Has the NFL lost its luster?
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

We sat around on Sunday, some buddies and I, and ripped the NFL.

It stinks, was the general theme.

There are no good teams anymore.

Priest Holmes
Despite stars like Kansas City's Priest Holmes, today's NFL just may not hold up to its past.
Players don't stay with teams anymore.

And on top of that, we're getting old, those buddies and I. We fear our mortality and are generally cranky, paranoid and bitter.

Plus, none of us is in a fantasy football league.

Later, after the Bitter Cloud had passed over our table, I thought: Are we just killjoys? Is it possible that today's NFL is as enjoyable to today's youth as yesterday's NFL was to my generation, back when we slept on sheets covered with NFL helmet logos and prayed, prayed, prayed (!) that Howard Cosell would show our team on the halftime highlights of Monday Night Football?

I decided to do a little research.

Perhaps parity gets a bad rap. Perhaps parity is an illusion. Perhaps parity is just another word that rhymes with Feherty, except he does golf, not the NFL, so we're losing focus here.

Did not Billy Joel, who has to be a Jets fan, once pen a tune called "Parity" that goes like this?

Par-ity ... such a lone-ly word

Ev-ery-one is so ave-rage

Wait. That was "Honesty." Never mind.

Anyway, I snuck around the NFL archives and devised my own highly-scientific NFL Quality Test. The only problem is that any science class was always my worst in school. In fact, the biggest break I ever got in life came in my sophomore year in high school, when a huge, massive, tell-all biology final was cancelled because one hero from my class had the stones and vision to Krazy Glue the door to our biology class shut. True story. Our biology teacher went ballistic, but he was foiled by one of the all-time great high school pranks. He was completely hosed. Since our class was first period, janitors couldn't open it in time, and the final was cancelled.

God, I love the guy who did that. That is genius -- on par with whomever suggested to hotel chains that their bills leave off the actual movie titles dialed up by occupants, thus guaranteeing billions of dollars in future income.

Again, I'm losing focus.

So, here's the deal.

I checked the final NFL standings for the past 30 years, at 10-year increments, to see if, indeed, we are living in a world devoid of NFL greatness. The results would determine if today's kids have to sleep on sheets with logos of hip-hop record labels instead of NFL helmet logos.

Roger Staubach & Tom Landry
Roger Staubach and Tom Landry confer during the 1972 NFC Championship game.
Granted, it's all relative. 1973's NFL is different from 2003's NFL, and not just because O.J. Simpson was rushing for 2,003 yards in 1973 instead of being consumed with finding the real killer, as he is in 2003.

But let's use a standard of at least 10 wins for "greatness" in 1973, when they played a 14-game schedule. And in the 16-game schedules in place in 1983, 1993 and 2003, we will insist that a team have won more than 10 times to be considered "great."

The breakdown:


Teams that won at least 10 Games: Miami (12-2), Minnesota (12-2), L.A. Rams (12-2), Cincinnati (10-4), Pittsburgh (10-4), Dallas (10-4), Washington (10-4).

Total of "Great" Teams: 7.

The Verdict: Goosebump City. The mere listing of those teams caused my breath to condense when I exhaled, as if I were Chuck Foreman breaking from the huddle at Metropolitan Stadium. Holy Boobie Clark, look at the list! You don't know whether to drop Roger Staubach in the pocket, hand off to Cullen Bryant, or tell George Allen, "Wow, you look eerily like future president Ronald Reagan."

All told, a tough era to beat, from Tom Landry's fedora to Angie Dickinson leaving messages with Chuck Knox's secretary. Where's today's Angie Dickinson? Sigh.


Teams that won more than 10 Games: Washington (14-2), Miami (12-4), L.A. Raiders (12-4), Dallas (12-4).

Total of "Great" Teams: 4.

The Verdict: Solid, but not spectacular. I can hear the barking from the naysayers now: Loosen up, Sandy baby! Yes, John (Riggo) Riggins scored 24 TDs on the ground that year, but Steve Bartkowski led the NFL in passer rating and Dave Krieg wasn't far behind (second in the AFC behind rookie Dan Marino). That's right, Dave Krieg, whose last name is German for "I Render the QB Rating Stat Utterly Meaningless." The Hogs were a good story, but Todd Christensen led the NFL in catches that year, and his 92 grabs are believed to be an all-time record for NFL players Who Bear a Startling Resemblance to Weird Al Yankovic. This guy used hair gel like Lester Hayes used Stickum. Woe to the hotel chambermaid who had to wash his pillow case.


Warren Moon
Warren Moon's QB rating wasn't all that great in '93.
Teams that won more than 10 Games: Buffalo (12-4), Houston (12-4), Dallas (12-4), New York Giants (11-5).

Total of "Great" Teams: 4.

The Verdict: Dicey. Parity is beginning to plague the league, as even Mel Kiper, Jr.'s hair, augmented by ozone-defying aerosols, begins to look the same, year after year, on Draft Day. So the Oilers went 12-4? Well, head straight to Canton, dear reader, if you can tell me who their leading rusher was. If you said "Gary Brown", your "Luv Ya Blue" foam finger is in the mail. But surely Warren Moon turned in a year to remember? Yeah, if you consider a QB rating straight out of the disco era -- 75.2 -- to be memorable. That Giants team was led by Rodney Hampton's 3.7 yards per carry -- and somewhere, Frank Gifford sighs. At least the Jimmy and Jerry Show was worth watching -- as was the tragedy of Marv Levy's unfufilled quest, his sad face growing older on the sideline during every losing Super Bowl while thousands of Buffalo residents turn away from their TVs and ponder six more weeks of blizzards.


Teams On Pace to Win More than 10 Games: Kansas City (8-0), Indianapolis (7-1), Tennessee (6-2), Dallas (6-2), Minnesota (6-2), Carolina (6-2), New England (6-2), Seattle (6-2).

Potential Number of "Great" Teams: 8.

The Verdict: Let's be honest. The trend is downward, from the 1973 heyday to today, but we'll try and put a positive spin on this. For starters, the Chiefs have the entire 1972 Dolphins Alumni's boxer shorts in a twist, threatening their treasured unbeaten mark and doing so with legitimate stars such as Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez and Dante Hall. Plus, Kleenex stock is through the roof, as coach Dick Vermeil cries whenever a play is called.

Steve McNair
Steve McNair would be a star in any NFL era.
(That may be a problem. Things can get complicated late in the season -- an NFL official may mistake a discarded Vermeil tissue for an On-Field Challenge, and the potential for lost Chiefs time-outs could doom their historic bid.)

The Colts, too, are for real -- Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James warming the heart of every young boy in Indiana. That is, until high school basketball season starts and the Colts become third-rate citizens. Tennessee? Fair play to them, as Steve McNair would be classy in any era. The rest are forgettable, as questionable as Bill Parcells' dye job.

What to make of all this, then?

On the one hand, maybe things were really better in the old days.

On the other hand, maybe it's all about the prism of time. Maybe 30 years from now, Quincy Carter will seem as epic a figure as Fran Tarkenton.

I'm not here to pick sides. I'm just going to ponder it, as I take an afternoon nap on my NFL-logo sheets -- the extra-special new ones with the helmets of expansion teams in Tampa Bay and Seattle!

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

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Murphy: Why you should watch

Murphy: Who do you believe?

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Murphy: Cub-conscious

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