SUPER BOWL XXVIII RUNNER UP 1993 BUFFALO BILLS

The jewel for 4th AFC Championship ….after beating Kansas City with Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Neil Smith, and the late Derrick Thomas 30-13 to make it to Super Bowl XXVIII.

xxviiibRemember the chant going around Rich Stadium “Piss ’em off and go for 4??” It brings back goose bumps.  It was on T-Shirts, Jim Kelly said it on the air…was a great rallying cry.  USA Today had a headline please don’t let the Bills make it to the Super Bowl…etc…

xxviiib1I remember they asked Stephen Hawking right before Super Bowl XXVIII to calculate how long would it be for a team to make it to 4 Super Bowls in a row again.  He gave his explanation with the current (then) landscape of 28 teams and projected free agency, it wouldn’t happen again for another 46 years.  I wonder how that number is skewed now with 32 teams with the advent of the Texans, Ravens, Jaguars, and Panthers.

xxviii3Still its a feat to be celebrated.  I wish we would have brought home the BIG ring but my boyz were still a team to be lauded for their resilient effort.  Isn’t that the essence of sports and life?  Once you get knocked down get back up and go after it again…that’s the axiom!  Of course you’d like to win but its your effort that’s celebrated.

xxviiib2One final look back takes us to Jim Kelly’s debut back in 1986. His inspiring fans to think of a brighter future for long suffering Bills fans.

In a strange way its because MY Buffalo Bills kept getting up and going after it is why I remember them with such reverence even more so had they just gone to 1 and won it.

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SUPER BOWL XXVII RUNNER UP 1992 BUFFALO BILLS

Now that is a nice AFC Championship ring for the 3rd AFC Championship…

Man I should have been at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena.  Got robbed in a sales contest at the dealership I worked in…had the tickets and airfare right there and.. Phukk Aaron…yet I digress.

 

xxvii23The Greatest comeback in history a few weeks before in the wildcard..41-38 over Houston.  Then bested Pittsburgh 24-3 in Bill Cowher’s first playoff game as Steelers coach.  Then beat the arch rival Dolphins, in Miami, for the AFC Championship game 29-10! I can remember many Bills fans torn about who should we start at quarterback: Frank Reich, who orchestrated those first 2 playoff wins or Jim Kelly!  I was torn myself thinking maybe go with Reich to shake things up a bit since we lost two Super Bowls prior and Dallas would have limited film to study..hmmmm what if?

Yet one of the strongest Bills team ever and I know I’m not alone in celebrating how euphoric it was winning that greatest comeback in history 41-38 over Houston. Celebrating that as a fan was like we had won a SuperBowl. Marv Levy was quoted in ’92 “Where it feels surreal and is this really happening? Most of the time when you’re making history you don’t realize it at the time. In this instance we did.”  I must have watched that game 10 times that week. That was the most uplifting game ever..work was great for the next few weeks, my girlfriend kissed better..etc…I don’t think you could find a Bills fan that didn’t feel that way also.

xxvii2Back to back Super Bowl losses had many fans and pundits writing off the Bills. How would they recover?? Yet all these players were in their prime and led by unsung leaders like LB Darryl Talley, they dusted themselves off and came right back in 1992. During this season they were 4-0 against the NFC west including a 38-35 win in San Francisco vs. the 49ers who went 14-2. Good enough for homefield advantage in the NFC. Going into the final week the Bills were ready to clinch homefield in the AFC for a 3rd straight year when:

So in 6 quarters the Oilers had outscored the Bills 62-6 before the comeback if you included the previous week.The Bills were playing with house money the rest of that postseason. The 52-17 loss to the Cowboys was painful but the euphoric high all Bills had been on for the previous month tempered the pain.  No one shared what we had felt because no other team had ever come from that far down when it looked like the season was over.  It left all Bills fans optimistic going into 1993.

That wildcard win was a gift from the football gods.

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SUPER BOWL XXIII RUNNER UP 1988 CINCINNATI BENGALS

Welcome to the second greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL…well next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Again…the question has 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 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 the 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 losses where the mistakes 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 block with 6 seconds left. Kevin Fagan (from the U) charged in and stopped James Brooks with 2 seconds to go. Montana hit Rice for a touchdown 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 XXI RUNNER UP 1986 DENVER BRONCOS

It was a dreary, cold, dark, foreboding 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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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 was just learning the pro game 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 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.