The Thugs, the laughing stock of the league from 1996-1998 in which they went 12-29, have been the league’s most victorious franchise since 1999. Over the past five years they have quietly racked up 40 wins, compared to just 18 losses and have won four of the five AFC West Division Championships. But the Thugs dynasty appears to be in its final years as the AFC West has become overly-competitive and the Thugs are one of the older teams in the YFFL. This makes winning the Super Bowl this season that much more important, knowing that the Thugs will slowly decline after this season.
Best known for their chronic off-the-field problems, the Thugs still haven’t seemed to rid themselves of these distractions and have surprisingly learned to play well despite all the adversity. This season’s off-the-field problems were no different with Jimmy Smith missing 4-games for violating the YFFL’s drug abuse policy. But the days of Bam Morris, Albert Connell, and Snoop Minnis appear to be over as the Thugs now focus on signing misfits who also happen to be Pro-Bowlers like Smith and David Boston.
It is likely safe to say that the two QBs currently on the Thugs roster who are responsible for Thugs ascension to the top of the YFFL. Jeff Blake, who re-joined the team this season, led the team for much of 1999 season before getting injured. YFFL career journeyman Charlie Batch took over but could only get the Thugs to the AFC Championship game, a game they would eventually lose to the Gooks. And then there’s Jeff Garcia, drafted 52nd overall in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. Selected primarily as an insurance policy to Blake, Garcia quickly emerged as the team’s No. 1 QB and went on to score 102 points that season. In 2001, Garcia surprised everyone with a 177 point season and was voted the league’s MVP. The Thugs QBs have come a long way from 1997 in which Sansone went with the QB by committee of Stan Humphries, John Friesz, Ty Detmer and Kent Graham.
It would be unfair to mention Thugs quarterbacks without mentioning Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe was acquired via trade mid-way through the 1997 season from the Buddies for Warrrick Dunn and a first-round draft choice. Bledsoe, a career fantasy underachiever, would last only a season and a half with the Thugs as he could never get the team into playoff contention. Ultimately, he was pawned off to the expansion Merry Men for their No. 2 overall draft pick in 1999. The Thugs passed up on Ricky Williams, and used the pick on Edgerrin James and the franchise has been winning ever since.
With Garcia and James in place, Sansone began building around his cornerstones. The self-proclaimed RB draft guru patiently waited for Ahman Green to replace Dorsey Levens in the Packers backfield and drafted unheralded Eagles RBs Charlie Garner and Duce Staley. Garner remains with the Thugs today and Staley was part of a key trade that brought Jimmy Smith from the Beans to the Thugs in 2001.
Perhaps, the most unlikely piece of the puzzle was David Akers. The “other” player in the trade that brought Chris Carter to the Thugs in 2001, Akers has turned into one of the league’s most reliable players. He was so reliable that Sansone was able to dispose of another kicker, Martin Grammatica who was ironically the “other” player in the trade that brought David Boston to the Thugs last season. It’s amazing how kickers have directly changed the path this franchise has taken over the years. The Thugs still have rights to a Refugees player as Adam Vinatieri was traded back in 2000 for a “player to be named later” who surprisingly hasn’t been “named” yet to this day.
The final piece of the puzzle was Anquan Boldin. Every championship team needs their share of luck, and the Thugs truly lucked out on Anquan Boldin, whom they drafted late in the second round of this season’s draft. And how could anyone write an article on the Thugs and not mention Moe Williams. The king of “1-Yard TDs” last season, has been a steady contributor again this season and is a primary reason why the Thugs are representing the AFC in Super Bowl XI.