The NFL's Forgotten Stories, Pt. 2: Mack Strong
In today’s game when it comes to running the ball, one man usually gets the credit. He gets to perform the fancy touchdown dances, rack up fantasy points, and make the highlight reel.
Of course, I’m talking about the halfback. It’s one of the most artistic and well-known positions in sports. Names include Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Edgerrin James, Franco Harris, and Jerome Bettis. These are the household names that gave us hours of jaw-dropping jukes, and hair-raising highlights, but without a certain man lead-blocking for them, they would never have been half the legends they were.
I’m talking about the fullback, and in this chapter of the NFL’s forgotten stories, we’ll be looking back at Mack Strong, one of the greatest blocking backs in NFL history.
In fact, Strong was such a catalyst that he helped lead block for three different 1,000-yard rushers. This consisted of Chris Warren in '93, '94, and '95; Ricky Watters in '98, '99, and '00; and Shaun Alexander numerous times from 2001 through 2005, including the year that Alexander was the NFL’s MVP.
Let’s put this in perspective for a moment. Strong played 14 seasons for the Seahawks, and, out of those, 11 times he lead-blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher, 11-of-14! This, in itself, is an incredible accomplishment, but is rarely given enough credit. I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that so many running backs were able to find holes behind Strong’s powerful blocking.
During his time in Seattle, the team had some of its greatest success.
Although the first few years were rough, in '99 the Seahawks won their division and made it to the playoffs. In 2003 they would again reach the postseason as a wildcard, but lost to the Green Bay in the famous “We want the ball and we’re gonna score!” game. In 2004 they won their division but for the second year in a row, lost in the first round, this time to the Rams.
However, 2005 proved to be the best year the Seahawks would ever see. With help from Strong, and, of course, a talented championship-level team, they went 13-3, won their division, and went all the way to the Super Bowl, only to fall to Pittsburgh. At the end of the season, Strong was named to his first and long overdue Pro Bowl.
In 2006, Seattle again won their division, but fell in the second round of the postseason to the Bears. Strong was named to his second straight Pro Bowl. In 2007, he was playing at his usual level but fell to a career-ending neck injury at the beginning of the season. He took over the role of running backs coach for the remainder of the season, and the Seahawks were able to win their fourth division title. They again reached the second round of the playoffs before falling to the Packers.
His stats as a rusher were marginal, but then again no one asked him to be one. All they asked of him was to be a lead blocker, and help make their running game better. Well I think he did a pretty darn good job.
In today’s game it’s so difficult to find a man who is willing to just do his job. A man that is willing to stick by his team, through thick and thin for almost fifteen seasons.
In fact, to find an athlete so selfless that he could give up carrying the ball just to help another do it in his stead. That is a very rare quality to have in professional sports.
To add to that, being a fullback is to hold one of the most physically demanding positions in all of sports. It entails putting your body on the line, play after play. It deals with the most brutal aspects of the game, and Mack Strong did it with class and grace for over fourteen seasons.
There are too many Chad Johnsons, Terrell Owens, and Plaxico Burresses, in this league, and to have been able to watch a class-act, and hard working football player like Mack Strong is an honor. Let’s not forget a man who simply hunkered down and gave it everything he had. Outside of Seattle his name will never be mentioned very often, but then again that’s why he’s on this list.
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