Sunday, November 04, 2007

Greatest of All-Time???

There’s no denying it. The New England Patriots are an elite football team. Win or lose this weekend to the Colts, they’re still one of the most talented NFL squads we’ve seen in years.

But let’s not drink the Kool-Aid of Cris Collinsworth, Peter King, Tony Kornheiser and plenty of other reputable sports writers. This isn’t potentially the Greatest Team Ever. Not yet. It’s irresponsible and way too easy - salary cap age or not - to make such bold assumptions.

Instead, let’s take a deep breath and remember that there was an NFL before the recent run of Belichick, Brady, Vrabel and now, the likes of Randy Moss.

In fact, there was a team a little less than a baker’s dozen worth of years ago that I would take to defeat (Yes, defeat) the New England Patriots. By double digits.

I’m not going to jump in my time machine and summon the ‘70s Steelers, late ‘80s Niners, or even ask Red Grange to try and break a tackle from Vince Wilfork. No predictions necessary from Joe Namath either.

Instead, I’m rewinding back to 1994. Hopefully, the majority of these names still resonate for true NFL fans. Sadly, most current fans may remember Jerry Rice more as an Oakland Raider.


Would Young's footwork be the key to finding receivers downfield?
Credit: Mickey Pfleger

1994 San Francisco 49ers vs. 2007 New England Patriots

While the Patriots legacy in 2007 is far from complete, the ’94 Niners are carved in granite. Perhaps most memorably, they prevented the Dallas Cowboys from putting together a league-record 3rd straight Super Bowl victory. Denver, with Jake Plummer, did the same to New England, and that was in the divisional round, not in the Conference Championship in 2005.

If you think the Indy/New England rivalry is fun, you missed out when the real “Super Bowl” occurred whenever the Cowboys and 49ers met up in the NFC Championship Game. The teams won 4 Super Bowls in 4 years from ‘92 to ‘95.

And there was more than just kickers switching teams. Guys like Ken Norton Jr., Charles Haley, Kevin Gogan, and Deion “Primetime” Sanders switched between teams throughout the years.

It seems lately all the talk is about the unstoppable force known as “Touchdown” Tom Brady and the New England offense.

You want numbers? San Francisco scored a league high 505 points and allowed the 6th fewest at 296. They went 13-3, were division champs and reeled off 10 straight victories from Weeks 6 to 16. That included hosting and defeating the Cowboys, the two-time defending champions mind you, 21-14, at mid-season. They won games with scores like 40-8, 44-14, 50-14, 42-19 and 38-15. Backup QB Elvis Grbac saw at least one snap in 12 games. He had a QB rating of 98.2 Steve Young started all 16 games.

They’d decimate the Bears, 44-15 in the divisional round of the playoffs and then defeat Dallas 38-28 to go to their fifth Super Bowl. That ’94 Dallas team was good enough as well to take out these 2007 Patriots.

You want players? Here’s the list of Pro Bowlers (10 in total) from that team: FS Merton Hanks, TE Brent Jones, SS Tim McDonald, OL Bart Oates, OL Jesse Sapolu, DT Dana Stubblefield, RB Ricky Watters. Oh yeah, they also had a Hall of Fame QB named Steve Young (MVP in 1994, 35 TDs to 10 INTs) and two future Hall of Famers named Jerry Rice (111 receptions, 1500 yds, 13 TDs) and Deion Sanders (Defensive Player of the Year in 1994).

You’d also find names like Eric Davis, Rickey Jackson, William Floyd, John Taylor, Harris Barton, Charles Mann, Bryant Young, Lee Woodall, Ken Norton Jr., Richard Dent and Gary Plummer on their roster. Kevin Greene wasn’t bashing heads into helmets yet.

We all know about the talent in New England this season and specifically, the trio of Moss (11 TDs in 8 games), Stallworth (15.8 yds/catch), and Welker (35 catches for a 1st down). Yet, the 49ers had the secondary and the team speed to keep up with Moss deep (Deion, who took back 3 INTs for TDs that season, in ’94 was as good as any corner as every been) and Welker in the flat (Eric Davis and Merton Hanks suffocated wideouts with speed and hard hitting). Their rush D was stout with a young Stubblefield and Young on the interior and incredible depth, matching savvy veterans and up-and-coming talent. Dallas had 3 Pro Bowl lineman that year, and Troy Aikman was planted early and often in the NFC Title game. On the defensive side, their attitude was as brash as they came, mainly thanks to Primetime. However, Lee Woodall was coming into his own alongside veterans Norton and Plummer. It was a superior trio of linebackers.

Asante Samuel is a rock-solid cover corner. But will I take him against Jerry Rice in his prime? That’s a definitive…nope! Steve Young is far more elusive than the majority of today’s stone-footed quarterbacks. He’s also as tough as they come. Brent Jones also stretched the field far more effectively than 95% of this era’s tight ends.

Tom Brady is often mentioned as the reincarnation of Joe Montana. While that may be true, Steve Young replaced Montana. And honestly, the drop-off wasn’t that substantial. Ironically, Montana handed those ’94 Niners one of their 3 losses, one of which also occurred in Week 17 after locking up homefield.

And finally, the coach. Can you name him? Nope, not Bill Wash. It was George Seifiert. As underrated as they come, he won’t back down from the scowl or frowns of Belichick. He had to replace Walsh in San Francisco. He lined up across the talented personas and schematics of Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Not to mention, here are the coordinators Siefert had in 1994. We’re talking Andy Reid, John Gruden, and a slew of today’s top coaches. The West Coast offense was born and perfected down by the bay.

So while the 2007 Patriots are, to borrow from Charles Barkley a “fantastic” team, I’d take the 1994 49ers.

Oh yeah, did I mention they waxed the Chargers 49-26 in the Super Bowl?

Here’s the box score to the ’94 Niners versus the ’07 Patriots…

1st Quarter
74 yard TD [Young to Rice]
Brien made PAT

35 yard TD [Brady to Moss]
Gostkowski made PAT

23 yard TD [Young to Watters]
Brien made PAT

2nd Quarter
38 yard FG [Gostkowski]

7 yard TD [Watters rush]
Brien made PAT

19 yard TD [Brady to Welker]
Gostkowski made PAT

HALFTIME SCORE: 21-17 49ers lead
3rd Quarter
31 yard FG [Gostowski]

45 yard TD [Young to Rice]
Brien made PAT

17 yard TD [Brady to Watson]
Gostowski made PAT

4th Quarter
35 yard FG [Brien]

65 yard INT Return TD [Deion Sanders off of Tom Brady]
Brien made PAT

Final Score:
San Francisco 38
New England 27
MVP: Deion Sanders [3 arm tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD]

Until next time…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was genius. Pure GENIUS. However, I am wondering if the torch will have to be passed if the Patriots do in fact finish undefeated. I'd also like to see a comparison of strength of schedule between the two teams once this season is over.