In February 2002, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was queried during a news briefing about whether evidence existed linking Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. Sans an iota of hesitation, the embarrassment-proof Rumsfeld blurted a response, now infamous, that not only failed to answer the question, or provide clarity to the issue, but established a Pentagon (and perhaps Guinness Book) record for obfuscation.
Rumsfeld stated: “As we know, there are ‘known knowns’ — things that we know we know. We also know there are ‘known unknowns.’ That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also ‘unknown unknowns’, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
A bloviating Rumsfeld evaded reporters as adroitly as Russell Wilson evades J.J. Watt and other predatory beasts. But the thrust of his statement is true and sparked a recent thought. Example: Until a few days ago, I knew what I knew about the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom (known knowns) and figured there was little else I needed to know, giving no thought at all to “unknown unknowns.”
Turns out, there was something I didn’t know that I know now, and it’s the most interesting knowable of all. In the Legion of Boom, we are witnessing the most remarkable secondary unit not only in the past decade, not only in the salary cap era, but in the past 50 years. This is an “unknown unknown” suddenly flipped into a “known known” by virtue of a little stat mining.
Two years ago, after the Seahawks failed to knock off Atlanta in an NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome, The Associated Press selected safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman first-team All-Pro. Both became repeaters on the AP team after February’s Super Bowl de-toothing of the Denver Broncos (Sherman has never let civilization forget it).
We knew that, of course, but the “unknown unknown” didn’t transform into a “known known” until an NFC Internet preview, one of a gazillion, predicted that the Seahawks would not defend their Super Bowl title. The attention-getting paragraph stated:
“Despite expected improvement from Russell Wilson and the rare combination of two first-team All-Pros in the secondary, history works against the Seahawks. No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots in 2003-04. Too many things, especially injuries, get in the way of a repeat.”
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King essentially made the same point. In his preseason predictions two weeks ago in “Monday Morning Quarterback,” King wrote that the Seahawks were the best of the 27 teams he’d seen during training camp, but he was picking against them and taking the Broncos. His verdict: History is too big an obstacle to overcome.
Predictions aside, the question became, exactly how rare is it for a team to feature two first-team All-Pros in its secondary? Or on any unit? And in consecutive seasons? And how about three? Safety Kam Chancellor made AP’s second All-Pro team last year.
Turns out, it’s so rare that, before Thomas and Sherman, there hadn’t been two All-Pros in the same secondary in back-to-back years since 1965-66 when Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers featured safety Willie Wood and cornerback Herb Adderley. Both are long-time members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In the Super Bowl era (since 1966), only 11 teams, including the vintage Packers three times, have trotted out a unit – offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, etc. – with two first-team All-Pros in back-to-back years. Between 1966-69, the Los Angeles Rams did it four times in a row with the same two players, defensive tackle Merlin Olsen and defensive end Deacon Jones (both Hall of Famers).
Minnesota did it three years in a row (1969-71) with DT Carl Eller and DE Alan Page (both Hall of Famers) and Miami also did it three consecutive years (1973-75) with center Jim Langer and right guard Larry Little (both Hall of Famers). Teams with two first-team All-Pros on the same unit in consecutive seasons:
|1966-67-68-69||4||L.A. Rams||DL||DT Merlin Olsen, DE Deacon Jones|
|1969-70-71||3||Minnesota||DL||DT Alan Page, DE Carl Eller|
|1973-74-75||3||Miami||OL||C Jim Langer, RG Larry Little|
|1958-59||2||Baltimore||DL||DT Gene Lipscomb, DE Gino Marchetti|
|1962-63||2||Green Bay||OL||RT Forrest Gregg, C Jim Ringo|
|1965-66||2||Green Bay||DB||S Willie Wood, CB Herb Adderley|
|1966-67||2||Green Bay||OL||RG Jerry Kramer, RT Forrest Gregg|
|1971-72||2||Dallas||OL||RT Rayfield Wright, LG John Niland|
|1978-79||2||Pittsburgh||LB||MLB Jack Lambert, ILB Jack Ham|
|1983-84||2||Washington||OL||LT Joe Jacoby, LG Russ Grimm|
|1990-91||2||Philadelphia||DL||DT Jerome Brown, DE Reggie White|
|2008-09||2||Minnesota||DL||DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams|
|2011-12||2||San Francisco||LB||ILB NaVorro Bowman, ILB Patrick Willis|
|2012-13||2||Seattle||DB||S Earl Thomas, CB Richard Sherman|
Although Lombardi’s Packers are well represented as a result of their dynastic run in the 1960s, note the absences. The San Francisco 49ers won four Super Bowls in the 1980s and employed a slew of first-team All-Pros during that era ranging from CB Ronnie Lott to QB Joe Montana and WR Jerry Rice. But the Niners never had two All-Pros back-to-back on the same unit in consecutive years.
Neither did the 1993-96 Dallas Cowboys, a three-time Super Bowl champion in that span. Three of their offensive linemen — Erik Williams, Nate Newton and Larry Allen – all made first-team All-Pro at one time or another, but never a pair on one unit in back-to-back years. Same for John Elway’s 1998-99 Denver Broncos and Tom Brady’s 2003-04 New England Patriots, the last two teams to win consecutive Super Bowls.
Note, too, that only three teams have featured two first-team All-Pros on the same unit in the salary-cap era, which began in 1994 — that mainly the result of the cost of retaining high-priced, aging talent over an extended period (the Seahawks signed Sherman and Thomas to contracts worth a combined $95 million last offseason to keep them).
Thomas and Sherman, who begin their next odyssey Thursday night against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field, have a chance to make first-team All-Pro three years in a row, which would make them the first DB duo in history to accomplish that feat.
From quoting Donald Rumsfeld to paraphrasing Foghorn Leghorn, that would be one of the most unheard of things we’ve ever heard of.