Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #6 1971 Baltimore Colts

One of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history happened in 1971. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts had the #1 defense and drug a struggling offense to the AFC Championship Game. They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken their old scoring record of 144 with 133.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

One interesting aspect of the ’71 Colts was how anemic their once great passing offense had become.  The 38 year old Unitas completed just 52.3% of his passes for 3 TDs and 9 interceptions. Earl Morrall, who was 37, fared no better with an even lower 50.3% with 7 TDs to 12 ints. They were 21st in passing offense and 12th overall making the defense work harder.

During the ’71 season the defense held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less. Including 5 of their first 6. Baltimore’s D recorded 3 shutouts and held their first playoff opponent to 3 points. In facing 5 top ten offenses that year, they were 4-1 and held two of those to 10 points or less. Yet why aren’t they remembered??

Now the media anoints others of that era and obscures this team…lets compare a few:

  • 1971 Baltimore Colts – #1 overall / 203.7 yds all. / 140 points given up / 28 int
  • 1971 Dallas Cowboys – #3 overall / 243.3 yds all. / 222 points given up / 26 int
  • 1972 Miami Dolphins – #1 overall / 235.5 yds all. / 171 points given up / 26 int
  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int
  • 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers – #4 overall / 261.5 yds all. / 162 points given up / 27 ints

Right now fans of the Doomsday Defense, The No Name Defense, and the Steel Curtain are saying to themselves ‘Its not all about stats”. Which is true until you realize this was a defending Super Bowl champion that made it back to the AFC Championship Game despite its offense. Had they won against Miami, they would have taken on the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Well that is who they beat in Super Bowl V to become champions in the first place.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Led by Pro Bowlers DE Bubba Smith, MLB Mike Curtis, LB Ted Hendricks, SS Jerry Logan, and FS Rick Volk, its amazing only Hendricks is in the Hall of Fame. Curtis definitely should be but when you think of Hendricks making the Hall that is primarily from his work with the Raiders.

This was the last hurrah for the Colts as everything came apart starting in 1972. That was the year owner Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises with Robert Irsay. Head Coach Don McCafferty fired, John Unitas sent to the bench and the run as an NFL elite team ended.

Yet a tremendous performance by the defense in 1971 allowed them to hang on for one more season.

Dedicated to the memories of Don McCafferty, Bubba Smith, & Carroll Rosenbloom

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SUPER BOWL V CHAMPION 1970 BALTIMORE COLTS

When you think of the old Baltimore Colts, the first flashback that comes to mind are the black and white films with Johnny Unitas leading the team in the 1950’s. Then another thought stirs up images of Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and the mid 1970’s version with Head Coach Ted Marchibroda. You follow-up that thought with the green and yellow Mayflower trucks moving the team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1984. Yet sandwiched between the first and second of these events is the most forgotten champion in modern football history. The 1970 Baltimore Colts.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

There are varied reasons why this team is so overlooked when you think of this franchise.  Did you know this is the only Super Bowl winner where the franchise was sold just one year later?? Before the 1972 season, Robert Irsay (Los Angeles Rams) and Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises.

Carroll had one of the most successful tenures as an owner in NFL history. Yet after losing Super Bowl III, one of the landmark games in league history, he lost Head Coach Don Shula to the Miami Dolphins after the 1969 season.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

So is it ironic or part of the story that his last game as Colts owner, was a 21-0 loss to Shula’s Miami Dolphins in the 1971 AFC Championship Game?? Another twist was it was played in the Orange Bowl which had been the site of Super Bowl III.

Another reason this champion wasn’t remembered is there wasn’t a main powerful character. Yes the Colts had an aging fading John Unitas at quarterback. In 1970, he finished with a career low 51.7% completion percentage, and was the only qb to win the Super Bowl in a year he threw more interceptions (18-14) than touchdowns. He was 3 seasons removed from 11 straight Pro Bowl seasons and 5 player of the year awards.

By this time he was getting by on inspiration and finding the touch at the right time. As was the case in the first ever AFC Championship Game. Clinging to a 20-17 lead late in the 4th,Unitas had reserve WR Ray Perkins motion from the backfield and lofted a perfect sideline floater just past Raider CB Nemiah Wilson for the decisive touchdown. It was the only touchdown he threw in the game as he went 11 of 30 for 245 yards.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

It was echoed in Super Bowl V as he went 3 for 9 for 88 yards with 2 interceptions and 1 TD before being knocked out of the game. The lone touchdown was the bizarre 75 yarder to John Mackey where the ball bounced from Colt Eddie Hinton and Cowboy Mel Renfro first. So the late Earl Morrall had to come off the bench to save the Colts season just as Unitas tried to in Super Bowl III.

The game was played at a frantic pace with 11 total turnovers in what was nicknamed The Blunder Bowl. The Colts outlasted the Dallas Cowboys, they didn’t beat them. A last second interception by Mike Curtis put them in position for Jim O’Brien to win it with a field goal 16-13.

Another reason they weren’t remembered were they were coached by the late Don McCafferty. He was the hand picked successor once Don Shula departed for Miami having been the long time Offensive Coordinator. By the time we make it to 1972 the Colts were winless in their first five games. General Manager Joe Thomas wanted Unitas benched. When McCafferty refused he was fired.

super-bowl-logo-1970Less than 1 1/2 years after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenblom was no longer the owner, John Unitas was no longer the quarterback, Don McCafferty was no longer the coach, and the magic was gone from 33rd Street in Baltimore. The romantic era starting with the 1958 NFL Championship Game win over the Giants, ended with the 1971 AFC Championship loss in Miami.

In many ways the Super Bowl V championship had a lifetime achievement feel more than a best of the league feel. Would they have won Super Bowl VI had they rematched with the Cowboys?? How different would have Don McCafferty’s legacy been had they won it? As a matter of fact, the Dolphins split their games with the Colts in 1970 and 1971. Would the Colts even make it to Super Bowl V had the Dolphins been able to get past Oakland in the ’70 playoff game??

Epilogue: Carroll Rosenbloom’s Rams won the NFC West 5 times from 1973-1978 but lost the NFC Championship 4 times. He died from a heart attack and drowned before the 1979 season when the Rams did make it to Super Bowl XIV. Which left the team to his wife…. Georgia Rosenbloom who later remarried. Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere.

Don McCafferty died of a heart attack in 1974 after he had coached the Detroit Lions for one season.

John Unitas remains one of the greatest players in NFL history and was the first to throw for more than 40,000 yards. A staple at Baltimore Ravens games well into the 2000s. Unitas passed away on Sept 11th, 2002.

Bubba Smith, the giant Defensive End  passed away in August 2011. Smith played the majority of his career in Baltimore and stated in 2007 “Super Bowl III, I still haven’t gotten over it.”

Earl Morrrall, the journeyman quarterback who was player of the year in 1968 with Unitas out. Was with the team when they lost Super Bowl III. Afterward he would duplicate his 1968 with a great performance leading the Dolphins to the undefeated season in Bob Griese’s absence. He won 2 more Super Bowls (VII & VIII) with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Morrall died last month on April 25, 2014.

To these men I dedicate this article to… they were a champion. NFL champions for 1970.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

 

SUPER BOWL III RUNNER UP 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS

Wow Talk about shock and awe!!!

superbowliii

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era. Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula.

The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring. A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow! Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season? Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

old-nfl-logoLet’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II. The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss. The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers.

Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game. Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then. So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968. So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2. No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

super-bowl-logo-1968Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever. They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points. They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts.

superbowliiiwatchThe great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback. They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football. Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND. So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!! One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL. The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone. Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay (then Rams owner), become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams. Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well. Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it. The after affects can be frightening…

Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

Epilogue: Although the Colts would go on to win Super Bowl V, how redemptive was it?

SUPER BOWL III CHAMPION 1968 NEW YORK JETS: The Demons From Super Bowl III

One of the great things about the NFL and its history are the stories behind the men. Unfortunately the greatest lessons come from those that come up short in big games. Everyone loves a David v. Goliath scenario when the underdog pulls off an upset. When a landmark incident takes place like Super Bowl III, all eyes follow the winner who have vanquished a favored foe and the game is revered and talked about for years to come.

sbiii.3Super Bowl III has been rehashed, talked about, re-shown, and re-released in 1997 (as a video broadcast) for a generation to see for themselves a landmark game that changed the course of the NFL. It validated the AFL , its history, along with legitimizing the merger between the two leagues. It was the centerpiece to a  Hall of Fame career for Joe Namath and allowed Weeb Ewbank to become the only coach to win a championship in both leagues. Yet what does all this fallout do to the men who lost that event?? Is the harm irreparable for  the men who came up short in Super Bowl III?? How easy is it to forget and move on??

 

Surely the Baltimore Colts could go on and win another championship and set things straight, right?? Here are the accounts of  Bill Curry, Mike Curtis, and the late Bubba Smith. As you listen to the recount through their eyes, you will get a different feeling about Super Bowl III than ever before.

Copy of Joe Namath's Super Bowl III ring.

Copy of Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III ring.

What is ironic, these are interviews celebrating their Super Bowl V championship for the America’s Game series. What makes these poignant is the honesty reflected in their voices. What makes these stories resonate is this was a game 45 years ago and made even more impactful is this was the last interview for Bubba Smith to talk about this with his passing away in August 2011.

CHAPTER I:  The updated story from our upcoming book as written July 12,  2010 and showcased online:

SUPER BOWL III RUNNER UP 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS
Wow Talk about shock and awe!!!

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era. Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula. The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring. A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow! Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season? Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

superbowliiiwatch

 

Let’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II. The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss. The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers. Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game. Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then. So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968. So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2. No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever. They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points. They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts. The great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback. They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football. Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND. So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!! One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL. The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone. Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay, become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams. Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well. Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it. The after affects can be frightening…

Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

CHAPTER II: A vignette of what was shared by Bill Curry, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Ernie Accorsi as the events and aftermath of Super Bowl III were recounted in 2007.

 

CHAPTER III/EPILOGUE: Again, what makes this unique are the events that take place hastening Don Shula’s departure, where he became the NFL’s All Time winning coach in Miami and not Baltimore. Even after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenbloom was still disenchanted with being the owner of the Baltimore Colts and swapped franchises with the Rams Robert Irsay in 1972.

super bowl iii3Was it ironic or a part of the story, that after winning Super Bowl V, the Baltimore Colts made it to the AFC Championship to defend their title?? Who did they lose to 21-0 to bring about the end of an era (1958-1971) where the Colts were among the NFL elite?? Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Another irony is Don Shula went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history in the stadium where Super Bowl III was held. The Orange Bowl. Don Shula went on to exorcise his demons. As for Carroll Rosenbloom, Ernie Accorsi, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Bill Curry??

 

So remember to pay close attention to the men and these moments. What will become of the principles of a landmark event for those on both sides of the equation?? A compelling study in the psychology of man and sport.  This is one of the reasons we love bringing you these real life stories with such richness.

Now before you scoff this is the view of former players whose lament intensified with age, try this view from many of the same players on the 25th anniversary of Super Bowl III. This was right before Super Bowl XXVIII

super-bowl-logo-1968Thanks for reading and share this with those who love football and football history. Teach them something that scores on ESPN won’t tell them.

Requiem of An Upset: Super Bowl III & It’s Aftermath

Super Bowl III Logo

One of the great things about the NFL and it’s history are the stories behind the men. Unfortunately the greatest lessons come from those that come up short in big games. Everyone loves a David v. Goliath scenario when the underdog pulls off an upset. When a landmark incident takes place like Super Bowl III, all eyes follow the winner who have vanquished a favored foe and the game is revered and talked about for years to come.

Super Bowl III has been rehashed, talked about, re-shown, and re-released in 1997 (as a video broadcast) for a generation to see for themselves a landmark game that changed the course of the NFL. It was the centerpiece to a  Hall of Fame career for Joe Namath and allowed Weeb Ewbank to become the only coach to win a championship in both leagues. Yet what does all this fallout do to the men who lost that event?? Is the harm irreparable for  the men who came up short in Super Bowl III?? How easy is it to forget and move on??

Surely the Baltimore Colts could go on and win another championship and set things straight, right?? Here are the accounts of  Bill Curry, Mike Curtis, and the late Bubba Smith. As you listen to the recount through their eyes, you will get a different feeling about Super Bowl III than ever before. What is ironic, these are interviews celebrating their Super Bowl V championship for the America’s Game series. What makes these poignant is the dissident sound of honesty reflected in their voices. What makes these stories resonate is this was a game 42 years ago and made even more impactful that this was the last interview for Bubba Smith to talk about this with his passing last week.

CHAPTER I:  This short story was originally part of a book idea and was written July 12, 2010 and showcased on Facebook where several former players responded. Keep in mind this came before finding the Colt player’s recount of the events featured later in this article:

SUPER BOWL III RUNNER UP 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS

superbowliiiWow Talk about shock and awe!!! 

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era.  Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula.  The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring.  A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow!  Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season?  Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

Let’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II.  The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss.  The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers.  Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game.  Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then.  So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968.  So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2.  No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever.  They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points.  They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts.  The great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback.  They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football.  Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND.  So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!!  One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL.  The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone.  Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay (then Rams owner), become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams.  Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well.  Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it.  The after affects can be frightening…

 Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

CHAPTER II: A vignette of what was shared by Bill Curry, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Ernie Accorsi as the events and aftermath of Super Bowl III were recounted.

CHAPTER III/EPILOGUE: Again, what makes this unique are the events that take place hastening Don Shula’s departure, where he became the NFL’s All Time winning coach in Miami and not Baltimore. Even after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenbloom was still disenchanted with being the owner of the Baltimore Colts and swapped franchises with the Rams Robert Irsay in 1972.

Was it ironic or a part of the story, that after winning Super Bowl V, the Baltimore Colts made it to the AFC Championship to defend their title?? Who did they lose to 21-0, to bring about the end of an era (1958-1971) where the Colts were among the NFL elite?? Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Another irony is Don Shula went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history in the stadium where Super Bowl III was held. The Orange Bowl. Don Shula went on to excorcise his demons. As for Carroll Rosenbloom, Ernie Accorsi, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Bill Curry??

One could view this through the lens of men looking back as elders who have retired and looking back on games and events they could relive. However in the prime of their lives as men here are their feelings as aired on ESPN the Saturday before Super Bowl XXVIII in January 1994. It was the 25th anniversary of Super Bowl III when these men offered this:

 

So remember to pay close attention to the men and these moments. What will become of the principles of a landmark event for those on both sides of the equation. A compelling study in the psychology of man and sport.  This is one of the reasons we love bringing you these real life stories with such richness.

Thanks for reading and share this with those who love football and football history. Teach them something that scores on ESPN won’t tell them.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.