During the month of June, NFL Network and NFL Digital Media will be taking a look back at each of the last five decades in the National Football League. This week the focus will be on the 1960s, a time when the AFL and NFL were vying for players and prominence. Ultimately, the two leagues would merger and start what we now know as the Super Bowl, the first of which would be played between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles, California.
To put a different spin on our league-wide focus on the 1960s, I looked back at the top players from a fantasy football perspective to create the ultimate starting lineup. This 1960s lineup will be based on 1966-1969, which accounts for the Super Bowl era in this decade. Using as close to a standard scoring system as possible (minus penalties for offensive turnovers), here are the seven players and one defense that would make up the most productive starting fantasy lineup.
Some of the results might surprise you ...
Quarterback - Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings/New York Giants: A quarterback who can throw and run effectively is almost always going to be more valuable than your typical pocket-passing field general. So while Joe Namath threw for more yards (13,267)and Sonny Jurgensen recorded more touchdown passes (98), Tarkenton was the best fantasy quarterback due in large part to what he did with his feet. Between his time in the Twin Cities and the Big Apple, Tarkenton was fourth in passing yards (11,122) and third in passing scores (90) while also rushing for 1,155 yards and nine touhdowns. "Frantic Fran" was ahead of his time, both on the field and in fantasy land.
Running back - LeRoy Kelly, Cleveland Browns: How is Jim Brown not in our starting fantasy lineup? Well, he retired after the 1965 season. Kelly, who replaced Brown in the Cleveland backfield, was a fantasy star in his own right. During the Super Bowl era in the 1960s, the Morgan State product was dominant at his position. He led all running backs in rushing yards (4,402) and rushing touchdowns (51), and his competition wasn't even close. In fact, he had 385 more rushing yards than Jim Nance (2nd) and a ridiculous 22 more rushing scores than Tom Matte (2nd). Kelly, who also had 1,212 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches, would have been a top-five pick in drafts.
Running back - Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears: This should come as a surprise to no one, at least those old enough to remember "Gallopin' Gale" back in the late 1960s. The Hall of Famer made waves in the stat sheets, rushing for 3,999 yards (3rd) and 25 touchdowns (T-4th) during our four-year period. Sayers, who also added 806 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield, led the NFL in rushing yards twice (1966, 1969) during his seven years at the pro level. Nance, who would have also been a fantasy first-rounder in this era, deserves an honorable mention ... he rushed for 4,000-plus yards and scored 28 touchdowns as the top back for the Boston Patriots.
Wide receiver - Lance Alworth, San Diego Chargers: There weren't a lot of wide receivers with Alworth's statistical pedigree back in the late 1960s. Nicknamed "Bambi" because of his slender build, speed, and graceful moves on the gridiron, he led his position in receiving yards (4,708) and was second in touchdown catches (36) during our Super-Bowl era timeframe. Overall, Alworth was the league's top wide receiver in terms of receptions ('66, '68, '69), yardage ('65, '66, '68) and touchdown receptions ('64, '65, '66) three different times during his illustrious career. He finished his pro tenure with the Dallas Cowboys in 1972 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.
Wide receiver - Don Maynard, New York Jets: Maynard, who actually played one season in the Canadian Football League after being released by the New York Giants, was the first player ever to sign with the New York Titans (later the Jets) in 1960. Labeled an "NFL reject," he went on to become a statistical monster as one of the top targets for Namath in the Jets pass attack. During our timeframe, Maynard finished second in receiving yards (4,509) and tied for sixth in touchdown catches (31) at his position. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in 1987, Maynard was one of only 20 players who played for the AFL during its complete 10-year existence.
Tight end - Jerry Smith, Washington Redskins: Smith was a pioneer at his position, proving that tight ends could be pass-catching weapons at the NFL level. During our timeframe, he recorded 2,843 yards and scored 33 touchdowns as one of the top options in the Washington offense for quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. Furthermore, Smith retired as the NFL's all-time leader in touchdowns among tight ends. Of course, Smith's on-field talents were just part of his story ... he was both a star athlete and a closeted gay man. In fact, he was profiled on NFL Network's "A Football Life". Smith would die of AIDS in October 1986, a few months after contracting the disease.
Kicker - Jim Turner, New York Jets: Turner might be best known for kicking three field goals, including a 9-yarder (the goal posts were located at the front of the end zone) when the Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. From 1966-69, he made 101 field-goal conversions (63.1 percent) while making 146 extra points. In 1968 and 1969, Turner led the league in field-goal attempts and field-goal conversions. After the AFL-NFL merger, Turner also kicked for the Denver Broncos.
Defense - Kansas City Chiefs: The 1960s had some tremendous defensive units, but fantasy football is all about scoring points. Since sacks weren't even recorded at this time, the two big categories I looked at were interceptions and turnovers. The Chiefs were prominent in both, picking off 133 passes while forcing an impressive 186 turnovers during our four-year period. This unit made plays, and plays equal points. Kansas City also finished seventh in total defense during that time.