The inaugural Super Bowl (January 15, 1967); the AFL/NFL merger in 1970; and the premiere of Monday Night Football (ABC 1970), helped catapult the NFL past MLB as America’s game by the 1980’s.
American football in its Super Bowl era is defined by specialists on offense; at quarterback, running back, lineman, and receiver. Defenses also became specialized, but less so, as it has always been every defensive players job to tackle & create turnovers. Special teams were one of the biggest innovations of this era; as coaches started realizing its value in scoring and determining field position.
Straight-ahead toe punchers were the NFL place-kicking style since its beginnings and predominated since the drop-kick disappeared in the 1930’s, when the rugby ball was replaced with the more throwable modern design.
In the early NFL, many games were lost/tied due to missed extra points/short field goal attempts. In the era of 16-20 man rosters, where physical survival was always the most important skill; those who took kicks could not be called place kickers in the modern sense.
Norwegian place kicker Jan Stenerud (K Kansas City Chiefs 1967-85) revolutionized American football with European football (soccer) skills, bringing distance and accuracy to NFL kicking during his 19 seasons. NFL field goal percentage increased steadily during his career, as did the distance from which head coaches would allow their kickers to attempt field goals.
In the KC Chiefs 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV (1970), Stenerud scored the first nine points on field goals of 48, 32 and 25 yards, in a game that was over by halftime. He led the league in FG % 4 times, and was always at or near the top in FG% from 40+ yards. Jan Stenerud was the first place kicker to regularly convert 50+ yard FG attempts.
Ray Guy (P Oakland/LA Raiders: 1973-86) specialized in punting opponents into poor field position. In ways never seen before, Guy revolutionized NFL punting with his whip-like flexibility, leading the NFL in punting average 3 times and finishing 10 seasons in the top-5. His accuracy at pinning opponents close to their goal line compelled the NFL to start tracking “punts inside the 20” in 1976. He was the first punter to understand the importance of net yards per punt (punt yards minus return yards), applying extreme “hang time” to his punts. Ray Guy would boom 50- yard cloud-scrappers, allowing his coverage teams time to defend against a big returns. Many times from his end zone, he would blast a punt over the returner’s head, completely flipping field position for his team.
Ray Guy, a #1 pick by innovative owner Al Davis in 1973 (and one of the most valuable players in modern NFL history), was finally inducted into Canton in 2014. He’s currently listed beneath “Coaches” and “Contributors” in the NFL HoF ‘by position’ listing. Most old-timers don’t consider punters & kickers as ‘real’ football players, even though these positions have historically had a huge impact on winning & losing.
The 1970’s NFL was innovated and dominated by modern-era coaches including; Don Shula (Miami Dolphins), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Al Davis/John Madden (Oakland Raiders), and Tom Landry (Dallas Cowboys). Steroids became part of the landscape for NFL linemen, and artificial turf added another occupational hazard for players. An increased incidence of skin burns, ligament tears and concussions all awaited those who played in stadiums equipped with artificial turf.
The greatest QBs of the day were Bob Griese (Miami 1967-80), Roger Staubach (Dallas 1969-79), Dan Fouts (San Diego Chargers 1973-87), and Ken Anderson (Cincinnati Bengals 1971-86) . The best running backs of this era were O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills 1969-79) and Walter Payton (Chicago Bears (1975-87). Both of these ball carriers played on poor teams for most of their careers, which added proof to the argument that a great quarterback was necessary for a championship team.
O.J. Simpson was a college football star at USC, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1968 before transitioning into a NFL superstar. The charismatic Simpson was a poster child for the NFL in the 1970’s & 1980’s. After retiring from the NFL, he did color commentary on Monday Night Football, starred in television commercials, and even Hollywood movies– always as a friendly & joking personality. Simpson was notorious among ex-players for beating his wife, and his true nature was finally revealed to the American public in 1994-95; when he was compelled to hire a top legal team to buy an acquittal for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, despite overwhelming physical evidence against him.
In 1997, a civil court awarded a judgment against Simpson of the $33.5 million for their wrongful deaths. In September 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with numerous felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping. He was found guilty in 2008, and sentenced to 33 years in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until 2017.
More than anyone else, O.J. Simpson personifies the ugliness lurking behind the NFL’s benevolent mask.
—–End of 1st Quarter
NFL HoF comparison Example #2: 1970’s-era WR comparisons
Fred Biletnikof (1965-78 Oakland) 190 G, 589 Catches, 15.2 Yds/Catch, 76 TD
Cliff Branch (1972-85 Oakland) 183 G, 501 Catches, 17.3 Yds/Catch, 67 TD
John Stallworth (1974-87 Pittsburgh) 165 G, 537 Catches, 16.2 Yds/Catch, 63 TD
Lynn Swann (1974-82 Pittsburgh) 116 G, 336 Catches, 16.3 Yds/Catch, 51 TD
Listed alphabetically, the best player of these four was Cliff Branch, and he’s only one not in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Mobsters were still welcome to buy NFL franchises. In 1977 Eddie DeBartolo, Sr (after being refused in a half-dozen attempts to buy a MLB franchise) purchased the San Francisco 49ers and turned it over to his son, Eddie, Jr. Wikipedia describes DeBartolo Sr. as “a powerful strategic thinker.” Dan Moldea shares this research:
“U.S. Customs Service had received information from one of its special agents, William F. Burda, in January 1981 that the DeBartolo organization ‘through its control of particular state banks in the state of Florida is operating money-laundering schemes, realizing huge profits from narcotics, guns, skimming operations, and other organized-crime-related activities. This organization is reported to have ties to [Carlos] Marcello, [Santos] Trafficante, and [Meyer] Lansky; and because of its enormous wealth and power has high-ranking political influence and affiliations.'”
In other words, the shopping malls that made Eddie DeBartolo’s fortune were financed with laundered Colombian drug money.
The 1980’s were dominated on the field by Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers head coach & GM) and Joe Gibbs (Washington R-word head coach), both winning 3 Super Bowls for their franchises. Pro football’s greatest stars were Joe Montana and a legendary college draft class in 1983, that had three HoF QBs: Dan Marino (Miami 1983-99), John Elway (Denver 1983-1998) and Jim Kelly (USFL/Buffalo 1983-96).
Outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor (NY Giants 1981-93), became the new NFL prototype on defense, terrorizing offenses with his unique brand of intelligence, athleticism & skill. He was unintentionally responsible for one of the most gruesome injuries in modern football history, breaking Washington R-word QB Joe Theismann’s leg [and ending his career] on Monday Night Football. To Taylor’s credit, he immediately signalled to the R-words bench to get their medical staff on the field, as Taylor was horrified by what he had just done. ABC showed the definitive shot, a ‘reverse angle’ replay of this injury, over & over during its broadcast.
The USFL challenged the NFL monopoly from 1983-85, and did well in three seasons using a spring schedule that challenged MLB. Casino & real estate mogul Donald Trump owned the New Jersey Generals. In his blustering George Steinbrenner-like fashion, Trump outbid the NFL for one college star after another; while never coming close to winning a championship.
By 1985, Donald Trump was using his free-spending ownership in the New Jersey Generals to push for a merger with the NFL, which would significantly increase the value of his franchise.
Trump’s clout forced the USFL into rapid expansion, as they moved to a fall schedule in 1986. Other USFL owners realized the futility of going head-to-head with the NFL, and the league went bankrupt before the ’86 season– slowly dying in court. Its greatest stars such as QBs Jim Kelly and Steve Young went back to the NFL teams that claimed their draft rights.
The NFL Players Association had misrepresented & betrayed its rank-and-file since its inception in 1956. The NFL owners didn’t even he recognize the NFLPA as the official bargaining agent for the players until 1968. A 1974 players strike ending in a defeat for the players. The 1982 strike ended with a players revolt against their own union, with NFLPA executive director & head lawyer Ed Garvey stepping down.
Even more disastrous for the NFL players, was the 1987 strike which collapsed within a month, after the owners brought in replacement players. Approximately 15% of the NFLPA’s members crossed picket lines to play during the strike including veteran stars: Mark Gastineau, Randy White, Joe Montana, Doug Flutie, and Steve Largent.
A collective bargaining agreement that allowed NFL players to benefit from free agency wasn’t ratified until 1993. Still today, no NFL contract is guaranteed. If a player blows out a knee after signing a multi-million dollar deal, he can be cut & released from his contract by the team. Signing bonuses have been notoriously clawed back by ownership.
In 1985, William “Refrigerator” Perry (DT 1985–1993) became a prototype for sports de-evolution, by becoming the first 300-pound NFL lineman; helping the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl—-
In 1979 ESPN was launched, providing 24-hour a day sports programming. In 1987, ESPN gained partial rights to the National Football League. Players salaries and owner franchise values have skyrocketed since, due to massive broadcast revenues. Today the NFL Network is a successful premium channel, delivering 24/7 NFL content.
The NFL adopted instant replay into its officiating in the 1980’s/1990’s, due to massive referee incompetence. Instant replay has likely been used to fix NFL playoff games and decide Super Bowls; the most infamous example is the Tuck Rule game, which is better seen than explained.
The NFL in the 1990’s was initially dominated on the field by the post-Bill Walsh San Francisco 49ers, led by QB Steve Young (1984-99) & WR Jerry Rice (1985-2004); then the Jimmy Johnson coached Dallas Cowboys, led by WR Michael Irvin (1988-99), RB Emmitt Smith (1990-2004), and QB Troy Aikman (1989-2000).
Three-time MVP, QB Brett Favre (1991-2010) restored legitimacy to the Green Bay Packers, with his unique combination of gun-slinging playmaking & good-sport toughness. Deion Sanders (ATL/SF/DAL, 1989-2005) was likely the best NFL cornerback and one of the best punt returners, ever– an electrifying playmaker. Barry Sanders (RB Detroit Lions 1989-98) may have been the NFL’s best ball carrier ever.
In the 2000’s the New England Patriots, coached by Bill Belichick were the NFL’s only sustained dynasty. Free agency, with its salary cap restrictions made it difficult for championship teams to maintain a stable nucleus, with contending teams constantly poaching their rosters.
Belichick and the Patriots front office, were among the first in football to use statistical analysis metrics, equivalent to sabermetrics in baseball, to quantify player value in terms of wins. This gave New England a consistent edge in player drafting as well as on-the-field tactics & overall strategy.
Modern NFL play-calling is high-percentage short-gain/low-risk passing on early downs, and going for it more frequently on 4th-down; passing up field goal attempts for potential touchdowns– providing the distance for a first down/touchdown is makeable. The most valuable position in football is by far, quarterback. It’s not impossible, but it is very difficult to win a Super Bowl without at least an above-average QB.
Some of the best players from 2000-present were/are: QBs Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts 1998-present), Tom Brady (New England Patriots 2000-present), Drew Brees (SD/New Orleans Saints 2001-present). The best play makers were RB LaDainian Tomlinson (SD Chargers 2001-11), WR Randy Moss (MN/OAK/NE 1998-2012) and punt return specialist Devin Hester (Chicago Bears 2006-present).
Unfortunately by this time, off-the-field problems were starting to overshadow the actual football. Team captain & star middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis was a suspect under investigation for a double murder committed on Jan. 31, 2000. The NFL intervened on Lewis’ behalf, and he was dropped as a suspect by the police.
Lewis was never able to produce the clothes he was seen wearing the night of the homicides. The Ravens won the Super Bowl a year later, and Ray Lewis (1996-2012) went on to become arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history. The murders have never been solved.
In June 2002 Pat Tillman, a linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals enlisted in the United States Army, motivated by patriotic duty after 9-11. The NFL assisted the Bush administration in its use of Tillman as propaganda to sell its dirty “War on Terror.”
Pat Tillman served several tours before he died in the mountains of Afghanistan on April 22, 2004– in a friendly-fire incident.
The US Army initially reported Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, and maintained this lie for over a month; until the Pentagon notified the Tillman family that he had died as a result of friendly fire. In 2007, Kevin Tillman also an Army Ranger in a convoy behind his brother Pat at his end; read testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, of the Pentagon’s version of Pat’s ‘heroic’ death.
“Above the din of battle, Corporal Tillman was heard issuing fire commands to take the fight to an enemy on the dominating high ground. Always leading from the front, Corporal Tillman aggressively maneuvered his team against the enemy position on a steep slope… in the face of mortal danger, Corporal Tillman illustrated that he would not fail his comrades. His actions are in keeping with the highest standards of the United States army.”
Pat Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor, for his fictional bravery. The Bush administration cynically lied about Tillman’s friendly-fire death, to exploit its propaganda value.
—-End of 3rd Quarter
By 2006, Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick was implicated in a dog fighting scandal, involving over seventy dogs, most of them pit bulls showing signs of injuries. Vick and four of his associates were convicted for conspiracy in interstate commerce and unlawful animal cruelty. Michael Vick served 21 months in prison. He was reinstated by the NFL in 2009.
Sexual assault allegations were made against Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in 2008 & 2009. In 2010, after intense pressure from the NFL, the district attorney for the plaintiff held a press conference to announce that Roethlisberger would not be charged; expressing how the plaintiff no longer wanted to pursue criminal charges due to the level of media attention. The district attorney stressed that she was not recanting her accusation.
The NFL handed Ben Roethlisberger a 6-game suspension (later reduced to 4 games) in 2010, for “ungentlemanly conduct.”
From 2009-11, the New Orleans Saints operated a slush fund that paid out bonuses for inflicting crippling injuries on opposing players. Players targeted by the Saints coaching staff included star QBs Brett Favre (Vikings) & Kurt Warner (Cardinals). NFL officiating was so incompetent that none of the bounty hits in question were ever penalized or deemed illegal by in-game officials.
In 2012, the NFL owners locked out its referees, and started the season with replacement officials, despite safety complaints from the NFLPA. The owners were refusing to pay the modest referee union demands, amounting to a $3.2 million/year, in a $9 billion/year league. By Week 3, hapless NFL officiating was taken to a new low during Monday Night Football, when Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw the first game-winning interception in league history. Embarrassment over the inexplicable replay decision forced the owners to give in to union demands, which amounted to an extra $100,000/year expense for each of the 32 NFL team owners.
New-era NFL owners are mostly billionaires, buying franchises for personal amusement as well as seeking public subsidies for new stadiums. Since the 1980’s, 70% of the cost for new NFL stadiums has been paid for by taxpayers; for which team owners keep all revenues on tickets, concessions, parking and television broadcasts– for games played in publicly-financed buildings.
In 2013, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, was ordered by a federal judge to pay $85 million for “organized crime fraud,” finding him in violation of the New Jersey state RICO act.
Today, the NFL is still opening new stadiums with synthetic playing surfaces, despite overwhelming research and player preference towards playing on natural grass.
Player compensation for concussion related diseases and other realities of post-NFL life have been slow in actualization. The NFL continues to take the stance that its game is safe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The NFL denies players are getting brain damage from concussions received during NFL games & practices.
Performance-enhancing drug (PED) suspensions are a weekly occurrence; here is the ever-expanding list. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is now the preferred PED, due to its difficulty to detect with testing.
Obesity and unhealthy playing weights for modern NFL linemen is an ugly scandal the NFL refuses to seriously discuss publicly. Player weights at all positions have increased at least 30-50% since the 1970’s.
As discussed earlier, alcohol & gambling have always been part of the NFL. Bootleg whiskey from the 1920’s has been replaced with omnipresent beer advertising for every game. In the 2000’s, domestic violence & DUI arrests for NFL players became common news.
Today, billions of dollars are collectively bet on every NFL contest. Nevada is the only state where sports bookmaking is legal in the US. Las Vegas bookies establish and monitor the betting line of every NFL game. Over 99% of football betting (office pools, fantasy leagues, handshake wager, etc.) is illicit. Accurate team injury reports are required by the NFL, and teams are fined by the league office if they don’t strictly comply. Cooperation from the NFL is insisted upon by their mobster partners, so they can set an accurate betting spread.
NFL Security is employed by the league to deal with every scandal in this media-driven age. Justice Department officials are employed by the NFL to do research, use their contacts, and develop attack-campaigns designed to intimidate, squash and/or blacklist any perceived opponents of the NFL.
The NFL is a non-profit, and Commissioner Roger Goodell takes home over $30 million annually for carefully filtering & interpreting any NFL information released to public. He has been aggressive in his use of public relations in the NFL’s attempts to bury all scandals. Dan Moldea’s Interference, neatly characterizes the function of NFL Security officials:
Phil Manuel, former Senate investigator: “The oldest trick in the book is to hire old Justice Department officials and make them understand that they are to protect the security of the NFL owners.”
An IRS agent taken off an NFL-related gambling probe: “What we’ve got here are connections among the Cosa Nostra, the federal government, the big attorneys in the D.C. area, sports figures, and the television news media. We were getting too close to the people at the top. [He] was being protected by people within the Justice Department.” p. 171
“We have a basic rule in the NFL,” says a former law enforcement official who advises the NFL of security matters.” It is to keep it upbeat and keep it positive. But above all keep it quiet.” p. 33
As far as what sports fans can learn about the NFL from its pre-Super Bowl era– it is sketchy at best.
Too little data exists (even for many skill-position players such as QB, RB, WR), while most players (offensive linemen & all defensive players) have no meaningful records of their actions.
The all-NFL/all-pro designation is nothing more than sportswriter & coaches opinion, from its inception in the 1930’s.
There is virtually no game film, and what little exists is usually of poor quality and not available to the average fan.
This lack of objective data for player performance, along with its omnipresent mobster & gambling influence, are the defining features of early American football.
In 1985, a Harris Poll showed the NFL was more popular among US sports fans than MLB: 24% to 23%. In 2014, 35% of sports fans called the NFL their favorite sport, while only 14% preferred MLB.
The NFL reflects popular culture in decline. Its glorification of violence dovetails with militarism and ruling-class values. It is a difficult, but necessary task to reduce it’s hold on popular consciousness. The NFL, like capitalism itself, is rotten to its core and cannot be reformed– both will have to be revolutionized by the people, before its self-destructiveness reaches the limits of human sustainability.
Click here to read Part 1– American Football: Early NFL History