SUPER BOWL XXIII RUNNER UP 1988 CINCINNATI BENGALS

Welcome to the second greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL…well next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Again…the question has to be asked: Can a team change its stripes?? From 4-11 in 1987 to 12-4 and :34 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl…wow!! You have to realize this is before free agency where a star could be bought and brought in.

bengals headerThis team was led by a genius named Sam Wyche, easily one of my favorite coaches ever. And right before you scoff “He didn’t win a Super Bowl”. Don’t forget he was quarterback coach with a glistening Super Bowl XVI ring for coaching Joe Montana, ironically against the Cincinnati Bengals some 6 yrs earlier. So Sam Wyche is/was Bill Walsh the 2nd and I’ll explain.

Paul Brown owned and coached the Cincinnati Bengals and had Bill Walsh as his Offensive Coordinator, and Wyche was the heady backup quarterback. When Brown failed to make Walsh his successor he lost Wyche who joined Walsh in San Francisco and ironically they beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. Having been burned by not hiring his protégé’ and losing to him taught him a lesson. The next time Brown needed a coach he tapped into the Bengals past and brought back Sam Wyche, who had a keen offensive mind and unconventional ideas. So what turnaround am I speaking of?

Let’s take you back to 1987, where the Bengals had failed to live up to unfulfilled promise since Super Bowl XVI. They came close to making the playoffs in 1984 and 1986 yet failed to win on tie breakers in the last game of the season. Especially in 1986 when they drubbed the playoff bound Jets 52-21 in the finale. The Bengals went into ’87 with serious optimism yet kept being plagued with bizarre losses where the mistakes were blamed on their unconventional coach.

The most notable was in week 2, when beating the 49ers and Bill Walsh of all people, elected to run a play on 4th down rather than risk a punt block with 6 seconds left. Kevin Fagan (from the U) charged in and stopped James Brooks with 2 seconds to go. Montana hit Rice for a touchdown on the last play of the game. The 27-26 loss to San Francisco in Cincinnati cast a pall on the entire (4-11) 1987 season. Many losses when the unconventional coach had plays backfire in the 4th quarter earned the Bengals coach a nickname –“Wicky Wacky” Wyche and the team was the laughingstock of the league with reports that Wyche would be fired. He held on barely…

bengal sideEnter 1988, the mantra coined by Sam Wyche was ‘finish everything’, alluding to the 4th quarter collapses that doomed 6 Bengal games the year before. The draft brought a very important player…the talented and infectious Elbert “Ickey” Woods who teamed with James Brooks to help push the Bengals to the #1 offense in the NFL. More than anything, his touchdown dance “The Ickey Shuffle” and his personality changed the team chemistry from the doldrums of the year before.

Woods rushed for 1000 yards and 15 TDs. “Boomer” Esiason went on to be league MVP and his receivers Eddie Brown (The U) Tim McGhee and Cris Collinsworth were as effective as any trio in the league. Operating out of their “sugar huddle” and keeping opposing teams defensive specialists off the field, Cincinnati exploited mismatches to pile up points. They were the first team to play with a “no huddle” attack. On defense DT Tim Krumrie, OLB Reggie Williams, and SS David Fulcher were the undisputed leaders of an opportunistic defense. Throw in CB Eric Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl in ’88 and the late Lewis Billups made up a superior secondary along with FS and present NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots.

The team went from being a laughingstock to a 6-0 start and the league was reluctant to let go of the pigeonholed way they viewed both Coach Wyche and the team. Everyone was waiting for the Cleveland Browns and the Dawg Defense to overcome the injury to Bernie Kosar and catch them…yet no one could. The Bengals blew no 4th quarter leads and by the time they got to the playoffs they still weren’t respected.

Coach Wyche and his team that was laughed at the year before had become the scourge of the league. So much so that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle before Super Bowl XXIII ruled they weren’t allowed to run their “sugar huddle”. Why? Well because other measures were tried during the playoffs by Seattle faking injuries to get defensive replacements on the field. The Bengals still won 21-7 before besting Buffalo 21-10 in the AFC Championship.

Super Bowl XXIII, what a game? Would it have been a game had the Bengals not lost Stanley Wilson to a cocaine episode the night before the game? Would it have been a game if they could use their Sugar Huddle? Before you jump up and say no…don’t forget the ’88 49ers had a 6-5 record late in the season and only finished at 10-6 (worst record ever for a Super Bowl champion by the way) before getting hot in the playoffs. They were being held by a Bengal defense without a touchdown going into the 4th quarter.

bengals logoThat also includes losing Tim Krumrie to a severe broken leg in the 1st quarter. League against them, Niners against them…Stanford Jennings took back a kick 93 yards at the end of the 3rd quarter to give Cincy a 13-6 lead and they looked like they were going to be Super Bowl champs. Alas a Lewis Billups dropped interception on the following touchdown drive led to the 49ers scoring on the next play and eventually the game winning drive with :34 seconds left to play.

For the rest of my days I’ll forever believe Pete Rozelle cheated the Bengals and altered how the game would have been disallowing the “sugar huddle” in the Super Bowl.

They were 34 seconds away….from erasing a history that they didn’t deserve. Yet they did win the 1988 AFC Championship and I applaud them for an olympian effort to force the league to give them a respect that was earned.

SUPER BOWL XXIII CHAMPION 1988 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Super Bowl XXIII was a game for the ages, 49ers 20-16 over the Cincinnati Bengals in Joe Robbie Stadium. When I think of this Super Bowl I think of the moments that take place in a game that could have altered the course of history. If only David Fulcher could have knocked down a couple passes on that last drive…. What if the late Pete Rozelle had allowed the Bengals to use their “Sugar Huddle”?? All banter for historians now since Joe Montana did his thing!!

xxiiiWith the Bengals leading 13-6 early in the 4th quarter, Stanford Jennings had just returned a kickoff 93 yards to put the Bengals up by a touchdown. The 49ers were driving for the tying touchdown when the late Lewis Billups cut in front of Mike Wilson and had a clear endzone interception, then dropped the ball.

The Bengals had shut down the 49er offense all game long but now the 49er offense was clicking. Rice scored on the next play to tie it at 13 . What would have happened had Billups held on for that interception? Would that have been the demoralizing play that would have deflated the 49ers for good in a defensive struggle?

Montana went on to lead that famous last second drive that cemented his legacy…however there are some interesting points to this team. Did you know this 49er team had the worst record of any Super Bowl champion at the time with a 10-6 record? Did you know that the ’88 49ers were 6-5 during the season after back to back losses in Candlestick including a 9-3 loss to the LA Raiders with no touchdowns scored? The first set of back to back losses at home in almost a decade. This was a team that had to overcome the psychological damage that was inflicted a year before that nearly sunk the ’88 season.

xxiii2The 1987 season was the best 49er team in history (up to that time) in The Chancellor of Football’s opinion. This was the first team since the 1977 Dallas Cowboys to finish #1 on both offense and defense in the same season. So prolific was this team in a strike shortened year of 15 games, Montana led the NFL with 31 TDs in only 12 games played with the regulars and Steve Young throwing for 10 more. It was the most prolific season of Montana’s career. Projected over a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 45 TDs at a time when only Dan Marino had surpassed the 40 mark.

 

Jerry Rice was league MVP with 23 TDs (22 receiving) in only 12 games that broke the single season TD reception record of Mark Clayton’s 18. Rice was so dominant he had 17TDs in the final 7 games alone. The overall touchdown record at the time was 24 by John Riggins. At the pace that Rice was going he would have had 30 TDs had they played 16 games. So Emmitt, Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, and Shawn Alexander NEVER would have touched the record.

 

The draft class of ’86 came to fruition with Charles Haley, John Taylor, Don Griffin, Tim McKyer, Kevin Fagan (The U), Brent Jones, Tom Rathman, and Harris Barton, who would anchor the team for years to come. This mixed youth with the experience of the Joe Montanas, Ronnie Lotts, Randy Cross’, and Dwight Clarks to form a team that rolled to a 13-2 record finishing on a 6 game winning streak. They scored the most points and gave up the 3rd fewest.

Ronnie Lott 49ersThey outscored their last 3 opponents 124-7 including a 41-0 trouncing of the NFC Central Champion Bears on a Monday Night in front of the nation. So what happened?? Two things…the flu and Anthony Carter got hot and did a Larry Fitzgerald thru the 1987 playoffs with this being the centerpiece game of that run and his career.

The Minnesota Vikings were 8-7 and backed into the playoffs with losses in 3 of their last 4 games and had to have someone else lose just to get in. They upset the Cinderella Saints 44-10 in the Wildcard round then boarded a flight to take on a team many thought was about to be crowned “Team of the Decade”…. and then:

 

Joe wasn’t himself in that divisional playoff game and even though he was weakened with the flu he was getting’ hounded by the Vikings pass rush. He did throw a down and out to Dwight Clark that was late and Reggie Rutland returned for a touchdown that put San Fran down 17-7. Bill Walsh benched Joe Montana for Steve Young, who had been acquired that year in a trade, who did lead a few TD drives that ultimately led to QB controversy to start the ’88 season.

That 36-24 loss along with Anthony Carter’s 227 yards receiving haunted that team to the midway point of the 88 season. This team clearly should have won Super Bowl XXII. I remember the shock that the Bears & Redskins took into their divisional playoff game the next day, realizing whoever won would host the Vikings in the NFC Championship game when they clearly were dreading a trip to San Francisco. Especially the Bears who in a matchup for home field advantage were trounced 41-0 just 4 weeks prior… and who did the ’88 49ers beat in the NFC Championship game to get to Super Bowl XXIII? The Chicago Bears 28-3 in Soldier Field in 28 below zero weather.

However the upset playoff loss to the Vikings caused tensions throughout the organization. Embarrassed by the biggest upset since Super Bowl III, it was rumored Eddie DeBartolo nearly parted ways with Head Coach Bill Walsh. This led to changes within the organization and corporate pressure was one of the reasons Walsh stepped down after Super Bowl XXIII a year later.

The 49ers did get revenge on the Vikings over the next two years in the playoffs. The ’88 postseason began with a 34-9 beat down of Minnesota puncutated by an 80 yard touchdown run by Roger Craig in the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1988However when I look at the Super Bowl XXIII ring, the ’88 season doesn’t come to mind. The turmoil that took place from the previous postseason and subsequent retirement of Bill Walsh dimmed the luster of their coronation. With this win, the 49ers had become The Team of the 80’s. It wasn’t a pyrrhic victory but…

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Dedicated to the late Bill Walsh

SUPER BOWL XXI RUNNER UP 1986 DENVER BRONCOS

It was a dreary, cold, dark, foreboding day in Cleveland. It was January 11, 1987 in Cleveland yet there was an excitement in the air…

xxireflectionOh yes…the 1986 AFC Championship on the line and a trip to SuperBowl XXI in Pasadena awaits.  John Elway and the Broncos are 98 yards away from the “Dog Pound” and the tying score with 5:43 seconds left…*sigh* Elway sent the entire state of Ohio into a catatonic shock that lasted thru the next football season and up to and thru Earnest Byner’s fumble in the following AFC Championship game in ’87.

However lets take you back to the game where John Elway had arrived. It was the moment forgotten once he performed “The Drive” that came a week prior. The 1986 Broncos had a maturing quarterback coming of age and if you remember were still smarting from posting an 11-5 record, while missing the 1985 playoffs on a tie break technicality.

Elway was typical of a young quarterback who struggled to be consistent throughout. After taking off on a 34 yard touchdown early in the game, he severely sprained his ankle. He hobbled and gutted it out against Andre Tippett and the Patriots defense. The big thing was he didn’t make the big mistake and struck when the defending AFC Champions blinked. Down 17-13 late in the 3rd quarter, Patriot LB Don Blackmon jumped offside. With a free play Elway fired deep to Vance Johnson to take a 20-17 lead.

Then Rulon Jones sack and safety of Tony Eason sent the Broncos to their first AFC Championship since 1977 22-17. ESPN’s Tom Jackson was a linebacker on both the ’77 and ’86 teams and was from Cleveland. Fittingly the last win he experienced as a player was “The Drive”, as the Broncos prevailed 23-20 in overtime.

Subsequently the Giants beat the Broncos 39-20 in Pasadena to win Super Bowl XXI. This ring commemorates the accomplishment of getting there.  Denver would get to more Super Bowls right? Elway was just a young pup…he’d have plenty more…right?

The one thing that was lost were the pundits made it seem that Elway was the only player on that team. They ran the ball by committee with Sammy Winder and Gerald Wilhite. Had solid receivers in Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson. Yet they had the AFC’s 3rd ranked defense, 9th overall which ranked higher than The Dawg Defense of Cleveland ranked 19th.

super-bowl-logo-1986Pro Bowlers Karl Mecklenburg, SS Dennis Smith, DE Rulon Jones, and CB Mike Harden led a resurgent “Orange Crush” defense. It wasn’t quite as dynamic as the group that carried Denver to Super Bowl XII. Of course I could be partial to the ’77 group since I lived there at the time and they were influential on a youngster.

This was the ring commemorating the ’86 Broncos who came out of a competitive AFC West to win the conference.

Epilogue circa 2010: John Elway should be thanking Art Modell and Lebron James for getting him off the hook.  These are the most hated men in Cleveland now.  I don’t think Elway golfs or vacations there…lol…but he has a fair chance of not getting stoned to death.  So hated was Elway in Cleveland that in 1989 the Broncos were huddled in the “Dog Pound” end zone of Municipal Stadium when Elway gets conked on the head with a flashlight battery.

The debris became so great that Jerry Markbreit (referee) actually had the teams switch sides on the field.  The Chancellor of Football had never seen that before in an NFL game or since.  Cleveland won 16-13 for a measure of revenge yet lost again in the 89 AFC Title 37-21 to further fuel Elway angst in Ohio.  I was one of ’em…and it took a long time to let it go.

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SUPER BOWL XXI CHAMPION 1986 NEW YORK GIANTS

Super Bowl XXI Giants 39-20 over the Broncos.  I was one of those that was all set for the Bears to repeat as champions …yada yada yada….who’s got the ring?  On the way out to Pasadena, they blew out The Team of the 80s 49ers 49-3 in the divisional playoff. The NFL’s worst playoff beating of the decade. Then shut out division rival Washington 17-0 for the NFC Championship. Are you kidding?? They came through the playoffs with a combined score of 66-3. Talk about dominant.

So they were off to Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. There is something about the Super Bowl being played in the Rose Bowl. It just has a regal look and feel to it.

sbxxiWhen the Giants mauled (dont know if thats a strong enough adjective) the 49ers 49-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, you knew the Washington Redskins were going to be in deep trouble in the championship round. Sure they had upset the Bears but that was with 3rd or 4th string QB Doug Flutie.  I don’t ever like to say in sports that it was over but you would have had to field an all star team to stop them because they were comin’!!

Hosting the NFC Championship, a fierce swirling wind became the story of the game. The Giants won the coin toss and took the wind. The Redskins couldn’t run and came out to 3 straight 3 and outs. Subesquently they had 23, 27, and 28 yard punts into the wind which led to the Giants playing on a short field. They took a 17-0 first half lead and the game was over.

Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor,was not only the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, he was league MVP also. In his prime and comin’ off the corner, he just terrorized opponents. It was only the second time a defender was NFL MVP. The first?? Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1971. He had his greatest season with 20.5 sacks and countless plays where he ran down runners from behind on the line of scrimmage. The play he chased Reuben Mayes of the Saints from behind… yet I digress

Other hatchet men on that defense?? All Pro Leonard Marshall at DE had 12 sacks that year & nearly beheaded Jay Schroeder on one sack in the NFC Championship.  Pro Bowl NT Jim Burt held down the middle and knocked Joe Montana out cold in the divisional playoff.  Carl Banks totally owned the strong side dominating opposing TEs.

super-bowl-logo-1986Crafty George Martin, Harry Carson, Gary Reasons formed a formidable defense and get this:  With all this talent and being the leagues #2 defense in 1985, they drafted LB Pepper Johnson (5 rings player and coach) CB Greg Lasker, DE Eric Dorsey, NT Erik Howard, and CB Mark Collins in the draft!  Collins was the reason the Giants could handle the 49ers for the next 7 years because he shut down Jerry Rice better than any corner over Rice’s career.

This is before we even get to Phil Simms or Joe Morris who ran for 1,516 yards and 14TDs that year…but really that defense at its peak was just frightening.

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SUPER BOWL XX RUNNER UP 1985 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

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.

sbxx.3Although 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.

super-bowl-logo-1985They 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.

A truly monumental effort that shouldn’t be forgotten for coming up short in Super Bowl XX.

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SUPER BOWL XX CHAMPIONS 1985 CHICAGO BEARS

Walter Payton and the ’85 Bears defense got this championship ring for routing New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, this is still the #1 team in history over 1 season.  Yes I was a ridiculous fan of the 46 defense, which they screw up on Madden, see the two lineback…..yet I digress.

chicago_bears_superbowl_ring_1985_chicago_bears_Cr0eY1ll.sizedBefore we get into Sweetness, Jimmy Mac, “Danimal”, Singletary, “Mongo” McMichael, Wilber, Otis, Dent, Hilgenberg, VanHorne, Moorehead, Suhey, Gault, Fencik, Duerson, Head Coach Mike Ditka, and the beat goes on…let’s show you why I think they were the strongest team ever. Did you know they did this while 1984 All Pro Safety Todd Bell held out??

Look at the competition they faced and look what they did to them. In 1985 the NFC East champion Cowboys were trounced 44-0, wildcard Giants 21-0 in the playoffs, and the 10-6 Redskins slaughtered 45-10. That’s 110-10 against the “best division in football” yikes!!

Then you have the NFC West Champion LA Rams killed 24-0 in the NFC Championship, and the last wildcard team? The defending champion San Francisco 49ers, who were pounded 26-10 in Candlestick.  Funny thing was the 49er touchdown was a Carlton Williamson interception, so the 49er offense scored 3 at home.

Super-Bowl-Trophy-Size* So the Bears gave up 20 points combined to the 5 best teams in their conference and avg. more than 4TDs margin of victory (31-4 avg. score)…damn!

Then of course each division faces another division in the other conference which in the 85 Bears case was the AFC East.  Thank God they didn’t play my Bills… The AFC East Dolphins won 38-24, but both wildcards in the AFC went to the Jets and Patriots.  What happened to those teams you ask?  The Jets were clobbered in the Meadowlands 20-6 and the Patriots twice. The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in week 2, then the 46-10 smashing in Super Bowl XX.

Copy (2) of Copy of sbRoundhouseSuperBowlRing*So the only loss was to defending AFC Champion Miami & where did the Dolphins season conclude?  They lost the AFC Championship at home to the Patriots where had they won, there would have been a rematch with the Bears in the Super Bowl…so u could say that they were a pretty strong team…fair to say?

The Bears beat EVERY playoff team in 1985 from the NFC, and faced three from the AFC…all teams had 10 wins or more and the Bears basically laughed at ’em.  This is what a heavyweight champion should look like!!

When comparing the best ever teams none come close to this for beating strong competition none.  In fact the ’72 Miami Dolphins who went undefeated only faced 3 teams with winning records during the season.  That’s not their fault but it has to be a factor in deciding who was stronger as a team.

In 2000 when the Ravens gave up 165 points and the question was raised- “Were they better than Buddy Ryan & the ’85 Bear’s 46 defense?”  HELL NO!!! A group that finished ranked #1 in 9 of 14 defensive categories?? The Ravens didn’t face 1984 MVP Dan Marino, 3-time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana, Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, 1983 MVP Joe Theismann, and Danny White had been a pro bowl quarterback as Ken O’Brien of the Jets had been in 1985. All were in their prime!

super-bowl-logo-1985Had the 2000 Ravens seen these quarterbacks they give up another 150 points easy and wouldn’t make the mythical Super Bowl if they played the 85 Bears schedule!! Spurgeon Wynn. Who? Spurgeon Wynn, Tim Couch, Anthony Wright, Kent Graham, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Ryan Leaf, Scott Mitchell, and Akili Smith were some of the QBs those Ravens faced so….no way do they get this nod. I loved those Ravens don’t get me wrong, but what would the ’85 Bears have given up against the 2000 Ravens schedule? That’s frightening to think about.

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