I have blue feet and green hands and my head is an orange ascending. Who am I? What am I?
"Sounds like a defensive back who moves well, drops the ball and is getting smarter," says Mike Giddings, the super-scout who rates, dissects and analyzes every facet of every player in the NFL, and a lot of players who aren't, and then translates those ratings into living color in what he calls "The Book," a publication that then becomes the property of eight select subscribers throughout the league.
"The world's most expensive coloring book," is the way Giddings' work is described by Jim Murray, general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, a charter subscriber to Giddings' service, which is called Pro Scout, Inc. "An eye-opener," adds Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil.
The Book, which is presented to clients annually at the NFL owners meeting in March, is an evaluation of the personnel of every NFL team by a man who probably sees more football than anyone else. Giddings also turns out two other publications. Two weeks before the draft, his eight clients get what Giddings likes to call his R & D book. Research and Development. Trends, analyses, statistical breakdowns and the kind of statistics you don't get from the league office. "Positions but no names," says Giddings. And then, starting shortly after training camp opens and continuing on a weekly basis throughout the season, they get his Disaster List, which some of Giddings' clients say is worth the price of admission alone.
Say your tight end goes down with a knee injury a week before the regular season begins. What to do? First stop, Giddings' Disaster List, with up-to-date ratings of the OTs (Out Theres) and UEs (Unemployeds). The OTs have been cut in training camp. They're out there, waiting for the phone to ring. If no one picks up an OT by the end of the season, he becomes a UE.
Giddings' Disaster List supplied the Kansas City Chiefs, another original client, with three players who made the Pro Bowl during the last three years—Kicker Nick Lowery, Wide Receiver and Punt Returner J.T Smith and Punter Bob Grupp—plus starting Quarterback Bill Kenney. When the Eagles needed a right guard for their 1978 training camp, they called Giddings to inquire about Woody Peoples, just released by the San Francisco 49ers.
"Grab him," said Giddings, who'd been on the 49ers' coaching staff during Peoples' first six years in San Francisco. Peoples became an Eagle and a three-year starter and got a Super Bowl ring in 1981.
The Book, though, is Giddings' showpiece. The colors, which were originally used to thwart the making of photocopies of the ratings ("They all show up gray on a copy" he says), turned out to be an inspired idea. Who could forget someone with blue feet? A blue player is a star or superstar, and any part of his anatomy or his technique so colored is likewise outstanding. A red is a solid starter. A gray means, "Don't quit on him now, but he doesn't match up with a red." An orange is a comer; he does some things that would make him a starter, others that don't match up. A green is a "forever backup," and a yellow is a CP, or Can't Play. There may be a plus or a minus attached to a color, or an arrow indicating "ascending" or "descending," meaning the player is on the rise or the wane. An orange ascending, for instance, means a young player getting better. An orange descending? Forget it.
Some people are so taken with Giddings' color scheme that they have incorporated it into their vocabularies. Murray describes himself as "just another orange, trying to get by." He'll come up to you and say, "Buddy, I just saw that wife of yours and she's a blue." Or in a restaurant he might say, "Lay off the steak. It's a green descending."
Giddings first pitched his proposal of a private pro personnel service to people he knew around the NFL in February 1977. He spent four hours at the blackboard detailing the scheme to Vermeil and his Eagles staff. Murray came up to him afterward with hand extended. "Mike," he said, "that was a blue performance all the way."
It was a tough period in Giddings' life. He had spent 20 years coaching football at nearly every level—high school, junior college, college—plus seven years as an NFL assistant and two as head coach of the Hawaiians of the WFL. He was tired of moving so much, and so was his wife, Donna. "Twenty-three moves during our married life," she says. "Four in one 18-month stretch." They were back in their house in Newport Beach, Calif., a home they had bought in 1961, when he was a USC assistant, but had seldom lived in. It was time to make a stand.
He had seen the need for a pro player evaluation and location service. Most NFL clubs were well staffed for scouting college players, but not for rating or finding pros. "One year when I was coaching with the 49ers," Giddings says, "our tight end, Bob Windsor, went down, and no one knew where to find another one." With the Hawaiians in 1974 he followed a 2-8 first half of the season with a 7-3 second half and a playoff berth by replacing more than half of the team with NFL cuts—the right ones. John Ralston hired him at Denver in '76 as a combination line coach-pro personnel director primarily to pick his brains as to the cream of the WFL, plus any assorted OTs and UEs he could come up with. He found half a dozen, including Norris Weese, who became a starting quarterback.
In '77 he formed his own company, loaded his movie projector with game films, spread out his charts and marker pens on the pool table, and after six weeks of 18-hour days had his first Book. The seven original clients were Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Atlanta, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Denver. Miami, Cincinnati and Houston have replaced the Browns, Jets and Broncos, and Minnesota has come in as an added starter.
There's nothing very mysterious about Giddings' modus operandi. He gets films of every NFL team in games he specifies. "If it's a turf team, I want at least one game on natural grass," he says. "If it's a warm-weather team, I want to see it in cold weather. And of course I want to see how it plays in the money games." He keeps four projectors at home: "In case two break down I'll have a ready one and a backup." During the preseason, when instant decisions must be made and he must constantly update his Disaster List, the whir of a projector can be heard 16 hours a day in his house. His reliance on film is total. Viewing football on TV simply confirms what he already knows. Actual attendance at a game is distracting. "I'm so film-oriented," he says, "that I'll go to a game and I'll see a play and I'll be thinking, 'Run that again,' and my finger will reach for the button."
You might think a pro club, with its resources, could probably do more than Giddings does. It could program every player in the NFL on every play and come up with numbers, but that's where the idea breaks down, because it's the interpretation and evaluation that Giddings' eight clients are buying. Competitors spring up from time to time. Tom Fears tried it once, Joe Thomas was thinking of it, and a computer programmer tried to get into the business, using the expertise of Sid Gillman. But only Giddings remains.
"He's just so damn bright." says Jim Finks, the Bears' general manager, "and he's almost always on the money. If I'm on the phone talking trade, you'd better believe I'm going to have Mike's list alongside me."
General Manager Ladd Herzeg of Houston, a new client, says Giddings' reports, if available a few years ago, might have kept the Oilers from making two trades, the one for Oakland Safetyman Jack Tatum ("Mike had the safetyman we let go. Bill Currier, rated higher") and the one in which Dan Pastorini was swapped for Ken Stabler ("A red descending," says Herzeg).
"You're buying Mike's expertise as much as the service," Vermeil says. "Some people use it as a backup. With us, his opinion gets tremendous weight in squad decisions. And sometimes I'll see a statistic in his R & D book that'll just pop my eyes open. Like his draft stats. I remember one of his observations, that if you don't get a receiver in the first two rounds, you're just as likely to get one in the last two who'll make your club as in the middle rounds."
So who is Mike Giddings? Some 30 years ago he played guard and tackle for Pappy Waldorf at Cal. He's 48, and fit from his daily swim in the Pacific. He still has a hand in coaching; he takes a two-hour break every day in the fall to coach the Newport Harbor High School team, but his approach isn't what it once was. "I was a bit of a wild man," he admits. Calvin Hill, who played for Giddings on the Hawaiians, remembers him getting so emotional at halftime of a game with Philadelphia that he stormed out yelling, "Dammit, I'll go out and play 'em myself!"
"For a while there, I thought he'd be the only guy on the field," Hill says.
Giddings' detractors, and there are a few spread around the league, snicker at his back-of-the-house operation and the fact that his wife and family (20-year-old Mike and daughters Jacqui, 24, and Vicki, 26) occasionally pitch in. "What I want to know," one critic says, "is who does the rest of the film breakdown for him? It's too much for anyone to handle alone."
"No one looks at films but me," Giddings says. "My wife and two other women will help with the typing, sometimes the girls. Everyone helps color the boxes. I remember when Mike was an eighth grader, he came to a player he liked, Cleveland Elam of the 49ers, and he snuck an extra plus on his rating. He came out a red-plus-plus. Monte Clark happened to see the book, and he said, 'I don't know if I'd have given him two plusses.' I was as surprised as he was. I didn't even have a double-plus rating."
All information in The Book except the color guides is coded into a set of abbreviations. A key is sent out separately, so if someone steals the book he won't know what he's reading. "One I like," Giddings says, "is AANI. That means, 'All Around It But Not In It.' That's usually the lineman who recovers a fumble 20 yards downfield." Another is LFPTFD, a running back designation—Looking For A Place To Fall Down. MMF is an ultimate plus—Mismatch For. Conversely, too many MMAs, Mismatches Against, mean a 4-12 year. "Mike used to fight with Jacqui all the time," Giddings says. "Then one day he just got to the age where the four-year difference didn't matter anymore. That was their last fight. I told him, 'You've just turned an MMA into an MMF.' "
Giddings is scrupulous about not dropping free information around where a nonclient can pick it up. But a customer can call at any hour of the day or night and Giddings will be available. "That's part of the service," he says. "I'm not going to be out on the golf course somewhere. And I'm not going to be fading into the sunset down in Hawaii, either." Giddings isn't looking for new customers. One per division is plenty, he says, and Minnesota and Houston came in only after a vote by the other clients. Price per client is another secret, but obviously Giddings isn't starving.
He will share a few general observations. Quarterback is the one position he feels is indispensable to the chemistry of a club. "It affects everything," he says, "from the type of linemen you draft, to the type of receivers, to the defense. A quarterback problem can disrupt a team's defense. It'll try to overcompensate."
Practically all rookies, he says, go through a cycle. They're fast out of the blocks; then comes a lull, usually after six to eight regular-season games. "They've already played their college season," he says, "and they look ahead and see eight or 10 games left and they say, 'Oh, God!' Then there's a pickup at the end."
A wide receiver's most important attributes, he feels, are getting open and going for the ball; and at those, the Packers' John Jefferson is "maybe the best there ever was."
There are no secrets in football, the oldtimers will tell you. Well, perhaps not, but there's always an extra edge to be had. Like Mike Giddings and his Disaster List, his OTs and UEs, his blues and reds and orange ascendings.
THE NO-ALL-PRO TEAM
Mike Giddings' All-Underrated team, made up of players no longer active (only clients get his current player ratings):
WR—Jack Dolbin, Denver, and Frank Grant, Washington. Dolbin was a real factor for years, a little guy who could run and rarely dropped the ball. Grant played in the shadow of Roy Jefferson and Charley Taylor.
T—Jon Kolb, Pittsburgh, and Greg Sampson, Houston. Kolb never made the Pro Bowl. Incredible. A consistent blue. Sampson was just coming into his own when he had a career-ending head injury.
G—Gerry Mullins, Pittsburgh, and Woody Peoples, San Francisco and Philadelphia, closely followed by Blaine Nye, Dallas. Mullins was consistently productive. Peoples had to play against Merlin Olsen for almost a decade.
C—Tie between John Fitzgerald, Dallas, and Ken Mendenhall. Baltimore. Both were highly productive and very underrated.
QB—Billy Kilmer, San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington. He was never a pretty player, but he was always very efficient.
RB—Lydell Mitchell, Baltimore and San Diego, and Rocky Bleier, Pittsburgh. People forget how good Mitchell was because he went down in a hurry. Bleier was extremely productive.
TE—Bob Klein, L.A. and San Diego, Great blocker, great hands. Somehow he always got open.
E—Coy Bacon, Cincinnati, San Diego, L.A., Washington, and Tommy Hart, San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. Both were great pass rushers, both could play the run better than people thought.
T—Dave Pear, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Oakland, and John Mcndenhall, N.Y. Giants and Detroit. Pear was an all-time enigma—a star, and then, poof. Mendenhall was a factor for years.
MLB—Tie between Joe Rizzo, Denver, and Rusty Chambers, New Orleans and Miami. Rizzo played so hard that he went quickly by the time he hit 30. Chambers had a great career in front of him, but it was cut short by a fatal auto accident.
OLB—Charlie Hall, Cleveland, and Steve Zabel, Philadelphia and New England. Hall is my alltime underrated player. Zabel was excellent for a couple of years.
CB—Willie Alexander, Houston, and Cornell Webster, Seattle. Alexander had more good years, but Webster, briefly, was as good as any of them.
SS—Tommy Casanova, Cincinnati. He achieved some recognition, but not as much as he deserved.
WS—Mike Wagner, Pittsburgh. Ditto.
K—Garo Yepremian, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa Bay.
P—Tom Wittum, San Francisco.
Returns—Eddie Brown, Cleveland, Washington and L.A.
Coverage—Ernie Pough, Pittsburgh and N.Y. Giants; Godwin Turk, N.Y. Jets and Denver; and Warren Bankston, Pittsburgh and Oakland.