NFL Legends a Fan Should Never Forget
This is the third installment of a semi-regular series.
The game of professional football is laden with legends who have given back to the sport in many ways other than just victories.
Not all need to be trend setters to be remembered, because the merits of their contributions alone should never be forgotten.
He was used primarily as a return specialist his rookie year, duties he would rarely be asked to do for the rest of his career. He still managed 35 receptions in limited duty.
He broke out in his second year, when he had 65 receptions for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns. He led the NFL with a career long 85-yard reception. Chandler also made his first Pro Bowl team. He caught 65 balls the following year as well.
In 1981, Chandler was traded after the fourth game of the season to the San Diego Chargers. He ended up with a career high 69 catches, gaining 1,142 yards and scoring six touchdowns.
The strike shortened 1982 season was maybe Chandler's best. He snared 49 balls for 1,032 yards in eight games.
He led the NFL with nine touchdown catches and 129 receiving yards per game. His 21.1 yards per catch average was the best of his career, and he also made his second Pro Bowl team.
Chandler caught 58 balls the following year and was again a Pro Bowler. He followed that up with 52 receptions the next season.
The 1985 season would be Chandler's last as a Pro Bowler, when he caught 67 passes. He set career bests with 1,199 yards and 10 touchdowns as well.
He caught 56 passes the next year. He was injured in 1987, yet managed to play 12 games and catch 39 passes. Chandler then went to the San Francisco 49ers in 1988. He played four games for the eventual Super Bowl Champions before retiring.
Wes Chandler is know to some as the guy who replaced John Jefferson in Air Coryell during its heights.
One of the most famous playoff game in NFL history, The Epic In Miami, saw Chandler catch six balls for 106 yards and score his only punt return touchdown of his career from 56 yards out in the Chargers win.
He is a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame and was ranked 12th in NFL history in receiving yards and 13th in total receptions in NFL history when he retired. He finished with 559 receptions, 56 touchdowns and 10,526 all-purpose yards.
Coleman was drafted in the 11th round of the 1979 draft by the Washington Redskins. He established himself quickly as a special teams star in his rookie year.
He also showed great prowess in pass defense, and soon was part of the dime package, and picked off a pass that year. Coleman got to start 10 games the next year and swiped three passes for 92 yards. He also had a career high 118 tackles.
In 1981, Coleman started in 11 of the 12 games he played. He picked off three more balls and returned one 52 yards for the first touchdown of his career. He then went back to being spotted on passing downs mostly.
In 1984, he had a career high 10.5 quarterback sacks and returned a interception 49 yards for a score. In 1989, he scored a touchdown on a 24-yard interception.
He scored the last touchdown of his career in 1993, when he scooped up a fumble and returned it 24 yards. Coleman retired after the 1994 season, his 16th.
Of the 215 games he played, he started just 62 of them. His impact was made whenever he took the field, and he was a long time special teams star for the Redskins.
He ended up with 999 tackles, 43.5 sacks, 17 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, four touchdowns and three Super Bowl rings in four Super Bowl appearances.
When he retired, his 215 games as a Redskin were the most ever until Darrell Green passed him. Coleman's stats are very impressive, especially if you consider he never played football until college.
What separated him from most, and had him a beloved member of the team, was his leadership both on and off the field. Monte Coleman is one of the 70 Greatest Redskins, and deservedly so.
Tyrer was drafted in the third round of the 1961 American Football League draft by the Dallas Texans, the first draft the AFL ever held. He was the 22nd player chosen overall. He was also drafted in the 14th round of the NFL draft by the Chicago Bears.
Tyrer was named the starting left tackle immediately by the Texans, now in their second year of existence under the leadership of future Hall of Fame head coach Hank Stram.
The Texans would go on to win the AFL Championship in 1962, as Tyrer was named to his first of nine straight Pro Bowl honors.
Hall of Fame owner Lamar Hunt, a founder of the AFL, was unhappy with attendance despite winning the title.
Though he wanted to keep the team in Dallas, he decided to move the team to Kansas City and rename them the Chiefs because he was tired of sharing the same stadium, the Cotton Bowl, with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL and suffering from low attendance figures.
Tyrer was unaffected by the transition, as he received the first of six straight First-Team All-Pro nods in 1965, establishing him as the top left tackle in all of professional football.
The Chiefs would win the 1966 AFL title, but it was also the first season the AFL and NFL decided to hold a championship game between the two leagues. Kansas City faced the Green Bay Packers of the NFL but lost the game 35-10.
In 1967, Hunt was watching his children play with a toy called a Super Ball. He then had the idea of calling the AFL and NFL title game the Super Bowl. The Chiefs would reach this game in 1969, the last one player between AFL and NFL teams before the two leagues merged.
It was also the season where Tyrer was named the AFL Offensive Lineman of the Year. Kansas City would win Super Bowl IV, dismantling the Minnesota Vikings 23-7. It has, so far, been the last Super Bowl in which the Chiefs have appeared in.
Tyrer missed two games in 1973 for the first time in his career. His string of 180 straight games played is the third-longest streak in club history, and he started in each one of them.
Kansas City thought the 34-year old was nearing the end of his career because he had finished his second season where he failed to make the Pro Bowl. They traded him to the Washington Redskins.
He played in every game for the Redskins in 1974, though he mainly served as a back up to Ray Schoenke. He did, however, start in one game.
Washington won their division but were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Los Angeles Rams. Tyrer decided to retire at the end of the year.
Despite being the best left tackle in AFL history, he has yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Though he was a finalist once in 1981, no player in the history of professional football has more accolades than Tyrer and has failed to be inducted.
One reason may be because of the reason he died in 1980. Suffering from depression, Tyrer committed suicide after killing his wife. Though depression was not much of a subject to speak about in that era, it is as though the Hall of Fame voters have kept him out of Canton due to perhaps their lack of knowledge of this subject.
In recent years, professional football has almost begrudgingly acknowledged depression and the fact that it can occur after severe head trauma over a long period of time. "Post Concussion Syndrome" is the commonly used term, and these effects have been brought to light by gridiron legends who have suffered from it following their football careers.
Hall of Famers like John Mackey and Mike Webster are two who have suffered from this type of trauma. A game thought to be so violent that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was seen on television contemplating banning the three-point stance from the game in an attempt to reduce head injuries.
Tyrer played in an era where offensive linemen were instructed to use their heads as weapons. They were told to bury their heads into the chests of defenders first.
This was also an era where offensive linemen were not allowed to use their hands like they do in the current game. They had to put their arms in the shape of a chicken wing, as they relied on quick feet and strong shoulders to take control of their opponents.
Opposing defensive ends were allowed to use their fists back then, and the head slap move was perhaps the most used method to beat blockers. While unable to defend themselves, offensive linemen lead with their heads as they had been taught.
Defenders would attempt to counteract this by dodging blockers, then slapping them upside their heads to get the blocker off balance. In doing so, they were given a clearer path to those who possessed the football.
Though Tyer regularly faced the opposing teams' best pass rushers, he was unflappable and consistent. Men like Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, Larry Eisenhauer and Ben Davidson were just a few of the stellar defensive ends he faced each week for several seasons.
Davidson is the man who Tyrer admitted was the toughest opponent he faced. The respect was mutual. Davidson called Tyrer a "mountain of a man," though Davidson stood 6'8" and weighed 275 lbs., himself.
"He was easily the best blocker I ever faced," Davidson recalls.
"He had power and finesse. He could have made an excellent guard, too. We were friends off the field, as Tyrer was all about good sportsmanship.
"We used to go to the AFL All-Star games together on a bus. We would joke if either he or my teammate, Hall of Famer Jim Otto, had the biggest head in football. I often would say at banquets that Tyrer basically wore a big red trash can as a helmet when he played."
Davidson believes that Tyrer has long deserved his induction into Canton, as does Bethea. Bethea was inducted himself in 2003.
"Tyrer was the pioneer of big offensive tackles. He was the best blocker I ever faced." Bethea said.
"I used to try to run as fast as I could upfield to get around him, but it rarely worked. It pissed me off that I couldn't defeat him, as I could with other left tackles regularly."
Bethea also admits he feared facing Tyrer.
"He was THE preeminent left tackle in all of football. All other blockers I faced in the NFL were mediocre compared to him. He would just swamp me each game to where I would be lucky to beat him even once in a game," he said.
Paul Zimmerman, a Hall of Fame voter and writer for Sports Illustrated, has often said Rich "Tombstone" Jackson was the greatest pass rusher in pro football history and has long lobbied for his induction into Canton. Jackson, though he would like to be inducted himself, also has a tremendous amount of respect for Tyrer.
"It is a travesty that Jim Tyrer has yet to be inducted into Canton," he said.
"He was one of the first big offensive linemen with quick feet to play pro football. Besides having good feet, he was crafty and smart."
"You had to be prepared facing him, as the Chiefs won-loss record was proof of how excellent their players were. Tyrer was the top offensive lineman I ever faced, and that included the AFL and NFL."
Larry Eisenhauer, whose four Pro Bowls are tied with Bob Dee and Richard Seymour as the most in Patriots franchise history, also echoes Davidson, Bethea and Jackson in thinking that Tyrer should have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame long ago.
"He was the best I ever faced," Eisenhauer recalls.
"He was equally excellent run blocking and pass blocking. He was a very strong man, and I never looked forward to facing him. I really cannot believe he has not been inducted into Canton yet. He was the best left tackle in AFL history."
Tom Keating was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who played on two AFL Championship teams.
"Jim Tyrer was one of the most dominant tackles in all football," he said. "When I was with the Raiders, Ben and I rarely ran stunts against Ed Budde and Tyrer. If I went first in the stunt, Jim would close down and I was faced with 6'6" and closer to 300 lbs. I was 6'2" and weighed 247 lbs."
"If Ben went first (took an inside rush), I had to loop way outside and by the time I got outside, Lenny Dawson was throwing the ball. Ben and I had much better luck one-on-one with Ed and Jim."
"Jim was a excellent drive blocker and was good at hooking the defensive players," said Keating.
“He deserves induction into Canton."
If Tyrer has the respect of his peers, many who are amongst the finest to ever play, then it adds to further confusion as to why he has yet been given his long awaited induction.
One theory is a lingering disrespect to the American Football League itself. NFL players were told back then that the AFL was an inferior brand of football, full of players who lacked the skills to play in the NFL.
Homer Jones, a Pro Bowl wide receiver of the New York Giants, is known as the man who invented spiking the football after a touchdown and holds the record for most yards per catch for a career.
"We were told the AFL was a Mickey Mouse organization yearly to keep us from wanting to play there, even for more money. When we finally faced those guys, we realized that they were as good as us. Maybe even better in some areas," he said.
Jackson recalls his Denver Broncos played the first preseason contests between the two leagues.
"We played against both the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings," he said.
"We weren't always the best team in the AFL, never winning more than seven games in a season in the entire time we spent in the AFL. We were told we had no chance against the NFL, but we won both games."
The AFL has just 30 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who once played in their league. Several joined the league just before the merger, having played the majority of their careers under the NFL umbrella.
Only one, Billy Shaw, was inducted despite having played his entire career in only the AFL. At his ceremony, he was forced to wear a jacket that had the NFL logo emblazoned on it.
"There may be a lingering AFL disrespect when it comes to voters," said Ed Budde, an offensive guard also on the AFL's All-Time First Team and teammate of Tyrer for 11 years. He played alongside Tyrer and went to seven Pro Bowls himself.
"Jim played at a top level with great skill for a long time. His body of work is proof of his excellence, and he should be inducted into Canton," he said.
Many football fans and his peers believe Budde should also be inducted, but he has somehow not yet been given this honor.
For some reason, Canton has become the NFL Hall of Fame, instead of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Though several players spent time in other leagues, the Hall of Fame seems to make sure these contributors' biographies concentrate mostly on their NFL exploits.
The Cleveland Browns, who dominated the All-American Football Conference, never get their true respect as a dynasty because they came from another league initially.
There is a long list of AFL players awaiting induction into Canton to this day, as inferior modern players go in ahead of them. One theory for this is that the NFL still is upset at being forced to merge with the AFL, because the upstart league was taking viewers and money away from them.
Voters living in the wallets of the NFL have chosen to ignore gridiron excellence for fear of losing their positions. Positions they no longer sit in with the pure intentions they once held.
Though many feel the way Tyrer's life ended was the reason for his exclusion from the Hall of Fame thus far, it also points out another hypocrisy of Canton. When Michael Irvin was inducted in 2007, it was met by a huge backlash from NFL fans who couldn't understand his induction ahead of Art Monk and others, because of his notorious lifestyle as opposed to the squeaky clean lifestyle of others.
The official reason given for Irvin's induction is that garnering the honor is based on a player's body of work on the field, not off of it. If this truly is the case, then it shows the flaw in logic for omitting Tyrer thus far.
"It is time to wipe the slate clean and induct him," says Davidson.
"Life goes on. These types of events happen daily. We are turning him into a Pete Rose by excluding him, though everyone knows he should be in."
Depression was an issue people in Tyrer's era dealt with internally; it was not as acceptable to seek help for it as it is today. He battled it as his business ventures failed and he struggled to keep his four children enrolled in private schools.
"We didn't make a lot of money," Davidson remembers, "so we worked extra jobs to make ends meet. I worked with several teammates as valets at a race track. We would park the customers' cars, then sprint back as a way to keep in shape. I remember one time I was riding a bus to an AFL All-Star game with Jim.
"I was telling him of my post-career plans of being a landlord. He proceeded to tell me of all of these plans he had. He kind of made me feel inadequate, my owning apartment buildings. I also thought perhaps he was too spread out in his interests and might be too aggressive."
As his financial situation suffered, his depression worsened to the point it led to his death.
Though none of his family members saw it coming, most acknowledged that he was depressed at the time.
"I felt my dad's mental state at the end of his life must have been impaired and that very well could have been as a result of the trauma his brain experienced during his football career", says Brad Tyer, the oldest son of Jim and Martha.
One thing all of his children have done is forgive him for that fateful day. They still love their father and hope to see Canton finally give him his long overdue earned respect.
"Dad belongs there, but I am unsure if the voters will ever put him in," says Brad.
Pete Duranko was a defensive end for seven seasons with the Denver Broncos. Not only was he a friend, having had dinner with Tyrer and their wives, but he faced him several times on the field.
"He was the best offensive tackle ever, and one of the best to ever have played football," Duranko says enthusiastically.
"He didn't get his full recognition because he was on those excellent Chiefs teams, but he was load to deal with."
Duranko has spent his post-football career working with players who suffer from depression and also deals with his own health issues and depression.
"It creeps up on you" he said. "People, especially the voters, do not understand mental illness. Jim was a strong man who did his best to hide his disease. He didn't want people to know he was depressed and preferred to try to deal with it himself.
"When we were in the game, if you didn't play, you'd go highway. Meaning you got released. This made you play through all sorts of injuries, especially concussions."
Duranko is yet another of a long line of players who feel Tyrer deserves induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A list that includes Hall of Famer Willie Lanier and Fred Arbanas.
Arbanas, a six-time Pro Bowler and member of the AFL All-Time Team and Chiefs Hall of Fame, was Tyrer's roommate for 10 years and perhaps his best friend on the team.
While many of those close to Jim Tyrer feel head injuries suffered while playing football contributed to his depression, there are some who are unsure. Al Lundstrom is Tyrer's brother-in-law and played football with him at Ohio State University
"Jim was smart, hard to move, was fast on his feet, and was also very big. Many players were unable to use the head slap on him because of his height. Though he was depressed about his financial situation, I am not convinced his depression was brought on by post-concussion syndrome," he said.
Even if he did not suffer from a head injury after his career, his accolades speak loudly for a long overdue respect that should be attained now. The voters really have no excuse nor reason not to bestow it.
If it is AFL disrespect, the building clearly has a sign that says PRO FOOTBALL Hall of Fame, NOT the NFL Hall of Fame. The American Football League certainly played pro football, as their two Super Bowl wins in four meetings with the NFL prove.
No player in the history of professional football, who is able to be voted into Canton, has attained more accolades than Jim Tyrer and has failed to be inducted by the voters yet. He was named All-AFL in each of the eight seasons he played in the league
Canton is full of players with much less accomplishment and respect. Many defensive ends who faced him state he was the best offensive tackle ever in AFL history. Even better than Hall of Famer Ron Mix or eight-time Pro Bowler Winston Hill, who also awaits his induction.
If the excuse of the voters is that they have not forgiven him for how his life ended 30 years ago, they fail to realize it has been three decades and it is time to forgive...especially having hurriedly inducted a questionable character like Michael Irvin.
If an induction into Canton truly is about what a player does on the gridiron alone, their exclusion of Tyrer becomes more ludicrous and has to bring into question what reasons the voters have used to prevent his induction.
Tyrer himself once described what playing offensive tackle was like.
“You have to have a certain personality to be an offensive lineman. You have to be orderly, disciplined. You have to take the shots like a hockey goalie. It's a passive violence. You build up anxiety. But when you finally get a clear shot at a guy, you say, 'Take this for all of those.' ”
Not only did his opponents "Take it for all of those," but he gave it better than anyone who ever played his position in the entire history of the American Football League. He had no peer at his position.
Quite simply, he was the best to ever suit up at left offensive tackle for the Chiefs or the AFL. Jim Tyrer is a member of the Chiefs Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame.
As time passes, not only do we tend to forget the life of Jim Tyrer and how it ended, but we also tend to forget all of his excellence attained in the game of football. The voters of Canton can be held guilty of this, especially the Seniors Committee. A committee whose sole job is not to forget greats.
All you have to do is look at the career of Jim Tyrer to see how great he was, because it is in plain black and white print. There are few who ever played his position in the history of pro football to succeed on his level.
Of the 11 men who were voted into Canton so far as offensive tackles, nine have fewer accolades than Tyrer.
Only Lou "The Toe" Groza has appeared in as many Pro Bowls, though he was named to two less First-Team All-Pro Teams. Anthony Munoz is the only offensive tackle in Canton who has more combined Pro Bowls and First-Team All-Pro honors than Tyrer.
"A travesty," as Rich Jackson states, might be too light a word for Tyrer's exclusion from Canton.
Utterly disgusting, distasteful, and disrespectful may be more apt.
If his own family can forgive him and move on, it is time the voters do so as well. There is no player right now in the entire history of professional football more deserving of induction into their Hall of Fame than Jim Tyrer.
Roy Green is one of the greatest Cardinals ever.
He was drafted by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the fourth round of the 1979 draft.
He was used on both sides of the ball early in his career as a wide receiver and free safety. He was used as a return specialist his first two seasons as well.
He returned 41 kickoffs for an NFL-leading 1,005 yards in his rookie year. He took one back for a Cardinals record 106 yards. He also caught a 15 yard pass.
The next year, he returned punts as well and had a career best 16 returns for 168 yards. He also scored on a 57-yard return.
Playing exclusively as a free safety, he intercepted his first pass. In 1981, he had a career high three interceptions for 44 yards, the last interceptions of his career. Green also caught 33 passes for 708 yards and four touchdowns.
His 21.5 yards per catch average were a career high. Green also had three rushing attempts for 60 yards, while scoring on a 44-yard jaunt.
In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Roy had 32 catches. Playing now just at wide receiver, he broke out in 1983. He had a career best 78 receptions for 1,227 yards. He led the NFL with a career best 14 touchdown receptions while making his first Pro Bowl team.
He matched his reception total the following year, while leading the NFL with career bests of 1,555 yards and 97.2 yards per game. He also had 12 touchdowns while making his last Pro Bowl team.
In 1988, the Cardinals moved to Phoenix, and Green had 68 receptions for 1,097 yards and seven touchdowns. He matched that touchdown total on 44 receptions, despite missing four games because of injuries the next year. The 1990 season was Roy's last healthy season in the NFL. He snagged 53 balls and scored the last 4 touchdowns of his career.
He was then traded to the Cleveland Browns after the 1990 season, but was released. He was then picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. He caught 37 balls in 22 games the next two years, before retiring after the 1992 season.
Green was a special player. He had 559 career receptions, 69 touchdowns, a 16 yard per catch average, four interceptions, 20 fumble recoveries and 11,391 totals yards.
I am surprised the Cardinals allowed Anquan Boldin, or any Cardinal, to wear his number. It should have been retired.
His 522 receptions with the Cardinals ranks second in franchise history, and his 8,497 receiving yards and 66 receiving touchdowns rank first in Cardinals history.
Hilgenburg was a fourth round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in the 1964 draft. Playing mostly special teams, he started in nine of the 41 games he suited up for Detroit in his first three NFL seasons.
He was then traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 1968 season. The Steelers cut him in training camp, and the Minnesota Vikings claimed him off waivers.
Hilgenberg ended up starting seven of 14 games that year for the Vikings and would remain a starter at right outside linebacker until 1976. He picked off the first two passes of his career in 1970 and scored a touchdown off an interception in 1972.
In 1973, he scored a touchdown off of a fumble recovery, the last touchdown of his career. By 1977, he was a reserve and started just one game until he retired after the 1979 season at 37 years old.
Hilgenburg was an integral member of all four on the Vikings Super Bowl teams, and was considered on of the meanest players in the league on the field.
His daughter would be named Miss Minnesota Teen USA in 1998. He then became ill with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and passed away in 2008. Hilgenberg may not have gotten the headlines that the Purple People Eaters front four did, but his impact from the strong side OLB slot was vital to the teams extraordinary success.
He was also known as a practical joker off of the field.
Before the Vikings played the Steelers in Super Bowl IX, Howard Cosell was interviewing Hall Of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton at the team's hotel. Hilgenburg was on a balcony with teammates a few floors above them and dumped a bucket of water on Cosell.
Conerly was a 13th round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in the 1945 draft but decided to attend the University of Mississippi.
He ended up being the Player of the Year and Back of the Year of the SEC in 1947, when he led Ole Miss to their first SEC title. He was also an All-American and the 1947 Player of the Year by the Helms Athletic Foundation.
Conerly is a member of the Ole Miss Athletic Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Ole Miss Team of the Century and the College Football Hall of Fame. The Conerly Trophy is given annually to the top college player in the State of Mississippi.
At 27 years old, he joined the New York Giants in 1948 and started immediately. He was the 1948 NFL Rookie of the Year when he tossed 22 touchdown passes and ran for five more.
He was named to his first Pro Bowl team in 1950, despite starting in just eight of the 11 games he played.
Conerly led the Giants to three NFL Championship games between 1956 to 1959. The Giants won the 1956 NFL Championship by blowing out the Chicago Bears 47-7, as Conerly tossed two touchdown passes. He would be named to his last Pro Bowl team that year.
He was the NFL MVP in the 1959 season. He led the Giants to the championship against Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts in what some termed the "Greatest Game Ever".
It was the game that put the NFL on the map and into the homes of most of America. He led the NFL in passer rating, yards gained per pass attempt, yards gained per pass completion and the lowest interception rate.
Conerly continued to start for the Giants until 1960. That year, he started eight of 12 games. In 1961, the Giants acquired the services of Hall of Fame Quarterback Y.A. Tittle.
Conerly, now 40, ended up starting four games, as the Giants would go on to lose to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game. He retired after that.
He finished with 1,418 completions on 2,833 attempts for 19,488 yards. He tossed 173 touchdowns, had 167 interceptions and rushed for 10 TD's. Conerly also punted the ball 130 times for 5,062 yards, a 38.9 yards per punt average and even kicked four extra points.
The Giants have had several Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in their organization like Fran Tarkenton, Tittle, Arnie Herber and Benny Friedman.
Charlie Conerly led the Giants to their last championship win until they won Super Bowl XXI in 1986. His place as one of the best in franchise history is secure, and his No. 42 has been retired by the Giants.