If watching NFL Countdown has taught me anything--certainly it's taught me zilch about football--it's that nothing fills hours of substanceless football coverage quite like the impending fall of an NFL record. And if it's taught me two things, the other is that mild hangovers are God's gift to purveyors of mind-rotting sports-related crap.
That's why, leading up to Sunday night's Chargers-Chiefs game, the mediadores who occupy our TV sets kept reminding us that the brilliant, gifted, humble, tenacious, and overall god-like LaDainian Tomlinson was two points shy of Paul Hornung's single-season NFL scoring record. Which is fine and all, because at least it cut into the time alotted for strained remembrances of Lamar Hunt from current Chiefs players lacking any meaningful connection to him.
Generic NFL player #1: Oh that's right. The kickoff has to wait a minute. They've got that moment of silence for this Lamar Hoytt guy or whatever.
Generic NFL player #2: Wait, who?
Generic NFL player #1: I guess he was an owner or something. Helped merge the AFL into the league.
Generic NFL player #2: Oh. Cool. ... Wait, was our team in the AFL back in the day?
Generic NFL player #1: Shit...you know what--I don't really know. I think so maybe.
A lot of people--particularly ones named Chris Berman--were very ready to note that Hornung scored his 176 points in only twelve games, suggesting, I guess, that Tomlinson's accomplishment is diminished accordingly, despite the fact that Hornung played both running back and place kicker that year.
Although I wouldn't put it past The BerMan to be so short-sighted, I would like to think that not even he would be. Just in case he is, and more so to feed my own curiosity, I decided to look up Hornung's 1960 stats to see how he scored those 176 points.
Sure, 15 TDs (13 rush, 2 rec) is a dandy total, but beyond that, 4.2 yards per carry on 160 attempts is hardly superscintillatingsensational. If you ask me, those were just 13 TDs he Brandon Jacobsed away from team workhorse and leading rusher Jimmy Taylor. And look at those field goal numbers--a not-so-solid-Gould 15 for 28, all from distances unknown. (Also notice he was a hilarious 12 for 38 in 1964. Yeah, I realize that kicking was poor back then and that most games were played with the pig's uncured head on gravel and prairie grass, but still. That's hysterical.)
Obviously, star running backs kicking field goals would never fly today, but I'd like to think that Tomlinson, had he played back then, would have had the foresight not to use the most lumpy and angular part of his foot in kicking for accuracy. Hell, given his ability to throw pretty spirals, I'm guessing he could strap on the kicking shoes tomorrow and hit better than 54%.
Anyway, none of that has to do with my original point, which was simply that the two numbers offer no comparison, given that one included 41 PATs and the other is all TDs. Oh yeah, there's also this 45-year lapse business.
Moving on, I came across this USA Today column while leafing through content on this story. First of all, assuming you won't click the link and read it, I at least have to make you share in this fantastic moment of grizzled-ness from Hornung:
"I think he is by far the premier running back today. I like the way he goes after the goal line. Damn it, he knows where it is."
Darn tootin'. Anyway, scroll down just a bit to the bulleted remarks from their panel of football historians. (Hang on while I mount my pulpit.)
Jim Brown. *Ahem*
Here--assuming you care to know--is my take on Jim Brown, as a casual, semi-knowledgeable football fan born twenty years after Brown's playing career:
Jim Brown was obviously a phenomenal athlete whose skills far exceeded those of most of his competitors. However, Jim Brown played in an era (coined the "Era of Savagery" by our own Matt Bechtel) when most of his competitors were quite bad by comparison to today's NFL players. Because relatively fewer athletes back then possessed the resources and rearing to attain the skill level of today's NFL players, athletes of Brown's unwavering, freakish natural talent could more easily show up the average guys.
Sure, yeah, Brown and those other guys did all come from the same era. But in that sort of unrefined landscape--whether it's in football or in freelance internet blogging--the freakish natural is more able to exploit that distinction between average and best. (In case you didn't pick up that subtle hint, football:Jim Brown::blogging:me.)
With the level of refinement in pro sports now, I can't imagine an athlete will ever again go Babe Ruth or Wilt Chamberlain on the rest of his league. (Ok, Bonds did, but...) And that's really the same dynamic we're talking about with Brown, I think. And I can only imagine Red Grange benefited doubly from that same principle.
Think about it. What stands out when you see those old Jim Brown clips, maybe even more so than his kickass moves? Right--the guys on defense can't tackle! And they can't run much either. They're all flailing their arms and slip slidin' around--probably because their offseason job at the steel mill didn't pull in enough bread to spring for a pair of cleats.
And yeah, I also realize that Jim Brown played back when it was legal to clothesline a guy with a bag of rusty lugnuts strapped to your forearm (...well, maybe not legal, but almost). I don't know what to say to that except yeah, that's pretty awesome how he stayed so good and so healthy despite the brutality. But who's to say that Tomlinson couldn't have had the same durability and luck had he played in the 1960s?
Basically I'm responding to Sabol's comment in particular, and if I've at all made a coherent argument, it's this: People who use this "breed apart" criterion to pin an alltime great might literally have to wait forever to pin their next. If they're looking for phenomenon on the level of Ruth or Chamberlain or Brown, I doubt that could ever happen again in pro team sports.
Also, Paul Hornung used to smoke during halftime.