The Numbers Game II: The 50s

jheeter@macon.comJuly 20, 2013 

No. 50 Greg Brezina, Falcons, 1968-79

Bio: : The 11th round pick in 1968 out of Houston, Brezina is 10th in franchise history in games played with 151. He holds the franchise record for fumble recoveries. He also led the team in tackles four different times. Brezina made his only Pro Bowl in 1969 while leading the NFL with five fumble recoveries that season. He was one of the leaders on the “Gritz Blitz” defense that set the NFL record for fewest points allowed (129) in a season.

Why we picked him: According to a pro-football-reference.com metric designed to evaluate a player’s overall worth to a franchise, Brezina is the sixth most valuable player in franchise history. Much of his value comes from his lengthy tenure in Atlanta, but Brezina was a very solid player. He’s probably in the next group of linebackers along with Buddy Curry and John Rade behind the big three of Nobis, Tuggle and Brooking.

Others we considered:

Johnny Carson, Georgia, 1950-53

Carson earned letters in football, golf, basketball and baseball at Georgia. He led the nation in receiving with 46 catches in 1953, earning All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America. He was a first-round draft pick by the Redskins and went into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1957.

Buddy Curry, Falcons, 1980-87

Curry earned Co-Defensive Rookie of the Year honors (with teammate Al Richardson) in 1980, and he landed on the Pro Football Weekly All-Pro team. He was a second-team All-Pro pick by the UPI in 1982. Curry led the Falcons in tackles six times over a seven-season span. He finished with 229 tackles in 1983, the third highest single-season total in franchise history.

Walter Curry, Albany State, 2001-04

One of the great defensive players in SIAC history, Curry was a two-time conference defensive player of the year and a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee as the top player in Division II.

Joe Harris, Georgia Tech, 1972-74

Harris earned All-Southeastern Independent honors in 1974 after setting the program’s single-season record with 188 tackles. Harris still ranks in the top 10 in career tackles at Georgia Tech.

Curtis Lofton, Falcons, 2008-11

Lofton has plenty of detractors in Atlanta because he fled to the hated New Orleans Saints, but there’s no question he was quite the force during his time in Atlanta. He led the Falcons in tackles three straight seasons, finishing with 461 tackles from 2009-11.

Tommy Lyons, Georgia, 1967-70

Lyons started at center for three seasons, helping the Bulldogs to a SEC title in 1968. He started 49 consecutive games with the Denver Broncos. He’s a member of the UGA Circle of Honor and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

Ron Rogers, Georgia Tech, 1994-97

Playing alongside Keith Brooking, the Dublin native was a tackling machine. He finished his career with 435 tackles, which is still good enough for third most in program history.

Don Stephenson, Georgia Tech, 1955-57

Stephenson continued the great line of Georgia Tech centers, taking over a few years following the tradition set by Larry Morris, Paul Duke and Peter Pund. He made two straight All-SEC teams and earned All-America honors as both a junior (FWAA) and a senior (UPI and the Sporting News).

No. 51 George Morris, Georgia Tech, 1950-52

Bio: : With Morris leading the defense, Georgia Tech went 23-0-1 during the 1951 and 1952 seasons. Morris was a captain in 1952 on the team head coach Bobby Dodd called the best he ever coached. Morris earned All-America honors from the FWAA and the Newspaper Enterprise Association following the 1952 season. Morris went on to be an official in the SEC for nearly 30 years. Morris was named to the ACC Legends class of 2007, despite not ever playing in the conference. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Why we picked him: Longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer Furman Bisher wrote in 2007 that Dodd privately told him Morris was the best he’d ever coached. That’s enough for us.

Others we considered:

Frank Broyles, Georgia Tech, 1943-47

Broyles split numbers, wearing No. 51 for two years before later wearing No. 34 and No. 38. As No. 51, Broyles made an impact in the backfield, and he passed for an Orange Bowl-record 304 yards in 1945. The record stood for 55 years until Tom Brady broke it in 2000. Broyles won seven Southwest Conference titles at Arkansas and led the Razorbacks to a national title in 1964. He is a member of the Orange, Gator and Cotton Bowl Halls of Fame, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

No. 52 Craig Page, Georgia Tech, 1995-98

Bio: : Page started 35 straight games at Georgia Tech, earning All-ACC and All-America (AP, Sporting News and FWAA) as a senior. He won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top blocker in the ACC and was Tech’s first finalist for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top lineman. The Yellow Jackets led the ACC in rushing in 1998, averaging 183.7 yards per game and rushing for a combined 560 yards in wins over Wake Forest and Georgia to close the season.

Why we picked him: Page continued the legacy of great Georgia Tech centers, becoming the 10th center in program history to earn first-team All-America honors. No position has more All-Americans in program history, and he joined Peter Pund, Larry Morris, Maxie Baughan, Jim Breland, John Davis, Don Stephenson and Paul Duke.

Others we considered:

Jim Caldwell, Georgia Tech, 1963-65

Caldwell was a two-time All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 15.0 points per game in his career and a career-high 17.4 points in 1965. He was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.

Jason Collier, Georgia Tech, 1998-2000

A transfer from Indiana, Collier averaged 17.1 points per in his two seasons at Georgia Tech. He led the ACC in rebounding in 2000, the first player in school history to do so. Collier was a first-round pick in 2000 and later played for the Atlanta Hawks before dying unexpectedly from heart problems at 28.

Matt Geiger, Georgia Tech, 1990-92

A transfer from Auburn, Geiger averaged 11.4 and 11.8 points in his two seasons at Georgia Tech. He later wore No. 52 during his entire 10-year NBA career.

Ricky McBride, Georgia, 1975-78

McBride’s best season came in 1978, when he earned All-SEC honors and made 160 tackles, which is tied for the fourth highest total in program history.

No. 53 Ray Donaldson, Georgia, 1976-79

Bio: : Donaldson moved from defense to center early in his career at Georgia, and he flourished at the new position. Donaldson earned All-SEC honors as a senior. Donaldson was a second round pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1980. He made four Pro Bowls with the Colts and two more with the Dallas Cowboys at the end of his career. The Rome native was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

Why we picked him: While Duke had the more prestigious accolades, there were way fewer schools playing major college football in the 1940s than in the 1970s. Donaldson’s identity with No. 53 is helped by him keeping that number throughout his pro career as well.

Others we considered:

Paul Duke, Georgia Tech, 1944-1946

Duke is another in Georgia Tech’s impressive center lineage. He was a consensus All-American and All-SEC selection in 1946. Duke played one year of professional football and went into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame in 1963 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.

Cliff Levingston, Hawks, 1984-90

Levingston played a lot of games for the Hawks, but he was never a full-time starter – he maxed out at 52 starts in 1988-89. He averaged 8.9 points over his six seasons in Atlanta.

No. 54 Bob Lienhard, Georgia, 1968-70

Bio: : Lienhard became a dominant presence from the moment he stepped on the court in Athens. He averaged 21.3 points and 14.9 rebounds as a sophomore, garnering All-SEC second-team honors. He followed that with 23.8 points and 15.8 rebounds as a junior and 21.3 points and 13.9 rebounds as a senior. He was a first-team All-SEC pick by the UPI as a senior and a junior and landed on the AP’s first team as a senior. The Helms Foundation named him an All-American in both 1969 and 1970. Lienhard holds the school record for rebounding, with 193 more than the next closest guy despite playing in 48 fewer games. He also has the single-season and single-game rebounding records. He finished his career with per game averages of 22.1 points and 14.9 rebounds.

Why we picked him: Lienhard was arguably the first great basketball player in school history. Lienhard is still sixth in program history in career points, and the five guys above him on the list were eligible to play as freshmen. He’s also the only player in recorded history to lead the team in scoring and rebounding for three straight seasons.

Others we considered:

Keyaron Fox, Georgia Tech, 2000-03

Fox was a three-year starter, leading the ACC in tackles with 155 in 2003. He added 18 tackles for loss (10th highest mark in the nation) and finished runner-up to Darnell Dockett (Florida State) as ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He earned All-ACC honors and finished on Sports Illustrated’s All-America second-team. He finished his career sixth in program history in tackles for loss (40) and 12th in tackles (376). Fox was a third-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004 and has played in the NFL for seven years.

Yvon Joseph, Georgia Tech, 1982-85

Joseph was a solid, but not spectacular player during the golden years of the Yellow Jackets’ basketball program. He averaged 11.7 points per game in his two seasons as a starter.

Fulton Kuykendall, Falcons, 1975-84

Kuykendall, or “Kaptain Krazy,” started 91 games for the Falcons in his 10 seasons with the franchise. He finished the 1978 season with 284 tackles – a mark surpassed only Tommy Nobis. He was named Falcons’ player of the year in 1982.

Leo Mazzone, Braves, 1985, 1990-2005

Mazzone joined the Braves’ organization in 1979, but he became famous for managing one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history. The Braves won 14 straight division titles while Mazzone was the pitching coach, and the Braves have yet to win one since he left. His starting pitchers won six Cy Young Awards.

Tom McMillan, Hawks, 1977-83

The 6-foot-11 center averaged 8.5 points during his six seasons in Atlanta. McMillan was also a Rhodes Scholar and later served as a three-term Congressman from Maryland.

Kris Medlen, Braves, 2009-current

Medlen’s sample size is very, very short, but the 27-year-old has made a considerable impact in his short time in Atlanta. He became the first Braves pitcher since Greg Maddux in 2001 to win consecutive NL Pitcher of the Month awards when he did so in late 2012. The Braves also won 23 consecutive games that Medlen started, which set the major league record.

No. 55 Dikembe Mutombo, Hawks, 1996-2001

Bio: : Mutombo was an established star when he joining the Hawks. He made four all-star teams in four-and-a-half seasons with the Hawks. He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1996-97, 1997-98 and 2000-01, although he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers during that season. Mutombo led the NBA in rebounds twice while in Atlanta, and he led the league in total blocks twice as a Hawks player. He averaged 11.9 points and 12.6 rebounds with the Hawks. He finished his career second in NBA history in career blocks and 21st in rebounding, and he made eight All-Star teams and six All-Defensive teams.

Why we picked him: Mutombo was the face of the Hawks franchise during his time in Atlanta and won two league-wide awards. Along with a few Braves, Mutombo is one of the only Atlanta pro players to win multiple league-wide awards in their sports. Illustrating his value to the Hawks, Mutombo won the IBM Award in 1999 as the NBA’s best player based on a computerized formula.

Others we considered:

John Abraham, Falcons, 2006-12

Abraham had a franchise-record 16.5 sacks in 2008, his second full season with in Atlanta. He started 96 games in seven seasons, finishing his Falcons’ career with 68.5 sacks – second only to Claude Humphrey in franchise history. Abraham somehow didn’t make the Pro Bowl during his record-breaking 2008 season, but he would earn Pro Bowl honors in 2010 following a 13-sack season. Abraham was also a first-team All-Pro selection in 2010, and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2008. He led the Falcons in sacks in five of his seven years in Atlanta. Humphrey is the only other Falcons player with four double-digit sack seasons.

Maxie Baughan, Georgia Tech, 1957-59

Baughan played both center and linebacker at Georgia Tech. He set the program record with 124 tackles in 1959 and earned consensus All-America honors that season. He was inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame (1965), the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1980) and the College Football Hall of Fame (1988). Baughan played 15 seasons in the NFL and made nine Pro Bowls and earned two first-team All-Pro selections.

Dan Edwards, Georgia, 1944-47

Edwards earned All-America honors from the AFCA in 1947 and is perhaps remembered most for his 67-yard touchdown reception from Charley Trippi in the 1947 Gator Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him with the ninth overall selection in the 1948 NFL draft.

Greg Gathers, Georgia Tech, 1999-2002

Gathers holds two of the top 10 sack seasons in program history and he finishing his career with a Georgia Tech record 31 sacks. He's second in tackles for loss with 57 and was a two-time All-ACC selection.

Larry Morris, Georgia Tech, 1951-54

Morris was another of the great Tech centers, while also starring at linebacker like Baughan. Morris earned All-America honors from the AP and UPI in 1953. Morris made three All-SEC teams – one at linebacker and two at center. The Yellow Jackets went 40-5-2 during his career, winning two SEC titles and the 1952 national championship. He finished his career with 24 tackles in his final game against Georgia. He held the program record for career tackles for 20 years. Morris was a successful pro, making the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1960s and winning MVP honors in the NFL championship game in 1963. Morris played for the Falcons in their inaugural season in 1966. He was later named to the All-SEC 25-year team from 1950-75. He went into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

Wayne Radloff, Falcons, 1985-89

Radloff, who was born in London and played college football at Georgia, started 42 games over five seasons at center for the Falcons.

Reggie Wilkes, Georgia Tech, 1974-77

Wilkes made the All-Southeastern Independent team in 1976 as a defensive end. He went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL – including two with the Falcons. He was inducted in the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

A TIMELINE OF NO. 55

No. 56 Keith Brooking, Falcons, 1998-2008

Bio: : The Falcons selected the Senoia native in the first round following a stellar college career at Georgia Tech. Brooking moved into the starting lineup in his second NFL season and didn’t leave for 10 years. He led the Falcons in tackles eight consecutive seasons, a stretch surpassed only by Jessie Tuggle in franchise history. Brooking made five straight Pro Bowls beginning in 2001. Claude Humphrey and Mike Kenn are the only other Falcons with five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Only five guys have more career starts than Brooking, and only Jeff Van Note and Todd McClure played more consecutive games.

Why we picked him: Brooking’s late slide – you may remember his struggles in the 2008 playoff loss at Arizona – and his antics as a member of the Dallas Cowboys when he left Atlanta may cloud up his legacy. Brooking, however, became a more than suitable replacement following Tuggle’s retirement and deserves to stand with Tuggle and Tommy Nobis as the three best linebackers in franchise history. Brooking will surely enter the Falcons Ring of Honor upon his retirement.

Others we considered:

Geno Atkins, Georgia, 2006-09

Atkins made the All-SEC team as a sophomore, but he never quite captured that same form at Georgia. He has been a dominant player, however, with the Cincinnati Bengals. He has 20 sacks, two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro selection in the past two seasons.

Harry Babcock, Georgia, 1950-52

Babcock was a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection. He led the SEC in receptions in 1951 and finished his career with 80 catches and 1,199 yards. Babcock was the first overall selection in the 1953 NFL draft – putting him in a company with Trippi, Frank Sinkwich and Matthew Stafford as the school’s No. 1 picks. His 1951 season included 666 yards, a mark that wouldn’t be surpassed at UGA for 30 years.

Chris Doleman, Falcons, 1994-95

Doleman only played two seasons for the Falcons, but he was effective in both. He finished his Falcons’ career with 16 sacks and a Pro Bowl appearance in 1995. He had 150.5 career sacks and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Bill Healy, Georgia Tech, 1942, 46-48

Healy made three All-SEC teams – landing on the first team in 1947 and 1948 – and was an All-American (FWAA and Sporting News) in 1948. Healy is a member of the Georgia Sports and Georgia Tech Athletics Halls of Fame.

Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech, 2002-05

Henderson finished his career with a program record 59.5 tackles for loss. He's fourth in Yellow Jackets history with 25 sacks and made one All-ACC first team and two second teams.

Hal Miller, Georgia Tech, 1950-52

Miller earned All-SEC and consensus All-America honors as a tackle on the Yellow Jackets’ national championship team in 1952. Miller is a member of the Georgia Tech Athletics, Georgia Sports and Tennessee Sports Halls of Fame.

Al Richardson, Falcons, 1980-85

Richardson won Co-Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1980 with teammate Buddy Curry after intercepting seven passes as a rookie. The Georgia Tech product was a second-team All-Pro selection in 1980 and followed that with a team-high 10 sacks in 1981.

No. 57 Jeff Van Note, Falcons, 1969-86

Bio: : The godfather of the franchise played more seasons in a Falcons uniform than any other player in franchise history. Van Note suited up 18 seasons, starting 225 of the 246 games he played in. Only Mike Kenn played or started in more games, and only Kenn has a higher approximate value to the franchise, according to a formula used by pro-football-reference.com. Van Note holds the record for consecutive games played at 155. Van Note holds the franchise record alongside Claude Humphrey for Pro Bowl appearances with six. Van Note is a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

Why we picked him: Van Note is one of the cornerstones of the franchise and probably one of the guys most heavily linked to the franchise by first-generation Falcons fans. He played until 40 years old, a rarity in professional football, and he was the regular starting center for 16 seasons.

Others we considered:

Bobby Davis, Georgia Tech, 1944-47

Davis earned consensus All-America honors in 1947 and his third consecutive All-SEC selection. The Columbus native was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

Mo Lewis, Georgia, 1987-90

Lewis finished his college career with 314 tackles (12th in program history) and 14 sacks (13th). He led the Bulldogs in tackles in 1990 on the way to earning All-SEC honors. The linebacker made three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team with the New York Jets.

Johnathan Sullivan, Georgia, 2000-02

Sullivan made the All-SEC team as a junior in 2002 and won most outstanding defensive player on his team. Sullivan was the sixth overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft.

Blair Walsh, Georgia, 2008-11

Walsh had some issues with consistency in college, but he is still one of the top kickers in school history. He made 76-of-103 field goals and missed only one of his 185 extra-point attempts. He made four field goals in a game three different times. He broke the SEC record with 412 career points. He holds the program record with 53 career starts. Walsh made the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro honors as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012.

No. 58 Jessie Tuggle, Falcons, 1987-2000

Bio: : By his third season in the NFL, Tuggle was the centerpiece of the Falcons defense. He finished with 183 tackles in 1989, the first of five consecutive seasons with more than 180 tackles. He made five Pro Bowls – only Claude Humphrey and Jeff Van Note played in more as a Falcons player – between 1992 and 1998. His final Pro Bowl selection came during the Falcons’ Super Bowl run. “The Hammer” finished his career with 2,065 tackles, and no one in the NFL had more during the 1990s. He had 12 straight 100-tackle seasons and led the team in tackles 10 times. He had 20 or more tackles in a single game four different times. He’s third in franchise history in seasons played, games started and games played. Tuggle was an inaugural member of the Falcons’ Ring of Honor. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

Why we picked him: A Griffin native and a Valdosta State product, Tuggle is arguably one of the greatest undrafted players in NFL history. You could make an argument for Tuggle being the greatest Falcons player in franchise history. He was a key member of two of the most memorable Falcons teams – the 1991 and 1998 editions.

Others we considered:

Mitch Davis, Georgia, 1990-93

Davis was a two-time All-SEC selection and a leader on a defense that included Randall Godfrey and Greg Tremble.

Orantes Grant, Georgia, 1996-99

Grant finished his Georgia career seventh in program history in solo tackles and 13th in total tackles. He was a second-team All-SEC pick in 1998 and 1999.

Don Hansen, Falcons, 1969-75

Hansen had 10 interceptions with the Falcons, putting him fifth in franchise history among linebackers, but he was most known for his physical and aggressive style of tackling.

Calvin Tiggle, Georgia Tech, 1989-90

Tiggle started at linebacker on the Yellow Jackets’ national championship team in 1990, leading the team with 134 tackles. He played two years in the NFL before becoming a three-time all-star and a defensive player of the year award winner in the CFL.

Joel Williams, Falcons, 1979-82, 86-89

Williams set the franchise record with 16 sacks in 1980. The record stood up for 28 years before Abraham broke it with 16.5 sacks in 2008. He was a second-team All-Pro pick in 1982. Williams started 37 games in four seasons during his second stint in Atlanta. He also wore No. 54.

No. 59 Jim Breland, Georgia Tech, 1965-66

Bio: : Breland earned consensus All-America honors in 1966 as a center. He was selected as the Atlanta Touchdown Club’s Southeast Area Lineman of the Year. The Navy transfer helped the Yellow Jackets upset Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl as a junior and to a berth in the Orange Bowl as a senior. Breland was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

Why we picked him: Breland is the second Georgia Tech center to make the cut and the sixth Yellow Jackets center to earn All-America accolades and wore a number in the 50s. Breland was the last in a line of six Georgia Tech All-America centers in a span of 20 years, and the last until Page was named a consensus All-American 22 years after Breland’s career ended. His career was more distinguished than any other No. 59 in state history.

Others we considered:

John Rade, Falcons, 1983-91

Rade started 112 games during his nine seasons in Atlanta. The various eras in Falcons history all seem to be highlighted by a standout linebacker. Rade was the bridge between the Buddy Curry- and Jessie Tuggle-led Falcons defenses. Rade led the team in tackles in 1987 and 1988. He finished his Falcons’ career with 10.5 sacks.

Greg Waters, Georgia, 1982-85

Waters finished with 16 career sack, which was the third highest total in program history when he left school. Waters remains ninth in school history in sacks. He had 11 of those sacks in 1985 and was an All-SEC pick and was named Georgia’s most outstanding defensive player.

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