Friday, September 16, 2011

Returning With The Rest Of Round Two

I realized I haven't followed through with the Battle of the All-Time-Great Teams, so with no further ado, here are recaps of the remaining round-two games.

Dolphins-Rams: Call it art imitating life or what you will, but no-name defenses don’t win all-time-greats matchups. When the playing field is 8-1/2 by 11, talent carries the day. This is a bad thing for the Dolphins, who have almost always been greater than the sum of their parts. Blame it on the coaches; the great ‘Fins coaches, Don Shula and Bill Parcells, have been so ungodly good at wringing every last drop of play from their charges that the personnel guys (sometimes the coaches themselves) feel bulletproof enough to say, “I don’t care; give me that guy with the elevator cleat.” Go figure: the Dolphins have an all-time winning percentage of .576 and trot out Manny Fernandez, Jason Taylor, Bill Stanfill, and Bob Baumhower in their all-time best-ever defensive line – and the whole defense is like that. The linebackers are Bob Brudzinski, Bryan Cox, and the prototypical Dolphins defender, Zach Thomas, who turned short, unathletic, and quintessentially overachieving into a multiyear All-Something career. The secondary includes Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Jake Scott, and Dick Anderson – solid guys, but gird your loins with them and step into the ring with Steve Young, and let’s see how you do.

Compare this with the Rams, which have always been about squandering great talent the way a Hummer squanders liquefied dinosaurs. They flash Bob Waterfield and Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch and Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce and Norm van Brocklin and Jack Youngblood and Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, Inventor of the Sack. The Dolphins fire back impotently with Dan Marino, Bob Griese, Paul Warfield, Larry Czonka, and a handful of linemen. Larry Little, indeed.

All the good coaching in the world can’t save the Dolphins in this one. The Rams outrun and outpass the outflanked Dolphins, who set the tempo for exactly three minutes in the first quarter. A 10-3 game at the end of one balloons to 24-6 at halftime and 37-13 by the final gun. Waterfield throws for 419 and three scores, Hirsch catches six for 125, and Faulk and Dickerson rush for a combined 156.

While the Rams move on, the Dolphins can console themselves with this: No NFL team has historically done more with less. The unfortunate thing is that less is ultimately less.

Titans-Lions: Believe it or not, but the Titans have the better all-time record and home field for this matchup, but like we’ve mentioned before, a team only needs about three four-year periods of goodness to supply enough players for a decent all-time-greats team. The Lions make it up to two and a half, and that’s enough to take down the Toilers.

Houstennessee makes it really close, though. Warren Moon plus Earl Campbell just about equals Barry Sanders, and the Oilans throw in Chris Johnson, Elvin Bethea, Ken Houston, and a really good offensive line to counteract Joe Schmidt, Alex Karras, Roger Brown, and a cast of a thousand tough D-backs.

However, this game pivots on a matchup: Moon versus the Lions’ defensive backfield. The Lions’ historical secondary is the best in NFL history, and it’s deep. Moon, a short, impatient quarterback, is perfect cannon-fodder for Jack Christensen, Lem Barney, Night Train Lane, Yale Lary, Dick LeBeau, and Don Doll. The result: four interceptions, one pick-six, and two short fields that the Lions turn into 10 points.

Moon’s plenty productive when he’s not throwing to the other team – 328 and a TD – and Campbell and Johnson are a dynamite Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside duo, but it doesn’t matter. Despite Barry Sanders outgaining Bobby Layne (Sanders 146 rushing yards, Layne 139 passing yards), the Lions prevail 20-17.

Packers-Chargers: A replay in spirit of Super Bowl I. Despite some gaudy numbers coming in, the AFL quarterback can’t throw, the AFL running backs can’t run, and the Packers jump on early and never let up. Green Bay 27-7.

Browns-Seahawks: In the current milieu it’s hard to believe this game is even being played. In the all-time-great milieu it’s a stretch, too. The game starts out fairly evenly, as the Seahawks’ skill players and defensive stars hold their own, but it fades fast thanks to an overdose of Jim Brown and a stiff shot of Otto Graham. A surprisingly stout Browns’ defense delivers, too. In the end Brown rushes for 117 and a TD, Marion Motley adds 83 and two scores, Graham waltzes in on a naked bootleg and the Browns advance 31-10.

Recap: The final eight teams in the all-time-great-team showdown have been determined. The matchups are:

• Bears-Lions in Chicago. Four quarters of ouch, guaranteed.

• Browns-Rams in Cleveland. The Rams go back to their roots, assuming the ground’s not too frozen.

• Packers-49ers in Green Bay. The latest installment of a classic playoff matchup.

• Cowboys-Colts in Dallas. A rivalry that ought to be but has never been takes center stage.

Stay tuned for the game stories and results.

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