Monday, January 17, 2011

Top 25 Players: #23-#22

As a “two space after the period” blog, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is annoyed by this Slate article that basically calls me a yo-yo. Thus, you will all be punished with a lecture. Before going further onto the list of the 25 greatest Tulane players of the past 25-ish years, a little context is in order.

Many Tulane fans bemoan the Green Wave’s 1966 departure from the SEC, coupled with the voluntary de-emphasization of athletics, as the beginning of the great talent erosion. The argument goes “the Green Wave had been losing regularly within that League- and quitting only expedited the decline.”

Fine- as far as it goes. But I think carving Tulane talent acquisition in to two tiers, SEC and post-SEC, is too facile.

To wit, some of the Bennie Ellender, Larry Smith, Vince Gibson and Mack Brown teams surely had enough talent to play near .500 (or maybe better once or twice) in the SEC. As a collective, those teams were surely better than the mess Tulane was in the early 60s. Tulane was definitely better for a decade or so post-departure than they had been playing in the SEC. Tulane would have won two, three SEC games (the League schedule was six games in those days) a lot more readily in the '70s and early '80 than the tail end of their 1960's SEC participation.

Tulane was playing a major “independent” schedule through Teevens- and still recruited players against the likes of other major independents, lesser SEC squads, etc. And frankly, it wasn’t a major disaster- and again a tick up from the last days of SEC football around here. Heck, Teevens first schedule included three top eleven teams (Alabama, Boston College, Florida State) and assorted other national programs (LSU, Navy, Mississippi, etc.).

The Tommy Bowden miracle was in part fueled by that. Teevens left the remnants of a national major independent recruiting class (Baton Rouge native Michael Jordan choose Tulane over Boston College, etc.) as well as the radical downgraded C-USA schedule. That downgrade- from second tier major sectional independent to a busted C-USA participant was a huge demarcation in talent acquisition- as big as the departure from the SEC.

Another demarcation was post-Katrina. Tulane used to get solid offensive players at least: Moore, Losman, Robertson, Ramsey, J. Williams- notsomuch afterwards.

This brings us to the next two members of our list- who came to Tulane as major recruits, and not C-USA style FBS candidates:

23. Michael Jordan, CB (1995-1998)

Michael Jordan was a huge component of the stalwart Tulane defenses under Tommy Bowden- a guy who would have been a very good player at a top ten national program. The Wave had a good defensive line that stopped the run and brought pressure. Then, Michael Jordan provided them with a true lockdown first corner- a guy with real pro coverage skills. That was his best attribute- a ball hawking coverage asset, second all-time passes defended at Tulane. And of course, he had that huge 79-yard interception return for a touchdown that jump-started a pretty languid Tulane team in the 1998 Liberty Bowl.

Oddly, the undefeated 1998 team featured only three first team all C-USA selections, and only one on defense. That one was Jordan, a testament to his raw impact on that defense. He took one half of the field away, and the other guys policed the rest.

22. Michael Pierce, RB (1987-1989)

If this list was “Favorite Tulane Player”, Michael Pierce would be at the top of my list. Full disclosure: I had a decent acquaintance with Michael- an exact contemporary of mine at Tulane. He was a generous person.

But I liked Michael for this list because he was a "real" football player- he had no weakness and did everything well. A true all-purpose player, rather than a straight tailback, his rushing totals suffered because he was asked to do everything.

In 1988, Pierce broke Tommy Mason’s single season all-purpose yardage mark- and Mason was an all-American, first round NFL and AFL draft pick, and an eleven year NFL pro. He also left Tulane as the all-time all-purpose yardage producer, taking over from another all-American: Marc Zeno. He is still third all-time on the current all-purpose list- a real testament since he played prior to the cartoon number C-USA era.

To that end, Pierce was a great receiver- the best pass catching RB in the 25 years I’ve followed the team (three career 100-yard receiving games). He was equally the best kick returner too (although I will listen to arguments vis-à-vis Jeff Liggon): two career returns for TD.

Again, his rushing totals suffered because he was asked to do so much else, losing carries- and that keeps him from being higher on this list. Ultimately a great running back has to be a great rusher first and foremost. But Pierce was the best all-around Tulane offensive player of this era I'm covering.