What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby Ken Crippen » Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:10 pm

Rupert Patrick wrote:
TanksAndSpartans wrote:
JeffreyMiller wrote:Not a thing.


:) Just wanted to make sure it wasn't because I said something that could be taken as unflattering towards the AAFC again.


I remember back in ye olden days when the Remember the AFL guy was here, and you couldn't have any sort of discussion about anything here without him arguing that the AFL was better than the NFL, and it was annoying to the point where he was banned.


I remember receiving a call from a PFRA member back when I was E.D. (not the Remember the AFL guy). He complained that we did not publish enough AFL articles in The Coffin Corner. I looked and I think that we were on the sixth straight issue of something related to the AFL or a player from the AFL. You can't please everyone.
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby Reaser » Thu Nov 07, 2019 6:31 pm

TanksAndSpartans wrote:I don't get it. Haven't seen this much discussion in one day before - what's wrong with that?


You missed out, the forums back in the day had multiple of these threads going on the daily basis -not created by the same person asking questions which nothing wrong with that but were more actual discussions back then. And a lot more film, coach, testimonial based than stats.

Nice to have a new guy bringing up stuff again, though.

Hopefully the repeated "don't want to get into AAFC stuff" isn't directed at me since I merely explained why the league's were equal/more equal than given credit for and believe I did so respectfully and in a clear manner. There isn't some boogeyman pro-AAFC agenda at the PFRA, that gives the wrong impression. Just people that have researched it and studied more AAFC film than the average person and some pretty clear conclusions to draw from that -- i.e. the leagues were fairly equal.
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby Nashwolverine » Sun Nov 10, 2019 2:23 am

JameisLoseston wrote:

Oh my goodness, Davey O'Brien! I was going to make a thread about him soon. He's another one of my favorite historical curiosities, and he has a legitimate case to be the worst football player who ever saw significant playing time, which is sad considering how dominant he was in college. He threw a ton, but was the compiler of all compilers and did next to nothing with it; an 11-34 TD-INT is poor in any era. But his rushing is what puts him among the worst of the worst, and I know sacks were counted as negative rushing yardage before 1948 (as they still are in college), but what makes DOB so downright fascinating is that no one else ever had a season anything like his 1940. He was doing much more than just getting sacked. The 5 most similar seasons I could find are:

Tommy Thompson: 92 carries, -32 yards
Ronnie Cahill: 62 for -11
Sid Luckman: 36 for -119
Tommy Thompson: 34 for -118
Otto Graham: 30 for -125

The last three are obviously almost all sacks; no one would mistake those guys for tailbacks, although Graham did develop a bit of a running game later. Cahill was an absolutely worthless excuse for a replacement player in the war year of 1943 and never played again afterwards, but Thompson and Luckman, in particular, are excellent case studies in how the stat counting change for sacks affected rushing stats. Both were profoundly immobile, Luckman perhaps even more so than Thompson, and he had next to no rushing after the change; Thompson had about 10 carries for 20-30 yards the next few years. Assuming they had similar actual rushing stats in previous years, we can say each of them got sacked, let's say 30 times for about 150 yards, in the particular years referenced. They were probably the most immobile QBs in the league, so that's probably about as high as sack rates got; the most abjectly useless scramblers in the NFL were getting sacked no more than 30 times in their worst year, not looking good for DOB. For Cahill, that means he might have picked up over 100 yards on the 30 other carries; not bad, for him! For Thompson's 92 carry year, that means he had about 120 yards on 60 carries... that's pretty terrible, but it's Tommy Thompson.

But Davey O'Brien? If this estimation holds, he would have had approximately 70 actual rushes for NEGATIVE THIRTY YARDS. In 1940, very few running backs even had 100 carries. This guy was legitimately trying to be a primary ball carrier for his team, and was going absolutely nowhere. He left the team to work for the FBI after that ill-fated season, but I can't imagine the team wasn't glad to see him go... nor can I imagine how he managed to win one game that year. He was so colossally ineffective that he singlehandedly managed to reduce the Eagles' rushing output from reasonably close to league average, to LESS THAN ONE YARD PER CARRY. FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON.

Definitely a contender for worst player in NFL history.


I've done a lot of research around the games and stats for 1940 and while I don't have everything, I have enough to know that you are pretty much on target here. I will say this though, O'Brien was sacked A LOT. I've only got 19 logged but it totals to -153 yards and I suspect there are more. If we go by the logic and the near 30 sacks, the yardage will probably be over -200. The first game of the season is pretty well documented in the Green Bay Press Gazette against the Packers and shows that he ran for -28 yards on 10 attempts. Going through the play by play of that game, I have 4 actual rush attempts for 11 yards and 6 sacks for -39 yards. So there you go. One game down, 10 attempts out of 100 and already at -28.

The running backs on this team were terrible with Dick Riffle leading the way at 238 yards and a 2.9 avg. So O'Brien was pretty much the best chance at offense they had. He passed the ball a lot and helped Don Looney break Don Hutson's reception record that year. Then, to go along with the rushing yards anomoly you point out here, he also had that crazy passing day in his last career game, 12/1/40 against the Redskins. Attempting 60 passes and completing 33 for 316 yards is just odd for 1940 but then only scoring 6 points in that game about sums up Philadelphia's 1-10 year.
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby JameisLoseston » Sun Nov 10, 2019 6:36 am

So it sounds to me like the best estimation of O'Brien's rushing output in 1940 is something like 70 carries for between zero and one YPC. Yeah, that is absolutely execrable. Worst ball carrier of all time, undisputed. Another interesting thing I noticed about him: he was the most utterly inoffensive, anodyne passer I've ever seen, era adjusted. Which is not a good trait for, well, an offensive player. We've heard about Davey O'Brien the runner; here is Davey O'Brien the thrower.

First off, he didn't turn the ball over a ton for the time. He had 17 INTs in each of his two seasons, which led the league in 1939 and was enough to make him a liability considering his other outputs, but he also threw the ball a ton, and guys back then could get to 17 INTs in far fewer attempts than he did. His career INT percentage was 7.1, which is far better than the likes of Whizzer White (16.3), Hugh McCullough (16.1), and Johnny Gildea (18.8), none of whom ever had any business coming anywhere near throwing a football. This is what passes for good news here.

However, and this is where it gets gnarly, he also retired with a career 2.3 TD percentage, in an era where TD%s were far higher than today (all the record holders are from the 40s), and his was easily the lowest career rate of anyone qualifying until at least the 60s. His final game with 60 passes, 316 yards, and only 6 points was a microcosm of his whole career. The oldest player I could find with a lower career TD rate over enough attempts is '77 Bucs legend Gary Huff at 2.0. By the 70s, the era of Dan Pastorini, Randy Hedberg, Kim McQuilken, and their innumerable lesser known but nearly as horrible imitators, TD%s around the league were as low as they'd ever go.

He was also the first player with two straight qualifying seasons of sub-3 TD%, in an era where TD%s could exceed 10 for a good season; no one did it again until Jim Ninowski in 1960-61. His 1.8 in 1940 was not broken in a 200+ attempt season until Ninowski put up an impossibly bad 0.7 in 1960. Ninowski still managed to retire with a worlds-better 3.2 career rate. After this, as noted above, TD%s lowered leaguewide and sub-3 seasons started to be seen far more often, frequently by the notorious likes of Jack Kemp and Dan Pastorini. But in large attempt sample sizes, they were nearly unheard of in O'Brien's time.

Although he led the league in passing yards in 1939 and was second in 1940, he did not do so in any way effectively. His career yards per attempt is just 5.5, and his AY/A is a mere 2.7. These marks are about on the level of the aforementioned Huff (5.5/3.0), worse than similarly prolific 40s garbage man Bud Schwenk (5.9/3.2), and worse than Pastorini (6.1/4.4) by a mile; even God-forsaken Ryan Lindley (5.0/3.4) is comparable. The only players I could find who were unequivocally worse than him, like McQuilken (4.2/-0.3) and Rick Norton (4.8/1.6), all had fewer attempts than him, and only Dan Darragh (4.6/1.5) had a qualifying season.

His 1939 YPA of 6.6 was actually pretty okay, but his downright atrocious 4.7 in 1940 submarined his career rate dramatically. For some perspective, this is as if a modern passer threw 500 attempts for just 2,350 yards. Are we beginning to see a pattern? His 1940 season was by far the worst in NFL history. Of seasons with more than 200 attempts, only Schwenk in 1942 (4.6), Dick Wood in 1966, Darragh in 1968, Gary Marangi in 1976, and Bobby Hoying in 1998 (all 4.3) are below him, all time. And his TD rate was historically bad. AND he ran like a drunk tortoise. It's worth noting that Y/A stats have not changed much across eras; the top guy for most seasons is between 8 and 9, and the worst qualifier between 5 and 6.

So this is the complete picture of Davey O'Brien's career as a passer. He just did nothing in particular with the football whatsoever. His style of play could best be described as anesthetic. He generally threw for yardage like a high schooler, threw for points like a high schooler, and ran like a one-legged walrus, yet he was not benched for two full seasons of constant losing. He displayed absolutely no skills befitting a single wing tailback, or any sort of NFL player for that matter. And in all this I just have to ask: why?! WTF happened to him?! He was remarkably dominant for his day in college, having in 1938 perhaps the best season ever up to that point. He had over 1500 yards at 9.0/10.2 raw and adjusted Y/A, 19-4 TD/INT, and even 466 rushing yards on 3.7 ypc even after including sacks. He replaced Sammy Baugh as the TCU starting tailback, won the Heisman Trophy that Sammy Baugh never won, and was drafted fourth overall by the Eagles. There's a reason the college QB of the year award is still named after him, and it's not because he was incomprehensibly horrible. How in the blazes did he turn into... this?! He must have been hiding an injury, right?! There's no other reasonable explanation for how he could be this disastrous.
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby bachslunch » Sun Nov 10, 2019 10:35 am

Was just looking at the Wikipedia article for Davey O’Brien, and it appears he had a really interesting and full life after football. He worked as an FBI agent for several years, then later in land development for H.L. Hunt, in the oil business, and as advisor to Lamar Hunt during the founding of the AFL.
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby TanksAndSpartans » Sun Nov 10, 2019 1:11 pm

Reaser wrote:
TanksAndSpartans wrote:I don't get it. Haven't seen this much discussion in one day before - what's wrong with that?


You missed out, the forums back in the day had multiple of these threads going on the daily basis -not created by the same person asking questions which nothing wrong with that but were more actual discussions back then. And a lot more film, coach, testimonial based than stats.

Nice to have a new guy bringing up stuff again, though.

Hopefully the repeated "don't want to get into AAFC stuff" isn't directed at me since I merely explained why the league's were equal/more equal than given credit for and believe I did so respectfully and in a clear manner. There isn't some boogeyman pro-AAFC agenda at the PFRA, that gives the wrong impression. Just people that have researched it and studied more AAFC film than the average person and some pretty clear conclusions to draw from that -- i.e. the leagues were fairly equal.


I agree - I wish the board was always this active - maybe we need to bring in a new guy once a month :)

On the AAFC thing, I respect everyone’s research, and I'm not looking for 1:1 debates with anyone, I'd rather see a few people on each side so it doesn't get personal, but at the same time, I'm not 100% sold. Stuff I wonder about includes: the expansion draft (Are the number of players who won roster spots in the NFL consistent with the leagues being equal?), players like Sanders having statistical seasons that we didn’t see in the NFL, backs with 6+ ypc averages we didn't see in the NFL, the Browns playing 4 uncompetitive championship games (Its easy to counter this with the scoreboard in some of the games, but these games are also mostly available to watch and didn't feel to me like the Browns were threatened), former players saying the Browns killed the league. etc. Also the PFRA only supports 4 players for the HOF and the one I see the least on other lists happens to have strong AAFC ties - that does give a bit of a pro-AAFC impression unless I just don't know all the history of why these 4. And finally the ’50 Eagles, not being a team at the end of their run - I think there were some good arguments on both sides, but I’m not a big fan of mythology and if one side has to win because the other side damages the Browns mythology, I don’t agree with that.
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby Ken Crippen » Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:11 am

TanksAndSpartans wrote:
Reaser wrote:
TanksAndSpartans wrote:I don't get it. Haven't seen this much discussion in one day before - what's wrong with that?


You missed out, the forums back in the day had multiple of these threads going on the daily basis -not created by the same person asking questions which nothing wrong with that but were more actual discussions back then. And a lot more film, coach, testimonial based than stats.

Nice to have a new guy bringing up stuff again, though.

Hopefully the repeated "don't want to get into AAFC stuff" isn't directed at me since I merely explained why the league's were equal/more equal than given credit for and believe I did so respectfully and in a clear manner. There isn't some boogeyman pro-AAFC agenda at the PFRA, that gives the wrong impression. Just people that have researched it and studied more AAFC film than the average person and some pretty clear conclusions to draw from that -- i.e. the leagues were fairly equal.


I agree - I wish the board was always this active - maybe we need to bring in a new guy once a month :)

On the AAFC thing, I respect everyone’s research, and I'm not looking for 1:1 debates with anyone, I'd rather see a few people on each side so it doesn't get personal, but at the same time, I'm not 100% sold. Stuff I wonder about includes: the expansion draft (Are the number of players who won roster spots in the NFL consistent with the leagues being equal?), players like Sanders having statistical seasons that we didn’t see in the NFL, backs with 6+ ypc averages we didn't see in the NFL, the Browns playing 4 uncompetitive championship games (Its easy to counter this with the scoreboard in some of the games, but these games are also mostly available to watch and didn't feel to me like the Browns were threatened), former players saying the Browns killed the league. etc. Also the PFRA only supports 4 players for the HOF and the one I see the least on other lists happens to have strong AAFC ties - that does give a bit of a pro-AAFC impression unless I just don't know all the history of why these 4. And finally the ’50 Eagles, not being a team at the end of their run - I think there were some good arguments on both sides, but I’m not a big fan of mythology and if one side has to win because the other side damages the Browns mythology, I don’t agree with that.


Just commenting on the four players supported by the PFRA for the HOF: They were selected by the HOVG committee.

As far as the strength of the AAFC versus NFL, I have commented on that in the past. My personal opinion is that they were on par with each other, and players I have interviewed who played in both leagues have said the same. Just my opinion. Not looking to start trouble. ;)
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Re: What in the world was up with Johnny Lujack?

Postby TanksAndSpartans » Mon Nov 11, 2019 11:58 am

Ken Crippen wrote:Just commenting on the four players supported by the PFRA for the HOF: They were selected by the HOVG committee.

As far as the strength of the AAFC versus NFL, I have commented on that in the past. My personal opinion is that they were on par with each other, and players I have interviewed who played in both leagues have said the same. Just my opinion. Not looking to start trouble. ;)


Thanks Ken - glad to know the history behind the list of four - I had been wondering about it.

With the AAFC, I think I conceded the leagues were about equal in a different thread - there are definitely some excellent arguments supporting it. I've just personally retreated from that position because of some of the stuff I mentioned.
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