NFL Nation: Harry Carson

Best Giants Team Ever: 1986

June, 22, 2010
6/22/10
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Notable players: RB Joe Morris, LB Lawrence Taylor, TE Mark Bavaro, T Brad Benson, DE Leonard Marshall, NT Jim Burt, LB Harry Carson, QB Phil Simms

Lawrence Taylor
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireLawrence Taylor was the leader of a dominant Giants defense.
Analysis: Some longtime members of the organization tried to talk me into the ’90 team based on the Jeff Hostetler theory, but I held strong. The Giants had the most dominant defensive player in the game with Taylor and Morris still had his legs at that point. Simms was the Super Bowl MVP after he completed a ridiculous 22 of 25 passes.

The ’86 team was dominant enough to destroy teams in the playoffs. In the divisional game and the NFC title game, the Giants’ defense gave up a combined three points. The ’90 and ’07 Super Bowl teams were special in their own right, but I believe the ’86 team was among the best in league history.

It was during the ’86 season that the world took notice of Bill Parcells’ Gatorade baths, which were started as a prank by Jim Burt. And after overhearing some of Burt’s stories during a Cowboys training camp a few years ago, that’s probably not the only prank he pulled.

I would’ve really enjoyed watching the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys teams of the ‘90s play against Parcells’ Giants teams. They both had the same foundation: A group of relentless pass-rushers who made it almost impossible for opposing quarterbacks to find any rhythm. A lot of folks in the Giants’ organization think the fact that Parcells won a Super Bowl with Hostetler playing a large role suggests how strong his supporting cast was. And while I appreciate that argument, I’d still take the ’86 Giants.

Most impressive win: This Giants team reeled off 12 consecutive wins, but the most impressive was against the Redskins in the playoffs. Joe Gibbs had an excellent team, but the Giants beat the Skins twice in the regular season and then shut them out 17 -0 in the playoffs. I loved watching Morris in the playoffs. He didn’t have a lot of size, but he kept his legs churning at all times and was a vital part of the ’86 Super Bowl team. I think Parcells still feels guilty that he later ran Morris into the ground.

Best player: Lots of great players on this team, but Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker, wins in a rout. The MVP and Defensive Player of the Year had 20.5 sacks in 1986, the fifth-highest total of all time.

Honorable mention

1990: Simms was injured, but the Giants weren’t going to be denied in the playoffs. It was a remarkable season and at that point we thought Parcells would have several more Lombardi trophies in him.

2007: The David Tyree catch never gets old. It was a case of a team catching fire at the right time. But unlike some pundits, I’ve never used that to take away from what that team accomplished. Now we know how special that pass rush was after watching things disintegrate last season.

2000: Wait, did that team really play in the Super Bowl? Hey, it was an excellent team. But nowhere close to as dominant as the ones I ranked ahead of it.

Another Grimm tale

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
11:16
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With former Redskins guard Russ Grimm being voted into the Hall of Fame last Saturday, we've heard a lot of great stories about him. But Redskins blogger Matt Terl pulled back the curtain on the voting process Tuesday by visiting with Grimm's presenter, David Elfin.

[+] EnlargeGrimm
Bernstein Associates/Getty ImagesRuss Grimm received some lofty praise from former opponents.
The former Skins beat writer for the Washington Times (when it still had a sports section) was refreshingly honest about what led to Grimm finally making the final cut. And he talked about how difficult it is to quantify an offensive lineman's worth to a team. Elfin set out to talk to coaches and players who had faced Grimm over the years. And obviously the strategy paid off:

"What I chose to do this year was go to people who opposed Russ. I don't mean the voters, I mean the people who played and coached against him," said Elfin. "Because if they had good things to say, that would be more decisive than anything [Joe Bugel] or [Joe] Gibbs or anybody on the Redskins could say.

"And Randy White said that Russ Grimm was one of the best guards he ever faced. Bill Parcells said that Mike Munchak was the only one that he's ever seen in his time who was better than Russ -- and he was on the Patriots when they had John Hannah.

"Harry Carson said that Russ always gave him a headache and was the glue that held the Hogs together. And Matt Millen said basically that he was the smartest offensive lineman he had ever seen. So that was the basic gist. Those four people, I think, were pretty decisive."

Terl also asked Elfin to talk about who's next for the Redskins in the Hall of Fame:

"For me, if you wanted to name Redskins who are deserving, Chris Hanburger is number one," says Elfin. "Nine Pro Bowls, there's no question. I would say Len Hauss is second, with, like, seven Pro Bowls. And then you'd probably throw [Dave] Butz into the group with Jake and Pat Fischer and Larry Brown and ... off the top of my head, those'd be the lead guys."

The one name missing from that group in my mind is wide receiver Gary Clark. Who's next in your minds? As hard as this is to believe, defensive end Dexter Manley only went to one Pro Bowl. But he was named to the All-Pro team twice and had 103.5 sacks. That sack total is higher than Charles Haley's. Defensive end Charles Mann went to four Pro Bowls but he only finished with 83 career sacks, 82 with the Redskins. But he did play on three Super Bowl-winning teams.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Jerry Rice, Russ Grimm, John Randle, Emmitt Smith and Rickey Jackson made the list of five final candidates for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Of the five, only those receiving 80 percent approval from the committee will qualify for enshrinement. Those results are scheduled to be announced on NFL Network about 25 minutes into a program that begins at 5 p.m. ET.

Cortez Kennedy, Richard Dent, Dermontti Dawson, Andre Reed and Shannon Sharpe survived the cut from 15 to 10 finalists. Charles Haley, Roger Craig, Cris Carter, Don Coryell and Tim Brown were eliminated in the cut from 15 to 10 finalists.

The status of the two seniors-committee candidates, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little, will be announced with the other enshrinees.

This was my first year as a voter. Rules prevent me from revealing which candidates received my votes. Rules also prevent me from disclosing specifics of conversations.

Kennedy, arguably the best defensive player in Seahawks history, took a step forward in the process by making the cut to 10. And if Randle is enshrined, Kennedy could emerge next year as the top defensive tackle eligible for consideration.

Rice's selection was a formality. Grimm's inclusion among the final five candidates marks a big step forward for him. Harry Carson once made the cut to five, but failed to receive the necessary 80 percent support, so nothing is final until the announcement is made. But it is looking pretty good for Grimm.

Carter took a step back by missing the cut to 10. Look for Kennedy, Dent, Dawson, Reed and Sharpe to receive strong consideration in 2011.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Kansas City is smiling Saturday afternoon.

Derrick Thomas is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

 
  Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
  Derrick Thomas collected 126.5 sacks in his NFL career, good for 11th on the all-time list.

The late Kansas City outside linebacker was one of six players elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday. Thomas died in February 2000 at the age of 33 following complications from an auto accident. He was still an active player at the time of his death.

He was the only new Hall of Famer to spend the majority of his career in the AFC West. Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe, who was a finalist in his first year of eligibility, did not get elected. This week, Sharpe said Thomas was the best outside linebacker he ever faced.

Many believe Thomas' election was long overdue.

Thomas, who is the 10th member of the Chiefs to be elected into the Hall, was arguably the most feared pass-rusher in the NFL during the 1990s. He had 126.5 sacks in his NFL career, which is 11th on the all-time list and is a Chiefs record. He also holds club records for career safeties (3), forced fumbles (45) and fumble recoveries (19).

Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt and some members of the Thomas family represented the late linebacker in Tampa on Saturday.

"This is an exciting day for Chiefs fans across the country and an exciting day for our family," Hunt said in a press release put out by the team.

"Derrick Thomas was a cornerstone of the modern era of the Chiefs, and one of the most feared pass-rushers of his generation. We are thrilled with his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2009. His outstanding statistics and play on the field made him deserving of pro football's highest individual honor, but -- just as importantly -- he was a hall of famer in the Kansas City community. Derrick's legacy of community involvement is among the finest for any player in Chiefs history, and he will be remembered for contributions like the Third and Long Foundation and his work to help others long after his induction ceremony."

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Gaining admittance into the NFL Hall of Fame would be even sweeter for ex-Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe (right) if former Chiefs adversary Derrick Thomas (left) was voted in as well.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

There are many reasons why Shannon Sharpe wants to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in his first time on the ballot.

One of those reasons is Derrick Thomas.

Sharpe and Thomas had several memorable battles in the 1990s as AFC West enemies with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. As a tight end, Sharpe worked against Thomas, an outside linebacker, several times. In a famous "Monday Night Football" clash, Sharpe goaded Thomas into losing his cool, resulting in the superstar pass rusher being suspended for a game after three personal fouls. Sharpe was fined for his actions in the game.

More than 10 years after the most famous battle the two had against each other, Sharpe couldn't think of a more fitting player to go into the Canton, Ohio museum with than his former adversary. Thomas died in 2000 at the age of 33 after complications from injuries sustained in an auto accident.

"All of the years I've ever played in the NFL, I don't think I faced a better, tougher, more dominating outside linebacker than Derrick Thomas," Sharpe said this week. "It would be an honor to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with him."

Saturday, Sharpe and Thomas' family will find out if the two AFC West legends will become NFL immortals. The two are among 17 finalists for induction. The voting results will be announced Saturday.

"Yes, I hope we both get in," Sharpe said. "It would be very important for my family to see me get in and I'm sure it would be very important to Derrick's family as well. This would be a nice final honor for such a great player who meant so much to the Chiefs."

The Hall of Fame voting can be very unpredictable. Even though Sharpe is remembered as one of the best receiving tight ends ever to play in the NFL and as a game-changing player, he might not be a certain first-time selection. Some voters might lump Sharpe in with other receivers and he could be subject to a logjam. Cris Carter and Andre Reed might get the majority of the votes going to receivers.

Even though many believe Sharpe, who won two Super Bowls with Denver and another while with Baltimore, should be a no-questions-asked first-ballot inductee, he is not sizing himself for the yellow Hall Of Fame jacket quite yet. Last year, he saw Carter not get in on his first chance.  Sharpe winced every time his friend and Denver teammate Gary Zimmerman got overlooked. Zimmerman, who retired after the 1997 season, finally was elected last year despite being known as one of the premier left tackles of his era.

"I hope the voters look at my numbers and they can look at it as a tight end or as a receiver, whatever they like, and I want them to look at the teams I played on and the way I played," Sharpe said. "All I know is I put everything I could into my career and I can't put anymore into it. All I can do is what I've done. Hopefully, it is enough."

Thomas has been a finalist before and with Harry Carson and Fred Dean getting in recently, many think Thomas' time could be now.

Thomas certainly has Hall Of Fame worthy numbers.

He was a nine-time Pro Bowl player and a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade team. He had an NFL record seven sacks in a game and a league-standard 45 career forced fumbles. He also registered 126.5 career sacks.

Thomas was arguably the most feared pass rusher of the 1990s.

"Derrick was a player that could dominate a game," said Denver Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in a quote provided from the Chiefs' public relations staff.

"His explosive talents were so great that he could dictate to an offense pass and run blocking schemes as well as the plays that were called. He was such an impact player that you always had to know where he was on the field. His career statistics more than speak to his exceptional career as not only as a pass rusher but also as an overall defensive player."

Added Buffalo Hall Of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly (also provided by the Chiefs): ""Throughout my professional career I played against many Hall of Famers. Derrick Thomas definitely fits that mold. His quickness, his intensity and his love for the game was matched by only a few players. We actually game planned for No. 58. I needed to know where he was lined up at all times, as did my offensive line. Not many teams would actually game plan around one player, but the Buffalo Bills certainly did every time we faced him."

Sharpe was also a player opposing teams game planned for. Saturday, Sharpe hopes his and Thomas' impact on the game will be recognized.

"The best thing about the Hall Of Fame is you can't be voted out of it," Sharpe said. "You are not a reigning Hall Of Famer like you are a reigning Super Bowl champion. You are a Hall Of Famer for forever .... That would be pretty special."

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

New York Giants wide receiver Domenik Hixon has made peace with the fact that one painful moment in his career will follow him forever. No matter how much he continues to blossom as a starting receiver for the reigning world champs, the afternoon of Sept. 9, 2007, will be etched in his memory.

 
  Icon SMI
  Although they were already deep at receiver, the Giants saw enough in Domenik Hixon to claim him off waivers from Denver.

After a remarkable senior season at Akron in 2005, Hixon was devastated when he wasn't invited to the NFL combine. He flew to Phoenix to enroll in a performance academy, and then ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and recorded a vertical of 39.5 inches on pro day. Hixon felt something pinch in his left foot before he ran, but waited a couple of weeks to get it checked out. Turns out it was a broken foot, which didn't do wonders for his draft status, although a 4.34 with a broken foot seems impressive enough.

The Denver Broncos took Hixon in the fourth round and ended up putting him on the non-football injury list (didn't happen on their watch) for the 2006 season. Hixon won the kickoff return job coming out of training camp in 2007 and that's why he found himself racing up the field with the ball on Sept. 9. He remembers the collision that left Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett motionless on the ground for what seemed like hours.

"It was a hard hit," the 24-year-old Hixon told me Thursday. "I got up real slow and my shoulder felt like it was on fire."

He retreated to the sideline, where his best friend on the team, Brian Clark, kept asking him if he was OK. Meanwhile, Everett was fighting for his life. We later learned that doctors on the scene used heroic measures so that Everett would have the opportunity to walk again. At that point, though, there was a real possibility that Everett would be paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Hixon's parents were in the stadium that day. Son looked at his father and told him that he'd heard Everett wasn't moving. When Hixon returned home that night, he turned on the TV and saw a replay of the collision. He promised himself that he'd never watch it again. And though his friends kept telling him it wasn't his fault, Hixon still had pangs of guilt.

"I prayed every day for him," Hixon said. "You don't want to be part of something negative like that. People were really supportive, but things didn't feel right."

The fearless player suddenly lost his stomach for contact. A few games later, he was racing toward an opening during a kickoff return when he spotted a defender bearing down on him.

"I turned the hit down," said Hixon. "And then I coughed up the ball. For a second, I thought the guy just made a nice play. But when I looked back at it, I said, 'That's not me!'"

Unfortunately, fourth-round picks from Akron aren't afforded time off for mental healing. Hixon and Clark were out looking at motorcycles when Broncos coach Mike Shanahan summoned Hixon to his office to release him. Hixon wondered if his career was over, but a day later, the Giants claimed him off waivers.

"My agent called to tell me, so I immediately pulled up a Giants roster," said Hixon. "I saw Plaxico [Burress], Amani [Toomer], Steve [Smith] and Sinorice [Moss] and I said, 'Why in the world do they want me?' I decided right then to give it everything I had."

Hixon immediately joined the Giants' coverage units, and when Ahmad Bradshaw was injured, he took over his return duties in the regular-season finale against the Patriots. Hixon returned a kick 74 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, which helped the Giants nearly pull off the upset against undefeated New England.

"One reporter told me that as Kevin kept getting better, he felt like I was getting better," said Hixon. "My dad kept updating me on [Everett's] progress, and hearing those positive reports seemed to make playing football a little easier."

Hixon had told members of the Giants' public relations staff that he wanted to visit with Everett, but he wanted the conversation to happen on Everett's terms. After the Giants clinched a playoff berth on the road against the Bills, Everett invited Hixon to visit the owner's suite where he'd been watching the game. Hixon said he was nervous as he walked through the stadium to see Everett. He wasn't sure what to say.

"We just had a casual conversation," Hixon said. "I'd heard from some of his teammates at [the University of] Miami that he was a great guy. I just kept thanking him for taking the time to see me, and we've continued to stay in touch."

Hixon showed up in Albany, N.Y., for the 2008 training camp with a new mindset. He wanted to prove that he was more than a return man, and Plaxico Burress' absence due to injury opened the door for a lot more repetitions. Hixon said he tried to "get a couple of wins" each day against top cornerbacks such as Corey Webster, Aaron Ross and Sam Madison. Fortunately, quarterback Eli Manning saw potential in Hixon from Day 1. Hixon remembers catching an in-route from Manning in his first practice with the team.

 Domenik Hixon
 Wide receiver
 New York Giants


2008 Season Stats

REC YDS AVG LNG TD
43 596 13.9 41 2

"He's sitting there coaching me up," said Hixon, "and I'm looking at him thinking, 'I'm the last guy you're going to throw to.'"

Turns out Manning was onto something. When Burress was suspended for a game against Seattle on Oct. 5, Hixon replaced him and had four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game at halftime with a concussion. He replaced Burress for good following Burress' infamous shooting incident, which led to his suspension by the Giants and placement on the non-football injury list. Hixon said that Burress was one of the first players to greet him in the training room following a 23-7 win over the Redskins on Nov. 30. Burress gave Hixon a list of things to work on. That was probably the last time Burress will ever be in the Giants' locker room.

What looked like a seamless transition, though, hit a snag a week later against the Eagles. Hixon dropped a sure touchdown on a perfectly thrown deep ball from Manning, and the Giants went on to lose a home game. Even though he's bounced back in recent weeks, Hixon knows that the dropped pass is still a popular topic.

"I completely took my eyes off the ball," he said of the drop. "It wasn't about putting too much pressure on myself, though. It was just me dropping the ball."

Hixon said veteran Amani Toomer was one of the first players to offer encouragement. He advised the young receiver to "see what you did wrong, but don't let it snowball."

Former linebacker Harry Carson saw Hixon at an event a few nights later and told him about a time in the Super Bowl when he allowed a touchdown. Running back Derrick Ward wasn't quite as sensitive. During a dinner, he repeatedly said, "Catch the ball, Hixon!"

Hixon's still trying to adjust to not being able to sneak up on teams. He used to come in for one play every other series or so and go deep. Now, he's lost the element of surprise. He thinks his time in Denver going against Champ Bailey and his daily sessions with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have been invaluable. Hixon recognizes that he's involved in a pretty stressful audition right now.

"Absolutely it's an audition," he said. "You're putting your résumé together."

Something tells me that Hixon could find room on that résumé for "starting wide receiver in a Super Bowl."

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