One of the more forgotten Super Bowl participants of the first 20 years are these 1985 New England Patriots. When you mention them most people scoff “well the Bears killed them!” Newsflash McFly, the ’85 Bears did that to everyone they faced going 18-1. What this team should be remembered for is laying the belief that if you can get hot at the end of the season, you can roll into the Super Bowl. They were the original road warriors having won 3 straight postseason road games to make it to Super Bowl XX. The first team ever to do so.
Although they were coached by former Johnny Unitas receiver Raymond Berry, this was a conservative team that relied on the run and good defense. Craig James rushed for 1,227 yards and Tony Collins kicked in another 657. Collins had been a 1,000 yard rusher just a season before. They had a few proven pros in WR Stanley Morgan and part time QB Steve Grogan.
Why part time?? The maturation of young QB Tony Eason necessitated his insertion in the lineup when he struggled. Grogan bailed them out as a relief pitcher multiple times in ’85. Eason was a part of the curse of the ’83 draft, which we will cover later. However this team was good enough to win with spotty quarterback play.
The big reason is they fielded the 7th best defense in football led by Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the year with 16.5 sacks, and of all the 3-4 Outside Linebackers he was the best in the NFL in ’85.
He was the enforcer on a defense that sent LB Steve Nelson, CB Raymond Clayborn, and S Fred Marion with him to the Pro Bowl.
They pulled off 3 straight road playoff upsets on the strength of causing 16 turnovers in 3 playoff games. The most notable were the 6 they forced Dan Marino and the Dolphins into in the AFC Championship Game. Miami was the defending AFC champion and had an 18 game winning streak against them in the Orange Bowl.
In what looked like a replay of the previous Super Bowl, the secondary of Clayborn, Ronnie Lippett, Marion and Roland James just swallowed Miami’s aerial show.
To watch Marino go 20 of 48 for 248 yards 2TDs 2INTs with a passer rating of 54.8 at home was a greater feat than San Fran’s Super Bowl performance the year before. Marino charged downfield to take a 7-3 lead on his 7th completion with 14:39 left in the 2nd quarter and was anemic after that. 13 completions in the last 3 quarters?
The aura of AFC invincibility for Don Shula and Dan Marino began to fade with this game. Not only had the Patriots snapped the 18 game losing streak, they broke Shula’s 5-0 record in conference championship games as Dolphins coach. They became the 3rd wildcard team to make it to the Super Bowl and many people forget this team had just lost All Pro Mike Haynes a few seasons before or the secondary could have been that much better.
Those 3 road playoff wins were a truly monumental effort that shouldn’t be forgotten. However the way they lost down in New Orleans obscures the accomplishments of a remarkable team. The ugly drug rumors covered by the press the week after the season tarnished the legacy of this team. In fact ILB Steve Nelson and DE Julius Adams legacies unfairly took a hit in the aftermath. Nelson who had been a 3 time Pro Bowl performer and came in 5th in the 1980 voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, didn’t make it back to Hawai’i in ’86 and 87.
He did have a few injuries but with the team’s prestige taking a hit did this cost him a possible trip to Canton? He did make the Patriots Hall of Fame and it makes you stop & ask the question…
Julius Adams was the grizzled DE who like Marvin Hagler toiled in obscurity most of his career and finally received recognition toward the end. At 37 he was still the quickest DLineman New England had. He had 5 seasons with 8 or more sacks and didnt get the votes to enough Pro Bowls for Canton but should be remembered more than he has been by the sporting press. He finished with 80.5 sacks and was just outside the top ten unofficial sack total list at the time of his retirement.
Andre Tippett and John Hannah are the only Hall of Famers from that team. Yet Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry did a great coaching job in 1985.
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Dedicated to the memories of DE Julius Adams, RB Mosi Tatupu, RT Steve Moore