Five for the Ages
After being distracted by my own fantasy nightmares, it’s time to reveal the five most important fantasy teams of all-time. We’ll count backwards to build the drama.
5. 2007 New England Patriots
Record: 16-0, lost Super Bowl XLII
Points Scored: 589 (NFL record)
Fantasy Studs: Tom Brady (4,806 yards, 50 TDs, eight INTs), Randy Moss (98 catches, 1,493 yards, 23 TDs), Wes Welker (112 catches, 1,175 yards, eight TDs)
Key Belichickian Moments of the Season
- Following their 38-7 win over the Jets, the Patriots were fined by the league for videotaping New York’s defensive signals. Jet head coach Eric Mangini blew the whistle on his mentor, Bill Belichick, not only uncovering a scandal but distracting the nation from one of the storylines in the game — that his team stunk.
- In a showdown of 5-0 teams, the Pats pasted the Cowboys 48-27. Brady’s five touchdown passes propelled New England to a 41-27 lead. Feeling that a 14-point lead wasn’t safe with less than 30 seconds left, reserve fullback Kyle Eckel scored from one yard out to cap the scoring.
- With Miami trailing at home 42-14, Belichick pulled Brady at the start of the fourth quarter so he could give Matt Cassel some game reps. In his first series, Cassel threw an interception, which was returned for a touchdown. Upset at the back-up quarterback’s performance, Belichick put Brady back in for the following series which culminated with Tom Terrific’s sixth touchdown pass of the afternoon in a 49-28 victory.
- In the season’s most hyped regular season contest, the Patriots faced a critical third and six from the Indy 42 up 24-20. Brady completed a 10-yard pass to Welker, who after making the reception proceeded to tell the defensive back covering him that he !$#&#*% sucked. What a sweetheart.
- Oh yeah, they went 16-0 and set copious amounts of NFL records.
- After their 56-10 drubbing over Buffalo, the Pat offense stalled once the weather got colder which led to the defining fantasy moment of the season for many Brady and Moss owners. Freezing conditions and heavy winds in Foxborough slowed down the Pat offense in a 20-10 victory over the Jets in Week 15. Brady did not throw a touchdown pass for the only time during the season. While Moss was held without a score, prompting Brady and Moss owners to go into shock.
- In their greatest hour of need in February, they failed, thus giving another year of airtime to loud-mouthed Mercury Morris, Don Shula and the rest of the terminally bitter ’72 Dolphins.
Summary: Perhaps this is an example of what happens when bad karma takes hold. A win over the Giants in the Super Bowl would have landed them at best the number two spot. Yet, due to the Week 15 debacle and the potential one year phenomenon factor due to Brady’s injury, the ’07 Pats start the countdown at No. 5.
4. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Record: 15-1, lost NFC Title Game
Points Scored: 556 (at the time an NFL record)
Fantasy Studs: Randall Cunningham (3,704 yards, 34 TDs, 10 INTs), Robert Smith (1,187 yards rushing, eight total TDs), Leroy Hoard (479 yards rushing, 10 TDs), Randy Moss (69 catches, 1,313 yards, 17 TDs) Cris Carter (78 catches, 1,011 yards, 12 TDs)
Top Superfreakian Moments of the Season:
- Quarterback Brad Johnson broke his leg in Week Two versus the Rams, which led to Cunningham stepping in and helping the Vikings destroy team and league records.
- Dubbed the “Superfreak,” Moss slaughtered cornerbacks in his rookie season. His first high profile victim proved to be the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. In his first trip to Lambeau Field, Moss caught five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
- Thanksgiving Day in Dallas saw Cunningham throw for 359 yards and four touchdowns including three to Moss, who racked up 163 yards receiving on three catches.
- Gary Anderson received 35 field goal opportunities during the regular season. Since the offense’s passing game typically was built on the home run ball to Moss, they weren’t great at manufacturing touchdowns with long drives via the running game. Hence, Anderson got his fair share of opportunities. He hit on all of them in 1998. Well, there was that minor issue in the NFC title game. Whoops.
Summary: The Vikings fielded one of the best receiving trios in league history (Moss, Carter and Jake Reed) and possessed a respectable running game with the steady Robert Smith. It’s interesting that Moss played on the two highest scoring teams in league history but still failed to win a Super Bowl so far. However, his arrival on the NFL scene allowed Minnesota to become one of the league’s most potent offenses over the next six seasons and become a whipping boy for Joe Buck.
3. 1990 Buffalo Bills
Record: 13-3, lost Super Bowl XXV, wide right.
Points Scored: 428
Fantasy Studs: Jim Kelly (2,829 yards, 24 TDs, nine INTs), Thurman Thomas (1,297 yards rushing, 49 catches, 532 yards receiving, 13 total TDs), Andre Reed (945 yards receiving, eight TDs)
Top Levyian Moments of the Season:
- Due to inclement conditions often present in Buffalo, the Bills leaned on the running game quite often. This was on display in Week 11 when they defeated New England 14-0. Thomas ran for 165 yards and two scores including an 80-yard touchdown.
- The blitz-happy Eagles were torched by the Bills in the first half and fell behind 24-0. Kelly threw for 334 yards and three scores while James Lofton caught five balls 174 yards and a touchdown as Buffalo went on to win 30-23. Not bad for the team’s number two receiver.
- Buffalo was at its best during its two post-season dates, outscoring Miami 44-34 in the snow and then crucifying the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship game. In both games, Kelly had at least 300 yards passing, Thomas ran for 100 yards and Lofton went over 100 yards receiving. That trio was a menace.
- Playing in Buffalo isn’t necessarily conducive to putting up points, but the Bills still managed to be one of the best offenses of all-time.
- I’m not a fan of the no-huddle attack. The Bills’ offensive possessions were so short that it kept the defense on the field way too long. No further proof is needed of that than watching Super Bowls XXV and XXVIII when Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett looked like they were going to keel over during the second half.
- Scott Norwood, blah, blah, blah. We know. I’m going with a different angle with the Super Bowl XXV loss. How about the Bills’ defense in that game? They allowed the Giants’ back-up quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, to continuously convert third downs, got ran over by senior citizen running back, O.J. Anderson, and allowed the Giants to keep the ball for over 40 minutes.
Summary: This was the start of Buffalo’s run to four straight Super Bowls and while this may not have been the best Bills’ offense statistically, it was their best of the four Super Bowl teams. Soon, opponents caught on and the Bills laboured each season to get to the big game. They get extra brownie points for having Hall of Famers at quarterback, running back, receiver and head coach. Plus, the no-huddle offense was revolutionary, albeit, a bit of a copycat job by the Bills, as we’ve discussed in the past.
2. 1981 San Diego Chargers
Record: 10-6, lost in the AFC title game
Points Scored: 478
Fantasy Studs: Dan Fouts (4,802 yards, 33 TDs, 17 INTs), Chuck Muncie (1,144 yards rushing, 19 TDs), Kellen Winslow (88 catches, 1,075 yards, 10 TDs), Charlie Joiner (1,188 yards, seven TDs)
Top Coryellian Moments of the Season:
- After being ousted from the playoffs at home the previous two seasons, head coach Don Coryell and the Chargers put the league on notice by beating down the Browns 44-14 on the road. Fouts tossed three touchdowns and threw for 330 yards; while Muncie ran for 161 yards and a touchdown.
- As a part of Fouts’ 295-yard, six-touchdown performance in a 55-21 win over the Raiders, Winslow caught 13 passes for 144 yards and five touchdowns. That doesn’t quite make up for losing the ’80 AFC title game to the Raiders, but it was a good start.
- In the fabled AFC Divisional playoff game at Miami, Fouts riddled the Miami defense for 433 yards and three touchdowns. Three receivers (Winslow, Joiner and Wes Chandler) all went over 100 yards receiving. Meanwhile, Muncie rumbled for 120 yards and a touchdown. Nothing like 572 yards to cleanse the soul.
- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Chargers turned over the ball 40 times during the season and that put them in bad spots occasionally.
- Their offense was somewhat aided by the defense being so atrocious. Defensively, they ranked second to last in yardage allowed and 26th in points allowed.
Summary: This is the offense that got the passing party started in my opinion. When the league changed the rules to help the passing game in the late ’70s, two of the primary beneficiaries were the Steelers (who won two more Super Bowls with a pair of Hall of Fame receivers) and the Chargers, who possessed an army of weapons. Coryell’s high-flying offense helped inspire a young fellow by name of Mike Martz, who served as the offensive coordinator for our choice at number one.
1. 1999 St. Louis Rams
Record: 13-3, won Super Bowl XXXIV
Points Scored: 526
Fantasy Studs: Kurt Warner (4,353 yards, 41 TDs, 13 INTS), Marshall Faulk (1,381 yards rushing, 87 receptions, 1,048 yards receiving, 12 total TDs), Isaac Bruce (1,165 yards, 12 TDs), Az Hakim (677 yards, eight TDs), Torry Holt (788 yards, six TDs)
Top Vermeilian Moments of the Season:
- Charger safety Rodney Harrison fell into quarterback Trent Green’s knee during a pre-season game, resulting in a season-ending injury to Green. Green, who had just signed a lucrative deal with the team, had to watch the Rams’ season potentially go up in smoke as a supermarket stock boy took over at quarterback.
- It was soon discovered that this Kurt Warner lad could play a little bit. He threw at least three touchdown passes in his first four starts including a five-touchdown day against St. Louis’ hated rival, San Francisco. To boot, Warner threw for 323 yards in the 42-20 victory.
- The Rams weren’t just all about Warner in ’99. Faulk, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Colts, powered the running game. He totaled over 2,000 yards in offense, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in both rushing and receiving. Take your pick from Faulk’s best work in ’99. A fan of his 18-carry, 181-yard performance against defending conference champion Atlanta? How about his 12-catch, 204-yard effort against the Bears in Week 16?
- As if that wasn’t enough, Bruce paced the receivers. Just ask the 49ers, who allowed him to catch five passes for 134 yards. Four of those receptions that afternoon were touchdowns. Ouch. Bruce served as a mentor to his understudies, the electrifying Hakim and rookie receiver Holt.
- I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Remember, they are only team on this list that actually won the Super Bowl.
- On second thought, maybe I’ll criticize their defense and special teams which combined to score 10 touchdowns. Maybe they should have scored 11? Oh well, I tried.
Summary: To illustrate just how menacing the Rams were, keep this stat in mind. From 1978 to 2001, only 11 teams averaged at least 8.5 yards per pass attempt. Three of those teams were the ’99-’01 Rams. The 2000 version averaged a league record 9.3 yards per pass, while the ’99 version averaged the lowest total of those three teams at 8.6 per attempt.
The most refreshing thing about the ’99 Rams was the consistency they brought on a weekly basis and the fact that they beat you without trying to steal your soul in the process — something that became an issue with Martz when he took over for Vermeil and, of course, in New England with the aforementioned ’07 Patriots. Sure, the ’99 Rams had an off game here or there, but they buried the competition. Also, they managed to beat teams in a variety of ways. They even managed to beat two street fighting teams, Tampa Bay and Tennessee, in consecutive weeks to win the Super Bowl.
The success of St. Louis in 1999 started the Greatest Show on Turf era as the Rams went on to dominate offensively over the next two seasons until injuries and off the field bickering with management ran Warner out of town.
Regardless, that’s an era of football that we may never see the likes of again.