The Cold, Hard Football Facts have never worshiped at the altar of the sacred cows of the game. Turns out, even sacred Hogs merit another look from time to time.
Consider the case of New England's Hall of Fame lineman John "Hog" Hannah. He is one of the great legends in football history and one of the heroes of a certain young boy in New England who played guard for his high school football team. As an offensive lineman in the 1970s and 80s, Hannah was a player without peer.
But as an ex-player, his legend has suffered immeasurably as he's devolved into the stereotype of the bitter ex-player. Even today, reporters call on him when they need the point of view of the disgruntled old-timer. And Hannah's verbal assault on one of his former teammates over the years, quarterback Tony Eason, has been something close to unprecedented in NFL circles.
We think we finally know why Hannah has chosen this tack in his retirement years: we think he's endeavoured to deflect attention from his own embarrassing performance against Chicago in Super Bowl XX.
The 46-10 Bears victory remains etched in the minds of the pigskin public as one of the most thorough beatings in NFL history ... and it might have been the worst performance in Hannah's otherwise brilliant career, as you'll see in the video below.
Hog Hannah, the Legend
Hannah played his college ball for no less an icon than Bear Bryant – a coach considered by many the greatest in football history. The Crimson Tide went 21-3 over Hannah's last two seasons (1971-72), during which the lineman was named All America each year.
His dominance in the trenches was a key reason behind the success of the run-oriented wishbone offense that the Crimson Tide unleashed upon the unsuspecting SEC, with spectacular success, in 1971.
Hannah was grabbed by the Patriots with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1973 NFL draft. He did not disappoint. Hannah was the best blocker on some of the best teams in franchise history and best running attacks in pro football history.
The 1976 Patriots, for example, went 11-3, handed the eventual Super Bowl champion Raiders their only loss – a crushing 48-17 defeat in an otherwise unblemished season for Oakland – and were the best team in New England history before the 21st century.
The 1978 Patriots, meanwhile, still hold the NFL record for rushing yards in a single season (3,165). They fielded four ball carriers who rushed for more than 500 yards (including QB Steve Grogan) and scored 30 TDs on the ground – all a credit to Hannah's dominance in the trenches.
In 1981, Hannah was famously declared "the best offensive lineman of all time" in a Sports Illustrated cover story. In 1991, he became the first person to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a lifelong Patriots player. And in 1994, he was one of just three offensive guards selected a member of the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team
It's an amazing resume by one of the great performers in the history of the game.
Hog Hannah, the disgruntled ex-player
But Hannah's post-playing career has not been as impressive. Instead of upholding himself as one of the dignified Grand Old Masters of pigskin past, he's devolved in the caricature of a crusty, bitter old ex-player – demeaning his own legacy in the process.
Specifically, Hannah falls into the tired old trap of bitching about the quality of football as it's played today. In fact, reporters these days know that they can turn to Hannah when they need someone to criticize the contemporary game.
Hog did not disappoint. "The physical nature of the game has changed," he said, according to the Boston Herald report
. "These guys are bigger and faster than we were, but the violence of the game is less. That's what football was about - high-speed collisions. Would offensive linemen today be able to block if they couldn't use their hands the way they let them (now) and if they were getting head slapped the way Deacon Jones used to do it right over your ear hole until your eyes watered? That was every play. Now it's illegal. Different game."
(It was this article from the Herald, with another curmudgeonly review from Hannah, that prompted us to re-investigate this article we had been kicking around for quite some time.)
Maybe Hannah's right. Maybe the game was "tougher" back in the day. But the act falls on deaf ears. In fact, we've heard quotes like that before. How about this one?
"In my time, we never wasted time tackling the dummy. Our workouts stressed live tackling, man against man in the open field. This is what made us real tacklers. There was none of this pawing and tagging you see so frequently today ... I used to lose four or five pounds in scrimmage. Game days seemed like a vacation to us."
That quote came from football legend Pudge Heffelfinger in his biography "This Was Football
" – the book was published in 1954.
Hannah vs. Eason
Hannah, as the Heffelfinger example proves, is hardly alone on the list of crusty old-timers lamenting the sissification of the game.
But what sets Hannah apart from the run of the mill old-timers is the way he made one of his old teammates the object of his derision and ire over the years. In this case, it's former Patriots quarterback Tony Eason – a member of the famed Quarterback Class of 1983 who was drafted by New England with the No. 15 overall pick.
Eason had a fairly decent NFL career. In 1984, his first year as a fulltime starter, he was borderline brilliant, with 3,228 passing yards, an outstanding 23 TDs against just 8 INTs, a very impressive 7.7 YPA and a stellar-for-its-time 93.4 passer rating.
He struggled in 1985, but turned out a spectacular game-manager effort as the Patriots became the first team in history to win three road playoff games and reach the Super Bowl. New England's dominant ground game and special teams carried the load in those playoff games – but anytime you see a team do well in the playoffs, you almost always see the QB do well. And Eason was no exception in the 1985 postseason.
In the three playoff games before Super Bowl XX, he completed 29 of 42 passes (69.0%) for 367 yards, 8.7 YPA, 5 TD, 0 INT, and a 135.6 passer rating.
Put most simply, the Patriots – and John Hannah – would not have reached the franchise's first Super Bowl that year without Eason's virtually flawless performance in his role. But like the rest of the Patriots, Eason fell apart in Super Bowl XX against the Bears. In fact, he failed to complete a single pass (0 for 6) before being replaced by veteran Steve Grogran -- reportedly at the urging of Hannah himself.
Hannah has ruined Eason's reputation in the years since that day.
So why the one-man assault on an old teammate? What would cause a player like Hannah to turn on one of his teammates so viciously?
The video does not lie
We think the Hog dost protest too much. We think he has tried over the years to deflect criticism from the unit that most deserves this criticism for their performance in Super Bowl XX.
That unit would be Hannah and his offensive linemates – who were absolutely dreadful in that famous 46-10 defeat.
But the lingering image from that day is not Eason failing to complete a pass. The lingering image is Hannah and his mates being overrun like an Asian resort town in a tidal wave by the Bears defense. Hannah himself may have played the very worst game of his career.
But don't take our word for it. Take a look, instead, at the brutal evidence found in this video of Chicago highlights from Super Bowl XX.
show video here
At the 24 second mark:
It takes Hannah and Pete Brock every ounce of their effort to double-team William "The Refrigerator" Perry. The tandem fails, getting knocked 7 yards into the backfield (we counted) as the pocket collapsed around Eason like General Paulus's army
At the 34 second mark: Watch Hall of Famer Hannah pull left and double up left tackle Brian Holloway's man, apparently oblivious to SB XX MVP (and not HOFer) Richard Dent blowing right past him, soon followed by the rest of the Bears defense, to knock Craig James senseless so far in New England's backfield that you needed Google Earth to gauge the distance.
At the 56 second mark: Bad call, to be sure. A slow developing draw play out of the shotgun that Eason hands off to Greg Hawthorne. Dan Hampton was in the backfield so fast we swear that he was teleported there by Scotty. Hannah was nowhere to be found on the play. In fact, it appears he didn't lay a hat on anybody but his own offensive linemates Ron Wooten (No. 61) and Steve Moore (No. 67).
At the 1:26 mark: We realize this was later in Hannah's career and that he may have lost a step, but he moved so slowly on this play that barnacles attached themselves to his legs. Hannah pulls to the right, and not one but two defenders – we believe Otis Wilson and Wilbur Marshall – blow past him. Wilson disrupts the play in the backfield, and then Hannah whiffs on the hard-charging Marshall as if he were a Bob Gibson fast ball. Marshall nails Tony Collins in the backfield for a 3-yard loss – Hannah diving hopelessly at Marshall's feet, into his own backfield.
At the 1:41 mark: Great play! Hannah finally takes down Richard Dent ... but not until Dent was not 5, not 8, not 10 but 11 yards (count 'em) in the New England backfield – Hannah part of a wet-paper-bag pocket that collapsed around the helpless Eason like a rickety Jenga tower.
At the 2:08 mark: Hall-of-Famer Hannah is head up on not-Hall-of-Famer Refrigerator Perry, allowing the Bears defender to collapse the New England pocket like it was a lung suffering blunt trauma.
At the 2:14 mark: Hannah head up on Dan Hampton, overpowered like the French army in the face of the Nazis in 1940, capitulating soon after the first shot was fired, leading to another sack for the Bears Hall of Famer.
As we stated, Eason, New England's goat in the two decades since that debacle, hardly covered himself in glory that day. But, if we're being honest here, it was Hannah and his linemates who:
failed to protect the pocket (7 sacks allowed).
failed to generate any semblance of a ground game (7 total yards rushing on 11 attempts) after dominating its earlier playoff opponents.
Allowed Richard Dent to run free in the New England backfield, winning Super Bowl MVP honors in the process. Hampton and Perry seemed to spend an awful lot of time back there, too.
The Patriots could have produced a backfield of Joe Montana, Jim Brown and Gale Sayers that day, with Don Hutson and Jerry Rice spread out wide and John Mackey at tight end, and they would have been useless given the performance of the New England offensive line. (Hell, given New England's performance in Super Bowl XLII, it seems OLs that disappear in the Super Bowl is something of a Patriots tradition by now.)
Hannah must have seen the writing on the wall after his performance against the Bears: he soon retired, making Super Bowl XX the last (and probably the worst) game of his otherwise brilliant career.
He could have let Super Bowl XX pass quietly into history. Instead, Hannah targeted his anger and frustration from that day at his own teammate. And perhaps now we have a better idea of why he did so.