SUPER BOWL XVI RUNNER UP 1981 CINCINNATI BENGALS

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 XVI CHAMPION 1981 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan where the San Francisco 49ers 26-21 won over the Cincinnati Bengals.  Two weeks after the catch….I can remember that it was somewhere in the 3rd quarter and I was still saying to myself “The Bengals and the Niners in the Super Bowl?”

sbxvi1.2The NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys was so good you forgot there was a Super Bowl yet to be played.  Then with the 59 below AFC Championship Game I don’t know if the Bengals had thawed out from that game.  For the first time in memory, you could see the national magazines and media outlets scrambling to sell these teams to the masses. Or actually to sell themselves that the 49ers and Bengals were in the Super Bowl.

Sports media was completely reeling from the high profile darling Cowboys of Tom Landry and “Air Coryell” Chargers going down in the conference finals. They weren’t ready for both Cinderella teams to crash the Super Bowl in Pontiac. Since Joe Montana had made so many so called experts eat their words with “The Catch”, he wasn’t covered as a great quarterback like he was later in his career. He had thrown 3 interceptions in the NFC Championship before “The Catch.” In fact the national figure that emerged from Super Bowl XVI wasn’t a player, it was Head Coach Bill Walsh.

Can you believe a team winning the Super Bowl on the basis of squib kicks?

sbxvi5After taking a 14-0 lead late in the 2nd quarter, most teams would be satisfied with the upper hand and not push the envelope. Walsh implemented his genius and stamp on the game with the ensuing kickoff. Totally unprepared, the ball bounced downfield and put the Bengals in horrible field position inside their own 15. Cincinnati played conservatively, couldn’t move the football and punted. The 49ers, on a short field, kicked a quick field goal and hit them with a squib kick again.

Archie Griffin (yes OSU fans) fumbled the second squib kick that the 49ers converted to another quick field goal to put them up 20-0 at the half.  Of course someone would say “But this was the middle of the game and the Niners were up 14-0.”  Yes but in a game decided by 5 points (26-21) you look at what could have been… and these 6 points were the difference in Bill Walsh becoming a genius and Forrest Gregg almost becoming the new Vince Lombardi.

Others point to the great goal line stand in the 3rd quarter that kept the Niners in strategic control of the game. San Francisco was up 20-7, however the Bengals could have stuck to their regular game plan had it just been 14-7 without the special team gaffes before halftime.

The late Bill Walsh was meticulous in his preparation and the blueprint for modern coaches to follow. He was the first to spend the game wearing a headset as well as scripting the first 15 plays. To game plan squib kicks into the mix showed he didn’t give lip service to the adage “special teams is 1/3 of the game.” Most coaches say that and don’t implement anything different to use it as a mode of attack.

sbxvi4A few of the reasons Coach Walsh scripted his first 15 plays he offered in one of his books. He did it not only because it kept him from getting excited and calling something different than what study showed he should do. It allowed the team to know what plays would be run from the outset and they could perform them no matter how nervous they were at the beginning of a game. By practicing them over and over they could run those plays on autopilot.

Before the Bill Walsh coaching tree would blossom and implement his intricacies throughout the league, it was Super Bowl XVI that gave genesis to this. If you take away “The Catch” in the NFC Championship Game, it looks similar to the Super Bowl. There was no marquee performer or performance that you could think of. Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana only threw for 157 yards against the Bengals. They were the first Super Bowl champion to allow more than 20 points in each of their postseason wins.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Bill Walsh made all the difference and is the model each present day coach is descended from.

This article is dedicated in his memory.

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Legends of The Fall: Joe Montana

While being interviewed for the 1999 documentary Unitas, legendary writer Frank Deford offered “all great quarterbacks are descended from John Unitas.” To which I believe. However the narrative has changed to this generation being descendants of Joe Montana. Some of his performances were so impressive they left sports writers in awe and unlike many of today’s quarterbacks, he was rarely thought of as the best during his time. For all his greatness he was overlooked until the latter stages of his career where he took quarterbacking to an art form.

Joe Montana during his san Francisco heydey.

Joe Montana during his San Francisco heydey.

Yet if you think back to the 1981 season, folks were waiting for the cinderella 49ers to fall on their face than appreciate Joe that year. It wasn’t until after The Catch in the NFC Championship Game and we were getting ready for Super Bowl XVI did Montana start to get acclaim.  It was similar to the attention Colin Kaepernick was generating before last year’s Super Bowl. Part curiosity surrounding his play and part flavor of the month.

Remember many writers were reeling at the time having picked Dallas to vanquish him in that ’81 Title game. Then thanks to the surprising Super Bowl opponent being Cincinnati, they were almost forced to talk about him. It was a grudging respect they afforded him.

Back in that time the prototypical quarterback was the tall, stout, rocket arm passer. The Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones, a young Doug Williams, a Ken Stabler, or a Dan Pastororini. The 6’3 guy who could stand amidst the masses and deliver the football 50 yards down field. The late Bill Wash even contemplated trading Montana for the right to draft John Elway. Even after that first Super Bowl triumph. 

Yet it was his size and mobility that set him apart. On every scouting press release Montana was listed at 6’2 200 lbs. but anyone who saw those skinny legs know better. He looked every bit of 180 lbs. They led to his gliding around the pass pocket and avoiding big hits. Whether he scrambled for yardage or he was biding time for a receiver to clear downfield. It was Montana’s nimble feet that kept him in rhythm with his receivers and had his feet ready to throw at a moments notice. Only later was it revealed that those steps were timed with specific receivers to break open and throw at precise moments. That specificity was where Montana elevated quarterbacking to an artform.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are linked forever in football lore.

Another aspect was the ability to bring his Niner teams from behind. The confidence he could instill in his team was on full display during the 1983 playoffs. First he led a last second drive to hold off the Detroit Lions 24-23 to prove The Catch wasn’t a fluke. Then came the NFC Championship with the defending champion Washington Redskins and NFL MVP Joe Theismann. The Redskins jumped out to a 21-0 lead and going into the 4th quarter were laughing their way to Super Bowl XVIII. Then San Francisco Joe got hot.

At the time, the biggest come from behind win in an NFL postseason game was 20 points. Yet in the 4th quarter alone Montana threw 3 touchdowns to tie the game 21-21. Only an offensive pass interference (pick play) that derailed a late drive and two questionable defensive calls kept Joe from performing the greatest championship come back in league history. RFK Stadium was silent until those questionable calls robbed fans everywhere of another possible great moment. Motivated by the slight they felt in not being able to determine they’re fate in that championship game, propelled Joe and the 49ers through 1984.

The 49ers became the first team to go 15-1 in the regular season in NFL history. In defeating the New York Giants and Chicago Bears during the NFC playoffs, he tamed the next two Super Bowl champions that were led by their defenses. Don’t forget the ’84 Bears record of 72 sacks in an NFL season still stands. He lost the MVP to the power passing game of Dan Marino that year. What did he do to earn the media’s respect ?? He beat Marino in Super Bowl XIX 38-16 and along the way set a passing record of 331 yards and the team set another with 537 yards of total offense. Only when Montana forced the media to vote for him did they award him what he earned. He became a Hall of Famer based on his second Super Bowl MVP.

Over the next two years the 49ers retooled their personnel and Montana adjusted to new receivers. Freddie Solomon was phased out retiring in 1985. Dwight Clark was now facing the Jerry Rices and John Taylors that came aboard during ’85 and ’86. Even Roger Craig moved from fullback to halfback. Joe lent continuity to the offense and raised his level of play and took his teammates with him. Those same blood thirsty defenses he sidestepped started getting closer and 1986 ended in the Jersey Meadowlands with a major concussion suffered against the Giants.

Although the 49ers would go on to win Super Bowl XXIII and XXIV, it was the 1987 season that was Montana’s zenith. Not only were the ’87 Niners the last team in NFL history to finish #1 in both offense and defense, it was Joe’s greatest season. Due to the player’s strike and injuries, Montana only played in 11 games when he threw a career best 31 touchdowns. Projected over a full 16 games he would have thrown for 45 and possibly challenged Marino’s record of 48. Yet he was beaten for NFL MVP by class of ’83 quarterback and media darling John Elway. Now consider the 49ers had the best record with a 13-2 record vs Denver’s 11-4-1 record and show me where Elway was better.

  • Joe Montana 1987- 266 of 398 66.8% for 3,054 yds 31 TDs 13 ints
  • John Elway 1987- 224 of 410 54.6% for 3,198 yds 19 TDs 12 ints

So two years later when the 49ers were up 55-10 in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XXIV over Elway’s Broncos, how satisfying must that have been?? The ’87 season ended with Montana having the flu and playing in his worst playoff game that saw him benched. The 36-24 upset loss to the Vikings in the NFC Divisional is what propelled the 49ers play in an unprecedented run during the 1988,1989, and 1990 NFL playoffs. They came within :02 of having the chance of a threepeat. However Joe was knocked from that game and was out of football for two years.

As we look back, think about some of Joe Montana’s exploits. To win Super Bowl XIX & XXIII, he beat reigning MVPs Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason. In winning his record 3rd Super Bowl MVP, he beat the QB he was almost traded away for in John Elway. During those 4 Super Bowl wins he went 83 of 122 for 1,142 yds 11 touchdowns and a completion rate of 68%. He never threw an interception in the Super Bowl. He came close when the late Lewis Billups of Cincinnati cut in front….but i digress.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Joe Montana at the public memorial service for former coach Bill Walsh.

Now we talk about his coming back from back surgery, concussions, or being out of football for 2 years, then leading the Kansas City Chiefs to their only conference championship appearance in 40 years. Consider the greatest pass rush in NFL history was the ’84 Bears with 72 sacks. He beat them in the NFC Championship 23-0. The second greatest was the ’89 Minnesota Vikings of Chris Doleman and Keith Millard with 71 sacks. Montana carved them up something special in a 41-13 NFC Divisional blowout. In Super Bowl XXIV, he beat the #1 scoring defense with a 55 point scoring barrage where he threw a record 5 touchdowns.

It was the four year run from 1987-1990 that changed the landscape of quarterbacking in the NFL. Everyone was looking for their quarteback to run the “West Coast Offense” as Montana had. Then you had the coaches in Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, and Mike White go abroad preaching the gospel of the offense.

Former Head Coach Bill Walsh had left the 49ers after 1988 and watched Montana’s mastery of the offense he fathered, reach record heights over the next few seasons. Maybe Walsh knew what he was doing when he let it out he was looking at Elway. Then challenged Joe when he brought in Steve Young from Tampa before the 1987 season. No matter what pundits make of these events, they pushed Montana to become the best quarterback he could be. He finished with a 4-0 record in Super Bowls and 16-7 playoff record along with countless completion records. NFL executives have changed the rules over the last 15 years to make pedestrian quarterbacks look more Montana-like.

montana going to kcThe next time someone wants to talk greatest ever quarterbacks and doesn’t start with this man, they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t tell me what a quarterback was voted, show me what he earned on the field of battle. How did he fare against the best competition during his time?? Competition between his offense and opposing defenses and against opposing quarterbacks. Would his contemporaries pick him as the quarterback on their side in a big game they had to win?? You come to those conclusions and you have a best ever quarterback. Not the quarterback that sports writers want to be.  Big difference.

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2011 AFC East Preview & Predictions

Fiery leader Bart Scott

The AFC East had been the sole province of the New England Patriots and Bill Belechick. They were 14-2 last year and Tom Brady had the best statistical season of his Hall of Fame career. They had pummeled the Jets 45-3 when the two battled for first place late in the year. Then a strange thing happened, the Jets grew up. The team who’s coach had brazenly scoffed “I wasn’t brought in to kiss Belichick’s rings” had returned to Foxboro and beat the Patriots in the playoffs. In doing so, not only had they stopped what many thought to be another Super Bowl run for the Patriots, they may have knocked the AFC East off it’s axis. After two seasons of being the little dog nipping at the heels of other AFC heavyweights, they have now become the big dog.

The New England Patriots have countered by taking some significant roster risks in signing WR Chad Ochocinco, DT Albert Haynesworth, and elevated S Patrick Chung to starter and releasing S Brandon Merriweather. They return Tom Brady who threw for 36 TDs and only 4 interceptions and one of the best offensive lines in all of pro football.  Also returning is All Pro linebacker Jerrod Mayo who led the league with 175 tackles and improving LB Brandon Spikes. He did sign former Jet DE Shaun Ellis to provide depth for his defensive line. Can their young defensive secondary grow up fast enough for King Belichick to stave off the barbarian Jets at the AFC East gates??

Meadowlands Chant: J-E-T-S JETS!!! JETS!!! JETS!!!

2011 AFC EAST PREDICTIONS

New York Jets 13-3 *

New England Patriots 12-4#

Miami Dolphins 7-9

Buffalo Bills 6-10

Not this time. Belichick had so many draft picks it was frightening, yet came away with a moderate draft at best. He likes his players but can Ben Jarvus Green Ellis and Danny Woodhead at running back make a Super Bowl run?? With Wes Welker and Deion Branch as the starters at WR over Ochocinco they won’t get open against Jet corners just like last year’s playoff game.

Resurrected Shawne Merriman looks to wreak havoc in 2011.

The Buffalo Bills have made some defensive improvements with 1st round draft pick Marcel Darreus and the resurrection of former Charger Shawne Merriman. The 3-4 provided a 9 sack performance in the third pre-season game against Chicago Bears and bodes well for the new season. Although the team lost LB Paul Pusloszny to Jacksonville through free agency. WR Stevie Johnson has to improve and make fans forget about the departed Lee Evans. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a solid quarterback yet doesn’t seem like there is more upside to him. He’s serviceable at best and the team needs to find a way to get C.J. Spiller to mimick his explosive collegiate play in Buffalo. They still need an everydown back and again Fred Jackson is serviceable without much more upside. The Bills will be in more games yet don’t have the playmakers to win the majority of them.

The Dolphins are going to try and ride the playmaking ability of Reggie Bush to produce bigger plays on 3rd down. So far so good in the preseason. With Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess alongside, they have playmakers and need Chad Henne to grow into his position as the starter. He should be motivated with the flubbing of the Kyle Orton trade and knows this is his last chance. Where the Dolphins sneak in several wins is with an opportunistic defense. OLB Cameron Wake is a stud who had 14 sacks last year and along with ILB Karlos Dansby, CB Vontae Davis, and Yeremiah Bell are playmakers on defense and will win a few more of the tight games that Buffalo would lose. They are not yet ready to take on the Patriots or the Jets for division supremacy, yet could make some strides this year.

As we stated to you in February: I can’t say it enough but Mark Sanchez is on the cusp of super stardom.  He’s young, mobile and grew a thick skin during the ’10 playoff run. This is the only quarterback in the NFL to defeat both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a single season playoff run.  Understand what you are seeing here and yes the Jets are a run first / pass second team.  Its a more traditional take on how to run offense yet no other quarterback in history was asked to defeat 3 consecutive Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in one post season run.  Yet he didn’t crack under the pressure and proved to be a leader on the rise until the bitter end.  After throwing for 5 TDs and only 1 interception in last year’s playoffs, Sanchez was seen rallying the troops on the sideline (most notably) with Jerricho Crotchery that the cameras picked up in the waning moments of the AFC Championship.

Mark Sanchez has been excellent in the preseason, he’s been ready from day one of camp. Another look and you see that Plaxico Burress is playing with a chip on his shoulder in place of departed Braylon Edwards. That additional veteran spark and moxie should bode well for an emotional, motivated team. What awaits this team is a chance to play with homefield advantage and have the road to the Super Bowl go through the Meadowlands.

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NEXT UP: Who will win the AFC and Super Bowl XLVI