Given one game to save humanity, assembling a roster with a combination of players that have achieved the highest success in the game of football and a certain intimidation factor is no easy task.. The majority of these players have played in one or more Super Bowls, so they will not shy away from the spotlight of what is truly the biggest showcase in football history. The theme of this squad is situational football with an edge.
I’m selecting the “pre-Bill Polian whining to the Competition Committee” rules of the 1990s and 2000s. Defenders are allowed to be physical with receivers in the passing game until the ball is in the air. This will allow our talented and aggressive secondary to play to their strengths, and our receiver corps is skilled enough to handle the level of contact when our offense is on the field.
Bill Belichick. Provided, of course, that the football genius often likened to the Emperor of the Dark Side is not prowling the opposing sideline.
In this scenario we have 90 days to assemble a team and prepare for the biggest game in football history. Belichick laughs at such a notion. After the New York Giants upset the San Francisco 49ers in the 1991 NFC Championship Game, Belichick crafted a game plan – beginning on the flight back east – to slow down Jim Kelly and Buffalo’s famed K-Gun offense. This game plan, which resides in the Hall of Fame, focused on adding additional defensive backs to take away the deep ball and instructed the secondary to be physical with receivers. Belichick also convinced his charges – the No. 1 rated defense against the run that season – that if Thurman Thomas ran for more than 100 yards the Giants would win. Both came true.
Finally, let us deal with the elephant in the room: If there were one football coach anywhere in the galaxy who possessed practice and/or game footage of this alien squad and their tendencies, it is Bill Belichick. In fact, it’s probably on a shelf in his office next to the tape titled “Trap Blocking in the Single Wing Offense.” Such footage might come in handy.
We will look to run a lot of 11 personnel and use Bill Walsh’s mantra of passing to set up the run. We will look to stretch the defense horizontally, opening up running and passing lanes before turning to the ground and shattering their resolve with a powerful rushing attack.
Bill Walsh. Similar to Belichick, Walsh is a legend not only for his football wizardry but also his ability to adapt to the situation and to see chess moves far in advance. We will incorporate his West Coast offense into our game plan and provide him with the weapons in the passing game to put up big numbers through the air before turning to the ground attack to wear down the opposition.
In some ways, Walsh’s best work came in the strike-shortened season of 1987. With labor strife on the horizon, Walsh and the 49ers staff scouted potential replacement players far in advance of the strike that arrived in Week 2 of that season. The 49ers won all three games between Weeks 4-6 using replacement players. In one contest during that stretch, a Monday night game against the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants, Walsh’s offense ran the wishbone, much to the chagrin of head coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. While running the wishbone is not the plan in this game, Walsh’s creativity and adaptability are big selling points for this squad, and a huge reason for his success in the NFL.
QB Joe Montana
Before the Golden Boy, there was Joe Cool. Montana’s postseason prowess is known by all: He was undefeated in four Super Bowl appearances, having never thrown an interception on the biggest stage. Montana ran Walsh’s offense to near-perfection in the late-1980s and early-1990s, and he will have weapons at his disposal to only improve upon his near-perfection.
In addition, we get the guy behind the Chicken Soup Game. We also get the guy who – prior to perhaps the greatest drive in Super Bowl history – made sure to point out to his teammates in the huddle the presence of John Candy, chowing down on popcorn behind the end zone. (Speaking of which, it was not allotted for in the rules but I would like to re-animate Mr. Candy as our “Official Fan.” That way if the situation arises Montana has some familiarity prior to another game-winning drive).
RB Jim Brown
Arguably the greatest football player ever, Brown brings part of the previously-discussed intimidation factor to this group. While Brown’s impressive statistics stand out and led to his Hall of Fame selection, this quote from one of his peers, fellow Hall of Famer and tight end John Mackey, is a big reason for his selection for this squad:
He told me, “Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts.” He lived by that philosophy and I always followed that advice.
Our offense will adhere to one of Walsh’s core philosophies: Pass to set up the run. Once the offense has stretched the defense, we will turn to Brown. And the rugged runner will make sure that every defensive player knows just how much it hurts to try and bring him down.
X Receiver Randy Moss
One of the greatest receivers to play the game, Moss gives Walsh and Montana a tremendous deep threat who stretches a defense vertically, giving the opposing safeties something to think about on every snap. While Moss was in New England, Belichick stated that Moss was “the smartest receiver I’ve ever been around,” comparing his mental acumen on the field to players such as Tom Brady and Lawrence Taylor. I’m counting on Moss to take one or two defenders with him deep on every snap, opening up space underneath for the other receiving threats to operate. And if left in single coverage – watch out.
Z Receiver Jerry Rice
“Some clubs will help receivers by throwing to them anytime they’re close to the end zone. We don’t do that. Jerry has earned every touchdown he’s scored.” – Bill Walsh
“He sets the standard for everyone else.” – Joe Montana
Need I say more? Rice is the greatest wide receiver ever to play the game, and a no-brainer for this team.
S Receiver Lance Alworth.
Known as “Bambi” for his exceptional athletic ability, Alworth was a two-sport athlete at the University of Arkansas, starring as a flanker on the football team and competing in the 100- and 200-yard dashes and the long jump for the Razorbacks’ track team. He was drafted by both the 49ers and the Raiders before the leagues merged, and chose to play in San Diego rather than for San Francisco (after Oakland traded his rights to the Chargers).
After a quiet rookie season, Alworth exploded in 1963 for 61 receptions for 1,205 yards and 11 touchdowns, starting a string of seven consecutive All-Star/All-League selections. He finished his career with the Cowboys, catching two passes – one for a touchdown, in Dallas’ Super Bowl VI victory over Miami. For this squad, Alworth is the perfect slot receiver and he should find very favorable match-ups given the other receiving threats on the roster.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski
Are there more talented tight ends in NFL history? Maybe. Is Gronkowski worthy of Hall of Fame discussion? Not yet. But for my money no other tight end in league history presents the kind of matchup nightmares than the party machine offers. Possessing tremendous quickness for a player of his size, Gronkowski runs by or away from any linebacker who tries to cover him.
Gronk’s size gives him an advantage in man coverage against nearly every safety who is left alone on the TE. Because of his freakish athletic ability and frame New England loves to split him wide and force the defense to make a tough decision: Do you put a cornerback on him, creating a potential mismatch inside, or split a linebacker out wide to try and stay with him? Ask the Seahawks how effective the latter option was near the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLIX. One can only imagine the routes Walsh will design for Gronk and this receiving corps.
LT Anthony Munoz
The mainstay of the Bengals’ offensive line for more than a decade is the perfect selection to protect Montana’s blindside in this contest. Regarded as one of – if not the best – offensive lineman in league history, Munoz was a questionable selection by the Bengals with the third overall selection in the 1980 draft given his history of knee injuries. But he rewarded the Bengals for their faith by earning 11 consecutive Pro Bowl selections. Munoz was able to dominate with his power, but his footwork and technique allowed him to handle even the quickest defensive ends. In addition, he was a capable receiver, with four touchdown receptions to his credit.
LG John Hannah.
The Hog was a rock up front for New England for more than a decade, earning nine Pro Bowl selections and being named an All-Pro 10 times in his career. A powerful athlete, Hannah dominated defensive linemen with his tremendous leg drive. A standout athlete at Alabama, Hannah was on the track and field (discus and shot put) and wrestling teams in addition to earning All-American honors twice for Paul “Bear” Bryant. The coach’s demeanor was an influence on the young lineman, as described in Michael Felger’s Tales from the Patriots Sideline:
Physically, Hannah was imposing but not a specimen; his powerful legs and low center of gravity were simply perfect for the position he played. What truly set Hannah apart were his drive and tenacity. He was a devoted disciple of Paul “Bear” Bryant, and the second he showed up in Foxboro with his deep southern accent and ornery attitude everyone knew John Hannah was a different breed … “After we drafted Hannah, we had only two losing seasons the next 13 years, so that should give you an idea what kind of player he was. And this was a guard we’re talking about,” said Bucko Kilroy, who ran the Pats scouting department in 1973.” Michael Felger “Tales from the Patriots Sideline” pg. 62
An ornery, fiery guard molded by Bear Bryant. A perfect element for the offensive line needed to save humanity.
C Mike Webster
The Hall-of-Famer anchored the Steelers’ offense during the 1970s and 1980s, earning nine Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections during his time in Pittsburgh. The center was a member of four Super Bowl champions and started 150 consecutive games from 1976 until 1986. He was an avid weightlifter and his workouts were Herculean in nature, as described by his son Colin in “Reflections in Iron: Mike Webster’s Training Methods.” But despite his dedication to training, Webster best described his ability to his son, recalled by Colin:
He told me that his biggest driving force was the fear of failure. Being small as he was, even though he had some of the thickest bones I’ve ever seen on anyone, he couldn’t afford to be outworked. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘I’m not a great athlete, and I’m not quick or coordinated, so my only chance is to tire the other guy out, hit him hard and never let up.’
RG Conrad Dobler
Dobler might be an unlikely selection, but there is a method to my madness. The guard was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals offensive line that allowed just eight sacks the entire 1975 season. While Dobler’s ability as a pass blocker is a undeniable, he is on this team for one reason only, the same reason that put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1977 with the following headline: “Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player.”
In the article that accompanied the cover photo, legendary football writer Paul Zimmerman wrote “Dobler made teams that he played on better. He played hurt, didn’t complain, but he was a filthy, filthy player.” While holding, tripping, cut-blocking, leg-whipping and eye gouging opponents were his most-used acts, he was known for biting opponents, including Doug Sutherland with the Vikings. As told to Kevin Cook in “The Last Headbangers:” “Sutherland put his fingers in my mouth. What did he expect? I don’t think he was trying to stroke my moustache.” Dobler also liked to take a few well-placed shots to an opponent’s solar plexus, which one time drove a foe to break down and cry on the field.
Now, remember that this is one game to save humanity, with the benefit of perhaps the greatest home-field advantage in history. Style points are not a concern, what is a concern is imposing our will on this alien team and making them want to pack up shop, get back on their ships and travel the many light years back to their home. This isn’t tea and crumpets before some afternoon croquet, but this is President Thomas Whitmore in the back of a pickup truck screaming about our Independence Day before climbing into a fighter jet. This is Harry Stamper on an asteroid vowing to hit 800 feet before detonating a nuclear weapon. So if Dobler can do what he does best and break the will of a few of their defenders, it is worth it for the sake of the human race.
RT Jackie Slater
A product of Jackson State University where he blocked for Walter Payton, Slater became the Rams’ starting right tackle in 1979 and held that position for 20 years, becoming the first player in NFL history to play 20 seasons for one team. Slater was a dominant force on a very impressive offensive line, that paved the way for Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record of 1,803 yards in 1983 (during that season the unit also allowed a league-low 23 sacks).
Slater was at his best when the competition was the toughest. When the Rams reached Super Bowl XIV in Slater’s first season as a starter the young lineman neutralized L.C. Greenwood of the Steelers. Slater might be best known for his 1989 Wild-Card matchup with Reggie White, a game that Slater remembers the most. “I wasn’t always physically dominant, but I strived for perfection. I think I put relentless pressure on my opponent. He clearly could have dominated the game, and that didn’t happen.”
Sounds like the perfect attitude and player to round out an impressive offensive line, and offense.
Mark is a reformed lawyer who is excited to work on something more important than two insurance companies fighting over money: Football. He graduated from Wesleyan University where he was a four-year letter winner as a quarterback and situational wide receiver. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children. You can find his work at Inside the Pylon.
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