Sunday, November 28, 2004

Forgotten men-Weeb Ewbank

If you asked 100 sportswriters to list the five most important milestones in the evolution of the NFL, I'd bet good money that all 100 would agree that two games belong on the list: the Colts's sudden death victory over the Giants for the 1958 championship and the Jets win over the Colts in Super Bowl III. Almost every football fan knows about those two games. What many do not know is that the same man coached the winning team each time.

Strange. Maybe Weeb Ewbank was just too quiet in the era of Lombardi, too self-effacing to get noticed during the let-it-all-hang-out 60s. Celebrity is about providing good copy to lazy journalists. Reputation is built on something more substantial.

Ewbank won three titles in his career. (Don Shula, Tom Landry and Bill Parcells each won two.) His team pulled off the greatest upset in Super Bowl history. He mentored two of the best QBs ever seen (Unitas and Namath) while rebuilding two horrible teams.

Coaching great QBs is a subtle art. Legendary coaches find it difficult. Don Shula could never win a title with Unitas or Marino. Chuck Noll never managed to form a true partnership with Terry Bradshaw. George Allen preferred to grind it out in 13-10 games with Billy Kilmer (life time passer rating- 71.6) rather than exploit the passing talents of Sonny Jurgensen (lifetime rating- 82.6).

Ewbanks's work with Namath is especially notable because he had figure out schemes to protect an immobile, gimpy passer while still getting receivers open. The Jets depended on Namath's arm but Joe Willie's knees were just one hit away from a season-- (or career--) ending injury. Ewbank had to adjust to his superstar; he could not coach the Jets as he had Unitas and the Colts.

Not many coaches can bend like that. Noll, after Bradshaw retired, found it difficult to adjust his offense to fit the less-gifted passers who replaced the blond bomber. For that reason alone Ewbank has to be considered a great coach. If I was an NFL assistant who aspired to be a good head coach, I'd start researching Weeb Ewbank's career, methods, and character.

Previous Forgotten Men

Jim Ryun

L. C. Greenwood

Chuck Bednarik

Harvey Haddix

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