By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts two-way player
Great. Except for the fact that perennial Pigskin Detention candidate Jeffrey Chadiha defines "all time" as "since the AFL-NFL merger" in 1970.
So, other than the fact that he ignores 50 of 88 years of NFL history, it's a great list.
Well, actually, we could find some fault with his post-merger list as well. Chadiha lives under the delusion, for example, that we've witnessed three of the top four seasons ever since 2004. But our main point is that Old School has been dissed again.
These are the guys who labored brilliantly for little financial gain and minimal national exposure, laying the foundation for the glories of today, and the ESPNs of the world want to pretend they didn't exist.
So, in tribute to the gridiron gladiators of football's mud-and-spittle era, here's our list of the 10 greatest Old School (1920-69) NFL seasons of all time (in chronological order):
Beattie Feathers, Chicago, 1934
The Bears rookie back was the NFL's first 1,000-yard rusher, with 1,004 and an amazing 8.44 yard-per-carry average, a record that stood for 72 years until it was broken by Michael Vick in 2006 (8.45 YPA). But Feathers proved to be A Flock of Seagulls of his era, a true one-hit wonder. He never topped 350 yards in six more NFL seasons.
Don Hutson, Green Bay, 1942
Even if you downgraded his numbers because of a short-handed war-time league, Hutson's 1942 campaign for Green Bay was ri-goddamn-diculous. In 11 games, he caught 74 passes for 1,211 yards and 17 TDs. Projected over today's 16 games, that's 108 catches for 1,761 yards and a record 25 TDs. He also kicked 33 of 34 extra points and (drumroll, please) nabbed SEVEN interceptions as a defensive back. Take that, Tom Brady!
Sammy Baugh, Washington, 1945
The Pigskin Messiah was always a great three-way threat, but the 1945 season was Baugh's great breakout year, greater than Brady's 2007 campaign by the standards of the time. Coming into the 1945 season his passer ratings topped out in the low 80s. But then he went crazy – a 109.9 rating (128 for 182, 1,669 yards, 9.2 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT) literally unheard of for the time: remember, the league-wide passer rating in 1945 was just 47.4!
His record 70.3 completion percentage stood for nearly four decades and has been surpassed only once, by Ken Anderson in the nine-game 1982 season (70.5 percent). The Redskins legend also led the league in punting (43.3 per boot) and hauled in four INTs (one returned for a TD). (Honorable mention: you could substitute Baugh's 1945 season with his 1943 season, when led the NFL in passing (1,754 yards), punting (45.9 average) and, as a defensive back, in INTs (11).)
Bill Dudley, Pittsburgh, 1946
Doing it all was no big thing when you played Old School football, but Dudley really took the cake for the Steelers in 1946, when he became the NFL's last "Triple Crown" winner. He led the league in carries (146), rushing yards (604), punt return yards (385), punt-return average (14.3), interceptions (10) and fumble recoveries (7).
Hed led the Steelers, obviously, in all those categories, along with passing (452 yards), punting (60 for 2,409), kicking (12 PAT, 2 FG), kick returns (14 for 280) and scoring (48 points). Without question, Dudley in 1946 produced the most dominating three-way season in NFL history and, barring a complete rethinking of how the game is played, the most dominating season anyone will ever see.
Spec Sanders, N.Y. Yankees, 1947
This technically doesn't qualify, as it happened in the fledgling AAFC, but we had to include this guy's amazing 1947 season during our gin-soaked stumbles into football history. Playing for the New York Yankees (yes, there was a New York Yankees in football), Sanders led the league in rushing with 1,432 yards and 18 TDs in 14 games. He averaged 27.2 yards on six punt returns, 27.0 on 22 kick returns and punted 46 times for a 42.0 average. He also led the team with three INTs. The punchline? Sanders was also the quarterback, throwing 171 times with a respectable 70.2 rating.
Elroy Hirsch, L.A. Rams, 1951
The man nicknamed "Crazy Legs" went from great to through the roof for the Rams when he was 28 and six years into his pro career. Hirsch caught 66 passes for 1,495 yards and 17 TDs (in 12 games) as the Rams averaged 32.7 PPG. Translated to a 16-game season, that's 88 catches for a record 1,993 yards and 21 TDs. Hirsch's 1,495 receiving yards were the most in an NFL season for more than 30 years, until surpassed by Roy Green (1,555) with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984.
Lou Groza, Cleveland, 1954
We're not going to pretend to have broken down game tape of Groza's season as the star offensive tackle and kicker for the dynastic Browns. But we know he was a deadly accurate kicker, especially for his era, converting 16 of 24 field goals and 37 of 38 extra points. We also know he was so dominant in the trenches and as a kicker that the Sporting News named him its player of the year for a 9-3 Cleveland team that was No. 2 in scoring offense, No. 1 in scoring defense, outscored its opponents by more than two TDs per game and ended the season with a 56-10 destruction of the Lions in the NFL championship game.
Milt Plum, Cleveland, 1960
A journeyman QB who joined the list of those trying to replace legendary Otto Graham in Cleveland, Plum had one shining season in the sun. If they kept passer rating stats in 1960, Plum would have been the idol of football geeks everywhere (and Nixon might have beaten JFK). He finished with a passer rating of 110.4 (the league-wide rating in 1960 was just 65.2), led the NFL in accuracy (60.4 percent) and yards per attempt (9.2) and posted 21-5 TD to INT ratio that was unheard of in a day when mauling receivers and quarterbacks was the national pastime. He followed with a 90.3 rating in 1961, but never even cracked 80 in eight subsequent years with the Lions, Rams and Giants.
Willie Wood, Green Bay, 1962
Wood wasn't the only great player on one of the great defenses of all time. But the Packers, along with their star safety, were truly special in 1962. Wood boasted nine INTs, a Pro Bowl berth and unanimous All-Pro nod for the Packers, who allowed 10.6 PPG that year on their way to a 13-1 record, their second consecutive NFL championship and status as one of the most dominant teams in history (the 1962 Packers outscored their opponents by 19.1 PPG, a mark that stood until this year when the Patriots outscored their opponents by 19.7 PPG). And Green Bay's secondary was as good as it gets, with Wood keying a unit that allowed opponents a 39.5 passer rating.
Jim Brown, Cleveland, 1963
Brown produced many all-time great seasons, but he put it all together in 1963. He ran 291 times for a 1,863 yards (then a record) and 6.4 YPA, with 2,131 yards from scrimmage (also then a record) and 15 total TDs. This was in a time when 1,000-yard rushing seasons were rare: before Brown joined the NFL in 1957, nobody had ever rushed for 1,200 yards in a season. He was the Babe Ruth of rushing, remaking the standards by which we judge ballcarriers. And Cleveland's team-wide 5.7 yards per rush attempt in 1963, largely due to Brown, remains the NFL team record.