We’re near the end folks. Thirty automatic bids have now been revealed for MSF’s Ultimate Franchise Player Tourney.
The final two team installments for UFP are kind of like the Big Ten Championship tipping off at 3 p.m. ET. The selection committee has already been hard at work determining the brackets and seeds – the final two automatic inductees are already assumed to have a place in the field regardless.
The real question will be where the second and third place finishers with our final two teams stand in terms of getting one of just 32 at-large bids out of thousands and thousands who have stepped on a NFL playing field.
Which brings us to our list of Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans greats – a field so large that we decided to do like NASCAR and let 43 drivers onto the track in honor of Jerry Glanville, who moonlighted behind the wheel during his coaching days, without a lot of success.
43. Lorenzo White (RB 1988-94)
If we were to let Lo White bring his Seven Dwarfs along, we would have an even 50 in the field. White was the change of pace in the Glanville-era Run and Shoot, a running play just to keep the honest. Lo was good enough in the 1992 season (1,226 rushing yards, 58 receptions) to earn a Pro Bowl slot.
42. Mike Rozier (RB 1985-90)
Rozier remains a legend in South Jersey and in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he ran wild for what would had been considered one of the greatest teams in college football history, if the Huskers had not been upset by the Miami Hurricanes in the 1983 Orange Bowl.
Rozier played two years in the USFL before joining the Oilers, where he had modest but not spectacular success.
41. Billy Cannon (RB 1960-63)
Another legendary player at the collegiate level who had a modest run at the pro level.
Cannon’s signature moment came when he returned a punt 89 yards for LSU against Ole Miss on Halloween night 1959 which cemented his Heisman Trophy year. He also made a key tackle on a goal-line stand that night.
Cannon became the first target in what would become an endless tug-of-war between the NFL and AFL for players’ services, as he was drafted No. 1 overall by both the Oilers and the Los Angeles Rams. Following the 1960 Sugar Bowl, owner Bud Adams stationed himself under the goal-post near the players’ tunnel, and was not going to let Cannon leave until he got his name on the dotted line. After a court case, Cannon was awarded to the Oilers.
This would make for a fascinating episode of “A Football Life.” Cannon did have a solid 11-year career in pro ball, including all 10 years of the AFL. Cannon then became a successful dentist but got into financial trouble and later was indicted on counterfeiting charges.
Billy then served two-and-a-half years in a federal facility. After his release Cannon was hired by the Louisiana Department of Corrections as a dentist and ultimately wound up in charge of the state’s entire prison medical system.
As I write this, the 75-year old Cannon is currently recovering from a stroke.
40. Dan Pastorini (QB 1971-79)
The third overall pick of the 1971 Draft, Dante basically wound up being the AFC’s version of Archie Manning, as he did not have much of a supporting cast the first few years of his career. Pastroini would later move on to the Raiders and suffered a broken leg early in the 1980 season, which paved the way for Jim Plunkett to become the starter the ultimately lead that team to two Super Bowl championships.
39. Samari Rolle (CB 1998-2004)
His video game skills alone get Samari on the list. He and Ahman Green may be playing each other in Madden even as I type.
In flesh and blood, Rolle was not a bad player either, he picked off 22 passes in a five-year span with the Titans.
38. Mike Reinfeldt (S 1976-83)
Did even better than get Wisconsin represented this time – how about a Milwaukee Panther alum?? Reinfeldt was the captain of the 1974 UWM squad, the final year before the school dropped the sport.
Before embarking on a highly successful career as a front office executive, Reinfeldt was a staple on the Bum Phillips-era teams, leading the league with 12 interceptions in 1979.
His roommate for many years with the Oilers was none other than Ted Thompson, yes Packers fans, that Ted Thompson. Serving mostly as a special teams player for a decade, Thompson is actually 10th on the Oilers/Titans franchise list in games played. That is a position he is guaranteed to hold at least through the 2013 season. Thompson is also on the franchise scoring stat sheet, he was pressed into duty and kicked four extra points in a game during the 1980 season.
Reinfeldt and Thompson would be another great ‘Football Life’ episode.
37. Blaine Bishop (S 1993-2001)
Bishop was a hard-hitting safety who earned Pro Bowl recognition four times in his career. He was knocked cold early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIV, one of 12 concussions he was reported to have suffered during his career. He was inside an MRI chamber by the time Kevin Dyson was tackled on the one-yard line.
36. Bob Talamini (OG 1960-67)
One of the team’s early stars, Talamini was an All-Star participant in each of his final six years with the team and was one of the franchise’s last remaining original players by the time he left.
35. Cris Dishman (CB 1988-96)
Tapping yet another of the cast members of the House of Pain secondary, Dishman intercepted 30 passes in a seven-year span and played 13 years in the league overall.
34. William Fuller (DE 1986-93)
Yet another House of Pain member, Fuller recorded 100.5 sacks in his career. Fifty-nine of those came in Columbia Blue, including 15 in his 1991 Pro Bowl season.
33. Leon Gray (OT 1979-81)
Probably better remembered as a New England Patriot, Gray’s three years under the dome were not bad either. He made the Pro Bowl all three of those seasons and was named All-Pro twice during that time frame.
32. Cortland Finnegan (CB 2006-11)
One of the more recent players here, Finnegan became an elite corner with the Titans before eventually following head coach Jeff Fischer to St. Louis.
31. Gregg Bingham (ILB 1973-84)
He perennially led the team in tackles during a long career and confessed to enjoying getting his bell rung. There would be a greater price to pay years later as Bingham suffered a major stroke at the car wash he owned in 2009 which left him in a coma for five weeks. John Grimsley, another inside linebacker who succeeded Bingham with the Oilers, died after accidentally shooting himself following his career and his subsequent autopsy diagnosed him with having CTE.
30. Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE 2005-09)
The University of Nebraska alum made the Pro Bowl three times in his five seasons with the Titans. As of writing this, Vanden Bosch is a free agent after being released by the Detroit Lions. It remains to be seen if his 12-year career will continue.
29. Michael Roos (OT 2005-present)
Eastern Washington University plays its home games on the red turf of Roos Field, named so after a $500,000 contribution from EWU alum Michael Roos and his wife a few years back. The Estonian-born Roos now has logged 127 starts through 2012, earning All-Pro recognition once.
28. Al Smith (ILB 1987-96)
Another of the inside linebacker stars from over the years, Smith earned Pro Bowl recognition twice at the peak of his career and was good for 100-plus tackles per season.
27. Sean Jones (DE 1988-93)
Another international star, the Jamaican-born Jones spent the middle portion of his 13-year career in the House of Pain, recording 57.5 sacks in six seasons.
26. Keith Bulluck (OLB 2000-09)
One of the longer-tenured players of the Titans era, Bulluck finished around 100 tackles for five consecutive seasons at the peak of his career, and scored on defense in four of those campaigns.
25. Frank Wycheck (TE 1995-2003)
If you drafted him in the 10th round in fantasy football each year, you usually wound up pretty satisfied. Wycheck was consistently good for 70 catches per season.
24. George Blanda (QB 1960-66, HOF)
The early days of the pass-happy AFL were a perfect fit for Blanda, leading the league in passes attempted for three consecutive seasons. Blanda is second on the all-time NFL list in interceptions thrown, he was picked off 42 times in 1962 alone.
23. Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson (WR 1974-80)
Johnson became a staple on Halftime Highlights on Monday Night Football, which was good because the Oilers did not get a lot of national TV appearances in those days. “White Shoes” scored seven times on returns between 1975-77 alone and would play 15 years in the league.
22. Albert Haynesworth (DT 2002-08)
At one time the 6’6,” 320-pound Haynesworth had a 39” vertical and could bench press 225 pounds 39 times. And when he had his head on right he was one of the best in the game, becoming an All-Pro in 2007-08. Then he took Dan Snyder’s money with the Redskins and promptly ate himself out of the league.
Haynesworth had quite an off-field rap sheet and his stomping incident/borderline assault on Dallas Cowboy Andre Gurode is also part of his legacy.
21. Al Norton (DB/P 1960-68)
Norton was the first Oiler to have his number retired after a nine-year career that saw him intercept 45 passes (still a club record) and average 42 yards per punt. Norton played a key role with his punting prowess in the Oilers 10-3 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the 1961 AFL Championship Game.
20. Charley Hennigan (WR 1960-66)
Considering the Run and Shoot era and the increased passing in pro football, it is amazing that Hennigan’s 101-catch performance in a 14-game season in 1964 still remains a club record. He also still holds the club record of 1,746 receiving yards set in 1961.
19. Drew Hill (WR 1985-91)
We start hitting a lot of receivers now, especially from the Run and Shoot days. Hill played 15 years in the league, and earned two Pro Bowl nods with the Oilers.
18. Haywood Jeffires (WR 1987-95)
Another of the Run and Shoot targets, Jeffires topped out at 100 catches in his All-Pro 1991 season, and followed that up with two more Pro Bowl campaigns.
17. Derrick Mason (WR 1997-2004)
Mason played 15 seasons in all, spending the second half of his career with the Ravens. He caught 95 and 96 passes in his final two seasons in Nashville.
16. Ken Burrough (WR 1971-81)
Burrough was another staple of the Halftime Highlight, and you could often hear Howard Cosell exclaim, ‘DOU-BLE ZE-RO KEN-NY BURR-OUGH!!!’ Again, thank goodness for that segment since the Oilers weren’t often the Monday Night offering.
15. Ernest Givins (WR 1986-93)
Givins was the other top Run and Shoot target. The Electric Slide man was pretty much interchangeable with Jeffires. Left on the cutting room floor from this era is Curtis Duncan.
14. Jevon Kearse (DE 1999-2003, 2008-09)
When Kearse first broke into the league he appeared to be on the fast track to all-time greatness with his 4.43 40-time and 38” vertical. He recorded 36 sacks during his first three years in the league. The ‘Freak’ would soon slow as much as fellow “freak” Tim Lincecum in the years at followed. Oh, and his $6 million home was just foreclosed on.
13. Brad Hopkins (OT 1993-2005)
Started 188 games on the offensive line during his 13-year career. By the time he retired he was one of the Titans last remaining links to the team’s Houston era.
12. Ray Childress (DE 1985-95)
Since I’m doing this list in the form of a NASCAR line-up, it’s only fitting that someone named Childress is in the mix. A No. 3 overall draft pick, Childress was a five-time Pro Bowler at the peak of his career, recorded 75.5 sacks, played stout against the run, and is considered one of the all-around good guys in franchise annals.
11. Chris Johnson (RB 2008-present)
NASCAR fans are very familiar with the car that’s fast in qualifying, but cannot sustain that sheer speed over 500 miles. Johnson’s career is showing symptoms of being on that path, and it’s amazing to think that he is only five years in.
The record 2,500 total yard season from 2009 keeps CJ2K high on the list, but his production has dropped somewhat since, although he still averages more than four yards per carry.
10. Robert Brazile (OLB 1975-84)
A No. 6 overall draft pick known as Dr. Doom, Brazile earned seven consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl – including two All-Pro selections – at the height of his career.
9. Ken Houston (S 1967-72, HOF)
Ken Houston had a season for the ages in 1971, scoring on defense a record five times in 14 games. Spent the second half of his Hall of Fame career in Washington, so I will be talking about Kenny again in Redskins UFP.
8. Curley Culp (NT 1974-80, HOF)
The pride of Yuma, AZ, and part of the 2013 Hall of Fame class, Culp spent the first half of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs before arriving in Houston. He would earn four consecutive Pro Bowl nominations in Houston. His finest season of all may have been when he recorded 11.5 sacks in 1975.
7. Eddie George (RB 1996-2004)
Three yards and a cloud of dust Eddie sure did a lot of heavy lifting during his career. His highest pitch count of all came in the 2000 season when he carried the ball 403 times, earning his lone All-Pro nomination. He made the Pro Bowl in the three seasons prior to that.
6. Steve McNair (QB 1995-2005)
One of the guttiest competitors ever, you could definitely say McNair left it all on the field. He nearly got himself killed with his playing style on the field, and did get himself killed after his career with an ill-advised affair.
McNair didn’t wow you with enormous passing totals, but threw 174 TD’s in his career, against just 119 interceptions.
5. Mike Munchak (OG 1982-93, HOF)
The offensive line is well represented near the top of the franchise’s all-time list. The current Titans head coach was the eighth overall pick in 1982, and would make the Pro Bowl nine times in his 12-year career.
4. Elvin Bethea (DE 1968-83, HOF)
His entire 16-year career was spent in Columbia Blue, and he is the unofficial franchise leader with 105 sacks. He excelled even when the team as a whole was not doing well, like during his 16-sack season in 1973 when the team went 1-13
3. Earl Campbell (RB 1978-83, HOF)
“Love Ya Blue” erupted in an epic Monday Night game against the Miami Dolphins during Campbell’s rookie season, which culminated with a late 81-yard touchdown run.
The NFL’s new rule preventing ball carriers from lowering their helmets into a defender? Exhibit A would be Campbell’s run in Week 4 of that 1978 season, when he pile-drove himself into the chest of the Rams Isaiah Robertson in a clip that has been shown countless times on NFL Films.
Campbell scored 45 touchdowns in his first three seasons alone, and rushed for 1,934 yards in 1980. He had the biggest thighs in the history of the game (unofficially). Then there was that tear-away jersey (which he was also famous for at the University of Texas) that the league outlawed after the ’78 season.
Predictably, the shelf-life was not long with Earl’s punishing style, and he has paid the price health-wise following his playing career.
Campbell falls just short in this countdown, and his fate in the 64-player UFP tourney now falls in the hands of the selection committee.
2. Warren Moon (QB 1984-93, HOF)
No. 1 finishes up at No. 2 here, and I am still trying to figure out (racial stereotypes of the time aside) how Moon was not drafted after leading the University of Washington to a Rose Bowl win in 1978.
Moon lit up the Canadian League in the early 1980s, and as a member of the Edmonton Eskimos I remember him dueling with Winnipeg’s Dieter Brock in a playoff game on a brutally frigid November day. This was back when a certain small cable outlet called ESPN carried a lot of CFL games because they didn’t have much else to air.
Eventually, Edmonton coach Hue Campbell was hired to coach the Houston Oilers, and brought his quarterback with him. Campbell did not last long as a NFL coach, but Warren Moon did just fine in the league.
Moon made the Pro Bowl his last six seasons with the Oilers (nine times overall), flirted with 4,700 passing yards twice, and threw the ball 655 times in 1991 alone.
Amazingly, Moon was also left off the NFL’s All-Time Top 100 list.
1. Bruce Matthews (OL 1983-2001, HOF)
This time, I am going to go with the offensive line as my selection as Oilers/Titans UFP, and Bruce played for both while racking up 14 Pro Bowl (and seven All-Pro) nominations, which ties him with Merlin Olsen for the most all-time. Matthews played every position on the line throughout his career and started 292 out of a possible 300 non-strike games. Although ranked only 78th on the NFL All-Time 100 list, Matthews currently ranks No. 5 among all positions on Pro Football Reference’s list.
For the past three seasons, Matthews has joined his Hall of Fame teammate Mike Munchak on the Titans coaching staff as offensive line coach. That means the current Tennessee offensive lineman are learning from the very best.