list, because every other team in the NFL must be represented exactly once.  It’s kinda like how the MLB All-Star team is not truly the best players in the league, because every team gets an All-Star.  There is always a Matt Young in there.

OK, I think you got the ground rules.  Let’s get to it.

 31.  Jacksonville Jaguars: Mark Brunell 39-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith (1996)
I literally could not remember a single play between the Seahawks and the Jaguars, which explains why this is at the bottom of the list.  However, according to the annals of Pro Football Reference, in Week 16 of the 1996 season, the Jags narrowly beat the Seahawks after scoring in the fourth quarter on a Brunell-to-Smith strike.  Since the Jags eked their way into the playoffs that season, and then unexpectedly made it to the AFC Championship Game, it was a pretty big play — just not one many people remember today.

30.  Cleveland Browns: Phil Dawson Game-Winning Field Goal (2007)
This was a quietly great game from the not-so-distant pass.  Both teams finished the year 10-6 and were very evenly matched.  Dawson’s field goal in OT won it for the Browns.

29.  Tennessee Titans: Seahawks Botched Field Goal Returned for a Touchdown (2013)
It didn’t matter much because the Seahawks won anyway, but the most memorable play in Titans-Seahawks lore is this botched field goal, in which Chris Maragos was holding (poorly) because Jon Ryan was kicking because Steven Hauschka got hurt.  It’s worth noting, however, that if we open things up to include Houston Oilers games, then there was a sneaky good playoff game that ended with a field goal in overtime.  And also this memorable ending.

28.  Baltimore Ravens: Matt Hasselbeck Gets Stuffed on 4th Down After Referees Mismanage Clock (2003)
I watched this one live and remember it well — super exciting.  The Ravens beat the ‘Hawks in a barn burner with some help from the referees.  Late in the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks trying to bleed the clock and hang on to a three-point lead, the referees threw a penalty flag on the Ravens that they subsequently picked up.  However, they forgot to start the clock again, in effect giving the Ravens an extra timeout.  Hasselbeck was then stuffed on a 4th-and-inches sneak, leading to a game-tying field by Matt Stover, who then hit the game-winner in overtime.  But it never could have happened if not for the refs blunder.

27.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Steven Hauschka’s Game-Winning Field Goal (2013)
That time the Seahawks almost lost to an 0-8 team the year they won the Super Bowl.  Hauschka’s field goal in OT completed a crazy 21-point comeback.  Here are the highlights.

26.  Detroit Lions: Titus Young Scores Game-Winner (2012)
A good back-and-forth game effectively comes to an end when Mathew Stafford finds Titus Young Sr. for a short touchdown strike.  (Game highlights.)

25.  Buffalo Bills: Russell Wilson Scores First (Second and Third) Rushing Touchdown of Career (2012)
Russell Wilson ran for four touchdowns his rookie season; three of them came in one game against the Bills (Wilson highlights), when the ‘Hawks put up 50 for the second week in a row.

24.  San Diego Chargers: Earl Thomas Picks Off Philip Rivers to Preserve Victory (2010)
This was Pete Carroll’s first major upset.  In Week 3, 2010, the ‘Hawks beat the Chargers (13-3 the previous year) on the strength of two Leon Washington kick-return touchdowns.  But the most memorable play was rookie Earl Thomas’ game-sealing interception.  It was his second INT of the game.

23.  Indianapolis Colts: Blocked Field Turns the Tides (2013)
The Sehawks were poised to roll to their fifth straight win to open the season.  But this blocked field goal turned the tides, and they lost to the Colts.

22.  New York Giants: Brandon Browner Pick-Sixes Eli Manning Capping Upset Victory on the Road (2011)
That pretty much says it all.  Here’s the play.

21.  Philadelphia Eagles: Andre Dyson Caps Off Colossal Beatdown With Second Touchdown of the Game (2005)
Monday Night Football in the cold December Philadelphia weather.  Seahawks 42, Eagles 0.  Seahawks score three defensive touchdowns, including an interception and a fumble return by Andre Dyson.  It was not a good night for the home team or their fans.  (Unfortunately, I can’t find any video from this game — just the box score.)

20.  St. Louis Rams: Rams Trick Seahawks (Again) to Effectively Seal Upset (2014)
I’m sure you remember this one, because it happened less than a year ago.  You can take your pick as to which special teams trick play is more iconic.  I’m going with the fake punt, because it was the icer and also it was the gutsier call.  If you want to go with the fake return, because it was more creative, I won’t object.

19.  Minnesota Vikings: Shaun Alexander Scores Fifth Touchdown of the First Half (2002)
Alexander was pretty good when he was on.  And in no game was he more on than in this Sunday Night Football game against the Vikings, when he scored five touchdowns before halftime.  (Remarkably he scored three in the final three minutes of the half.)

18.  Arizona Cardinals: Beast Quake Junior (2014)
The Seahawks crushed quashed any dreams the Cardinals had of making a Super Bowl run with a 35-6 ass kicking.  The marque play was “Beast Quake Jr.,” but let’s not forget Wilson’s shimmy-shake stiff arm either.  “Magic!”

17.  Houston Texans: Richard Sherman Ties, Game Loses Shoe (2013)
The all-time great Seattle D got weirdly abused by Matt Schaub, but the ‘Hawks won in the end, because in the end Matt Schaub was still Matt Schaub.  And Richard Sherman is really good.

16.  Chicago Bears: Robbie Gould‘s Overtime Kick Dethrones NFC Champs (2006)
The Bears were better than the Seahawks (even with Rex Grossman at quarterback), so it would have been an upset if the ‘Hawks had beaten them at home.  And it nearly happened.  But it didn’t, and this kick made that certain.

15.  Carolina Panthers: Kam Chancellor Seals Playoff Victory By Taking INT to the House (2014)
Just report to camp Kam.  What are you doing?  You have no leverage.  Well, you have this, but it’s not enough.

14.  Kansas City Chiefs: Dave Krieg Hits Paul Skansi for Game-Winning Touchdown on the Final Play of the Game (1990)
Derrick Thomas had a record-breaking seven sacks in this game.  But on the game’s final play, Dave Krieg shook him free and delivered a 25-yard touchdown pass to Paul Skansi to give the ‘Hawks a 17-16 victory.  Here’s a nice succinct video of it all.

13.  Cincinnati Bengals: Steve Largent Scores Record-Breaking 100th Touchdown (1989)
You can see it at the 3:00 mark of this clip.  It’s a pretty nice snag in the back of the end zone against the Bengals.

12.  Miami Dolphins: Curt Warner Scores Game-Winner in Divisional Round (1983)
This was the Seahawks’ first great game, but there isn’t really a big-time iconic play from it.  But still you can’t go wrong with a game-winner, or with Curt (with a C) Warner.  I recommend this entire clip, but you should definitely watch from the 10:00 mark on.  You will see Warner’s game winner, which was set up by a great Krieg-Largent connection.

11.  Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bryant Kicks Game-Winner in Divisional Round (2012)
Shoddy kick return coverage.  A lapse in defense on the game’s final drive.  A long field goal.  An amazing comeback ruined.  Seahawks fans’ hearts broken.  (Game highlights.)

10.  Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III Shatters Leg and D.C. Fans’ Dreams (2012)
The Redskins jumped out to an early lead, 14-0.  Then everything went wrong for them, and it has not turned around since.  The lasting image from this one is definitely RGIII Tim Krumrie-ing it while Clinton McDonald dives on the loose ball.  (Game highlights.)

9.  Oakland Raiders: Bo Jackson Runs It 91-Yards on Monday Night (1987)
Technically this was against the Los Angeles Raiders, but whatever.  I could have gone with the Bo-versus-Boz play, but that play is way, way overrated, in my opinion, (Bo does not run over The Boz) so I went with this one instead.

8.  New York Jets: Vinny Testaverde Does Not Score, But Does (1998)
In a game that brought back instant replay and perhaps kept the Seahawks out of the playoffs, the referee mistakes Vinny Testaverde’s white helmet for the brown ball and says that he scores the game-winning touchdown on fourth down.  Sadly, I can find no video of this play.

7.  Pittsburgh Steelers: Sean Locklear Holding Call (2005)
You could pick any number of plays from this Super Bowl.  But the one that most typifies how the game went for the Seahawks fans is the Sean Locklear holding call (6:45 mark of this pro-Steelers propaganda video).  It’s not explicitly not holding, but it’s not definitively holding either.  It’s just like 95% of the offensive line plays in football.  It just sucks that it (and everything else that game) went against the Seahawks.

6.  Denver Broncos: Snap Goes Past Peyton Manning for a Safety in the Super Bowl (2013)
Again, you could pick any number of plays from this Super Bowl.  But the one that most typifies how the game went for Broncos fans is the safety on the first play from scrimmage.  I don’t think any play ever has better foreshadowed what was to come than this safety.  (Game highlights.)

5.  Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo Bobbles Snap on Field Goal Attempt (2006)
It’s still glorious to watch.  It cracks the top five.

4.  Green Bay Packers:  Brandon Bostick Bobbles Onside Kick, Chris Matthews Doesn’t (2014)
Is this the right call here?  I could go “Fail Mary,” but that was a regular season game.  Still, I think it could be bettered remembered in 20 years than any play from the 2014 NFC Championship game.  And from that game you could pick five different plays: Fake field goal, onside kick, Marshawn Lynch touchdown, two-point conversion, and the game-winner to Jermaine Kearse.  I don’t know.  You watch the highlights and decide.

3.  New England Patriots: Play That Shall Not Be Named (2015)
Let’s watch this clip instead.  “You Mad Bro?”

2.  New Orleans Saints: The Original Beast Quake (2010)
If the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2010, this would be number one.  But they did not, so it is not.  It was a pretty sweet play though.  The entire game was magnificent.

1.  San Francisco 49ers: Sherman Tip (2013)
Definitively number one, in my opinion.  I like this fan shot.

How to Fix the NFL Preseason: “Hard Knocks” for All!

Here are 13 sporting events I would rather watch on TV than an NFL preseason game:

  • Any major golf tournament
  • Any major tennis tournament (men’s or women’s, singles or doubles)
  • Strongman competition
  • Any Aussie rules football game
  • Any cricket test match
  • MLB All-Star Game
  • NBA Skills Competition
  • Any major WWE event
  • College fast-pitch softball World Series
  • Little League World Series
  • College lacrosse playoffs
  • Scripps National Spelling Bee
  • North American Scrabble Championship

All this is to say, I loathe preseason football.  Now, it’s true that nobody really likes the preseason — it’s universally perceived as a joke (except by the NFL, who wants to continue to charge non-joke prices for preseason tickets) – but, judging by comments on social media, I have a much more intense dislike for it than others.  I can’t even get behind the “hey, it’s still good to see football again” sentiment.  I’d rather not see any football again ever, than see the abomination that is the preseason.

But, I like the show Hard Knocks.  It’s really a brilliant idea: How do you make meaningless football interesting?  You de-emphasize the football.  You focus on the personalities.  You show J.J. Watt flipping a massive tire like madman and rapping along to “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor; you show Bill O’Brien playing the role of a balding, bro-y Napoleon, cursing out everybody in his line of sight; you show DeAndre Hopkins strangely repeat the phrase “I fear God” over and over when confronted by DeAngelo Hall.  That stuff is interesting.  Watching an exhibition football game, presented as if it is a real football game, is not.

So here’s how you “fix” preseason football: You do a Hard Knocks type program for every NFL team.  You collect footage of training camp throughout the week, you produce an hour long show, and you include the preseason game as part of the show.  This way we, as fans, don’t have to be subjected to the tedious parts of the game, and since the game is shown within a broader context, it can be made to be interesting.  I would care more about the Seahawks’ battle for backup offensive guard if I knew something about the participants.  Keavon Milton might be a really interesting fellow, but I would never know that watching him block for R.J. Archer for five snaps, buried under his pads and helmet, in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game. I mean, Imagine how cool it would be to get a close-up view of the Kam Chancellor holdout, and to see individually how each of his potential backups is performing in practice.  That would make me much more interested in the fate of Dion Bailey.

Unfortunately, you can almost certainly file this one under “great idea that will never happen.”  For one thing, NFL head coaches are some of the most paranoid people on the planet, and they don’t want camera crews following them around everywhere.  For another thing, the NFL is an extremely conservative organization.  They don’t change easily, and they certainly wouldn’t be quick to convert their preseason into a bunch of reality TV shows.  Lastly, there’s no reason for them to do it.  Money can quickly change even the staidest of minds, so if enough fans revolted to the preseason and made it unprofitable, the NFL would be forced to do something about it.  But we aren’t at that point yet — and we might not ever be.  Enough fans support the preseason by buying tickets (season-ticket holders are forced to buy them) and watching the games on TV.  Enough people are just happy to be watching football again… Just not me.

Seahawks’ Biggest Strength is Actually a Weakness, According to Many

I was scooped a bit by Danny O’Neil on this one — that is, if it is possible for a writer working for the biggest sports media corporation in the world to scoop a blogger who is literally working out of his basement (not his parents’ basement, though).  In an article posted yesterday on ESPN 710 Seattle, O’Neil decries those pundits decrying the Seahawks’ shrinking middle class.  This is exactly what I was planning on writing about this week.  And I’m still going to.

In his article, O’Neil links to several other articles all with the same basic premise: The Seahawks can’t keep everybody.  (See examples here, here, and here.)  Laid out in more detail, the argument goes like this: The Seahawks have been the best team in the NFL the past three years, in no small part because they had a nearly unprecedented core of young, cheap, team-controlled players (Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Golden Tate, etc., etc.).  This afforded the Seahawks the cap space to sign some crucial free agents (e.g., Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett), keep decent but relatively expensive players (like Zach Miller and Chris Clemons), whiff on one notable high-risk-high-reward trade (Percy Harvin), and fill out the roster with quality role players and rotational guys (like Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams).  Now, this core is not quite as young and not at all cheap, which means the Seahawks had to let several players go to other teams, and watch their once flexible cap space be stretched to the limit by a relatively few number of players.  Therefore, the Seahawks lost their biggest strength — they no longer hold the “cheap talent” advantage they held when Russell Wilson was making approximately one-fiftieth of what Aaron Rodgers was making.

Or did they … and do they?

Did the Seahawks lose all their young, cheap talent, or did they just “graduate” a class of good, rookie-contract players, and now they are developing another one right behind it?  Sure, it’s unlike the Seahawks have the next Russell Wilson or the next Earl Thomas or Marshawn Lynch on their roster right now, but they don’t need to find the next versions of these players, because they already have the current versions of these players.  They did a remarkable job keeping their elite core together, and now they have to develop a new middle class.  They need to find the next Tony McDaniel, the next Kevin Williams, the next Byron Maxwell, and so on.  These are the guys the ‘Hawks need to replace.  But is there reason to think they can’t find these guys before the season starts — that they aren’t on the roster right now, battling it out in training camp?  The presumption in the “can’t keep everyone” argument, is that the Seahakws need to keep everyone in order to be a Super Bowl-caliber football team.  But there is a fallacy in this logic, and it can be revealed by looking at the Seahawks’ recent history of player acquisition and development.

The NFL Draft is set up in such a way that teams who are bad don’t stay that way forever.  If a team is lousy enough long enough, they will almost inevitably stumble into a halfway decent team eventually, because the sheer number of high draft picks on their roster will overcome any managerial incompetence (see St. Louis Rams, 2015).  In this case, it makes sense to be highly skeptical that the team could sustain its success in the long run, since it was built on something — a glut of very high draft picks — that will not last indefinitely.  (Are the Rams going to have a good defense in a few years when guys like Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree, and Michael Brockers start commanding high salaries?)

But the thing about the Seahawks is that they have built a winner by doing almost the exact opposite of this.  By and large, they have turned low-round picks and players nobody else really wanted in a perennial winner.  Of the regular starters on the Seahawks teams from 2012 to 2014, only three of them — Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, and Bruce Irvin — cost a top-20 pick.  And many of the players the ‘Hawks lost were nobodies before they arrived in Seattle.  Tony McDaniel was a rotation guy with the Jaguars and the Dolphins, who started just five games in seven seasons, before donning the Blue and Highlighter Green.  Clinton McDonald was actually cut prior to the 2013 season, and no other team wanted him, so the Seahawks brought him back.  Walter Thurmond was a fourth-round pick; Byron Maxwell a fifth-rounder; and Malcolm Smith went from nearly being undrafted to being a Super Bowl MVP.  Even Golden Tate was drafted at the end of the second round after receivers Dexter McCluster and Arrelious Benn.

Knowing all this, why shouldn’t we believe that replacement role players are currently on the roster; that depth in 2016 and 2015 will be no different than in 2014, just with different names; that for the Seahawks, the “next man up” cliché is actually true?  Tyler Lockett and/or Chris Mathews could the next Golden Tate.  Drew Nowak could be the latest starting offensive linemen converted from defense (a la J.R. Sweezy).  Jordan Hill could be better than Tony McDaniel.  Frank Clark could make Bruce Irvin expendable.  Cassius Marsh and Kevin Pierre-Louis have flashed early signs that they can provide depth on defense.  Will Tukuafu might turn into a valuable fullback/D-line swing man — and pundits will extol the virtues of the Seahawks’ dual-purpose player, who was a scrap heap find just a half-year ago.

Certainly not all these hypotheticals will pan out, but not all of them need to pan out — just enough of them so that the Seahawks can fill their void of depth and be a Super Bowl contender once again.  And given their recent track record this seems well within reason.  That the young, cheap core that brought Seattle its first ever Super Bowl victory is no longer young and cheap does not demonstrate a weakness; it demonstrates a strength, in that it was able to be assembled in the first place.  The real advantage the Seahawks have over the rest of the league might be John Schneider and Pete Carroll, and that’s a very good thing for Seattle fans — so far as I know, they are still running the show in 2015.

MARINERS TRADE ACKLEY! (and Seahawks extend Wilson)

Yesterday, the Mariners traded Dustin Ackley to the Yankees for — well, it doesn’t really matter whom at this point.  It’s a couple of low-level prospects you’ve never heard of and probably never will.  It’s a fine trade; moving Ackley for players of any value — even long shots — is completely reasonable, given the current state of the Seattle baseball union.

But it’s a reminder that the Mariners are bad and likely to be bad for some time, because they have been terrible (or, if you’re feeling charitable, terribly unlucky) at drafting and developing players.  Among players on their current roster Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez are the only above-average home-grown players.  And it’s not like the minors runneth over with talent.  There is a decent chance the M’s are about to turn into the Phillies — just without the recent World Series ring.

Dustin Ackley, as you probably recall, was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft in 2009.  At the time, he was widely considered a decent consolation prize for the M’s who narrowly missed out on consensus top pick Stephen Strasburg.  Darin Erstad, I recall reading, was Ackley’s floor.  If only, if only.

Instead Ackley become another link in the long chain of Mariners failed first-round draft choices.  The amateur baseball draft is a crap-shoot, even compared to the drafts in other sports leagues, which are already pretty random themselves, but the M’s have been bad in a way that stretches the concept of bad luck to its limit — in a way that suggest that it’s not actually bad luck, that they are just not very good at drafting and development.

The M’s last good first-round draft pick was in 2003 when they drafted a young high school shortstop by the name of Adam Jones.  Below are the players they have drafted in the first round since then, along with some players in parentheses who they could have taken instead; these are realistic options — guys who were drafted shortly after the Mariners’ picks and/or guys who were being bandied about beforehand as possibilities.  I’m using hindsight, but I’m doing so in a realistic way.  For example, I’m not suggesting the Mariners could have drafted Mike Trout in 2009 instead of Ackley, because Trout didn’t go until pick 25 and just about everybody had the M’s picking Ackley.

(Note: picks from 2004-2008 were under the Bill Bavasi regime; from 2009-2014, it’s Jack Z.)

2004: No pick
2005: Jeff Clement (Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki)
2006: Brandon Morrow (Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer)
2007: Phillippe Aumont (Jason Heyward)
2008: Josh Fields (Gerrit Cole, Jake Odorizzi)
2009: Dustin Ackley (nobody)
2010: Taijuan Walker (nobody)
2011: Danny Hultzen (Anthony Rendon)
2012: Mike Zunino (Addison Russell, Corey Seager)
2013: No pick
2014: D.J. Peterson (Too soon to tell)
2015: Alex Jackson (Too soon to tell)

Yikes and yikes!

Now, obviously, this is not a completely fair assessment, because I’m using knowledge nobody had at the time to cherry pick the best players as alternatives.  But the larger point stands: The Mariners have sucked at drafting for over a decade.  They are the Cleveland Browns of MLB.  Even if just two or three of those picks go another away, the Mariners’ fortunes could have been drastically altered.  Imagine if the M’s had gone Tulowitzki, Lincecum.  Or if they had Rendon and/or Russell.  How different would things be now?  Wait, don’t think about that.  It’s depressing.

Well, fortunately for Seattle sports fans, it’s almost fall, and we have another four-year term of Russell Wilson to look forward to.  Also, the microbrews are good in Seattle and pot is legal.  Not everything is as dire as Alex Jackson’s batting line in Single-A ball.

A Few Mostly Original Thoughts on Edgar Martinez and the Hall of Fame

Seahawks Update: Russell Wilson still unsigned; Bobby Wagner still unsigned.  Full stop.

Now that that’s out of way…

Randy Johnson‘s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week was significant for Seattle sports fans, because it was the first time somebody who played a substantial portion of his career with the Mariners received such an honor (though I did love me some Rickey Henderson in the 2000 ALDS).  And it begs the question: Who’s next?  But this actually isn’t a very interesting question, because Ken Griffey Jr. is on the ballot next year — maybe he’s not an absolute, bet-your-life-on-it lock, but I think the odds are greatly in favor of him being elected.

So if we assume Junior gets in, then who’s next after him?  This is a slightly more interesting question, but I think there is still an obvious favorite: Ichiro Suzuki.  My prediction is that he retires next year after reaching the 3,000 hit plateau — a remarkable achievement, by the way, given he was 27-years-old when he played his first major league game — and then is voted into Cooperstown on his first ballot in 2021.  I further predict that Ichiro’s 3,000th hit will be in a Mariners uniform, which is a sad prediction, if you think about what it says about the state of the M’s next season.

It’s also a sad prediction because, if accurate, it means Edgar Martinez will not be getting into Cooperstown any time soon.  This is what my baseball head tells me, even if my baseball heart disagrees.  He just hasn’t come close to the 75% vote threshold needed for induction (his high is just 36.5% in 2012).  Is this just?  Probably not.  But even the staunchest ‘Gar supporters, if they are objective, will concede that he’s a fringe candidate.

The argument in favor of Edgar is pretty simple: He was an awesome hitter — better than 99 of 100 major league ballplayers ever.  Among the 3,426 “qualified” players since 1893 (the year the mound was moved to 60′ 6″ from the plate), Edgar is tied for 34th in FanGraphs’ wRC+ stat (a decent catch-all for general era-dependent hitting goodness), with a mark of 147.  This puts him almost exactly in the 99th percentile.  And the players who have the same wRC+ as Edgar are Honus Wagner, Ralph Kiner, and Mike Schmidt, so … yeah.  Hall worthy, if you ask me.

The argument against Edgar is more complex, and it’s generally not a single argument, but multiple arguments.  I’ll give the most prominent of these arguments below, with a rebuttal — a rebuttal not so much about why the argument isn’t validate, but rather why it’s not necessarily a big point against Edgar.  I’m not contending the arguments wrong; I’m contending that they don’t carry the weight the anti-Edgar crowd (there’s an anti-Edgar crowd — right? — even if it’s just Jack McDowell) thinks they do.

1.  Edgar didn’t have the counting stats
For being a great hitter for many years, he didn’t come close to 3,000 hits (2,247) or 500 home runs (309).  But he did hit over 500 doubles and walk over 1,200 times.  And he put up over 68 total WAR and 56 JAWS almost exactly on par with the average Hall-of-Fame third baseman.  So it’s not that he didn’t have good counting stats; it’s that he didn’t have the counting stats traditional voters prefer.

Another thing to consider about Edgar is that, through no fault of his own, he did not get a full-time gig in the majors until 1990 when he was 27-years-old.  He logged nearly 3,000 plate appearances in the minors before finally playing a full season in the big leagues — and it’s not like he was struggling, he had a .944 OPS in four seasons with Triple-A Calgary.

No, the problem wasn’t Edgar, it was the Mariners’ upper management.  They allowed Edgar to be chalk-blocked by a hacker named Jim Presley.  Presley, despite being a below-average ballplayer (he was the type of low-OBP slugger who fooled GMs thirty years ago, but wouldn’t be much more than a bench bat today), was Seattle’s regular third baseman for five-plus years, while Martinez toiled in the minors.  Give Martinez another 2,500 big-league plate appearances in his mid-20s, and his career totals would look much gaudier.  But how does one account for this?  How do we adjust for grievous mishandling by management?  What’s Edgar’s xGMM?

2.  Edgar disappeared in the ALCS
It is true that Edgar hit a measly .156/.239/.234 in the Mariners’ three ALCS appearances (’95, ’00, ’01) — all losses.  The counter to this is that it’s a relatively small sample (71 plate appearances), and in another relatively small sample, the ALDS, Edgar hit equally lopsided, but in the other direction, .375/.481/.781 in 77 plate appearances.  When it comes to poor performances in the ALCS, Edgar was a victim of his own success; if he wasn’t so amazing a round earlier, his career ALCS slash line would have been undef./undef./undef., because the Mariners never would have made it that far.

3.  Edgar was just a DH
This argument is the one I find most unfair, for the simple reason in the American League that somebody has to play DH.  If the Mariners were at their best with Edgar at DH, then why should this be held against him?  Contrary to popular belief, Edgar was not a disaster at third base, when he played.  In fact, the advanced metrics paint him as better than average — he actually had pretty decent range.  It’s possible that Edgar could have played third base (or first base) deeper into his career, but the M’s had better options at the hot corner.

This is also why the position adjustment component of WAR can be tricky (and Edgar’s is very much in the red for his career because he played at DH so frequently).  It compares players to a theoretical “replacement player” at a given position.  But teams don’t have theoretical players.  They have real players and not every situation is the same.  It’s possible a player could be penalized individually for helping his team win.  For example, suppose Edgar insisted on playing third base in 1995, and let’s say, for the sake of argument, he was not great, but not awful — something like -0.4 dWAR, meaning his defense would cost the team about four runs a season more than the average third baseman.  The Mariners, in real life, had Mike Blowers play third base in ’95, and he put up -0.2 dWAR (about two runs a season surrendered more than the average third baseman).  So, in our scenario, he was a little better than Edgar would have been, meaning the team benefited from Edgar DHing and Blowers playing third base as opposed to vice-versa.  But, since Edgar DHed in 1995, his dWAR (because of positional adjustment) was -1.4.  So, individually, Edgar looks worse by a full dWAR by DHing even though his team was better off for it.  Does that make sense?  I dunno.  Like I said it’s tricky.

4.  The HOF voters can only list ten players and Edgar isn’t one of the ten best players on the ballot
This is the best anti-Edgar argument.  It’s one I mostly agree with.  If I had a vote last year, ‘Gar wouldn’t have made my ballot (1. Randy Johnson, 2. Pedro Martinez, 3. John Smoltz, 4. Mike Piazza, 5. Barry Bonds, 6. Roger Clemens, 7. Curt Schilling, 8. Mike Mussina, 9. Alan Trammell, 10. Jeff Bagwell, if you were wondering).  But the thing about this is that it’s not Edgar’s fault.  It says little about his Hall of Fame worthiness.  It’s a result of MLB’s and the Hall of Fame’s failure to account for the PED guys.  Guys like Clemens and Bonds and Mark McGwire are clogging up the ballot, siphoning off votes, without a realistic hope of getting in, because more than 25% of the electorate (as presently constituted) will not vote for any of them under any circumstances.  In the past, players of this caliber wouldn’t be on the ballot at this point, because they would have been shoo-ins years ago.  MLB and the Hall of Fame could address this very easily simply by upping the number of players a voter can select — just going to 15 would do the trick, although I wouldn’t be opposed to removing the cap altogether.

With all this said, if ever there was a time for Edgar to make a Hall push, it’s over the next few years.  In 2016 and 2017, the best first ballot guys are Griffey (yes), Jim Edmonds (no), Ivan Rodriguez (yes), and Vlad Guerrero (probably not).  After that, when guys like Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Roy Halladay, and Mariano Rivera become eligible, it’s going to get much tougher.  So, who knows, maybe Edgar sneaks in.  I hope he does.  But I think he probably doesn’t.

NFL Franchise Four: NFC West

Seahawks Update, 12:00 p.m. EDT, 7/22/2015: Russell Wilson still unsigned; Bobby Wagner still unsigned.

That’s about it.  So let’s kill some more time.  Last week I selected the Seahawks Franchise Four (à la what Major League Baseball did this year in conjunction with their All-Star Game); this week let’s extended it to the entire NFC West.  Here we go.

Rams: Merlin Olsen (1962-1976), Jack Youngblood (1971-1984), Orlando Pace (1997-2008), Marshall Faulk (1999-2005)

When looking at the best players in an NFL team’s history, the only real across-the-board numbers we have as assessment tools are approximate value and total Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections.  Merlin Olsen is the Rams king by all three measures (as well as by the “longest tenure on a TV drama” metric).  He has 159 total AV, five All-Pro selections, and 14 Pro Bowls — all tops among Rams players.  It appears as if Olsen was the best of the “Fearsome Foursome,” although Deacon Jones is a reasonably close second and a tough cut from this list.

The Rams of the ’70s were quite good.  They were like the Eagles of the twenty-aughts, in that they made a bunch of conference title games (five), but just one Super Bowl (a loss).  Their best player was Jack Youngblood a defensive end who made the Pro Bowl each year from 1973 to 1979 and garnered five All-Pro selections.  Just be sure not to confuse him with teammate Jim Youngblood, who, remarkably, was of no relation.

Some good quarterbacks have player for the Rams throughout the years.  I thought about choosing Bob Waterfield or Norm Van Brocklin, but they often played as a “QB platoon,” and thus they “split the vote” with me.  And Kurt Warner just didn’t have enough good years in St. Louis to make an all-time list.  This led me to go with a man who protected quarterbacks, Orlando Pace — the understated lynch pin of the “Greatest Show on Turf.”  In my opinion, he should be a Hall of Famer.

And lastly, it’s Marshall Faulk.  He gets the nod over Eric Dickerson because he played several more years for the Rams.  Plus if you look at yards from scrimmage, Faulk’s best seasons are on par with (or even better than) Dickerson’s.  Basically, I think Faulk was a little better than Dickerson.

49ers: Joe Montana (1979-1992), Ronnie Lott (1981-1990), Jerry Rice (1985-2000), Steve Young (1987-1999)

Joe Montana at the top of the list — shocking!

I wanted to go with at least one defensive player — so who better than the famously four-fingered safety?  Ronnie Lott narrowly beats out Patrick Willis, who was much better than most people think (I think).  Willis matched Lott with five All-Pro selections, and he was a Pro Bowler seven of his eight seasons in the league.  But he didn’t have as a long a career as Lott (14 years total, 10 in San Francisco), and he had no Super Bowl rings to match Lott’s quartet.

Jerry Rice: an easier choice than Montana.  He’s the G.O.A.T. — at wide receiver and arguably at any position.

Steve Young was a starter in San Francisco for eight seasons; Joe Montana for ten.  Yet Young received the exact same number of All-Pro nods (three) and Pro Bowl selections (seven).  He also had more AV, a better adjusted yards per attempt average, a better interception rate, a better touchdown rate, a better QB rating, and he was a far superior runner.  I’m not saying Young was better than Montana.  I am saying it was damn close.

Cardinals: Larry Wilson (1960-1972), Aeneas Williams (1991-2000), Larry Fitzgerald (2004-Present), Patrick Peterson (2011-Present)

The Cardinals do not have an impressive bunch of all-time greats.  Their franchise leader in AV is a quarterback your typical NFL fan as never even heard of (Jim Hart).  But one position they have been exceptionally deep in is defensive back (which is why three of the four players on this list are DBs), and the best of the bunch (so far) was Larry Wilson.  Wilson was a Hall of Fame safety who played mostly in the ’60s.  He was an All-Pro each season from 1966 to 1970 and a Pro Bowler seven times.  His number 8 is one of just five retired by the Cardinals.

From a Hall of Fame safety to a Hall of Fame cornerback.  Aeneas Williams was a bit of a surprise selection when he qualified for Canton in 2014, but a very deserving one.  He was a terrific player on some awful Arizona squads throughout the ’90s.  During Williams’ time in the NFL (1991-2004), only Rod Woodson had more interceptions.

I wanted to choose at least one offensive player — who else was it going to be?  Ron Wolfley?  (Actually Ollie Matson was awesome for the Cardinals back in the ’50s, but only for six seasons, and it was when they were in Chicago, so I leaned against picking him.)  Larry Fitzgerald is easily the best receiver in franchise history, and he almost single-handedly provided the franchise with their most exciting moment — the near victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

And back to the defensive backs.  There are actually a few other DB choices here.  ’70s cornerback Roger Wehrli is a Hall of Famer; Night Train Lane played most his years as a Cardinal; Adrian Wilson is a Canton sleeper; and Roy Green, a two-time All-Pro at wide receiver, began his career primarily as a DB.  But I go with Patrick Peterson.  It’s early, but if he’s been something truly special so far.  If he keeps it up, he will be among the best of the best at his position.

OK.  That’s it.  I hope to do another division next week.  That is, unless some really news breaks.

MLB Franchise Four and Who is the Fourth Greatest Seahawk Ever?

Major League Baseball revealed the results of its “Franchise Four” voting yesterday in conjunction with its All-Star Game.  The Franchise Four is simply the four best players from each franchise as determined by the public through popular vote.  Each franchise’s ballot consisted of eight candidates determined by some pretty smart baseball people (see link), so there were no truly outrageous selections.  You couldn’t vote Joey Cora for the Mariners, for example, but there were still some obviously wrong choices.  People tend to overrate things with which they are more familiar, and since all voters had to be alive in 2015, modern-day players are overly represented in the Franchise Four — sometimes egregiously so.  Here are the five worst old-timey snubs in my opinion:

  1. Lefty Grove, Athletics.  He’s arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history and the voters took Dennis Eckersley over him, a relief pitcher who really only had six good years with the A’s — an indisputably wrong choice.
  2. Christy Mathewson and Mel Ott, Giants.  The two greatest New York Giants ever, left off the list for Buster Posey, who would have to replicate his best season for the next decade just to get in the conversation.  I mean, in three years, there is a non-trivial chance Posey is a league-average first baseman (see: Mauer, Joe).
  3. Nap Lajoie, Indians.  That Omar Vizquel — Omar Freakin’ Vizquel! — was selected over one of the five best players ever at his position and the single greatest player in franchise history — a man so good, they literally named the team after him — needs no further comment.
  4. Cy Young, Red Sox.  David Ortiz over Cy Young?  C’mon, man.  Papi was (still is?) a very good hitter, but there are literally a half dozen better selections than him.  Cy Young and Roger Clemens (curiously not even on the ballot) are at the top of the list.  But Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans, Tris Speaker, and Bobby Doerr would have been better picks than Ortiz as well.
  5. Eddie Collins, White Sox.  No Eddie Collins nor Luke Appling, but both Paul Korenko and Harold Baines made it?  See what I mean about overrating the familiar?  Decent designated hitters from the last 30 years are apparently better than all-time great middle infielders from days of yore.

One thing that I will say is that they nailed the Mariners top four: Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, and Felix Hernandez.  That is absolutely the correct quartet.

Anyway …

All of this begs the question: If we did this for the NFL, what would the results look like?  Or rather what should the results look like?  I don’t have the time to answer this for the entire NFL at the moment (maybe in a future post), but we can do it for the Seahawks.  Who are Seattle’s Franchise Four?

The top three, I think are quite obvious — Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy, and Walter Jones.  I don’t see how any of these Hall of Famers can be omitted.  So the question now becomes: Who is the fourth greatest Seahawk ever?  And the answer depends on how you define the terms.

If we only consider feats accomplished before 2015, if we pretend the Seahawks folded after Super Bowl XLIX (a pretty lousy way to go out, huh?), if that’s the case, then I would select Jacob Green as the fourth best Seahawk ever.  He was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, the franchise’s all-time sack leader by a comfortable margin, and an integral part of the team’s success in the mid-’80s.  He’s my pick, but I think you could go with at least a half dozen other players and not be “wrong.”

Green’s longtime line-mate Joe Nash would be a fine selection, as would cornerback Dave Brown and safety Kenny Easley from those same defenses.  (Easley is a particularly compelling candidate — a three time All-Pro, but in a very short career.)  Sticking on defense, Eugene Robinson would be a sneakily decent choice.  On offense, I wouldn’t balk at Matt Hasselbeck — he was a three-time Pro Bowler, and he led the Seahawks to their first ever Super Bowl after all — nor Shaun Alexander.  Let’s not let our most recent memories of Alexander — running three yards and falling down upon the slightest bit of contact — obscure his outstanding half-decade stretch from 2001-2005.

If we open up the competition a bit more to included current players, and we extrapolate their careers with the Seahawks (very conservatively — no assuming Russell Wilson quarterbacks the team to five more Super Bowl victories), then I think things get much more interesting.  And I see it as a three-man race for that fourth spot between Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Russell Wilson.  You could maybe throw in Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Wagner, and/or Michael Bennett, but it’s tough to see any of these guys overtaking the TSW triumvirate.  History tells us Beast Mode is likely to fade soon (if he doesn’t retire first), and Wagner and Bennett aren’t quite at the Sherman-Thomas level on defense, and they suddenly have questionable futures with the team to boot.

And after some deep contemplation, I go with Richard Sherman.  I think the Seahawks defense has been more integral to its success than the offense, and I think Sherman and Thomas are both among the top two players at their respective positions, Wilson clearly isn’t at this level, so I eliminate Wilson based on these two contentions.  Between Sherman and Thomas, it’s essentially a coin flip, but I land on Sherman.  He ranks higher by Approximate Value, and my gut, informed by watching every Seahawks game for the past five years, tells me Sherman is a skosh more valuable than Thomas.  Plus, Sherman made the most iconic play in franchise history.  That’s not a good reason to pick him in and of itself, but it is a decent enough tie-breaker.

So there you have it: The fourth greatest Seahawk ever is Jacob Green … unless it’s Richard Sherman.

Seahawks 2005-2013: Fastest Super Bowl Roster Turnover

The Seahawks, as you probably remember, qualified for the Super Bowl in the 2005 season and in the 2013 season.  In fact, they won the latter, and then they made it back the next season for a third time, but neither of those details is relevant to this post.  I just want to look at the 2005 and 2013 teams — specifically the fact that they had mutually exclusive personnel.  No player was on both teams.  The roster had completely turned over from 2005 to 2013.  Heck,only two players on the ’13 squad were even in the league in 2005 (Chris Clemons and Heath Farwell), let alone on the Seahawks.  The closest man to being on both teams was Brandon Mebane who joined the ‘Hawks in 2007 as a rookie and still plays with them today.

This got me thinking: Is there a franchise that has had two unique conference champions over a shorter time frame than the Seahawks’ span of eight years?  The answer (somewhat) interestingly is no.  When it comes to complete Super Bowl roster turnover, no franchise did it faster than the Seahawks from 2005 to 2013.

In fact, no other franchise did it in under a decade.  The next fastest is Washington from 1972 to 1982.  In ’72, head coach George Allen took the ‘Skins to their first Super Bowl.  In ’82, Joe Gibbs led a completely different roster to the franchise’s first championship; the longest tenured ‘Skin on the team, place kicker and league MVP Mark Moseley (seriously) had been in Washington “only” since 1974.  The New England Patriots also turned over Super Bowl rosters relatively quickly — 11 years, 1985 to 1996.  The closest man to bridging the gap was left tackle Bruce Armstrong who joined the team as a rookie in 1987 and retired as a Patriot in 2000.

The franchise that made the Super Bowl twice in a span of fewer than eight years and had the most turnover is the New York Giants from 2001 to 2007.  Just six seasons after getting crushed by the Ravens in Super Bowl XXV, the G-Men had a completely new roster for their upset in Super Bowl XLII, save three men: Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, Hall of Very Good-er Amani Toomer, and Hall of Decent Enough-er Rich Seubert.

None of this information is particular deep; it’s for “entertainment” purposes only.  But it does help illustrate two things about the Seahawks franchise:

  1. Mike Holmgren did a very good job turning a perennially mediocre franchise into one of the best teams in the NFC for the better part of a decade.  But for a few things completely outside his control (namely missed field goals and lopsided officiating), he likely would have delivered Seattle its first Lombardi Trophy.
  2. John Schneider and Pete Carroll have done some amazing, unprecedented things when it comes to quickly building a winning NFL franchise from scratch.  Yes, the way last season ended was a karate kick to the groin, but let’s not allow that to spoil the entire gallon of mile.  (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?)  Seahawks fans are quite lucky right now.  Let’s just hope it continues in 2015.

Peak Numbers, Career Numbers, and the Eyeball Test: The Top 25 Running Backs of the Super Bowl Era (Part II)

Last entry I ranked 60 running backs of the Super Bowl Era according to a system I devised that utilizes three main criteria: 1) peak numbers, 2) career numbers, and 3) the eyeball test.  This week I’m going to go through each player in the top 25.

25.  Steven Jackson
Jackson narrowly edges Clinton Portis for the 25th spot, and I wish it was the other way.  I think Portis was the superior back.  Jackson was remarkably durable, putting up eight straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2005-2012, but he only had one truly special season — 2006 when he ran for over 1,500 yards and added over 800 more through the air on a whopping 90 receptions.

24.  William Andrews
A powerful dual-threat for the Atlanta Falcons for four seasons in the early ’80s.  He wrecked his knee after the 1983 season, and subsequently played just one more season, as an H-back in 1986.

23.  Roger Craig
I would put Roger Craig in the Hall of Fame.  I think he’s underrated because so much of his production came through the air.  For some reason people like the “pure runner” more than the receiving running back.  But if you put Craig’s overall production up against the “weaker” Hall of Famers, he rates very well.  I’m not saying he’s a Canton shoo-in — just that I lean “yes.”  Plus, he’s the greatest running back in NFL history who has the same name as a baseball manager who was managing a team to the World Series in the same city in which he was playing and in the same year as his team went to the Super Bowl.

22.  Chuck Foreman
If Roger Craig is underrated, then I don’t know what to call Chuck Foreman – quantum-rated?  beneath-rated?  I guess we will just have to go with way underrated.  Foreman didn’t get a single vote point in the G.O.A.T. running back crowd-sourcing ballots, meaning he wasn’t in any voter’s top 20.  This is utterly absurd being that he was the most productive back in the NFC during a half-decade stretch in the mid-’70s (1973-1977).

21. Priest Holmes
You might think he didn’t do it long enough to make the top 25, and you might be right, but probably not.  Holmes only had three big seasons (2001-2003), but one of those was terrific (2001), and the other two were beyond terrific — among the greatest seasons of all time.  And he put up half of a fourth great season in 2004 before getting hurt and essentially ending his career.  Also, people sometimes forget that Holmes wasn’t a chump before he came to Kansas City.  He had a 1,000-yard season with Baltimore as an undrafted rookie in 1998, and he was a solid contributor on the ’99 team and the Super Bowl-winning ’00 squad.

20.  Ottis Anderson
Like Steven Jackson, this is a guy I would kick out of this list, if I was ranking backs just by my “wits.”  (I’d go with Herschel Walker over him.)  But he was Super Bowl MVP with the ’90 Giants, and he had some legitimately tremendous years with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early ’80s.  So, OK, it’s not an egregious offense that he’s on the list at number 20.

19.  Lydell Mitchell
More so than Roger Craig, more so than Chuck Foreman, Lydell Mitchell has not gotten his just due from football fans.  In the mid-’70s, he was Marshall Faulk without the glamour.  From 1975 to 1977, Mitchell racked up over 1,000 rushing and 500 yards receiving (he led the NFL in receptions twice), and yet not a single voter ranked him in his or her top 20.  Mitchell’s career was relatively short, but his peak was higher than most players’ on this list.

18.  Ricky Watters
He really got dogged by the whole “For who? For what?” quote, but the truth is the Eagles really missed him when he was gone.  He provided the Seahawks with some excellent production (three straight seasons of more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage) before Shaun Alexander took over.  And then of course there was his terrific early years in San Francisco with the Steve Young-Era 49ers.

17.  Terrell Davis
Davis only had four productive seasons in the NFL, but three of them were All-Pro efforts.  Throw in his two Super Bowl victories, his 2,000 yard season, and the fact that he was arguably the best offensive player (not just running back) in the league in 1997 and 1998, and, yeah, I’m fine with him being ranked 17th.  Davis was a big crowd favorite, and it’s easy to see why.

16.  Tiki Barber
Barber is the player whose numbers most outweigh his reputation.  Very few people ranked Tiki high on their ballots, but his yardage totals, both during his prime and over the course of his career, are outstanding.  In 2004 and 2005, he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, and in 2006, his final season, he finished fifth and went over the 2,000 mark for the third straight season.  Tiki Barber was really, really good.  Why doesn’t he get more love?

15.  Franco Harris
More than a little overrated because he played for a great team that won a bunch of Super Bowls, and because he made one of the most famous catches in NFL history, but Franco was still quite good.  Number 15 feels too high to me, but I think he belongs on this list somewhere.  I mean, he did have eight 1,000-yard seasons in a 13-year career with the Steelers … and the Seahawks.  Don’t forget the Seahawks.

14.  Edgerrin James
Detractors of Edge will point out that he played in Peyton Manning‘s high-powered offense his entire prime.  Supporters will point to every other running back Manning has ever had.  I mean, Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes, and Knowshon Moreno were/are all perfectly cromulent backs, but they never came close to James’ production with or without Manning.   You don’t put up 4,442 yards from scrimmage in your first two seasons, just because you have a great quarterback.  You have to be damn good yourself too.

13.  Marcus Allen
Four outstanding seasons to start his career, then a decade of good-but-not-great play.  For most his career, Marcus Allen was not the dominant  back people remember.  But what separates him from a typical overvalued compiler (say, Jerome Bettis) is that he did have a few seasons in which he was arguably the best back in his conference (e.g.,1983).  Oh, and he also had that one run in the Super Bowl.  You know the one I’m talking about.  Yeah, that one.

12.  Curtis Martin
If you judge a player by how good he was in his worst seasons, then Curtis Martin was among the best of the best.  In an 11-year career, his only below average season was his last one, and he got hurt part way through it, with an injury Wikipedia uses the adjective “bone on bone” to describe.  (And he was an All-Pro for the only time in his career the season before that.)  Martin never threatened to be the best back in the game, but he was better than many of the other “longevity guys,” like Ottis Anderson and Steven Jackson, because for him longevity did not equal mediocrity.  His lean years were still pretty fat.

11.  Tony Dorsett
Dorsett helped the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory as a rookie in 1977, and then he was one of the top halfbacks in the league for the better half of the next decade.  He also once scored a 99-yard touchdown on a play in which his team only had ten guys on the field.

10.  Thurman Thomas
He’s ranked a few spots too low, in my opinion.  People don’t realize how good a dual-threat Thurman Thomas really was (both in real life and on Tecmo Super Bowl).  From 1989 to 1992, he led the league in yards from scrimmage each season.  If you toss in his ’93 season, which was also pretty good, that’s a five-year stretch in which he legitimately challenged Emmitt and Barry for the running back championship belt.  Thomas was right with the elite of the elite for a solid half decade.  After that his play quickly deteriorated, which is way he’s “just” a Hall of Famer and not a top-five guy on this list.

9.  Earl Campbell
The most overrated running back on the list, in my opinion.  He had a relatively short career, and his prime years were not on par with the other “big peak only backs” ranked behind him — Andrews, Holmes, and Davis.  He rates this highly almost completely because of the crowd-sourcing votes.  I think people see the fact that he led the NFL in rushing yards his first three seasons, and they watch the highlights of him bowling over people (namely Isiah Robertson), and they get excited and don’t look at his downside — he provided almost no value as a pass receiver (he average about 90 receiving yards a season) and that his bruising style meant he was washed up before he turned 30.  By no means am I denying that Earl Campbell was a fantastic player; I’m just saying that among the greats, I think he should be dropped down ten to 15 spots.

8.  Adrian Peterson
If his career was over, I’d say he was also ranked too high, but it’s not, and if we project out just a little bit, number eight seems just about right for A.P.  He’s the only active player on this list other than Steven Jackson, and with Jackson you really have to stretch the definition of “active.”  He’s still in the league, but active is a very generous description of him these days.

7.  O.J. Simpson
O.J. is comfortably ahead of A.P., both in terms of gridiron production and off-field transgressions.  (Sorry, I had to.)  An interesting thing about O.J.’s career is that if you graphed it, his peak would actually look like a mountain peak.  He wasn’t great immediately out of college, he had three “warm up” seasons, and then he had three seasons at the end of his career in which he was clearly washed up (remember O.J. the 49er?).  But for the five years in between, he was phenomenal — a four-time rushing champion, a five-time All-Pro, and a single-season record setter in rushing yards (2,003 in 1973) and yards from scrimmage (2,243 yards in 1975), both of which still stand today, prorated for a 16-game season.  Simpson was the man.  If only he stayed out of the news after football.  No, wait — if only he stayed out of the news after The Naked Gun.  As a kid, I thought he was hilarious in that movie.

6.  Eric Dickerson
His first two seasons were legendary.  In 1983, he set a rookie record by running for 1,808 yards, and then the next season he set the NFL record with 2,105 rushing yards.  (Both records stand today.)  And there was much more Rec Specs-wearing excellence to come.  After a down year in ’85 — in which he missed two games due to a contract dispute — Dickerson came back with another 1,800-yard season in 1986.  His status with the Rams then became untenable, and he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts with whom he led the NFL in rushing for a fourth time, before eventually fading into running back oblivion.  Although people tend to remember his fall from grace in Indy, they often forget that he was quite good for nearly three full seasons with the Colts before that happened.  (He also played a season with the Raiders and one with the Falcons, but at that point he really was completely washed up.)  He doesn’t quite crack the top 5, but when he was on his game — slicing through defenses with his straight-up running style — he gave you the impression nobody could possibly be better.

5.  Marshall Faulk
You could basically flip a coin between Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson — both were amazing dual-purpose threats.  Faulk began his career in Indianapolis, where he was just your garden-variety superstar, but then he was traded to the Rams, with whom he turned into the ball carrier in the “normal play” on John Elway’s Quarterback.  From 1999 to 2001, Faulk ran for at least 1,300 yards and added at least 700 more through the air.  He also accomplished just the second 1,000/1,000 season in NFL history and won an MVP Award.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call this the greatest three-year stretch of any running back of the Super Bowl Era.

4.  LaDainian Tomlinson
Speaking of greatest things from running backs of the Super Bowl Era, it’s tough to beat LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006 campaign — 1,815 yards rushing, 508 yards receiving, 31 touchdowns, 26 AV — when it comes to single-season dominance.  And the amazing thing is that it wasn’t that much better than any of his other top-five seasons.  He narrowly edges out his NFL Network compatriot for the number four spot and is narrowly edged out by the NFL’s all-time leading rusher for a place on the medal podium.

3.  Emmitt Smith
The popular perception of Emitt Smith seems to be that his success in his prime years of the early ’90s was owed mostly to his outstanding Cowboys teammates, and then he was just a good-but-not-great compiler after that.  I think this is all wrong.  Although it’s difficult to prove definitively, my feeling is that he was actually the foundation of those great Dallas offenses, supporting everybody else.  (The Derrick Lassic experience certainly adds some credence to this notion.)  And while it’s true that the rushing record was largely a product of his ability to hang on and get regular carries late in his career when he was a replacement-level back, that shouldn’t negate his remarkable peak.  Emmitt is often put side-by-side with Barry Sanders, and I think up until 1996, Emmitt was actually winning the race.

2.  Barry Sanders
But Barry caught him, surpassed him, and then abruptly retired.  In a ten-year career, Sanders had ten 1,000-yard rushing seasons, ten Pro Bowl appearances, and six All-Pro selections.  Yes, I know he had that one playoff game in Green Bay, where he ran for negative one yard, but the season before that he went for 169 against the same team, and the Lions still lost, so … yeah.  Anyway you slice it, it’s tough to beat Barry.

1.  Walter Payton
Which is why only one man does — the one they called “Sweetness.”  Walter Payton was like Tim Duncan in that his peak was outstanding and then his later years were nearly just as good.  His two best seasons (1977 and 1985) came eight years apart.  In 1977, he led the NFL in rushing (1,852) and total yards (2,121), and in 1985 he was nearly the entire offense of one of the greatest teams in NFL history — again racking up over 2,000 total yards (2,034) and leading the Bears in both rushing yards (1,551) and receptions (49).  It’s true that he didn’t get a touchdown in the Bears’ Super Bowl blowout victory of the Patriots, but he did a ring, and if you ask Irving Fryar which one he would rather have, I think you know what the answer will be.  Super Bowl score or otherwise, you can sum up Walter Payton’s career quite simply: He was the best.

Peak Numbers, Career Numbers, and the Eyeball Test: The Top 25 Running Backs of the Super Bowl Era (Part I)

Running backs have been on my mind lately.  In part this is because Dave Dameshek listed his top-25 running backs of the Super Bowl Era on his football program a few episodes ago, and in part it’s because I read this interesting article at Football Perspective, in which running backs are ranked according to their career “yards from scrimmage over ‘worst starter’ baseline” (described in a bit more detail below).  Being as such, I decided to make my own top-25 running backs list.  It’s given below.  But before we get to it, let’s go through the criteria.  (Or you can just scroll down to the list if you like;  honestly, I’m powerless to stop you.)

I used three main criteria in judging the Super Bowl Era running backs: peak numbers, career numbers, and the eyeball test.  Here’s what I did for each one of these criteria.

1. Peak Numbers
For this I used the “yards from scrimmage over ‘worst starter’ baseline” given in the link above.  This stat is calculated as follows: each year a player’s yards from scrimmage is subtracted from the “worst starter’s” total, and the difference is his yards from scrimmage over ‘worst starter’ for the year.  (It’s zero if his yards from scrimmage is below the worst starter baseline.)  Add up a player’s yearly tallies, and you have his career total.

I like this stat because: a) it uses yards from scrimmage instead of just rushing yards (I don’t see much difference in a player catching a pitch and running it 50 yards and a player catching a screen pass and running it 50 yards); b) although it’s a career total stat, it is heavily weighted in favor of players with big peaks and against players who compiled yards by playing a bunch of years when they were nothing special.  For example, if you look at the table in the linked article, you will see Priest Holmes rates much higher than Jerome Bettis by this stat, because, although Holmes’ prime only lasted three years, each season in his prime was much more productive than any season Bettis ever had in his 13-year career.

2. Eyeball Test
I watch as much football as anybody, but there is no way I could closely watch every good running back of the Super Bowl Era, especially considering many of them played most their careers before I even knew was football was.  As I result, I’m using the eyeballs of many football fans.  A few months ago, Football Perspective did a crowd-sourcing article on the G.O.A.T. running backs.  I used their results for my “eyeball test.”  It’s really more of a vote, but I think it works well enough.

3. Career Numbers
For this I just used the old stand-by: Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV).

Combination of All Three
I first made a list of 60 eligible running backs, and looked at how each one performed relative to the others in each of the three categories.  I considered each category as a “stat pie” and calculated how much a player contributes to each pie.  I then weighted the categories: 60% Peak Numbers, 30% Eye Ball Test, 10% Career Numbers.  (Admittedly these are subjective weights on my part, but they seem reasonably in line with what people usually think of when they hear the phrase “great running back.”)

For example, in the table below Walter Payton is ranked as the greatest running back of the Super Bowl Era (spoiler alert!).  He played from 1975 to 1984; he had 8,914 yards from scrimmage over the “worst starter” baseline (Criterion 1); he received 742 vote points from the crowd (Criterion 2); and his approximate value is 168 (Criterion 3).  At the bottom of the table you see the totals across all 60 running backs for Criteria 1-3: (1) 199,064; (2) 7,107; (3) 5,961.  Hence, Payton contributes 4.47% (8914 / 199064) to Pie 1; 10.44% (742 / 7107) to Pie 2; and 2.81% (168 / 5961) to Pie 3.  His final percentage, using my weights, is thus 6.10% (4.47 * 0.6 + 10.44 * 0.3 + 2.81 * 0.1).  So, in a sense, Walter Payton’s greatness accounts for a little over 6% of the total greatness of the 60 candidates, which is pretty damn good, being that if everybody was equal this number would only be 1.67%.

Name Start Yr. End Yr. Yscrm* Vote Pts. AV Final %
1 Walter Payton 1975 1987 8914 742 168 6.10
2 Barry Sanders 1989 1998 7351 748 150 5.62
3 Emmitt Smith 1990 2004 5829 604 170 4.59
4 LaDainian Tomlinson 2001 2011 6312 544 157 4.46
5 Marshall Faulk 1994 2005 5842 528 166 4.27
6 Eric Dickerson 1983 1993 5260 561 110 4.14
7 O.J. Simpson 1969 1979 5139 551 116 4.07
8 Adrian Peterson 2007 2014 3789 388 89 2.93
9 Earl Campbell 1978 1985 2947 447 78 2.91
10 Thurman Thomas 1988 2000 4961 272 138 2.87
11 Tony Dorsett 1977 1988 4947 269 138 2.86
12 Curtis Martin 1995 2005 4768 240 128 2.66
13 Marcus Allen 1982 1997 3675 260 142 2.44
14 Edgerrin James 1999 2009 4411 115 136 2.04
15 Franco Harris 1972 1984 3516 126 134 1.82
16 Tiki Barber 1997 2006 4999 19 118 1.78
17 Terrell Davis 1995 2001 3019 148 79 1.67
18 Ricky Watters 1992 2001 4328 6 125 1.54
19 Lydell Mitchell 1972 1980 4027 0 101 1.38
20 Ottis Anderson 1979 1992 3617 5 98 1.28
21 Priest Holmes 1997 2007 3140 40 94 1.27
22 Chuck Foreman 1973 1980 3602 0 92 1.24
23 Roger Craig 1983 1993 3296 11 115 1.23
24 William Andrews 1979 1986 3659 0 75 1.23
25 Steven Jackson 2004 2014 3357 9 91 1.20
26 Clinton Portis 2002 2010 3362 11 82 1.20
27 Matt Forte 2008 2014 3441 0 80 1.17
28 Fred Taylor 1998 2010 2726 31 125 1.16
29 Herschel Walker 1986 1997 3183 9 98 1.16
30 Shaun Alexander 2000 2008 2934 21 79 1.11
31 Ahman Green 1998 2009 3172 0 93 1.11
32 Jerome Bettis 1993 2005 2285 51 102 1.08
33 Frank Gore 2005 2014 2846 11 95 1.06
34 Chris Johnson 2008 2014 3055 3 75 1.06
35 Lawrence McCutcheon 1972 1981 2998 0 85 1.05
36 John Riggins 1971 1985 2014 55 121 1.04
37 Eddie George 1996 2004 2774 7 91 1.02
38 Marshawn Lynch 2007 2014 2187 51 76 1.00
39 Ray Rice 2008 2013 2915 0 70 1.00
40 Leroy Kelly 1964 1973 2448 19 102 0.99
41 Jamaal Charles 2008 2014 2707 16 66 0.99
42 Wilbert Montgomery 1977 1985 2755 0 81 0.97
43 Corey Dillon 1997 2006 2292 25 91 0.95
44 Larry Brown 1969 1976 2582 0 91 0.93
45 Arian Foster 2009 2014 2764 0 59 0.93
46 Jamal Lewis 2000 2009 2452 11 83 0.92
47 Ricky Williams 1999 2011 2451 5 90 0.91
48 Billy Sims 1980 1984 2522 0 63 0.87
49 Maurice Jones-Drew 2006 2014 2384 0 84 0.86
50 LeSean McCoy 2009 2014 2421 0 62 0.83
51 Brian Westbrook 2002 2010 2248 0 80 0.81
52 Greg Pruitt 1973 1984 2104 0 81 0.77
53 Gerald Riggs 1982 1991 2079 0 65 0.74
54 Warrick Dunn 1997 2008 1648 6 122 0.73
55 Charlie Garner 1994 2004 1953 0 84 0.73
56 James Brooks 1981 1992 1798 0 103 0.71
57 Bo Jackson 1987 1990 500 120 24 0.70
58 Larry Johnson 2003 2011 1937 0 56 0.68
59 Earnest Byner 1984 1997 1636 0 106 0.67
60 Larry Csonka 1968 1979 786 22 88 0.48
Total 199064 7107 5961 100

As you can see, the top-25 runs from Payton to Steven Jackson.  I think this method nailed the top five (going by my gut, those are the five I would choose in order), but there are definitely some things I’m surprised by.  I’ll get into these in detail in Part II next week.