In a recent review of Pat Kirwan’s new book, “Take Your Eye Off the Ball”, Tom  Gower listed three books, his Holy Trinity of really good and important football reads, of which Dr Z’s book, “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” was one, Brian Billick’s “More than a Game” was another, and John Madden’s “One Knee Equals Two Feet” was the third. Given that both Billick and Madden’s books are both available used and cheap, I’ve ordered both of them.

Madden’s book dates to the end of  the 1985 season, and so has plenty to say about the Chicago Bears and their dominant season, but more so, he has a lot to say about players from roughly the mid 1960s to about the mid 1980s.  In that he creates a refreshing contrast between Billick and Kirwan, whose focus is on a lot more modern players and really more on the modern game.  It can be interesting comparing the notions of the three men. For example, Madden has this to say about the ideal 3-4 nose tackle.

…Curly Culp was the best I ever saw. Hey, I know all about Joe Klecko of the Jets and Jim Burt of the Giants –  they’re terrific, But believe me, Curly Culp was the best to play the position.

Built like a sumo wrestler, Curly was 6 foot 1 and 270, as strong as any player I’ve ever known, and as physically suited to a position as any player I’ve ever seen. For a defensive lineman, the worst possible stance is straight up. If he’s straight up, he has no power, no leverage. If he’s straight  up, it’s easy for an offensive lineman to push him back. The idea, especially for a nose tackle, is to be bent over. He has maximum power that way, maximum leverage and that was Curly’s natural stance. He even walked leaning forward, as if he was about to stare at the center, eyeball to eyeball.

According to Pro Football Reference, Joe Klecko was 6-3 263, and Jim Burt was 6-2 260. Shortish for defensive linemen, and I’ve heard plenty of times that nose tackles should be short. By contrast, Kirwan describes nose tackles as needing some height.

…a team needs big,  tall, strong defensive linemen with long arms. The ideal example is the 2001-08 Patriots, who built their defensive line with first-round draft picks who all stood 6′ 2″ or taller….

It starts with finding a nose tackle  who will command a double team; a 3-4 defense works best when it forces one of the guards to help  the center on every play. The prototype nose tackle would be between 6′ 2″ and 6′ 4″ and somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 pounds.

On of Kirwan’s examples of an ideal nose tackle was Jamal Williams, at 6′ 3″ and 348 pounds.

On tight ends, Madden has  this to say about Kellen Winslow

To call Winslow a tight end was really a misnomer as the positioned is defined. Strategically, the tight end, by lining up close to either the right tackle or the left tackle, creates the strong side of the offensive formation. But because of his skill as a pass receiver, Winslow lined up everywhere and anywhere. Maybe the position should be renamed . Inside receiver, say.

while Billick had this to say about the tight end position.

The evolution of the game also has dictated that some team’ personnel departments have now divided tight end into  two distinct positions, one being the sleek, deep-seam receiving threat (like Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow Jr., and Antonio Gates) and the other being the big, hulking grinder (essentially a sixth offensive lineman) who often serves as the extra blocker at  the point of attack of running plays. Other teams make the same distinction between deep-threat wideouts and better-blocking possession receivers, who often play in the slot on three-wideout sets.

It’s at fullback the game has changed perhaps the most. Madden’s offense was driven by a hard running fullback, such as Mark Van Eeghen. The fullback, as Billick points out, is virtually extinct in the modern game.

Madden’s book goes through position after position, with a lot of acute observations about small details critical to success at the position. It’s something that Gower notes, as in Madden’s mention of how Dan Hampton felt good fingers were more important to a defensive tackle than good knees. Madden also saw things like how Jack Youngblood had a knack for getting under the pads of offensive linemen, and driving them almost vertical. Or this observation about Randy White:

He’s not only quick but he has great upper-body strength. If he gets his hands on the defensive guard trying to block him, he can turn that guard around. Most defensive tackles can’t do that, but Randy just picks up guys and tosses them around like sacks of potatoes.

One of the issues that plagues Madden these days is that he was so good at making simple sounding observations, that people would take his apparent simplicity for stupidity.

In part I favor this book because it captures elements of the game that have been lost. Guys like Brian Billick simply don’t remember it. Time begins for people like Billick or Kirwan with Walsh or Parcells. Lombardi is a phantom, the Cowboys of the 1970s an example of  how not to do things. Madden, being an old fashioned coach, still treasures some of the old fashioned ways, and so players, perhaps forgotten now, aren’t forgotten by Madden.

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