Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Mark Clayton

Happy 48th birthday to former Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton. From 1983 to 1993, few NFL receivers put up better numbers than Clayton. Although he's not in the Pro Football Hall of fame, his career numbers are better than many receivers currently enshrined in Canton. He caught 582 passes for 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. At one time, he held the NFL record for touchdown catches in a season with 18 in 1984. Together with fellow receiver Mark Duper and quarterback Dan Marino, this trio formed arguably the most dangerous passing combination in NFL history. The Marino to Clayton connection combined for 81 touchdowns, forming the second most prolific quarterback to receiver touchdown combination in NFL history behind Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Clayton played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Dolphins and was a 5 time Pro Bowl selection. He finished his career in 1993 with Green Bay and is one of only three players to catch passes from Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Born Mark Gregory Clayton in Indianapolis, he grew up like many Indiana kids playing basketball. But his short stature and quick feet made him an outstanding football player at every level he played. During his career at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Clayton weighed only 155 pounds and played quarterback and tailback. His lack of size didn't attract a lot of colleges. His only scholarship offers came from Louisville and Indiana State. He chose Louisville and went on to a fine--yet unoticeable college career. Louisville's football program was always in the shadow of the basketball program and Clayton was never showcased on national television. He finished his college career with 1,100 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior.

Despite a productive college career, Clayton was not considered a top prospect entering the 1983 NFL Draft. At 5'9 and 163 pounds and 4.63 speed in the 40 yard dash, Clayton's physical numbers weren't impressive. He was drafted in the 8th round by the Dolphins--the 223rd overall pick of the entire draft. (The NFL Draft no longer has an 8th round) While Dan Marino was the biggest name of the Dolphins 1983 draft class, Clayton was drafted behind forgetable players like Baylor defensive end Charles Benson and Rutgers linebacker Keith Woetzel. But it didn't take long for Clayton to prove he was a special talent. In Dan Marino's first NFL start, Clayton caught his first touchdown pass in an overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills. But it was his second season in 1984 when Clayton exploded as one of the leagues best receivers. He caught 73 passes for 1,389 yards and a then NFL record 18 touchdowns. Clayton and Mark Duper became the most prolific receiving duo in the NFL and earned the nicknamed "The Marks Brothers". That year Marino threw a then NFL record 48 touchdown passes, 26 of them were caught by the Marks Brothers. That season the Dolphins beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and reached Super Bowl XIX, losing to the 49ers. It would be the only Super Bowl appearance in Clayton's career.

While Clayton had his best season in 1984, he wasn't a one-year wonder. Five times had accumlated over 1,000 yards receiving in a season, reaching the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons. He led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches in 1986. Despite not having great speed in the 40 yard dash, Clayton possessed great football speed. Many of his big plays came after catching short passes and running for additional yardage. He also had tremendous leaping ability, which made up for his lack of height. Clayton had a 40 inch verticle leap and was known for his ability to jump over ping pong tables. He was a cocky player who often backed up what he said.

When Dan Marino gave his hall of fame induction speech in 2005, he quickly singled-out Clayton and Duper as two huge reasons for his great career. Marino finished his speech by throwing a football deep to Clayton, who was sitting in the audience. As usual, Clayton caught Marino's perfect pass with ease. It's debatable whether Clayton was the greatest receiver in Dolphins history. Unlike Paul Warfield, he's not in the hall fame. Nat Moore and Mark Duper also had great careers. But when it comes to stats, nobody was better than Clayton. No Miami Dolphin has caught more passes and scored more touchdowns. It's not likely Clayton will ever be inducted in Canton. But it may be just as difficult for any present or future Dolphin receivers to ever surpass Clayton.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Brandon Knight: South Florida's Greatest Basketball Player

The best high school basketball player in the United States was not invited to play in last night's McDonald's All American game at the University of Miami. It's not because he wasn't good enough. It certainly wasn't because of location. He lives only 30 minutes from the arena. It's because he's only a junior. This week Brandon Knight, a 6'4 guard from Fort Lauderdale's Pine Crest School, was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year. He's only the third junior to receive this honor, joining LeBron James and Greg Oden.

How good is Knight? Prior to Knight's arrival at Pine Crest, the school's athletic history was more known for its swimming and diving program. The basketball team had not reached the state finals since the early 1960s. Knight has led Pine Crest to back-to-back Class 3A state titles in the last two seasons. He scored 27 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and had 4 assists in last month's state title game against Orlando's Jones High School. During the state championship game, Sun Sports comentator Whit Watson said, "It's easier to list the schools who are not recruiting Brandon rather than those who are." He has yet to choose a college. But whoever gets him will be very happy. In one playoff game against Miami LaSalle, he scored 52 points, including 27 in the fourth quarter. If that's not enough, he's also a tremendous student in the classroom, sporting a 4.28 grade point average at a private school known for its sterling academic reputation.

Knight's reputation goes beyond South Florida high school basketball. He's a superstar on the AAU national circuit. Together with prep rival, good friend and McDonald's All American Kenny Boynton Jr. of American Heritage, the dynamic duo led Team Breakdown to AAU national titles each of the last two years. If Knight's not the greatest player in Broward history, Boynton is very close. Knight and Boynton are the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson of Broward basketball. Never have two players of their caliber ever been seen in Broward County--let alone at the same time period. Look for both of them to be on NBA rosters in the near future.

While South Florida is more known for producing football talent, there have been some very good basketball players who have come through this area. Yesterday, the Sun Sentinel had a list of the best players to come out of Broward and Palm Beach. Today I decided to make my own list of the 40 greatest players to come out of Dade and Broward. Players are listed in alphabetical order with the schools they attended. They range from current and former NBA players like Mitch Richmond, Mychal Thompson , Udonis Haslem and Raja Bell to former prep All Americans like Douglas Edwards, Chris Corchiani and this year's Broward superstars Knight and Boynton. Included in the list is one female player Sylvia Fowles, who is arguably the most accomplished player--male or female--to come out of South Florida. She led Edison and Gulliver Prep to state titles, was an All American at LSU and Olympic gold medalist and now a star in the WNBA. But since I'm a male chauvenist pig, I can't put a female player as the greatest to ever come out of South Florida. Despite having still one more year of high school to finish, Brandon Knight is my choice as the greatest ever South Florida basketball player. His body of work is already awesome. Everything he does will only add to the legend.

40 Greatest South Florida (Dade/Broward) High School Basketball Players of All time

J.J. Barea - Miami Christian
Lucas Barnes - South Miami
Raja Bell - Killian
Steve Blake - Killian / Miami High
Ricky Blanton - Killian
Kenny Boynton - Ely / American Heritage
Trevor Burton - South Miami
Denis Clemente - Calusa Prep
Chris Corchiani - Kendall Acres / Hialeah-Miami Lakes
Guillermo Diaz - Miami Christian
Keyon Dooling - Cardinal Gibbons / Dillard
Vernon Delancy - Miami High
Douglas Edwards - Miami High
Stevie Edwards - Miami High
Sylvia Fowles - Edison / Gulliver Prep
Clarence Gilbert - Dillard
Taurean Green - Cardinal Gibbons
Udonis Haslem - Miami High
Tim James - Northwestern
Eddie Jones - Ely
James Jones - American
Brandon Knight - Pine Crest
Corey Louis - Northwestern
Gimel Martinez - Miami High
Robert McKie - Carol City
Charlie Miller - South Miami
Zach Peacock - Norland
Cesar Portillo - Miami High
Jose Ramos - Miami High
Mitch Richmond - Boyd Anderson
Cecil Rose - Jackson
Ray Shipman - Pace
Ochiel Swaby - North Miami
Jim Thomas - Nova
Irving Thomas - Carol City
Mychal Thompson - Jackson
Jesus Verdejo - Miami Christian
Neal Walk - Miami Beach
Jermaine Walker - Ely
Brent Wright - Miami High