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 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 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 V RUNNER UP 1970 DALLAS COWBOYS

Well they made it to Super Bowl V in Miami where they faced the Baltimore Colts, a former NFL team that had moved over to the new AFC. These two pre-merger NFL antagonists were embroiled in a defensive struggle where Dallas clearly outplayed the Colts and were poised to take a 20- 6 3rd qtr lead when Duane Thomas fumbled at the 1 yard line. Are you kidding me, the 1 yard line?

sbv4Nothing demoralizes a team more than to drive the length of the field & come away without points. Especially, in a game where they’re hard to come by.
You can’t hurt your team worse than that Duane. The silent treatment that followed in 1971 was something he put everyone through when he didn’t get a raise from Tom Landry / Gil Brandt, who remembered that fumble. How can a player who ….sigh…you get the picture.

The defense, which had a series of let downs in previous championship games played brilliantly. Tom Landry’s defense knocked Johnny Unitas out of the game, in fact the Colts first touchdown was a fluke double tipped pass. They even blocked the extra point and kept the Colt point total to 6 until deep in the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1970If ever a team left a great defensive effort on the field, this was it. Has there ever been another NFL championship, or Super Bowl, where a team held its opponents two QBs to less than 50% completion rate and lost the game?? The Doomsday Defense forced 7 turnovers. Three of these were interceptions, two by MVP Chuck Howley.

Twice they stopped Colt scores in the red zone. In the 4th quarter!!  One was an end zone interception by Howley at the start of the period. The other when S Cornell Green forced Eddie Hinton to fumble at the same 1 yard line Duane Thomas had in the 3rd. They had finally broken the Colts offense until their anemic offense gave the game away with Morton’s interception. You could feel the angst when Bob Lilly threw his helmet after Jim O’Brien winning field goal.  Had they brought a semblance of an offense they would have won this game.  They would have to wait another year for a chance at the title.

SUPER BOWL IV RUNNER UP 1969 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The NFL’s northern most outpost was originally an AFL territory yet the story has been told how they jumped ship and were given an NFL franchise. However the years that followed saw a team that struggled for respectability. superbowliv

However the 1969 Minnesota Vikings sported the first Mexican American to quarterback his team to the Super Bowl in Joe Kapp. Never understood why they don’t have a larger Hispanic following with such a significant historic backdrop.

The Minnesota Vikings had departed with Fran Tarkenton and brought in Joe Kapp (California Bears) from Canada to play quarterback. He threw ugly passes and played football from his gut. He was a fearless leader who avenged a playoff loss the year before against Baltimore. In 1968 the Colts were regarded as the greatest team with the greatest defense ever. The Colts beat Minnesota 24-14 in a divisional playoff match where they sacked and hit Kapp repeatedly.

superbowliv3In 1969, game 2 he threw for a record 7TDs in a rematch with the Colts to wrest the NFL dominance mantle winning 52-14. Led by The Purple People Eaters defensive line of Alan Page, Carl Eller, Gary Larson, and Jim Marshall, the league’s #1 unit carried the team through the season. The Vikings went on to finish on a 12 game winning streak and broke the Colts 1968 defensive record of 144 points allowed with 133. It was just the tonic the NFL needed as writers / loyalists established the Vikings an 11 point favorite. Not since the 1934 Chicago Bears rolled into the NFL Title Game undefeated had the league witnessed a winning streak as long as the Vikings.

super-bowl-logo-1969It was during the NFL playoffs where Kapp cemented his legacy. On a routine pass play, protection breaks down and Kapp escapes the pocket. Coming up to make the tackle was Cleveland Brown linebacker Jim Houston. Joe gave a shoulder fake and went right into Houston. Unwittingly he kneed him in the head knocking him out cold. Quarterbacks don’t knock out linebackers. This further enhanced the image of the Vikings as a rough and tumble ball club.

Although Super Bowl IV was the last game for Joe Kapp, he galvanized the team as they remained among the league’s elite over the next decade. They were the last NFL champion before the merger with the AFL and were a team in every sense of the word.