By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
It was the Greatest Show on Turf. But was it the Greatest Show … Period?
The 1999 St. Louis Rams, who will be honored during halftime of Monday’s game with San Francisco, boasted one of the NFL’s grandest and most successful offenses — and the proof is there in this year’s preliminary list of candidates for 2015. There are four Rams, with former coach Dick Vermeil making it five. Add Marshall Faulk, who’s already in the Hall, and you can drop the puck.
But let’s get real. Of the four players up for selection, tackle Orlando Pace is certain to reach Canton at an early date, and quarterback Kurt Warner is a likely choice sometime soon. Wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are longer shots, with Bruce the more eligible … and let’s just say he makes it. That makes four players from the same offense in the Hall, and that’s impressive.
But it’s not the greatest show in Canton.
The Green Bay Packers of the 1960s had five. So did the Baltimore Colts of that era, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. But they’re not the frontrunners. The 1974 Oakland Raiders are.
They put six players in the Hall on offense, including linemen Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. More impressive is that they don’t have a starting quarterback. That’s right, the team that gave us Dave Casper and Fred Biletnikoff couldn’t put Ken Stabler or Daryle Lamonica in the Hall. Instead, we have George Blanda, who was their backup quarterback and kicker.
What’s more intriguing about those Raiders is that A) they don’t hold any of today’s offensive records, and B) they won just one Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers won four in the 1970s, yet they have one less bust made for offense. And the Greatest Show on Turf? We’re about to find out, with the smart money on three players (Faulk, Pace and Warner) and possibly a fourth.
Still, that would leave it two shy of Oakland,, and look what the Rams accomplished: They eclipsed 500 points in three straight seasons, something no one else has done, and produced a whopping 7,335 yards in 2000 — a record later broken by New Orleans — as well as throw for a league-record 5,492 yards.
Like the Raiders of the 1970s, they won one Super Bowl. Unlike Oakland, they went to two in three years … but should have gone to more. In fact, Whatifsports in 2008 conducted a test where it played the 42 Super Bowl champions against each other 100 times, with the 1999 Rams achieving the best score by winning 77.1 percent of the time.
Hall-of-Fame busts signify the greatness of players and usually signify the greatest of teams. But the 1981 San Diego Chargers — the “Air Coryell” offense our readers voted the best offense of all time — produced only three Hall of Famers on offense, one shy of the 1995 Dallas Cowboys (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Larry Allen). The difference, of course, was championships. The Cowboys had three in four years, and the Chargers had none.
Yet it was those Chargers that served as the blueprint for Rams’ offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The Bolts failed not because their offense short-circuited but because their defense did. They were one of the league’s greatest passing offenses ever, with running back Chuck Muncie one of its most underappreciated parts. The Greatest Show on Turf was one of the most complete offenses ever, with Faulk critical to its success.
“There are a handful of great passing offenses,” said our Rick Gosselin, a Hall of Fame selector, “but most of them didn’t have the Hall-of-Fame running back as well. That’s what separates the Greatest Show on Turf from the Brady Patriots, the Manning Colts or Broncos, the Brees Saints, the Fouts Chargers and the Marino Dolphins. Marshall Faulk was the best and most complete back of any of those teams I mentioned. That’s what separates the Rams from the rest.”
I don’t know if the Rams were the best ever. What I do know is they deserve to be recognized — both Monday in St. Louis and next summer in Canton.
(Photo Courtesy of the St. Louis Rams)