The Epic In Miami: San Diego 41 Miami 38 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff

With the NFL turning 100 this year, it’s impossible not to have great players, great coaches, or great games to look back on. The lasting image in the minds of fans everywhere was this epic shot of Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow being helped off the field by T Billy Shields and TE Eric Sievers.

It came at the conclusion of of one of the greatest games in NFL history and was the signature game in a Hall of Fame career.

Yet if we flashed you back to the early 1980’s the San Diego Chargers had the most prolific offense in the history of the NFL. The legend of “Air Coryell” had taken flight with Coach Don coming over from St Louis and took full advantage of the liberal passing rule changes of 1978.

Beginning in 1979 Dan Fouts set the NFL ablaze becoming the first QB since Joe Namath in ’68 to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season. His 4,082 yards in ’79, 4,715 in ’80, and finally 4,802 in ’81 were all NFL records as the Chargers chased a championship. Fouts had the league’s best arsenal in acrobatic receiver John Jefferson, route running Charlie Joiner, and the aforementioned Winslow. This was the original “Greatest Show on Turf” as Charger games became all the rage to watch for their ability to score from anywhere at any time. The league struggled to defend them as:

  • The ’79 Chargers were 1st team since the ’70 merger to pass more than run (541 att/481 rush)
  • In ’79, Jefferson (61 rec/ 1,090 yds 10 TDs) & Joiner (72 rec /1,008 yds 4 TDs) became 1st set of 1,000 yd seasons in NFL history. Both made Pro Bowl
  • On 10/19/80 the Chargers were 1st team in history to have both WR and TEs over 100 yds in 44-7 win over NY
  • In ’80 became the 1st team in history with 3- 1,000 yard receivers (Jefferson 1,340 yds, Winslow 1,290, Joiner 1,132) All 3 were Pro Bowl & All Pro…also 1st in NFL history.
  • Chuck Muncie in 1981 set an NFL record with 19 TDs rushing.

Wes Chandler raced 56 yards for a score with a first quarter punt return. The score was 10-0 (SD)
Heinz Kluetmeier

Despite all the records the Chargers couldn’t win in the postseason. They fashioned a 12-4 record in ’79 which included a 35-7 pounding of the eventual champion Steelers. Only to lose 17-14 in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history to a depleted Oiler team. Vernon Perry intercepted Fouts a playoff record 4 times.

The Chargers bounced back in ’80 with an 11-5 record and homefield advantage where they bested Buffalo 20-14. Then fell at home in the AFC Championship 34-27 to the eventual champion Oakland Raiders.

Having fallen to the last two Super Bowl champions the Chargers were on the doorstep although the clock was ticking. Their championship window was closing and once the front office traded All Pro WR John Jefferson to Green Bay and Pro Bowl DE Fred Dean to San Francisco, it appeared shut.

Down in Miami, Don Shula had rebuilt the Miami Dolphins from the smash mouth back to back champions that won Super Bowls VII & VIII. Up until 1980 he still had Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese to lead his offense as a new “No Name Defense” emerged.

The Dolphins made the playoffs in ’78 behind Delvin Williams spectacular 1,258 yard season running the football. In that year Griese was injured for an extended period and the Dolphins won with backup Don Strock. He had a record of 5-2 while outperforming the vet tossing 12 TDs to only 6 interceptions. Griese had a more efficient season when it came to completion percentage and this hurt Strock.

He was hot & cold yet showed enough flash to get on the field but didn’t engender enough confidence to turn the offense over to him. When Griese returned from injury in ’78 and ’79 he always got his job back.

Then in 1980 Griese’s career ended with a shoulder injury early in the season. Shula worked in rookie QB David Woodley along with Strock as he searched for that perfect chemistry on offense. By this time Delvin Williams had moved on as Shula raised Larry Csonka from the dead and paired the two in the backfield to mixed results the season before.

Somehow in ’81 Shula willed the Dolphins to an AFC East title with “Woodstrock” and the combination of rookie FB Andra Franklin and solid RB Tony Nathan each rushing for 700 yards. This was a team of “no names” as Miami fielded only 1 Pro Bowl player on their entire roster in NT Bob Baumhower #73. Who were these guys??

This hodge podge group ranked 16th on offense and 15th overall on defense. It was a testament to Shula’s coaching they were even winning. Somehow they went 11-4-1 & made it into the playoffs for the 3rd straight year. Hosting a playoff game for the 1st time since 1973.

Their opponent would be the Chargers who were falling from the elite when they pulled a coup and traded for electrifying wideout Wes Chandler. On the strength of Dan Fouts’ record 4,802 yard season, the Chargers limped to a 10-6 record.

Limped?? Well yes their defense never recovered from the Fred Dean trade. In ’79 the Chargers were 5th overall in defense then were ranked 6th in ’80 while leading the NFL in sacks. Without their prime time pass rusher the Charger’s defense plummeted to a ranking of 27th. Consequently San Francisco, where Dean was traded to, rose to 2nd overall…yet I digress

Dean’s absence had an affect on both the Chargers defense in ’81 and what was about to happen as these two teams staggered into the ’81 AFC Divisional playoff…

 

A playoff game that nearly went to 6 quarters at 75* in high humidity that had everything. Multiple blocked field goals, a dramatic comeback from the home team after falling down 24-0 early. The Chargers fighting to stave off a valiant comeback only to have to make a dramatic drive themselves to tie it 38-38 just to go into overtime.

Fouts 433 yds passing was a playoff record until Bernie Kosar threw for 489 yards in an ’86 double overtime epic against the New York Jets.

Kellen Winslow’s 13 receptions established another as he went for 166 rec yards, 1 TD and the blocked kick to send the game into overtime. He left the game several times due to injury where he was suffering from cramps and dehydration.

Each team left it out on the field in one of the greatest games in NFL history. The toll it took on the Chargers having traveled cross country was immense. The following week they had to play in a 140 degree variance when they played the AFC Championship in Cincinnati at -59* wind chill. A game known as The Freezer Bowl. The coldest game in NFL history.

Hall of Fame Member Fred Dean & The Chancellor at the PFHoF in ’18. Ironically behind us was Dan Fouts & Kellen Winslow at a table.

The no name Dolphins had proven their mettle and would go on as one of the elite teams in the AFC, playing in 2 of the next 3 Super Bowls. As for the Chargers, the loss of Fred Dean had caused a season long collapse of their defense culminating in allowing Miami a season high of 478 total yards. It marked the 8th time San Diego’s defense allowed their competitors over 400 total yards in a game over the ’81 campaign.

Ultimately this spectacular game became the crowning jewel in the career of Coach Don Coryell and Air Coryell’s legacy. Having lost the ’80 and ’81 AFC Championship Games they fell back to the pack as other teams would rise to elite status. However this team was reincarnated as The Greatest Show on Turf resurrected their playbook winning Super Bowl XXXIV while becoming one of history’s greatest offenses two football generations later.

Yet this was The Epic in Miami… one of the great games in NFL history.

Dedicated to the memories of Don Coryell, Chuck Muncie, David Woodley, and Larry Gordon, Steve Sabol, and narrator Harry Kalas.

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Armchair Coordinator – What To Do with Khalil Mack in Week 1 v. Green Bay

For those of you new to Taylor Blitz Times we usually offer a parallel to current events with an episode from a generation or so ago. When the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to Chicago The Chancellor of Football dubbed it “The dumbest trade of a defensive player in 30 years!” To what am I referring to and what significance does it have now?

Khalil Mack tilts the field in the NFC North

Well in 1981 the San Diego Chargers were at an impasse with Pro Bowl Defensive End Fred Dean. Yes over contract issues and Dean held out and Charger Owner Gene Klein decided to trade Dean to an NFC “have not” in the San Francisco 49ers/ At that point a team that had not made the playoffs in 9 years and had never appeared in a Super Bowl. It was an attempt to punish Dean that backfired badly.

Well right before the 5th week of the NFL season in 1981 the trade was consummated and Dean was a 49er. Without any chance to prepare Dallas OT Pat Donavan was across from a defensive terrorist. Dean wound up with 3 sacks and several hurries, one of which a Ronnie Lott interception in a 45-14 win. Not bad for a team that had lost 4 straight to Dallas including a 59-14 loss just 2 seasons before. An also ran whose last chance in a championship game had been thwarted by their bully had now turned the tables.

The field tilted because of a pass rusher added late their opponents weren’t prepared for. It worked for those ’81 49ers who went on to Super Bowl XVI and Charles Haley and the ’92 Cowboys who went on to Super Bowl XXVII. Now am I saying the Bears are off to win the Super Bowl?? Time will tell and I have seen this happen beyond these two examples.

All of a sudden the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year & NFL Defensive Player of the Year lands in an NFC North without a Pro Bowl Tackle and you don’t think it will be an issue??

Well since the 2010 NFC Championship Game when the Packers won 23-10 in Soldier Field, Chicago is 2-12 against “The Pack” and QB Jay Cutler was laughed out of the division. All of that humiliation has to fuel this journey into Lambeau Field. They’re going to have to play a conservative game and it’s imperative they steal a few possessions in this game.

Not only do they have to find a way to get 1st round draft pick Roquan Smith on the field, they have to play their wildcard in Khalil Mack.

Mack after sacking Brady last year.

In this game its best to keep Mack from thinking and send him nearly every play after Aaron Rodgers. To ensure the Packers can’t slide the line to him, run combo blitzes from the strong side into the face of Rodgers.

One adjustment is to slide TE Jimmy Graham to chip Mack. If Graham was a good blocker he would still be in Seattle. Rodgers needs him downfield where he creates mismatches. If they keep him in it slows Green Bay’s passing game.

However in “Nickle” and “Dime” situations I would intermittently flip flop him as a pass rushing end and run those same combo blitzes. Why?? If you have watched Raider games he has rushed from both the strong and weak side.

In one of his greatest games, Mack’s Raiders gave the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers the loss that knocked them out of the playoffs. All plays from the strong side where the 2nd best Tackle is normally platooned. First a 6 yard interception for a TD to put the Raiders up 24-7. Then later when clinging to a 35-32 lead had this sack and forced fumble from the strong side to close the game out:

At some point the Bears have to get tired of being sick and tired. Its time to go attack with your new weapon. You have tilted the field and have a great pass rusher to possibly turn this game.

Many Packer fans will claim “Well Rodgers practices against Clay Matthews and this game is in Lambeau.” Yet you forget the 2015 Denver Broncos won Super Bowl L and in week 14 hosted the Oakland Raiders and guess what happened? Mack starred in a 15-12 loss when he garnered 5 sacks and kept Oakland close. A bravura performance that set him up for the accolades he received in 2016. First…with Taylor Blitz Times….then the national media who were late to the party.

Is Mack a Hall of Famer like Charles Haley and Fred Dean to whom he has been compared in this article? He is well on his way….and remember when it comes to 3-4 OLBs…. the original in Robert Brazile and Kevin Greene with the most sacks, The Chancellor has advocated and saw their inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when few thought they would.

Hall of Famer Fred Dean w/ The Chancellor in 2018.

No one gets to lay a greater claim. No one…so don’t even attempt it. However I did run into one Hall of Fame pass rusher last month in Canton.

Chicago… your mission …should you choose to accept it:

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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??

xixringEnter 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 Duane Board (2 sacks) produced the pass rush that got to Marino by first 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 a then record 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.  The “other” offense set another record with 537 total yards in the contest.

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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