This week, the second in a series of team rushing leaders, #33, Tony Dorsett.

Tony DorsettAs the 1980s Broncos evolved into a perennial contender under the coaching of Dan Reeves, it was clear that they would need a top-tier running back to enable Reeves to not change his lumbering offensive system in any way, despite the presence of John Elway.  Towards this end, for the 1988 season the Broncos traded for aging future Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett.  Tony had spent the first eleven years of his career with the Cowboys, amassing over 12,000 yards rushing, one of the best figures in NFL history.  He had finished among the league’s top ten rushers for eight consecutive years from 1977 through 1985.  But by 1988, Tony was coming off of a couple of uncharacteristically mediocre seasons, and the Cowboys were giving progressively more of the workload to Herschel Walker.  Taking advantage of a fresh start, Tony became Denver’s feature back for the 1988 season, and led the team in rushing, splitting carries with Sammy Winder, who otherwise served as fullback.  However, injuries and advancing age encouraged his retirement after just a single year in Denver.

Tony played in Super Bowl XII, following the 1977 season, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys 27-10.  Fortunately for Tony, he played for the Cowboys at the time.  This pummeling would have prepared Tony for life as a 1980s Denver Bronco, but unfortunately his lone season with the team came in the year sandwiched between the team’s appearances in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV.  He also played in Super Bowl XIII, in which the Cowboys lost to the Steelers.

So what makes Tony Dorsett so awesome?  Well, the obvious reason is that he is without question one of the best running backs ever to play in the NFL.  He remains the league’s 7th all-time leading rusher.  He came into the pros as a much-hyped Heisman trophy winner and lived up to his promise.  A second reason is that his time with the Broncos makes more for an interesting story than a sports achievement: future Hall of Fame player sent packing by original team, who found a temporary place with the Broncos before retiring.  Denver has had few HOF members, and ever fewer who recognize the Broncos as their team. (Uh, Tony does not.)  But his year leading the team in rushing remains part of 1980s Denver Bronco lore.  But the real reason is that Tony successfully changed the pronunciation of his name in mid-career, a rare achievement.  Initially it was read like “DOR-sit”, but at some point he wanted it pronounced “dor-SETT”.  And everyone went along with it!  (Except his mom, per legend.)

These days Tony does charity work and makes occasional celebrity appearances.  Most notably, he hosts the Tony Dorsett Celebrity Golf Classic for McGuire Memorial, a ministry and charitable organization in western Pennsylvania.

Image from SI’s “Legends in the Wrong Uniform” Gallery.


This week, #23, Sammy Winder.

Sammy Winder #23Sammy was not the flashiest of the Broncos’ running backs in the 1980s, but his steady work and dependable reputation makes him the quintessential example.  He joined the Broncos in 1982 after being drafted in the fifth round, and went on to play his entire career with Denver, retiring after the 1990 season. He led the Broncos in rushing for five straight years, from 1983-1987, and remains the team’s third all-time leader rusher.   Sammy’s best season came in 1984, when he rushed for 1153 yards and made his first Pro Bowl.  His 14 rushing and receiving touchdowns in 1986 resulted in his other Pro Bowl trip, as well as the team’s first Super Bowl berth of the 1980s.  Later in his career, he made a transition out of the starting running back role, splitting carries with other backs and even taking on the role of fullback.

He played in Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Washington Native Americans 42-10, and Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.

So what makes Sammy Winder so awesome? Most importantly, Sammy Winder has the best running back name in the history of sport (excepting possibly Craig “Ironhead” Heyward).  But beyond that, he was a steadfastly dependable cog in the team machine.  He wasn’t the fastest or strongest running back around.  Even at his peak he never finished among the league’s top ten rushers.  (A 1999 “catching up” profile of him in Sports Illustrated starts: “When Denverites hear the name of Sammy Winder, a former star running back for the Broncos, they show all the excitement of a fern.”)  But he did what was asked of him, year in and year out, and that was to be the featured running back in Dan Reeves’ prehistoric offense.  You see, Coach Reeves had at his disposal one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, John Elway, and capitalized on this situation by insisting on a run-first offense.  As my Dad once put it, the Dan Reeves playbook was, from first down through fourth: run right, run left, pass, punt.  Sammy fulfilled his role, whatever it was from year to year, with class.

After retirement (Sammy stepped away at a relatively young 31, opting to leave while he was still healthy rather than chase a few more years, probably with another team), Sammy returned home to Mississippi.  He lives there with his family and owns and operates a construction company with his brother.

Image from SI Vault – Cover of volume 61, no. 17, October 8, 1984.

Was reading something that reminded me of this irritating dumb jock guy* who lived in the dorm room across from me during the one and only (painful) year of college in which I lived in the dorms.   He had an unusual name, and was a semi-notable football player at UM**.  Hence, he was easily Google-able.  I was curious if his post-football career had gone anywhere.  This is sort of the subject of another post because it’s an interesting topic in itself, but the short version is that I knew he’d been granted a cushy sports merchandise marketing job right out of college, the kind of thing that boosters give the barely-graduating footballers who are too dumb to find their own real jobs.  Sixty seconds of internet research resolved that he’s not in the cushy marketing job anymore, but is a real estate agent.  Oh well, not sure what I hoped to find out anyway.  That he’d become some collegiate merchandise baron?  Why did I care again?  I honestly barely remember the dude.

Anyway, rapidly losing interest in this particular workday tangent, I did one more quick related search for one of his compatriots, whom I will call Mr. Compatriot, another semi-notable UM football player with an unusual name, making him similarly easy to dig up news on.  Actually, Mr. Compatriot is in some ways more of curiosity to me since he happened to have been part of my high school graduation class***.  But don’t misunderstand–this was not an old pal.  He was even more on the dumb jock track than the first guy.  I barely knew him but knew enough to genuinely not like him.  For one thing, he was a complete louse to a nice girl I knew that had no business hanging out with him.  And no kind of friendship evolved during dorm time****.  In fact, once I got to college, after getting over the annoyance that this high school lunkhead was actually going to continue to pop up in my life, in however small a role, I was surprised to learn that Mr. Compatriot was there because he was a relatively good football player.  As in, one of the few UM players that later signed on with an NFL team.  He wasn’t drafted or anything, and never ultimately appeared in an NFL game, but he did merit enough attention to get a small free agent contract.  That had been the last I’d heard of him since the last time I might have been curious enough to find some information, maybe five years ago or so.  Searching today, I turned up three newspaper articles on Mr. Compatriot.  Let’s catch up, shall we?

1. Last I left his story, he was on the extreme fringe of making the NFL.  And as such, he was drafted in the XFL supplemental draft.  (Recall, the XFL was a one-year experimental football league run by the WWE guy, so it was somewhere between the NFL and wrestling.  It failed miserably and hilariously.)  Actual XFL players were marginal NFL players.  So one might infer that people drafted in such a league’s supplementary draft (i.e., not the main draft, but an extra one used to fill out rosters) are marginal marginal players.  That gives you an idea where Mr. Compatriot fit into the pro football world.  Not to denigrate this–I mean, good for him.  Unless you’re a natural behemoth of a human, you have to work pretty hard to be a pro football player.  And he was at least a small part of that competitive landscape.  So at this point I was thinking: wow, he actually came pretty close to being an NFL player.  A couple of breaks or getting into the right situation, he might have made it.

2. Last summer, someone from my hometown paper wrote a rather flattering article about him.  After his pro career petered out, he caught on with a local Montana arena football team (I guess you’d call it semi-pro?), initially as a player, later as a coach and marketer.  The article detailed how he had transitioned away from being a player into someone putting in 12-hour days of extracurricular work for the team.  And even though he missed playing, working for the team in other capacities made more sense at his age.  Wow, I though, this guy I thought of as a dope has reinvented himself as a grownup.  I found this to be a pleasant surprise.  How about that!  Local dumb guy makes good!  Until…

3. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking.  Uh, wow.  Never mind. Seriously–just a few months after the “look how great this local guy is handling his post-football washout years” newspaper profile, he was sentenced to federal prison for cocaine trafficking. I guess we know where he was finding all the energy for those long days at the office.  Or maybe the moral is, dumb guys tend to make bad drug traffickers.

*Not all jocks are dumb. But he was.
**”M” being Montana, mind you; “the University of Michigan” is properly referred to as “Michigan”, which I have absolute authority to declare because I attended them both.
***This was an in-state school, mind you. Not really that unusual that someone from my high school was there.  But still, something I had in common with him.
****The only particular interaction I even remember with him was one evening when he randomly knocked on my door to ask, “Got some beers, man?” I remember thinking: “Yes. As a broke, underage dorm resident, I logically must have have been able to obtain a wide selection of beer for my miniscule cubic dorm fridge. And if I did, I would certainly give it freely to near-strangers panhandling for it.”  Instead I probably said something like, “Uh, no.”

I woke up this morning with the realization that I wasn’t going to get all my Hugo Award reading done.  Apparently my brain spent the down time calculating pages left versus time.  I mean, I appreciate the effort, considering it usually chews on fantasy baseball stats, but if it was thinking about stock prices or something my life would probably be very different.

Anyway, I got an AussieCon4 membership (and with it, a Hugo vote) at the beginning of May.  I had three months to read the six novels up for the award.  Those were the priority, and I’d read whatever other categories I could get to.  Any category I couldn’t finish entirely I wouldn’t vote on. But instead of starting right then, I finished what I was already reading, then picked up another book which turned out to be a bit of a slog, and by the time I was able to start on any of the nominees, it was June.  Now, when I read fast, I probably get through a total of 200 pages a week.  And that’s the max end of the range.  Even if I definitely read that much (no guarantee), it’s past the point where I can hope to finish all the novels.  It’s not really even close.  I’d need another month.

It’s completely reasonable for an interested reader to thoroughly digest all the material between the nomination announcement and the voting deadline.  I lost a month after the announcement before I decided I’d make the effort to vote.  Then another month winding up my other reading.  Had I started right away, or even at the beginning of May, or if I’d just happened to have read one of the books beforehand, I’d have easily made it.  I don’t think you need to be a professional writer/reader/reviewer/publisher to participate.

I was talking with K about whether it would be ethical to read only half of each book and vote based on that.  K’s argument (well-taken) was that this is not enjoying the books, it’s an assignment.  My feeling is that I’m just not giving the books a fair vote.  Even though the chances of that my opinion would differ if I read only the first halves versus if I read all books in their entirety are exceedingly small, there is a chance.  It’s also not in the spirit of the voting, to my thinking.  Now, there’s no rule or enforcement of making sure everyone reads all the books.  And in fact, I am highly dubious that most voters do.  I find it really hard to believe that most voters read all of Anathem last year.  It just stands to reason that most read a piece of it (or less) and voted for the author they liked better.  It was a name-heavy year with Gaiman, Scalzi, Doctorow, Stephenson, and Stross all up for the award and all well-known in the SF world and at least Gaiman and Doctorow well known outside of it. Anyway, point is, I don’t want to vote unless I’ve read everything start to finish.

Conclusion: I’ll have to skip the novel vote this year.  I’ll read them all but won’t finish in time.  So, what I CAN do is read everything else from the other categories (novellas, novelettes, short stories, graphic novels, etc.), which will take a lot less time.  Then I’ll just vote on those categories and omit a novel vote.

One other thought along these lines.  There is an award for long-form dramatic presentation, i.e., movies.  I’ve seen two of the nominees already, Moon and Star Trek, of which I liked Moon substantially more, so that’s the leader so far.  One of the remaining nominees is Avatar, which I haven’t seen.  Facts:

  1. I have heard over and over that seeing it is an overwhelmingly awesome “experience” (which is to say, the action and effects are mesmerizing).
  2. I understand the the story itself is so-so, even from people who totally dug the movie.
  3. I pretty much universally dislike long action-and-effects-oriented movies that skimp on the story.

So, the chances that I will like Avatar more than Moon are pretty much zero.  Nevertheless, is it ethical to vote for the category even if I don’t see one of the films which I am 99% certain I wouldn’t vote for anyway?  I think this is a slightly different argument from the one above about only reading half of each nominated book.  I’ll try to see Avatar but if I don’t, I still think I have a legitimate vote.

Steve WatsonYet another triumphant return of KNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS.

This week, #73, Simon Fletcher.

Simon FletcherSimon joined the Broncos in 1985 after being drafted in the second round.  He played for the Broncos for the duration of his 11-year NFL career.  Simon was an unusually-built linebacker, even for his time, being relatively tall, lanky, and speedy.  But his unusual traits gave him his edge: he remains the team’s all-time leader in sacks by a very large margin, with 97.5.  (Previous KNOW YOUR 1980s DENVER BRONCOS featured player Karl Mecklenburg is a distant second at 79.  Further, 97.5 is good enough for 25th all-time in the league).   He additionally shares the NFL record for consecutive games with a sack (10).  Outrageously, he was never named to a Pro Bowl despite being among the league’s most disruptive defensive players on a strong team for years.  However, he was named a member of the Broncos’ 50th Anniversary Team and was named the Broncos’ NFL Man of the Year in 1995 for his work with at-risk young people in the club’s “Wise Up” program.  This coincides with Simon’s general reputation as an underrated, soft-spoken, highly professional player who is fondly remembered by fans.

He played in Super Bowl XXI, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the Washington Native Americans 42-10, and Super Bowl XXIV, in which the Broncos were pummeled by the San Francisco 49ers 55-10.

So what makes Simon Fletcher so awesome?  Aside from his important place in Broncos’ history, Simon is the no-argument choice for defensive player to control when playing as the Broncos in Tecmo Super Bowl.  And as my favorite team, I was doing this quite often.  His speed was effectively captured in the game, so he was the fastest defensive player Denver had, so a standard choice.

I couldn’t find any recent information on Simon Fletcher, but did read a 1995 Denver Post article written about his impending retirement.  At the time he was mostly interested in his three daughters and ownership of a few restaurants in Colorado and seemed well-prepared for life after football.