New rules in the NFL further opened up the modern game. Great quarterbacks like Drew Brees put up numbers beyond reach, except for the player coming off the sort of injury and surgery cycle that ends careers.
Peyton Manning at his best is as good as anyone has ever been. After he gets the play, changes the play, waves his arms and barks Omaha, you can almost hear the defensive backs saying “Oh My God.”
Experts and traditionalists watch the new game and marvel at the high scoring shoot-outs, the last second field goals, and the parity in the NFL. No teams were extraordinarily awful except the two-win Houston Texans and three-win Washington Redskins.
With all the big arms throwing perfect back-shoulder passes, and all the speed and talent catching them, one aspect of professional football hasn't changed over the years. A power running back is still a game changer. LeGarrette Blount proved that in the Patriots playoff win over the Colts last weekend.
All he did was score four touchdowns, one after a seventy-three-yard run. It was a study of form and speed. Instead of a runner blazing the field with his feet, knees, and hips unaligned, Blount ran with the sort of form Usain Bolt would appreciate. Very smooth. Even at an estimated 250 lbs, no one caught him.
This former Oregon Duck football player found his way to the spotlight by taking the long way around. Undrafted out of college after sitting out nearly a season long suspension for his infamous Boise State punch, he signed with the Tennessee Titans where he punched another player in training camp.
Fights in training camps don't get much coverage, but after his college swing, Blount seemed destined to go down as an out of control man with loads of talent who couldn't stay on the field. But he proved that wrong in Tampa Bay, where became only the second undrafted rookie in NFL history to gain over 1,000 yards.
For size and speed, LeGarrette Blount might be compared to Earl Campbell or Jim Brown, both power runners who left dents on many helmets. But there's a name from the past that fits even better: Cookie Gilchrist.
It was December 1964. While snow was being cleared from Fenway Park's field, the Buffalo Bills waited anxiously in a spartan locker room for their game against the Boston Patriots to start. They normally would've whiled away this time with card games or other diversions to ease the mood. Not on that day.
The Bills had to win to host the AFL Championship game six days later. The atmosphere was tense, the room quiet.
"Cookie stood up," Maguire recalled, "and said 'I'm going to tell you something. If we don't win this game, I'm going to beat the s--- out of everybody in this locker room.' "
Just then, Bills head coach Lou Saban and assistants Joe Collier, Jerry Smith and John Mazur unwittingly walked into their star fullback's escalating fury.
Maguire continued: "Cookie pointed and said, 'And I'm going to start with you, Coach. I'm going to kick your ass first.' I just sat back in my locker. I knew he meant it."
On the first play of the game, Gilchrist took a handoff from Jack Kemp and trucked helpless Patriots safety Chuck Shonta.
"Cookie ran right over his ass," said Maguire, the Bills' popular linebacker and punter. "Then he went up to Bob Dee, who was the defensive end, and says 'You're next.' Kemp came over the sideline and said 'We've got to get him out of there. He's going to kill somebody.' "
Pro football has changed so much since 1964, but not for the power running back. They still blast through the lines, take the hits, and if they've got enough gas in their tank, cross the goal line.
LeGarrette Blount did it four times last week, enough to remind us how much the game hasn't changed.