Football's life preserver

Posted Dec. 28, 2011 @ 10:20 p.m.
Posted By Tom Danyluk

You wonder how much of a career hit Bears GM Jerry Angelo is going to take for not having a functional No. 2 ready to go at quarterback. All indicators say he blew it. A flaming zeppelin of a screw-up, as his 7-3 contender collapses to 7-8. You mean Caleb Hanie was out there every day flinging it in practice and nobody in that Chicagoland realized he couldn't play? That's a preparation issue. Cutler goes down, then cringe as Hanie's 41.8 passer rating comes to life. That's a Preparation H issue.



One of the all-time, do-something-with-nothing backups was Mike Kruczek, who took over for a damaged Terry Bradshaw in the fall of '76. He won six games for the Steelers that season with as much pizzazz as a tire store. But there's that keynote word again — functional.

"Kruczek was a rookie, and he was basically programmed by (head coach Chuck) Noll to not get the defense in trouble, Steelers VP Art Rooney, Jr. says. "No turnovers! We only scored a few points in each of the games he played, but Kruczek did what Noll wanted.

"But that was also part of Kruczek's problem — he was way too mechanical. Defenses could lock onto him. I'm not sure he would've gotten much better had we kept him around."

The following year they went with Cliff Stoudt as their fifth-round draft choice. Stoudt had just blown out all of Ron Jaworski's Youngstown State records, and for a while the inside whispering was that the Steelers had found themselves a fine little steal.

"They can't sign enough quarterbacks," was Bradshaw's deadpan delivery that spring.

"The coaches fell in love with the guy," Rooney says. "Stoudt had a great arm, but I never thought he had the touch or the accuracy.

"I remember seeing Paul Zimmerman from Sports Illustrated before our '83 playoff against the Raiders. Bradshaw was hurt and Stoudt was going to start the game. Zimmerman said, 'You know, Art, Stoudt is the worst quarterback in football.' The worst part of it was I agreed with him. Stoudt was terrible, although I couldn't admit it to Zimmerman since I was the Steelers' personnel guy.

"I think we'd have been better off keeping Kruczek over Stoudt."



The Great Cliche of 2011 — "back-shoulder throw." Enough! Genug! Basta! I'm sick of it. And besides, nobody gives a damn bit of attention to the back-ankle throw, which cost poor Tyler Palko his career in Kansas City.



NFL Network talker Jamie Dukes is the narrator of a dour new documentary about post-NFL brain damage called Bell-Rung. Just curious if he sat down and cleared that role with his network bosses. I'm curious because the producer of the film, former Packer Dorsey Levens, and three other retirees have filed a heavy-duty lawsuit against the league over the concussion issue. A touchy line Sir Dukes is crossing here.



Watching Denver getting smashed in back-to-back games reminded me of an old line from Pittsburgh Press wordsmith Gene Collier. This was back when Mike Gottfried was coaching Pitt and his club had just been jackhammered by Notre Dame (45-7) and Miami (24-3) on consecutive weeks, and somebody in press row asked Gottfried to break down the differences between those two very distinguished killers.

Collier had some fun with it. "That's like asking road kill to explain the difference between the front axle and the rear axle."



A guy in a sub shop offered me this moola-making tip the other day. "Always play the $10 and $20 scratch-offs if you're playing," he said, pointing at the machine. "You play those $1 and $2 and $3 tickets, you're just throwing your money away." Got it. Yes, thank you much, Mr. Vanderbilt.

Here's one wager I will take — that Cam Newton sprints away with league MVP in 2012. All the Brady/Brees/Rodgers/Tebow confetti has drowned out one of the wondrous rookie performances of all days. A born pro. Prodigy ain't too strong a word here. He'll get the interception thing straightened out (21 thus far). Makes me think of the line Victor Borge once had for piano man Amadeus.

"In my dreams of heaven," he said, "I always see the great masters gathered in a huge hall in which they all reside. Only Mozart has his own suite."

I can see Newton someday picking out the carpeting … arranging the tapestries.


Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at You can contact Tom at