Remembering big offensive, defensive games in NFL
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of articles by Times News writer Rich Strack. After previously writing about the “Greatest Games” and “Greatest Comebacks” in sports history, Strack will now give his thoughts on the “Greatest Individual Performances.” Today’s topic is Major League Baseball.)
By Rich Strack
Almost every sport, from the professional and college ranks down to high school and youth leagues has recently seen their season suspended or canceled.
With the process of starting up sports again still in its infancy, there remains a void for the athletes and fans alike.
If you’re like me, with many years of devotion to athletic competition, some of the greatest events from the past are still being played in your memory rewind.
So sit back and let me distract you from public concerns for just a moment with Part 2 of a series on the “Greatest Individual Performances” that will remain forever in my personal Hall of Fame.
Today I give you three of the best single-game NFL player performances of my lifetime.
December 10, 1995
Glyn Milburn, Broncos
He stood just 5-8, and weighed 177 pounds. But one day in Seattle, he was a giant among men nearly twice his size.
The Denver Broncos’ Glyn Milburn holds the NFL record for most all-purpose yards with 404 in a single game. His Broncos lost 31-27 to the Seahawks that day, a day where Milburn was originally only expected to be Denver’s kick and punt returner.
“Terrell Davis was injured late in the first quarter, and I was inserted into the game,” Milburn said at the time. “I had no idea that I would run for 130 yards and set an NFL record that had stood for 34 years. The Hall of Fame requested my uniform and shoes from that game, which was a huge honor.”
Millburn rushed for 131 yards on 18 carries, and caught five passes for 45 yards. He returned five punts for 95 yards, and ran for another 133 yards on five kick returns.
Despite all those yards, Milburn did not score a single touchdown. His record, however is likely to stand for many more years because most teams today don’t have an individual player who lines up in the backfield, and also returns punts and kickoffs.
November 18, 2012
Matt Schaub, Texans
You’ll never hear Matt Schaub’s name come up in conversation with the likes of Joe Montana and Dan Marino, but in one game on a Sunday in mid-November, 2012, Schaub played like a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Consider his numbers: Schaub completed 43 passes in 55 attempts for 527 yards and five touchdowns. His longest completion was 48 yards.
Schaub’s performance also produced a comeback victory for the Houston Texans, who trailed 34-20 with 12 minutes left in the game.
That’s when Schaub led the comeback, as he completed 16 consecutive passes in the final five and half minutes, including two touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Graham that tied the game and forced overtime.
In OT, Schaub tossed a screen pass to Andre Johnson, who sprinted 48 yards for a touchdown and the Texans’ 43-37 win.
The Jacksonville Jaguars couldn’t cover Johnson all day as he caught 14 passes for 273 yards - more than half of Schaub’s total passing yards.
Schaub’s 527 passing yards tied Warren Moon for second place behind Norm Van Brocklin, who threw for 554 yards in 1951.
Schaub does hold one NFL record by himself. A year after his amazing game against Jacksonville, he threw a pick six against San Francisco, marking the fourth straight game he had thrown an interception returned for a touchdown.
November 27, 1988
Lawrence Taylor, Giants
Arguably the greatest defensive player to ever play the game, the New York Giant’s Lawrence Taylor dominated the New Orleans Saints while playing with torn shoulder ligaments and a detached pectoral muscle.
Giants’ quarterback Phil Simms was out with an injury, and after backup Jeff Hostetler connected with Stephen Bayer on a long first-quarter touchdown pass, New York would not score another TD.
But Taylor, who had been on a drug suspension for four games, literally willed New York to a 13-12 victory over the Saints. He registered 10 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. In between series, he had his shoulder harness adjusted. His performance was so dominating that NY coach Bill Parcells, who rarely praised players, called LT, “Superman” after the game.
“He played with severe pain and with no regard for his own body,” said Parcells.
When Taylor, who totaled 142 sacks in his career, was told he might not be able to have full use of his arm for the next game, he said, “Hell, I might have to shorten my backswing.”
A special-teams player, an unheralded quarterback, and an injured defensive end proved that on any given Sunday, a football game can be dominated by a least likely player.
Although Milburn was a phenomenal punt and kick returner, he was forced to play running back and gained 133 yards. That, coupled with the fact that his size was more suitable to be an accountant than that of an NFL football player, and it makes his feat even more impressive.
Schaub has pretty much had an indistinguishable career, but on that day against the Jaguars, he played with near perfection. His 43 completions were two short of a record, while his 527 yards is tied for best in the NFL modern era.
Taylor’s game of 10 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles would have been incredible if he was healthy, but to perform like he did with torn ligaments and a detached muscle can only be described as super human.
A little man plays big. An average quarterback puts up HOF numbers, and a defensive end plays with injuries that would sideline most players. In a physical game where 22 men are on the field for every play, for these three athletes to keep coming up with game-changing plays was a remarkable feat.
Their outstanding performances make me wonder: Before the opening kickoff of their games, did they have a feeling they were going to play the best games of their careers?
Great competitors will say they always feel that today’s the day they’ll play their best, but there must be something more, something inexplicable that lifts one player’s performance over the others and when the game is done, even they have to think, “Wow, how did I do that?”