NFL Nation: Marcus Allen

Marcus AllenAP Photo
Score: Raiders 38, Washington 9
Date: Jan. 22, 1984
Site: Tampa Stadium

We have a winner. The voters picked 17 Bob Trey O as the most memorable play in Oakland Raiders' franchise history, and I concur with the selection. Indeed, 17 Bob Trey O, or when Marcus Allen ran with the night in Super Bowl XVIII, is the play I consider most memorable in the long and winding history of the Raiders.

Sure, the Sea of Hands and the Holy Roller may have better monikers, but Allen reversing field on a busted play and breaking off a then-Super Bowl record 74-yard touchdown run on a play called 17 Bob Trey O tops the list.

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For one, it happened on the game’s biggest stage.

For another, it put a dagger into the defending champs and basically clinched the Raiders’ third Lombardi trophy as it gave them a 35-9 lead on the final play of the third quarter.

Plus, it was the signature play of Allen’s MVP performance, in which he ran for a then-Super Bowl record 191 yards, on 20 carries, with two touchdowns, plus two receptions for 18 yards.

Lastly, it got Allen a plug by the leader of the free world after the game, a seeming U.S. weapon in the Cold War.

“I have already had a call from Moscow,” President Ronald Reagan told Raiders coach Tom Flores in the congratulatory phone call to the locker room. “They think Marcus Allen is a new secret weapon and they insist we dismantle him.”

From his perspective, Allen said the run was like time travel, since everyone else seemed to slow down.

“You’re in such a zone and at the height of instinct,” Allen told ESPN Radio affiliate 95.7 The Game in a Super Bowl week interview this year. “You just really get out of your own way. Don’t question it and just get out of your own way and just go. And that’s what I did. It was just one of those games -- I had several of them -- but, obviously, to have it at that particular time was the greatest thing in the world.”

Allen took the handoff from Jim Plunkett and went too wide to the left of pulling right guard Mickey Marvin, and was met by safety Ken Coffey. Allen had to immediately spin to his left, reverse field, and accelerate through a hole on the right side of the line. Then he raced to the left pylon.

“To make a run like that, in a game like that, at a time like that, it was just, it was pure magic,” Allen told the NFL Network. “It was beautiful.”

Which is why it's also the most memorable play in Raiders history.

20 years ago: Jan. 16, 1994

January, 16, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- I would be remiss on this day of all days if I didn't recall the last playoff game won by the Kansas City Chiefs. It happened Jan. 16, 1994, in Houston, where the Chiefs beat the Oilers 28-20 in a divisional round playoff game.

[+] EnlargeWarren Moon
AP Photo/Rick BowmerThings were looking up for the Chiefs following their last playoff win -- 20 years ago today.
The iconic moment of the game, of course, came when tight end Keith Cash after scoring a touchdown spiked the ball against a poster of Houston's infamous defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, that was hanging over the retaining wall. But there were plenty of other huge moments. ESPN recently showed highlights of some of them, including Joe Montana's touchdown passes to J.J. Birden and Willie Davis and the Marcus Allen touchdown run in the final minutes that wrapped up the victory. The Kansas City Star also recently did a nice job in looking back at that game through the eyes of Davis, now a scout for the Chiefs.

I was in my rookie season covering the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star. Other than the big plays, my overwhelming recollection was how loud the Astrodome was that day. It was consistently can't-hear-yourself-think loud.

That, and this, which was no doubt a thought shared by millions of Chiefs fans: Anything seemed possible for the Chiefs in the moments after that victory. I was convinced, and again I was not alone, that the Chiefs would go to Buffalo for the following week's AFC championship game and beat the Bills. I thought the Chiefs would be winning playoff games for years to come.

History has turned out differently for the Chiefs. They lost to the Bills in a blowout the next week and they also lost their seven subsequent playoff games. Some of those games have been lopsided, some could have been won by the Chiefs had any number of close plays gone their way.

As any Chiefs fan can attest, none of those plays have gone Kansas City's way. It's been eight straight losses and 20 seasons since. And though the details of the playoff win over Houston remain vivid, that game really doesn't seem like yesterday, does it?
Kaepernick-WilsonGetty Images49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will square off for the third time this season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks meet Sunday for the NFC title, it will mark the 18th time since the AFL/NFL merger of 1970 that teams from the same division play in a conference championship game.

But it’s only happened four times since 2002, when the Seahawks moved from the AFC West to the NFC West as part of the league’s realignment. This year marks No. 5.

Still, when the Raiders were a mainstay of the AFC title game – they played in eight such games between 1970 and 1983 – they faced a team from their division, the AFC West, a mere one step away from the Super Bowl three times.

It’s interesting to note that all three of those meetings would have happened in the divisional round today because, from 1970 through 1989, two teams from the same division could not meet in the playoffs until the conference title game.

A look, then, at those three meetings ...

Jan. 1, 1978, Mile High Stadium

Denver Broncos 20, Oakland Raiders 17

The defending champion Raiders were the AFC’s lone wild-card team at 11-3 – in those days, only the then-three division winners and the second-place team with the best record qualified for the playoffs – and were coming in off their breathtaking “Ghost to the Post” double-overtime divisional playoff win at the Baltimore Colts, 37-31.

The top-seeded Broncos, in the heyday of their “Orange Crush” defense, had gone 12-2 with one of their losses at home to the Raiders – the teams split the regular-season series, each winning on the road – and had just handled the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round, 34-21.

The Broncos, who allowed an AFC-low 148 points, never trailed the Raiders, who led the NFL in scoring with 351 points, and led by scores of 14-3 and 20-10. But the Raiders, appearing in their fifth straight AFC title game, remember it for a play that never happened. At least, from the officials’ perspective.

“(Rob) Lytle’s fumble?” the late Al Davis told NFL Films. “No one saw it, so they said.”

Leading 7-3 midway through the third quarter, the Broncos set up at the Raiders’ 2-yard line and had a first-and-goal when Lytle ran into the pile and was hit by Jack Tatum. The ball popped out, Mike McCoy scooped it up and was off to the races for the game-changing touchdown. Except ...

Lytle was ruled down, the officials explained, saying that his forward progress had been stopped before the ball came free. Replays showed otherwise and then Art McNally, the former head of NFL officials, came clean to NFL Films, albeit, a decade later.

“It was a fumble,” he said, “and we were wrong on the call.”

Too little, too late for the Raiders as Jon Keyworth punched it in for Denver one play later and the Broncos led, 14-3, en route to the victory and Super Bowl XII, where they were thumped by the Dallas Cowboys, 27-10.

It was John Madden’s final playoff game as he retired a year later and Oakland would not return to the postseason until 1980.

Jan. 11, 1981, Jack Murphy Stadium

Oakland Raiders 34, San Diego Chargers 27

Five AFC teams finished 11-5 in 1980, the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Oilers, the Chargers and the Raiders.

A second wild-card team had been added to the playoff mix two years earlier and the Raiders were the top-seeded wild card. First they beat a familiar face in Kenny Stabler and the Oilers, 27-7, in the conference’s wild-card game, then they traveled to Cleveland, where the wind chill was minus-36 degrees, and upset the Browns, 14-12, in the “Red Right 88” game when Mike Davis picked off Brian Sipe in the end zone with less than a minute to play.

The Chargers, meanwhile, were the AFC’s top seed due to a better conference record than Cleveland and Buffalo and won the West over the Raiders, with whom they split the regular-season games as each team won at home, based on better net points in division games. San Diego beat the Bills, 20-14, in its first playoff game.

Oakland began the season just 2-3 and recently acquired quarterback Dan Pastorini was lost in Game 5 with a broken leg. Enter Jim Plunkett and his Lazarus act. Under Plunkett, the Raiders had won 11 of 13 games, including the playoffs, and started hot again against the high-scoring Air Coryell Chargers as Oakland opened up a 28-7 first-half lead.

San Diego woke up with 17 unanswered points , creeping to within 28-24 in the third quarter.

“Ted Hendricks grabs me by the jersey and he starts shaking me and says, ‘Keep scoring. We can’t stop them,’” Plunkett told NFL Network.

A pair of Chris Bahr field goals gave the Raiders some breathing room before Rolf Benirschke’s field goal made it a one-score game with less than seven minutes to play.

The Raiders' offense did not heed Hendricks’ advice this time; it simply ran out the clock on a 15-play drive that included 14 runs and four first downs.

“That game in the end, when all was said and done, came down to our offensive line and Mark van Eeghen,” Matt Millen, then a rookie linebacker, told NFL Network.

The iconic image of the game, then, is of left guard Gene Upshaw’s heavily padded right arm holding the game ball aloft as he exited the field. The Raiders went on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, in Super Bowl XV as Plunkett was named the game’s MVP and Tom Flores became the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Jan. 8, 1984, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Los Angeles Raiders 30, Seattle Seahawks 14

The 1983 Raiders are considered one of the best teams of all time and yet, they lost four games that season – one at Washington, in which an injured Marcus Allen did not play, a head-scratcher at home in the penultimate week of the season to the St. Louis Cardinals and two to, yes, the Seahawks.

Indeed, all you NFL newbies, the Raiders were in L.A. from 1982 through 1994 and the Seahawks used to live in the AFC West (from 1977-2001) and they were even a little chippy and, yes, lippy back then.

“Seattle knew us so well,” Allen told NFL Network. “It’s no secret, I mean they even knew our plays. I looked across the line of scrimmage at Kenny Easley, I shook my head, I said, ‘I’m coming right there.’ I think he shook his head back and said, ‘OK.’”

The Seahawks had swept the Raiders that year by scores of 38-36 in Seattle and 34-21 in L.A. over a three-week period. The sweep got the Seahawks into the playoffs as the top wild-card team at 9-7 and they beat rookie John Elway and the Broncos, 31-7, in the wild-card game at Seattle before upsetting another ballyhooed first-year QB in the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino, 27-20, at the Orange Bowl.

The top-seeded Raiders had just thumped the Pittsburgh Steelers, 38-10, before a crowd of 92,434 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and awaited the Seahawks.

“We had lost to Seattle twice,” Howie Long told NFL Network. “We took that as we had gotten our ass kicked and it was time for redemption.”

It was an alley fight of a game and the Raiders, who led the AFC with 442 points scored, dominated Seattle, the conference’s second-highest scoring team with 403 points. L.A. jumped out to a 27-0 lead as Allen, playing with a mouse under his right eye, finished with 216 yards from scrimmage, with 154 yards rushing on 25 carries and 62 yards receiving and a TD on seven catches.

“All I remember was coming out with a black eye and seeing stars,” Allen said. “But I wasn’t going [to stay] out of the game.”

L.A.’s defense picked off five passes from Seahawks quarterbacks Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn, with two interceptions from Mike Davis, and the Raiders also had five sacks, two by rookie Greg Townsend.

The Raiders then went to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XVIII and beat defending champion Washington, 38-9, with Allen winning MVP honors on the strength of a then-record 191 rushing yards on 20 carries, including his reverse-field 74-yard touchdown run.

It is still the Raiders’ most recent Super Bowl title.

Bo knows Al Davis Flame

November, 19, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There are certain images that pop into your head whenever the topic of Bo Jackson, the running back who played football as a "hobby" for the Los Angeles Raiders, is brought up.

[+] EnlargeBo Jackson
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsBo Jackson, who threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at the White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field in April, will partake in a Raiders pregame ceremony when he lights the Al Davis Flame.
You know about him disappearing into the Kingdome tunnel after his 91-yard gallop down the left sideline on Monday Night Football on Nov. 30, 1987.

You know about him plowing through Brian Bosworth at the goal line in the same game.

You know about his star-crossed football career coming to an end in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 13, 1991, when he dislocated his right hip on a seemingly innocuous tackle by Kevin Walker.

And while Jackson never knew Oakland as his home, Bo will know something new before this weekend's game against the Tennessee Titans -- what it's like to light the Al Davis Flame before kickoff.

Jackson, who played for the Raiders in L.A. from 1987 through 1990 and entered this season with three of the four longest runs in franchise history, will be the latest to light the torch in memory of the late Raiders owner at the invitation of Davis' son Mark, joining the likes of Marcus Allen, Jon Gruden, Art Shell, Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett and John Madden.

"When I'm running, I can't hear a thing," Jackson said on last December's ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, "You Don't Know Bo."

"I can only hear wind going by the holes in my helmet. I can't hear the people cheering. It just goes silent."

He is sure, though, to hear much more Sunday at the O.co Coliseum.

Jackson, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1986 NFL draft as the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn, chose baseball and the Kansas City Royals over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A year later, the Raiders took a flier on him with a seventh-round pick, No. 183 overall.

In the documentary, Jackson said his agent at the time asked him if he was interested in playing football again. Jackson said it depended on the team. He was told it was the Raiders.

"Hell yeah," Jackson said.

"I know that Al Davis was always fascinated with great size and great speed, tangible numbers," said former teammate Howie Long, "and Bo had that in spades."

It made for a good problem to have for then-coach Flores in Jackson's rookie year, seeing as how the Raiders already had Allen in the backfield.

"Whatever comes after baseball season is a hobby for Bo Jackson," Jackson said at the time, "just like fishing and hunting."

Jackson remains the only player in history to be selected for both the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the NFL's Pro Bowl.

In 38 career games with the Raiders, 23 starts, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry while scoring 16 rushing touchdowns and two more through the air.

And until Terrelle Pryor broke off his 93-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season, Jackson's 92-yarder against the Bengals on Nov. 5, 1989, was the franchise record for longest run.

It all ended, though, when he took the pitch from Jay Schroeder and burst up the right sideline for a 34-yard gain on the second play of the third quarter in that postseason game. After the tackle -- Jackson was so powerful he literally yanked his own leg out of its socket trying to break out of Walker's grasp -- Jackson stood up before collapsing on the grass. He said on a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 25.

"I could have easily stepped out of bounds, but I didn't," Jackson said in the documentary. "That's just the nature of the beast."
ESPN.com’s SportsNation "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is in the second round.

The old-school AFC West players are faring way better than three new-school players from the division. Denver linebacker Von Miller was the only current player from the division to march on.

However, all four old-school AFC West representatives have marched on: Terrell Davis of Denver, Marcus Allen of Kansas City, Tim Brown of Oakland and LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego.

You can vote here for your favorite players -- or against your least-favorite players, of course.
The "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is now on in SportsNation.

This year, there is a new-school and old-school competition.

In the new-school vote, there are some tough assignments for some AFC West players.

San Diego’s Antonio Gates is a No. 16 seed. He goes against top seed Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco. Oakland’s Carson Palmer is a No. 15 seed and he is facing No. 2 seed, NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Denver’s Von Miller is a No. 6 seed, but he faces the popular Victor Cruz of the Giants, a No. 11 seed. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles is a No. 6 seed and he is facing Darrelle Revis of the Jets, a No. 11 seed.

In the old-school vote, this one will upset some folks. Marcus Allen is representing the Chiefs and not the Raiders. The Hall of Fame running back played 11 years for the Raiders and five years for the Chiefs. He is a No. 6 seed and faces No. 11 Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots.

Oakland's Tim Brown is a No. 6 seed and he faces Chad Johnson of the Bengals. Denver’s Terrell Davis is a No. 10 seed and faces Buffalo’s Jim Kelly, a No. 7 seed. San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson is a No. 10 seed and he faces Randall Cunningham of the Eagles.

Marcus Allen ends rift with Raiders

September, 21, 2012
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Marcus Allen is mending fences with the Oakland Raiders.

In a cool and overdue development, CSNBayArea is reporting that the Hall of Fame running back will light the team’s ceremonial flame that honors the late Al Davis. The flame is lit before home games.

This moment will mean a lot. With Allen lighting the flame it signifies an end to his feud with Davis. Allen and Davis were at odds since Allen's days with the Raiders. Allen then finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The report indicates Allen was asked to light the flame by Davis’ son and current Raiders owner Mark Davis. Kudos to Davis for attempting to bring Allen back to the team and kudos to Allen for accepting the offer. This is a good thing.

In other AFC West news:

In a radio interview, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said he knows the replacement officials are in a tough spot.

In a radio interview, Oakland coach Dennis Allen said he remains confident despite the team’s 0-2 start.
Longevity and Super Bowl hardware led the way.

In a surprising landslide, Marcus Allen crushed LaDainian Tomlinson in our poll, asking readers to name the best running back in AFC West history. As of 11:25 a.m. Wednesday, Allen received 64 percent of the vote, while Tomlinson received 36 percent.

I can easily see why Allen won. But it should have been closer.

Allen played 16 NFL seasons -- 11 with the Oakland Raiders and five with the Kansas City Chiefs. He is in the Hall of Fame.

Allen, who earned a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award with the Raiders, had 12,243 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. He had 123 rushing scores. He added 587 career receptions for 5,411 yards with 21 receiving touchdowns.

Tomlinson recently retired with the San Diego Chargers after re-signing with them. He played with San Diego from 2001-09 before playing the final two years of his career with the New York Jets.

Tomlinson had 13,684 yards in 11 NFL seasons and he averaged 4.3 yards per carry. He scored 145 rushing touchdowns. Tomlinson added 624 career catches for 4,772 yards with 17 receiving touchdowns. He should be a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2017.

Tomlinson has several more dominant years than Allen did, but Allen played a lot longer and won the ultimate prizes. You could go either way and be happy with this one. Thanks to everyone who played along.
ESPN recently published a list of the 25 greatest playoff performances in NFL history.

The ballot I submitted featured five performances for franchises currently aligned in the NFC West. It included three performances for the San Francisco 49ers and three for the Washington Redskins. There were two from Kurt Warner, including one each from his years with St. Louis and Arizona. All 15 were for offensive players, a disparity I couldn't reconcile.

Several worthy performances just missed the cut. You'll find most of them accounted for in the top 25.

Keith Lincoln's 329-yard game (206 rushing, 123 receiving) ranked seventh on my ballot, 13 spots higher than it ranked in the top 25. This performance wasn't on my ballot initially because Lincoln played for the then-AFL San Diego Chargers. I gave it a prominent spot when told this performance was eligible because it appeared in the NFL record book.

All for now. Here's hoping this Saturday ranks among your top five this month.


Final Word: AFC West

December, 9, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziTim Tebow keeps on finding ways for the Denver Broncos to win.
Can the Oakland Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers at their own game? The 12-0 Packers are winning because they have perhaps one of the most dangerous passing games in the history of the NFL. If the Raiders are going to be the team that knocks Green Bay off its historic pace, they may have to beat the Packers with their passing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is leading the NFL with an average pass of 10.9 air yards. Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell was among the league leaders in the category before he was injured. The Packers have allowed 21 pass plays of 30 yards or more this season -- the most in the NFL. Raiders coach Hue Jackson likes to air it out, so don’t expect him to get shy in Green Bay as the Raiders try to pull off the upset.

Will Tebow’s epic fourth-quarter heroics continue? The allure of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is how he has become such a clutch performer. Denver has won five games in a row. Of the past seven matches, five were decided late in the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tebow has a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or in overtime in five of his 10 career starts. He is tied with Scott Brunner and Marc Wilson for the most by any player in his first 10 career starts since the 1970 merger.

Could the San Diego Chargers try to beat the Buffalo Bills with the shotgun? Chief among Philip Rivers' struggles this season was passing from the shotgun. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was not an issue in a 38-14 win at Jacksonville on Monday night. Rivers completed 14 of 15 passes, averaged 13.6 yards per attempt and threw touchdowns from the formation. In the first 11 games of the season, Rivers completed just 60.3 percent of his passes and averaged just 7.6 yards per attempt in the shotgun. He has also thrown 14 of his 17 interceptions in the formation.

Coaching class of 2009 battle: When the Kansas City Chiefs visit the New York Jets on Sunday, it will pit two of the more successful coaches of the 2009 class. Nine coaches were hired after the 2008 season, including Todd Haley in Kansas City and Rex Ryan with the Jets. Many of the nine coaches have struggled, including Denver’s Josh McDaniels and the Raiders' Tom Cable (who was hired as the full-time coach after ending 2008 as the interim coach). McDaniels and Cable have already been discarded. Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts' Jim Caldwell are the only coaches in the class to have a winning percentage above .500. Ryan’s winning percentage is .613. Caldwell, of course, is in danger of being fired with his team 0-12 without star quarterback Peyton Manning. Haley joins Ryan and Caldwell as the only coaches in the 2009 class to take their teams to the playoffs. Haley is 19-25 as the Chiefs’ coach. A win over Ryan in New York could keep at bay the speculation that Haley could be fired at the end of the season.

Raiders need to get Bush going: In addition to hitting big plays in the passing game, Oakland will need to run the ball well to control the clock. The Raiders have one of the best running attacks in the NFL, but it was kept in check at Miami. Oakland had just 46 rushing yards and Michael Bush had just 18 yards on 10 carries. Bush has to have a big day in Green Bay. He has been mostly good as Darren McFadden's injury replacement. Bush has two games this season with 30 carries. The only player in Raiders history with more is Marcus Allen, who had three in a season. If Bush ties Allen’s mark Sunday, it would go a long way in keeping the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands.

Al Davis' greatest hits

October, 8, 2011
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Let’s look at some of the biggest moves Al Davis -- who died at the age of 82 Saturday -- made since he joined the Raiders in 1963. We’ll go in chronological order:

Hiring John Madden: This set the program in motion. Davis and Madden were a great team. Both men had an eye for talent, an ability to handle renegade players, and a thirst for winning. The Raiders were an elite team in the 1970s and their Super Bowl XI victory over Minnesota in Jan. 1977 is probably the greatest moment in team history.

Acquiring Jim Plunkett: The quarterback was one of the poster boys for Davis’ factory of recycled talent. Plunkett enjoyed career resurgence in Oakland and his presence helped pave the wait for the Raiders’ second and third Super Bowl titles.

Drafting Marcus Allen: Davis selected the running back with the No. 10 overall pick in the 1982 draft. He quickly became a catalyst for the team and he was a key to the Raiders’ third Super Bowl title. He became a face of the franchise. It’s stunning that Minnesota took Stanford running back Darrin Nelson three picks ahead of Allen.

Moving back to Oakland: After a 13-year field trip to Los Angeles, the Raiders moved back to their Northern California home in 1995. This is where the Raiders belong and it was the right move by Davis to bring them back.

Hiring Jon Gruden: Davis hired the young offensive guru in 1998 and Gruden breathed life to the Raiders’ organization. They later added quarterback Rich Gannon and the three men helped lead the Raiders to prominence again. It all culminated in Davis’ final Super Bowl appearance in Jan. 2003, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced the Raiders. The team he traded Gruden to the Bucs in 2002. As much life Gruden’s hiring brought Oakland, his trade brought despair to the team for much of the last decade.

Hiring Hue Jackson: Davis’ last coaching hire (he had 11 coaches since 1978 when Madden retired) has the look of a good one. Times have been tough in Oakland for the past nine years, but Jackson is a talented, energized coach who is proud to be connected to Davis. Watch for Jackson to dedicate his time in Oakland to restoring the glory of Davis’ era. If Jackson is successful, it will be a tremendous final act by Davis.

I’m sure you have memories. Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.

McFadden has become a complete player

September, 23, 2011
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Darren McFaddenAP Photo/Joe MahoneyOakland's Darren McFadden is second in the NFL with 222 rushing yards through two games.

When the Oakland Raiders took Darren McFadden with the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2008, the general consensus was that they would be getting a Reggie Bush-type tailback.

A game-breaker at Arkansas, McFadden had the look of a player who would be a change-of-pace back who could help the Raiders in certain situations. Early in his fourth season, however, McFadden has blown past Bush on the running back pecking order. Truth be told, McFadden is closer to Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson than he is to Bush.

McFadden has developed into Oakland’s best offensive player and he is a primary reason why there is legitimate playoff hope for a team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2002. The New York Jets’ vaunted defense hits Oakland on Sunday, and trying to stop McFadden will be Job 1.

Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders has been around Hall of Fame running backs such as Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk in his 28-year career as an NFL coach. He thinks McFadden is one of the best tailbacks he has seen.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around some great running backs, but he’s one of those guys you put in that class,” Saunders said. “He’s a young kid that has just tremendous speed and tremendous potential, he catches the ball extremely well and I think he established what he is last year and he’s continuing to follow in that way this year.”

After his first two seasons were sullied by injuries, McFadden became a legitimate bell-cow back last year when he ran for 1,157 yards. He averaged a stout 5.2 yards per carry. McFadden is off to a fine start this season with 222 yards (7 yards behind Buffalo’s Fred Jackson for the NFL lead) on 42 carries, an average of 5.3 yards a carry. McFadden led the NFL in runs of 20 yards or more last season. He has three 20-plus runs already this season.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Darren McFadden
AP Photo/David Duprey"He is a nightmare to prepare for because, you don't know which way he is going to go," teammate Richard Seymour said of Darren McFadden.
“He’s become a complete player,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said of McFadden. “I’ve become a believer.”

While McFadden will always be known for his speed, what is helping him become a special NFL player is his versatility and toughness. He's not just a fly-and-bye player. He has fine hands (he had seven catches for 71 yards in a loss at Buffalo last week) as a receiver and he has become a viable inside runner. Unlike Bush, McFadden (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) isn’t afraid to go inside.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, McFadden averaged 5.4 yards up the middle against the Broncos in a Week 1 win.

“I think people really don’t know that about me,” said McFadden, who was a star high school safety in North Little Rock, Ark. “I’m very proud of my ability to go inside. I think that is important for a back to go inside as well as outside and I like being tough and going inside.”

Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour said McFadden must rank among the NFL’s best backs because of his toughness.

“Going against him in nine-on-seven drills in camp, you can see how special he is,” Seymour said. “He goes strong inside unlike guys with his speed. But if you are waiting for him to come hard inside, he can always pop one and be gone. He is a nightmare to prepare for because you don’t know which way he is going to go.”

When he was traded to Oakland from Washington last year, quarterback Jason Campbell admitted he didn’t know too much about McFadden, who had only 217 total carries in his first two NFL seasons. However, Campbell was pleasantly surprised to find out he has a versatile back to work with.

“Nationally, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Campbell said. “This is a complete back. He does it all for our offense. People don’t realize how tough this guy is.”

Never one to shy away from contact, McFadden’s preseason was snuffed out when he broke his orbital bone in an early-camp practice after making a big block on an linebacker. While McFadden is rough and tumble, there are durability concerns. He missed 10 games in his first three NFL seasons. But that's not going to keep him from playing running back the way he does.

“I’m a physical guy,” McFadden said. "I’m going to put my shoulder down and get after it and try to make every play I can.”

That doesn’t sound like your ordinary change-of-pace back.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

The most important moment in Green Bay Packers history was nearly scuttled by an unlikely source. Shortly after Vince Lombardi accepted the Packers' job as head coach/general manager in 1959, his wife was "distraught," according to historian David Maraniss.

Marie Lombardi approached New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, who owned Lombardi's contract as a Giants assistant coach. As Maraniss writes in "When Pride Still Mattered," Marie begged Mara to block her husband's move.

[+] EnlargeVince Lombardi
AP PhotoCoach Vince Lombardi (upper right) led the Packers to five championship wins in seven seasons.
Mara declined, knowing Vince was ready to be a head coach. Marie stood by her husband. And the rest, as they say, is Packers history.

Lombardi's arrival in Green Bay was your overwhelming choice as the Packers' Flash Point, and it received a higher percentage of votes (69 percent) than any individual event offered in last week's series of polls. Lombardi won his first NFL title in 1961 and collected four more before giving up the job in 1967, building an unmatched legend and painting the franchise in gold mystique for generations to come.

Some of you made impassioned arguments for Curly Lambeau's push to sell stock and make the franchise a non-profit organization in 1923, a short-term fundraising effort that embedded a structure still in operation today. "How can it not be Curly?" wrote mallow420. "If Curly doesn't save the Packers then there's no Packers to hire Lombardi."

Hadessniper allowed that "Lambeau making the Packers public is more important for the Packers, as without that there is simply no way Green Bay keeps a team." But, wrote hadessniper, "Lombardi is probably more important for the NFL as a whole. The NFL was gaining popularity, but Lombardi gave the game a legend. Without Lombardi the NFL wouldn't be what it is today."

Timarquardt was more direct: "Get back to me when someone else wins five championships in seven years. That's Lombardi's legacy and with all due credit to Curly, he did it when there was a bunch of good teams. Curly saved the franchise, obviously important, but without those Lombardi years the team never would have had the following through the dark years of the '70s and '80s to be successful."

What's fascinating to me is that Lambeau actually wanted Lombardi's job in 1959, a decade after an internal power struggle led to Lambeau's ouster. As Maraniss recounts, Lambeau flew to Green Bay during the interview process and launched a campaign to capture at least the general manager position that Lombardi ultimately filled. Dominic Olejniczak, president of the Packers board of directors, resisted the urge to hire him despite heavy public support.

The Flash Point mandate was less clear for the NFC North's other three teams. Let's sort through them in alphabetical order:

BEARS: A hero of 1985

About half of you voted for the arrival of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the architect of the 46 defense that led the Bears to a championship in 1985.

Buddy Ryan
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesBuddy Ryan's 46 defense formed the identity of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears team.
Lewie21982 was livid and wrote: "Who are these people voting?? Are you just idiot baby boomers, hippies, or the '80s mullet crowd??? I was born in the '80s and clearly know the decision of drafting Red Grange or instituting the T-Formation was the most significant thing the Bears have ever done. The Bears have nine championships and eight of them were before Buddy Ryan, Mike Ditka, or the 46 defense ever came around!!"

I hear ya, Lewie21982. Red Grange made the Bears an early heavy hitter in pro football, and George Halas' schematic innovations led to the golden age in franchise history -- four world titles in seven years between 1940-46. But I understand where the baby boomers, hippies and mulleteers were going.

The 1985 Bears were the best team in franchise history and one of the most dominant of the NFL's post-merger era. With all due respect to Ditka and running back Walter Payton, Ryan's 46 defense was the biggest reason. It's impossible for a single moment to spawn something so impactful, and I heard a suggestion for ex-general manager Jim Finks acquiring many of that team's stars. But without Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense doesn't exist and the 1985 Bears as they were known never come to be.

LIONS: Forgetting yesteryear

The Detroit Lions' Flash Point vote got more action than any team in the division, garnering more than 53,000 votes. On that, we can agree.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Barry Sanders
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders had a Hall of Fame career but couldn't get the Lions a championship.
But did the decision to draft running back Barry Sanders have more impact than any other event in franchise history? About 60 percent of you thought so, although the comments reflected a wider disparity.

I'm not on board, and neither was j_sleik83. We agree that quarterback Bobby Layne brought the Lions what Sanders never did. J_sleik83: "Bobby Layne in combination with the Hall of Fame defensive backfield the Lions had during the entirety of the '50s IS their defining era. Barry Sanders didn't lead them to the promised land, Layne did."

I mean no disrespect to Sanders, who forged a Hall of Fame career on some otherwise undermanned teams. But with Layne behind center, the Lions won NFL titles in 1952 and 1953. He contributed to a third in 1957, and upon his subsequent departure, Layne placed a (possibly apocryphal) 50-year curse on the franchise. (For that reason, DWargs thought trading Layne away is the defining moment in franchise history: "Haven't gotten close to a championship since.")

Several of you pointed to the ownership of the Ford family as the primary reason for that dubious run. Regardless, I understand that Lions history is defined more by failure than success. But on an otherwise desultory landscape, the Lions once had a brilliant run. Bobby Layne was the single biggest reason why.

VIKINGS: Varied opinions

I did either an excellent or terrible job of choosing options for the Minnesota Vikings' Flash Point: All four possibilities received between 19 and 32 percent of the vote. Assembling the "Purple People Eaters" had the highest percentage, but its total was hardly a mandate among the 38,000 or so votes cast.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota coach Bud Grant
AP Photo/Jack ThornellBud Grant won 152 games as coach over 18 seasons.
Scanning the comments, it was clear that you agreed on only one thing: A Vikings Flash Point needed to reflect a long history of dysfunction.

Even looking beyond the obvious, Ymacdaddy offered this litany: "Herschel Walker, Metrodome [collapse], Gary Anderson, Dimitrius Underwood, too many in huddle, big-game chokers, etc. How about Darrin Nelson before Marcus Allen?"

The 1989 Walker trade, in which the Vikings ultimately gave up five players and six draft choices, received multiple mentions. So did Gary Anderson's shocking field goal miss in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. BuckeyeVikes80 is "still reeling from that 12 years later."

Dbatten1 noted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass to Drew "Push" Pearson in the 1975 playoffs. TampaPacMan's moment was the final play of the 2003 season, when the Vikings lost the NFC North title and a playoff berth by giving up an improbable touchdown to Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole. It was "the signature moment in a franchise history littered with failures!" wrote TampaPacMan.

If it were up to me, Bud Grant's arrival would rank as the most significant moment in Vikings history. Many of us would agree that Grant has made the single-biggest impact in this franchise's 50 years. But what do I know? I just work here.

Top draft busts in AFC East history tallied

February, 28, 2011
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When word got out the New York Jets would release defensive end Vernon Gholston, I solicited your nominees for the AFC East's biggest draft busts.

These disappointments received the most votes for each club:

Buffalo Bills
  1. Defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th in 2009)
  2. Tackle Mike Williams (fourth in 2002)
  3. Quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd in 2004)
  4. Defensive tackle John McCargo (26th in 2006)
  5. Defensive end Erik Flowers (26th in 2000)
Comment: Sadly, Buffalo's list suggests readers don't remember the team before the Music City Miracle. Last year's strong safety, Donte Whitner, finished sixth. Epic busts Walt Patulski (first in 1972), Tony Hunter (12th in 1983) and Perry Tuttle (19th in 1982) received only one vote each. Nobody mentioned running back Terry Miller (fifth in 1978).

Miami Dolphins
  1. Receiver Yatil Green (15th in 1997)
  2. Receiver Ted Ginn (ninth in 2007)
  3. Running back John Avery (29th in 1998)
  4. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher (26th in 2001)
  5. Receiver Randal Hill (23rd in 1991), Eric Kumerow (16th in 1988), running back Sammie Smith (ninth in 1989)
Comment: The Dolphins were the most nominated team in this exercise. They led with 16 nominees and the number of votes cast. Green didn't play in his rookie or sophomore seasons because of injuries and lasted eight games his third year. My pick would have been Kumerow, whose career consisted of three seasons, zero starts and five sacks.

New England Patriots
  • Running back Laurence Maroney (21st in 2006)
  • Receiver Chad Jackson (36th in 2006)
  • Receiver Hart Lee Dykes (16th in 1989)
  • Cornerback Chris Canty (29th in 1997)
  • Offensive lineman Eugene Chung (13th in 1992), defensive end Kenneth Sims (first in 1982), linebacker Chris Singleton (eighth in 1990)
Comment: I was surprised Sims didn't receive more attention. He was the No. 1 choice ahead of Marcus Allen, Gerald Riggs, Mike Munchak, Jim McMahon and Chip Banks. Maroney received the most votes, but he also generated the most spirited debate because many readers disagreed he should be considered a bust. Jackson was a second-round pick, but the Patriots traded up 16 spots to get him.

New York Jets
  1. Running back Blair Thomas (second in 1990)
  2. Defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth in 2008)
  3. Tight end Kyle Brady (ninth in 1995)
  4. Defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson (fourth in 2003)
  5. Receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones (second in 1980)
Comment: There was a lot of material to work with here. I was satisfied readers emphasized the magnitude of the bust over the freshness of Gholston's release by voting for Thomas. The next running back off the board in 1990 was Emmitt Smith.

NFC West Hall of Fame debate

July, 7, 2010
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A weeklong look at current or former players or coaches with Hall of Fame potential in the division.

Rams: Orlando Pace, LT

Claim to fame: Seven Pro Bowl appearances and three first-team All-Pro selections affirm Pace's standing as one of the elite offensive linemen of his era. Pace started two Super Bowls for the St. Louis Rams, winning one, and he was one of the best players for the Greatest Show on Turf.

Orlando Pace
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIOrlando Pace was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times during his career.
Case for enshrinement: At his best, Pace dominated in all aspects of the game and he did it while playing for some of the best offenses of any era. Any discussion of the great tackles since the mid-1990s must include Pace, Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden. The Rams drafted Pace first overall in 1997 and he lived up to expectations. That's saying a lot.

"The thing Orlando does so well is that he can get caught off balance on the pass rush and recover and finish the block, which is very difficult to do," then-Rams coach Mike Martz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2002, when Pace was in his prime.

The Rams' offense put pressure on its tackles to hold up in protection. Receivers ran deeper routes, forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer. The Rams were willing to risk sacks for the big play. They gave up more than most teams by design, not because Pace had trouble protecting.

"Orlando is the cornerstone of everything we're trying to do on offense," teammate Isaac Bruce told the Post-Dispatch in 2004.

Case against enshrinement: Pace's conditioning wasn't always the best and he battled injuries throughout his career, at the expense of consistency.

Pace managed to play through the injuries for most of his first nine seasons, but he missed 23 of 32 games over the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Pace was never the same thereafter and he was below average last season for the Chicago Bears.

Parting shot: The final five or six seasons of Pace's career shouldn't overshadow what he accomplished in earning those seven trips to the Pro Bowl. Pace deserves strong consideration for the Hall of Fame even though he'll likely rank a couple notches below Jones and Ogden.

Cardinals: Kurt Warner, QB

Claim to fame: Warner authored a legacy unique to the NFL in going from virtual anonymity to superstar status when the Rams lost Trent Green to injury before the 1999 season. He was a four-time Pro Bowl choice and two-time MVP. He was also Super Bowl MVP. Warner helped turn two floundering franchises into Super Bowl teams quickly.

Case for enshrinement: None of the 14 quarterbacks enshrined in the Hall of Fame since 1985 can match Warner in completion percentage (65.5) or yards per game (260.8). Of the 14, only Steve Young had a higher passer rating and more yards per attempt. Only Dan Marino had more 300-yard games.

Warner reached 10,000 yards passing in fewer games than anyone in NFL history. Only Marino reached 20,000 and 30,000 yards as fast (they tied by reaching 30,000 yards in 114 games). Warner and Peyton Manning are the only players with a perfect passer rating in three games.

Warner was also about winning. He has a 9-4 starting record in the playoffs and has posted the three highest passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history. Only Bart Starr has a higher career postseason passer rating. Warner averaged 66.5 percent completions, 304 yards and 8.55 yards per attempt in the playoffs. Warner has 31 postseason touchdown passes in only 13 games (the three players ahead of him own between 18 and 24 playoff appearances).

Case against enshrinement: Warner started more than 11 games in a season only four times. He started between nine and 11 games four times and didn't accomplish much for a five-season period beginning in 2002.

Any argument against enshrinement for Warner will focus on the disjointed nature of his career and the fact that he produced sporadically as a result. The consistency simply wasn't as good with Warner as it was with the typical Hall of Fame quarterback.

Parting shot: Warner's candidacy improved significantly when he led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl following the 2008 season. I thought it was also important for his Hall credentials to follow up with another strong effort in 2009. Warner did that, leading the Cardinals to another division title. Tossing five touchdown passes with only four incompletions during a wild-card victory over the Green Bay Packers might have pushed him over the top.

[+] EnlargeRoger Craig
US PresswireRoger Craig was the first player in league history to post 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
49ers: Roger Craig, RB

Claim to fame: Craig was among the more versatile running backs in league history, earning Pro Bowl honors at running back and fullback. He was a three-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowl choice.

Case for enshrinement: Craig was the first player in NFL history to top 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He led the NFL in receptions with 92 in 1985 and set the 49ers' season rushing record with 1,502 yards three years later.

It's tough to measure players across eras, but Craig ranked 13th on the all-time rushing list when he retired even though he did so much more than simply run the ball. His three touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins helped the 49ers win the Super Bowl after the 1984 season.

Craig was one of three players in NFL history with 8,000 yards rushing, 4,900 yards receiving, 70 total touchdowns and four Pro Bowls. Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk are the others.

Case against enshrinement: Craig's versatility meant he usually wasn't exceptional in any one category. He generally wasn't a threat to rank among the league rushing leaders. While he did play fullback, he wasn't a great one in the traditional sense.

Craig was a four-time Pro Bowl choice with 8,189 yards rushing, 4,911 yards receiving, 73 total touchdowns and a 4.1-yard rushing average. Ricky Watters was a five-time Pro Bowl choice with 10,643 yards rushing, 4,248 yards receiving, 91 total touchdowns and a 4.1-yard rushing average.

Parting shot: Craig has good Hall of Fame credentials, not great ones, and he'll have a hard time breaking through given the quality of candidates and limited spaces.

Seahawks: Kenny Easley, SS

Claim to fame: Easley was a game-changing force while earning five Pro Bowl berths in seven seasons. He was the NFL's defensive player of the year in 1984.

Case for enshrinement: All-time Seahawks sack leader Jacob Green called Easley the best athlete his Seattle teams ever had. Tight end Todd Christensen of the division-rival Los Angeles Raiders said Easley, at his best, was even better than Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. Bill Walsh said Easley would be a Hall of Famer if Easley had played longer and, in his words, "maybe he still is -- he was that good." Lott said he knows the 49ers would have drafted Easley over himself if Seattle hadn't taken Easley first, and he blamed the Seahawks' failure to appear in a Super Bowl for keeping Easley out of Canton.

"Kenny could do what Jack Tatum could do, but he also could do what corners could do -- he could do what Mike Haynes could do," Lott said several years ago. "He was not only a great hitter and great intimidator on the field, but he was a great athlete. In that day, what made him so special -- him, Lawrence Taylor, those guys changed the game of football on the defensive side because they were not just guys that were big hitters. Now, all of sudden, you were seeing guys who were big hitters but also as athletic as anyone on offense."

Easley's outstanding ball skills helped him pick off 17 passes over a two-year period. He was indeed part of a trend toward greater athleticism on defense.

Case against enshrinement: Even if Easley were, at his best, better than Lott, there was no comparison between each man's careers. Easley, forced into early retirement after suffering from kidney failure attributed to excessive use of ibuprofen, simply didn't play long enough to solidify his Hall of Fame credentials. That wasn't his fault, but it was reality and it's tough to judge candidates on what might have been.

Parting shot: Easley becomes eligible for consideration by the Hall of Fame's Senior Selection Committee in 2012. His case deserves careful consideration and I think his chances for enshrinement will improve once the Senior Committee takes a harder look at his career. Easley was better than a lot of people realize. The respect he commands from all-time greats will help his cause.

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