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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”.

 

NFL playoff redux

There are two NFL playoff games taking place today. Right now, the Bengals are battling the Colts in Indianapolis. At 3:35, the Cowboys will host the Lions in Arlington.

This is not the first time the same four teams have gotten together on the same day for an NFL playoff twinbill.

It happened December 26, 1970, the first day of playoff games for the first season following the AFL-NFL merger. The Bengals, champions of the AFC Central, visited the Baltimore Colts, champions of the AFC East; and the Lions, the wild card from the NFC, went to Dallas to take on the NFC East champion Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl.

In 1970, the NFL playoffs featured eight teams, four in each conference. The three division winners–East, Central and Wes–were joined by the second place team with the best record. This format remained unchanged through 1977.

The NFL used a four-team tournament to determine its representative to the Super Bowl in the final three seasons prior to the merger. The difference was there were four divisions, the Capital and Century in the Eastern conference, ad the Central and Coastal in the Western conference.

The Colts were in the NFL–in the Western conference, no less–prior to the merger. Owner Carroll Rosenbloom agreed to a $3 million payment from the NFL to change conferences. Cleveland owner Art Modell and Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney also agreed to move from the NFL to the AFC. Many felt the Saints and Falcons, the two newest teams in the NFL prior to the merger, should have been forced to move, with a third team drawn by lot if no franchise agreed.

One big difference between the playoff tournament of 1970 and today, other than the number of teams, is the fact that home field advantage did not go to the team with the best recod in each conference. The host teams were determined by a rotation set by the NFL office. The only constant was the wild card team could never host a playof game.

Another rule was teams from the same division could not meet in the divisional (conference semifinal) round. That rule stayed in effect through the 1989 playoffs.

The 1970 Bengals began their season, their third in professional football, by defeating the Raiders on opening day, but then losing their next six. They were routed 38-3 at Detroit, and lost a 30-27 cliffhanger at Clevleand in which Cincinnati led 10-0 in the first quarter but then fell behind 30-20 with less than seven minutes to play before a late rally came up short.

But the Bengals were not out of it at 1-6. Far from it.

Cincinnati had the good fortune of playing in a weak AFC Central in 1970. To wit:

–The Oilers had been no better than mediocre for many years, and they lost starting quarterback Charley Johnson to a broken collarbone in week five. The defense had bona fide stars in future Pro Football Hall of Famers Ken Houston and Elvin Bethea, and a consistent All-Pro in George Webster, but Houston’s offense was anemic without Johnson.
–The Steelers were rapidly improving under second year coach Chuck Noll and had enjoyed two spetacularly successful drafts in 1969 and 1970, taking future stars Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Terry Bradshaw. However, building a championship caliber team took much longer in the NFL before free agency came about in 1993. The Steelers would become one of the great dynasties of professional sports, but not in 1970.
–The Browns won three consecutive Century division championships, and still had many key players from their 1964 NFL championship teams. LIke Houston, quarterback was a problem, since veteran Bill Nelsen was more crippled than Joe Namath, and rookie Mike Phipps was nowhere near as good as Purdue predecessors Len Dawson and Bob Griese. The Browns also were aging rapidly on defense, and opposing quarterbacks picked on safety Erich Barnes, a perennial All-Pro in his earlier years, but now well past his prime.

The Bengals took advantage of this less than impressive trio, winning their final seven games to overtake Cleveland for the division championship on the final day of the regular season. It didn’t hurt that Cincinnati got to play 2-11-1 New Orleans and 2-12 Boston late in the season.

The Colts were an impressive 11-2-1, bouncing back emphatically after a disappointing 8-5-1 slate in 1969. Baltimore was under new leadership, as Don McCafferty succeeded Don Shula after Shula walked out on Rosenbloom and took the Dolphins’ vacant coaching position. Johnny Unitas wasn’t always healthy, but Earl Morrall was by far the best backup in the league, and the Colts never missed a beat. Baltimore’s defense was second to none, led by All-Pros Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis and Rick Volk, with assistance from Fred Miller, Billy Ray Smith and Jerry Logan.

The Lions went 10-4 to finish second to the 12-2 Vikings in the NFC Central. Detroit’s arsenal included an excellent scrambling quarterback in Greg Landry, the game’s premier tight end in Charlie Sanders, and two fleet receivers in Earl McCulloch and Larry Walton. Detroit’s defense featured the game’s best secondary, headlined by future Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Dick LeBeau.

Dallas was all but written off after losing 38-0 at home to the Cardinals on Monday Night Football, which was in its inaugural season on ABC. Following the loss to the “other” St. Louis Cardinals, the Cowboys were 5-4, three games behind the 7-2 Cards, but St. Louis held the tiebreaker with the season sweep. Also, the Giants were ahead of the Cowboys at 6-3.

The Cardinals could not sustain their success. They went 1-3-1 down the stretch, losing to the Lions, Giants and Redskins in December.

In the Monday Night Football game following the Cowboys’ collapse, the Giants went to Philadelphia and gagged against the 1-7-1 Eagles. New York also lost earlier in the season to the pitiful Saints, and those losses would end up costing the Giants dearly.

Following the debacle in the Cotton Bowl, Dallas turned it around. Coach Tom Landry simplified the Cowboys’ famously complex offense, leaning heavily on a three-headed running back monster of Walt Garrison, Calvin Hill and rookie Duane Thomas.

The Cowboys won their last five games, albeit four of the five came against sub-.500 teams, two over a Redskins squad whose season was short-circuited when Vince Lombardi died of colon cancer 17 days before the season kicked off.

Dallas won the NFC East on the season’s final Sunday by obliterating the Oilers 52-10. The Lions won the wild card by shutting out the Packers 20-0. The Giants’ playoff hopes died with a 31-3 loss to the Rams at Yankee Stadium. The Rams had a chance to win the NFC West by routing the Giants, but the 49ers took the crown by crushing the Raiders 38-7 in a muddy bog at Oakland.

Had New York won, it would have won the NFC East, and the wild card would have come down to a coin toss between Dallas and Detroit. No doubt a few NFL executives were relieved professionally (most were Giants fans and undoubtedly wanted their team in the playoffs) the coin toss didn’t come to pass.

The Bengals were new to the playoff scene. The Colts lost Super Bowl III and also had veterans of the 1964 NFL Championship game loss to the Browns. In Unitas’ case, he was the starting quarterback n Baltimore’s 1958 and 1959 NFL championship teams, as the Colts beat the Giants in the final both years.

The final at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, aka the Baltimore Dust Bowl, was not surprising: Colts 17, Bengals 0. The Colts were one-third of the way to erasing some, if not all, of the pain from their Super Bowl III loss to the Jets, guaranteed by Broadway Joe Namath.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the Cowboys and Lions engaged n a game which either was (a) a classic defensive struggle or (b) the worst offensive matchup in the history of playoff football. Those in Dallas and Detroit definitely chose the former. People in Minnesota were inclined to chose the latter.

In what became the first, and to date only, professional football game to be played without either team scoring a touchdown, the Cowboys defeated the Tigers, er, Lions 5-0.

Strangely enough, Dallas was just two weeks removed from another game which ended with a baseball tally, as the Cowboys won in Cleveland 6-2.

NFL almost back

The start of the 2014 NFL season is less than 24 hours away. By this time tomorrow night, the KIckoff Game between the Packers and Seahawks should be finished or very close to it.

I have not been to an NFL game since November 14, 2004. It was the Chiefs and the Saints in the Superdome. Kansas City rolled up 497 yards, including 186 rushing on 33 carries by backup running back Derrick Blaylock, but the Chiefs’ defense kept letting the Saints march down the field, and with 5;28 to go, ex-Chief Joe Horn caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Broks which put New Orleans up 27-20. The Chiefs drove deep into Saints territory in an attempt to tie the game, but they turned it over. Once that happened, my dad and I left and beat the traffic out of the Superdome parking garage.

Eight days after the game, I was in a hospital in Chalmette, fighting for my life due to pneumonia and a collapsed lung. That’s another story for another day.

My dad’s company, Air Products and Chemicals, had a great set of four tickets on the 50-yard line on the east visitor’s) side of the Superdome in the Club Level. The tickets at that time cost $130 to $!50 per game; today, they’re $400 an outing. Not only were the seats awesome, but they came with full access to a club lounge where there was an expanded food collection, and those who wished to imbibe could purchase just about any cocktail imaginable. The concession selections were also much more extensive than the other levels.

My dad and I had the four tickets for the Saints-Lions game scheduled for Christmas Eve 2005, but of course, Hurricane Katrina happened, and

We did go to a Saints-Lions game on September 3, 2000, the last time the NFL opened its regular season on Labor Day weekend. The game itself was not memorable, as the Lions won a 14-10 snoozer. The lone highlight was a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter by Detroit’s Desmond Howard. Howard was used to big games in the Superdome; he earned Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors in Super Bowl XXXI with the Packers, when Green Bay beat New England 35-21 in the BIg Easy.

It was my second consecutive day of watching football in the Superdome; the day before, I watched two high school games between four of Louisiana’s top programs. West Monroe easily beat John Curtis 25-7 in the first, but in the second, Archbishop Shaw defeated Evangel Christian of Shreveport 22-19, ending Evangel’s 60-game, four-year winning streak. Evangel’s players, coaches and fans were so stunned they didn’t know how to react to a loss. The Shaw player who blocked Evangel’s game winning field goal attempt as time expired, Cameron Vaughn, was a starting linebacker for LSU when it won the 2003 BCS national championship vs. Oklahoma in the same building.

I was bad luck to the Saints in 2000. I went to games later that season vs. the Raiders and Broncos some of my friends from Baton Rouge, and New Orleans lost both. In the Denver game, Mike Anderson rushed for a Broncos record 251 yards in a 38-23 victory.

My dad and brother got to go to the playoff game vs. the Rams, which the Saints won 31-28.