Missing Rings – 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

When you look back at seasons past, many of the NFL champions had a feeling of inevitability to them. You can remember the greatest of champions putting their stamp on the season as they started to separate from other contenders. The inadequacies that kept them from winning it all before, had seemingly been swept away. Yet when that team runs into a brick wall on the way to what was supposed to be their championship. It becomes the expiration date on their being a legitimate  contender and you’re left with…what if??? Enter the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles.

McNabb to Owens made the 2004 Eagles.

McNabb to Owens made the 2004 Eagles.

Head Coach Andy Reid was hired in ’99 from the Green Bay Packers and the Mike Holmgren coaching tree. As Quarterback Coach he oversaw Brett Favre as he accumulated 3 straight NFL MVP trophies, 2 Super Bowl visits, and 1 championship in their final 3 seasons together. By drafting McNabb in year 1 for Reid to develop, the future looked bright.

As the 2000’s began, your Philadelphia Eagles were developing a young Donovan McNabb at quarterback. He was the shining member of the quarterback class of 1999, and he had become a dynamic play maker in Head Coach Andy Reid’s “West Coast Offense”.  Although he was developing as a passer, he would take off on serpentine runs when plays broke down. They ran the ball by committee at RB and relied on a gambling blitzing defense run by the late Jim Johnson.

McNabb eludes Michael Strahan in the 2000 divisional playoff.

McNabb eludes Michael Strahan in the 2000 divisional playoff.

Philadelphia became a wildcard entrant in 2000, where they gained confidence with a 21-3 hammering of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The following week they lost a 20-10 slugfest in the divisional round v the Giants. New York went on to play in Super Bowl XXXV and did so based on 3 wins over Philly. So the die was cast, a little improvement and the Eagles could play in the Super Bowl.

No one knew beginning with the 2001 NFC Championship a new odyssey would begin. Three consecutive losses in the championship game left the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia mired in despair. They lost a tough game in ’01 to The Greatest Show on Turf St Louis Rams, although they were underdogs on the road.  This was nothing compared to what happened next.

The 2002 NFC Championship had the Eagles hosting in the last game ever in Veterans Stadium.  A title starved city was raucous in anticipation as the Buccaneers were making the trip to The City of Brotherly Love for a 3rd consecutive postseason. The ’00 Wildcard win established the Eagles as the up and coming team in the NFC and not the Bucs. The ’01 Wildcard solidified the notion and Tampa fired Head Coach Tony Dungy.

Ronde Barber sails 95 yards with the game clinching touchdown.

Ronde Barber sails 95 yards with the game clinching touchdown.

The Eagles were planning an NFC Championship coronation with an outdoor trophy presentation. The field was surrounded by police mounted on horseback. One small problem…the Bucs won the game 27-10 thanks to new Coach Jon Gruden’s offense.  Tampa was motivated by those previous playoff losses. They went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21 over Oakland.

After another NFC Championship flame-out against Carolina in ’03, and it appeared the Eagles had let their championship window close.

Speculation rained down over the organization. Had the Eagles put enough offensive talent around McNabb to become a champion?? Rush Limbaugh was fired by ESPN over comments “the NFL was desirous of a black quarterback doing well.”  Donovan McNabb had thrown for 1 TD & 5 interceptions in the 3 NFC Title losses. Was McNabb given a pass for his poor performances?? Everyone had an opinion…until

Jevon Kearse was one of the league's best quarterback trackers.

Jevon Kearse was one of the league’s best quarterback trackers.

The front office struck a blow in Free agency when they signed DE Jevon Kearse then traded for WR Terrell Owens. These were the two big fish available in the 2004 off-season and Philly nabbed them both. Gone was the attitude the Eagles didn’t need to sign blue chip talent to make it to the Super Bowl. It was all or nothing for 2004.

A perennial top 10 defense returned to form after sliding to 20th in the 2003 season. With Kearse (7.5 sacks) the Eagles returned to form as they garnered 45 sacks and 17 ints in 2014. Up from 35 sacks and 13 picks the season before. Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson didn’t blitz as often with a dominant presence like Kearse in the lineup.

McNabb, now with the league’s best receiver in T.O., had the best season of his career. In his previous 3 complete seasons he averaged 57% completion rate, 3,272 yards, 22 TDs and 11 interceptions. In ’04 he completed 64% of his passes for 3,758 yards, 31 touchdowns to just 8 picks. He set several club records and Owens was on his way to when he suffered a fractured ankle in week 15 after a dirty horse collar tackle by Roy Williams in a 12-7 win over Dallas.

Before that Owens, and his endzone antics, had shredded the league with 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 scores. He had made a pact with Coach Reid to score 15 TDs and if he did so Reid would have to don a pair of tights. Damn he came close but the real story became what would the 13-3 Eagles do in the upcoming playoffs without their #1 playmaker??

They would have to rely on the receivers from previous years who weren’t thought of as making enough plays to get the Eagles over the top.  Running back Brian Westbrook (1,515 yds from scrimmage) would be relied upon heavily. Although there was speculation T.O. might make it back if the team made it to the Super Bowl. To do so they would have to make it past their albatross… the NFC Championship Game.

Leading up to Super Bowl XXXIX, the lead story was would Terrell Owens play in the title games. With several surgical screws in his ankle, and after signing an injury waiver, he was available on center stage.

The Eagles 24-21 loss was a valiant effort. Just 6 weeks after fracturing his ankle, Terrell Owens 9 rec for 122 yards was a sight to behold. They were beaten by the defending champion New England Patriots who were just a step better. McNabb had thrown for over 300 yards but had 3 costly interceptions that were the difference in a close, close Super Bowl. The Eagles were primed to make it back to the big dance in ’05.

However the expiration date had come and gone on the Eagles as a personality conflict between T.O. and Donovan McNabb tore at the fabric of the team. Owens would eventually be released for conduct detrimental to the team. After a 3-1 start, the ’05 Eagles fell to a 6-10 record which included a 42-0 road loss to the eventual NFC Champion Seahawks. . The run was over.

Andy Reid coached on through the 2012 season with several playoff seasons but none where the Eagles were considered elite. McNabb played on through 2009 before leaving for Washington. He was replaced by Michael Vick, the quarterback he beat for the 2004 NFC Championship.

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The Chancellor’s Take on Deflategate

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Well here we go again as the New England Patriots are locked in the latest scandal involving deflated footballs. I’ll be brief… A new football is like a new baseball glove. You work it in and squeeze it rub it and get the sheen off of it so you can get a better grip. This is common place in the NFL of not only quarterbacks but kickers.

Remember the introduction of the “K” ball??  The NFL believed that the higher percentage of field goals made was directly related to kicking “worked in” footballs. So the decision came down to have a series of balls marked with a “K” that were hands off to teams. The other balls they were able to throw, squeeze, and work in the 12 they want to use for game play. Every team does it…every quarterback does it.

The late Weeb Ewbank, who coached the Jets to victory in Super Bowl III, once said at a coaches clinic  “All I want is my fair advantage!” Which means everyone is pushing the envelope of what they can get away with or at least moving ever so close to the line.

However it has set in that the rest of the NFL is tired of the New England Patriots. Not one active quarterback came to Tom Brady’s defense as “Deflate-gate” was first investigated. They’re all squeezing and working in balls all the time. Where they have overstepped their bounds is having the equipment guy taking the air out of the football. That is what will get the Patriots and Roger Goodell in trouble.

The Patriots are in trouble because of their history with “Spy-Gate” and the $250,000 fine levied against them. This makes them a repeat offender. In a year where the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons were penalized for pumping in crowd noise, expect a heavy fine. Richard Sherman pointed a light at Roger Goodell’s chummy relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft during Super Bowl week. That spotlight is about to intensify…

Richard Sherman's comment about the relationship between Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft are coming back to haunt.

Richard Sherman’s comment about the relationship between Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft are coming back to haunt.

Did you notice the decision came down 1 week after the draft?? Now the Patriots can’t be penalized draft picks for this season. That will cause a groundswell of anger amid owners over this next week. Looks like a “scratch my back” move by Goodell and it can come to cost him. When it comes to competitive balance you have to be decisive and the punishment severe. The man that will have to be suspended when the axe falls is Tom Brady.

Brady wasn’t forthright in dealing with the investigation and lied about his involvement. Of course he knew what was being done because its the quarterback who selects what 12 balls a team is going to use on gameday. As Goodell has been harsh with his suspensions of players over domestic abuse and non-competitive violations, he has to be harsh here. Brady has to be suspended between 4-6 games or Goodell will come off favoring Kraft again.

The other owners shouldn’t stand for a suspension less than that and there will be grumblings from players if the punishment isn’t severe either. Black players will come forward stating Goodell won’t harshly punish a prominent white player. Teams that face the Patriots in the first 4-6 weeks will rally on the side of suspending Brady for those reasons. More importantly, Goodell is going to have to face the Richard Sherman allegation of favoring the New England Patriots owner.

During Super Bowl week, Robert Kraft vehemently demanded an apology for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady if they were cleared of wrong doing. Now that they haven’t all eyes are on Goodell in New York.

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1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: 49ers Perspective

Former San Francisco 49er Head Coach Bill Walsh referred to the early years of the organization’s coming of age as “Camelot”. After the 1981 Super Bowl championship they would go on to become “Team of the Decade” winning another 3 titles. San Francisco became the NFL’s gold standard in on field achievement and the corporate way they conducted themselves.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor had taken the West Coast Offense to a record level.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor had taken the West Coast Offense to a record level.

Their players were revered as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott took their place among the league’s greatest ever players. They had been the toast of Presidents as the 80’s drew to a close. In 1989 new Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones traveled to San Francisco to learn from Eddie Debartolo how the league’s model franchise did business. This was nothing new as even former Head Coach Bill Walsh had become a favorite on the corporate motivational speaking circuit.

As the 90’s beckoned, the team was transitioning on the field as Steve Young, Ricky Watters and a new wave of 49ers emerged. It started with a team loss in  the 90 NFC Championship to the New York Giants 15-13 ending their chance at a 3-peat. Gone were 80’s holdovers Montana, Roger Craig, and Lott as the new generation took shape in 1991. Montana from a vicious hit that kept him out of football for two years. The others were released as the team looked to get younger to stay competitive.

They finished 10-6 as Steve Young finished his first season as a passing champion. It took awhile for San Fran to find their footing yet they finished on a 6 game winning streak. By 1992 the Niners hit their stride finishing 14-2 and retooled with Ricky Watters rushing for 1,013 yards to join Young, and Rice in the Pro Bowl. Another passing title moved Young into the elite of the sport yet it came crashing down with a loss to the upstart Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship 30-20.

Steve Young being sacked  during the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Steve Young being sacked during the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Yes, those same Dallas Cowboys who had studied the 49er organization some 4 years before. The same Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones who had traded for former 49er Charles Haley to help lead the upstart Cowboys and shift the balance of power. Haley had grown up a 49er and battled T Steve Wallace, G Guy McIntyre, and G Harris Barton for 6 years in practice. His experience and spirit settled the nervous young Cowboys in their ’92 NFC Championship triumph.

Going into the game it was a 50/50 split as to who had the upper hand. What really hurt Steve Young is a now healthy Joe Montana watched from the sideline. As San Fran fell behind in the second half, a growing feeling in the stadium loomed. Would George Seifert put Montana in if the game got away from Young. Even though Young was the NFL’s MVP, he still had the legend looking over his shoulder.

Troy Aikman outplayed him and made several signature throws to Alvin Harper while Young threw 2 4th quarter interceptions. What if Guy McIntyre doesn’t false start on the game’s 3rd play negating Jerry Rice’s 63 yard TD from Young?? It would have changed the complexion of  the game. However Troy Aikman had gone 24 of 34 for 322 yards and 2TDs. Emmitt Smith controlled the clock with 114 yds rushing and 59 yds receiving. They took the measure of San Fran and became the league’s signature team with their Super Bowl XXVII championship.

Going into 1993 the 49ers had traded away Joe Montana making it Young’s team. This added pressure from the fans but their real battle was catching Dallas who was now an established champion. They were brash and played with an in your face bravado that took the 49ers aback. In the locker room following the ’92 Championship, Jimmy Johnson’s boast “How ’bout them Cowboys!?!” reverberated in the CBS cameras & throughout Candlestick Park. It haunted the organization as they set their sights on dethroning the loud, brash Cowboys.

Once they qualified for the NFC Championship rematch in Dallas, it was time to right the ship. Dallas had beat them 26-17 in the regular season to add to their confidence. Then Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson dropped a bombshell.  He called a Dallas radio station and declared “We will win the game and you can put it in 3 inch headline!” Now they were calling San Fran out and how would they respond??

Called out and humiliated like an after school fight in 6th grade, the 38-21 loss in the ’93 NFC Championship was worse than it looked. Dallas was up 28-7 in the 2nd quarter and was sitting on the ball with 3:27 to go. The defense, which had struggled all year, was completely exposed. The gap was widening and the team needed to make drastic changes if they were going to compete with the younger Cowboys.

Michael Irvin had emerged as one of the best wide outs in the NFL. Emmitt Smith had the last 2 rushing titles and had his 3rd straight 100 yard rushing game against the 49ers. Troy Aikman had yet to throw an interception in 2 NFC Championship games. Alvin Harper was becoming a serious 49er killer as he emerged with the highest yard per catch average in postseason history. Most of it due to huge plays against San Fran.

Carmen Policy and the 49ers brass moved into swift action. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl squad. Free agency had come to the NFL the year before and they used this as a recruiting trip. They signed future Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson, Richard Dent, Deion Sanders off the NFC Pro Bowl squad. Then stole Ken Norton Jr from the Cowboys and DE Charles Mann all fom the ’93 Pro Bowl.

Floyd and Watters celebrate touchdown during their 44-15 demolition of Chicago in the '94 playoffs.

Floyd and Watters celebrate touchdown during their 44-15 demolition of Chicago in the ’94 playoffs.

“If you can come in and give us the defense, we have an offense that can dethrone the Cowboys and get to the Super Bowl.” They also knew they needed a new approach psychologically and embraced a more brash, in your face street tough mentality. Embraced was the outgoing personalities of Ricky Watters, Deion Sanders, and rookie FB William Floyd. Gone was the laced up corporate attitude of the team on the field. This group showed its emotions on the field, celebrated with end zone dancing and Deion highstepping downfield after interceptions. The only thing that made the 49ers recognizable were their helmets. Thanks to the NFL commemorating their 75th season, the Niners elected to play most of the season in their “throwback” uniforms of the 1950s. The 49ers were reborn in 1994.

It worked as the 49ers blew through the regular season 13-3 and scored a team record 505 points. Steve Young was league MVP and Sanders was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. They retooled and had specific match ups ready as they eyed the defending champion Cowboys. They beat them during the season 21-14 to earn the right to homefield advantage for the ’94 NFC Championship. If the Cowboys were going to 3peat, they had to go through the last team that had that same chance just 4 years before.

The vanquished became the victors with their 38-28 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys in the ’94 NFC Championship Game. Super Bowl XXIX was an anticlimactic 49-26 win over the San Diego Chargers. Steve Young liberated himself from the ghost of Joe Montana. For 3 straight years these two teams pushed each other to heights they would not have achieved without each other. However the final shot was fired by the 49ers.

Young and Rice celebrate in Super Bowl XXIX.

Young and Rice celebrate in Super Bowl XXIX.

Jerry Jones had become obsessed with overtaking the 49ers who themselves made practical business decisions. They didn’t match Ricky Watters free agent contract with Philadelphia, which was a mistake, and they had to enter a bidding war for Deion Sanders. In ’94 they signed him to $1.1 million for one year where other teams were offering 4 years $17 million. Coming off a Super Bowl triumph and his 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year it was time to cash in. San Francisco baited jones and he took it and overspent for Deion at a cost of $35 million.

This crippled Dallas who wouldn’t be a player in free agency the rest of the decade. The Cowboys had all their money tied to Aikman, Smith, Irvin, and Sanders. The 49ers had freed themselves of the Dallas stranglehold and would go on to be an elite team the rest of the decade. They just didn’t see a new foe emerging in Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers.

However there was the 1995 season where the 49ers were more in the spirit of the pre ’94 group. At midseason they took on the revenge minded Cowboys in Texas Stadium. The Cowboys were 8-1, healthy and ready to show with Deion Sanders in tow, they had overtaken San Fran. Going into the game they were missing QB Steve Young, FB William Floyd and staggered into the game with a 5-4 record. Perfect timing for the Cowboys to provide the knock out blow. Nobody believed the 49ers had a chance…

After being upset by the Packers in the 1995 NFC Divisional Playoffs 21-17, they began a new rivalry chapter with them. As for Dallas, they did win Super Bowl XXX to make it 4 wins in 4 years between these two organizations. New teams would emerge before the decade concluded. Most notable was Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos. Shanahan was San Francisco’s Offensive Coordinator during the heat of the 49er v Cowboys rivalry.

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1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys Perspective

Back on January 10, 1982, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship in what came to be known as “The Catch”. Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin were 12, 15, & 15 yrs of age respectively at the time. Over the next decade, a football generation came to know the 49ers as the dominant team in pro football. Yet here they were in January 1993, as men, having conquered the 49ers in the ’92 NFC Championship 30-20 in a true changing of the guard.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Joe Montana, an iconic symbol of the old guard, was shaking hands congratulating the young Cowboys. They had vanquished not only the team with the NFC’s best record, 14-2, they topped the team that epitomized conference excellence over the last decade. Now they were navigating uncharted waters and off to Super Bowl XXVII to take on the Buffalo Bills. By the time they made it to Pasadena to take on the Bills, they’re confidence was at an all time high.However beating Buffalo was anticlimactic to what had taken place in soggy San Francisco 2 weeks before.

 

Troy Aikman came of age in the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Troy Aikman fulfilled the promise of being drafted #1 overall with his 1992 NFC Championship Game performance.

They had come through the gauntlet which was the NFC at the time. A conference that had won the last 8 straight Super Bowls and would ultimately win 13 in a row. The physical nature of the conference was one thing, but they had to beat the mystique of the best organization in San Francisco.

Once the 49ers unseated the Cowboys back in the ’81 NFC Championship Game, they became the gold standard of NFL franchises. Every veteran wanted to play for Eddie Debartolo’s organization. Once Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, he traveled to San Francisco to study how the league’s model front office operated.

By the time Jimmy Johnson had rebuilt “America’s Team” in a few short years, they were ready to take on a 49er team that was prepared to rule the 1990’s just as they had the 80’s. They were built with a different breed of player. Fast, aggressive and an in your face bravado reminiscent of the Miami Hurricane teams Johnson coached in college. The most indelible image from that ’92 Championship was in the locker room when he boasted “How ’bout them Cowboys!??!” loud enough you could nearly hear it in the 49er locker room.

Terry Bradshaw once said “Once you win a Super Bowl the regular season is boring. All you care about is getting back to the playoffs where it can be fun again.”

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Well the boredom Dallas had to endure was losing Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt, Emmitt Smith’s holdout, and the advent of free agency. In time free agency would prove to be the bigger foe, but when the Cowboys started 0-2 without Smith’s services, it was clear what priority one was.

The reality set in these were the two best teams in football. Steve Young had won the last two passing titles but Aikman was thought of as the better quarterback. Troy entered ’93 as a Super Bowl winning QB, something Young had yet to do. Michael Irvin (78 rec. 1,396 yds 7 TDs) was beginning to challenge Jerry Rice (84 rec. 1,201 yds 10 TDs) as to who was the best receiver in the game.

In every way these two team were eyeing each other for another postseason date but first had to get through a regular season affair that offered some answers.

The 26-17 win over the 49ers gave the Cowboys the inside track to Super Bowl XXVIII. In fact when they won homefield advantage for the ’93 playoffs, the only question was the status of Emmitt Smith’s separated shoulder suffered in the clinching finale against the New York Giants. Smith was one of 11 Pro Bowlers that included QB Troy Aikman, FB Darryl Johnston, WR Michael Irvin, linemen Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton, and Eric Williams. By the time you include TE Jay Novacek, they were 3 starters away from sending every player to the Pro Bowl.

The defense, which ranked 10th in the league sent LB Ken Norton Jr, DT Russell Maryland, and FS Thomas Everett to Honolulu. A far cry from the year before when they ranked #1 defensively and sent 0 players to the Pro Bowl. We’ll talk about the importance of Everett later but this team was riding high after the emotional win vs. New York. They kept their eye out west on the 49ers as they blew out the wildcard Giants 44-3 in the divisional round. Dallas beat Green Bay 27-17 to set up the NFC Championship rematch in Texas Stadium.

As pundits lauded the 49ers lopsided win in Candlestick, it belied the fact they had actually struggled down the stretch losing 3 of their last 4. Sure their defense had put it together in taking down the 1 dimensional Giants, but that is after they had the huge battle in the season finale at Dallas and a hard fought wildcard against the Vikings.

After listening to the experts all week, Jimmy Johnson had had enough and called in to a Dallas Radio show on Friday night and declared “We will win the game! You can put it in 3 inch headline!” There was no easing into it now….this was a street fight in the school yard. They called the laced up shirt and tie corporate 49ers out and how would they respond.

They beat down the 49ers 38-21 and were actually ahead 28-7 in the 2nd quarter. Texas Stadium for the first time ever was raucous. Even in the Tom Landry days crowds in Dallas responded like they were at a play or something. They cheered when it was time to but this felt different. It was boisterous and the tempo of the team and the audience fed off Jimmy Johnson’s bravado and echoed in kind. Who knew it was  going to be Johnson’s last game ever at Texas Stadium??

After beating The Chancellor of Football’s Buffalo Bills for the Super Bowl XXVIII championship, we had Johnson’s departure in the offseason. On March 29th was the press conference where there was a mutual parting of the ways. The shock wave could be felt through the NFL. The youngest team in the league that won back to back Super Bowls was going on without their vocal leader?? Jerry Jones erroneously stated there were 50 coaches who could coach the Dallas Cowboys and hired Barry Switzer to succeed him.

The Cowboys were that talented and headed into 1994 as the best team in football on paper. Or so they thought… the 49ers had retooled and fashioned much of their team and personality based on the bravado that left them whipped in Dallas the preceding January. The Niners had signed away Ken Norton Jr. and 6 defenders to bolster their defense including future Hall of Famers Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, and Deion Sanders. All off the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl and San Francisco used this as a recruiting trip.

Free agency had robbed the Cowboys of Norton, DTs Tony Casillas & DT Jimmie Jones, and to the Chancellor the most valuable defender in FS Thomas Everett. Before Everett’s arrival in ’92, the 11-5 Cowboys struggled with Run & Shoot offenses especially, and at times was awful against the pass. Why do you think they drafted CB Kevin Smith, S Darren Woodson, and traded for Everett to start 1992??

Not Charles Haley...it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Not Charles Haley…it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Dallas had been 1-3 against Run & Shoot teams in 1991. They went 5-0 against those teams including the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII that finished as the top passing teams that year with Everett. It was this end zone interception in Super Bowl XXVII that started the 1990’s reign of the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise the Bills take a 17-14 lead and the Bills take control of the game. In big games he starred….in each NFC Championship Game against the 49ers he picked off Steve Young. You cannot underscore his importance in gluing a young secondary together and teaching them to be pros by example.

Yet 1994 saw this team try to move on without this defensive firepower and they did go 12-4. DE Charles Haley was healthy and made the Pro Bowl with 12.5 sacks, S Darren Woodson, and Leon Lett came into their own making their first Pro Bowl trips. The offense was as potent as ever with Smith’s 1,461 yards and 21 TDs. Although he battled leg injuries the 2nd half of the season. Did they have enough in the gas tank to get to win a 3rd straight Super Bowl and make it into NFL lore?? All they had to do was take a trip out to beat the 49ers for the right to go to Super Bowl XXIX.

So Dallas had to watch the 49ers go on to win Super Bowl XXIX 49-26 over San Diego. They did return the following year to beat Pittsburgh 27-17 to win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years yet the rivalry came to an end for this era. Both teams kept raising the bar on each other and pushed themselves to a height no other team could reach. In each of these seasons they were the best teams in football and won all 4 Super Bowls… yet lingering questions are still being debated to this day…

  • How many Super Bowls would Dallas have won if Johnson coaches the whole decade??
  • Would they have won 3 in a row if Johnson coached them in ’94??
  • Would the 49ers have won in 1994 if they hadn’t built a defense from the ’93 Pro Bowl roster??
  • How would the 1990’s play out for Dallas if there had not been free agency??
  • Why isn’t Jimmy Johnson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??
  • Would the Cowboys have won in 1994 if T Erik Williams doesn’t get in that car accident??

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Epilogue: When it came to Jimmy Johnson’s success in Dallas, it was bitter sweet being a Buffalo Bill fan. We lost those two Super Bowls but I was a fan of his back to Herschel Walker and when he first coached the Cowboys. Nope not Dallas…we’re talking the Oklahoma St Cowboys. I first read about Jimmy Johnson during the ’82 season when his running back Earnest “Sparkplug” Anderson became the 5th back to run for 1,000 yards in just the 5th game of the season.

Herschel walker won the Heisman but I kept screaming it was “Sparkplug” Anderson that led college football in rushing! Alas…no blog back in ’82. Yet remember following Johnson and as a tradition would watch the Bluebonnet Bowl played on New Year’s Eve and watched Oklahoma St win that game. When it was announced he was coming to my favorite college team at The [[_]] of Miami, talk about excited… I knew Schnellenberger’s replacement and the rest is history.

I did get to meet Johnson and the Dallas Cowboy coaching staff at Houlihan’s on St Patrick’s Day in 1993 just after the first Super Bowl with Buffalo. I remember having him sign my Golden Nugget /Mirage jacket from Vegas and talked a little football. If only cell phones with cameras, Instagram & Facebook existed then…

Dedicated to the memories of Mark Tuinei, Godfrey Myles, and Joe Avezzano

Next Up: 1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: 49ers Perspective

 

 

Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

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Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

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Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl Favorite In the AFC??

Most of the time you look at what a team projects to and it’s difficult to figure their trajectory. In the case of the 2015 Indianapolis Colts, the maturation of the rebuilding process beginning with Peyton Manning’s release, should pay off this year.

Luck scores in last year's playoff win in Denver.

Luck scores in last year’s season opener in Denver.

Let’s face it the Colts struck gold in the selection and development of Andrew Luck. Every year he has elevated his game along with another playoff accomplishment. At the end of the 2013 season, he brought the Colts back in a 45-44 wildcard thriller before falling to Brady’s Patriots in the divisional round. Last year his Colts won a couple playoff games including a 24-13 win against Manning’s Broncos signaling a changing of the guard.

In that game he out-dueled Peyton and looked to be the more confident quarterback with more command of the field. Our eyes didn’t deceive us. Luck was sure of himself and his teammates fed off his energy. Along with his playmaking ability, you could see he was capable of carrying a franchise.

However once again Luck and the Colts were struck down by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 45-7. What was different about the loss last year is we clearly saw he didn’t have the talent around him to beat New England. The year before they were just a step behind Brady’s boys where last year, a retooled Patriot secondary obliterated the league’s #1 passing attack.

It’s evident: To get to the Super Bowl the Colts need to get Luck some dogs to help lead the pack. Enter Frank Gore and Andre Johnson.

How many championship teams over the years have brought in grizzled veterans to lend experience and tone for a young team?? Remember when the ’81 49ers brought in “Hacksaw” Reynolds and Fred Dean?? How about the ’92 Cowboys bringing in Charles Haley and Thomas Everett?? What about the ’01 Patriots bringing in LB Bryan Cox?? The latter was just as impotant.. go back and see which “alpha dog” lead them onto the field for Super Bowl XXXVI. it was Cox…yet I digress

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Gore set the tone in San Fran just like Lynch does in Seattle.

Frank Gore brings a punishing, tone setting style to an offense that can be described as finesse up to this point. Indy couldn’t knuckle up with two tight ends and impose their will on a defense. Gore brings that will and toughness to an offense relying too much on trickery. Knowing his time in the light is short, his hunger to get back to the Super Bowl will fuel the team’s urgency to win now.

The same can be said for fellow [[_]] alumnus Andre Johnson.  Year after year he’s had to watch the Colts foray into the NFL playoffs as his Houston Texans stumbled. They played in Super Bowls and AFC Championships. Now they have retooled on the run and came within a game of the big dance last year. How envious has he been watching this from up close in the same division?? So he’s staying within the division  (Calvin) and joining ranks with Gore to bring a veteran hunger to forge a tougher team mentality than the last few years.

Andre Johnson fightDid we say a tougher mentality?? Now I know you remember the fight between Johnson and former Titan Cortland Finnegan. Well this is a microcosm of the toughness he’ll bring to the offense converting 3rd and 7’s over the middle this season. A 7 time Pro Bowler will work the intermediate routes while TY Hilton will blow the top off opposing defenses.

With all the departures in New England this team should ascend to Super Bowl L. A third shot at New England with an even more mature Luck will come up rosy for Indy. Don’t forget LB Robert Mathis will return to join free agent DE Trent Cole to rush the passer. They join former Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year D’Qwell Jackson to improve last year’s 11th best defense. If this team is playing with a lead they will be hard to beat.

All they need is a good draft to address a few needs and luck when it comes to injuries.

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The Soul Of The Game: RIP Chuck Bednarik

Its with great sadness to hear of the passing of Hall of Fame member Chuck Bednarik. “Concrete Charlie” is a throwback, not only to a woebegone era, but one of the last living members of the Philadelphia Eagles last NFL champion from 1960. In that game he performed as the last of the two way players as he played Center and Linebacker.

Bednarik's hit on Gifford was one of the greatest in NFL history.

Bednarik’s hit on Gifford was one of the greatest in NFL history.

In his career he made two plays iconic in not only Eagles history but NFL history. The first was in 1960 in New York when he leveled Frank Gifford of the Giants, knocking him out of football for nearly two years.  The hit was instrumental in the Eagles finishing as Eastern Conference champions and the Giants going home. Philadelphia swept them as they finished first and broke the Giants string of championship appearances. The Giants played for it all in 1958, ’59, ’61, ’62, and ’63.

The 1960 NFL Championship Ring.

The 1960 NFL Championship Ring.

The second was in the ’60 NFL Championship when he stopped Jim Taylor at the 9 yard line and wouldn’t let him up as time ran out. It was the only time Vince Lombardi’s Packers lost in postseason play. It was also the last game in which a player went both ways in a championship or Super Bowl game. Don’t mention a Deion Sanders playing Cornerback and a couple plays at Receiver either. We’re talking Middle Linebacker and Center hitting on every play.

Don’t forget Bednarik was 35 years old at the time.

1949 NFL Championship Ring

1949 NFL Championship Ring

Bednarik’s career spanned from 1949-1962 where he played for 2 NFL champions. His rookie year was the second of Head Coach Greasy Neale’s back to back NFL champions. He played all 14 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a hitter and its sad to know he’s passed away today at the age of 89. I wish I would have met you and talked some football.

 

 

"Concrete Charlie"

“Concrete Charlie”

RIP Chuck Bednarik (May 1, 1925- March 21, 2015)

 

 

 

Unsung Players: Joe Morris

From time to time there are players where we wonder how their careers could have tuned out if… Those ifs come in the form of injuries, had the player had a different coach who would have utilized him more, to if they had better talent around them. Then in some cases you can have a player that is a supernova burning bright for a brief period of time. Enter Joe Morris…

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

Morris stiff arms Alvin Walton in the 1986 NFC Championship Game

For those of us old enough to have enjoyed decades of pro football, we still remember the era of the super back. The power and speed of an Eric Dickerson, toughness and fury of a Walter Payton, or the electrifying burst of a Tony Dorsett. Several prototypes come to mind and Morris at 5’7 190 lbs and a straight line runner, just didn’t fit any.

He was the epitome of a ball carrier. One who could only get the yardage a given play was designed for. However as New York Giant Head Coach Bill Parcells was establishing his power running game in the early 1980s, he decided to move Rob Carpenter to Fullback which inserted Morris into the line-up. Morris had more of a burst and once he gelled with the offensive line, he may have given us the best 2 year stretch of any runner in the history of the NFC East. Morris evolved into a runner.

We’ll take a look at the numbers in a second but here is a glimpse at his play in 1985:

After powering the Giants to a wildcard finish in 1985, they had bigger aspirations for 1986. Could he have an encore performance to rival his breakout 1985??

In 1985, Morris rushed for 1.336 yards and a career high 21 touchdowns. He followed that up in ’86 with 1,516 yards and 14 more trips to the endzone. When you look at the best two year period v. other great NFC East backs of his era, the numbers will surprise you.

  • Joe Morris ’85 &’86: 635 car. 2,852 yds 35 TDs
  • Emmitt Smith ’94 & ’95: 745 car. 3,257 yds 46 TDs
  • Tony Dorsett ’80 & ’81: 620 car. 2,831 yds 15 TDs
  • John Riggins ’83 & ’84: 702 car. 2,586 yds 38 TDs
  • Wilbert Montgomery ’78 & ’79: 597 car. 2,732 yds 18 TDs
  • Ottis Anderson ’79 & ’80: 632 car. 2,957 yds 17 TDs

The only two that outscored him were Riggins in ’83 and Emmitt in ’95. Ironically those are the years that each set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season. Along with Smith and Riggins,  Morris powered his team to a Super Bowl win in his 2 year period. It’s also surprising he had a better two year total than OJ Anderson when he was with the Cardinals. In another ironic twist it was Anderson who replaced Morris in 1989 after Joe broke his foot. An injury that subsequently ended Joe’s career.

Morris didn’t finish with a Hall of Fame career (5,585 yds 50TDs) but he did power the ’86 Giants to their Super Bowl XXI championship. He developed into a power runner despite his size and was as good a running back the NFL had ever seen. Up until Tiki Barber, this was the New York Giants best running back and it’s worth taking a look back.

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Mark Clayton’s Magic Night

When you mention receiving records in the NFL, the name that sits a top several categories is Jerry Rice. However there have been great performances and incredible stats gathered by other receivers. What gets lost are the records that were broken by others just before Rice came into the league.  One such record was set by Mark Clayton of the Miami Dolphins.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

You need to understand the Dolphins had played in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the 1982 season. The late David Woodley struggled in the second half of that loss completing just one pass. The following draft Don Shula moved to upgrade not only his quarterback, Dan Marino in the 1st round, but began to look to upgrade one of the league’s slowest receiving corps in the draft. Clayton was selected in the 8th round from Louisville in the same ’83 draft.

Thus began the genesis to one of the NFL’s greatest offenses. Clayton began slowly as a reserve catching just 6 passes in his rookie year. He teamed with fellow reserve WR Mark Duper to form the core of what would be Shula’s new passing game. All three played with a chip on their shoulder all year long as they assaulted defenses on a week to week basis. While Marino shattered the all time record for touchdowns thrown in a season, he was within 58 yards of Dan Fouts yardage record going into the finale vs. Dallas.

Overshadowed by the records Marino was eclipsing, Clayton entered the finale just 2 touchdowns shy of an even longer standing record. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch’s record of 17 TD receptions which had stood since 1951. He would have to do it against a Dallas Cowboy team that needed a win to make the playoffs.

Clayton had scorched the NFL’s 7th rated pass defense for 4 recpts 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. His two 4th quarter touchdowns allowed him to set the new record at 18 TD receptions. . His record stood until Rice broke it in 1987. Then Randy Moss pushed the record to 23 in 2007. In fact only Sterling Sharpe in 1994, Rice, and Moss are the only receivers to amass 18 touchdowns in a single season. Just 4 receiving seasons in 65 years.

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton’s 1984 season of 78 rec. 1389 yds 18 TDs was among the greatest in history. He had a good career with 5 Pro Bowl seasons, 5 – 1,000 yard seasons while finishing with 582 catches 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. He did leave his imprint on the game and his signature moment was his record breaking Monday Night in 1984.

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Ken Riley Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

There are several teams that have their best talents go unrecognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The prevailing theme that has emerged are the lack of members from franchises that haven’t won a Super Bowl or an NFL championship in their existence. Even those that compiled impressive numbers during their careers. Enter Ken Riley of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was a geat cornerback for Cincy.

Riley was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in their last year in the American Football League in 1969. He teamed with fellow CB Lemar Parrish and FS Tommy Casanova to form one of the best secondaries of the 1970’s. Over a 15 year career ending in 1983, Riley intercepted 65 enemy passes. Good enough for 4th all time at the time of his retirement, and still ranks 5th just behind Rod Woodson.

A quiet player drafted out of Florida A & M, his career was overshadowed by other teammates and playing in a small market in Cincinnati. There were only so many Pro Bowl votes to go around. Many of those went to teammate Parrish with 8 who was also one of the league’s best punt returners… we’ll get back to this.

From 1974-1978 the Bengal defense ranked 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 3rd against the pass. The “Soul Patrol” Raider secondary of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson never yielded less yards than this group. The Steelers only outranked them once in ’74, when they were ranked #1. Keep in mind in ’75 & ’76 the Steel Curtain had two of our greatest ever defenses and Cincy was better against the pass.

As for Pro Bowl voting during this time, Parrish who deserves Hall of Fame consideration in his own right, was a mainstay. However Riley was the better pass thief. Riley pirated 22 enemy passes to Parrish’s 6 during the time ’74-77. In fact you’d have to combine all their years together dating back to 1970 to get Parrish in the race with 23 interceptions. However Riley’s number balloons to 36 when you do that.

The biggest Pro Bowl snub came in 1976 when teammate Parrish made it to LA and Riley stayed home. Riley was 2nd in the league with 9 ints which were returned for 141 yards and a touchdown. Parrish and fellow AFC Pro Bowl CB Emmitt Thomas only had 2 respectively. Are you serious?? How does this happen?? Let’s take a look back…first at Riley, then his exploits in one of the finest secondaries in NFL history.

They were the best secondary of the 1970’s. Maybe it was going against Bill Walsh and what would become the “west coast offense” everyday in practice. Walsh was Cincinnati’s Offensive Coordinator at the time and had 2 time passing champion Ken Anderson at quarterback.

kenriley2What The Chancellor of Football remembers most about Riley was his flawless backpedal. He was a tactician that used the sideline as his friend and was never out of position.

Once Parrish was dealt away to the Redskins and Tommy Casanova retired to attend medical school in 1978, Riley played on in the Bengal secondary. He played through 1983 when in his 15th and final season, was 2nd in the league with 8 interceptions. Most players would have dwindling stats that late in their careers. Riley had a combined 18 interceptions in his final 3 years alone.

Did you know Riley never made the Pro Bowl during his career?? However he was voted All Pro in 1975, 1976, 1981, and his final season in 1983. Something has to be said about that type of sustained excellence. Of the top ten interceptors in NFL history, only he and Hall of Famer Dick Lebeau did so for the same team throughout their career. He’s the only corner to have 7 seasons with 5 or more interceptions totaling 65 over 15 years.

Keep in mind it took Darrell Green 20 years to garner 53 interceptions. Hall of Famer Deion Sanders needed 14 years to net 53 picks and Lester Hayes needed 10 years to snatch 39. None of these guys came close to matching the 18 Riley had in his final 3 seasons during their careers.

Just like there is little footage of the Cincinnati Bengals of that era, there just isn’t a lot out there on Ken Riley. He was a great cornerback that played in an era before they expanded Pro Bowl voting to include more players. Yet you can’t take away his numbers. Aside from Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane no cornerback intercepted more passes.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Ken Riley.

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The Freezer Bowl – 1981 AFC Championship Game

For all the romanticized hyperbole when The Ice Bowl is brought up, The Freezer Bowl is largely forgotten about. The 1981 AFC Championship between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers was colder from a wind chill factor at -59*. This was where  Air Coryell unceremoniously crash landed.

One man that happened to be in both games was Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg. He was the starting Tackle for the Green Bay Packers in the ’67 NFL Championship. Then he was the Head Coach of the Bengals in 1981 when they advanced to the AFC Championship Game. In a game where the winner would make the trek to Super Bowl XVI, they first had to endure the coldest game in NFL history.

One reason this game wasn’t remembered with the reverence of The Ice Bowl is it didn’t produce a champion. Another reason is it was buffered against 2 other memorable playoff games in January 1982. One was the Epic In Miami where the Dolphins and the Chargers played in 81* weather for 6 quarters in a 41-38 thriller. The other was The Catch or the NFC Championship between San Francisco and Dallas later that same day.

If you’re keeping score at home, yes the San Diego Chargers had to play in 140 degree temperature difference in one week’s time. Cincinnati won the game and went on to Pontiac, Michigan to face the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI. Yet it’s hard to forget -59* below zero.

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Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes

The saga that has been Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings is just heating up. Did the Minnesota Vikings do enough to show support while Peterson served his suspension??  It culminated in a shouting match at the scouting combine between team brass and Peterson’s agent. Clearly there is a disconnect and the best back in Viking history wants out.

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

The key is he said he will not take a pay cut nor will he renegotiate his contract in any fashion. So a sign and trade is out of the question. Will the Vikings be forced to cut him?? Now that he is reinstated it’s time to talk about possible destinations for the NFL’s best back. Sure his father has an idea where he wants to go but a lot can change when GMs move quickly.

1. The Arizona Cardinals – Please, please, please get the on air radio personalities out here to quit talking about Andre Ellington like he is an elite back. Never have I heard a more marginal talent talked about with such reverence. Peterson’s lifetime average of  5.0 per carry would be a serious boost here over Ellington’s paltry 3.3 yard average in 2014. If Arizona had a legitimate running game last year they may have had a deep run in the playoffs.

In all actuality, cutting DT/DE Darnell Dockett, Ted Ginn Jr, and restructuring Larry Fitzgerald’s contract has freed $15 million in cap space. The Cardinals can sell him on the weather, a stout defense, a returning Carson Palmer, and the fact the last 3 NFC representatives in the Super Bowl hail from the NFC West.  Peterson is 30 and if his intentions are to make it to a Super Bowl this is a legitimate landing spot.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

2. The Detroit Lions – This is a great landing spot for all the reasons mentioned with the Cardinals. Last year it was the Lions with the NFL’s #2 defense and only a controversial call kept Detroit from the divisional round of the playoffs. You want to talk about a big three?? Matthew Stafford, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and Adrian Peterson would be a sick combination. Keep in mind Peterson has at least 3 good years left and the Lions just cut Reggie Bush.

Another note to keep in mind is the high propensity for players to sign with a division rival to show their old team that they still have it. Emmitt Smith to the Cardinals, Thurman Thomas to the Dolphins, Lawyer Milloy & Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo, Brett Favre to the Vikings, then last year with Julius Peppers going to Green Bay and Jared Allen going to Chicago.  What better way to get back at Minnesota than to go for 200 on them??? Detroit is on the rise folks and Peterson is that missing piece.

3. New England Patriots – Now here is where folks will think The Chancellor of Football has lost it. Until I remind you when the 2003 defending champion Patriots acquired Corey Dillon…remember that??  Again Peterson is 30 with a few prime years left and just like Dillon never had a great team around him. Well in 2009 the Vikings with Favre did make it to the NFC Championship but the balance of his career has been spent with very average talent.

Peterson may be willing to take a little less for the chance to play for the game’s ultimate prize. Take a look at the long list of veterans who have signed with New England to play with Tom Brady. Look at last year alone in acquiring Darrell Revis, Brandon Browner, and Brandon LaFell.

It could even be on a 1 year proposition. Remember when Deion Sanders bypassed several 4 yr – $15-17 million contracts to sign with the 49ers for $1.1 million in ’94?? Of course the collective bargaining agreement would force the Pats to pay him a minimum around $4 million but you get the point. Bill Belichick always has an ace up his sleeve and to pull in a Peterson is within range.

4. Indianapolis Colts – After the Trent Richardson trade cost them this year’s #1 draft pick, the Colts would overpay to get Peterson. Everyone says you can get a quality running back in later rounds. Well not this team. The Colts haven’t had a running back pay off since they drafted Joseph Addai in 2007. That is 8 years ago!!

Signing Peterson would shift the balance of power in the AFC and Andrew Luck could have the weapon that would propel him to the Super Bowl. Luck has proven he can carry the organization but he needs help to topple New England. Painfully we have seen this for several years.

Adrian Peterson has a decision to make but one thing is certain, he will play with a serious chip on his shoulder this first year back. If the performance is anything like his 2012, he will get stronger by the game. He should have at least 3 prime years left as a work horse runner. That is his Super Bowl window.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Everyone, including Peterson is saying the Dallas Cowboys but lets give this some thought… Why would the Cowboys get a 30 year old runner over a 27 year old runner who just set the season record for rushing?? Why would you challenge the collective adhesiveness of the offensive line, running back, and huddle temperament with QB Tony Romo??

In reality, the Cowboys are taking a hard negotiating stance with Murray and Dez Bryant as they have with black players throughout the team’s history. Remember when Troy Aikman received a new contract for $50 million before his contract was up and Emmitt Smith had to hold out just to get $13.5 million?? Us old timers do and know several other stories…so Peterson beware. You’re just a bargaining chip to Dallas.

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Overcoaching: Vol 3. Super Bowl XLIX Edition

Super Bowl XLIX was a great game but the end left a lot of fans empty as Seattle opted for a pass from the 1 with seconds left to play. Immediately I railed it was the worst play call in Super Bowl history on social media. Many former NFLers agreed. So after a small hiatus my thought hadn’t changed and now it was time to revisit another classic case of overcoaching in the NFL.

03_ball_grand_canyon_1_hi_nat1366First off… if anyone thinks the Seattle  throwing that pass at the one yard line was the right play call, then they think Vince Lombardi called the wrong play on the final play of the Ice Bowl. Its that simple. One of his philosophies played out at the goal line during the final seconds of both the 1966 & 1967 NFL Championship Games.

Lombardi’s philosophy was in a pressure situation, players would make mistakes in Tom Landry’s complicated offense. The Cowboys had the ball at the 2 with less than 2 minutes to go down 34-27. They had momentum and had just scored on the drive previous. True to form T Jim Bokeim had a false start… remember they did a lot of shifting on the line. On the final play, which was a rollout, RG Leon Donohue ran past Packer LB Dave Robinson instead of blocking him. Robinson hurried Don Meredith into a game ending endzone interception.

The rubber match for the Ice  Bowl (1967 championship) saw the reverse as the Packers were down to the 2 yard line with less than 2 minutes to go. After two plays and a final timeout, Green Bay was at the 1 with :16 left down 17-14. Where Tom Landry was heard yelling “watch Starr on the rollout”, Lombardi’s Packers went with a QB sneak to win the game. A simplified play.  Years later in recalling Lombardi’s philosophy, G Jerry Kramer said “When the game or life is on the line, you don’t gamble and you put your faith in the defensive player’s chest.”

A philosophy the Seattle Seahawks had believed in until the 1 minute mark of Super Bowl XLIX. Some new age philosophies have made coaches overthink and overcoach situations lately. Ever since that Monday Night game where Brian Westbrook had that breakaway run at the end of the game against the Dallas Cowboys and slid down to run out the clock, people have been overcoaching end of game scenarios.

However I said it right after…that was the same play call the Titans went with in Super Bowl XXXIV when Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson at the 1 yard line also. That stacked receiver slant is 0-2 in late Super Bowl moments. Truth is they should have run the ball twice with the read option and kept it on the ground. They should have immediately run a play after Lynch made it to the 1.

Fist lets take a look at the early stages of the game when Marshawn Lynch scored to tie the game at 7.

You’ll note the first run Lynch face initial contact at the 9 ans made it to the 6 1/2 yard line. Then on the touchdown he faced initial contact at the two and powered to more than a yard into the endzone. He’s the best contact runner since Corey Dillon and he was constantly falling forward during the game.

Now we get to the fateful last plays of Super Bowl XLIX.

 

Had Seattle rushed to the line of scrimmage with the 1:06 left (after Lynch made it to the 1) New England may have let them score (another bone head new age move) to ensure Brady would have a chance with the football and more clock. Don’t tell me Belichick doesn’t think that way because he was lauded for his taking a late game safety against Denver 10 years ago so the Patriots would get the ball back with time and field position… Had Seattle got up and rushed to the line, New England also wouldn’t have sent in their goal line 3 corners package where Seattle would have been better suited to block. Wasn’t that why Pete Carroll said they were wasting a play??

By not rushing back to the line the Seahawks overcoached the situation. There comes a time where coaches have to drop those silly play charts and coach on guts. Lynch had gained positive yards after contact on all of his runs. Even his last carry he broke a tackle at the 4 and made it to the 1. Had they hurried and faced the same defense the next play you don’t think he scores from the 1?? That same personnel he powered through for their first touchdown and 3 yards after contact.

Bill Belichick was saving all of his timeouts and let the clock run down to :32 seconds before Seattle snapped the football.

Yet alas Malcolm Butler ended the Seahawks bid for back to back Super Bowl championships. Coaches have to get back to owning each situation and score first and win the game. Don’t sit and speculate when you can or even if you will score on a later play. You just have to trust your defense. If you can think back to Super Bowl XLVI between the Patriots and the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw tried not to score when he “accidently” fell in the endzone. Taking a 17-15 lead, the Giant defense held off Tom Brady in that one. You have to rely on your defense.

Another clear case of overcoaching and now Seattle has to let this fester as they ponder an opportunity lost. It could fuel their trip to Super Bowl L in San Francisco’s new stadium. Stay tuned…

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Super Bowl XLIX: Seattle Seahawks v New England Patriots

As the sun is beaming here in Glendale Arizona the day of Super Bowl XLIX, it’s time to get on to the game at hand.

The Legion of Boom will go down in history as the best defense of the new millenia.

The Legion of Boom will go down in history as the best defense of the new millenia.

As I analyze this game one of the aspects not being covered are the smallish receivers of the New England Patriots vs the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks. Everyone is mentioning the force of Rob Gronkowski, and he is a mismatch for most teams. However the bigger cornerbacks for Seattle should manhandle the smaller receivers. Much like the 2013 AFC Championship against Denver.

If the Seahawks are able to get to Tom Brady early that would really play into Seattle’s hands. Watch for Belichick to put Brady on half rolls and waggles to minimize that. However will they sustain a gameplan of that. It’s just come down that Jonas Grey is inactive for the game. LaGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen have to carry the load today.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-SizeThe New England Patriots will have to contain Russell Wilson. Whether on rollouts, the zone read where he keeps it, they can’t allow him to extend plays. They may have to concede the run to Marshawn Lynch to a degree.

The Legion of Boom, Russell Wilson, and ‘Beast Mode” should go down in history with a 26-10 win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The first back to back champion since the Patriots in ’03 & ’04.  Marshawn Lynch should be the MVP.

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SUPER BOWL XXIV RUNNER UP 1989 DENVER BRONCOS

Whenever the 1980’s Denver Broncos are brought up the first player that comes to mind is John Elway. Rightfully so as he led one of the NFL’s most successful teams during the decade. However his teams did have some great talent on them. Did you know LB/DE Karl Mecklenburg, FS Dennis Smith, and SS Steve Atwater have been Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalists in the last couple years??

sb24denIf we rewind the clock to 1989, Atwater was a wide-eyed rookie learning the ropes under Smith’s tutelage. Big hits rang up all year as receivers ducked for cover against these big safeties. Smith was a Pro Bowl player in 1989, the 3rd of 6 trips to Hawai’i after an 82 tackle 2 interception season. The intimidation factor they brought led the Broncos to a #3 defensive ranking overall or #2 in the AFC, and yielding the fewest points in the league with 226 points.

Meanwhile Mecklenburg was a Pro Bowl player with 143 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. The 1989 season was the 4th of his 6 Pro Bowl trips and where there are a ton of vids showcasing Smith and Atwater, Mecklenburg is largely forgotten in circles outside of Denver. This vignette from ’86 showcases his talent best

In each of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl seasons they fielded a top 10 defense. Unsung players like Simon Fletcher and Michael Brooks made the back 7 one of the best during this era.

sb24den2Another factor in 1989 was the Broncos finally landing a top running back in rookie RB Bobby Humphrey out of Alabama. He was Denver’s first true breakaway threat since Floyd Little. He rushed for 1,151 yards and 7 TDs after starting the season on the bench. Denver climbed to #6 in rushing where they had ranked 20th in the 1st Elway era Super Bowl team in 1986.

Yet alas this team ran into one of the all time great teams in Super Bowl history. This is the championship ring won by Denver after beating Cleveland for their 3rd AFC championship in 4 years.

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SUPER BOWL XXIV CHAMPION 1989 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Want to hear something interesting?  Going into Super Bowl XXIV, the Denver Broncos were the ONLY team in the NFL the 49ers hadn’t defeated during the 1980s.  So in the last game of the decade…what happened??  Yikes 55-10 in a Super Bowl!!!  Joe Montana and company could have scored 80 if they wanted to…As crisp as the 49ers played, what did their practices look like??  Damn!

49.24The craziest thing was when Terry Bradshaw skirmished with John Elway that week about how Elway had been coddled…etc (remember Terry was roughed up by press and such as a young player) and after a back and forth, they sit down to talk about Super Bowl XXIV in a round table discussion and Bradshaw blurted out “I just don’t see Denver having a chance. This sucker could be as bad as 55-3!” Much to the chagrin of CBS brass trying to drum up interest for a game the press was touting as a blowout. Why 55? Eight tds, and a missed p.a.t.s? Only 3 for the Broncos?

If Bill Romanowski hadn’t faceguarded (form of pass interference) Orson Mobley in the endzone to give the Broncos 1st and goal at the 1, Terry Bradshaw would have NAILED IT!! The Broncos needed 4 plays to score from their touhdown also…Terry Bradshaw is a dummy? Not on this prediction! Final score 55-10.

49.24aHas there been a better or more dominant run in a single postseason?? In dispatching the Vikings 41-13, Montana carved up the #1 defense that ranked 1st in sacks with 71.  Joe was 17 of 24 for 241 yds and 4 touchdowns. In the NFC Championship, they faced their NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams. The Rams had been the scourge of the playoffs with their “Eagle Defense” with 2 D Linemen and 5 Linebackers.

No one could figure out Los Angeles hybrid defense as they befuddled Randall Cunningham’s Eagles and Phil Simms Giants. Well… Montana shredded them going 26 of 30 for 262 yds and 2 scores. Thanks to Craig, Rice, Taylor, and Rathman, San Francisco set a post season record with 29 first downs in a 30-3 slaughter. Don’t forget they split their games with them in the regular season. San Fran taught them the difference between post season and regular season play.

As for Super Bowl XXIV, Montana had his best ever game when it counted most. It almost seemed like a choreographed fight scene from a movie. Every move was countered perfectly. No matter what defense the Broncos were in Montana had an answer. The 1989 Denver Broncos were ranked 3rd in defense and had given up the fewest points in the NFL. Montana was 22 of 29 for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns and sat most of the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1989The perfect game Bill Walsh had Montana strive for from the quarterback position he watched in a booth next to Eddie DeBartolo. George Seifert was the coach who witnessed it up close as the Head Coach. He riddled the #1 and #3 ranked defenses with 9 touchdowns and no interceptions. This was a coronation, not just the 49ers becoming team of the ’80s, but Montana unseasting Johnny Unitas as the NFL’s greatest ever quarterback.

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SUPER BOWL XXIII RUNNER UP 1988 CINCINNATI BENGALS

Welcome to the second greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Again…the question is to be asked: Can a team change its stripes?? From 4-11 in 1987 to 12-4 and :34 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl…wow!! You have to realize this is before free agency where a star could be bought and brought in.

bengals headerThis team was led by a genius named Sam Wyche, easily one of my favorite coaches ever. And right before you scoff “He didn’t win a Super Bowl” don’t forget that he was quarterback coach with a glistening Super Bowl XVI ring for coaching Joe Montana, ironically against the Cincinnati Bengals some 6 yrs earlier. So Sam Wyche is/was Bill Walsh the 2nd and I’ll explain.

Paul Brown owned and coached the Cincinnati Bengals and had Bill Walsh as his Offensive Coordinator and Wyche was the heady backup quarterback. When Brown failed to make Walsh his successor he lost Wyche who joined Walsh in San Francisco and ironically they beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. Having been burned by not hiring his protégé’ and losing to him taught him a lesson. The next time Brown needed a coach he tapped into Bengals past and brought back Sam Wyche, who had a keen offensive mind and unconventional ideas. So what turnaround am I speaking of?

Let’s take you back to 1987, where the Bengals had failed to live up to unfulfilled promise since Super Bowl XVI. They came close to making the playoffs in 1984 and 1986 yet failed to win on tie breakers in the last game of the season, especially in 1986 when they drubbed the playoff bound Jets 52-21 in the finale. The Bengals went into ’87 with serious optimism yet kept being plagued with bizarre finishes and mistakes that were blamed on their unconventional coach.

The most notable was in week 2, when beating the 49ers and Bill Walsh of all people, elected to run a play on 4th down rather than risk a punt blocked with 6 seconds left. Kevin Fagan (from the U) charged in and stopped James Brooks with 2 seconds to go. Montana hit Rice on the last play of the game. The 27-26 loss to San Francisco in Cincinnati cast a pall on the entire (4-11) 1987 season. Many losses when the unconventional coach had plays backfire in the 4th quarter earned the Bengals coach a nickname –“Wicky Wacky” Wyche and the team was the laughingstock of the league with reports that Wyche would be fired. He held on barely…

bengal sideEnter 1988, the mantra coined by Sam Wyche was ‘finish everything’, alluding to the 4th quarter collapses that doomed 6 Bengal games the year before. The draft brought a very important player…the talented and infectious Elbert “Ickey” Woods who teamed with James Brooks to help push the Bengals to the #1 offense in the NFL. More than anything, his touchdown dance “The Ickey Shuffle” and his personality changed the team chemistry from the doldrums of the year before.

Woods rushed for 1000 yards and 15 TDs. “Boomer” Esiason went on to be league MVP and his receivers Eddie Brown (The U) Tim McGhee and Cris Collinsworth were as effective as any trio in the league. Operating out of their “sugar huddle” and keeping opposing teams defensive specialists off the field, Cincinnati exploited mismatches to pile up points. They were the first team to play with a “no huddle” attack. On defense DT Tim Krumrie, OLB Reggie Williams, and SS David Fulcher were the undisputed leaders of an opportunistic defense. Throw in CB Eric Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl in ’88 and the late Lewis Billups made up a superior secondary along with FS and present NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots.

The team went from being a laughingstock to a 6-0 start and the league was reluctant to let go of the pigeonholed way they viewed both Coach Wyche and the team. Everyone was waiting for the Cleveland Browns and the Dawg Defense to overcome the injury to Bernie Kosar and catch them…yet no one could. The Bengals blew no 4th quarter leads and by the time they got to the playoffs they still weren’t respected. Coach Wyche and his team that was laughed at the year before had become the scourge of the league. So much so that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle before Super Bowl XXIII ruled they weren’t allowed to run their “sugar huddle”. Why? Well because other measures were tried during the playoffs by Seattle faking injuries to get defensive replacements on the field. The Bengals still won 21-7 before besting Buffalo 21-10 in the AFC Championship.

Super Bowl XXIII, what a game? Would it have been a game had the Bengals not lost Stanley Wilson to a cocaine episode the night before the game? Would it have been a game if they could use their Sugar Huddle? Before you jump up and say no…don’t forget the ’88 49ers had a 6-5 record late in the season and only finished at 10-6 (worst record ever for a Super Bowl champion by the way) before getting hot in the playoffs. They were being held by a Bengal defense without a touchdown going into the 4th quarter.

bengals logoThat also includes losing Tim Krumrie to a severe broken leg in the 1st quarter. League against them, Niners against them…Stanford Jennings took back a kick 93 yards at the end of the 3rd quarter to give Cincy a 13-6 lead and they looked like they were going to be Super Bowl champs. Alas a Lewis Billups dropped interception on the following touchdown drive led to the 49ers scoring on the next play and eventually the game winning drive with :34 seconds left to play.

For the rest of my days I’ll forever believe Pete Rozelle cheated the Bengals and altered how the game would have been disallowing the “sugar huddle” in the Super Bowl.

They were 34 seconds away….from erasing a history that they didn’t deserve. Yet they did win the 1988 AFC Championship and I applaud them for an olympian effort to force the league to give them a respect that was earned.

SUPER BOWL XXIII CHAMPION 1988 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Super Bowl XXIII was a game for the ages, 49ers 20-16 over the Cincinnati Bengals in Joe Robbie Stadium. When I think of this Super Bowl I think of the moments that take place in a game that could have altered the course of history. If only David Fulcher could have knocked down a couple passes on that last drive…. What if the late Pete Rozelle had allowed the Bengals to use their “Sugar Huddle”?? All banter for historians now since Joe Montana did his thing!!

xxiiiWith the Bengals leading 13-6 early in the 4th quarter, Stanford Jennings had just returned a kickoff 93 yards to put the Bengals up by a touchdown. The 49ers were driving for the tying touchdown when the late Lewis Billups cut in front of Mike Wilson and had a clear endzone interception, then dropped the ball.

The Bengals had shut down the 49er offense all game long but now the 49er offense was clicking. Rice scored on the next play to tie it at 13 . What would have happened had Billups held on for that interception? Would that have been the demoralizing play that would have deflated the 49ers for good in a defensive struggle?

Montana went on to lead that famous last second drive that cemented his legacy…however there are some interesting points to this team. Did you know this 49er team had the worst record of any Super Bowl champion at the time with a 10-6 record? Did you know that the ’88 49ers were 6-5 during the season after back to back losses in Candlestick including a 9-6 loss to the LA Raiders with no touchdowns scored? The first set of back to back losses at home in almost a decade. This was a team that had to overcome the psychological damage that was inflicted a year before that nearly sunk the ’88 season.

xxiii2The 1987 season was the best 49er team in history (up to that time) in The Chancellor of Football’s opinion. This was the first team since the 1977 Dallas Cowboys to finish #1 on both offense and defense in the same season. So prolific was this team in a strike shortened year of 15 games, Montana led the NFL with 31 TDs in only 12 games played with the regulars and Steve Young throwing for 10 more. It was the most prolific season of Montana’s career. Projected over a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 45 TDs at a time when only Dan Marino had surpassed the 40 mark.

Jerry Rice was league MVP with 23 TDs (22 receiving) in only 12 games that broke the single season TD reception record of Mark Clayton’s 18. Rice was so dominant he had 17TDs in the final 7 games alone. The overall touchdown record at the time was 24 by John Riggins. At the pace that Rice was going he would have had 30 TDs had they played 16 games. So Emmitt, Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, and Shawn Alexander NEVER would have touched the record.

The draft class of ’86 came to fruition with Charles Haley, John Taylor, Don Griffin, Tim McKyer, Kevin Fagan (The U), Brent Jones, Tom Rathman, and Harris Barton, who would anchor the team for years to come. This mixed youth with the experience of the Joe Montanas, Ronnie Lotts, Randy Cross’, and Dwight Clarks to form a team that rolled to a 13-2 record finishing on a 6 game winning streak. They scored the most points and gave up the 3rd fewest.

They outscored their last 3 opponents 124-7 including a 41-0 trouncing of the NFC Central Champion Bears on a Monday Night in front of the nation. So what happened?? Two things…the flu and Anthony Carter got hot and did a Larry Fitzgerald thru the 1987 playoffs with this being the centerpiece game of that run and his career.

The Minnesota Vikings were 8-7 and backed into the playoffs with losses in their last few games and had to have someone else lose just to get in.

Joe wasn’t himself in that divisional playoff game and even though he was weakened with the flu he was getting’ hounded by the Vikings pass rush. He did throw a down and out to Dwight Clark that was late and Reggie Rutland returned for a touchdown that put San Fran down 17-7. Bill Walsh benched Joe Montana for Steve Young, who had been acquired that year in a trade, who did lead a few TD drives that ultimately led to QB controversy to start the ’88 season.

That 36-24 loss along with Anthony Carter’s 227 yards receiving haunted that team to the midway point of the 88 season. This team clearly should have won Super Bowl XXII. I remember the shock that the Bears & Redskins took into their divisional playoff game the next day, realizing whoever won would host the Vikings in the NFC Championship game when they clearly were dreading a trip to San Francisco. Especially the Bears who in a matchup for home field advantage were trounced 41-0 at the end of the ’87 season and who did the ’88 49ers beat in the NFC Championship game to get to Super Bowl XXIII? The Chicago Bears 28-3 in Soldier Field in 28 below zero weather.

However the upset playoff loss to the Vikings caused tensions throughout the organization. Embarrassed by the biggest upset since Super Bowl III, it was rumored Eddie DeBartolo nearly parted ways with Head Coach Bill Walsh. This led to changes within the organization and corporate pressure was one of the reasons Walsh stepped down after Super Bowl XXIII a year later.

The 49ers did get revenge on the Vikings over the next two years in the playoffs. The ’88 postseason began with a 34-9 beat down of Minnesota puncutated by an 80 yard touchdown run by Roger Craig in the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1988However when I look at the Super Bowl XXIII ring, the ’88 season doesn’t come to mind. The turmoil that took place from the previous postseason and subsequent retirement of Bill Walsh dimmed the luster of their coronation. With this win, the 49ers had become The Team of the 80’s. It wasn’t a pyrrhic victory but…

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Dedicated to the late Bill Walsh

SUPER BOWL XXII RUNNER UP 1987 DENVER BRONCOS

Coming off a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants the year before was disappointing, however #1 draft pick John Elway had arrived.  By all accounts Elway came of age with “The Drive”, the 98 yard march in Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the last minutes of the AFC Championship Game. Denver tied it at 20 in the final minutes and won 23-20 in OT.

87 Broncos ringThe game was seen as an all time classic.  Cleveland’s “Dawg Defense” smarted for over a year feeling as though they let the Brown’s fans down and swore to get revenge against the Broncos, and Elway in particular.  Two weeks later Elway came up a little short in his upset bid of the New York Giants out in the Rose Bowl, Super Bowl XXI, yet had a bright future. Denver would have many opportunities with a quarterback who conceivably could carry a team seemingly all by himself…wouldn’t they??

Bronco fans were buoyed with more optimism for the future with Elway than wracked with Super Bowl disappointment.  After all, this franchise hadn’t won a league championship in their first 26 years of existence. They hadn’t been among the league’s elite since the late 70s. This was the first time the Broncos had a legitimate “franchise quarterback” and Elway followed up his ’86 campaign with a better one the following season.

1987-cf-tnElway’s mobility was a vital element in the offense; he would scramble for first downs, scramble to keep passing plays alive, then deliver the ball anywhere on the field with his rocket arm. The offense being more potent helped resurrect the Orange Crush defense by keeping drives alive and the defense rested. Many pundits predicted that 1987 would be the Broncos year.

Enter the 1987 season; the Broncos bolstered their passing attack with speedy receiver Ricky Nattiel from Florida. He supplemented incumbents Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson and the three proved harder to defense. The “Three Amigos” were deadlier than ever thanks to an increasing penchant of Bronco coach Dan Reeves to go with more 3 receiver sets to create mismatches.

Steady play came from Sammy Winder at running back.  Versatile Steve Sewell saw increased playing time as a third down back with the loss of Gerald Willhite due to injury. Points rang up all year as the Broncos went 11-4 (strike shortened year) and earned home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs with a 24-0 win over San Diego in the snow in the final week. So this year, if they faced nemesis Cleveland, it would be in the friendly confines of Mile High Stadium.

00033503From 1977 – 1990 the Denver Broncos enjoyed the best home record in all the NFL. It was loud, the steel framing of the stadium & stairs made it louder when the 75,000 fans began to stomp on them. Already vociferous in nature, the din of the fans, along with the thin air that made it hard to breathe for hyper ventilating opponents. It made Mile High a most inhospitable place.  Many teams fell victim to this lethal combination….except one.

The Cleveland Browns were on a collision course with the Broncos.  They were running roughshod over the AFC Central and again finishing with a 10-5 record. Bernie Kosar, Webster Slaughter, Earnest Byner led the offense, where Clay Matthews, the late Eddie Johnson, Hanford Dixon, Ray Ellis, and Frank Minnifield again led the Dawg defense which added a new wrinkle. To take advantage of their superior cornerback play started to employ the “Bear” defense which was the Browns version of the “46 defense.”

As the AFC Championship began, Elway was on fire taking a 14-3 lead as Cleveland couldn’t get out of their own way. Several turnovers kept the Browns fighting an uphill battle. He kept play after play going with his legs and scrambling to find open receivers. They built a 21-3 halftime lead and when the Browns threatened to comeback, Elway made plays to turn the momentum.

super-bowl-logo-1987When Cleveland closed the score to 21-10, three plays later he escapes a 3 man rush scrambles out and hits Mark Jackson. He eludes 3 defenders and completes an 80 yard touchdown to put the Browns behind by 18 points again at 28-10. Once the Browns orchestrated a second half come back tying it at 31, he then drives the Broncos to the winning touchdown to Sammy Winder to make it 38-31. They withstood a final charge and recovers Earnest Byner’s fumble to escape to Super Bowl XXII.

Denver needed every great play from Elway that day to edge the Browns. His second AFC Championship solidified his position as one of the premier QBs with a bright future ahead. All he had to do was win a Super Bowl and he would have his second chance against the Washington Redskins.

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SUPER BOWL XXII CHAMPION 1987 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Hail to the Redskins…we heard that song so much in the 2nd quarter it was ridiculous!! Somewhere Tony Lilly (#22 Broncos) is still having nightmares. I remember tellin’ my boy Tommy Walker he may never play again in the NFL after this performance. Yet we’re here to celebrate accomplishment.

ringXXIIThe first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl was one that carried significant weight for all those that were “coerced” into playing other positions throughout the years. Prejudice kept blacks from playing the thinking positions throughout the 50’s, 60’s,’70’s, & 80’s with the last bastion being that of the quarterback. Now to have Doug Williams about to face media darling John Elway, pundits wondered if Washington could stay on the field with them.

To think that we were about to see the greatest offensive performance in the history of the NFL in Super Bowl XXII just didn’t seem plausible.

Consider the fact that Doug Williams had begun the season as backup to incumbent Jay Schroeder and the on again, off again, nature of being the 2nd stringer being replaced by the starter. Schroeder had led the Redskins to the 1986 NFC Championship the year before which included a big playoff win over the defending champion Chicago Bears. He couldn’t come up big against the NY Giants in that championship game but neither had any other QB that season. So in ’87 after another Schroeder benching, Gibbs went with Williams as the starter in the playoffs. He played ok when the Redskins beat the Bears 21-17 in Walter Payton & Gary Fencik’s last game.

Super-Bowl-22-ringWilliams only completed 9 of 19 passes in a lackluster NFC Championship (17-10) win over the Minnesota Vikings. There was still speculation over who would start at quarterback as the Redskins made their way to San Diego for SuperBowl XXII. After going down to Denver 10-0 and Elway’s first pass being a touchdown to Ricky Nattiel, Williams hurt his knee yet came back to start the 2nd quarter.

Now get this, the famous Elway drive in Cleveland took a little over 5 minutes the year before. Well in the 2nd qarter of SuperBowl XXII, Doug Williams led Washington’s offense to 356 yds of offense, 5TDs with 4 of them being TD passes in only 18 plays and 5:54 seconds of possession!! Yikes!! Talk about the “Greatest Show on Turf”…to finish the game with 602yds when they clearly stopped trying to score after halftime was ridiculous. Joe Montana, in his win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, threw for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns in the entire game.

Or to put it to you another way – Of the previous 21 Super Bowls, only 5 of the 42 teams gained more yards in their complete game than the Redskins had in the 2nd quarter alone.

A few of the Super Bowl records set:

  • Doug Williams most yds passing game 340 and for a half with 306.
  • Tim Smith most yds rushing game 204 and for a half with 136
  • Ricky Sanders most yards receiving game 193 and for a half with 177.
  • 35 points were most in a quarter and a half of a Super Bowl.
  • Total yardage for a Super Bowl game with 602 yards of offense.
  • Longest touchdown pass tied 80 yards – Williams to Sanders

This was one quarter we’re talking about!! Steve Foley had been Denver’s safety for many years, retired before the season to be replaced by Tony Lilly. Who spent Super Sunday chasing Redskins into the endzone and was subsequently let go after the game. Did not resign with another team.

super-bowl-logo-1987This was the ring for winning SuperBowl XXII and ushered in the era where black quarterbacks were able to gain their due…with the Warren Moon’s & Randall Cunningham’s soon to follow. I can remember my Mom being in tears as we watched and I kept telling her what record had just fallen and which ones were coming up.

His MVP announcement

Ironically the first modern black quarterback who held almost all significant Denver Bronco rookie passing records (even over John Elway) was Marlin Briscoe. He ironically was “coerced” into playing receiver later in his career winning two Super Bowls with the Dolphins. Full circle to have this feat happen to the Denver Broncos who gave up on Briscoe playing QB?? Not yet…

Try the fact the Washington Redskins are in a battle against Native Americans to keep their team name. What this generation doesn’t know is the Redskins under George Preston Marshall was the last NFL team to integrate. Before 1960, the Redskins were the NFL’s most southern team whose games were broadcast to the south regionally. In fact at their welcome back luncheon to kickoff the season, the Marshall owned Redskins actually sung “Dixie.” Something Hall of Fame Redskin Bobby Mitchell recounted in NFL Films’ Black Star Rising. Now Robert Griffin III sporting dreadlocks is the Washington incumbent starting quarterback.

If the Seattle Seahawks win it all here in the next 3 weeks, we’ll have the NFL’s first dynasty with a black quarterback at the helm in Russell Wilson.

Life works in mysterious ways…. now you’ve come full circle.

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This article is dedicated to Doug Williams for his transcendent performance in San Diego in 1988.

I also dedicate this article to my mother Mrytle Taylor who shared this moment with me. Her tears that day brought me to mine as we watched this performance obliterate an old stereotype. i know she’s looking down from heaven right now…

SUPER BOWL XXI RUNNER UP 1986 DENVER BRONCOS

It was a dreary, cold, dark, forboding day in Cleveland. It was January 11, 1987 in Cleveland yet there was an excitement in the air…

xxireflectionOh yes…the 1986 AFC Championship on the line and a trip to SuperBowl XXI in Pasadena awaits.  John Elway and the Broncos are 98 yards away from the “Dog Pound” and the tying score with 5:43 seconds left…*sigh* Elway sent the entire state of Ohio into a catatonic shock that lasted thru the next football season and up to and thru Earnest Byner’s fumble in the following AFC Championship game in ’87.

However lets take you back to the game where John Elway had arrived. It was the moment forgotten once he performed “The Drive” that came a week prior. The 1986 Broncos had a maturing quarterback coming of age and if you remember were still smarting from posting an 11-5 record, while missing the 1985 playoffs on a tie break technicality.

Elway was typical of a young quarterback who struggled to be consistent throughout. After taking off on a 34 yard touchdown early in the game, he severely sprained his ankle. He hobbled and gutted it out against Andre Tippett and the Patriots defense. The big thing was he didn’t make the big mistake and struck when the defending AFC Champions blinked. Down 17-13 late in the 3rd quarter, Patriot LB Don Blackmon jumped offside. With a free play Elway fired deep to Vance Johnson to take a 20-17 lead.

Then Rulon Jones sack and safety of Tony Eason sent the Broncos to their first AFC Championship since 1977 22-17. ESPN’s Tom Jackson was a linebacker on both the ’77 and ’86 teams and was from Cleveland. Fittingly the last win he experienced as a player was “The Drive”, as the Broncos prevailed 23-20 in overtime.

Subsequently the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20 in Pasadena to win Super Bowl XXI. This ring commemorates the accomplishment of getting there.  Denver would get to more Super Bowls right? Elway was just a young pup…he’d have plenty more…right?

The one thing that was lost were the pundits made it seem that Elway was the only player on that team. They ran the ball by committee with Sammy Winder and Gerald Wilhite. Had solid receivers in Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson. Yet they had the AFC’s 3rd ranked defense, 9th overall which ranked higher than The Dawg Defense of Cleveland ranked 19th.

super-bowl-logo-1986Pro Bowlers Karl Mecklenburg, SS Dennis Smith, DE Rulon Jones, and CB Mike Harden led a resurgent “Orange Crush” defense. It wasn’t quite as dynamic as the group that carried Denver to Super Bowl XII. Of course I could be partial to the ’77 group since I lived there at the time and they were influential on a youngster.

This was the ring commemorating the ’86 Broncos who came out of a competitive AFC West to win the conference.

Epilogue circa 2010: John Elway should be thanking Art Modell and Lebron James for getting him off the hook.  These are the most hated men in Cleveland now.  I don’t think Elway golfs or vacations there…lol…but he has a fair chance of not getting stoned to death.  So hated was Elway in Cleveland that in 1989 the Broncos were huddled in the “Dog Pound” end zone of Municipal Stadium when Elway gets conked on the head with a flashlight battery.

The debris became so great that Jerry Markbreit (referee) actually had the teams switch sides on the field.  The Chancellor of Football had never seen that before in an NFL game or since.  Cleveland won 16-13 for a measure of revenge yet lost again in the 89 AFC Title 37-21 to further fuel Elway angst in Ohio.  I was one of ’em…and it took a long time to let it go.

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NFL Playoffs & Historically Bad Calls

For the second time in the 2014 post season, the NFL has everyone talking about what should not be. The games have been marred with questionable calls and bad officiating at the critical juncture of two games. It has overshadowed some very good football games and for all of us long term purists and historians, given us much to banter about for years to come.

Dez Bryant catchLast week on my social media things took off with the interference/ non interference call between Dallas LB Anthony Hitchens and Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew. The controversy didn’t begin until the refs picked up the flag reversing their call. In truth the ref should have either explained the reason the flag was being picked up or not to have thrown the flag in the first place.

Now we fast forward to yesterday’s NFC Divisional between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.

What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule was as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.

During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation is he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.

As The Chancellor of Football I said it at the time… this was the worst call in NFL playoff history and changes are coming. Yet you do realize the instant replay that robbed Dallas of this game was borne from bad referee calls in playoff games prior. The first comes from 1972 when the Steelers faced the Raiders when the nonexplainable happened to the naked eye with :22 to go.

Since it was such a bang – bang play the officials had to confer and did so for more than 5 minutes before they signaled touchdown. Don’t tell me feelings don’t linger. John Madden refused to be interviewed for A Football Life – The Immaculate Reception citing for years the Raiders were cheated in that playoff game. At the time a ball couldn’t bounce from an offensive player to another without a defender in between. A hail mary could not be thrown back then…but had the ball hit Fuqua or Tatum of the Raiders??

“Why can’t the referee watch the replay on television?” became a cry from fans at the time. It seemed blasphemous to NFL rule makers to aid the officials in getting it right. It would be taking it out of the refs hands…the human element would be removed from officiating was the sentiment maintained by the league.

Those same Oakland Raiders found themselves in the same position in the 1977 AFC Championship in Denver. With the Broncos maintaining a 7-3 lead, they were poised to take a commanding lead over the defending Super Bowl champions. From the 1 they had a 1st and goal when Craig Morton turned and handed the ball to the late Rob Lytle when

Sentiment started to lean toward fans who clearly saw Lytle fumble. Just because the referee didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Talk after the game centered on the nun fumble call from the Raider locker room to fans across the country. The Raiders would have seized the momentum.

This touched off a brutal rivalry that lasted for most of the 70s where Pittsburgh became Team of the Decade. As the rivalry began to subside with Oakland, a new one emerged with division rival Houston. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

Sentiment finally came full circle when the refs admitted to the blown call in private but the company line was towed publicly. So the same as they can parade out the official’s brass to explain a terrible interpretation of the rules, I know better. Six years later instant replay was instituted in the NFL.

Just like “The Tuck” rule in 2001 and the Bennie Barnes “incidental contact interference call in Super Bowl XIII, the referee would have been better served calling it to the spirit of what he saw. Deal with the rule book interpretation later. The ref knew Brady wasn’t throwing that football…call it that way. The ref knew that Bennie Barnes and Lynn Swann tripped over each other looking for the football…call it that way.

However several seasons had been ruined by terrible calls that instant replay could have helped but in this instance it worked against. Had I been the referee I would have called it in the spirit of the play. I keep hearing folks talk about the letter of the law as though it’s black and white. Once you leave the field its too late, stick to the spirit of the game and what you saw.

The Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys could have become back to back champions. The Steeler dynasty may never have taken off totally and or it could have ended with 3 Super Bowl victories had the Oilers seized the momentum. Now we don’t get to see if the Cowboys could go up and dethrone the Seattle Seahawks as we have argued on social media for weeks.

The other elephant in the room is the NFL not only needs to move to full time referees, they need to have complete officiating crews work these games. Not all star crews. If the best teams make the playoffs have the best team of officials calling it.  We wouldn’t have had the nonsense of refs not explaining their actions in Dallas and yesterday could have been different as well. Dez Bryant’s catch was nothing like Bert Emanuel’s diving catch in the ’99 NFC Title Game.

Get ready for more change…

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SUPER BOWL XXI CHAMPION 1986 NEW YORK GIANTS

Super Bowl XXI Giants 39-20 over the Broncos.  I was one of those that was all set for the Bears to repeat as champions …yada yada yada….who’s got the ring?  On the way out to Pasadena, they blew out The Team of the 80s 49ers 49-3 in the divisional playoff. The NFL’s worst playoff beating of the decade. Then shut out division rival Washington 17-0 for the NFC Championship. Are you kidding?? They came through the playoffs with a combined score of 66-3. Talk about dominant.

So they were off to Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. There is something about the Super Bowl being played in the Rose Bowl. It just has a regal look and feel to it.

sbxxiWhen the Giants mauled (dont know if thats a strong enough adjective) the 49ers 49-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, you knew the Washington Redskins were going to be in deep trouble in the championship round. Sure they had upset the Bears but that was with 3rd or 4th string QB Doug Flutie.  I don’t ever like to say in sports that it was over but you would have had to field an all star team to stop them because they were comin’!!

Hosting the NFC Championship, a fierce swirling wind became the story of the game. The Giants won the coin toss and took the wind. The Redskins couldn’t run and came out to 3 straight 3 and outs. Subesquently they had 23, 27, and 28 yard punts into the wind which led to the Giants playing on a short field. They took a 17-0 first half lead and the game was over.

Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor,was not only the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, he was league MVP also. In his prime and comin’ off the corner, he just terrorized opponents. It was only the second time a defender was NFL MVP. The first?? Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1971. He had his greatest season with 20.5 sacks and countless plays where he ran down runners from behind on the line of scrimmage. The play he chased Reuben Mayes of the Saints from behind… yet I digress

Other hatchet men on that defense?? All Pro Leonard Marshall at DE had 12 sacks that year & nearly beheaded Jay Schroeder on one sack in the NFC Championship.  Pro Bowl NT Jim Burt held down the middle and knocked Joe Montana out cold in the divisional playoff.  Carl Banks totally owned the strong side dominating opposing TEs.

super-bowl-logo-1986Crafty George Martin, Harry Carson, Gary Reasons formed a formidable defense and get this:  With all this talent and being the leagues #2 defense in 1985, they drafted LB Pepper Johnson (5 rings player and coach) CB Greg Lasker, DE Eric Dorsey, NT Erik Howard, and CB Mark Collins in the draft!  Collins was the reason the Giants could handle the 49ers for the next 7 years because he shut down Jerry Rice better than any corner over Rice’s career.

This is before we even get to Phil Simms or Joe Morris who ran for 1,516 yards and 14TDs that year…but really that defense at its peak was just frightening.

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Divisional Preview: Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks

Although these are two teams that are defensive minded, the Carolina Panthers match up well with the Seattle Seahawks. Last week they were lucky to take on an Arizona team that was on a 4th string quarterback in Ryan Lindley. That will not be the case tonight.

russellwilson2Russell Wilson has been the steadying hand for the Seahawk offense for the last 3 years. Poised for another Super Bowl run, he’ protected the football. This is what you need if you are a defensive unit. Constantly punt the football and win the field position battle is the Seattle mantra. In the last 6 games Russell has had a combined 2 turnovers.

Aggressive Marshawn Lynch is ready to go “Beastmode” as he concluded the season with 1,306 yards and 13 TDs. He sets the tone for the offense just as Kam Chancellor does for the defense. You know he’s looking forward to going against Carolina LBs Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis.

Can they keep their spirit up if the Panthers 16th ranked offense can’t move the football on Seattle’s #1 defense?? If they could only score 9 at home against them, how will they now with the Seahawk defense at full strength??  The Chancellor sees a Seattle win 23-6. It will be a defensive struggle.

Divisional Preview: Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

Now its time for the big boys to swing into action. For most Patriot backers, they believe that Rob Gronkowski is going to be the difference. He wasn’t there as the Ravens had playoff success in Gillette Stadium.

Terrell-Suggs-Baltimore-Ravens-Football-2011-NFLIf you think back to Lee Evans dropping that last second touchdown in the 2011 the AFC Championship, this team would be on a winning streak in Foxboro. Baltimore can pressure with Elvis Dumervil along with Terrell Suggs. This will allow Darryl Smith and CJ Moseley to concentrate on clogging Brady and Gronk’s passing lanes. With Haloti Ngata back from suspension, he’s rested and should stop the run.

New England fields a better defense and Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner can take away the Ravens receivers as well. The truth is Steve Smith will sneak open a couple times as will Torrey Smith. It will be a tight contest and the winner will be the Baltimore Ravens 26-21.

SUPER BOWL XX RUNNER UP 1985 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

One of the more forgotten Super Bowl participants of the first 20 years are these 1985 New England Patriots. When you mention them most people scoff “well the Bears killed them!” Newsflash McFly, the ’85 Bears did that to everyone they faced going 18-1. What this team should be remembered for is laying the belief that if you can get hot at the end of the season, you can roll into the Super Bowl. They were the original road warriors having won 3 straight postseason road games to make it to Super Bowl XX.

sbxx.3Although they were coached by former Johnny Unitas receiver Raymond Berry, this was a conservative team that relied on the run and good defense. Craig James rushed for 1,227 yards and Tony Collins kicked in another 657. Collins had been a 1,000 yard rusher just a season before. They had a few proven pros in WR Stanley Morgan and part time QB Steve Grogan.

Why part time?? The maturation of young QB Tony Eason necessitated his insertion in the lineup when he struggled. Grogan bailed them out as a relief pitcher multiple times in ’85. Eason was a part of the curse of the ’83 draft, which we will cover later. However this team was good enough to win with spotty quarterback play.

The big reason is they fielded the 7th best defense in football led by Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the year with 16.5 sacks, and of all the 3-4 Outside Linebackers he was the best in the NFL in ’85.

He was the enforcer on a defense that sent LB Steve Nelson, CB Raymond Clayborn, and S Fred Marion with him to the Pro Bowl.

super-bowl-logo-1985They pulled off 3 straight road playoff upsets on the strength of causing 16 turnovers in 3 playoff games. The most notable were the 6 they forced Dan Marino and the Dolphins into in the AFC Championship Game. Miami was the defending AFC champion and had an 18 game winning streak against them in the Orange Bowl.

A truly monumental effort that shouldn’t be forgotten for coming up short in Super Bowl XX.

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SUPER BOWL XX CHAMPIONS 1985 CHICAGO BEARS

Walter Payton and the ’85 Bears defense got this championship ring for routing New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, this is still the #1 team in history over 1 season.  Yes I was a ridiculous fan of the 46 defense, which they screw up on Madden, see the two lineback…..yet I digress.

chicago_bears_superbowl_ring_1985_chicago_bears_Cr0eY1ll.sizedBefore we get into Sweetness, Jimmy Mac, “Danimal”, Singletary, “Mongo” McMichael, Wilber, Otis, Dent, Hilgenberg, VanHorne, Moorehead, Suhey, Gault, Fencik, Duerson, Head Coach Mike Ditka, and the beat goes on…let’s show you why I think they were the strongest team ever. Did you know they did this while 1984 All Pro Safety Todd Bell held out??

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys were trounced 44-0, wildcard Giants 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. That’s 110-10 against the “best division in football” yikes!!

Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers, who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-Size* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn!

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

Copy (2) of Copy of sbRoundhouseSuperBowlRing*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won, there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bowl…so u could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say?

The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ’em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

When comparing the best ever teams none come close to this for beating strong competition none.  In fact the ’72 Miami Dolphins who went undefeated only faced 3 teams with winning records during the season.  That’s not their fault but it has to be a factor in deciding who was stronger as a team.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than Buddy Ryan & the ’85 Bear’s 46 defense?”  HELL NO!!! A group that finished ranked #1 in 9 of 14 defensive categories?? The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White had been a pro bowl quarterback as Ken O’Brien of the Jets had been in 1985. All were in their prime!

super-bowl-logo-1985Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!! Spurgeon Wynn. Who? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

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SUPER BOWL XIX RUNNER UP 1984 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Man, the Dolphins of 1984 were ridiculous in winning the AFC Championship 45-28, with a record 4 TD passes over the Pittsburgh Steelers and now it’s on to Super Bowl XIX…Dan Marino, The Marks Bros. would make it to many more Super Bowls…wouldn’t they?

19.3Talk about a whirlwind ride, easily the greatest offensive ride a team has ever gone on.  When Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards (record) and a record 48 TDs in 1984 he broke the old record of 36, last done in 1963.  That’s the equivalent of someone breaking LaDanian Tomlinson’s 31TD record and going for 42!!  Shatter isn’t the word.

After replacing the late David Woodley in mid 1983, Marino made the Pro Bowl w / 20 TDs and the future looked bright.  However in his 1st full season as a starter he blew past expectations and beneficiary of all this passing were receivers Mark Duper, Jimmy Cefalo, and Mark Clayton who set the receiving TD record at 18.  They scored 70TDs (record) as an offense and what is ironic is how anemic this offense was just 2 years before in Super Bowl XVII when they could only complete ONE pass in the second half in losing to the Redskins.

They masked a defense that was in decline…the Killer B’s were quickly losing their sting and points were pouring in on the Dolphins.  They were not a heavy defense and were wearing down from pounding and age.  A.J. Duhe, Kim Bokamper, Doug Betters, and Bob Baumhower weren’t as stout as they had been a few years before. They did lose a good linebacker when Larry Gordon passed away while jogging in the offseason.  Jay Brophy had been drafted to help shore things up but hadn’t totally panned out at this point. The defense had been comprised of the same personnel primarily from 1979-1984. The Dolphins were due to rebuild however the emergence of Dan Marino allowed this team another shot at a title.

Going into the 1984 season, the Dolphins hadn’t recovered from the death of David Overstreet at running back yet. Tony Nathan was a good pass catcher out of the backfield. Marino, Mark Duper, and Mark Clayton kept the rhythm they gained from playing on the Dolphins scout team early in 1983 and unleashed it on an unsuspecting league.

sbxix45The season began in Washington where the Dolphins in a rematch of Super Bowl XVII some year and a half earlier. Where they could only complete 1 pass in the second half of that game, Dan Marino scorched the Redskins for 5 TDs and 370 yards. One of the best defenses in football was embarrassed at home. There was no way for him to keep with that pace.

Another notable game was a game in November v. the defending champion Raiders with cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mark Haynes.  You remember them right? Totally shut down the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, surely they would slow him down…uh…they didn’t. Marino threw for 470 yds and another 4 TDs which included his record breaking 37th of the season to Jimmy Cefalo.  He bookended his record setting season on a Monday night, where he threw for 3TDs in eliminating Dallas from the playoffs for the first time since 1976. The last second 70 yd touchdown to Mark Clayton gave him his 18th TD reception on the season breaking the record of Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch from 1951.

They were able to easily outscore their competition in marching to an 11-0 start, finishing 14-2.  When you include the playoffs, Dan Marino threw for 57TDs! Yikes! Started with a blowout of the Seahawks in a playoff rematch where he threw for 4 more TDs then the 4TDs against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. That broke George Blanda’s AFL Championship Game record of 3 from 1963. Yet here they were, AFC Champions for the 5th time, heading to Palo Alto for the Super Bowl what could go wrong??  The 49ers were prepared to pressure the receivers and had the secondary to play with them and triumphed 38-16.

super-bowl-logo-1984Let’s look at the all time touchdown record a second…Brady had 50 touchdown passes, Peyton Manning 49, and Marino 48.  Brady set the record in his 8th season with the 3 time champion Patriots marching to a 4th Super Bowl appearance.  Peyton Manning had set it in his 7th.  Both were veterans that had been in systems for years where Marino was in his first full season as a starter. Brady and Manning had players drafted that fit what they did where Dan came up with the 3rd string receivers and they all became stars.

In Manning’s case he had Marvin Harrison who set the record for receptions in a season at 143 the year before, a Hall of Fame talent.  Brady had future Hall of Famer Randy Moss to throw to. To break Marino’s record as strongly as he blew by the old one, Brady would have had to have thrown 64TDs.  I still hold Marino’s season WAY higher than those others it was more spectacular and impactful.

However here is the ring for Don Shula and the Dolphin’s 5th AFC Championship…what a magnificent run.

Another look back…

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SUPER BOWL XIX CHAMPIONS 1984 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

On January 20, 1985 in Super Bowl XIX, Joe Montana bested Dan Marino in Stanford Stadium 38-16, or rather the 49ers over the Dolphins.  We had been told the aerial circus came to town with Dan Marino and his 48 TDs during the regular season, and 57 when you add the playoff stats to his totals.  Remember the hype of how it should be a shootout??  A can’t miss aerial show!!  The Marks Brothers: Duper and Clayton!  Mark Clayton had set the record with 18 receiving touchdowns as the Dolphins scored a record 70 touchdowns in 1984.  A young strapping quarterback with a rocket arm at the height of his power. Who could stop them??

sbxixEnter the 1984 San Francisco 49ers.  A team motivated by the ’83 NFC Championship debacle against the Washington Redskins in a 24-21 loss. A game marred by a controversial pass interference and defensive holding call that prolonged the final drive where the Redskins milked the clock and made their game winning kick.  This thwarted one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the NFL where the highest scoring team ever (83 Redskins: 541 points), jumped to a 21-0 lead and were about to easily advance to Super Bowl XVIII.

Yet the secondary of Eric Wright, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks, and Carlton Williamson shut down the explosive Redskins after that allowing Joe Montana to bring his team back.

In a frantic 4th quarter Joe Montana, who had been shut down all game long, went white hot and completed 3TDs in the quarter to tie the game at 21. The 49ers had all the momentum, their sideline was going nuts and RFK Stadium, home of the famous “We Want Dallas” chant, was so quiet you could hear vendors selling popcorn.

super-bowl-logo-1984Then a questionable pass interference call against Eric Wright going up the sideline, where incidental contact at best would have been a more accurate call.  A few plays later Ronnie Lott was called for defensive holding…which was the first time I ever saw someone get called for holding with his arms down to his side!!  All that could be talked about in the Niner’s locker room after the ’83 Championship was the frustration that the officiating decided the game and not the players.  So they were on a mission to win it all in 1984.

The 49ers became the first team to go through the season 15-1 in the regular season.  How strong was this team?  The only loss during the campaign was a 20-17 loss to Pittsburgh who made it to the AFC Championship that season.  Fair to say Pittsburgh was strong?  Thought so… Well led by their secondary which placed ALL 4 members in the Pro Bowl.  This team was definitely prepared to take on the pass-happy Dolphins who defeated the Steelers to meet them in Super Bowl XIX.

George Seifert put the defense in a 4-1-6 defense and Fred Dean, Gary “Big Hands” Johnson, and Manu Tuiasosopo produced the pass rush that got to Marino by smothering his receivers.  Many of these Dime defense principles Bill Belichick used with the Giants in stopping the 1990 Bills in Super Bowl XXV and for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.  George Seifert didn’t get enough credit for coming up with a defense that produced upsets against high powered offenses in future Super Bowls.

19 joeOne of the most demoralizing things that a defense can do is intercept a team in the endzone negating a long drive which the 49ers did twice in both the 3rd and 4th quarters of Super Bowl XIX.  This was a signature game for one of the best secondaries ever.  They were built specifically to take on an explosive passing attack and nearly took out two of the greatest offenses of all time. The refs interfered with one in 1983 but they wouldn’t be denied in Palo Alto.

However with Joe Montana throwing for 331 yards and most yards rushing for a QB in a Super Bowl with 59 yards the defense was overshadowed.  Roger Craig scored 3 touchdowns in the game.  Wow…Dan Marino was only in his second year…he’d return to the Super Bowl in the near future…right?

Don’t take any chances for granted, there are no guarantees that you’ll get back…

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SUPER BOWL XVIII RUNNER UP 1983 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

A Dynasty Lost.  During the Super Bowl era, the measuring stick for a team to be considered a dynasty was winning back to back championships.  Poised to do that, were the 1983 Washington Redskins, fresh from their Super Bowl XVII win over the Miami Dolphins, had roared through the ’83 season on a high. Man, with Riggo, ‘The Hogs’ & ‘The Fun Bunch’ this team was fun to watch!

sbxviiimarbleAs I sit here and think about it…this could have been Joe Gibbs finest coaching job over a Hall of Fame career.  A coach of a defending champion normally has to fight off complacency within his team trying to keep them from becoming ‘fat cats’ and playing with the hunger that drove them to a title.  Most defending champions try to stay the course and hope other teams won’t catch up to them, yet the ’83 Redskins were better than the team that won it the year before.

00036203Let’s take you back to 1983…Ronald Reagan wanted to get re-elected…MASH aired its final episode (hated that show)…and the NFL had returned to its roots with the Redskins offense bludgeoning its way to the ’82 title with Hall of Famer John Riggins running “50 gut” right down team’s throats. Then a funny thing happened, the Redskins caught teams in a vice.  Gang up to stop Riggins and the “Fun Bunch” receivers were wide open behind the drawn up linebackers and points rang up all year long.

They set the NFL record for season scoring at 541.  Joe Theismann went from being a serviceable quarterback to league MVP throwing for 29 TDs.  Riggins went on to set the single season TD record at 24 while rushing for 1,347 yards.  Coming off the only time a kicker was named MVP, Mark Moseley in 1982, set the kicker record for scoring at 161.

00036202They marched to a 14-2 record with their 2 losses coming when they lost 31-30 to Dallas and 48-47 to the Green Bay Packers. These were the two teams that faced each other in the ’82 playoffs with the winner, Dallas, moving on to play Washington for the NFC Championship.  Each happened on a Monday night, yet the game against Lynn Dickey, John Jefferson, James Lofton of the Packers, was the highest scoring Monday Night game ever. Talk about a juggernaut…

Where this team was solid on defense was up front with big Dave Butz and Darryl Grant at DT swallowing opposing running attacks.  Dexter Manley was in his prime as a DE caving in the pocket from the QBs blindside.  Steady linebacker play came from Rich Milot, Neal Olkewicz, and Mel Kaufman.  The secondary was bolstered by sensational rookie Darrell Green.  The Redskins were never spectacular on defense but always ranked among the league’s best and 1983 was no different.

sbxviii5They marched into the ’83 playoffs as a powerful defending champion…so what happened??  They peaked 6 quarters too early.  After the 51-7 dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round, they went back to basics and were grinding out a win in the NFC Championship over the 49ers. Looks can be deceiving. Although the Redskins had taken a 21-0 lead, a closer view and you saw Niners cornerbacks Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright were smothering Charlie Brown and Art Monk for the most part, allowing other 49er defenders to solely focus on Riggins.

They could cover them man for man.  This slowed Washington down and Joe Montana almost pulled off a spectacular comeback losing 24-21 with some dubious penalties called against them late in that game….yet I digress.  The point being, this served as the blueprint for what was to come 2 weeks later in Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders, with even better cornerbacks in Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, handled the Redskins receivers allowing the front 7 and safeties to attack Riggins.

00036201C’mon, 38-9??  Really??  I still can’t believe they were beaten that convincingly until I have to remind myself of an NFL truth:  The highest scoring teams in history: 1980-1981 Chargers, these ’83 Redskins, the ’84 Dolphins, My ’90 Buffalo Bills, the ’98 Vikings, the 2001 St. Louis Rams, and the 2007 Patriots all EVENTUALLY ran into a defense late in the playoffs and were all knocked off.  The lone exception is the ’99 Rams.

This was a team that right before Super Bowl XVIII were being called one of the best teams ever and all they had to do was win this one game.  This is the ring commemorating the NFC Championship for getting there.

Best team ever?  Not quite…  Best Redskins team ever??  I think this team would give the 91 team a run for its money.  If you think about the ’83 Redskins and the Super Bowl XXVI champion, they really looked alike.  Who would win between these two if we had a mythical match-up??

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SUPER BOWL XVIII CHAMPION 1983 LOS ANGELES RAIDERS

When Marcus Allen broke out with that famous run for LA in Super Bowl XVIII, you knew Al Davis was going to go with something similar to the past two rings…anyway Raiders 38-9 over the Redskins. Tom Flores became a great coach with not only his second Super Bowl win in 4 years. He knocked off a defending champion that was 1 game away from being labeled a dynasty.

sbxviiiHow did the Raiders kill the defending Redskins like that?  Beating the Redskins yes but dismantling them like that?  It’s still baffling some 31 years later.  The highest scoring team in history only scoring 9 points?  NFL Films shows you and tells the story. Raiders defense, Raiders defense, Raiders defense!  John Madden called the game, what more could a Raider fan want?

What most fans don’t remember was going into the ’83 AFC Championship Game, the Raiders had been swept by their division rival Seahawks during the year.  So Seattle was a formidable foe.  The game had a weird feel to it because it was drizzly and grey.  I remember Marcus Allen playing with a black eye, swollen like a boxer.  They ran over Seattle 30-14 and rewrote history.

sbxviii32Had Lyle Alzado controlled himself, the Raiders could have won that game in the 1982 playoffs (loss to Jets 17-14) and could have won Super Bowl XVII.  How do we know this?  The Redskins (who won XVII) was exceedingly stronger in 83 and that beating the Raiders gave them was epic.

Easily the strongest team in Raiders history with a mixture of old pros and young players that made up the core of this team.  Two Heisman winners on offense with Jim Plunkett and Marcus Allen.  Old pros like Cliff Branch and Todd Christiansen.  Greg Pruitt was brought in to return kicks and set a league record for punt return yards.

sbxviii3Really solid defense…Reggie Kinlaw dominated from nose tackle with Hall of Famer Howie Long, the late Lyle Alzado, Greg Townsend on the defensive line were hard to move on the point.  They had the heaviest set of inside linebackers in Bob Nelson and Matt Millen. At 250lbs. each could take on and shed guards if they had too.  Rod Martin and Ted Hendricks ( the U) were the outside ‘backers with a lot of range.  Mike Davis and Vann McElroy were really solid safeties.

This defense had no real holes and then we get to Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.  One on one coverage at its finest that culminated in this performance against the Redskins receivers.

Charlie Brown and Art Monk combined for 125 receptions for 1,971 yards and 13 TDs during the season. Hayes and Haynes held them to 4 rec. for 119 yards…60 came on one play. It reduced the highest scoring team in NFL history to 1 scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. The next year in 1984 they started to give up some passing yards.  Yet Super Bowl XVIII they were at their zenith.

sbxviii5Remember that whole NFC 13 straight Super Bowl wins (19-31) and NFC dominance talk back when?  It was really worse than that.  After Pittsburgh’s win in XIV, only the Raiders won for the AFC in XV and XVIII. So it was really (16-31) that the NFC dominated but could not beat the Raiders winning 15 of 17.  Talk about carrying the torch for the conference…

It was also the last championship won by the Raiders under Al Davis. An original AFL pioneer who remained a separatist at heart and on all of the Raider’s Super Bowl winning rings, used the AFL “A” and not the AFC “A”.

Long live the American Football League, as we lost a pioneer back in 2011 when Al Davis passed.  In 2010 I attended a game in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and the ghosts of all those great Raider moments played out as I looked around that stadium. I met many former Raiders at the game and just missed Coach Flores but definitely would have loved to have met Al Davis.

bdavisThis is dedicated to the memories of Al Davis, along with Al LoCasale, Todd Christensen, Lyle Alzado, Earl Leggett, John Facenda, and Charlie Sumner.

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2014 NFC Wildcard Preview: Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

After a rousing start to the 1st collegiate playoff it’s time to take a look at the NFL playoffs. First game on the docket pits the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers and the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals.

Panther_logoLet’s face it. No one thinks the Cardinals on a 3rd string quarterback can win this football game. Isn’t that what the experts thought a few nights ago with Ohio St v. Alabama?? Ryan Lindley will be starting his 3rd game where we should see improvement. As a matter of fact this is a 3rd playoff level game in a row he’s played in. He had his issues with the NFL’s #1 defense in a loss to Seattle, but he outplayed Colin Kaepernick in the 20-17 finale against San Fran’s 5th ranked defense.

Carolina has become the hot team as the playoffs near. On a 4 game winning streak, the Panthers are the 2nd team in history to enter the playoffs with a losing record. The NFC South has been so bad this year, no one has even talked about their terrible record. To punctuate the mediocrity of these 4 wins are that 3 of them came against their division rivals and another with the sliding Cleveland Browns.

Cam Newton and the Panther running game is where their bread is buttered. However Arizona is decent against the run (ranked 13th) but struggle with mobile quarterbacks. Cardinal Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles has been dialing up blitzes all year and may have a few delayed blitzes ready for this one. Where Arizona struggles against Tight Ends, look for Tyrann Mathieu to be the wildcard matching up one on one against Greg Olsen.

cardinallogoMarieu along with Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie locking down on the other Panther receivers.

The Cardinals have won all season without a lot of offense and last week Lindley was 23 of 39 for 316 yards 2 TDs. However he did throw 3 interceptions. To win this game they have to play it loose like they have. Look for several deep balls to John Brown as the Cardinals win 26-14.

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SUPER BOWL XVII RUNNER UP 1982 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Riggo and Riggonomics powered the Redskins to the Super Bowl XVII title with a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.  For winning the AFC Championship of 1982, this is the ring the Dolphins received.

xvii4In an era where the Dolphins were known as “Wood-Strock”, for the penchant of playing veteran backup Don Strock for starter David Woodley, I found it ironic that Coach Shula didn’t pull the trigger and put Strock in during the second half of Super Bowl XVII.  The Dolphins offense could only complete one pass along with an interception over the final 30 minutes of that ball game.

Starting with the Colts famous loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III, Coach Shula didn’t replace a struggling Earl Morrall with Johnny Unitas.  It was voiced by some (including Unitas) had he started the second half they could have won the ball game.  Apparently that stuck with Shula because if you remember the ’72 Dolphins, in the AFC Championship, undefeated and playing with backup Earl Morrall (yup that same guy) were having problems on offense. Then at halftime, he made the switch back to Bob Griese at quarterback.  ‘

82afcringHe had the same penchant as he was developing David Woodley in the early 80s. Remember the “Epic In Miami” the year before? Shula pulled Woodley in the second quarter when the Chargers built a 24-0 lead. Why did he not pull the trigger in Super Bowl XVII?

In fact the Dolphins defense was in its prime and wanted to make amends for that 41-38 playoff loss to the Chargers. They came through the 1982 strike shortened season as a top flight defense earning the nickname “the Killer B’s” ranking #1 in the league.

As fate would have it the Dolphins hosted San Diego again in the playoffs. The Chargers had just ended Terry Bradshaw’s career with a playoff win in Pittsburgh.  Miami won easily 34-13. This game was the catalyst in turning the tide in moving Miami into the conference’s elite while the “Air Coryell” run ended that day. The Chargers wouldn’t return to the playoffs the rest of the decade where Miami was on the rise. Appearing in 3 AFC title games over the next 4 years, the first being the ’82 AFC Championship.

That game was played in a torrential downpour in the Orange Bowl.  In the mud “the Killer B’s” shut out Richard Todd, Freeman McNeil and the high powered Jets offense 14-0.  A.J. Duhe had a career game with an AFC Championship record 3 interceptions, returning the last for the decisive touchdown.

Although the Dolphins offense started off well in the Super Bowl, they were wasting a good performance by the “Killer B’s”.  It took the famous Riggins 43 yd touchdown run with 10 minutes left in the game to take a 20-17 lead.  They also came within inches of a deflected Kim Bokamper interception for a touchdown that would have strategically put the Dolphins in position to win the game minutes before.

superbowlxviiThe Redskins possessed the football for nearly 20 minutes in the second half.  Woodley only completed 1 pass in the second half.  Maybe Shula felt they didn’t have enough time with the football to turn it over to Don Strock.  Hindsight is 20/20 but wasn’t the reason Coach Shula replaced Woodley back in the San Diego game based on his ability to throw the ball and get hot in a hurry? I’m still puzzled by Shula not making the switch.

Well maybe Don Shula saved his best quarterback replacement job for last.  After this anemic offensive performance in the Super Bowl he drafted Dan Marino a few months later.  Maybe Don Shula knew what he was doing.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 60,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

SUPER BOWL XVII CHAMPION 1982 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Hail to the Redskins:  Really?  David Woodley can’t complete ANY passes in the second half of Super Bowl XVII for Miami?? None??  Ok he completed two in the second half, 1 to his team and an interception to Redskins S (present Green Bay Packers President & CEO) Mark Murphy and wasted a decent effort by the “Killer B’s” defense.  However the Super Bowl win by Washington was a throwback to old fashioned grind it out football with Riggins for 4, Riggins for 3, Riggins for 5, and wearing down the defense.  However, when I see this ring it takes me back to two weeks prior.

xviiI can remember being fired up for the NFC Championship between Washington and Dallas and knew it was going to be a thing of beauty.  It actually started when the Redskins were putting the finishing touches on a 21-7 win over the Vikings to set up the NFC Conference final when the chant “We want Dallas!!  We want Dallas!!” resonated from the jam packed crowd at RFK.

Just moments before John Riggins, who had rushed for 185 yard was in the midst of a curtain, turned and gave a bow to the crowd sending them into a frenzy.  Those sights and sounds reverberated throughout the stadium and CBS chose instead of showing the final plays of the game, panoramic views of the raucous fans. It became a part of the story.

Then it really got started…

sbxvii4Beginning with Dexter Manley professing that he “hated Dallas” on Monday of championship week that got the ball rolling. It was all over ESPN…  Then came the back and forth in the newspaper from Danny White of the Cowboys, to Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke, everyone was stoking the fire.  How bad did it get?  There was even a heated argument about the game within the House of Representatives the Friday before the game between Texas and Washington delegates where the late Thomas “Tip” O’Neill adjourned session an hour early.  It was on!!

Over a football game? Yes over a football game. The hating of Dallas really grew wings in the George Allen era in the early 70’s.  He preached it, lived it, and hated the treatment America’s Team received as a media darling. It kept breeding hatred within their division rivals.

Old time Redskin fans still talk with high regard of the fact that they beat Dallas in the ’72 NFC Championship when the Cowboys were defending champions.  So here we were some 10 years later and all that animosity was a thing of the past right?  After all new owner, new coach, new quarterback and cast of characters comprised the Redskins roster.  Right?

I still get chills thinking about that because kickoff was 30 minutes away and the crowd at RFK began another “We want Dallas!” chant. It wasn’t as boisterous as the one from a week prior but it stoked the fire. How must that have felt for the Cowboys to come out to shaking stands and all that noise during warm-ups let alone what would they hear on 3rd downs??  The Redskins weren’t a taunting team but they talked big before that game during the week and on the field pregame.  Near fights broke out….couldn’t have been better set up.

super-bowl-logo-1982So what happened? Remember Dexter Manley?  Well he knocked Danny White out of the game with a concussion very early and forced Gary Hogeboom to finish a championship game he was ill prepared for.  Then clinging to a 24-17 4th qtr lead and the Cowboys having seized momentum, Manley struck again.  On a screen pass the hard charging Manley blew by the Cowboy tackle and as Hogeboom tried to float a screen to Dorsett, Manley tipped the pass that DT Darryl Grant took back 20 yards for the final TD to seal Dallas’ fate 31-17.  The entire team was in the endzone celebrating that touchdown…hadn’t seen that before.

So Joe Gibbs, Theismann, Riggo, The Hogs, & The Fun Bunch played a spirited game and here is a video recount of it.

They were off to play Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena against Miami.  Of course it was a day for Hall of Famer John Riggins who rushed for a record 166 yards and his famous “70 Chip” touchdown run that gave the Redskins a 20-17 lead in the 4th quarter on their way to a 27-17 triumph.  Of course it was the brass ring that they won but even in remembering their actions (expressed joy) the win over the Cowboys for the NFC Championship, meant more.  Want further evidence?  When Charlie Brown scored the decisive touchdown that put the Super Bowl away the entire team wasn’t in the endzone celebrating it the way they had against Dallas.  That’s how we know…

You couldn’t tell me otherwise…

This article is dedicated in the memory of former Washington Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke and the late George Allen.

For a more visceral look

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SUPER BOWL XVI RUNNER UP 1981 CINCINNATI BENGALS

The NFL and the media leave some of the greatest stories in NFL history on the cutting room floor.  It gets old that the only stories recounted are those centered on the 49ers, Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers. The league is too vast to just talk of a few glamour teams when others deserve their due and have stories just as rich.

sbxviRemember when the Dallas Cowboys went from 1-15 to 7-9 in 1990 and CBS, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, etc. acted like Moses had just parted the Red Sea?  This turnaround was NOTHING, I repeat nothing compared to what the 1981 Cincinnati Bengals pulled off.  Imagine a perennial loser winning 6 more games than the season before, then 2 playoff games and coming within 5 points of winning the Super Bowl after having a losing season the year before.

Can a team really change its stripes??  Actually in 1981 the Cincinnati Bengals did.  Gone were the drab orange helmets with the dull “Bengals” written across it being replaced by simulated tiger stripes on the helmets, jerseys, and pants.  Back then teams rarely changed their uniforms at all…there wasn’t NFL Properties and Pro Shops back…huh?  *whispers off stage*…  We’re not talking actual stripes?  Oh about how a team plays…got it…Where were we?

sbxvi2The 1981 Cincinnati Bengals had one of the three greatest turnarounds in the history of the NFL.  From a 6-10 season to 12-4 AFC Champions,  and having lost in one of the most competitive Super Bowls of the first 16 games.  Don’t forget this is before ALL of free agency as we know it today which includes the defunct “Plan B” free agency of the late 80’s.  How did they do it?

Having been a member of the 1960’s Green Bay Packers, Head Coach Forrest Gregg infused Lombardi-esque work ethic and toughness into Cincinnati. This team’s belief in itself actually began in 1980 when they stood up to perennial division and league champion Steelers sweeping them in both games. THIS SWEEP ended the Steelers dynasty and allowed the Cleveland Browns to win the division.

Cleveland finished 11-5 to the Steelers 9-7 and since they split their games, Browns winning by 1 and Steelers winning the other by 3 points.. In the event of a tie breaker with the same record, Pittsburgh would have won the division. With new-found confidence they battled the Browns to the bitter end in the season finale, losing 27-24 in a great game where the lead changed hands 6 times.  Yet the seeds for the next year had been planted.

The 1981 team was bouyed by a youthful enthusiasm stemming from several good young players who didn’t have that Bengal loser baggage of the previous decade.  WR Cris Collinsworth was a rookie sensation with a 1,000 yd season. OT Anthony Munoz, building his Hall of Fame resume’ was in his 2nd year. Throw in DB Louis Breeden, rookie DBs the late Bobby Kemp, and Robert Jackson.  Rookie WR David Verser and this team was younger at many key positions.

sbxvi3Of course there were some old pros on hand too: Under the radar QB Ken Anderson became league MVP throwing for 29TD passes, and there was ageless CB Ken Riley (should be in the Hall of Fame). The late Dan Ross was a good TE. As with the WRs of this team they faced older CBs in the division who had a hard time chasing the Bengal kids on astro turf in 3 of the 4 stadiums within the division. A very hard time…

So they went into 1981 ready to go.  After a so-so beginning to the season they finished winning 7 of their last 8 games including a second straight sweep of the Steelers to nail the coffin shut on that dynasty forever which gave them 5 wins in the last 6 games against them.  The Bengals were headed to the playoffs…Who? The Bengals…

I’m still upset over the AFC Divisional Playoff game where leading MY Buffalo Bills 28-21 and frantically driving to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.   When on 4th down Joe Ferguson hit Lou Piccone who slid over the 1st down mat (when they drop the chains) on the sideline and the refs ruled the catch short of a first down. Horrible spot…one of the worst in history yet I digress…**remember what the dr. said…count to 10…and…sigh**

cc16On to the game this team is most remembered for, winning the 1981 AFC Championship game in -59* wind chill over the Chargers 27-7. Yikes!! The poor Chargers had to play in a temperature difference of 140 degrees just 1 week after the “Epic in Miami” which they stood NO chance of winning. There were heated buses outside Riverfront Stadium in case fans needed to heat up. Temperature difference withstanding, the divisional game against Miami went into 6 quarters in high humidity, so the Chargers were exhausted.

Well win more games and get home field advantage next time.

Since they weren’t used to the cold, the Chargers were dismissed easily by the Bengals. Then of course SuperBowl XVI against the San Francisco 49ers in the Silverdome. Where they came within a goal line stand of producing the greatest turnaround in Super Bowl history.  They were down 20-0 at the half and were held off 26-21 after a furious second half rally.

Boys and girls that is a turnaround!!  Here is the bauble for the achievement of becoming the 1981 AFC Champions.  Fall short of their goal?? I doubt they began the season thinking they’d seriously win the Super Bowl…

What do you think???

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SUPER BOWL XVI CHAMPION 1981 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan where the San Francisco 49ers 26-21 won over the Cincinnati Bengals.  Two weeks after the catch….I can remember that it was somewhere in the 3rd quarter and I was still saying to myself “The Bengals and the Niners in the Super Bowl?”

sbxvi1.2The NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys was so good you forgot there was a Super Bowl yet to be played.  Then with the 59 below AFC Championship Game I don’t know if the Bengals had thawed out from that game.  For the first time in memory, you could see the national magazines and media outlets scrambling to sell these teams to the masses. Or actually to sell themselves that the 49ers and Bengals were in the Super Bowl.

Sports media was completely reeling from the high profile darling Cowboys of Tom Landry and “Air Coryell” Chargers going down in the conference finals. They weren’t ready for both Cinderella teams to crash the Super Bowl in Pontiac. Since Joe Montana had made so many so called experts eat their words with “The Catch”, he wasn’t covered as a great quarterback like he was later in his career. He had thrown 3 interceptions in the NFC Championship before “The Catch.” In fact the national figure that emerged from Super Bowl XVI wasn’t a player, it was Head Coach Bill Walsh.

Can you believe a team winning the Super Bowl on the basis of squib kicks?

sbxvi5After taking a 14-0 lead late in the 2nd quarter, most teams would be satisfied with the upper hand and not push the envelope. Walsh implemented his genius and stamp on the game with the ensuing kickoff. Totally unprepared, the ball bounced downfield and put the Bengals in horrible field position inside their own 15. Cincinnati played conservatively, couldn’t move the football and punted. The 49ers, on a short field, kicked a quick field goal and hit them with a squib kick again.

Archie Griffin (yes OSU fans) fumbled the second squib kick that the 49ers converted to another quick field goal to put them up 20-0 at the half.  Of course someone would say “But this was the middle of the game and the Niners were up 14-0.”  Yes but in a game decided by 5 points (26-21) you look at what could have been… and these 6 points were the difference in Bill Walsh becoming a genius and Forrest Gregg almost becoming the new Vince Lombardi.

Others point to the great goal line stand in the 3rd quarter that kept the Niners in strategic control of the game. San Francisco was up 20-7, however the Bengals could have stuck to their regular game plan had it just been 14-7 without the special team gaffes before halftime.

The late Bill Walsh was meticulous in his preparation and the blueprint for modern coaches to follow. He was the first to spend the game wearing a headset as well as scripting the first 15 plays. To game plan squib kicks into the mix showed he didn’t give lip service to the adage “special teams is 1/3 of the game.” Most coaches say that and don’t implement anything different to use it as a mode of attack.

sbxvi4A few of the reasons Coach Walsh scripted his first 15 plays he offered in one of his books. He did it not only because it kept him from getting excited and calling something different than what study showed he should do. It allowed the team to know what plays would be run from the outset and they could perform them no matter how nervous they were at the beginning of a game. By practicing them over and over they could run those plays on autopilot.

Before the Bill Walsh coaching tree would blossom and implement his intricacies throughout the league, it was Super Bowl XVI that gave genesis to this. If you take away “The Catch” in the NFC Championship Game, it looks similar to the Super Bowl. There was no marquee performer or performance that you could think of. Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana only threw for 157 yards against the Bengals. They were the first Super Bowl champion to allow more than 20 points in each of their postseason wins.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Bill Walsh made all the difference and is the model each present day coach is descended from.

This article is dedicated in his memory.

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SUPER BOWL XV RUNNER UP 1980 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

As the 1980’s beckoned, many of the teams that Dallas had sat on for the previous decade began to grow anew.  A fresh generation of coaches and players started to internalize the disdain for the bully on the block and began their ascent. It was known that you had to take out Landry’s Cowboys if you really want to be recognized as champions. Although the Redskins were the one with the more acknowledged rivalry, it was the Philadelphia Eagles under Dick Vermeil that got the first crack at the boys from the Lone Star State.

superbowlxv3Much of the animosity started at the beginning of the week, when the Eagles were cast as underdogs against Landry’s Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship Game. Although they were hosting, the Eagles were made underdogs by Vegas. Right on cue, the Eagles were being treated as bit role players even though they split their games with Dallas that year.

An upset Dick Vermeil made a declaration that ratcheted feelings up when he vowed “Never allow anyone to take you for granted! I get the feeling the Dallas Cowboys are taking us for granted right now. We’re here because we earned the right to be here. If the Dallas Cowboys are going to take us for granted, we’ll whip their ass!”

To further irk Tom Landry, Vermeil opted to play in their white uniforms forcing the Cowboys to play in the blue jerseys, which they felt were jinxed. Dallas complained to the league office yet for once the powers that be didn’t allow Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm to get their way. The crowd at Veteran’s Stadium was unforgiving as the two teams emerged from the tunnel.  It was 4* and -17* windchill when on the Eagles second play from scrimmage:

The roar of the crowd during Wilbert Montgomery’s touchdown was the loudest ever at Veteran’s Stadium. Cowboy haters everywhere delighted as the Eagles held the early upper hand on the Cowboys 7-0. As the game wore on and Landry’s charges behind 17-7 late in the fourth quarter, they were able to punt and pin the Eagles to their own 5 yard line. From their own 5 yard line the Eagles ended fading hopes for Dallas when in 3 runs Philadelphia moved the football to the Dallas 25. Montgomery was putting the finishing touches on a signature day when he struck with this 54 yard masterpiece.

The Eagles vanquished the Cowboys 20-7 on their way to Super Bowl XV. Wilbert Montgomery etched his name into  Philadelphia lore with a 194 yard rushing performance. They had destroyed the Flex Defense, powering for 263 yards on 40  carries averaging 6.575 yards a pop!! Cowboy haters everywhere rejoiced in hearing Landry, Danny White and Cowboy apologists have to answer the questions as the defeated football team.

super-bowl-logo-1980Until the Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl this will remain the greatest day in the team’s modern history. The ’60 NFL Championship was so long ago, generations of Eagle fans have passed on. Even this proud moment in Eagles history was 34 years ago.  Although they came up short in Super Bowl XV, the win against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC Championship was the most memorable gamein team history.

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SUPER BOWL XV CHAMPION 1980 OAKLAND RAIDERS

January 25, 1981 With a yellow ribbon decorating the Super Dome to welcome back the hostages from Iran, Super Bowl XV was played where the Raiders bested the Eagles 27-10 to earn this beautiful ring. One item to note, Al Davis used the AFL “A” on the side of the ring instead of the modified block “A” for the AFC.

supebowlxvbigsideThe first Super Bowl ring I ever saw in person and sparked the first of many conversations.  It was Cedrick Hardman’s (#86), when I met him at the White House in Laguna Beach, California in 2001. He was a former 49er defensive end from the “Gold Rush” era in the early 70’s. Or where non football fans would remember him as the brother with the beard in the scene from the first House Party movie when Kid went to jail…anyway…

He laughed that I was too young to know any of that and when I told him he had just gone to the Raiders that year along with Burgess Owens#44, DeWayne O’Steen#35, and Odis McKinney #23 on the defensive side of the ball and should have a Super Bowl XV ring to show for it. He held up his fist with the ring on and let’s just say the drinks were flowin’ and the football talk took off. 

superbowlxvCan someone explain how Rod Martin wasn’t MVP of Super Bowl XV? Aside from AJ Duhe of the Dolphins, in the ’82 AFC Championship game, I can’t recall a linebacker intercepting 3 passes in 1 game. This had as much to do with the Raiders taking home the prize as much as Jim Plunkett’s 261 yards and 3 TDs. He picked off Ron Jaworski on the Eagles 3rd play and was the one who got the momentum going for the silver and black. What’s interesting is that this was the career year for Lester Hayes, who intercepted 13 passes, just 1 shy of Dick “Night Train” Lane’s record set in the 1951. Hayes was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1980 as a result.

What’s amazing is how different this team was from the team that won Super Bowl XI just 4 years prior. Now with free agency, we’re used to roster turn over but when you think of teams back then, you practically could name half the roster without giving it much thought.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-SizeNine of the eleven starters from the Super Bowl XI champion on defense had changed with the lone holdovers DE John Matuszak & LB Ted Hendricks (from The [[_]]). On offense, WR Fred Biletnikoff, TE Dave Casper, RB Clarence Davis, and QB Ken Stabler were gone from the offense. Of their skill players, only FB Mark Van Eeghen & WR Cliff Branch remained.

Ironically, Jack Tatum and Ken Stabler were traded to Houston for Dan Pastorini. Pastorini broke his leg in the fifth game of the year and in came Jim Plunkett, and who did the Raiders play in the ’80 AFC Wildcard?? Yup, that same Houston Oiler team who failed to “kick in the door” to get to the Super Bowl.  That game was truly strange, watching Ken Stabler quarterbacking against the Raiders, in Oakland, for a playoff game.  I think this team won partially because teams couldn’t study them.  Couple these personnel points with the fact that Tom Flores was a 2nd year coach, what would you study?

This brings us to the signature game during their run for the 1980 title against the Cleveland Browns.  This AFC Divisional playoff was in -49*degree w/wind-chill in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  How can a team from California win that game?? I can still remember when Sam Rutigliano sent the Browns offense back out onto the field. Browns were losing 14-12 and had the ball inside the 15 yd line with less than a minute to go in the game. I’m yelling “Send in the field goal team! What are you doing?”

Wouldn’t you know that Brian Sipe throws it into the endzone and Mike Davis intercepted it ending the Browns season when they could have easily had Don Cockcroft kick the winning field goal? “Red Right 88″ became a play that went down in NFL history and a day of infamy for Browns fans everywhere. These Raiders just found ways to win. No other way to say it.

super-bowl-logo-1980Brimming with confidence, the Raiders moved on to upset the San Diego Chargers 34-27 in the AFC Championship.  Jim Plunkett won MVP honors two weeks later in the Super Bowl throwing for 261 yards and 3TDs including an 80yard TD to Kenny King which set a Super Bowl record, winning 27-10. The Raiders played like a team accustomed to winning when in fact many of their players were in their first Super Bowl. The year after the ’79 Steelers became the first Super Bowl winner comprised of players who had not played for any other team. The ’80 Raiders won it all with a team that no one could recognize.

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SUPER BOWL XIV RUNNER UP 1979 LOS ANGELES RAMS

If you ever wanted to look up the definition of unfulfilled promise, look up the 1970’s Los Angeles Rams. From 1973-1979 the Rams had won 6  straight NFC West titles. Of all the teams that dominated their respective divisions, the Rams couldn’t duplicate their regular season when the playoffs began.

14conf2Los Angeles had ruled their division with a great suffocating defense and a solid running game. However they never had a top flight quarterback to push themselves over the top. From an aged John Hadl to James Harris to Ron Jaworski and finally settling on Pat Haden, the pedestrian quarterbacking failed them in the postseason repeatedly. They lost defensive battles with the Minnesota Vikings but it was against the Dallas Cowboys the worst losses were afflicted.

In ’75 the 12-2 Rams were gearing up for an NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings. No one expected the wild card 10-4 Dallas Cowboys to upset them with The Hail Mary. Los Angeles had finished on a 6 game winning streak, which included a 10-3 win over the defending and eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.

sbxiv2Once Pittsburgh vanquished the Raiders over in the AFC Title Game, all they had to do was beat the “lucky to be there” Cowboys for the NFC and punch their ticket to Super Bowl X. Staubach sliced them up with a 37-7 defeat at home. They lost in an epic rout where their great defense let them down. It was a defense that had only given up 3 touchdowns in their last 30 quarters and held 5 of those 6 opponents to less than 10 points per game.

After two more losses to the Vikings in ’76 and ’77 Head Coach Chuck Knox moved on to coach the Bills. Defensive Coordinator Ray Malavasi was promoted and the reigns of the offense were placed in Pat Haden’s hands as the full time starter. The consensus was he could gain experience in time to win it all within the next couple years with an aging but still formidable defense.

The 1978 season saw the Rams go 12-4 and become the first team to earn homefield throughout the playoffs. They had the #1 defense which registered wins in regular season games against the Steelers 13-10, and 27-14 over Dallas. Back in the NFC Championship, they hosted the defending champion Cowboys and were shut out 28-0. Dallas wrecked another trip to the big game and it seemed the window had closed for the Rams.

super-bowl-logo-1979A tumultuous off-season ensued, concluding with the drowning death of Owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Then the controversial ownership transfer to his wife Georgia and not his son Steve.

The tumult in the front office mimicked what was happening on the field once the season began. The defense was a step slow as the team began 5-6 and the playoffs were in jeopardy. They had just lost 4 of their last 5 and had given up 29.25 points in those including a 30-6 loss to the hated Cowboys. Now they lost starting QB Pat Haden for the year. Where was this group headed??

They turned to flashy 3rd year runner Wendell Tyler as they eased backup QB Vince Ferragamo into the lineup. Tyler got the hot hand rushing for 520 of his 1,109 yards on the season in the final 5 weeks. Ferragamo finished with less than 50% completion rate and threw 5TDs to 10 interceptions. So these unlikely players were going to lead the 9-7 Rams into the playoffs.

Most had buried the Rams as a team that didn’t have heart. The Dallas Cowboys had ripped it out in 2 championship games already. Dating back to the ’78 NFC Championship Game, they were 0-2 with a combined score of 58-6. So now with Vince Ferragamo and Wendell Tyler (new ’79 midseason starters) they were supposed to go to Dallas and win in the divisional round??

After sending Dallas home 21-19 in Roger Staubach’s last game and the 9-0 NFC Championship win over Tampa, the Rams fought tooth and nail with Pittsburgh out in Pasadena. Inspired by Jack Youngblood who was playing with a lower leg fracture from the Cowboy game on, the Rams exhibited all the toughness, heart, and desire they hadn’t shown in their previous playoff years.

Falling to Pittsburgh 31-19 in Super Bowl XIV kept the Rams from final glory. However they set the precedent that a team can get hot right as the playoffs near and ride that momentum to the Super Bowl. Even in that game, the lead changed hands 6 times as they wouldn’t give in to the established champion Steelers. Only a late game interception by an inexperienced Ferragamo kept the game from a 7th.

A truly Herculean effort that just came up short.

Dedicated to the memories of Ray Malavasi, Carroll Rosenbloom, Bud Carson,

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SUPER BOWL XIV CHAMPION1979 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Super Bowl XIV was the culmination of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their incredible record as a football dynasty. It was their 4th title in 6 years. They had started as one of the greatest defenses with a solid running game. Yet they evolved into one of the league’s most explosive passing games with the ’78 rule changes. For several reasons this was one of history’s most unique champions. There were storm clouds on the horizon however…

superbowlxivIn 1979 the Steelers were a defending champion and were the NFL’s best but it was evident teams were catching this aging team.

One of the most unique elements of this champion is how mistake prone they were. Did you know this was the only Super Bowl champion that won the title while leading the NFL in turnovers?? They had 52 turnovers and still went 12-4. In two of those games they turned it over 9 times in a 34-10 loss to Cincinnati, then 8 more in a 35-7 loss to San Diego.

Super-Bowl-XIV-ringHowever they could show extreme force as they beat Denver 42-7 and Dallas 14-3 in Super Bowl XIII 1/2. They bludgeoned two playoff teams that played in the last two Super Bowls in back to back weeks. These came during a four game stretch where they held each opponent to under 10 points. Yet they were bookended by the numbing losses to Cincinnati and San Diego.

The other unique aspect of this team is it’s the only champion ever comprised of players who had only played for Pittsburgh. All original draft picks and free agents. When they made it to Super Bowl XIV, it was almost a celebration of the Steeler way when they faced the Rams with 3 former Steeler coaches in Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson, Woody Widenhofer, and Dan Radakovich. These men were a part of the dynasty since they were on the staff back in Super Bowl IX and X.

super-bowl-logo-1979When this team was challenged they could focus and win on experience. Truth be told the tell tale signs were there this would be the last year they would be ahead of the NFL pack. Their 31-19 win over the Rams out in The Rose Bowl was more a curtain call for those great aging Steelers. Chuck Noll’s men took their place as one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

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SUPER BOWL XIII RUNNER UP 1978 DALLAS COWBOYS

In the “Battle of Champions”,  XIII on January 21, 1979 the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys took on the Steelers in deciding who was to be the team of the decade. There have only been a few occasions where a Super Bowl champion came back better the following season. The 1978 Dallas Cowboys were one of those teams.

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Of all the teams coached by Tom Landry built by Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt, this was the apex of their work. In 1977 they finished #1 on both offense and defense. Rookies Tony Dorsett (1007 yds) and Tony Hill were just learning the offense and fighting for playing time. 1978 saw them each explode onto the scene as Pro Bowl performers with Dorsett flashing for 1,325 yards and 7 TDs. Hill supplanted Golden Richards, teaming with ’77 Pro Bowler Drew Pearson, gathering in 46 balls for 823 yards and 6 TDs. So they were much more explosive.

Finishing #2 in defense in 1978, nothing really changed from the season before. Pro Bowlers Randy White, Harvey Martin, Charlie Waters, and Cliff Harris were joined by 1st timer “Hollywood” Henderson. Whose athleticism had lethal impact on the Cowboys’ nickle packages. Although the NFL extended the regular season to 16 games in ’78, the Cowboys gave up fewer points (208) than they had as league champion the season before (212).

sbxiiinewDid you know the ’78 Cowboys were .5 yards per game from being #1 on offense and 8 yards per game from being#1 on defense for a second straight year?? So when they vanquished the Los Angeles Rams and their #1 ranked defense, on the road 28-0 for the NFC Championship, their trip to Super Bowl XIII was for more than winning a title. They had a chance to finish as a dynasty and arguably the best in history.

The best Super Bowl of the first 25 had the Steelers scoring 1st then the Cowboys answering on the last play of the 1st quarter.

The Doomsday Defense II forced a fumble by league MVP and Super Bowl MVP Terry Bradshaw as the first quarter wore on. Just when the Steeler offense seemed to get it together, Doomsday struck again near midfield to take a 14-7 lead. Courtesy of Hollywood Henderson who taunted Bradshaw in the week preceding Super Bowl XIII.

The Steelers struck back with 2 scores to take a 21-14 halftime lead. Bradshaw had answered with several scoring drives and finished with 253 yards passing. A Super Bowl record… Dallas wasn’t living up to their defensive billing. After the first initial offensive drives, the Steelers had held Staubach and company in check.

Although the game had gone back and forth, the Steelers had outgained Dallas 271 to 102 yards. The teams had combined for 5 turnovers. However 1 aspect of the game had gone in Dallas’ favor, the Steelers trapping running game had been smothered. That trend continued in the second half as the Cowboy offense found it’s bearings. Down 21-14 late in the 3rd, Staubach drove the Cowboys to the Steelers 11 yard line. Poised to tie the game, the fickle hands of fate  interceded…

Having to settle for a 21-17 deficit, the momentum lost affected the Cowboys until late in the 4th quarter. In actuality neither team could move the ball for the balance of the second half. Only a pass interference that had impact beyond this Super Bowl gave the Steelers momentum.

The Steelers scored a few plays later to make it 28-17 on Franco Harris’ 22 yard trap up the middle. Another fickle bounce of the ball happened when kicker Roy Gerela slipped kicking off. It went right to DT Randy White. With a casted hand tried to handle the ball on a return when he fumbled it. The Steelers scored on the next play and viola…they were up 35-17 with 6:41 to go. The Cowboys were undone on a bad pass interference and two strange bounces of the football.

The Cowboys didn’t go quietly into the night.

Staubach led the Cowboys to back to back touchdown drives to cut the score to 35-31. They couldn’t get a second onside kick and the Steelers ran out the clock. The Steel Curtain finished the game on fumes. Dallas couldn’t be stopped on those last 2 drives. Comparing both defenses:

  • Steelers allowed 330 yards, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 int.
  • Cowboys allowed 357 yards, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumble, 1 int and 1 fumble recovery for a TD

sbxiiinew2Not bad when you compare two great defenses. However writers have gunned down hyperbole in the history books as Steeler strength vs Dallas finesse. When in fact the Cowboys were ranked 2nd and the Steelers 3rd on defense. The 86 yards gained by Pittsburgh in the 2nd half was the fewest by a Super Bowl winner. Well at least until XXX when the Steelers held the Cowboys to 61 in their loss.

super-bowl-logo-1978Even though the Steelers had bested Dallas in SuperBowl X, this  could have made things even at 3 wins a piece.  Anyway…to the victor went too many spoils when it comes to Hall of Fame inductions off these teams.  No Harvey Martin, no Drew Pearson?  really…Pittsburgh was better…but not 10 inductions to 3 better!  No chance.

Who knew this would be Tom Landry 's last Super Bowl team.

Who knew this would be Tom Landry ‘s last Super Bowl team.

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SUPER BOWL XIII CHAMPION 1978 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

In the “Battle of Champions”, Super Bowl XIII on January 21, 1979 the defending champion Cowboys took on the Steelers in deciding who was to be the team of the decade. The first Super Bowl with a kickoff pushed back so that it would conclude in front of a primetime audience.

xiiipsThis was arguably one of the best Super Bowls of the first 25 that were played. Even though the Steelers had bested Dallas in Super Bowl X, this could make things even.  The discrepancy of 10 Steelers in the Hall of Fame vs. 3 for Dallas is beyond ridiculous considering Pittsburgh barely won 35-31.  Of course Cowboy fans point to a bogus “incidental contact” pass interference call between Benny Barnes and Lynn Swann, then you have the Jackie Smith dropped pass…nevertheless referee Fred Sweringen blew that interference call…it’s important because John Stallworth was out for the second half and the Steelers couldn’t move the ball.

Let’s take a trip back in time. Aside from Oakland and Miami, the Steelers and Cowboys were viewed as the best teams of the 1970’s.  The Steelers had won it all in 1974 and returned to the Super Bowl as a powerful defending champion. Pittsburgh repeated as champions and established themselves as a dynasty.  They dropped off the championship mantle for ’76 and ’77 yet were poised to return in 1978.

xiiips2In their absence the Dallas Cowboys had retooled themselves and ascended to the Super Bowl XII championship with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett added to the mix. The young players that joined the Cowboys in 1975 like Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, and Randy White were now starters and superstars.  Now they were set to do what Pittsburgh had done and repeat as Super Bowl champions.  So for the second time they’d meet in a Super Bowl with one team coming in as a defending champion.

In 1978, the NFL saw rule changes that allowed receivers to only be chucked within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. This “Mel Blount rule” along with a rule allowing pass blockers to extend their arms liberalized the passing game. Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers became a new team as he led the league with 28 TDs thrown. The Steel Curtain wasn’t as stout as it had been in the mid 70’s yet they allowed the fewest points in the first 16 game season with 195 allowed. Franco Harris was still a 1,000 yard rusher at this time.

So this powerful 14-2 challenger went down to Miami’s Orange Bowl to take on the defending champion Cowboys who finished 12-4. For only the second time in the 13 year history of the Super Bowl, we would have two teams facing that each previously had won the game before. The first was the Steelers meeting the Cowboys in X, so everyone anticipated a great game for XIII. Two prime champions faced off and an epic battle ensued.

The Steelers opened up the scoring 7-0 with a Bradshaw to John Stallworth pass from 28 yards out.

After the Cowboys came back and tied the game with a Staubach to Tony Hill pass, Dallas “Doomsday Defense” struck. “Hollywood” Henderson and Mike Hegman sacked Bradshaw with Hegman stealing the ball and scoring with it. The Steelers were down 14-7 when a few plays later…

Each team’s defense forced multiple turnovers during the first half. The majority of the 2nd quarter had the teams deadlocked at 14 when the Steelers sustained a drive just before halftime. With seconds to go, Bradshaw connected on his 3rd TD of the half with this pass to Rocky Bleier.

Terry finished the first half with 253 yards with his 3 touchdowns and would become the first QB to throw for over 300 in a Super Bowl. Keep in mind this was the same quarterback that had nearly played his way out of a job in 1974. All the footage of his mistake prone ways as a young player were being extinguished in the mind as he put on this bravura performance in the 1st half.

Up 21-14, the Steel Curtain started to crack as Staubach started to move the ball in the 3rd quarter. Right when they were going to tie the game at 21, Jackie Smith dropped a sure touchdown on a 3rd down forcing them to settle for a field goal and a 21-17 deficit. Dallas, demoralized by the turn of events lost momentum for most of the second half.

After a questionable pass interference put the Steelers on the Cowboys 22, Franco scored on this trap to make it 28-17. We were getting late in the 4th quarter also.

Following an accidental squib kick, DT Randy White mishandled the football and fumbled as he was hit by Tony Dungy. Now the Steelers were poised for the kill at the Dallas 18 yard line.

It was not all over… Although the Steelers led 35-17 with a little more than  6 minutes left in the game, Staubach’s championship mettle shone through. The crack in the Steel Curtain became s fissure as the Cowboys scored twice from 90 and 48 yards out respectively. Yet Pittsburgh held on to win 35-31 and unseated the Cowboys as champions.

super-bowl-logo-1978Super Bowl XIII was a celebration with the two best teams facing off in the big game.  Rarely does that happen. Great games like that to climax the season leave you wanting more but you have to wait until next season to get that fix. To think the NFL’s #2 (Cowboys) and #3 (Steelers) ranked defenses were shredded by 35 and 31 points respectively. No one saw that coming.

Bradshaw was the runaway MVP as he passed for a Super Bowl records for yardage (318) and touchdown passes (4). Much like Ben Roethlisberger today, it was the defense and the running game that carried the QB to his first Super Bowl win. Terry had a good game in his second, Super Bowl X, but it was this one that validated his career and sent him to the Hall of Fame.

It’s impossible to see this championship ring and not think of the Super Bowl game first.

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Legend of The Fall: Walter Payton

It has been 27 years since Walter Payton suited up for an NFL game. Before his passing in 1999 the question could be raised was he the greatest legend the game had known?? After his passing his legend is unmatched by any player of the last 60 years. “Sweetness” as a nickname is synonymous with those of “The Galloping Ghost” the “Steel Curtain” that will be shared with football fans forever.

The legendary

The legendary “Sweetness”

Although he is no longer the NFL’s leading rusher whenever you see a runner fighting for more yardage, you think of Payton. In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation during a majority of his career he was overshadowed by Tony Dorsett then Eric Dickerson since they were more flashy runners. It was grit and determination that made Payton special. Unlike other runners one man couldn’t bring him down nor could someone shoulder him down. Payton’s spirit was that of a great warrior and it took more than one man to stop him.

If you were to travel back to the 1980’s the standard bearer for runners was the great Jim Brown. He set the NFL’s all time rushing yardage mark with 12,312 yards when he retired in 1965. Only OJ Simpson came close to passing him finishing with 11,236 when he ran out of gas in 1979. Payton’s career long assault had him within reach as 1984 beckoned. Before he could eclipse Brown’s mark the comparisons started. Who was better?? Jim Brown or Walter Payton??

The video you just watched had been produced before Payton had become the all time leading rusher. They edited it before the second week of the 1986 season and re-aired it. He was about to score his 100th touchdown in the famous “Buddy Bowl”, where Buddy Ryan who had been the architect of the Chicago Bears championship defense the year before.  He returned as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Not only did Payton score his touchdown, he had his last true great game as he gouged the Eagles for 177 yards. It was his 75th 100 yard game. Much like Marvin Hagler in boxing, national media showcased Payton in the twilight of his career. Of course it was once he surpassed Jim Brown and his unbreakable all time rushing record was when he finally was afforded that status. That moment took place October 7, 1984.

At one time he had the greatest rushing performance in an NFL game with 275 yards and pushed the all time rushing record to 16,726 yards. Each of these have been broken but who embodied the spirit of the determined runner fighting a defense fighting to stop him?? Emmitt Smith and Corey Dillon come close but none matched his fury. Looking back on all these careers it was as though other runners were playing a role created for them by Payton. As thought they were all trying to impersonate him. Make no mistake about it he was The Chancellor of Football’s favorite player during his career.

The poignant moment that was etched in my mind wasn’t his sitting alone on the bench after his last game in the 1987 playoffs. It was his sitting on the bench by himself toward the end of the 1984 NFC Championship Game. Chicago was losing 23-0 to the San Francisco 49ers and it looked like this was the closest Payton would make it to the Super Bowl.

In an instant the flash entered my mind that his career would be over soon and he hadn’t been a champion. Then the great ’85 Bears stormed to the Super Bowl XX championship. He rushed for over 1,300 yards in 1986 then let it be known during 1987 it would be his last season. Sure he wasn’t the same runner as he split time with heir apparent Neil Anderson. It was at this time you had to reflect back on how great Walter had been over the years.

Friday would have been Walter Payton’s 60th birthday and he’s still missed by football fans everywhere. Yet we know the trials he faced toward the end of his life. Its better to focus on his play and the bright personality that we remembered him for.

Walter Payton soaring as he is in heaven above.

Walter Payton soaring as he is in heaven above.

Happy 60th birthday Walter Payton from a true fan that didn’t get a chance to meet you. Its fun to share vids for those who were younger that didn’t get to see you play or see the footage of your exploits. My gift to those fans in your honor started on your birthday. RIP Sweetness. Thanks for reading and please share the article. Epilogue: An extra video on Walter Payton’s 1984

Missing Rings: The 1987 Cleveland Browns

When it comes to talking about Super Bowl Rings of NFL champions gone by, we think of great teams. Yet within each team, there are individuals who have their own story to tell. If becoming a champion is the crowning jewel for a lifetime achievement then how monumental is the chase itself?? Enter Marty Schottenheimer and the 1987 Browns.

Mark Jackson celebrates the touchdown at the end of "The Drive"in the '86 AFC Championship Game.

Mark Jackson celebrates the touchdown at the end of “The Drive”in the ’86 AFC Championship Game.

It all began on a dark foreboding afternoon on January 11, 1987 in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. After holding the Denver Broncos to only 216 yards of offense and 13 points in the first 55 minutes of the game, scored to take a 20-13 lead, then pinned the Broncos to their own 2 yard line after the kick. The crowd was rocking as Browns fans were throwing confetti and were just a series or two away from Super Bowl XXI. Decades of NFL futility were about to come to a close as John Elway and the Bronco offense took the field.

Yet in one of the NFL’s greatest ever playoff drives, John Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards to the tying touchdown. Then the game winner in overtime. The 23-20 thriller ended a season that had been the most accomplished in the modern history of the franchise.

In 1985, the Browns were a limited team that was easing their prized rookie quarterback, Bernie Kosar, into the game plan. This earthbound run oriented outfit was the first division winner in NFL history with a .500 record. Both Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack rushed for 1,000 yards during the season. These shortcomings came back to haunt them in a 24-21 loss to Miami in the playoffs. A game in which Cleveland was up 21-3 at one point. Once the Dolphins focused on the ground game, Kosar was ineffective in his first road playoff game.

So in 1986, third year Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer brought in passing guru Lindy Infante to open up the offense and personally develop Cleveland’s kid quarterback. Kosar developed into an upper level quarterback throwing for 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. Along with the Dawg defense they paced the conference and wrapped up home-field advantage with a 12-4 record. As the playoffs neared, pundits were mixed with what they expected of Bernie. Although he finished with the NFL’s lowest interception ratio per pass attempt, many felt a 23 year old quarterback would fold under pressure.

Marty Schottenheimer

Marty Schottenheimer

In the AFC divisional playoff contest with the New York Jets, Kosar completed 33 of 64 for an NFL playoff record 489 yards in a come from behind 23-20 win. The game went to double overtime before Mark Moseley kicked the Browns to a victory. Then came the loss to Denver and depression set in state wide. It wasn’t the fact the Browns lost, it was the heartbreaking way they lost it. Yet with a developing quarterback and one of the AFC’s best defenses, they vowed to make amends the following season.

Going into 1987, Cleveland started tinkering with their defense. They parted ways with high profile linebacker Chip Banks and altered their 3-4 defense in the early portion of the season. With two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon, the Browns could go man to man against anyone. Results were mixed as Cleveland had issues rushing the passer. Minnifield and Dixon started in the Pro Bowl for the 2nd straight year, so coverage wasn’t the issue.

The offense continued to diversify as Kosar elevated his game to a higher degree. In 1987 he had the second lowest interception percentage  of all NFL quarterbacks (2.3%) as he threw for 3,033 yards, 22 TDs with only 9 interceptions. His 62% completion percentage (241 of 389) was among the best in pro football. Although he was a bit awkward as a quarterback he started to win some acclaim. He made the Pro Bowl and was voted the People’s Choice MVP that year. Keep in mind these numbers came from only 12 games thanks to the players strike that year.

He still had future Hall of Fame TE Ozzie Newsome to go with his receivers Webster Slaughter (47 rec./ 806yds / 7 TDs) and Reggie Langhorne. However third receiver Brian Brennan (43 rec/ 607 yds / 6TDs) out of the slot was Wes Welker before Wes Welker. Running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack were no longer the 1000/1000 tandem. Mack was the straight ahead freight train and Byner became a combination runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Ancient Cleveland Municipal Stadium was remembered fondly by those from Ohio. Yet to the outside world it was an antiquated unattractive place.

Ancient Cleveland Municipal Stadium was remembered fondly by those from Ohio. Yet to the outside world it was an antiquated unattractive place.

To the casual football fan this team was put together in a hodge-podge sort of way. Very few of the Cleveland Browns were blue chip players. Kosar and Mack were supplemental selections. Inside Linebacker Mike Johnson and All Pro Cornerback Frank Minnifield came from the USFL. Spot time starter Felix Wright #22, came from playing several years in the Canadian Football League. The year before, the Browns brought in former Ohio St alums LB Anthony Griggs and SS Ray Ellis. Each of which were let go by the Philadelphia Eagles when Buddy Ryan took over. Starting DEs Al “Bubba Baker” was a former Cardinal and Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston was in his 12th year was a former Philadephia Eagle from an even earlier regime than Ellis and Griggs.

Now Pro Bowl Cornerback Hanford Dixon and Pro Bowl Linebacker Clay Matthews were 1st round selections fully entrenched as starters.Yet it was this unlikely group that fought as a unit to bring prestige and respectability to Cleveland. Their stadium was ancient and unattractive when you compared it to other teams around the league. Yet all of this fueled the furnace that was the spirit of those 1987 Browns. It fueled the fans as well. Hanford Dixon coined the “Dawg Defense” and the bleacher zone the “Dawg Pound” and that took on a league of it’s own. People dressed in dog masks, chewing on dog biscuits, throwing them on the field. In fact, in 1989 playing the Denver Broncos, the fans were so rowdy throwing biscuits on the Broncos huddled in the endzone, the referees switched sides. It was the first time in NFL history that had happened.

Did I just mention the Broncos?? Well back to 1987…

Wide Outs Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne embodied the spirit of the Browns of that era.

Wide Outs Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne embodied the spirit of the Browns of that era.

After posting a 10-5 record and winning the AFC Central, the Browns beat Eric Dickerson’s Indianapolis Colts 38-21 to set up the rematch they had waited for all year with Denver. This time the AFC Championship would be held in Mile High Stadium. Yet the Browns didn’t care. They had to exorcise the demons from “The Drive” and losing the AFC Championship the year before to the Broncos. When in fact it was a morality play when you thought of the two cities and the two teams. Cleveland was the unattractive “Mistake By the Lake” and Denver was the sprawling western urban city with mountains to ski off in the distance.

Even the quarterbacks took on the embodiment of their towns. John Elway was the prototypical glamour quarterback. First round draft pick with a rocket right arm who was on the cover of magazines and gained much of his fanfare from the previous year’s championship game. Where Kosar was the physically awkward antithesis to Elway’s athleticism, he didn’t have John’s polished ready for television demeanor and looks either. However there was an assassin beneath the surface. This was the kid who won the 1983 National Championship at the University of Miami (The [[_]]) as a redshirt freshman. The 31-30 upset of the #1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers that were averaging 52 points a game. So Kosar didn’t shrink under intense pressure.

How about the Head Coaches??

Well in one you had the polished, always in a shirt and tie Dan Reeves v. the bland “V-Necked”sweater or brown overcoat wearing Marty Schottenheimer. Reeves came up as a golden child on one of the NFL’s glamour teams playing for Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. Then coming up through the coaching ranks and winning a ring as a coach (Super Bowl XII) just as he had as a player in Super Bowl VI. He was a highly sought coaching commodity when Denver hired him in 1981.

Schottenheimer?? He had been a back-up linebacker and special teams player for the Buffalo Bills over in the “other league” known as the AFL. He had been a mid-season replacement for embattled coach Sam Rutigliano for whom he coached the defensive backs in 1984. In ignominious fashion it was his secondary who gave up one of the Browns biggest gaffes ever in 1980 when they allowed a Hail Mary to Ahmad Rashad in the final seconds to the Minnesota Vikings.

In short Cleveland was the antithesis of everything they felt the Broncos were not. Gritty, tough, fighting for respect from the establishment. It tapped into the inferiority complex of the Browns fans and together they lived with the pain of “The Drive” from 1986 ripping at their souls. As for the ’87 AFC Championship??

The largest come from behind game in NFL postseason history was the 20 point comeback by the 1957 Detroit Lions in a 31-27 win over the 49ers. At least up until that time. That was against a 49er team that couldn’t win the big game. This comeback by Cleveland, down 18 twice, was performed against the team with the best home record of any NFL team (75% 1960-1987) during those years. Against the backdrop of the emotion from the previous year?? It was the epitome of a never say die attitude that should be taught to kids everywhere.

To have such a monumental performance come up short like that doesn’t take away from it’s brilliance. Earnest Byner had rushed for 67 yards and caught 7 passes for an additional 120 and 2 touchdowns. Did you know this was only the 2nd time a team scored 30 points in any NFL championship game and lost?? The Browns scored 30 in just the second half!! They were down 21-3 at the half and lost 38-33. We’re talking 178 games of AFC /AFL Championships, NFC / NFL Championships and Super Bowls. The only other time was when Dallas lost Super Bowl XIII to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yet the overwhelming feeling after Byner’s fumble was the best team didn’t win that day. All the media talked about was John Elway who passed for 14 of 26 for 281 yards 3 TDs and 1interception. When the best player on the field that day was Bernie Kosar who threw for 361 yards (26 of 41) for 3 TDs and 1 pick. Which was the record for any championship quarterback playing on the road.

Browns fans had to watch in disbelief in Super Bowl XXII, when Washington blew out the Broncos 42-10 knowing their team was better. In fact the following year Cleveland won in Washington 16-10 on the road to knock them out of playoff contention in 1988. So could they have beaten them in a Super Bowl?? Probably. The year before when they lost “The Drive” to the Broncos. Had to watch the Giants pull away from the Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI. In 1985, the Browns beat the Giants 35-33 in the Meadowlands in the 13th week. Are we sure the Giants would have won on a neutral site Super Bowl?? Remember we’re talking about a pre- free agent NFL back then.

However for one magnificent evening, Marty Schottenheimer and the Cleveland Browns taught fans everywhere a lesson in not giving up. Working your way out of a hole borne from self induced mistakes and putting on a Herculean effort that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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rayellis

The Soul Of The Game: Randy White

Randy White... easily a Hall of Fame player.

Randy White… easily a Hall of Fame player.

When it comes to great hitting in the NFL, much of it takes place on the line of scrimmage, away from the camera following the football. However there are players who deliver those hits on quarterbacks, running backs and those same offensive linemen. Randy White was one of those players. An intense desire burned in him if you ever watched him play.

In fact it was that desire which helped him turn in probably the NFL’s greatest defensive play in our CEO’s estimation. In the 1980 season finale, Dallas needed to beat the Eagles by 25 points to win the NFC East. The Eagles were near midfield when they completed a slant to wide receiver Scott Fitzkee, who took off for the goal line. White, who had seen the pass whiz by turned and chased down Fitzkee tackling him at the 5 yard line. Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a defensive lineman chase down a receiver after a 49 yard gain??

Of course that wasn’t a great hit but it showed unbelievable heart. When you thought of the Dallas Cowboys during the late 1970’s and thought of toughness, he was the one that came to mind. He wasn’t that big either and thrived on his quickness to get into the “A” gap of opposing offenses.

One aspect of his play that is unusual is his size for a defensive tackle. The Cowboys had him listed at 6’4″ 257 lbs but that was a smokescreen. He looks like he’s about 6’1 or 6’2 and played at a weight where most of his contemporaries were pushing 275-280 lbs. We have yet to see in any film where White was bigger than a player trying to block him.

Randy White was a flat out beast for the Dallas Cowboys.

Randy White was a flat out beast for the Dallas Cowboys.

Over his 14 year career he made the Pro Bowl 9 times and was voted All Pro in 8 of them.  He was the impetus to the Doomsday Defense II that followed the original unit Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, Dave Edwards, and Chuck Howley played on. In fact along with Howley, White shares the distinction of being named Super Bowl MVP while wearing #54 for the Cowboys. Howley did so as the only player from a losing team, to nab that distinction in Super Bowl V.

As for White, he was the co-winner along with the late Harvey Martin for chasing Craig Morton all over the Super Dome in game number XII. In that contest he and the defensive line hounded Denver quarterbacks into 4 interceptions on 8 of 25 passing for 61 yards. In a Super Bowl?? Yikes. For his career he finished with 9 Pro Bowls and 7 – 1st team All Pro selections. A sure Hall of Fame performer which raises an interesting question: Who was the Dallas Cowboys all time greatest defensive tackle?? Bob “Mr. Cowboy” Lilly or Randy “Manster” White??

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NEXT: Andre Reed Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Soul Of The Game: Sundays, NFL Films & The Theater Of The Imagination

Steve Sabol with his father Ed, founder of NFL Films

What makes us love NFL football as much as we do? The game itself with its players giving their heart and soul on the field is what keeps us coming back. We love the game, its players, strategies & coaches. Yet it was the work of Ed and Steve Sabol with NFL Films that helped fuel our imagination through great story telling. You were able to get an account of eras gone by that you could only read about. Now most feel as though the book is always better than the movie, well not in this instance. If you’re like me you’ve grown up with these images of iconic figures over the decades. What makes it such an interesting test subject is football is a very visual sport.

I can still remember the day I saw my first NFL Films production back in the summer of 1977, ironically on a Sunday. Living in Denver, Colorado at the time they had just previewed the upcoming Broncos season. I had come inside to cool off when a new show came on featuring The Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship played in -15* weather between the Packers and Cowboys. The frozen images burned into my mind as John Facenda’s legendary voice gave it such theatrics, I felt like I was watching a monumental event. From that point on I looked for anything NFL Films to supplement reading about players in the old Punt, Pass, and Kick books at the local library.

Through the years everything they did I gobbled up. Whether it be their work in 1982’s History Of Pro Football for HBO, Inside The NFL highlights, NFL Yearbooks on ESPN, Monday Night Matchup on ESPN hosted by Chris Berman, Steve Sabol, and Allie Sherman. It was because of that relationship Chris Berman had instant credibility with me. All of this before we get to the Super Bowl highlights every year and then their own Lost Treasure series starting in 2000.

Yet it’s the images through the years that come to mind when you think of NFL Films. Jackie Smith’s touchdown drop and the call “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.” You don’t remember that from a live broadcast, this was their work covering Super Bowl XIII. How about Jack Tatum hitting Sammy White in the Super Bowl XI highlight knocking off his helmet then hearing “Helmet flying one way! Chin strap the other! Holy Toledo!” Those were rebroadcast productions with radio voices Verne Lundquist and Bill King layered over slow motion captured video. What’s funny is you can’t remember the call from either NBC broadcast. Yet these legendary calls are playing in your mind as you read this. Dramatic…that was the power of NFL Films

All these images and great story telling helped sell the game to the American public as great as the game itself. Ed Sabol’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was great to watch for how great an ambassador he and his company had become. What started out as Blair Motion Pictures filming the 1962 NFL Championship between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, has become a crown jewel of the NFL. The history of the NFL game can’t be told without them. Thanks Ed and Steve Sabol.

Dedicated to the memory of John Facenda (voice of God) 1913-1984

Re-Dedicated to the memory of Steve Sabol (President of NFL Films and brother in spirit) 1942-2012

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Best Finish To An NFL Game Ever: Hail Mary -1980 Vikings v. Browns

Metropolitan Stadium

Everyone loves a fantastic finish and we feel as though NFL Films and such focus too much on the glamour teams. They leave too many great moments on the cutting room floor if it’s not Dallas, Pittsburgh, or Green Bay. What if we were to tell you that a team actually completed a hook and lateral (not ladder) and a hail mary to finish a game?? Yes everyone remembers the hook and lateral in the ’81 AFC Divisional Playoff between San Diego and Miami, yet we’re going to take you to one that was even better. It was the last great moment in the 21 years Metropolitan Stadium served the Minnesota Vikings.

It was 1980 and the ink was just drying on the Nation’s newspapers of Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory over incumbent President Jimmy Carter. The Iran hostage situation was over 400 days old and we were completing the 1980 NFL Season. Teams were just now fully understanding the capabilities afforded them when the NFL loosened it’s rules on passing before the 1978 season. The ball was able to be thrown and touch multiple receivers without having to hit a defender in the interim giving birth to the Hail Mary.

Hall of Fame Viking Coach, Bud Grant

The Minnesota Vikings had just said goodbye to Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton, the league’s All Time yardage and touchdown passing leader. In stepped Tommy Kramer, who had none of the big game moxie of a Tarkenton. He was a poor man’s Danny White in that he followed the most revered quarterback in the team’s history.

After losing the fourth game to the 4-0 Detroit Lions, 27-20, it looked as though the Vikings had indeed passed the baton. However with a strong finishing kick they went into the penultimate game of the season with an 8-6 record. If they could win the 15th game, they would win Bud Grant his 11th NFC Central Division Tltle. Their opponent  going into that game was no slouch.

In came the 10-4 Cleveland Browns and Sam Rutigliano. He was in his third year and on his way to his second straight NFL Coach of the Year award for breathing life into a moribund franchise. In those years they were known for their ability to win a game in the final seconds and had performed that feat 14 times in the last two years with less than 2 minutes remaining  in the game. Moreover this was the Browns first real winning season in nearly 10 years. What better chance to show that they had arrived than to go on the road and win in a tough NFC camp and finish off the Viking’s season.

So on a cold day the Browns took the field and roared to a 23-9 lead and the Vikings looked cold on their sideline as the 3rd quarter ended. Then the Browns started playing conservatively and played close to the vest as the Vikings roared back.

After the Vikings scored 2 touchdowns to trim the Browns lead to 23-22. The Browns had the ball and drove toward midfield yet the Vikings defense held and forced the Browns to punt and pin Minnesota at their own 20 yard line. There was less than :20 left in the game. Time for daring and time for one final drive to win the NFC Central Division championship for their coach. This is what took place…

Epilogue: The Vikings running a hook and lateral on the opposite of the three receivers look on a Hail Mary was beautiful and I can’t remember anyone running it like that since.  By the way, do you know who the Cleveland Browns linebacker #53, who was beaten on the play was?? Try former Pittsburgh Steeler Coach Bill Cowher. Yet this team covered 80 yards in 2 plays to earn Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant his 11th and final NFC Central Division title. However they went down to the eventual NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles in the ’80 NFC Divisional round of the playoffs 31-16.

Mike Davis intercepts Brian Sipe’s pass for Ozzie Newsome to end the Brown’s season 14-12, in the 1980 playoffs.

On that exact same weekend the “Cardiac Kids” Cleveland Browns lost in the ’80 AFC Divisional Round to the Oakland Raiders 14-12. This game was made famous for “Red Right 88″. The tail end of a play’s assignment that had the Browns throw to the tight end in -42* weather rather than kick the obvious field goal. It was 3rd down and Coach Rutigliano opted to go for the endzone one more time. Only to have Raider Safety Mike Davis step in for a game clinching interception to end the Browns season. However the Browns had two kicks blocked in that game which was one of the coldest in NFL history.

However for one  magnificent drive, Tommy Kramer, Ted Brown, and Ahmad Rashad gave Viking fans the last great moment in Metropolitan Stadium. Within 2 years they would move indoors and the Viking franchise hasn’t been the same since. Hopefully they can get a new stadium deal and go back outside where the Vikings should be.

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The AFL: A True American Success Story

Roster from Ange Coniglio’s Remember The AFL.

Unlike other leagues that popped up and died, the American Football League lives on in the American Football Conference of the modern NFL.  With a burgeoning economy after World War II, Americans turned their attention to a life of leisure during the 1950s. Sports became the outlet for most of America. There was a clamor by many who felt slighted when it came to big league sports.  The furthest point west on the map where major professional sports was played, was Wisconsin & St Louis Missouri. Then something happened to change the landscape.  The AAFC football league folded and the San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL in 1950, along with the champion Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts.

This event helped propel the Cleveland Rams west to Los Angeles, where they joined San Francisco to be the first pro teams in California. Now other western cities wanted in on the action and all the other sports started to broaden their minds toward relocation.  Soon moves were made by an L.A. Councilwoman who massaged the beginnings of what came to be the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants move to California also in 1957.  Expansion was on soon with the Lakers in 1960 moving from Minneapolis.  Now Texans wanted an NFL team and had the money to gain an NFL franchise or so Lamar Hunt thought.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

Then the NFL had the landmark 1958 NFL Championship overtime game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts that transformed the spark of interest into a flame. Hunt and principles moved quickly to form the American Football League since the NFL had thwarted their attempts to bring football to Texas. Now you have to understand who we’re talking about here for a second.  Lamar Hunt was son of H.L. Hunt of Hunt Brothers Oil! We’re talking seriously deep pockets here. The NFL in its arrogance thought they would outlast a fledgling league like the AAFC just a decade before….damn were they wrong.

Once the idea of the AFL gained momentum, the NFL turned to espionage and tricky double dealing to sink the new league.  The eight cities that Hunt and the other AFL owners decided on were Dallas, Houston, Denver, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Buffalo. However the NFL bent the ear of the Minnesota ownership group, and told them they would give them an NFL franchise if they would decieve their brethren, by defecting to the NFL at the last minute to sink the new league. It almost worked but the AFL scrambled to move the eighth team to its new home in Oakland. Meanwhile the NFL put a team in Dallas to compete with Hunt’s Dallas Texans, they were called the Cowboys.

The AFL had some seriously rich men that wanted to see it succeed in Bud Adams, Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt, and Barron Hilton yet there were other ownership groups that struggled to make ends meet as the league got off the ground in 1960. Many teams were losing money at record rates, some to the tune of a million dollars or more.  It was former Boston Patriot owner Billy Sullivan who coined the phrase “The Foolish Club” when listening to his colleagues joke about revenues lost.  However John Madden recalled a reporter asking Lamar’s father H.L. Hunt “What did he think of his son losing $1 million  a year??” Hunt’s answer was cryptic to the NFL and the sporting establishment’s ears when he replied “Well, he’ll be ok. At that rate he’ll only be able to go on for another 150 years.” Damn!!  On 1960’s dollars??  Yikes!!

Although the NFL had been around forever, for the first time they were up against wealthy men who gained their fortunes as titans of industry outside of football. NFL owners George Halas, Carroll Rosenbloom, Tim and Wellington Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Art Modell were primarily football men and knew their asses were in trouble.  If it came down to the AFL’s pockets they would be in for a battle they couldn’t win.

The first few years had the established sporting press scoffing at the league’s style of play, uniforms, retread players and coaches, you name it. This is an era where if you went against the establishment, you had more than an uphill battle just for acceptance….I mean the radical 60’s were not yet underway. Yet here they were continuing the plan on expanding professional football to more points within the United States.

One of the first items the AFL did was secure a television contract to assist the teams that had financial problems like the Titans and Raiders.  The Raiders had also come to a point of folding when they contacted their fellow teams and said they couldn’t sustain operation financially.  Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson stepped in and lent the Raiders $450,000 to stay afloat because the league couldn’t operate with only 7 teams. As for the Titans and Harry Wismer, the Jets needed an ownership group that had the pockets and vision to rival that of the New York Giants. Enter Sonny Werblin.

Werblin spearheaded a group that purchased the bankrupt New York Titans, renamed them the Jets and helped negotiate the most lucrative television contract to date with NBC.  Over $1.8 million dollars went to each team in 1965 and with all of their teams solvent for future operation, new stadiums went up in San Diego (Los Angeles), Oakland, & Denver. Now the next move Werblin spearheaded was to draft Joe Namath and pay him a ridiculous $427,000 contract to be the star in New York. Uh oh…this single shot turned the draft into a who is going to pay the most for a players services between the two leagues.  Talk about impact.

An unwritten agreement existed between the two leagues to not sign each others current players.  Yet the NFL went underhanded, yet again, when the New York Giants signed kicker Pete Gogolak from the two time AFL Championship Buffalo Bills.  The AFL retaliated big time. It was recounted by Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Texans who had moved his team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs, to meet Tex Schramm and discuss a possible merger. Hunt still lived in Dallas. They met at Love Field under the Texas Ranger statue and when the meeting was over, Hunt flew to Houston to elect Al Davis AFL Commissioner.  Joe Foss had been a good commissioner but now they needed a “war time President”.  Al Davis quickly helped teams realize they could bring the NFL to its knees if they created a bidding war by signing away their superstars.

The moves of signing away San Francisco quarterback John Brodie, Los Angeles’ Roman Gabriel, and Chicago’s Mike Ditka were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The bidding for player’s talents had driven contracts up dramatically and the NFL grudgingly came to the table.  Al Davis was away about to sign another player when Hunt told him that they were going to meet the next day about a merger and they didn’t need the headlines. *Pay attention because this is the birthplace of the Chiefs / Raiders rivalry and the Al Davis against the world mentality takes place*  Davis signs the player which angers Hunt.

In the subsequent negotiations, the leagues agree to a merger with the two league’s champions playing in a new championship game, the Super Bowl, for the first four years and realignment into one all inclusive league in 1970.  Pete Rozelle remained commissioner over all of football, there was a common draft starting in 1966… and Al Davis….?? They left him out in the cold sort of..  This is where he received his dubious ownership distinction and awkward title Managing General Partner of the Raiders.  He had only been a coach before, yet one of the  items that seemed spineless is the NFL made the AFL’s teams pay $3 million in reparation damages each and had Al Davis been there would never have acquiesced to such a demand.  Not when they had the NFL crawling to the table.  It was this animosity toward Pete Rozelle, Bud Adams and especially the Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Hunt that raged on for many years. *This is where the animosity between Davis and Rozelle fostered…remember the court battles of the 1980s between the Oakland Raiders v the NFL??*

The patch worn by the Kansas City Chiefs on January 11, 1970 for Super Bowl IV. The final game of the AFL

In the first two Super Bowls Green Bay bested Kansas City and Oakland respectively.  The landmark win came when the Jets upset Baltimore to show that the AFL was on a par in Super Bowl III.  Then with a twist of fate, the ownership group who traitorously tried to sink the AFL by defecting, came into Super Bowl IV against the Kansas City Chiefs and AFL founder Lamar Hunt.  In the last game ever for the AFL, Kansas City buried the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to bring not only the Super Bowl record to 2-2 between the two leagues, but able to have the satisfaction of kicking Judas’ ass in the process.

In conclusion: It was wrong to not include Davis and to me is the one of the few black eyes in this success story.  The AFL was swallowed into the monolith that is the NFL after expanding the AFL to 10 teams with Cincinnati, and Miami emerging.  These 10 teams were joined by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts, yes the Baltimore Colts who gave the NFL a black eye with that first loss. They didn’t go empty handed, each club was paid $3 million to move to the new AFC.  Yet AFL loyalists such as Davis wished the two leagues stay separate, and he truly believed they would have eventually folded the NFL.

This is the ring for the Raiders triumph in Super Bowl XI. Look at the middle pic of the side of the ring. There you’ll see the AFL Block “A” along with the AFL logo and not the bold modified AFC “A”.

In fact in the 3 Super Bowls the Raiders won in the post merger NFL, Davis always used the Block “A” of the AFL and not the bold modified block “A” of the AFC on their Super Bowl rings.  He didn’t relent until the 2002 AFC championship ring where he finally used the AFC “A”.

There you have it…how the AFL changed the sporting landscape after the first shot was fired by the folding of their predecessors, the AAFC.  San Francisco’s entering the NFL doesn’t get the impact that it should because so much focus was on champion Cleveland coming over.  The western expansion of American Football owes a debt of gratitude to the 49ers yet even more to those original owners.