Craig Morton (2), Dallas Cowboys. Poor Craig is sort of the standard bearer for these overachievers. If you were worse than Craig Morton and in the playoffs, you’re definitely making this list. Morton was absent from 1971’s role call, because after a lengthy and confusing battle for the position with Roger Staubach which at one point saw them switch after every series, Tom Landry finally gave in and went with Roger Dodger. It paid off in an immediate Super Bowl victory over the Miami Dolphins.Staubach’s attempt at a follow-up was cut down in its infancy as he suffered a separated shoulder in pres-season. Morton was pressed into duty, and while is 15:21 TD:INT ratio is not the stuff of legends, he was in the top five in completion percentage while playing in one of the most pass-happy offenses in the league, and took the Cowboys into the playoffs as the wild card, going 10-4. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t ever who you wanted out there. Craig Morton is like a Subway attached to a truck stop; it’s never what you would go out of your way to seek, but sometimes you’re in a rush or a pinch and he’ll hold you until you get to where you’re going. This year ends in a sickening bit of human theater for Morton. Struggling to an 8 for 21 line through the first half against a game 49ers team, Morton was subbed for a not-quite-100% Staubach, who led a stunning 4th quarter comeback, and murdered any talk of a quarterback controversy restarting. Morton never started another game for the Cowboys and was traded in mid-1974 to the New York Giants.
Mike Phipps, Cleveland Browns. For whatever reason, player trades in the NFL are not as common as they are in other sports, and when a player trade turns into a true boner, it doesn’t get the mythic dressing that a baseball equivalent would get. If there were that sort of myth making machine, Mike Phipps would be Ernie Broglio, Larry Andersen and Jim Fregosi rolled into one. Phipps was drafted by the Dolphins with the 3rd pick of the 1970 draft, and before camp started he was shipped to Cleveland for Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. Warfield would’ve had a strong Hall case with only his Browns numbers, but his time with the Dolphins is what makes the highlight reels. 1972 was Phipps’ first year starting, and he had a paper tiger of a 10-4 year, throwing for fewer picks than his predecessor Bill Nelsen, but also fewer yards and the same amount of touchdowns. Good enough to tread water and get back to the playoffs, where they fell to the Perfect Dolphins. The next year, Leroy Kelly’s production cratered and the Browns went 7-5-2. in 1974 Phipps injured his shoulder and was cast aside for Brian Sipe. The Bears took a chance on him, trading a high draft pick to the Browns for Phipps in 1978. That draft pick turned into Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. Mike Phipps did not have a hall of fame career by any sane measure, but if you are one of the people who truly believes in the free market as a self-correcting entity, then clearly Mike Phipps should have two Hall of Fame busts.
Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s right, we outchea on these streets comin for ERRYBODY here at Your Man Kit’s Football Opinion Compendium, Bradshaw did eventually of course become an excellent quarterback and a Hall of Famer, but that was still the future in 1972, and it seemed a future that would be hard to realize. Through his first two years, Bradshaw threw 46 interceptions in 21 games, as compared to 19 touchdowns. 11% of the passes he threw as a rookie ended in the other team’s hands. Does that sound like HOF material to you? Chuck Noll stuck by Bradshaw in 1972, and he did make his first step forward, cutting his interception total to 12, but he still only threw 12 touchdowns and completed fewer than half his passes. The Steelers had a rushing attack that ranked second in the league featuring Franco Harris and Frenchy Fuqua, and a rough draft of the Steel Curtain was forming; the Steel Venetian Blinds were 2nd in scoring defense and 8th in total yards, sending Dwight White, Jack Ham, and Joe Greene to the Pro Bowl. Immaculate Reception notwithstanding, looking at these Steelers is a bit like peeping at the high school yearbook of a movie star. Things haven’t quite come together yet, but things will get better.
Scott Hunter, Green Bay Packers. If this entry seems rushed or disjointed in any way, it’s because I literally just learned that this player even existed. Wikipedia asked me to specify between the musician, the football player, and the Australian soap opera star. 1972 represents Hunter’s only full year of starting, and he threw for a mind-boggling six touchdowns. But hey, only nine picks. He’s a game manager, right Skip? HE JUST WINS GAMES, PEOPLE. The Packers in 1972 were built around star running back John Brockington. The Pack attempted twice as many runs as passes in 1972, with the secondary running back, McArthur Lane, getting almost as many carries as Hunter threw passes. Welcome to 1972, when three yards and a cloud of dust is an acceptable mission statement and not just a dismissive joke.
Billy Kilmer (2), Washington <REDACTED> Bagging on Billy might actually be a bit unfair for this year. He actually led the NFL in touchdown passes for 1972, and played an absolutely terriffic game against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship, going 14 of 18 with two touchdowns as the Cowboys never got a sniff of the game. But Kilmer was benched for four games of the season for Sonny Jurgensen. Sonny was not happy about sitting on the bench for all of 1971, and he was demanding a recount. Jurgensen’s potbelly was notorious, either endearing of infuriating depending on how you already felt about Sonny in the first place. When Sonny reported to camp, his beer belly was gone, and where before he would sneak out every night to party, he made every bed check. Kilmer’s success so infuriated Sonny Jurgensen that it may have lengthened his career by at least another three years. Sonny would not have been so motivated if he accepted Kilmer as an equal.