During the three-decade drought between the Packers championships in Super Bowls II and XXXII, football fans in Green Bay used to tell a joke that went like this: How many Packer fans does it take to change a light bulb? Answer – Five. One to change it and four to talk about how much better it was to change a bulb when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers.
As Redskins fans, we can all relate. It ‘s been close to a quarter of a century since the Skins last Super Bowl and we’re still talking about building a winner the same way Coach Joe Gibbs did it back in the day.
The latest example is the drafting of Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff last week. As Dan Steinberg noted in a lengthy post on his DC Sports Bog, Hog thoughts immediately danced in the heads of fans. Could the Redskins be bringing back the good old days by drafting offensive linemen to build a team around? Even a couple of former Hogs tweeted about it.
Joe Jacoby wrote, “Building a foundation one block at a time. #hogs.” And our own Doc Walker wrote, “Redskins draft a HOG.”
Funny thing about Scherff at 6’5”, 319 pounds is he’s bigger than any of those famed Hogs of the 1980’s and was drafted higher than any of them. The reality is, the Hogs were more of a happy accident than anything else. There was no real plan to use draft picks on offensive linemen to build a foundation. Take a look at the starting offensive line from Super Bowls XVII and XVIII and how they got together.
Left Tackle: Jacoby, 6’7”, 305 – undrafted free agent out of Louisville. Played 14 years, starting on four Super Bowl teams, made four Pro Bowls and should be in the Hall of Fame.
Left Guard: Russ Grimm, 6’3”, 275 – third round pick from Pittsburgh. Played 11 years, starter for three Super Bowl teams and a backup on another. Made four Pro Bowls and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Center: Jeff Bostic, 6’2”, 268 – undrafted free agent from Clemson. Signed and cut by Philadelphia. Played 14 with the Redskins. Started on four Super Bowl teams. Made one Pro Bowl.
Right Guard: Mark May, 6’6”, 295 – first round pick (20th overall) out of Pittsburgh. Played nine years with the Redskins. Started on three Super Bowl teams. Made one Pro Bowl.
Right Tackle: George Starke, 6’5”, 260 – 11th round pick out of Columbia. Played 12 years. Started on first two Super Bowl teams.
As you can see, two of the five starters went undrafted and only May went in the first round. Jacoby, maybe the only one big enough to play in today’s game, wasn’t even supposed to make the training camp roster as a rookie in 1981. Coach Gibbs , then in his first year, .assumed by his size that “Jake” was a defensive lineman. When he found out he played offensive line, Gibbs wanted to cut him because he thought he had too players at his position. Good thing he didn’t go through with that plan. Jacoby wound up playing ahead of May, who was drafted to be a left tackle and wound up at guard.
And check out the weight on Starke. Tight ends these days weigh more than 260. Speaking of tight ends, both Doc and Don Warren, who played 14 years here, were thought of as Hogs because they did so much blocking. They really weren’t built like hogs. Starke, by the way, who was the elder statesman, having been drafted a decade ahead of his line mates, gave himself the title of “Head Hog.”
The Hogs represented a shift in football thinking at the time. The Packers famed pulling guard duo of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston during the Lombardi years weighed about 245 each. You couldn’t be much bigger than that and still be quick enough to lead the power sweep. The Hogs, who were big for their time, looked like road graders clearing the way for the bruising John Riggins, who was almost as big as they were.
They ran at you until you dropped. As Steinberg notes in the Bog, the Redskins finished top five in rushing attempts five times during their decade of dominance from 1982 to ’91. It worked for that time.
Times though have changed, as Steinberg notes, only one of the last five Super Bowl winners was even top 10 in rushing attempts. Today’s game is about throwing the football. How well Scherff can pass block may greatly determine his success in the NFL.
The one thing that I find encouraging about Scherff is his athletic background. A lot of guys who are 6’5” can play basketball in high school. But Scherff also played tennis and as a sophomore played quarterback at 290 pounds. If you look at the background of the Hogs, Grimm also played quarterback in high school, Jacoby was all state in basketball – in Kentucky and Starke played basketball at Columbia when they were ranked.
There have been promising linemen who have followed in the footsteps of the Hogs in recent years. Chris Samuels made the Pro Bowl six times during his 10 years as a Redskin and Jon Janssen had a number of very good seasons. But because their teams never got past the second round of the playoffs, they’ll never be remembered with the fondness of the Hogs.
What Scherff and every Redskin fan knows is, it’s all about the hardware. Win something first. Then we can all go Hog wild.