NFC West: 2011 Flash Points NFC

Don Coryell's tenure with the old St. Louis Cardinals and influence on the San Francisco 49ers through Bill Walsh led one Arizona Cardinals fan to hit the NFC West mailbag Thursday.

Randy from Peoria, Ariz., thought Coryell's absence from our Cardinals "Flash Points" ballot was striking.

"Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, you wouldn't mind publishing a piece detailing Coryell's background and influence," Randy wrote. "I'm aware Coryell didn't invent the whole cloth of the West Coast offense, but it didn't come to fruition without his very keen offensive mindset."

These are great points, Randy, but Coryell's hiring by the Cardinals falls short as a franchise flash point because his run with the team lacked pivotal moments on par with the ones we listed. The team reached the playoffs twice under Coryell and never won a postseason game, falling 35-23 to the Los Angeles Rams and 30-14 to the Minnesota Vikings.

Coryell's broader impact on the game falls into another category. His offense did influence coaches throughout the league.

Specifically in relation to the current NFC West, the option routes Coryell built into his offense caught the attention of Lindy Infante, who incorporated similar concepts into the offense he taught to current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when both were with Indianapolis.

Harbaugh lists Infante as one of the greatest influences on his offensive philosophy. I've spoken with Infante about various concepts in some detail and can break out his thoughts in a forthcoming blog entry. Sounds like a project for Friday, perhaps (update: Saturday).
Where the NFC West stands in Flash Points balloting, which continues into Wednesday afternoon and seeks to identify key events in franchise history:

Votes so far: 125,896

Votes by team: San Francisco 49ers 42,066; Seattle Seahawks 29,750; St. Louis Rams 28,232; Arizona Cardinals 25,848.

Closest race: Eleven percentage point separate the top three Seahawks moments. Thirty-six percent pointed to Paul Allen purchasing the team and keeping it in Seattle. Twenty-eight percent singled out the victory against Carolina to reach Super Bowl XL. Twenty-five percent pointed to the team's decision to select Dan McGwire in the first round of the 1991 draft, even though coach Chuck Knox preferred Brett Favre.

Flashiest Flash Point: The 49ers' hiring of Bill Walsh has commanded more than 22,000 votes, easily the most among all NFC West options.

Biggest blowout: The Arizona Cardinals' victory against Philadelphia to reach Super Bowl XLIII has drawn the highest percentage of any team's votes (68 percent). Getting a new stadium in Glendale ranks a distant second with 16 percent. That is easily the widest gap between first- and second-place options.

Weakest Flash Point: With all due respect to 49ers legend R.C. Owens, his alley-oop reception to beat the Detroit Lions in 1957 hasn't measured up among voters, drawing only 1 percent. The top two options -- Walsh's hiring and "The Catch" -- combined for 90 percent, with 6 percent selecting Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s forced exit as owner.

My favorite suggestions: For the Rams, their 30-3 defeat to the 49ers in the NFC title game following the 1989 season. EmsDucks offered that one, noting that the Rams went into quick decline and wound up moving the franchise. That game also negatively impacted perceptions of quarterback Jim Everett. ...

For the 49ers, the hit Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams put on quarterback Steve Young in 1999, precipitating Young's retirement. ...

For the Seahawks, hiring Mike Holmgren away from Green Bay. We can informally roll this one into Allen's purchasing of the team, which cleared the way for the hiring. ...

For the Cardinals, there were a few, but none more entertaining than visions of coaches past. Buddy Ryan's proclamation about there being a winner in town was up there with Dennis Green's memorable postgame meltdown.

Scheduling note: NFL West polls close Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. I'll break out winners and single out one for elaboration in a piece scheduled for Thursday.

Closing question: What about Walsh's hiring with the 49ers stands out to you all these years later? The success San Francisco enjoyed thereafter speaks for itself. In retrospect, it's easy to say the 49ers made a no-brainer hiring. In truth, however, Walsh was the team's fifth head coach in less than two years, and the organization was floundering at that time.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Rams -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 19.

Long before Kurt Warner was directing the Greatest Show on Turf, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin were connecting with Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and Tom Fears for the Los Angeles Rams of the 1950s. They won a championship, too.

The Rams' 1951 title team sustained an 11-year stretch without a losing season. The Rams would remain successful for years under Sid Gillman, George Allen, Chuck Knox and Ray Malavasi, but none of those teams would win a championship.

The biggest trade in franchise history also earned a spot on the ballot. This swap involved owners, not players. The Rams and Colts traded ownership in 1972. Carroll Rosenbloom's death in 1979 left the Rams to his wife, Georgia Frontiere, who would later move the franchise to her native St. Louis. Her passing in 2008 precipitated the team's latest ownership change.

The Rams' 16 seasons in St. Louis have been eventful. Hiring Dick Vermeil, drafting Orlando Pace, acquiring Marshall Faulk and turning to Warner could all earn spots on the ballot. These were among the defining moments as the Rams brought a championship to St. Louis.

The drama associated with quarterback Trent Green's 1999 preseason injury and Mike Jones' Super Bowl tackle conferred special status to those two events. Green's injury was supposed to doom the Rams' season, but Warner intervened. And when Jones brought down Tennessee Titans receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams were champions again.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Cardinals -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 19.

The Cardinals go back to 1920, further than any other current NFC West franchise. They were the Chicago, St. Louis and Phoenix Cardinals before adopting Arizona. They even combined with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 1944 season when World War II drained rosters.

All that history produced relatively few key moments for a long, long time. The Cardinals' 1947 championship had to make the list. The team did not win another playoff game for 51 years. There were some solid seasons, notably under Don Coryell during the 1970s, but those teams gave up five turnovers and more than 800 yards in their two playoff appearances.

The team finally broke through in 1998. Chris Jacke's 52-yard field goal sailed through as time expired to beat San Diego on Dec. 27 of that year, securing a playoff berth. The Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round one week later for their first playoff victory since the 1947 season. That six-day sequence still stands among the most memorable in franchise history. I singled out Jacke's kick as the key to it all.

The two other key events on the ballot are intertwined.

The successful push to get University of Phoenix Stadium built made the Cardinals more viable financially, clearing the way for on-field success culminating with a victory over Philadelphia to reach Super Bowl XLIII. The stadium vote passed two days after Aeneas Williams' 100-yard fumble return delivered an improbable victory over the Washington Redskins.

There were other legitimate candidates for inclusion on this ballot, from Kurt Warner's signing to Ken Whisenhunt's hiring.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Seattle Seahawks -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 19.

The first two decades of Seahawks history had more to do with what could have been than what actually became.

Imagine if Seattle had only firmed up its 1984 offer to Warren Moon, who signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Houston Oilers in part because the Seahawks weren't willing to guarantee as much of an otherwise similar deal.

Imagine, seven years later, if ownership hadn't forced then-coach Chuck Knox to draft quarterback Dan McGwire with the 16th overall choice when Knox preferred Brett Favre.

Such mistakes threatened to drive the Seahawks from Seattle altogether until Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen intervened by purchasing the team in 1997. That moment might stand above all others. Allen made so many other things possible -- landing Mike Holmgren from Green Bay, for starters. With Holmgren on the sideline, the Seahawks advanced further than ever before, defeating Carolina in the NFC Championship Game for a berth in Super Bowl XL.

These were among the moments that stood out to me when putting together this ballot. Quite a few others -- acquiring Steve Largent, hiring Knox, upsetting the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs at the Orange Bowl, getting Qwest Field built, hiring Holmgren, losing Steve Hutchinson -- also deserve consideration. You'll be the judge ultimately.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the San Francisco 49ers -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 19.

The 49ers packed more pivotal moments into the 1980s alone than some teams manage over the course of their existence.

They've also got a history dating to 1946 and the All-American Football Conference.

The four key events I singled out spanned the eras.

R.C. Owens' signature alley-oop touchdown grab against Detroit for a 41-yard touchdown in the final 1:20 played a critical role in securing the team's first NFL postseason appearance. Owner Tony Morabito had died of a heart attack during a game one week earlier. Owens' 1957 reception was the difference in a 35-31 victory as San Francisco improved to 5-1.

Having acknowledged the 49ers' more distant history, there was no sense in filling out this list with moments predating Bill Walsh's arrival as head coach for the 1979 season. Walsh revolutionized offensive football while turning the 49ers into one of the model franchises in any professional sport. His hiring was much more than a "key event" in 49ers history. It changed everything.

I had a tough time settling on only two other moments for listing here. "The Catch" had to make the list. There is no more iconic play from the Walsh era.

The 49ers' recent struggles feature a long list of missteps, none more pronounced in retrospect than drafting Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Only six seasons have passed since that draft, however, and any young quarterback might have struggled in San Francisco. That's why I singled out Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s departure as team owner for the fourth and final spot on the list. Consider it a jumping-off point for the subsequent decade of futility.

There were other moments worthy of consideration.

Leonard Marshall's 1991 hit on Joe Montana cleared the way for the trade that sent Montana to Kansas City, but the 49ers won another championship with Steve Young, while Montana lasted only two seasons with the Chiefs.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.