Green closing in on Taylor's rushing record
Sunday, December 17, 2006
By Rob Demovsky
Ahman Green has been known to conduct an entire interview without looking up. He'll untie his shoes, cut the tape off his ankles, check messages on his cell phone anything to avoid eye contact.
But when the subject of records one record in particular came up last week, Green's eyes opened wide and a smile came across his face.
The Green Bay Packers running back needs 238 yards to surpass Hall of Famer Jim Taylor as the team's all-time rushing leader.
Taylor, who gained 8,207 yards in his nine seasons with the Packers from 1958 to 1966, is among an elite group of NFL running backs who have rushed for at least 8,000 yards with one team.
If Green gets merely 30 yards on the ground today at Lambeau Field against the Detroit Lions, he will become only the 22nd NFL player to join Taylor in that 8,000-yard club. A total of 37 NFL running backs have hit 8,000 yards, but 16 of them did so with more than one team.
"Oh yeah, (Taylor's record) does interest me," Green said after a practice last week. "It's in the back of my mind every game and every day. I know I'm close."
Taylor also is aware of Green's progress toward his record, but claims he doesn't much care. In a telephone interview from his home in Baton Rouge, La., Taylor said today's NFL doesn't interest him much,
"I did what I did when I did it," Taylor said. "It's hard to compare it to this or that, and it's almost impossible from my perspective (because) I don't watch a whole lot of it. I guess I've just lost some interest.
"I just loved to run the ball. I was just one part of an offensive unit, just 1/11th of that unit. I just tried to be the best football player I could be for the Green Bay Packers."
To compare players from different eras is often an exercise in futility.
Though they are roughly the same size Green is 6-foot, 218; Taylor was 6-0, 215 Taylor played a different position than Green. He played fullback in coach Vince Lombardi's two-back offense.
"Today's definition of fullback, it's a blocking back, not a ball carrier," Taylor said. "I was carrying 20 to 25 carries per game throughout my whole career."
Taylor usually shared the backfield with fellow Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, who played halfback. Six times in the eight seasons they played together in Green Bay, Taylor got more carries than Hornung.
"I think the eras are a lot different," said Ron Wolf, the former Packers general manager. "Jim Taylor was an exceptional player on an exceptional team. It would be interesting to hear if you could have your choice of either Hornung or Taylor, if you could have one or the other, how that would come out among the pundits of that era. I was told when I got up there that the best player on the whole team during the Lombardi era was Paul Hornung."
Green's rushing numbers are remarkably similar to Taylor's.
Green's average yards per carry is 4.56 yards. Taylor's was 4.53. However, Taylor needed 118 games to set his mark. Green has played in 93 games with the Packers.
"That's interesting," said Wolf, who brought Green to the Packers in a 2000 trade with the Seattle Seahawks. "There's another huge difference, too, because you're talking about one guy (Taylor) who played on a team with 10 Hall of Fame players, and the other guy (Green) played on a team with one Hall of Fame player, who's a quarterback, so he's not even blocking for him."
Green gained most his yards from 2000 to 2004, when he rushed for an NFL-best 6,848 yards. In 2003, he tied for the seventh-best rushing season in NFL history with 1,883 yards, a mark that would have led the NFL in 77 of the league's first 85 seasons. He shattered the Packers' single-season record of 1,474 yards, set by Taylor in 1962.
Green almost certainly would have broken Taylor's career record by now had he not missed all but five games last season with a ruptured quadriceps tendon.
"I had an occasion (on Wednesday) to speak to a guy who's presently a head coach in the National Football League," Wolf said. "He told me that he felt that for that five-year stretch and he was a head coach and played Green twice a year that there wasn't a better running back in the NFL than Ahman Green during that five-year span he had until he got hurt."
Wolf wouldn't reveal the coach's name but added: "That speaks volumes for what kind of player he is."
The issue with Green is whether he can gain 238 yards or 79.3 yards per game over the final three games. He has 867 yards in 11 games for an average of 78.8 yards. He missed two games in October with a hamstring problem that likely was related to his quadriceps tendon injury.
If Green doesn't do it in the remaining three games, Taylor's record could survive. Green is playing on a one-year contract, and the Packers face a tough decision about his future.
With the numbers he has put up this season, Green and his agent almost certainly will be seeking one more big-money contract. But given Green's age he'll be 30 next season the Packers might be reluctant to invest in him long-term.
It's too soon to know whether the Packers' offensive coaches will recommend that GM Ted Thompson try to bring him back next season, but they seem pleased with his production and the way he's bounced back from his injury.
"I think Green's getting stronger," offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said. "He's close to being a 1,000-yard rusher, and I thought before the season he'd be a 1,000-yard rusher. That's a testament to him the way he came back and battled back, so I don't think he's trailed off."
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