Alworth named to NFL All-Century team....but you almost wouldn't know it

I know we all get tired of the “Everyone’s against Arkansas” type posts. I don’t necessarily agree that is the case, though I do believe certain programs get more than their share of “breaks” and promotion…and Arkansas is not one of them.

So this isn’t about Arkansas as much as it is about one of it’s favorite sons - Lance Alworth. Yes, I know Lance grew up in Mississippi, but he played at Arkansas and for that, I will always consider him an Arkansan.

The “good news” is that Lance was, as he clearly should have been, included in the just-named group of WR named to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time team. I thought he would be, but had steeled myself in case he was snubbed in favor of one of the more recent guys who had accumulated gaudier stats in this pass-crazy era of the game. Fortunately, that did not happen.

What I was surprised and disappointed by was how his inclusion was treated on the official announcement show on the NFL Network.

For those of you who haven’t watched any of these introduction shows (they have had one a week for each of the last several weeks, for each position group - QB is the last one, airing next week), Rich Eisen hosts the show, along with Chris Collingsworth and Bill Belichick. They always start by introducing one or two of the no-brainer, top of the list studs (I.e., Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith at RB) and having a group “love-fest” type conversation with the panel for a few minutes. Then, they move along to the other members of the group being named, and Collingsworth and Belichick wax on about how they followed these guys growing up, and/or played/coached against them, etc. Consistently, all of the comments are glowing compliments.

For the WR show, the two “studs” they brought out were Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. No issue with either.

After the 10 minute slobber-fest over them, the first “other” WR named was Lance. Eisen introduced him by saying “they called him ‘Bambi’”, which was great. But then, Collingsworth made some comments that were back-handed compliments, at best. Paraphrasing, he said something like “You know, we watch films on all of these guys, but when it comes to Alworth I really don’t know what to say. I never see him running routes, so I don’t know if he was a good route runner. I can’t see if he has good speed or not, because in every picture, he’s almost by himself in the open. I guess that mean’s he was pretty good.”

I was stunned. Collingsworth has always been, IMO, one of the better analysts on NFL broadcasts. He strikes me as a guy who does his homework. And he’s not a “kid” - he’s 60 years old. As a former WR himself, how could he NOT know a lot more about Alworth than that? It doesn’t take much research at all to find out how athletic, fast and competitive he was.

Even more puzzling to me was that Belichick - who blathered on about just about everyone who has been named to the team, regardless of position, had NOTHING at all to add about Alworth. Belichick is my age (actually, he’s a year older), so I KNOW he has to remember Alworth’s greatness. Especially as much of a sports nerd as he was growing up (based on his comments about others). Hell, he had comments about Elroy “Crazy legs” Hirsch, for Pete’s sake! But nothing about THE greatest WR of the 1960’s, Bill’s formative (teenage) years??

I’m aware that the show I watched was undoubtedly edited, so Bill may have said some things that were edited out. But I watched the show only to see and hear the comments the “greats” made about Lance, and was sorely disappointed. Other than the fact that he WAS on the team, there was basically no praising of him or recognition of his special talents. He probably got 30 seconds - total - of recognition/discussion. Several others got 3-4 minutes.

They also have a “reaction” show immediately after the show where each group is announced, with various ex-players commenting. This one had Deion Sanders and HOF WR Steve Largent, himself a member of the NFL 100 team. I didn’t expect much from Deion, and I was not disappointed. However, Largent is also my age (a year younger) and as a young WR growing up in the 1960’s, you KNOW he had to have followed Alworth as a fan and role model. Yet, not a single word in the recap show was made about Lance.

I do not think it is a “conspiracy”…but it was a massive oversight. It’s a shame that the current generation has no idea just how massively talented Lance was.

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He played for Arkansas and San Diego…before TV was a sports info medium, and was not a self promoter. Those guys still should have known, but I’m not all that surprised. Like you, disappointed though.

I wonder if there’s some bias since he was a first round NFL draft choice and he turned them down to play for San Diego in the, then fledgling, AFL?

They certainly should have recognized the record that he holds in the Hall of Fame! He was the first player elected to the NFL Hall of Fame that played most of his games in the old AFL. He played just 3 years after the merger. 1 year with San Diego and 2 years with Dallas. He will hold that record forever. The panel members are idiots if they didn’t recognize that achievement. That record pretty much says he was the consensus greatest player in the AFL.

I suspect that the problem is a combination of when and where he played. I doubt that many of his games were broadcast where those analysts could watch.

First off - Merry Christmas Marty!

As for seeing him, the AFL in those days did not broadcast regionally as the NFL already did then (I ALWAYS got the Dallas Cowboys game in El Paso, even in the early 60’s). The AFL was more like NCAA football in those days, with a game (sometimes two) broadcast to the entire country by NBC each Sunday.

My point is, while they wouldn’t have seen him every week (as we are all used to seeing these days), they would have seen as many SD games wherever they were as I did in El Paso, and I saw several. Enough that I clearly remember seeing him play at least 10-15 times over the AFL years, before he went to Dallas late in his career.

I just don’t believe that neither Collinsworth, Belichick nor Largent saw enough of Alworth on TV to have a much better formed opinion of him that was broadcast on that show.

What almost certainly is going on here is that the folks editing the show know that their audience today is much more interested and familiar with the more recent guys than the older ones. I get that, and don’t blame them - to a reasonable degree. Some of the guys got 5-8 minutes of discussion/comment. I’d have been fine with 2 or 2 1/2 on Bambi, and he certainly deserves it. He got 30-40 seconds - least of anyone.

Of the 10 WR on that mythical team, 3 are older (played before Lance) - Hirsch, Raymond Berry and Don Hutson. ALL received commentary from Belichick…and I know he didn’t see any more of 2 of them on TV than he did Alworth. Berry was his hometown (Baltimore) hero as a kid, so I get that one. But Collinsworth wouldn’t have seen any of those 3 either.

And while I do understand skewing the show toward players younger folks are familiar with, I’d argue that of those 4, a 30 year old today would probably recognize Alworth’s name as much or more than any of them if for no other reason than that his retro jersey (San Diego) is one of the most popular of all older jerseys.

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Crazy how different Lance’s play at the U of A was in different positions than in the Pros. I always wondered why the U of A coaches did not realize Lance’s deceptive receiving abilities and play him in those positions. Nope.

At least the Pro scouts saw his ability to shift, outrun defenders and run routes properly. Getting WIDE open proves how good he was. Some defenders were “laying on the ground” after his shifting antics were over. I often wonder what the stats were for Alworth for (1) yards per catch and (2) catches per game and (3) how he stood in the rankings for AFL receivers in total passes caught and total yardage in a year. Overall, he was MISUSED at the U of A IMHO but the upper ranks of coaches in the Pros saw where he needed to be… That’s what they were paid for… scouting out the best players.

An afterthought is why Ken Hatfield was not looked at closely by the Pro scouts as to his ability to run back punts and kickoffs. One of the top 2-3 guys back in the 60s for sure and as shifty as good returners are even today. Good ole days; too bad not enough film ‘out there’ to prove it… the film would be mainly black and white and on 16mm reels. LOL

I hate to admit it but I saw him play half-back for the Razorbacks. It was an era where you didn’t get all that many touches of the ball. He caught passes out of the backfield, ran back punts and if I’m not mistaken also punted for the Hogs. He could do everything. He played for the Chargers but he also ended his career for the Cowboys, as I recall. He had great hands, great speed and he was famous for his leaps catching the ball which I think is why that called him Bambi. It also made him play taller that he was. If I was putting together an all century team, I would want him on my team…

Plus, I also saw him play center field for the Razorback in the rickety old fairgrounds ballpark that used to be located on the corner of 6th st. and Razorback Road. Baseball, of course, was just a way to spend time when you weren’t involved with football in those days. But…I believe he could have been a spectacular center fielder in the major leagues.

To be honest, Alworth would have gotten fewer touches at split end at Arkansas than at tailback. The team just did not pass much in his time with the Razorbacks. Hayden Fry was hired in 61 with the specific task of getting the ball to Alworth in more ways. There were a few more passes to him out of the backfield. But the offense just was not geared to throw. The best way that offense had to get him the ball was on pitches or handoffs. He would have been targeted 4-6 times a game at end. And prob only 3-4 really solid chances to get the ball to him.

If you go back and watch college football in 1959-61, it was run, run and more runs. Pass blocking was much tougher. The college rules did not allow blockers to use their hands at all.

Yes. Lance punted and returned punts at Arkansas.

Trivia question: who was the National high school player of the year (as a running back) who arrived at Arkansas in the same class as Alworth?

Jim Mooty?

Paul Dudley or joe Paul Alberty

The answer is Bruce Fullerton from Little Rock Central. He did not stay long. He was a great talent but was not interested in practice.

The story goes that he did not scrimmage much under Wilson Matthews as a high school player. He started as a sophomore at Central. The team was so good that he rarely had to play more than one half in high school. He was on the teams that won 33 straight games.