Andy Reid, Eagles Wrong About Linebackers, Part II: The 1980's
This is the second part of a four part serious that started yesterday about the importance of linebacker play for championship teams. It is basically a rebuttal to the philosophy of the Philadelphia Eagles current philosophy that the position is unimportant.
Yesterday dealt with the linebackers for Super Bowl winning teams from the 1960's and 70's. The first 14 Super Bowl champions were analyzed yesterday, showing a definitive argument for the importance of linebackers. Let’s see if the next decade proves to be any different.
Oakland Raiders: 1980
It looks like the autumn wind blew into the postseason once again for another Raiders championship. When we last visited this team in 1976, they had an impressive group of linebackers.
The 1980 version was just as good, featuring not two, but three linebackers that were voted into a Pro Bowl. Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks led the way to his third Super Bowl victory with help from Rod Martin and Matt Millen.....
On his way to an All-Pro selection and two Pro Bowls, Rod Martin just made plays. In his career he scored six defensive touchdowns and has a Super Bowl record with three interceptions in Super Bowl XV.
Middle linebacker Matt Millen was not as decorated as his teammates, making just one Pro Bowl, but he was a part of four Super Bowl Champions. This incarnation of the Oakland Raiders garnered a Hall of Fame induction, five All-Pro selections and 11 Pro Bowls.
San Francisco 49ers: 1981
Bill Walsh was the first West Coast Offense coach, and is known mostly for his offensive philosophy. He's also known for Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. Walsh is the head of the coaching tree that spawned Andy Reid.
Certainly Walsh didn’t find linebacker to be an important position. But, shockingly, Walsh’s first of three Super Bowl teams carried two linebackers who made a Pro Bowl.
Inside linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds and outside linebacker Keena Turner each had an interception in their Super Bowl XVI victory. They also helped to win the best goal line stand in Super Bowl history.
Reynolds was voted to two Pro Bowls in his career, and Turner was voted in once, keeping the streak of multiple linebackers going to multiple Pro Bowls for championship teams alive.
Washington Redskins: 1982
Somewhat overshadowed in the 1980's by Bill Walsh’s 49ers, Joe Gibbs also managed to win multiple Super Bowls this decade. Gibbs deployed a strong running attack behind the bruising John Riggins and a great offensive line known simply as "The Hogs."
Sadly, the linebacker streak ends here at 16 consecutive champions.
In a strike-shortened nine game season, Redskins linebackers Neal Olkewicz, Rich Milot and Mel Kaufman combined for 7.5 sacks and four fumble recoveries.
Los Angeles Raiders: 1983
The Raiders were no longer in Oakland, but they brought their dominating linebacking unit with them to L.A.
Ted Hendricks won his fourth Super Bowl, and third with the Raiders. All-Pro Rod Martin and Pro Bowler Matt Millen each won their second.
This was the last of the Raider championships, but this group of linebackers containing a Hall of Fame induction, five All-Pro selections and 11 Pro Bowl appearances knocked off the linebacker-less defending champs.
San Francisco 49ers: 1984
The second Super Bowl of the decade for the 49ers, and they won again with Jack Reynolds and Keena Turner.
The year of 1984 was Marino’s record breaking season with 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes.
Reynolds and Turner, with four Pro Bowl selections between them, were part of a unit that held Marino to under 60 percent passing, with one touchdown pass against two interceptions.
Chicago Bears: 1985
One of very few teams in sports known by just their year. Just utter the phrase “’85 Bears” and the implications are obvious. Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense unleashed a tremendous trio of linebackers on poor offenses across the NFL.
Known for his piercing stare, middle linebacker Mike Singletary was one of the most intense players to ever play the game. He was a first-team All-Pro seven times and made 10 Pro Bowls.
Wilber Marshall harassed offenses for 6.0 sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in 1985. He added a 52-yard interception returned for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game and a half-sack with a fumble recovery in the Super Bowl. Marshall was named first-team All-Pro twice and went to three Pro Bowls.
Otis Wilson is the least heralded name on this list, but his 1985 season was something to be remembered: 10.5 sacks, three interceptions with one returned for a touchdown and two fumble recoveries. He added 2.0 sacks in Super Bowl XX against the Patriots.
Including Wilson’s lone Pro Bowl in 1985, this dominating group combined for a Hall of Fame induction, nine first-team All-Pro selections and 14 Pro Bowls.
New York Giants: 1986
Bill Parcells is a tough football coach who led tough football teams. His linebackers lived up to that standard.
This was one of the greatest linebacking corps of all time with Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson teaming up with Carl Banks and a young Pepper Johnson.
On their way to a 14-2 season, Giants linebackers combined for a staggering 31.0 sacks led by LT with 20.5. Taylor was All-Pro eight times and a 10-time Pro Bowler. Carson was a nine-time Pro Bowler. Banks was All-Pro and in the Pro Bowl one time each. Pepper Johnson went on to one All-Pro selection and two Pro Bowls.
In all, this quartet combined for two Hall of Fame inductions, 10 first-team All-Pro selections and 22 Pro Bowls.
Washington Redskins: 1987
The first team to win a Super Bowl without a Pro Bowl linebacker came back to do it again. Interestingly, both were in strike-ravaged seasons.
Neal Olkewicz, Rich Milot, Mel Kaufman and Monte Coleman combined to start 35 games. They compiled 9.0 sacks in the regular season, and there isn’t much else statistically to speak of.
Maybe when you have defensive ends like Charles Mann and Dexter Manley and all-world cornerbacks like Darrell Green and Barry Wilburn, your linebackers can get away with not being playmakers. The other thing Gibbs did was cultivate a running game. Maybe Andy Reid should follow that trend as well.
San Francisco 49ers: 1988-89
The third and fourth championships for the “Team of the 80's” were won with four linebackers who played at a very high level in their careers.
Outside linebacker Charles Haley sacked the quarterback 22 times during this two-year run. He added another 4.5 in postseason games. Haley was named All-Pro twice and went to five Pro Bowls.
One-time Pro Bowlers Keena Turner and Matt Millen were on these San Francisco teams—Turner winning his third and fourth rings, and Millen his third. Rookie Bill Romanowski, a two-time Pro Bowler, was at the beginning of his career in San Francisco.
The most decorated group among the 49ers Super Bowl winners, these four put together two first-team All-Pro selections to go along with nine Pro Bowls.
The 1980’s didn’t see a decrease in importance of the linebacker position. Not quite as overwhelmingly conclusive as the 60’s and 70’s, but there is still solid proof.
There were 10 Lombardi Trophies handed out to five different teams. Three teams had at least one Hall of Fame linebacker, four teams had at least one All-Pro, and all but Washington had at least one Pro Bowler.
Over the course of the decade, the championship teams combined to produce four Hall of Fame linebackers, 26 first-team All-Pro selections and 54 Pro Bowls. It is still difficult to see when the linebacker position became less important.
Tomorrow we check out the 1990’s, maybe this is where the linebacker went extinct.