Straight No Chaser: A Piece Of The Rock

By Desi Cortez
Updated: December 30, 2008

DENVER — Needles Highway, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake.

If you ever venture to Mount Rushmore — that’s South Dakota for my geographically and or historically challenged peers — make sure you see these sites also because without them in your family road-trip mix.

The mountain itself is not enough. Too small, and I don’t supersize anything, nor am I from Texas. It seems incomplete, in need of updating. It’s as if Disneyland was never updated since it’s grand opening in 1955.

Perhaps the Black cat moving into the White House, his hard work and smart moves will earn him consideration as the new guy on the rock.

Speaking of Rush — as in yards, not rednecks, — I understand there’s a group of real estate investors who are, let’s say….in search of a rock formation which can be chiseled into another Mount Rushmore.

But this time, the recognition stems from who rushed for more yards, in a more prolific manner in the history of the NFL. This my friend is a complicated matter which creates a real debate concerning who’ll be carved into eternity ……

If this were about cool handles, The Galloping Ghost, Red Grange would be first. I love that name, but, I can’t help but see right through the Ghost’s work. His feats, like the late great Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, have an asterisk eternally attached to them, based on American apartheid.

These legends dominated in a time and place where, obviously the best talents were forbidden from participating. I can’t possibly believe Grange, or any of the great backs of that era…could sprint, runaway from Black linebackers and defensive backs.

I just don’t believe it.

Who’s to say if Grange could have even made the backfield if Black men were allowed to strap on a helmet? Woody Strode, The Jackie Robinson or Woody Lewis might be regarded as the great running backs of the late 1930’s and 40’s, if….

What if Jack Johnson could have played football? What about Joe Louis? The Brown Bomber might have been the greatest Quarterback from say 1936 to 1950? Who’s to say? Jesse Owens might have been the greatest tailback to play, if…..

Bobby Layne, Otto Graham, Frank Gifford, Alan Ameche, guys like this…. may have sat the pine behind some Black boy from Mississippi or Texas, if.

Interestingly, you could ask; Might Frederick Douglass have been one of this country’s greatest Presidents …if America was truly a land of freedom and equality?

I’d argue Frederick Douglass had the rare combination of ….everything. A self made -man, taught himself to read, Afro-America’s first real voice. Go Google Douglass’s quotes.

Hell, most NCAA athletes have to read over his thoughts at least three times just to absorb the deepness of his heaviness.

Nonetheless, working with what we have — Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson — head up my dirty dozen or so to pick from. I ‘ve concluded these are the four who left the greatest footprints.

The first two are a given. Brown because of his speed, power, the getting up slowly…all the time, in order to rest, to confuse his foe, who could never guess when he was jus’ movin’ slow, or actually wounded – gridiron rope-a-dope…..

Yet, he never missed a game in nine seasons. Never ran out of bounds.

Brown is one of the cornerstones of Black manhood which is exemplified though sports. Machismo personified.

The embodiment of “uppity Nigger and damn proud of it.”

A gladiator with a keen brain. Brown and Ali are your “thinking man’s champions.” Not to mention they understood their role away from sports. They understood they had a role.

Walter was chip off the brown rock, No. 34 delivered the blow, punished would be tacklers, made safetys pay for tackling him,had that little shuffle and had no conception of the term “go down easy”.

Could run, throw, catch, kick, block…won the 1973 Soul Train Dance Contest and graduated in 3 years from Jackson State. They don’t make them like that any more….They can’t.

Barry did his work in Detroit. It was then, what it is now, horrific, sad, pathetic. And Sanders, like Payton, did most of his work as a one-man-band….. the defense had a spotlight on these two.

Had Barry a team around him….. And never forget – Barry walked the blank away. Who knows what he could have done over the next 3 to 5 years?

E.D. scared defenses much more than Emmitt. Great size, straight line runner, full abilities never fully tapped. And recall at SMU, he had to share time with…Craig James, a Great White Hope who wilted in New England..

Gale Sayers, in my humble o-pine should be next, tied for 4th – one of the four cornerstones, based on the phenomenal element of his game. Bill Cosby claims to have seen “Black Magic” split in halves…..

Maybe the Kansas Comet should have, like the Sioux War Chief Crazy Horse, warrant his own separate monument. And there’s something about Sayers which resembles the pride I feel emanate from the gigantic sculpture.

It could be that pride has something to do with the Sioux people refusal to accept any financial assistance from the government in carving out their huge monument to a true hero.

They don’t want to tarnish their efforts by letting the guy who’s corralled them onto “Reservations” now try to pacify and placate, paint a pretty picture, an happy ending to a extremely screwed up situation.

Anyway, think – you compare Sanders to Sayers, not the other way around. And you think of General George A. Custer as an American hero, when really it’s Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse who are the good guys.

The Bus, and everybody’s favorite Curtis Martin, rank 4th and 5th in total yards. But in spite of their numbers, I’m going to erase them from the top ten and next go with Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen and Franco Harris.

These war horses form my second set of four. I wanted to be T.D., wore the No. 33, the towel, everything, Dorsett had the “burst” before we knew what it was, he exploded thru the hole.

Allen, if not for Al Davis’s insecurities and abuse of power, might clearly be at the top of the list. Franco was the embodiment of the rare combo of both speed and power, he could run over, thru, around and by you.

Marshall was unstoppable in open space, one of the best receiving backs ever, and truly was a coach on the field. Bettis and Martin, who amassed stupid yards…. but of course with more attempts, more games – in an era of spread defense…

Very good backs, HOF for sure, but still, can you imagine the Bus in your funk… On the goal line yes, bad weather yes, as my tailback in my heavy package yes but not ahead of E.D.

Because of the difficulty in averaging a 1st down every couple carries… Joe “The Jet” Perry, who averaged 5.0 a carry, deserves to be apart of the top ten.

Note, only J.B., Barry and the Jet maintained that standard. Perry earned a place amongst the elite with that stat alone. It can’t be slighted.

But the turned inside/outside twist in all this; you have to evaluate the impact of brothers playing in the 50’s because the game was semi-segregated.

When you see Willie Gilcrest making buffoons of lily white teams, you must call into question….could he have done some of those phenomenal feats against a team which had Black players.

Then you have to analyze; is the lack of Black players on defense off-set by the fact Gilcrest had an all white line? Receivers who could not keep up enough to lay clean down-field blocks….

Jim Brown, running sideways, doing 360’s while carrying seven White boys like…it ain’t nothin’…but a thang, and not a very big thang at that…See the web you weave when at first you plan to deceive….?

But let’s round this out; O.J. Simpson, who’s been officially white listed – his on-field feats tarnished and minimized by the findings of lily White lynch-mob juries.

Nonetheless, O.J. produced some spectacular highlight reels. He ran away from defenders, had an assortment of moves, and played on lousy-ass teams. I debate if I should not swap the Juice with Dorsett or Faulk, nevertheless O.J. caps my Top Ten.

Earl Campbell who redefined the term Big Back scared folks more than the bus, and he had a gear or two the bus didn’t. At 230, he could run over the end, turn the corner and out-run the corner.

He’d the heart of Walter and Brown. With that I award the Tyler Rose with honorable status, first man off the bench….And his Earl Campbell Hot Links are the bomb.

I weigh heavily on two prime factors, yards per tote and yards per game. The thousand yard season is now a joke, you can do that averaging what… 70 yards a game?

And, if we’re talking about the greatest backs of all times, then it’s more than the total yards, because Smith, the yardage leader, is by no stretch-of-the- imagination, even if you’re on LSD and Quaalude – the “most complete” nor most flamboyant back of the bunch.

I also have to consider the way a player changed the game, and Smith was merely another “pony back.” Emmitt is a testament to masseuses, chiropractors, hot tubs, a loaded-for-bear- offense and a global PR machine called Jerry Jones.

Altering the landscape is significant. If Obama can actually change the American landscape, alter the public discourse, break the strangle-hold the landlords have over the landless, illustrate to the world that we can live up to the high standards we claim this nation is constructed on, if this man, who would be king-of-the-world can change the way the world looks at the US, then I believe we can make the claim Mt. Rushmore will be in need updating.

Altering the landscape ? Adrian Peterson is the only current back who has the ability to…change the game, and maybe one day have his likeness blasted onto the face of the New Mt. Rushmore. Much more so then Reggie Bush.

Bush can hope to, at best, be one day compared to Global Thurman Thomas, but I doubt it. And I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Warrick Dunn; Had Dunn gone to a team where he could have shined….

I believe, in his prime, Dunn possessed Barry like tools, and would hurt you less on -2 yard runs… So there you have it, my sports bar argument for the greatest backs of all-time.

Hey, you gotta add Elvis Peacock and I.M. Hipp if were talking bout’ names…