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Archive for June, 2010

Support Pro-Football-Reference.com, Sponsor a Page

Posted by Neil Paine on June 25, 2010

Sponsoring a page is fun, fast, and easy way to support what we're doing here at Pro-Football-Reference. With a sponsorship, you can:

  • Show your support for your favorite player or team.
  • Drum up traffic for your own site & draw in fans with a common interest.
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  • Make your voice heard by the tens of thousands of people who visit Pro-Football-Reference every day.

Here's all you have to do to get involved:

  1. Create a membership account.
  2. Find the page(s) you'd like to support, and click "sponsor" (available pages).
  3. If the page you want is already sponsored, click "Alert Me!" to be informed when the current sponsorship expires.
  4. Follow the instructions to create your message and make your payment.
  5. Your message and links will be visible on the page after we approve them (usually in less than 24 hours).

And who knows, if you're clever enough, your message might end up on lists like these.

Comments Off | Posted in Announcements

World Cup 2010 Checkdowns: Nike Commercial Curse?

Posted by Neil Paine on June 22, 2010

Like most people who reviewed Nike's 2010 World Cup "Write the Future" campaign, I really adore the full-length version of the TV spot:

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, it's a fun, thrilling piece of visual and conceptual art. There's just one problem, though, according to Asher Klein at the NYT's Goal Blog:

3 Comments | Posted in Checkdowns, Voodoo and witchcraft, World Cup

World Cup 2010: Offensive Team versus Defensive Team showdowns

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 21, 2010

The United States will be playing Algeria on Wednesday in a must win situation to advance in the World Cup. Both of these teams have, of course, played the same two opponents in the group phase, but have vastly different goal records. The United States has been leaky defensively, particularly early in games, conceding three goals, while it has shown the ability to attack. Algeria, on the other hand, has played well defensively, only giving up a late goal against Slovenia while frustrating England, but showed very little offensively and has yet to score a goal. I was interested in finding some comparable matchups to see what happens when two apparently similar opponents meet in the final group match, but one has been offensive and the other defensive.

Here's what I did to find comparable matchups. I looked at every group game from 1986 to 2006 where the teams meeting in the final game of the group:

1) were within +/-2 of each other in overall goal differential;
2) both had a goal differential between -3 and +3 through the first two games;
3) one team had scored more goals and given up more goals than the other; and
4) the amount either scored or given up was greater than 1 goal in at least one of the two categories.

For example, if two teams had respective goal differentials of 2-2 and 1-1, they would not meet the fourth criteria, while 3-2 (or 2-3) versus 1-1 would. This generated a list of fifteen matchups over this period that fit all the criteria and provide a pretty good list of comparable matchups. Here they are:

Year Offense Team OFF GF OFF GA OFF PT Defense Team DEF GF DEF GA DEF PT OFF RES DEF RES
2006 south korea 3 2 4 switzerland 2 0 4 0 2
2006 australia 3 3 3 croatia 0 1 1 2 2
2002 portugal 6 3 3 south korea 3 1 4 0 1
2002 denmark 3 2 4 france 0 1 1 2 0
2002 sweden 3 2 4 argentina 1 1 3 1 1
2002 belgium 3 3 2 russia 2 1 3 3 2
2002 paraguay 3 5 1 slovenia 1 4 0 3 1
1998 nigeria 4 2 6 paraguay 0 0 2 1 3
1998 england 3 2 3 colombia 1 1 3 2 0
1998 spain 2 3 1 bulgaria 0 1 1 6 1
1994 saudi arabia 3 3 3 belgium 2 0 6 1 0
1994 spain 3 3 2 bolivia 0 1 1 3 1
1994 romania 4 5 3 united states 3 2 4 1 0
1990 sweden 2 4 0 costa rica 1 1 3 1 2
1986 belgium 3 3 4 paraguay 2 1 3 2 2

The positive news for the USA is that the "offensive" teams won 8, lost 4, and drew 3 in the final matchup of group play against the "defensive" teams, with a collective goal differential in that third matchup of 28 goals for, 18 goals against. Further, of the four losses, one was by Nigeria in 1998 to Paraguay, and Nigeria had already clinched first in the group before that match and rested starters, so it is arguably not a good comparison because the offensive team had nothing to play for. The four defensive teams on this list that, like Algeria, came in with one point as a result of 0 goals for and 1 goal against went a combined 0-3-1 in the third game.

4 Comments | Posted in World Cup

Senior Candidates, 2011: Al Wistert

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 14, 2010

Back in February, we discussed profiling Senior nominees for the 2011 Veteran's selections, and solicited input from all of our great readers. I had hoped to start on the profiles after the draft but that did not happen right away. The two finalists are generally announced in late August, so we will be profiling players over the next month or so for consideration. Today, we start with Al Wistert.

Al Wistert is 89 years old and living in Grants Pass, Oregon. For most of the last forty years, he has had very little buzz around his candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but that has changed over the last few years. Last year, he was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame along with Randall Cunningham, and there have been online petitions to get him considered as a senior selection for Canton. So, is this a case of a sentimental selection for a living representative of a bygone era, when football was played both ways by players who rarely left the field? Or is Al Wistert an oversight by the Pro Football Hall of Fame that needs to be corrected by the Senior Selection Committee?

Before I get to that answer, a quick aside. When I was researching Al Wistert, I kept running into confusing references of Al Wistert playing for the Philadelphia Eagles the same year as he was playing for the University of Michigan. As it turns out, there were two Al Wisterts, who were brothers, and who played football at the same time. Actually, three Wistert brothers starred at tackle for the University of Michigan. Francis "Whitey" Wistert (born in 1912) played at Michigan from 1931-1933, and also played baseball and was signed by the Cincinnati Reds. Alvin "Moose" Wistert (born in 1915) did not go to college right away, served in World War II, and played at Michigan after the war, when he was already in his thirties. Albert "Ox" Wistert, the Al Wistert at issue here, was the youngest of the three, but played and starred at Michigan from 1940-1942, before the older Alvin Wistert.

Al Wistert was a natural athlete. He never actually played organized football in high school, and his first game of organized football came when he started for the University of Michigan as a sophomore in 1940 against California.

As an NFL rookie, Wistert was a member of the famous "Steagles" team in 1943, which combined the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia franchises for one season due to the war. The following year, his first officially with the Eagles, Wistert was selected first team all-pro for the first time, and he would go on to be selected by an awarding organization at least once in every remaining year in the decade. Judging by the number of awards each season, he was widely considered the best tackle in the game from 1944 to 1948. Before Wistert arrived in Philadelphia, the franchise had never had a winning record. He was a favorite of coach Greasy Neale and was captain of the team, and played in three consecutive NFL championship games from 1947-1949 as captain.

It's difficult to compare Al Wistert to other candidates for senior selection who played after 1950 because he played a very different game as a two way player, where versatility was far more important. From the accounts I can find, he was considered adept on both sides of the ball in both college and the pros, praised for his technique and variety in offensive blocking, and in his ability to make sure tackles and control his area defensively. Offensively, he blocked in front of Steve Van Buren for one of the best rushing attacks of the era, and defensively, he was part of teams that consistently ranked in the top 3 in both passing and rushing rate stats and recorded shutouts in the 1948 and 1949 championship games. The only way I know to assess Wistert's qualifications for the Hall is to compare him to contemporaries at the same position from the two-way era. During Wistert's time, and in the decade before, numerous awarding organizations named all pro teams, usually between 4 and 7 in a given year. They may have had different criteria, so it gives us a broad view of how players were viewed. From 1930 to 1949 (the unlimited substitution rule went into effect in 1950), 37 different tackles were named to at least one first team all pro team by an awarding organization. Here is a summary of all tackles for this two decade period who were named on at least five distinct first team all pros during this period, with the first column representing the total number of first team selections by different organizations, and the second column representing the total number of discrete seasons in which the player had at least one first team selection.

First Last All Pros Years as All Pro
Al Wistert 24 6
Joe Stydahar 21 5
Turk Edwards 18 8
Bruiser Kinard 16 6
Cal Hubbard 10 3
Dick Huffman 10 3
Bill Morgan 8 2
George Christensen 7 4
Baby Ray 7 4
Ed Widseth 7 2
Willie Wilkin 7 2
Al Blozis 5 1
Fred Davis 5 2

Joe Stydahar, Turk Edwards, Bruiser Kinard and Cal Hubbard, the four men who rank immediately below Wistert on this list, are all enshrined in Canton, and are the only four tackles from this era in the Hall of Fame. Wistert compares more than favorably against the other two way tackles from this two decade period, and clearly separates himself from any other tackle not in Canton. Arguably, by this rough measure of looking at awards, he was the most dominant tackle of this twenty year period, and is in any event, the equal of the other Hall of Famers who were honored long ago.

So why is Wistert still not in the Hall? I suspect it is just that he slipped through the cracks, and if the Hall had been in existence when he retired and he was eligible five years later, he would have been in shortly thereafter. The Pro Football Hall of Fame had its inaugural class in 1963, and was still in its infancy when Wistert was honored by the college football hall of fame in 1968 at about the same time the pro football hall of fame added Stydahar, Kinard, and Edwards. Then, the clear choices among the stars of the late 1950's and early 1960's, who played at a time when the game was hitting greater heights in popularity with television playing a greater role, were reaching eligibility, and those older stars who had not made it in were pushed aside by generations that remembered them less and less with each passing year. You would have to be near eighty years old now to have seen Wistert play, so there are few first hand accounts, and certainly no advanced statistics to rely on. Still, using the awards and how he was perceived at the time, it is pretty clear that Wistert is a glaring omission. He seems like the exact kind of player the Senior Committee should be considering as a strong candidate for inclusion.

18 Comments | Posted in Great Historical Players, HOF

World Cup 2010: Home Region Advantage

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 8, 2010

Since we don't have a futbol-reference blog, and with the World Cup starting in two days, I thought I would throw in some World Cup thoughts. I have done a fair amount of research on home field advantage in the NFL, particularly as it relates to climate and road team familiarity. I was interested in the data for the World Cup, particularly since this year will be played in Africa for the first time. As the World Cup is played only every four years, and only 32 countries even play in the Finals (only 16 as recently as 1978), there is not a whole lot of data out there. Still, the data that does exist suggests that countries playing in their home region enjoy a significant boost in the tournament.

Here is a summary of the performance of European countries versus non-European countries in all World Cups played since World War II, sorted by year, with the host country and continent listed. (Note: for knockout rounds, wins in extra time are counted as wins, while matches that went to a penalty kick shootout are counted as ties)

Year Host Continent W D L Win Pct
2006 Germany Europe 22 7 5 0.750
2002 Japan/S.Korea Asia 18 10 16 0.523
1998 France Europe 20 13 6 0.679
1994 United States N.America 15 6 9 0.600
1990 Italy Europe 15 7 6 0.661
1986 Mexico N.America 9 9 10 0.482
1982 Spain Europe 14 6 4 0.708
1978 Argentina S.America 6 5 8 0.447
1974 W.Germany Europe 13 6 1 0.800
1970 Mexico N.America 7 5 7 0.500
1966 England Europe 9 3 5 0.618
1962 Chile S.America 6 3 9 0.417
1958 Sweden Europe 5 3 7 0.433
1954 Switzerland Europe 7 1 3 0.682
1950 Brazil S.America 6 3 5 0.536

European teams have won 68.1% (with draws counting as half wins) of their matches in World Cups played in Europe, but only 50.9% of matches in World Cups played on other continents. A World Cup was last played in the Southern Hemisphere in 1978, and European teams have a losing record in World Cups in South America (46.1%). In contrast, South American teams have won only 51.7% of their games played in Europe, compared to 66.3% in the three South American World Cups and 64.2% in other World Cups, primarily also played in the Western Hemisphere.

Of course, this World Cup is not played in either Europe or one of the traditional sites in North and South America. Eight years ago, when the tournament was played for the first time in Asia, we saw plenty of upsets. The tournament in South Africa raises more questions than there are answers when it comes to assessing who has the venue advantage, such as:

Will South American teams have any advantage because of the tournament being played in the Southern hemisphere, or will this be negated by time zone adjustments?

Will the European teams have less of a disadvantage than other non-European World Cups because of time zone similarities with South Africa, even though the seasons are opposite?

How much advantage will the five other African countries have, since none of them is contiguous to South Africa? Algeria is in the northern hemisphere and the other four are in the West Central Region, with the closest, Cameroon, still over 2,000 miles away from South Africa.

I don't know the answers to those questions, but generally, uncertainty favors the underdog and makes things a little more wild, so the one thing I am predicting is that you should go ahead and expect the unexpected this June.

15 Comments | Posted in World Cup

The WCB Tournament Final Four

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 7, 2010

It's been since April that I have had a free moment, so I apologize for the delay in getting back to this. For those that don't know, during March and April, I embarked on a non-sensical journey of playing a tournament using the What If Sports website, between the best teams that failed to win a Super Bowl. Here are the previous results:

the opening round results
the first round results from the Tampa/New Orleans regions
the first round results from the Los Angeles/Houston regions.
the second round results from the Tampa/New Orleans regions
the second round results from the Los Angeles/Houston regions
the regional semis and finals from the Tampa/New Orleans regions
the regional semis and finals from the Los Angeles/Houston regions

Today, we pick up with the Final Four teams: 1997 Green Bay Packers, 1967 Los Angeles Rams, 1968 Baltimore Colts, and the 1970 Minnesota Vikings. I wrote a little something about the Fearsome Foursome and its origins as it relates to the 1967 Rams, so I'll give a brief recap of the other teams before we put a bow on this series.

1997 Green Bay Packers: The only defending Super Bowl Champion to make the Final Four, the Packers finished in a tie in the NFC with San Fransisco 49ers at 13-3, and went on the road to win the conference championship at San Fransisco. They then lost to Denver in the Super Bowl, becoming the first NFC team to lose in that game since the 1983 Redskins. The Packers most infamously lost a game to 3-13 Indianapolis in which they surrendered a season high 467 yards, but that game awoke them, as they won their next seven games to reach the Super Bowl. Brett Favre was selected as AP MVP for the third consecutive year.

1968 Baltimore Colts: Johnny Unitas suffered an arm injury in the preseason, and veteran journeyman Earl Morrall led the Baltimore Colts to one of the greatest NFL regular seasons. The Colts' only loss came against the Browns in a game in which Unitas tried to come back and threw 3 interceptions on 11 passes. Playing in the tougher NFL Western Division, the Colts outscored their opponents by 258 points and avenged their only loss with a 34-0 drubbing of Cleveland in the championship game. Earl Morrall's Cinderalla season as NFL MVP came to a crashing end in the Super Bowl III defeat against the Jets.

1970 Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings followed up a dominant 1969 season in which they lost to Kansas City in the Super Bowl with an equally dominant 1970 season, when they lost to San Fransisco in a game in which the offense, and particular the passing game, let them down. The Purple People Eaters were at their peak in 1970, and Alan Page would win his AP MVP selection the following season.

Now, to the matchups. The first semifinal features the 1997 Green Bay Packers against the 1967 Los Angeles Rams. Here is the path that each took to the Final Four.

1997 Green Bay
Defeated 1976 Los Angeles 34-12
Defeated 2005 Indianapolis 26-13
Defeated 1996 Denver 28-26
Defeated 2007 New England 28-21

1967 Los Angeles
Defeated 2000 New York Giants 10-3
Defeated 1984 Miami 27-21
Defeated 2000 Tennessee 13-10
Defeated 1976 Pittsburgh 24-10

FIRST QUARTER: both teams exchange punts throughout the quarter, as the defenses dominate early. The quarter closes with the Rams facing 3rd and goal after taking possession in Packer territory. Tied 0-0.

SECOND QUARTER: Reggie White sacks Gabriel on the first play of the quarter to hold the Rams to a field goal. Later, the Packers go for it at the Rams' 35, but Favre is sacked, and the Rams get another field goal on the ensuing possession. The Packers manage to put together an extended drive right before the half, and get a field goal. Los Angeles 6, Green Bay 3.

THIRD QUARTER: The defenses dominate the third, as the Packers come up with a goal line stand inside the five to keep the game in range. The Packers take that momentum swing and move into Rams territory as the quarter ends. Los Angeles 6, Green Bay 3.

FOURTH QUARTER: Dorsey Levens scores the first touchdown at the start of the fourth. The Rams then go three and out and look to be in trouble, but a fumble gives Los Angeles hope. The Rams go on a lengthy drive, capped by Les Josephson's touchdown run with just under 3 minutes left. Favre is sacked on back to back plays, including fourth down, and the Rams add an insurance touchdown inside the two minute warning. The Packers add a late touchdown, but the onside kick is unsuccessful. Los Angeles 20, Green Bay 17. Full Boxscore

The second semifinal features two powers from the late 1960's and early 1970's. Here were their roads to Miami.

1968 Baltimore
Defeated 1995 Pittsburgh 20-0
Defeated 1997 Kansas City 21-7
Defeated 1991 Buffalo 40-17
Defeated 1967 Oakland 20-12

1970 Minnesota
Defeated 1980 Atlanta 28-6
Defeated 2005 Seattle 24-17
Defeated 1973 Los Angeles 15-7
Defeated 2001 Saint Louis 20-0

FIRST QUARTER: The Colts take the opening kickoff and put together an efficient drive, ending with a Jimmy Orr touchdown catch. The Vikings punt right away, and the Colts go on another long drive, ending with a field goal. The following kickoff is returned deep into Colts territory, giving the Vikings their first scoring chance as the quarter ends. Baltimore 10, Minnesota 0

SECOND QUARTER: The Vikings score on the second play of the quarter, then the defenses bear down and force several punts. Right before the end of the half, the Vikings tie the score with a field goal from Fred Cox. Tied at 10-10

THIRD QUARTER: Cuozzo throws an early interception, and neither team comes close to threatening after that, and the score remains the same.Tied at 10-10

FOURTH QUARTER: Neither team can do much offensively, but when Cuozzo throws his second interception at midfield with a minute left, the Colts move into scoring range. Lou Michaels attempts a 48 yard field goal, but it goes wide and the game goes to overtime. Tied at 10-10

OVERTIME: The Colts win the toss, but do nothing. The Vikings return the favor. On third down of the second possession, Morrall hits a big pass to Richardson that puts it across midfield, then Tom Matte breaks through the line on the next play to get inside the Minnesota 20.
The Colts center the ball, and the field goal attempt is good. Baltimore 13, Minnesota 10.
Full Boxscore

THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

The final game features an old division rivalry. In fact, it was Los Angeles that knocked the undefeated Colts out of the playoffs in 1967 with their final week victory.

FIRST QUARTER: Morrall throws an interception on his first pass of the game, and the Rams immediately turn it into a field goal. When Morrall throws his second interception one series later, the Baltimore fans collectively groan and begin to have visions of Super Bowl III. Los Angeles 3, Baltimore 0

SECOND QUARTER: The Los Angeles offense does nothing, but the Fearsome Foursome hold firm. With Baltimore threatening right before halftime, Morrall throws his third interception. Los Angeles 3, Baltimore 0

THIRD QUARTER: The Rams squandered chances to extend the lead, and Gossett's missed field goal keeps Baltimore within range. As the quarter closes, the Rams face a crucial third down at the Baltimore 36. Los Angeles 3, Baltimore 0

FOURTH QUARTER: Gabriel hits Jack Snow on the first play of the fourth for a touchdown on third down. Baltimore then finally puts a drive together, but in a move that sends stat guys reeling, Shula opts for a 33 yard field goal on fourth and one at the 16, trailing by 10 with 10 minutes left. Michaels misses it, and Baltimore is in trouble. The Colts do get the ball back a few minutes later, and aided by a personal foul and a Jimmy Orr catch, get into the end zone with 5:39 left. The Rams punt it back to the Colts inside the two minute warning, and it is downed at the 3. The Colts cannot get out of their end zone, and the Rams add a late field goal to seal the victory. Los Angeles 13, Baltimore 7

Full Boxscore

Congratulations to the 1967 Rams, and Rest in Peace, Merlin Olsen.

16 Comments | Posted in Insane ideas, Totally Useless