Who wouldn’t dream of becoming the 15th member of an exclusive NFL statistical fraternity that includes six Hall of Famers and a guy named “Shipwreck”? Adam Thielen, for one.
“I really try to avoid looking at or thinking about my stats because I’m just trying to do my part in winning games,” the Vikings receiver and NFL receptions leader said Thursday when asked if he’s ever thought about owning the NFL record for catches in a single season.
To prove his discomfort with discussing individual statistics, Thielen spent every tick of Thursday’s 133-second interview like a man whose hand was being pinned to a lit stovetop.
“Sorry,” he said. “Maybe it will be one of those things you look back at when you’re done playing.”
With 98 catches, Thielen’s pace of 130 would break Cris Carter’s team record of 122 (1994), fall short of Marvin Harrison’s NFL record of 143 (with the Colts in 2002) and rank fourth-best all-time. If Thielen hangs onto his lead, he’ll join Carter and running backs Chuck Foreman (73 in 1975) and Rickey Young (88 in 1978) as the only Vikings to lead the NFL in receptions.
After a slow month, Thielen needs to average 11½ catches over the final four games to surpass Harrison. Perhaps he can get a chunk of that Monday night against a Seahawks secondary whose “Legion of Boom” era has expired.
In beating the 49ers 43-16 last week, Seattle surrendered 30 completions for 414 yards to Nick Mullens. Overall, Seattle ranks tied for 16th in completions allowed (274).
Thielen and teammate Stefon Diggs (84) are two of 13 players on pace to surpass 100 catches. The record for one season is seven, set in 2015.
Thielen’s aversion to individual statistics would have made him appreciate the NFL from its debut in 1920 through 1931, when it didn’t even record individual stats.
“Wow,” Thielen said. “That’s interesting.”
In 1932, Giants Hall of Famer Ray Flaherty became the first to hold the record for catches in a season. He had 21.
The next year, a man named John “Shipwreck” Kelly of the Brooklyn Dodgers caught 22 balls. They nicknamed the 23-year-old halfback after Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, who gained nationwide fame in the 1920s and ’30s for sitting on poles hundreds of feet in the air for days at a time. (Apparently, Americans were more easily amused back then.)
From 1935 through 1942, the record inched up five times. Packers Hall of Famer Don Hutson, the league’s first great wide receiver, set the record in 1936 (34), 1937 (41) and 1942 (74).
Another Hall of Famer, the Rams’ Tom Fears, pushed it to 77 in 1949 and 84 a year later. He held the mark until the AFL came along in 1960 with a full-throttled passing attack that would change the game and force a merger with the NFL in 1970.
Denver’s Lionel Taylor set the record at 92 in 1960 and raised it to 100 in 1961. Fellow AFL star Charley Hennigan of the Houston Oilers stretched it to 101 in 1964.
Hennigan’s record of seven 100-yard receiving games in a row to start the 1961 season lasted until Thielen posted eight this year. Hennigan’s 101 catches in 1964 stood as the single-season record for a record 20 seasons.
Redskins Hall of Famer Art Monk caught 106 in 1984 and held on until Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe pushed it to 108 in 1992 and 112 in 1993.
Carter owned the mark of 122 for only the 1994 season. Lions receiver Herman Moore had 123 in 1995 and was smoked by Harrison’s 143 in 2002.
If Harrison’s mark survives the NFL’s Gunslinger Season of 2018, how long will it stand?
“I don’t know, that’s a pretty tough number to get to, regardless of how many times you throw the ball,” Thielen said. “Defenses usually are trying to take away the guys who are getting a lot of catches earlier in the season.
“But,” Thielen added, “I’m not sure. I don’t think too much about it.”