Big 12: Thurman Thomas
I can distinctly remember the cold, snowy day (for me) from Super Bowl I on Jan. 15, 1967, at our home in Indiana. I was 7 years old, but I knew it was something big because the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers was being shown on two television networks at the same time. There was more snow as we tried to adjust our rabbit ears on the television set for a better picture.
Since then, I've been able to watch almost all of the Super Bowls. There might have been one I missed because I had to work for a friend who was getting married that day. But I have seen and digested almost every play of every Super Bowl over the years.
With my narrow frame of the Big 12 conference, it got me thinking earlier this week about which performances in the history of the NFL's biggest game have been the most memorable or most infamous that involved alumni of the conference's schools.
Here is what I came up with.
1. Mike Jones, St. Louis linebacker (Missouri): His stop of Tennessee's Kevin Dyson only inches short of the goal line on the game's final play preserved the Rams' 23-16 triumph over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. It is one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history. Heck, it was one of the most memorable in NFL history.
2. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins running back (Texas Tech): He erupted for a Super Bowl record 204 rushing yards on 22 carries, including runs of 58 and 43 yards, to key the Redskins' 42-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXII.
3. John Riggins, Washington running back (Kansas): Rushed for 166 yards on a Super Bowl-record 38 carries to power the Redskins to a 27-17 victory over Miami in Super Bowl XVII. Riggins gave the Redskins the lead for good on a 43-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-1 blast early in the fourth quarter, wrapping up an MVP performance that remains the only one earned by a player from a Big 12 school.
4. Roger Craig, San Francisco running back (Nebraska): Craig was a member of three Super Bowl championship teams with the 49ers and had several strong performances. But his biggest was a three-touchdown effort against Miami in Super Bowl XIX. Craig ran for 58 yards and a touchdown and also snagged a team-high seven receptions for 77 yards and two scores to pace the 49ers to a 38-16 victory.
5. Wes Welker, New England wide receiver (Texas Tech): Welker's team dropped a disappointing 17-14 game to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, but it wasn't because of his lack of effort. Welker matched the Super Bowl record with 11 receptions for 103 yards, but it still wasn't enough to lead his team to victory.
But as strong as those efforts were, other players from Big 12 schools didn't fare nearly as well in their Super Bowl moments. Here are the five most infamous moments or performances from a Big 12 player in Super Bowl history.
1. Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas (Oklahoma State) loses his helmet: The College and Pro Football Hall of Famer had one of the most notorious moments of his career when he lost his helmet at the start of Super Bowl XXVI against Washington. Typically, Thomas placed his helmet at the 40-yard-line before a game, but it was moved in order for a stage to be set up for Harry Connick Jr.'s rendition of the national anthem before the game. He scrambled to find his helmet, causing him to miss Buffalo's first two plays from scrimmage. It was the start of a miserable performance in which he rushed for only 13 yards on 10 carries in a 37-24 loss to the Redskins.
2. Jack Pardee's (Texas A&M) long ride on Larry Csonka's back: The veteran Washington linebacker was hoisted for nearly 30 yards by Miami fullback Larry Csonka on a pivotal 49-yard run in Super Bowl VI. The play has been replayed in countless NFL Films showings over the years as emblematic of the Dolphins' domination in the 14-7 victory. Even worse, it was the final game of Pardee's proud 15-season career.
3. Justin Hartwig’s (Kansas) holding call in the end zone almost cost the Steelers: Pittsburgh was poised to ice its Super Bowl XLIII victory after Ben Roethlisberger's 19-yard pass got them out of a third-and-10 hole from their own 1-yard line late in the game against Arizona. But Hartwig was flagging for holding in the end zone on the play, leading to a safety that pulled the Cardinals within 20-16. Even worse, Arizona stormed back to take the lead two plays later when Kurt Warner hooked up with Larry Fitzgerald on a 64-yard TD pass.
Hartwig was saved from being one of the biggest goats in Super Bowl history when Roethlisberger marched the Steelers on a game-winning touchdown drive, capping it with a 6-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left. Otherwise, we would still be hearing about Hartwig’s bonehead play -- the only time an offensive lineman has been flagged for holding in the end zone in Super Bowl history.
4. Donny Anderson (Texas Tech) levels the "The Hammer": Before Super Bowl I, Kansas City defensive back Fred "The Hammer" Williamson vowed that he would knock out a Green Bay player with "his hammer," a well-placed forearm shiver. Instead, Green Bay running back Donny Anderson, a former Texas Tech player, caused a concussion for Williamson when his knee collided with Williamson's head early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl I. Williamson also suffered a broken arm on the play when his teammate, linebacker Sherrill Headrick, fell on top of him. The play has been immortalized by NFL Films for the reaction of Anderson's Green Bay teammates along the sidelines after it occurred.
5. Boyd Dowler's (Colorado) injury makes Max McGee's career: We never would have heard about McGee's pregame carousing before Super Bowl I if Dowler hadn't separated his shoulder early and been forced out of the game. McGee grabbed seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 35-10 victory over Kansas City, becoming a wealthy man from his restaurant franchises and broadcasting career that capitalized on his one game of glory. Dowler didn't have a catch in the game.
Craig's candidacy appears to be strong. He was a member of three Super Bowl championship teams with the San Francisco 49ers. He was a four-time Pro Bowler who led the league in receptions in 1985 and ranked among the top seven receivers during four consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1988. He also finished in the top 10 in rushing for three straight seasons from 1987 to 1989.
His numbers appear strong, but he likely will be hurt by two "no brainer" selections. Smith and Rice have to be picked in their first seasons of eligibility. Smith was the greatest running back of his generation and Craig pales compared to him. And I'm thinking if voters choose to reward a player from the San Francisco dynasty of the late 1980s, it will be Rice.
The Big 12 is underrepresented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There hasn't been an alumnus from the conference selected since Thurman Thomas and Roger Wehrli in 2007.
Here's a look at the Big 12 schools and their alumni chosen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Baylor: LB Mike Singletary (1998)
Iowa State: None.
Kansas: T Mike McCormack (1984), RB John Riggins (1992), RB Gale Sayers (1977).
Kansas State: None.
Missouri: CB Roger Wehrli (2007), TE Kellen Winslow (1995).
Nebraska: T Bob Brown (2004), E/coach Guy Chamberlin (1965), T William "Link" Lyman (1964).
Oklahoma: QB Troy Aikman (later finished at UCLA/2006), WR Tommy McDonald (1998), DE Lee Roy Selmon (1995).
Oklahoma State: RB Barry Sanders (2004), RB Thurman Thomas (2007).
Texas: RB Earl Campbell (1991), DB/coach Tom Landry (1990), QB Bobby Layne (1967), administrator Tex Schramm (1991).
Texas A&M: DB/P Yale Lary (1979).
Texas Tech: None.
How about it, readers? Are there any Big 12 products either retired or playing today in the NFL who deserve a slot in Canton for their deeds in the NFL?
I think an argument can definitely be made for Craig and for former players Tommy Nobis (Texas) and Lester Hayes (Texas A&M). I can also see recently retired players like Zach Thomas (Texas Tech) making it one day. And it also wouldn't surprise me to see Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma) and Wes Welker (Texas Tech) there if they can keep progressing in their careers.
What do you think?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis understands by now, I see numbers and statistics as a way of explaining a lot of things about sports.
A whole generation of analysts has constructed brand new ideas in baseball because of the work of sabermetricians like former Kansas student Bill James.
Football doesn't quiet have that wealth of study, mainly because there aren't as many numbers available.
But there are a growing segment of analysts out there doing more and more work on football analysis.
My wife got me a book over the weekend which I read while I was down at the beach over Memorial Day. Sean Lahman's "The Pro Football Historical Abstract" used some Jamesian methodology to rank the top pro players in history at their positions, among other things.
And bringing some of Lahman's study into closer focus, I was particularly interested in how players from Big 12 schools ranked among his career lists at various positions.
Here's a position-by-position glance at the top Big 12 players in NFL history, according to Lahman's rankings.
12. Bobby Layne (Texas)
27. Troy Aikman (started at Oklahoma, UCLA)
28. John Hadl (Kansas)
62. Steve Grogan (Kansas State)
63. Kordell Stewart (Colorado)
100. Bernie Masterson (Nebraska)
2. Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State)
5. Thurman Thomas (Oklahoma State)
21. Earl Campbell (Texas)
30. Roger Craig (Nebraska)
32. John Riggins (Kansas)
38. Priest Holmes (Texas)
45. Ahman Green (Nebraska)
54. Larry Brown (Kansas State)
98. Gale Sayers (Kansas)
99. James Wilder (Missouri)
17. Cliff Branch (Colorado)
27. Del Shofner (Baylor)
47. Irving Fryar (Nebraska)
48. Mel Gray (Missouri)
49. Dave Parks (Texas Tech)
6. Kellen Winslow (Missouri)
14. Keith Jackson (Oklahoma)
34. Henry Childs (Kansas State)
49. Paul Coffman (Kansas State)
7. Will Shields (Nebraska)
32. Richmond Webb (Texas A&M)
34. Bob Brown (Nebraska)
39. Bob Young (Started at Howard Payne, Texas, Texas State)
46. John Wooten (Colorado)
18. Ron McDole (Nebraska)
19. Steve McMichael (Texas)
43. Ray Childress (Texas A&M)
2. Mike Singletary (Baylor)
26. Andy Russell (Missouri)
28. Jack Pardee (Texas A&M)
29. Zach Thomas (Texas Tech)
30. Leslie O'Neal (Oklahoma State)
16. Yale Lary (Texas A&M)
21. Pat Fischer (Nebraska)
36. Roger Wehrli (Missouri)
20. Bobby Layne (Texas)
2. Glyn Milburn (Started at Oklahoma, Stanford)
4. Dante Hall (Texas A&M)
7. Tyrone Hughes (Nebraska)
10. Gale Sayers (Kansas)
5. Eric Metcalf (Texas)
12. Glyn Milburn (Oklahoma, Stanford)
Combined kick returners
11. Dante Hall (Texas A&M)
14. Mike Nelms (Started at Baylor, Sam Houston State)
24. Dick Todd (Texas A&M)
TWO-WAY ERA PLAYERS
5. Verne Lewellen (Nebraska)
7. Glenn Presnell (Nebraska)
10. Guy Chamberlin (Started at Nebraska Wesleyan, Nebraska)
1. Link Lyman (Nebraska)
3. Ox Emerson (Texas)
5. Charley Brock (Nebraska)
6. Frank Bausch (Kansas)
4. Tom Landry (Texas)
53. Jack Pardee (Texas A&M)
72. Guy Chamberlin (Nebraska Wesleyan, Nebraska)
I had a chance to see many of these players as my frame of reference for the NFL goes back to about 1964, when I was 5 years old. The only one that really shocked me was how low Gale Sayers was ranked among running backs. I grew up watching the Chicago Bears and saw almost every one of Sayers' pro games. I find it hard to believe there were 97 better running backs in NFL history than him.
One fact that was interesting from this list was the number of running backs and linemen that were Big 12 products, in comparison with quarterbacks and receivers. In the old days, the Big Eight and Southwest conferences always had reputations based on stout running games. I think that will change in the future because of the conference's growing aerial status.
Obviously, there will be other Big 12 players who will be able to make the list in the future. It would be a shock if we don't see Adrian Peterson charging into the best backs in NFL history. It wouldn't surprise me if Michael Crabtree was able to be that kind of player. Maybe Jason Smith, too.
But it's always interesting to me to see the kind of work that Lahman has developed on a grand scale for the NFL and compare it to the Big 12 schools.
I just wish some other researchers would feel as passionate about college football history, too.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I got a lot of good feedback last week after I detailed a post that listed the top NFL player from each Big 12 school in the modern era.
ESPN Stats & Information went back through every draft of the modern era -- since the NFL-AFL merger -- to determine the players who accomplished the most during their NFL careers.
The rankings were based on the following criteria: Hall of Fame induction, MVP awards, All-Pro first-team selections, All-Pro second-team selections, Pro Bowls, offensive and defensive player of the year and rookie of the year awards and membership on a Super Bowl-winning or -losing team. A player scores on the ranking system when he earns at least one of those honors.
Specifically, this was the criteria that was used:
THE POINTS SYSTEM
Players received points based on the following criteria, coming up with rankings for the 13,808 NFL players who have played since 1967:
Super Bowl loss (1 point)
Offensive rookie of the year (2 points)
Defensive rookie of the year (2 points)
Pro Bowl (2 points)
Super Bowl win (3 points)
AP All-Pro second team (3 points)
AP All-Pro first team (4 points)
AP Defensive Player of the Year (6 points)
AP Offensive Player of the Year (6 points)
AP Most Valuable Player (8 points)
Hall of Famer (15 points)
After popular demand, here's how the formula calculated the five most valuable NFL players produced from each Big 12 school. I'm curious what some of your thoughts about these players and others might be.
Remember, this includes only players who were drafted. So free agents like Wes Welker were not included.
Mike Singletary 81
Mike Nelms 22
Vann McElroy 10
Gary Green 8
Thomas Everett 8
Dick Anderson 30
Cliff Branch 29
Mark Haynes 23
Chad Brown 15
Charles Johnson 14
Alfred Williams 12
Matt Blair 18
Keith Sims 9
Marcus Robertson 5
Otto Stowe 4
Karl Nelson 3
John Riggins 25
Dana Stubblefield 24
Nolan Cromwell 21
Leroy Irvin 15
Larry Brown 14
Larry Brown 34
Martin Gramatica 8
Barrett Brooks 3
Clarence Scott 2
Henry Childs 2
Terence Newman 2
Roger Wehrli 44
Kellen Winslow 40
Eric Wright 23
Russ Washington 16
Mel Gray 12
Will Shields 44
Roger Craig 30
Neil Smith 28
Irving Fryar 17
John Dutton 13
Lee Roy Selmon 46
Keith Jackson 28
Billy Sims 14
Roy Williams 14
Adrian Peterson 13
Greg Pruitt 13
Barry Sanders 93
Thurman Thomas 60
Kevin Williams 24
Leslie O'Neal 16
Dexter Manley 13
Earl Campbell 65
Doug English 21
Steve McMichael 21
Bill Bradley 17
John Elliott 16
Shane Lechler 31
Lester Hayes 29
Richmond Webb 28
Ray Childress 26
Sam Adams 13
Zach Thomas 40
Curtis Jordan 4
Dylan Gandy 3
Maury Buford 3
Ted Watts 3
Timmy Smith 3
Source: ESPN Stats & Analysis Team
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Oklahoma State doesn't have as much football history as some Big 12 schools, but the Cowboys still have several worthy candidates who belong on the school's version of Mount Rushmore for Cowboy football greats.
And I didn't consider T. Boone Pickens, despite his megabuck support for the school over the years, limiting inclusion to players and coaches.
Here are my four picks:
- Barry Sanders -- A starter for only the 1988 season, but what a season it was. Sanders averaged 7.6 yards per carry and rushed for a then-college football record 2,628 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns, capping the season with the Heisman Trophy.
- Thurman Thomas -- A two-time All-American tailback who left school with a record 4,595 rushing yards.
- Bob Fenimore -- The legendary "Blonde Bomber" was Oklahoma State's first two-time All-American. He led the nation in rushing with 1,048 yards in 1945, finishing third in Heisman balloting.
- Mike Gundy -- Four-season starter at quarterback from 1986-89 who became the career passing leader in Oklahoma State and Big 12 history when he left school. And his coaching has been noteworthy -- even with the controversy -- after three straight bowl trips and a chance for perhaps the school's most notable season in 2009.
There could have been a space on Oklahoma State's Mount Rushmore for Terry Miller, Dez Bryant, Tatum Bell, Jon Kolb or Leslie O'Neal. But in the end, I could pick only four.
And the four selected, I think, best represent the school.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's been fun to look back at the history of the Super Bowl over the last week, looking at the Big 12's association with the biggest game in football.
But upon closer inspection, the Big 12 has had players with great and infamous performances in the 43-game history of the Super Bowl. Here are some of the most notable and forgetable.
1. Mike Jones, St. Louis linebacker (Missouri) -- His stop of Tennessee's Kevin Dyson only inches short of the goal line on the game's final play preserved the Rams' 23-16 triumph over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. It is one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.
2. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins running back (Texas Tech) -- Erupted for a Super Bowl record 204 rushing yards on 22 carries, including runs of 58 and 43 yards, to key the Redskins' 42-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXII.
3. John Riggins, Washington running back (Kansas) -- Rushed for 166 yards on a Super Bowl-record 38 carries to power the Redskins to a 27-17 victory over Miami in Super Bowl XVII. Riggins gave the Redskins the lead for good on a 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 blast early in the fourth quarter, wrapping up an MVP performance that remains the only one earned by a former Big 12 player.
4. Roger Craig, San Francisco running back (Nebraska) -- Craig was a member of three Super Bowl championship teams with the 49ers and had several strong performances. But his biggest was a three-touchdown effort against Miami in Super Bowl XIX. Craig ran for 58 yards and a touchdown and also snagged a team-high seven receptions for 77 yards and two scores to pace the 49ers to a 38-16 victory.
5. Wes Welker, New England wide receiver (Texas Tech) -- Welker's team dropped a disappointing 17-14 game to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, but it wasn't his fault. Welker matched the Super Bowl record with 11 receptions for 103 yards, but it wasn't enough to lead his team to victory.
Most infamous moments/performances for a Big 12 player in Super Bowl history:
1. Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas (Oklahoma State) loses his helmet -- The College and Pro Football Hall of Famer had one of the most notorious moments of his career when he lost his helmet at the start of Super Bowl XXVI against Washington. Typically, Thomas placed his helmet at the 40-yard-line before a game, but it was moved in order for a stage to be set up for Harry Connick Jr.'s rendition of the national anthem. Thomas entered the game after missing Buffalo's first two plays from scrimmage. It was the start of a miserable performance where he rushed for only 13 yards on 10 carries in a 37-24 loss to the Redskins.
2. Boyd Dowler's (Colorado) injury makes Max McGee's career -- We never would have heard about McGee's pre-game carousing before Super Bowl I if Dowler hadn't separated his shoulder early and left the game. McGee grabbed seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 35-10 victory over Kansas City. Dowler didn't have a catch in the game.
3. Jack Pardee's (Texas A&M) long ride on Larry Csonka's back -- The veteran Washington linebacker was carried for nearly 30 yards by Miami fullback Larry Csonka on a 49-yard run in Super Bowl VI. The play has been replayed in countless NFL Films showings over the years in the final game of the 15-year career of Pardee. Even worse for Pardee, his team lost, 14-7.
4. Donny Anderson (Texas Tech) levels the "The Hammer" -- Before the game, Kansas City defensive back Fred "The Hammer" Williamson vowed that he would knock out a Green Bay player from Super Bowl I with "his hammer," a well-placed forearm shiver. Instead, Green Bay running back Donny Anderson, a former Texas Tech player, caused a concussion for Williamson when his knee collided with Williamson's head early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl I. Williamson also suffered a broken arm on the play when his teammate, linebacker Sherrill Headrick, fell on top of him.
5. The Los Angeles Rams' secondary collective bad day in Super Bowl XIV -- The starting secondary for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV was composed entirely of alumni of Big 12 schools -- CB Pat Thomas (Texas A&M), CB Rod Perry (Colorado), S Nolan Cromwell (Kansas) and S Dave Elmendorf (Texas A&M). Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw riddled the group for 309 passing yards and two touchdowns en route to a MVP-winning performance in a 31-19 victory for the Steelers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a lunchtime fix of the top stories from across the Big 12 this morning. Enjoy them.
- Another week, another monster Big 12 game. The Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff breaks downs the ramifications of the Texas-Texas Tech game on Saturday, as well as his always tasty package of conference nuggets.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel wonders why a special dinner Friday night honoring former Nebraska and Oklahoma players is being held behind closed doors.
- Texas cornerback Curtis Brown got the first start of his career last week against Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State. His reward this week, the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte reports, is a date against Texas Tech Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree.
- Texas A&M is building for the future with seven freshman starters this season and nine freshmen who have seen substantial action, San Antonio Express-News beat writer Brent Zwerneman writes.
- The Tulsa World's Matt Doyle writes about how Oklahoma State tailback Kendall Hunter has been exceeding expectations all of his life. In high school, Hunter broke Earl Campbell's school record at John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. And this season, he's become only the second sophomore in OSU history to rush for 1,000 yards, joining Thurman Thomas.
- John Helsley of the Oklahoman writes about the collapse of the Oklahoma defense since Ryan Reynolds was injured against Texas.
|AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki|
|Mike Gundy is about to begin his 18th season as a player or coach at Oklahoma State.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kudos to the Tulsa World for an outstanding story this morning by Jimmie Tramel and Bill Haisten on Mike Gundy's upcoming 200th game at Oklahoma State as a coach or player.
Gundy will begin his 18th season with the Cowboys when they meet Washington State in Seattle for their Aug. 30 season opener.
The bombastic Gundy started his career as a quarterback on perhaps two of Oklahoma State's greatest football teams, leading the Cowboys to a pair of 10-2 seasons in 1987 and 1988. He was also around for a disappointing 4-7 season as a senior in 1989, understandable in part because Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas both were gone to the NFL by then.
Gundy has gone on to be an assistant and a head coach at his old school for 13 of the last 18 years. His stint at Stillwater has been interrupted only by one year at Baylor and four years at Maryland from 1996-2000.
And he told reporters earlier this summer that he feels blessed to be coaching his school with new facilities soon to be opening.
"I can't imagine anybody who graduated from here and actually played here and has roots in this area, this part of the state, not feeling like this is the best job in the country," Gundy told reporters at OSU's preseason media day.
But when asked by the World earlier this week about the likelihood of remaining for another 199 games, Gundy wasn't as sure.
"I don't know if I'll have enough energy to do that. This job takes a lot of energy in the daily operation and in recruiting full-time. There's never a day when you can say, 'Stop, that's enough.' I do think it will eventually get easier here, but right now, we just don't have enough established tradition where we can slow down."
Gundy's record has been 94-102-3 in those games, including a record of 3-21-1 against Oklahoma and Texas.
Those schools will continue to mark Gundy's success or failure at his school. If he can ever get them to regularly be competitive with those two traditional powers, the Cowboys likely will be South Division title challengers.
But they haven't been able to so far, which is the main reason Oklahoma State and Gundy still are looking for their first Big 12 South Division title.