I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, so I no longer expect to wake up on Christmas morning with treats stuffed in my stocking.
I do, however, believe in longtime Arkansas sportswriter Walter Woodie. And Woodie recently left an email in my inbox that made me smile as much as any snow-dusted Snickers bar from the North Pole could have.
He sent me the following game report from an Arkansas high school football final in 1990. I consider the game’s star, Basil Shabazz, to be an Arkansas version of Bo Jackson. This game represented his finest moment:
Here are some immediate impressions:
1. Texarkana quarterback Mike Cherry would end up as a highly touted freshman for the Arkansas Razorbacks. As Barry Lunney’s perpetual backup, however, he never could carve out consistent paying time. Houston Nutt, then a UA assistant, coached him at the start of his college career. In 1993, Nutt left to become head coach of Murray State. Two years later, Cherry transferred to that same Kentucky school and led Nutt’s teams to two conference titles.
There are a few names that bestow greatness simply by affiliation. In non-profit work, it’s “Nobel.” In acting, we have “Brando,” and in boxing, “Ali.” For running backs, though, no name quite conjures images of glory like Jim Brown, the iconic Cleveland Brown who after eight seasons retired in 1965 as the NFL record holder for both single-season rushing and career rushing (12,312 yards), as well as the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (106), total touchdowns (126), and all-purpose yards (15,549).
Brown was real good, so good that no running back has yet eclipsed his production on a per-game basis. One Arkansan is getting close, though.
Little Rock native DeAngelo Williams is four carries away from joining Brown as the only running backs in history to average five yards a carry on at least 1,000 rushing attempts. This is impressive, especially given the fact that Williams has leapfrogged other likely candidates – guys like Emmett Smith, Barry Sanders and Bo Jackson (had he stayed healthy) – to achieve it.
Plenty fans around the nation will scoff at the idea of Williams achieving all-timer status at this point in his career, but if he can continue this level of production it will be difficult to discount his career body of work (although Carolina winning a Super Bowl would help more than anything).
It is not too early, however, to figure out where Williams ranks among the best Arkansas-born running backs to play in the NFL. Here is a list of Arkansas natives who have run for at least 1,500 yards. (n.b. after the player name below, I list a) city of birth b) pro team on which he had best years c) years in NFL d) career yards e) career rushing average per attempt f) career TDs
Priest Holmes (Fort Smith)* Kansas City; 1997-07; 8,172; 4.6; 86
DeAngelo Williams (L.R.)** Carolina; 2006-present; 5,047; 5.1; 38
Robert Mitchell (Hot Springs)*** Cleveland, 1958-68; 2,735; 5.3; 18
Darren McFadden (L.R.) Oakland; 2008-present; 2,627; 4.8; 16
Cleophus Miller (Gould) Cleveland; 1974-82; 2,492; 4.2; 16
Peyton Hillis (Conway) Cleveland; 2008-present; 2,161; 4.2; 20
Jerry Eckwood (Brinkley) Tampa Bay; 1979-81; 1,845; 3.6; 6
Tommy Watkins (W. Memphis) Detroit; 1961-68; 1,791; 3.8; 10
Elijah Pitts (Mayflower) Green Bay; 1961-71; 1,788; 3.5; 28
Jesse Clark (Thebes) Green Bay; 1983-90; 1,736; 4.2; 9
* Holmes moved to San Antonio, Texas, as a child
** Before middle school, Williams moved to Wynne
*** Mitchell had great years, but primarily as a receiver, in Washington
[all stats from nfl.com and databasefootball.com]
I admit: this is a pretty cursory way to rank the state’s best NFL RBs. Still, I chose the statistical categories I feel matter the most to most people.
So, what do you think? Should Holmes be knocked off because of his Texas upbringing? Do you think McFadden or Hillis will one day eclipse Williams as the state’s best?
(PS – It took nearly all my powers of self-control to not use the phrase “Ultimate Wynne-r” in the title of this post about DeAngelo)