FanPost

The Thoroughbreds of the Backfield

  "When I went to Catholic high school in Philadelphia, we just had one coach for football and basketball. He took all of us who turned out and had us run through a forest. The ones who ran into the trees were on the football team." - George Raveling (college basketball coach 1972 -1994)

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Marshal Faulk sportsillustrated.cnn.com
   

When George Raveling spoke of football players and the magnetic properties of trees, he meant Running Backs and no where is this more commonly true than in the NFL. Consider a player who is handed the ball and told to go: THERE! The playbook tells him there will be a hole -THERE.  In the huddle, the quarterback gives him a thumbs up and knowing wink when he calls the play between guard and center. Of course he leaving out the part about seeing "Mean" Joe Greene foaming at the mouth or DeMarcus Ware babbling about mass murder being just a hobby. The running back never sees the quarterback cringe after he hands him the ball. Then, BAM! Oak trees instead of a hole... Examining an alternative interpretation of running back, i.e - RUN BACKwards, never enters his mind.

I like the term - "Scatback", referring to small elusive running backs, not a comment forum for scatologists. The scatback is actually a living, breathing example of the "Fight or Flight" mechanism in all of us. A Scatback suffers from Dendrophobia (fear of trees) and will quite literally run everywhere on the field to avoid them and, though the TV viewing public never hears it, screams while he flees the trees...

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Wendell Tyler sports.espn.go.com
 

The running back position throughout the NFL's history is star filled. They come in all shapes and sizes. No position on the field inspires more excitement or drama that can unfold at any given moment. These are exceptional,  muti-talented athletes who can run, catch and sometimes even throw the ball. They are often the last line of defense against the rush for a quarterback. When Rome threw the Christian to the lions, if a NFL running back had been among them he would have run AT the lions. If it had been Jim Brown, Walter Payton or Eric Dickerson running at them, the lions would have turned vegetarian...

 

The Ram's history as a team is filled with tales and the statistics of truly great running backs. "Deacon" Dan Towler, Tank Younger, Jon Arnett, Dick Bass, Ollie Matson (7 times All-Pro), Cullen Bryant, John Capalletti, Lawrence McCutcheon, Wendell Tyler, Eric Dickerson and Marshal Faulk are just some of the many that hold places secure in Ram history. Steven Jackson is currently writing his pages adding  to the book of great Ram running backs.

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Paul "Tank" Younger temple3.wordpress.com
 

Paul "Tank" Younger (Rams -1949-57, Steelers - 1958 - 4 Pro Bowls) was a part of the famed "Bull Elephants" Ram's backfield that included "Deacon" Dan Towler (1950-55) and Dick Hoerner(Rams -1947-51, Dallas Texans - 1952). Tank was undrafted out of Grambling State University where he started out as a tackle. He morphed into a College Footbal Hall of Fame player, accumulating statistic as both a running back and linebacker, many of which were records for the day (he scored 60 touchdowns in 1948).

 

Cullen Bryant (Rams -1973-82, 87, Seahawks - 1983-84). At 6'1" and 236 lbs., he was both devastating runner and blocker. He played on the Ram's Super Bowl XIV team, scoring the only rushing touchdown. His place in history though came when he sued then Commisioner Pete Rosell under the Rosell rule. As compensation for the Rams acquiring free agent receiver Ron Jesse from Detroit, Rosell demanded that Bryant be sent to them as compensation. The NFL backdown and instead sent one of the two first round picks the Rams had in the following year's draft to Detroit instead.

 

In 1977, the Rams began to shift their thinking when it came to choosing a running back. In the '77 Draft they picked a speedster out of UCLA by the name of Wendell Tyler. Before Tyler, the emphasis had been running backs with bruising power. Lawrence McCutcheon would be the last of the power back arch-types until the Ram's drafted Jerome Bettis (Rams -1993-95, Steelers - 1996 to 2006) with the 10th pick in the 1993 draft. Many ram fans still clench their collective teeth at the thought of letting Bettis go. He had been the Associated Press Ofensive Rookie of the year and selected to the All-Pro team in 1993. The Ram teams the next two years was mediocre and Bettis, even though he made the Pro Bowl in '94, was let go. He muttled through the next ten years with the Steelers to become the 5th All - Time rusher in NFL history... Oops!

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sportsillustrated.cnn.com
 

The two greatest running backs in Ram history, Eric Dickerson (Rams- 1983-87, Colts - 1987 - 91, Raiders - 1992, Falcons -1993) and Marshal Faulk (Colts -1994 -98, Rams - 1999 to 2006) are the elite in an exceptional Ram running back legacy. Though Dickerson had those two super human seasons in 1983 and 84 (single season rushing record), my vote for the all time best Ram running back is Marshal Faulk.

 

Marshal Faulk had it all. Quickness combined with straight line speed. He had a receivers hands to match his intellect and leadership skills. To my mind, no other running back in NFL history could hurt opposing teams in more ways. His mark on the Ram's organization is in the team's DNA now and all running backs to come will be measured against this incredible running back and amazing man.

 

So here is todays challenge: Excluding Marshal and Eric, who was the best running back in Ram history?

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