My heart literally skips a beat whenever a fullback is allowed to carry the football. Ridiculous, huh?
Perhaps the most emotional moment during Emmitt Smith’s Hall of Fame induction speech was his tearful tribute to fullback Daryl Johnston. Johnston was a key contributor to Smith’s success with the Dallas Cowboys in an era when the fullback’s role had been diminished and devalued.
There was a time when fullbacks used to run the football. As a small time, I was a Cowboys fan (most Texans are Cowboys fans by default) and enjoyed watching number 44, Robert Newhouse, who served as more than just a lead blocker for Preston Pearson and Tony Dorsett. In 1975, Newhouse carried the ball 209 times for 930 yards. He rushed for 4,784 yards during his 12-year career.
Not to be forgotten is big Tim Wilson, who carried the ball 126 times for the Oilers during Earl Campbell’s rookie season in 1978.
In the late 1970s, the NFL put new rules in place that made it easier for teams to execute in the passing game. Soon, teams frequently use formations with multiple wide receivers which took the fullback off the field and the ball out of his hands.
Wikipedia correctly notes that Jim Brown, Franco Harris and Larry Csonka were fullbacks. All three players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Roger Craig, the tremendous receiver and runner who made his mark with the San Francisco 49ers, may become the last player who played significant snaps at fullback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Recently, fullback Mike Alstott concluded his career in 2006 with 5088 yards rushing. Baltimore Raven Le’Ron McClain had an anomaly of a season in 2008 as he rushed for 902 yards.
Will we see the triumphant return of ball-toting fullbacks? I doubt it. But the next time you see Chris Johnson, or any other running back, breaking long runs and scoring touchdowns, remember the man leading the way who will only get a handful of carries and very little glory.
Respect the fullback.