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Soul-crushingly bad list, part I

Today, CBS Sports’ website listed the most “soul-crushing” playoff loss for each NFL franchise.

The list is beyond stupid, and incredibly short-sighted.

All of the losses listed occurred in my lifetime, which means the person or people who put it together can’t remember anything beyond 10 minutes ago, the same way people claim Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback (or NFL player) who ever lived and Bill Belichcik is the greatest NFL coach (if not all of professional sports) who ever lived.

Here is the link to the list:

https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/photos/each-nfl-teams-most-soul-crushing-playoff-loss/33/

Here are my BIG problems with the list, starting with five teams:

CHICAGO BEARS

The selection: 2010 NFC championship game vs. Green Bay

How the heck can a playoff game involving JAY CUTLER be a soul-crushing loss? The fact the Bears got to within one win of Super Bowl XLV with Cutler is a miracle in and of itself, just as reaching Super Bowl XLI with Rex (Wrecks) Grossman is just as miraculous.

My choice: 1942 NFL championship. The Bears came in as two-time defending champions. Their opponents, the Washington REDSKINS, lost to Chicago in the previous two NFL championship games by the combined margin of 110-9. The Bears won 73-0 at Washington in 1940 and 37-9 at Wrigley Field one year later.

Instead of a three-peat, the REDSKINS pulled off a 14-6 stunner at Griffith Stadium, Washington’s last championship until John Riggins, Joe Theismann and the Hogs helped Joe Gibbs win the first of his three Super Bowls in 1982.

Losing the 1934 NFL championship game after going undefeated in the regular season hurt. So did losing 47-7 to the Giants in 1956. As for post-George Halas playoff losses, the divisional round flameout in 1986 vs. the Redskins at home one year after rolling through the NFL and squashing the Patriots in Super Bowl XX is a much better choice than 2010.

DALLAS COWBOYS

The selection: 2014 NFC divisional playoff at Green Bay, the game where Dez Bryant apparently caught the game-winning touchdown pass, only to be overruled by replay.

Apparently, the Cowboys’ 29 seasons under Tom Landry never existed, and the Cowboys did not lose three Super Bowls in the 1970s.

In fact, the Cowboys did lose three Super Bowls in the 1970s, and the combined margin of those defeats was ELEVEN points. ELEVEN. To lose games by 3, 4 and 4 points has to be soul-crushing, right? RIGHT?

The Cowboys forced SEVEN turnovers vs. the Colts in Super Bowl V. The Cowboys’ defense was so good that day that linebacker Chuck Howley was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, the ONLY player to ever earn the honor while playing for the LOSING team. Howley intercepted two passes, one of those in the end zone when the Colts were driving for the tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Dallas led 13-6 at halftime after knocking the great Johnny Unitas out of the game with injured ribs, but the Cowboys could not handle success. They fumbled at the Baltimore goal line early in the third quarter, and in the fourth, Craig Morton (Roger Staubach was strictly a spectator) was intercepted twice, once by Rick Volk to set up the tying touchdown, and the second by Mike Curtis which led to Jim O’Brien’s game-winning 32-yard field goal with five seconds left. Soul-crushing? For the time being, it was, but the Cowboys bounced back by demolishing the Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI.

Super Bowl X was a tough loss for the Cowboys, but I don’t consider it to be soul-crushing. Dallas was a substantial underdog to the defending champion Steelers, and Dallas led most of the game until Pittsburgh dominated the fourth quarter, scoring what turned out to be the winning points on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann on a play where Dallas defensive tackle Larry Cole gave Bradshaw a concussion. The Cowboys didn’t quit, though, cutting the margin to 21-17 on a touchdown pass from Staubach to Percy Howard (the only catch of his NFL career) and then driving into Steeler territory in the final seconds before Staubach was intercepted by Glen Edwards.

Super Bowl XIII? Soul-crushing to the extreme. Jackie Smith’s dropped pass. The phantom pass interference call against Benny Barnes when Swann was too clumsy to get out of his way. Umpire Art Demmas throwing a block on Charlie Waters which allowed Franco Harris to score a touchdown. Randy White fumbling a botched kickoff and leading to the score which made it 35-17. Dallas scoring twice in the final eight minutes before finally running out of time.

Yet HOW the HELL is the 2014 divisional game vs. Green Bay more soul-crushing that Super Bowls V and XIII, or the 1994 NFC championship game which ended Dallas’ bid for a three-peat?

DENVER BRONCOS

The selection: 2012 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Ravens, after giving up a 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones to tie the game, then losing in double overtime.

Have the Broncos not lost FIVE Super Bowls? Yes, they have. Three of them–XII vs. Dallas, XXI vs. the Giants and XXIV vs. San Francisco–had Denver as huge underdogs. I’ll give the Broncos a pass.

The other two? Not so much.

In Super Bowl XXII, the Broncos were favored over the Redskins, albeit by a field goal or less in most sports books. The teams were thought to be evenly matched, except at quarterback, where Denver had John Elway, who was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1987, while the Redskins had finally settled on Buccaneers and USFL alum Doug Williams in the playoffs after Gibbs vacillated between Williams and Jay Schroeder throughout the 12 games played by union players. (One game was canceled due to a players’ strike, and three others were played using replacement players, although several union players crossed picket lines. Nobody on the Redskins did.)

Although Washington still had several players who were on the Super Bowl XVII winning (and XVIII losing–more on that later) squad, the Redskins’ quarterback quandary led many to believe the third time would be the charm for the Broncos, who were one year removed from a 39-20 pasting by the Giants in the big game.

It started so well for the Broncos, who led 10-0 by the middle of the first quarter. Through the first 21 Super Bowls, no team had overcome a deficit of more than seven points to win.

Then the second quarter arrived, and the Redskins morphed into the greatest offensive juggernaut the NFL has ever seen.

Williams threw FOUR touchdown passes in the period, and Timmy Smith ran for a 58-yard touchdown on his way to a then-Super Bowl record 204 yards rushing. By the end of the onslaught, it was 35-10, and Marion Barry announced the plans for the Redskins’ victory parade later that week during halftime.

Final: 42-10. Denver was crushed even worse in XXIV (55-10), and Elway was branded a loser despite his impressive resume. In the final two years of his career, Elway redeemed himself with victories over the Packers and Falcons in XXXII and XXXIII.

Following the win over Atlanta, Denver didn’t get back to the Super Bowl until it faced Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors in a temperate climate, at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

It was expected to be one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, with the Seahawks’ league-leading defense, “The Legion of Boom”, facing Peyton Manning, who came to the Broncos in 2012 following 13 seasons with the Colts. Manning led the Broncos to the highest scoring season in NFL history, threw 55 touchdown passes, and won his fifth NFL MVP award.

On the first play from scrimmage, the expected great game turned into a great stinker, at least as for the Broncos.

That play saw Denver center Manny Ramirez (not the famous baseball player) snap the ball wide of Manning. The pigskin rolled into the end zone, where Knoshon Moreno had to bat it over the end line for a safety to avoid yielding a touchdown.

Manning later threw a pick-six to Malcolm Smith, and Denver looked as outclassed as Elway’s teams were by the Giants, Redskins and 49ers.

Seattle won 43-8. Manning and Denver won Super Bowl 50 two years later, but Broncos fans still cringe when mentioning the Seahawks and that game.

Now tell me how a playoff game in an early round is more soul-crushing than losing two Super Bowls in which the Broncos were favored, or at worst an even-money bet?

DETROIT LIONS

The selection: 2014 NFC wild card game at Dallas, which the Lions lost 24-20. In the game, a defensive pass interfernce penalty was not called against the Cowboys with Detroit leading 20-17. Had the Lions gained the automatic first down, they very well may have run the clock out.

Okay, the Lions have been mostly wretched for the last 60 years. Not much playoff history to go on. But I can cite some games which far outweigh the above:

  • 1970 NFC divisional playoff at Dallas–in the lowest scoring playoff game in professional football history, the Cowboys prevailed 5-0 at the Cotton Bowl. Detroit, which came in riding a five-game winning streak, reached the Dallas 29 in the final minute, but Greg Landry’s last pass was intercepted by Mel Renfro at the 11.
  • 1983 NFC divisional playoff at San Francisco–the Lions had a chance to reach the NFC championship game, but usually reliable kicker Eddie Murray missed a 47-yard field goal in the final minute, allowing the 49ers to escape 24-23.
  • 1991 NFC championship at Washington–the Lions enjoyed a spectacular regular season, thanks to the prolific running of Barry Sanders, but the Redskins rolled 41-10 on their way to crushing the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI.
  • 1993 NFC wild card vs. Green Bay–the Lions lost 28-24 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Brett Favre (WHO?) to Sterling Sharpe. Detroit has not hosted a playoff game since.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

The selection: 2003 NFC divisional playoff at Philadelphia, when the Eagles converted a 4th-and-26 en route to the tying touchdown. Favre threw an interception in overtime, and the Eagles converted it into the game winning field goal.

Right city, wrong year in this case.

Try the 1960 NFL championship game.

In Vince Lombardi’s second season as Packers coach, Green Bay had gone from 1-10-1 in 1958 to 8-4 and the NFL Western Division championship, earning it the right to play the Eagles at Franklin Field for the league title. There was no Super Bowl in this era, so it was all or nothing on the day after Christmas.

The Eagles, led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin and “Concrete Charlie” Chuck Bednarik, the NFL’s last two-way player (center and middle linebacker), trailed 6-0 early in the second quarter before gaining the lead on a touchdown pass from Van Brocklin to Tommy McDonald. A field goal later in the period sent Philly to the locker room ahead by four.

The score stayed that way until early in the final stanza, when Bart Starr hit Max McGee (already establishing himself as a big-time performer in big-time games) from 7 yards out to make it 13-10 Packers. The Eagles regained the lead with 5:21 to go on a 5-yard run by Ted Dean, leaving Green Bay plenty of time to win.

The Packers reached the Eagle 22 in the final seconds with no timeouts. Starr found Jimmy Taylor on a flare pass, but he was tripped up by rookie Bobby Jackson then pounded to the ground by Bednarik at the 10 as the final seconds bled away. The gun sounded, and Bednarik growled to Taylor, “You can get up now. This game is over!”.

Philadelphia hasn’t won a title since, losing in Super Bowls XV and XXXIX. The Packers would fare much better, winning five NFL championships and Super Bowls I and II under Lombardi. Green Bay added titles in XXXI and XLV later.

Part two includes: someone forgot the Colts once played in Baltimore and a certain guarantee; the longest NFL game ever; and “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.

 

Kansas’ turn

After watching Washington, Philadelphia and New York get buried under a mountain of snow last Saturday, it looks like it will be Kansas’ is next.

There have been dire predictions of a major snowstorm affecting the Sunflower State Monday and Tuesday, and it looks like the worst will be along the Interstate 70 corridor between Hays and Manhattan. Of course, Russell is in that corridor.  There have been some models which forecast as much as two feet. TWO FEET.

I’m fearing not only that there will be a lot of snow, but there will also be a lot of wind, which would be beyond disastrous. The last thing I want is snowdrifts piled up like you see them at times during Buffalo Bills home games. However, it isn’t looking good.

Of course, the storm would hit during a week I have an appointment with Crista. If I missed that, it would really, really, really anger me. I just have to pray I-70 is clear by Thursday at 7 a.m. The appointment is at 9, but making sure it’s clear early would give me enough time to get there and back without having to rush.

I wanted to get out of Russell Thursday to stock up on a few supplies, but I couldn’t yank myself out of bed. I did make it over to Hays and picked up a few things. I saw more than three people carrying out cases of bottled water. I’m planning on a run to the big cities today, and possibly a stop at Buffalo Wild Wings in Salina on the way home.

It wasn’t until 10:30 yesterday evening that I realized it was the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. My old middle school pal Shawn O’Neil posted something about it on Facebook.

I was in the fourth grade at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic school on January 28, 1986. Someone came up to me during recess after lunch that the space shuttle exploded. I didn’t believe it. I thought this person was joking.

When I got back into the modular classroom behind the main school building, our teacher, Myra Annaloro, turned on the TV and we watched the coverage. President Reagan was scheduled to deliver the State of the Union that evening, but instead he gave a speech from the Oval Office about the six astronauts and Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire school teacher who was scheduled to teach video lessons from aboard the Challenger.

The Space Shuttle program was suspended for two and a half years. By time the next launch occurred in September 1988, I was in the seventh grade at Arabi Park Middle, less than a year from leaving for Brother Martin. When I heard the news of the Space Shuttle Columbia’s disintegration as it attempted to re-enter earth’s atmosphere in February 2003, it came as far less of a shock, given what I remembered about the Challenger.

The Challenger’s 1986 mission was barely mentioned by the networks and CNN–Fox News was more than 10 years away–until the night before the launch.

The big news of the weekend, and the week before, were the seemingly invincible Chicago Bears, who won Super Bowl XX less than 48 hours before the Challenger explosion.

The 1985 Bears won their first 12 games before losing in Miami to the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. After beating the Colts, Jets and Lions to close the regular season 15-1, Chicago shut out the Giants 21-0 and the Rams 24-0 to reach the Super Bowl for the first time.

Nobody gave the AFC champion New England Patriots any chance against the Bears. The Patriots were much improved from the team which lost 20-7 in Chicago in week two, and even though New England won road playoff games against the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins to get to the Super Bowl, the Patriots largely capitalized on opponents’ turnovers. New England recovered fumbled kickoffs for touchdowns vs. the Jets and Raiders, and the Dolphins turned it over six times.

The Patriots were largely an afterthought once the teams arrived in New Orleans. Most of the focus was on the Bears, specifically quarterback Jim McMahon, who was receiving treatment an acupuncturist to treat a strained muscle in his rear end. McMahon mooned a helicopter which was trying to spy on the Bears’ closed practice at the Saints’ facility.

McMahon was also at the center of a fabricated controversy.

The Thursday before the game, Buddy Diliberto, the sports director at WDSU, the NBC affiliate which would televise the Super Bowl throughout southeastern Louisiana, claimed McMahon had called New Orleans women “sluts”. It turned out the whole report was false, and Diliberto was suspended.

New England started the Super Bowl well enough, recovering a Walter Payton fumble on the game’s first play at the Chicago 19-yard line.

Then it all went south.

On the Patriots’ first offensive play, Tony Eason had tight end Lin Dawson wide open in the end zone. Eason’s pass was on target, but Dawson’s left knee gave way when his shoes got stuck in the Superdome’s notoriously hard artificial turf. Dawson had torn both his anterior cruciate and posterior cruciate ligaments.

On the third play, the Patriots’ star receiver, Stanley Morgan, was open on a post pattern, but Eason’s pass was batted away at the last second by Mike Singletary. New England settled for a Tony Franklin field goal.

That was the high point of Super Bowl XX for the Patriots.

By the end of the first quarter, the Bears were up 13-3. At halftime, the Patriots not only trailed 23-3, they had netted minus-19 yards of offense.

I said MINUS-19 yards. Holy crap.

Eason, who was drafted 15th overall by the Patriots in 1983 (instead of Dan Marino) was pulled in the second half for veteran Steve Grogan. The Kansas State alum fared no better, even though he led New England’s lone  touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against Chicago’s reserves, which included a rookie linebacker from California named Ron Rivera.  Yes, that is the same Ron Rivera who will be coaching the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

New England finished with a Super Bowl record low 7 net yards rushing. Their 123 total yards were six more than the record low the Vikings recorded in Super Bowl IX vs. the Steelers at Tulane Stadium 11 years prior.

Final score: Bears 46, Patriots 10.

The 1985 Bears may be the best one-season team in NFL history. They do not deserve any more credit than that, simply because the second Super Bowl championship didn’t come in 1986, 1987 or 1988, and it still hasn’t come as the 2016 season is now a little more than seven months away.

McMahon was relatively healthy in 1985, the biggest reason why the Bears were able to win and win big. From 1975 through 1984, Walter Payton had performed heroically while playing behind one of the worst collection of quarterbacks any team could ever hope to assemble in a 10-year period. Other than McMahon, some of the quarterbacks who handed the ball to Payton included Bobby Douglass, Gary Huff, Bob Avellini, Vince Evans, Greg Landry, Steve Fuller and Mike Tomczak. Not exactly a Pro Bowl lineup. Landry was the best of the bunch, but that was in the early 1970s when he was with Detroit. By time he got to Chicago, he was decrepit, having taken savage beatings with the terrible Colts teams of the early 1980s and in the USFL.

McMahon got hurt often in 1986, and even though the Bears went 14-2, they were a one-dimensional offense which had to rely on the defense to keep the score down. The defense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain in the playoffs, and the Redskins won in Chicago 27-13. Washington won again in Chicago in 1987, and in 1988, the Bears were routed at home in the NFC championship game by the 49ers, even though it was 17 degrees with a wind chill of minus-17 at kickoff.

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Super Bowl XXX, the last time the Cowboys reigned as champions. Dallas was heavily favored against Pittsburgh, and it appeared the Cowboys would make it easy, leading 20-7 early in the second half. However, the Steelers rallied to within 20-17 and had the ball in the fourth quarter with the chance to tie or take the lead, but Neil O’Donnell threw the interception which clinched the game for the Cowboys. Larry Brown returned the pick to the Steelers’ 3, and Emmitt Smith cashed it in from there. Dallas won 27-17, but unlike its routs of Buffalo earlier in the decade, it had to earn this championship.

The only Super Bowl played on January 29 sucked. 49ers 49, Chargers 26. I’ll leave it at that.

Sean Landeta strikes out

It has not been a good time for the New York Giants and their legions of fans.

The Giants completed their third consecutive losing season Sunday with a 35-30 loss to the Eagles at home, leaving Big Blue 6-10 and losses in four of their final five games. Prior to this season, the G-Men had not experienced three consecutive losing seasons since having EIGHT consecutive losing seasons from 1973 through 1980.

Yesterday, Tom Coughlin, who led the Giants to victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, resigned after 12 seasons. He was the only professional coach Eli Manning had known. Coughlin, who was an assistant to Bill Parcells when the Giants won Super Bowl XXV,

Today is the 30th anniversary of one of the Giants’ lesser moments. It wasn’t funny when it happened, but given what has gone wrong for the franchise recently, it probably would evoke a hearty laugh.

On January 5, 1986, the Giants found themselves as heavy underdogs in an NFC Divisional Playoff game for the second consecutive year.

Their opponent that Sunday would be the mighty Chicago Bears, who had captured the imagination of millions of professional football fans, and millions more who could have cared less about football, throughout a dominating 1985 season.

Save for a 38-24 loss to the Dolphins in week 13 on Monday Night Football, the Bears obliterated everyone in their path en route to a 15-1 regular season.

Even though it wasn’t their largest margin of victory in 1985, the Bears impressed me the most 12 days after the loss in Miami, traveling to New jersey and completely throttling the playoff bound Jets 19-6.  New York’s AFC team had no hope of establishing a running game, despite having perennial Pro Bowl running back Freeman McNeil, and no chance to pass, even though Ken O’Brien had quickly matured into a fine pro quarterback. The Bears weren’t world beaters on offense, but  All-Pro defensive linemen Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau, half of the famed “New York Sack Exchange”, never got close to McMahon, thanks to solid protection from Jimbo Covert, Jay Hilgenberg and the rest of the offensive line.

In a week eight victory over the Packers, also on Monday Night, the Bears inserted rookie defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry on offense in goal-line situations at fullback, ostensibly to be a lead blocker from Walter Payton, who set the NFL’s career rushing yardage mark in October 1984.

Instead, Perry took a handoff from McMahon in the fourth quarter vs. Green Bay and scored the final touchdown in the Bears’ 23-7 victory. Perry caught a TD pass from McMahon when the Bears traveled to Green Bay two weeks later.

In 1984, the Giants defeated the Rams in the NFC Wild Card game, then had to go to San Francisco to face the 49ers, who completed the first 15-1 season in NFL history. Only a three-point loss to the Steelers in week seven prevented Bill Walsh’s team from a perfect regular season. New York played hard and pushed the 49ers much more than either the Bears or Dolphins were in the later playoff rounds, but San Francisco won 21-10.

Bill Parcells’ team was given even LESS chance to beat the Bears, even though the Giant defense came to Chicago on the heels of a strong defensive performance in a 17-3 victory over the 49ers in the Wild Card game.

The Los Angeles Rams watched the Giants-Bears game with great anticipation. Following their 20-0 conquest of Dallas the previous day, the Rams would face the Giants or Bears in the NFC Championship game. Of course, the Rams wanted the Giants to win, not only because the Bears had been next to invincible in ’85, but if the Giants won, Parcells would have to take his team across the country to Anaheim for a date with Eric Dickerson, who shredded the Cowboys for 248 yards, an NFL playoff record which still stands.

It didn’t take long to become apparent that John Robinson and his troops would soon be packing their long johns for the trip to the shores of Lake Michigan.

To nobody’s surprise, it was cold and very windy in Chicago on January 5, 1986. The temperature of 19 degrees (minus-7 Celsius) wasn’t that extreme, but a strong wind was gusting off Lake Michigan, extremely problematic at Soldier Field, which sits right on the lake, unlike Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, the baseball stadia in the Windy City, which are a little further inland.

With the game scoreless and just under six minutes left in the first quarter, the Giants were forced to punt after their second drive went nowhere. Parcells hoped Sean Landeta, one of the best punters in the NFL, could “flip the field” and allow the defense, led by Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, to stop Payton, McMahon and the Bears and get the ball back in better field position.

Taylor, Carson and the rest of the defense would be on the sidelines for a little bit longer.

The snap to Landeta was perfect, but as the punter dropped the ball towards his foot, a gust of wind caught the ball and blew it right.

Moments later, Sean Landeta became the NFL’s first victim of a swinging strikeout.

He missed the ball completely.

The brown oblate spheroid rolled free at the Giants’ 5-yard line, where Bears safety Shaun Gayle swooped in. He sauntered into the end zone to send Solider Field into a frenzy.

It was only 7-0, but it might as well have been 70-0 as far as the Giants were concerned.

The Giants would muster a meager 181 yards. The Bears won 21-0, and three weeks later, they completed their destiny in New Orleans by mauling the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

Landeta didn’t have to live with the infamy very long. The Giants came back the next season to win Super Bowl XXI, and he would still be with the team when they won Super Bowl XXV following the 1990 season.

The Bears’ dynasty never was. They didn’t get back to the Super Bowl until 2006, when they lost to the Colts and Peyton Manning.

Landeta wasn’t the first punter to blame the wind for a mishap.

In the 1962 NFL championship game, the Packers’ Max McGee had a punt blocked in the end zone by the Giants’ Erich Barnes. Jim Collier recovered in the end zone for New York’s only touchdown in a 16-7 loss at Yankee Stadium.

 

McGee contended for the rest of his life the strong winds gusting in The Bronx forced him to drop the ball differently than normal, which allowed Barnes to block the punt.

A few months after the game, McGee feared NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would use the blocked punt against him as he investigated teammate Paul Hornung, McGee’s best friend on the Packers, and Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras, for gambling. Hornung and Karras were each suspended for the 1963 season, but McGee never was charged.