Thursday, May 20, 2010

Butch Byrd: C'mon, Get Pass-Happy

There’s a whole spiel in the book that talks about the weaknesses of the American Football League, and why at least some of the players from that delightful side of the aisle weren’t quite as good as we’ve been led to believe. However, a little of the opposite is true, too: Accomplishments of AFL defensive backs are of at least equal merit to their NFL counterparts because the AFL threw the ball more, and to better receivers.

In the AFL the line of demarcation between the good teams and the bad was their ability to stop the other team's passing attack. Every AFL team had at least one highly talented wide receiver, running backs that could catch the ball, and quarterbacks who would throw the ball to them or anyone else with the same promiscuous equanimity displayed by David Letterman toward his female staffers. As a result you had these astounding numbers of average annual passing and rushing attempts by league through the ‘60s:

Year                                         AFL                                                        NFL
                           Average Team          Average Team       Average Team        Average Team
                         Passing Attempts  Rushing Attempts  Passing Attempts   Rushing Attempts
1960                          462.4                      423.9                     316.5                         391.6
1961                          457.8                      402.3                     378                            436
1962                          432                         410.6                    382.6                          433.1
1963                          442.4                      383.3                    386.8                          436.6
1964                          468.8                      389.1                    388.4                          434.3
1965                          456.5                      400.4                    386.2                          430.8
1966                          442.4                      405.3                    402.2                          433.9
1967                          430.9                      412.2                    403.2                          424.3
1968                          403.7                      443.5                   374.8                           441.2

The AFL became less pass-happy, less entertaining, and generally more like the NFL after the merger was announced, better running backs came into the league, and the AFL’s expansion teams decided to run more to limit the carnage. Mike Garrett and Floyd Little trumped Charley Tolar and Wray Carlton, and Virgil Carter and George Wilson Jr. were no George Blanda and Babe Parilli.

The point here is if the experts say Butch Byrd was one of the AFL’s best cornerbacks, and you could stick him out there on anyone from Don Maynard to Lance Alworth and he would at least keep it close, that’s almost more impressive than Herb Adderley putting the clamps on Paul Flatley and Billy Gambrell week-in week-out. That’s not saying Byrd was better, but Byrd had to be better.

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