This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
Heading down the home stretch of Midwest Sports Fans Ultimate Franchise Player series, the upcoming installments will now have a definite West Coast feel – St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle.
I know, at last check St. Louis was actually located in the Midwest.
But the Rams franchise history is somewhat truncated, and the majority of their legacy remains in Los Angeles. Three-quarters of the 32 players who made the bracket for Rams UFP were Los Angeles Rams.
That’s not to say that St. Louis is not included; in fact the Greatest Show on Turf is well represented.
From the bombs-away days of the early 1950s to the Kurt Warner era, there have been many all-time greats who have donned the horns. And don’t forget the franchise actually started in Cleveland very early on before moving to L.A., beating the Dodgers/Giants as the first west-coast based pro sports franchise by more than a decade.
What is about to get hard will be my upcoming selections for UFP, starting with the Rams – my final selection may surprise some people.
It’s now time to unveil the brackets…
#1 Deacon Jones (DE 1961-71, HOF) v. #8 Les Richter (MLB 1954-62, HOF)
Considered the #1 pass rusher in NFL history, Deacon Jones is the number one overall seed by the selection committee. Between 1963-68, Jones un-officially accounted for 129 sacks and practically invented the statistic. Also legendary for his infamous ‘head slaps’ which would be outlawed by the league after his retirement.
The number eight seed is now a Hall of Famer himself, selected by the Veterans committee in 2011. Les Richter made the Pro Bowl as a middle linebacker in eight of his nine years in the league and also served as the teams placekicker for part of his career.
#4 Bob Waterfield (QB 1945-52, HOF) v. #5 Norm Van Brocklin (QB 1949-57, HOF)
These two deserve to be linked, the dreaded term ‘quarterback controversy’ originated from the two future Hall of Famers splitting quarterback duties in the late-40s/early-1950s. Waterfield also played defense and handled the punting duties, so he platooned with Van Brocklin until Waterfield’s retirement following the ’52 season.
Despite the assault from many modern passers, Van Brocklin’s 554 passing yards in a 1951 game remains a league record to this day.
NVB was not a big fan of the media, especially during his post-playing days as a NFL coach. In his later years, Van Brocklin had just undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor and claimed to reporters that he had actually had a ‘brain transplant’ and had been given the brain of a sportswriter, and thus had ‘never been used.’
Van Brocklin passed away in 1983. What would he possibly think of today’s world of blogging and social media world???
#3 Tom Fears (WR 1948-56, HOF) v. #6 Fred Dryer (DE 1972-81)
Tom Fears re-wrote the NFL record books as a receiver during the 1949 and 1950 seasons, catching 77 and 84 passes in 12 game seasons. Fears also caught 18 passes in a single game, a record that stood until the year 2000.
A first-round draft choice out of San Diego State University, Fred Dryer unofficially recorded more than a 100 sacks in his career. In a feat likely to be never duplicated, Dryer was credited with recording two sacks for safeties in a matter of minutes in a 1973 game v. the Green Bay Packers – those two sequences pretty much summed up Packers football during that decade.
Following his playing career, Dryer also made a pretty good name for himself in the acting business.
#2 Elroy Hirsch (WR 1949-57, HOF) v. #7 Eddie Meador (CB 1959-70)
It doesn’t take long to find our obligatory Wisconsin representative. Crazylegs Hirsch not only grew up in Wisconsin, but following his playing days with the Athletic Director at the University of Wisconsin for nearly two decades. Elroy had a unique cross-legged running style that eventually gave him his nickname. In the 1951 season, Hirsch accounted for 1,495 yards receiving in a 12-game season. Get an idea those early-50’s teams were good at throwing the ball. Elroy checks in at #87 on the NFL All-time Top 100 list.
Eddie Meador still holds the club all-time interception record with 46 in his 12-year career. An All-1960’s selection, Meador is one of just two Rams in this bracket not enshrined in Canton, his family has launched a campaign to get his long-overdue induction.
LOS ANGELES BRACKET
#1 Merlin Olsen (DT 1962-76, HOF) v. #8 Jack Reynolds (MLB 1970-80)
The perception is that Olsen ranks second-fiddle to Deacon Jones in the annals of the Fearsome Foursome – or played Ringo Starr to Deacon’s John Lennon. Well, Merlin was not bad neither, he made the Pro Bowl in 14 of his 15 years with the Rams.
Just being known as Hacksaw gets Reynolds off the bubble with the selection committee. Is viewed unfavorably by some Rams fans for defecting to the rival 49ers late in his career, where he earned two Super Bowl rings.
#4 Roman Gabriel (QB 1962-72) v. #5 Isiah Robertson (OLB 1971-78)
Standing 6’5”, Roman Gabriel was the son of a Filipino immigrant who was originally projected for stardom coming out of North Carolina State. His eventual 16-year career was very good and ended just short of 30,000 passing yards.
Isiah Robertson earned Pro Bowl honors in six of his eight years with the team and is ranked in the top-100 by Pro Football Reference. Robertson spent the final four years of his career with the Buffalo Bills.
#3 Jack Snow (WR 1965-75) v. #6 Dennis Harrah (OG 1975-87)
I’ll confess to likely overseeding Jack Snow here, who averaged over 26 yards per catch one season in the league. He remained a member of the Rams organization until his passing in 2006.
Dennis Harrah was one of the big uglies that opened holes for the likes of Lawrence McCutcheon and Eric Dickerson among others in his career. Harrah finished with six Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.
#2 Tom Mack (OG 1966-78, HOF) v. #7 Lawrence McCutcheon (RB 1972-79)
Tom Mack earned Hall of Fame induction in 1999 following a career that saw him earn 10 Pro Bowl nominations. Appeared in 184 consecutive regular season games, third in franchise history, and is ranked #94 by Pro Football Reference.
McCutcheon was a solid running back for the team for the majority of the 1970’s, going over the 1,000 yards barrier on four occasions. McCutcheon actually threw a TD pass in the Rams loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. Lawrence was a move the chains type of runner, his longest career run was only 48 yards.
#1 Jack Youngblood (DE 1971-84, HOF) v. #8 Flipper Anderson (WR 1988-94)
Professional hockey has the tale of Bob Baun, who scored a game-winning goal in an elimination game in the Stanley Cup Final after getting his broken leg shot up at the end of regulation. ‘No big deal, eh?’, he basically said in a post-game interview. He then played Game 7 after refusing to get the injury X-Ray’d.
The NFL version of that story is Jack Youngblood, who fractured his fibula in a divisional playoff game in Dallas in 1979, but remained in that game, the conference championship the following week, and then Super Bowl XIV. Jack would even participate in the Pro Bowl the following week, a contest that players have been known to skip with hangnails.
But Jack’s career was much more than playing with the broken leg. Jack recorded 18 sacks in that 1979 season, and was NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1975 and 1976. Another signature moment was overpowering fellow HOF’er Dan Dierdorf in a ’75 playoff game, tipping and then intercepting a pass for a Pick Six.
Jack spent his entire 14-year career with the Rams and is very much in the conversation as the franchises best ever.
Flipper Anderson makes the field based on one Sunday night in New Orleans in 1989, catching 15 passes for a (still) league-record 336 yards. During his time in the league, the UCLA product was one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league.
#4 Henry Ellard (WR 1983-93) v. #5 Nolan Cromwell (S 1977-87)
Henry Ellard got overlooked in the food chain for much for his career, mainly because of another receiver up the coast who was Gretzky-ing the league record books. Ellard would finish his 16-year career with 13,777 receiving yards, tenth on the all-time list. Henry deserves much more HOF consideration.
Nolan Cromwell was a legendary athlete at the University of Kansas, not only as a record-setting option quarterback, but also as a track star (400 meters/hurdles/decathlon). Cromwell initially cut his teeth with the Rams on special teams, but was eventually named Defensive Back of the Year four consecutive seasons by Football Digest.
#3 Eric Dickerson (RB 1983-87, HOF) v. #6 Kevin Greene (OLB 1985-92)
ED gets bumped a little in the seeding based on spending only four years and some change in Anaheim. Eric was considered somewhat of an enigma with his racquetball glasses/space cadet look, and the mid-career trade to Indianapolis taints the Rams legacy. But those first four years still rank among the most prolific in league history, over 7,200 yards, including 2,105 rushing yards in 1984 that remains the single-season record.
Kevin Greene is simply one of the best pass rushers ever. As a Ram Greene recorded 72 sacks in eight years and wound up with 160 sacks for his career. These days, Kevin serves on the Green Bay Packers staff and still looks like he could go out there and get 2-3 sacks in a game. KG has been banging on the door in recent years as a HOF finalist.
#2 Jackie Slater (OT 1976-95, HOF) v. #7 Jim Everett (QB 1986-93)
Part of me actually wants to move Slater into the #1 seed of the St. Louis Bracket. 20 years with the same team, Merlin Olsen was a teammate in his rookie season and Isaac Bruce was on the squad when he played the last of his 259 regular season games. Slater ranks second in games played among O-linemen and one of two non-kickers/punters to play 20 years with one team.
Among numerous accomplishments, Slater was voted NFC Offensive Lineman of the year four times and is considered amongst the best O-linemen period of the last 35 years.
Thanks to the internet, Jim Everett is by far more remembered for a silly incident that occurred when he made the mistake of appearing on an ESPN program than his exploits on the field. Drafted third-overall, Everett was considered to have a Dan Marino-like skill set, and wound up being considered a disappointment as his career went along. 1988-90 were his best years, throwing over 500+ passes per year and twice leading the league in TD passes.
ST. LOUIS REGION
#1 Marshall Faulk (RB 1999-2005, HOF) v. #8 Aeneas Williams (CB 2001-04)
Faulk stays out of consideration of Rams UFP for the same reason as Eric Dickerson, he spent a significant portion of his career as an Indianapolis Colt. Between 1999-2001, Marshall scored 59 touchdowns and accounted for over 6,600 yards from scrimmage. Faulk is ranked #10 by Pro Football Reference and is a lock for an at-large big in my final field of 64.
Aeneas Williams is the bigger story here, he spent the last four years of his career as a Ram and earned two Pro Bowl appearances in the process.
Williams spent the first ten years of his career as a Phoenix/Arizona Cardinal, where he made six Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro recognition twice. Fourteen months ago I made the monumental and egregious mistake of omitting Aeneas from my Cardinals Ultimate Franchise Player list, ultimately going with Larry Fitzgerald, figuring that he had several more good seasons left in him.
Well, Larry fell off a statistical cliff with the Cardinals this year, while Aeneas is ranked #72 by Pro Football Reference, and has been a HOF finalist the past two years.
My original decision of Larry Fitzgerald as Cardinals UFP is now under further review.
#4 Orlando Pace (OT 1997-2008) v. #5 Torry Holt (WR 1999-2008)
This is pretty good for #4/#5. In 1996 Keith Jackson was drooling on college football over Orlando Pace’s talents with Ohio State, and the Rams definitely did not whiff with the first overall pick of the 1997 Draft. Talk about Warner/Faulk/Ike Bruce all you want, but Pace was as significant a piece of the offense as anyone.
Torry Holt also got overlooked a bit as an A-lister in the Warner Brothers era, in 2003 Torry led the entire league with 117 catches/1,696 yards, and would catch over 100 passes again two years later.
Pro Football Reference has Torry at #81 and O. Pace is #166. Gentleman, choose your weapon.
#3 Kurt Warner (QB 1998-2003) v. #6 Steven Jackson (RB 2004-12)
Warner only started 50 regular season games for the Rams, but is arguably goes down as the franchises best quarterback ever, appearing in two Super Bowls and winning one. Except for the guy in ‘Heaven Can Wait,’ no Rams QB approaches that resume, and Warner is a much better Hollywood story.
Sadly, Steven Jackson has been saddled with some bad teams for the majority of his career, but here is his final St. Louis number – 10,000+ rushing yards (26th all-time) and eight consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. S-Jax now hopefully gets his chance at post-season glory as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
#2 Isaac Bruce (WR 1994-2007) v. #7 Leonard Little (DE 1997-2008)
Isaac Bruce has the most complete resume of any St. Louis-era player, in the franchises first-year in Missouri, Bruce caught 119 passes for 1781 yards, both remain single-season franchise records. In his Rams career, Ike had 942 receptions and 1,024 catches for over 15,000 yards for his entire career.
Between the lines, Leonard Little had a very solid 12-year career recording 87.5 sacks. Off the field, a vehicular manslaughter conviction and a couple of other legal cases soured his Rams legacy in the minds of many.
RAMS UFP SELECTION
The 32 players in this bracket have 12 HOF nominations to their names, with another half-dozen likely on their way to Canton at some point.
I will go chalk and have Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Jack Youngblood, and Marshall Faulk as my Final Four.
Faulk would be the first one voted off from those four, but like I say, he’s a strong at-large possibility for the NFL All-Time tourney.
From there, many feel that Deacon, Merlin, and Youngblood are interchangeable. I will have Jack hitting the rails at number three.
So we’re back to tag-team partners Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen, and my first inclination is to go with the Deacon. He is one of the most menacing figures ever, if he were in the movies today, you could easily put him in the action flicks right alongside Dwayne Johnson.
By comparison, Merlin is the ‘nice’ guy. Father Murphy and Little House on the Prairie – sadly the courts are currently arguing whether asbestos exposure on the film set led to Olsen’s eventual passing at age 69.
Olsen was also a spokesman for FTD florists. We definitely can’t go with a flower guy over Deacon Jones??
The NFL Top-100 list has Deacon at #15, Merlin at #27.
Pro Football Reference has Olsen at #11, Deacon #31…
I have to go by the letter of the law, the best player ever in the history of the Rams franchise.
Deacon played 11 years as a Ram, was All-Pro five times, a Pro Bowler on seven occasions. Jones spent his final three years with the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins.
Merlin Olsen spent all 15 years in a Rams uniform. Also five All-Pro selections, and (count them) 14 PRO BOWLS.
It’s close, it’s very close. But pull up some of the NFL Films footage, MO was all over the place.
My selection for Rams Ultimate Franchise Player is…
Photo of Marshall Faulk by Gamerscore Blog via CC BY-SA 2.0.