SUPER BOWL XVI RUNNER UP 1981 CINCINNATI BENGALS (Bengals Freezer Bowl Edition

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 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 those 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 losing 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, Jack Faulkner, Carroll Rosenbloom & Bud Carson.

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SUPER BOWL X RUNNER UP 1975 DALLAS COWBOYS

Heading into Super Bowl VI, Cowboy coach Tom Landry referred to the Miami Dolphins defense as “a bunch of no named guys.” The Dolphins and the sporting press spun Landry’s comment into the nickname “The No Name Defense”, that they would forever be known for. Yet little did he know he would return with an equally set of anonymous guys to the title game four years later.

1975.Dallas-Cowboys-Roger-Staubach-Super-Bowl-Ring-0002Don’t get us wrong there were known players on the Cowboy’s roster, they were aging and past their prime. Quarterback Roger Staubach had come of age in the 1975 playoffs and was in his prime. He took the Cowboys to Super Bowl X after engineering a miracle in Minnesota. A play that came to be known as The Hail Mary. However it was holdovers from the 1960’s defenses which included Middle Linebacker Lee Roy Jordan #55, Outside Linebacker Dave Edwards #52, DT Jethro Pugh #75, and future Hall of Fame CB Mel Renfro, that lent familiarity to long time fans.

1975.Dallas-Cowboys-Roger-Staubach-Super-Bowl-Ring-0003The 1974 season saw the Cowboys say goodbye to Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle Bob Lilly, Hall of Fame receiver Bob Hayes, and longtime CB Cornell Green. To replenish the cupboard, Gil Brandt, Tex Shramm and Tom Landry loaded the roster with new players. An amazing 12 rookies made the team and became known as “The Dirty Dozen”. Yet none were stars or household names. Well at least not at the time.

The plain truth is the basis for a team that made the Super Bowl 3 times in 4 years, and 3 more NFC Championships games in the ensuing 4 years after came from this draft. Long time MLB Bob Breunig, Hall of Fame DT Randy White, OLB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, S Randy Hughes, OLineman Herbert Scott, Pat Donovan, and Burton Lawless were mainstays on this team. Had the bounce of the ball gone differently in Super Bowl X and/or Super Bowl XIII this group would have been remembered in many ways close to the Steelers 1974 draft class.

1975.Dallas-Cowboys-Roger-Staubach-Super-Bowl-Ring-0001Just think about it… had the Cowboys won Super Bowl X or XIII the tally would have been 3 wins by both Dallas and Pittsburgh. Dallas sends more players to the Hall of Fame and fewer Steelers would have been enshrined.

Speaking of Tom Landry’s no-name bunch: Roger Staubach, Tackle Rayfield Wright and Safety Cliff Harris were the only Pro Bowl selections. In fact, the ’75 Cowboys are one of 3 of the first 42 Super Bowl participants to have the fewest pro bowl players with 3. When you think of the ’75 Cowboys who were the runners?? Calvin Hill, Dwayne Thomas, Walt Garrison?? All were gone from the team and Tony Dorsett was 2 years away.

The Cowboys had offseason acquisition Preston Pearson who had appeared in Super Bowls with both his previous teams. The Steelers of 1974 and Baltimore Colts all the way back in III when they lost to the Jets. He teamed with FB Robert Newhouse for a steady ground attack that would in time need to be improved but provided balance in ’75.

super-bowl-logo-1975Staubach’s taking the Cowboys to Super Bowl X was similar to John Elway taking the Broncos to the title game with “The Drive”. He capitalized on the momentum from the Viking playoff win and drove his team to the title game. He was the lone marquee name and took Super Bowl X down to the final play before falling 21-17.

The greatest of the first ten of these games stamped the Cowboys as a team to watch as the late 70’s beckoned.

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