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On this date: Cowboys are finally “this year’s team”

Greetings from Columbia, a place I haven’t passed through in 18 months and haven’t stayed in 27 months.
I’m at the Springhill Suites, the hotel I lodged at when I was in Columbia in October 2020 for Missouri’s football game vs. LSU, one which wasn’t supposed to be played at all in 2020, and certainly not at Faurot Field.
In a nutshell, LSU and Missouri were paired when the Southeastern Conference scrapped all non-conference football games in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make up the lost games, the SEC added two conference games per team. Not all would be played.
Missouri was originally scheduled to make the trip to Baton Rouge, but the approach of Hurricane Delta to the Louisiana coast prompted SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey to move the game to CoMo 72 hours before the scheduled kickoff.
Mizzou won 45-41. This October, LSU is scheduled to make its return, a game which has been on both teams’ dockets since 2014.
I’m not staying in Columbia. By noon tomorrow, it’s eastbound and down to St. Louis, a place I have not been in far too long.

Saturday was the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl VII, where the Dolphins completed their 17-0 season by defeating the Washington REDSKINS. The final was 14-7, but the game was never that close; the only reason the REDSKINS got on the board was because Garo Yepremian didn’t have the sense to fall on the ball after recovering a blocked field goal attempt.
Instead, Yepremian batted the pigskin in the air like a volleyball, and REDSKIN safety Mike Bass–a teammate of Yepremian’s during Garo’s brief time with the Lions–returned it 49 yards for a touchdown.
Miami probably wanted to play Dallas, which lost the NFC championship game to Washington, after the Cowboys emasculated the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. Instead, Don Shula’s club got to face the original paranoid coach himself, George Herbert Allen.
I don’t have enough space right now for all the bad things I have to say about George Herbert Allen. I wasn’t old enough to remember him coaching the REDSKINS (1971-77) and certainly not the Rams (1966-70), but from all I’ve seen on NFL Network, he was the blueprint for Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and every other coach who would be a perfect employee for the CIA.

Today is the 51st anniversary of Super Bowl VI, when the Cowboys, derisively called “Next Year’s Team” after playoff losses in each of the previous five seasons, destroyed the Dolphins in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. The final was 24-3, but it easily could have been 54-3.
Dallas began the 1971 season 4-3, including a loss to the Saints on the very same field. Following New Orleans’ 24-14 victory that October day, few could have believed the Cowboys would be back three months later.
Tom Landry finally saw the light after a 23-19 loss to the Bears at Solider Field which saw the Cowboys alternate quarterbacks Craig Morton and Roger Staubach on nearly every play.
A few days before going to St. Louis and facing a Cardinal team which defeated Dallas 20-7 and 38-0 the previous season, Landry named Staubach as his starter.
The Cardinals were in the midst of the first of three consecutive 4-9-1 seasons, but they gave Dallas all they could handle before a late field goal by Toni Fritsch pulled it out for the Cowboys 16-13.
Dallas’ Super Bowl express was revved up, and it gained steam by winning its next six games to close the regular season, followed by impressive wins over the Vikings and 49ers in the playoffs.
Yes, the Cowboys needed to defeat the Dolphins to officially win Super Bowl VI.
In reality, Dallas clinched the championship as its plane returning from the Christmas Day playoff at Minnesota was somewhere over Oklahoma.

At approximately 1835 that evening, the only team with a realistic chance of defeating the Cowboys, the Chiefs, were shocked 27-24 by the Dolphins in the longest game in professional football history, lasting 82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time.
Ironically, the Dolphins-Chiefs game of 1971 was SHORTER than the Dolphins’ loss to the Bills yesterday which ended in regulation. By 20 minutes.
The Chiefs, who went from Super Bowl IV champion in 1969 to 7-5-2 in 1970, bounced back nicely in 1971 despite an opening day loss to the Chargers. Their season gained momentum when they rallied from a 17-6 halftime deficit to defeat the 5-0 REDSKINS, and overcame November losses to the Jets and Lions to defeat the 49ers in San Francisco on Monday Night Football, followed by a scintillating 16-14 victory over the Raiders at Kansas City to win the AFC West and keep Oakland out of the playoffs for the only time between 1967 and 1977.

After the Chiefs lost, there was no way the Cowboys would lose to any of the five remaining teams.
They hammered the REDSKINS in Washington in November, and if Washington won at San Francisco, the NFC championship would be in the Cowboys’ new palace in Irving. The 49ers had a strong defense, but their offense was inconsistent, not to mention San Francisco spit the bit in the 1970 NFC championship game, losing 17-10 to Dallas in the last game in Kezar Stadium.
In the AFC, the Dolphins had a premier passer in Bob Griese, premier runners in Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, and a suffocating defense led by Nick Buoniconti, Manny Fernandez and Dick Anderson. However, Miami lacked big game experience.
The Colts defeated the Cowboys in Super Bowl V, but Johnny Unitas (and backup Earl Morrall) were not getting younger. Also, there’s no telling what kind of revenge Dallas would have in store for Baltimore if there was a rematch.
Cleveland? Yes, Leroy Kelly, Bill Nelsen and many of the others who contributed to humiliating Cowboy defeats in the 1968 and ’69 NFL Eastern Conference championship games were still around. But Paul Warfield was in Miami. Not only that, but the Browns had an untested coach, Nick Skorich, and a lineup which was either too young (Jack Gregory, Doug Dieken, Clarence Scott) or too old (Kelly, Nelsen, Erich Barnes).

San Francisco got a second chance at Dallas with the Super Bowl on the line, defeating Allen’s REDSKINS 24-20 at under-construction Candlestick Park. The Colts won the rubber match of their three-game playoff series in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (aka The Mistake by the Lake) by leaving the Browns stuck in the mud in a 20-3 win.
In their first playoff game in Irving, the Cowboys put the 49ers on ice early in the second quarter when defensive end George Andrie inserted himself between John Brodie and Ken Willard on a screen pass at the San Francisco 7-yard line. Andrie intercepted, and two plays later, Calvin Hill scored to make it 7-0.
Game over.
San Francisco only mustered a field goal against Doomsday, and Duane Thomas swept into the end zone in the fourth period to finalize the score at 14-3.
In the Orange Bowl, Griese’s 75-yard bomb to Warfield in the first quarter was a body blow to the Colts’ hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champion.
In the third, Anderson’s 62-yard interception return was the death knell for the Colts, who did not play for another AFC championship until 1995, and did not return to the Super Bowl until 2006.
Miami’s 21-0 win was sweet for the Dolphins and their fans, but they would have been better off not getting on the plane to New Orleans.

In the 28 years between Super Bowl VI and his death at age 75, Tom Landry said time and again he never saw the Cowboys more confident of victory than they were the week in New Orleans. Landry and his staff were also loose and relaxed. They knew they had the better team, and it would take Miami playing a near-flawless and game and Dallas playing a C-minus game for the Dolphins to have a shot.
Instead, Dallas played the near-flawless game. Miami played something much less.
Larry Csonka’s fumble on Miami’s second drive was an omen. Dallas fell just short of the end zone, but the time-consuming drive which ended in Mike Clark’s 9-yard field goal (the goalposts were on the goal line until 1974) was the blueprint the Cowboys would use to bludgeon Buoniconti and his mates, who were gifted the “No-Name” sobriquet by Landry the week leading up to the game.
With just over a minute remaining before halftime, Staubach fired a bullet to Lance Alworth, the Chargers legend who was deemed expendable by Sid Gillman only a few months prior. Alworth hauled in the pass just inside the flag and in front of Dolphins cornerback Curtis Johnson for the touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Miami drove downfield to a 31-yard field goal by Yepremian following Alworth’s TD, but all it did was allow the Dolphins to avoid being shut out.
Dallas came out in the second half and made Miami look silly, driving 71 yards on eight plays to a 3-yard sweep around left end by Thomas for the touchdown which put the game away once and for all.
Even though it was 17-3 at that point still more than a quarter and a half remained, the Dolphins knew they were doomed.
Chuck Howley, the veteran Cowboy linebacker who became the first–and to date, only–player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player the previous year in Miami, added an exclamation point early in the fourth quarter by stepping in front of Kiick on a screen pass and returning it 41 yards to the Dolphins’ 9.
Staubach threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Mike Ditka three plays later.
Ditka nearly scored on a tight end reverse just prior to the two-minute warning. When Hill attempted to go up and over for another touchdown, the ball was popped loose, and Fernandez recovered. Mercifully, the clock soon ran out.

Most Dolphins ignored Landry’s gadget play near the end, but one did not.
Mercury Morris, the speedy running back who had yet to escape Shula’s doghouse due to injury and lackadaisical effort, blasted Ditka’s run as “bush league”.
It should be noted in 1971, the victory formation was still years away. Sure, most teams ran simple plays when trying to kill the clock and protect a lead, but the concept of the quarterback kneeling immediately after taking the snap did not come into vogue until the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” in 1978.
Morris also harshly criticized Shula in the locker room at Tulane Stadium for not using him during the game. The next morning, Shula ordered Morris to meet him in his hotel suite so the two could clear the air.
That meeting was part of the foundation for the undefeated season, as Morris beat out Kiick for the starting position next to Csonka in the Dolphin backfield in 1972. Morris’ speed and Csonka’s power have rarely been matched in an NFL backfield since.

I watched the first three plays of the Cowboys-Buccaneers playoff game. Dallas went three-and-out. The announcers are kissing Tom Brady’s ass so much that all the Chapstick in the world won’t help them. GOAT this, GOAT that, GOAT this, GOAT that.
Yes, Brady has won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback. That is a fact which cannot be refuted.
The greatest of all-time? If the rules giving the offense every advantage had been in place when Unitas played, Landry and other defensive-minded coaches would have been out of jobs. Conversely, if Brady played under the rules Unitas did, the whiny baby would have no tears left because he would have cried them all out after two seasons.
I dread another Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl. San Francisco and Buffalo, it’s up to YOU to prevent this.

The Jets’ one shining moment, 54 years later

Fifty-four years ago tonight, Joe Namath became a sports legend, if he already wasn’t one.
Three days before Namath’s New York Jets were to play the mighty Baltimore Colts in third AFL-NFL World Championship Game–more commonly known as Super Bowl III–the Jets quarterback predicted his American Football League champions would knock off the mighty National Football League champion Colts.
The bold prediction drew scorn from media outlets from coast-to-coast. Since the Internet nor cable television existed in 1969 (okay, cable did exist, but only in about .00001% of the United States, all in rural areas where an antenna could not pull in a signal), unless you were in the room when Namath made his prediction, you would have to wait until the next morning to read about it in your local newspaper.

Namath’s Jets won the AFL’s Eastern Conference, by far the weaker of the two conferences, by a large margin in 1968. Meanwhile, the league’s two best teams, the Raiders and Chiefs, were locked in a battle to the death in the West.
Kansas City defeated Oakland 24-10 in October, as Hank Stram compensated for injuries to his top three wide receivers by running the Straight-T formation. Len Dawson threw just three passes, while Kansas City ran it 60 times and piled up almost 300 yards rushing.
(My father and a friend drove 15 hours from New Orleans to Kansas City to watch the game at the old Municipal Stadium., nearly all of it on the two-lane US 71.)
Later in the season, the Raiders defeated the Chiefs 38-21 at Oakland. When the teams completed their respective regular seasons 12-2, a one-game playoff was mandated to determine who would face the Jets in New York on the last Sunday of 1968.
Oakland won the coin toss to hold home field advantage, and for Kansas City fans, it was best they didn’t have to witness this up close.
The Raiders, seek a return to the Super Bowl after losing to Vince Lombardi’s Packers a year earlier, routed the Chiefs, the AFL’s first Super Bowl participant, 41-6.
Hype for the AFL championship was through the roof, thanks to the game the Jets and the Raiders played on 17 November.
That was the infamous “Heidi Game” in which Oakland scored two touchdowns in the game’s final 65 seconds to turn a 32-29 deficit into a 43-32 victory. If you were anywhere east of the Colorado state line, you didn’t see the ending, because NBC cut to the movie Heidi at 1900 Eastern/1800 Central.
The game lived up to the hype and then some, with the Jets prevailing 27-23.

The 1968 Colts, led by the monomaniacal and militaristic Don Shula, destroyed most of the opponents on their NFL schedule. They won all but one of their 14 regular season games, and after defeating the Vikings in the Western Conference playoff, Baltimore went to Cleveland and battered the Browns 34-0, avenging a 30-20 regular season loss.
Even with the greatest quarterback of all-time, John Constantine Unitas, sidelined most of the season due to a severely injured elbow, the Colts offense didn’t miss a beat, thanks to Earl Morrall.
Morrall was acquired off waivers from the Giants, where he spent 1967 stuck behind Fran Tarkenton. All Morrall did was earn the NFL’s Most Valuable Player honor.
Baltimore’s defense was one of the best in NFL history to that point, allowing only 144 points over 14 games. Unlike the Colt teams of the late 1950s which featured Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, this Colt defense did not have any future enshrinees in Canton, but still featured All-Pro caliber players like end Bubba Smith, linebacker Mike “Mad Dog” Curtis and defensive backs Bobby Boyd and Lenny Lyles.

Feeling the 1968 Colts were better than the Packer teams which played in each of the first two Super Bowls (but not as good as the 1962 Packers, which were far and away Lombardi’s best), and that the Jets’ defense was a notch below those of the Chiefs and Raiders, bettors in Las Vegas installed Baltimore as 18-point favorites.
The Jets not only had Namath, they also had a huge advantage on the sideline.
Weeb Ewbank was the man who coached the Colts to back-to-back NFL championships in 1958 and ’59, with Baltimore besting the star-studded New York Giants each time. Ewbank developed Unitas into the greatest quarterback to play the game (an opinion I will not change; screw you, Tom Brady), surrounded by Hall of Famers like Lenny Moore at running back, Raymond Berry at receiver and Jim Parker at tackle. Donovan, Marchetti, Boyd and Lyles were the stalwarts of a rock-ribbed defense which also featured two players who would end up starting in Super Bowl III, end Ordell Braase and linebacker Don Shinnick.

The first quarter saw the Colts control play, but come away empty-handed after Lou Michaels (brother of future Jets coach Walt) blow a 25-yard field goal. Baltimore got another chance on the final play of the opening period when Lyles popped the ball loose from George Sauer and Ron Porter recovered at the New York 22.
Then came the turning point.
On the second play of the second quarter, Morrall spotted reserve tight end Tom Mitchell open in the middle of the end zone. The ball popped off of Mitchell’s left shoulder and into the hands of Jets safety Randy Beverley.
Following the touchback, the Jets drove 80 yards on 12 plays, with Matt Snell scoring the touchdown on a 4-yard sweep around left end. Jim Turner’s extra point made it 7-0, the first time the AFL led in a Super Bowl.
Morrall threw two more interceptions in the second quarter, one to former Colt Johnny Sample, and another to Jim Hudson when he failed to spot Jimmy Orr all alone in the back left corner of the end zone on a flea-flicker.

With the Colts trailing 13-0 and Morrall failing to spark the offense, Shula finally brought in Unitas late in the third quarter.
Before Johnny U could get anything going, Namath hit Sauer from 39 yards out to move the ball to the Colts’ 2. A touchdown here would have put the game out of reach, but to their credit, Baltimore’s defense held New York to a short field goal by Turner, his third of the day.
Down 16-0, Unitas drove into Jets territory, only to be intercepted by Beverley. Turner missed a 42-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, but the possession achieved its goal by burning precious time off the clock.
The Colts finally broke the ice on a 1-yard run by Jerry Hill, but only 3:19 remained, and Baltimore still needed two scores (the 2-point conversion was used in the AFL before the merger, but not in a Super Bowl until January 1995) to win.
The Colts recovered an onside kick, but had to turn it over on downs.

Not long thereafter, the gun sounded. Jets 16, Colts 7. Namath ran off the Orange Bowl field waving his right index finger in the air.
The Jets have not been back to the Super Bowl since. They have played in only four AFC championship games (1982, ’98, 2009, 2010) since, all on the road. They have not been to the playoffs since losing the 2010 AFC final to the Steelers, the NFL’s longest active drought.
Joseph William Namath remains the Jets’ best quarterback. Only the Bears, where it has been Sid Luckman and a whole bunch of nothing for 70 years, has had it worst at one of the most important positions in professional sports.

I seriously need better things to write about if this was the best I could do.

Buffalo stampedes ahead

The Buffalo Bills will be among the last eight NFL teams left following their 27-24 victory over the Colts today in western New York to open the NFL playoffs.
It’s the Bills’ first playoff victory since 30 December 1995, when they defeated the Dolphins 37-22 at home.
Chiefs fans were ardently rooting for the Colts, who would have come to Kansas City had they won. Instead, either the Ravens-Titans winner or the Browns (if they defeat the Steelers) are coming to Arrowhead. The Bills will host either the Ravens-Titans winner or the Steelers.

Just how long ago was the 1995 NFL season?
Buffalo’s coach was Marv Levy, who led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-93 (all losses), but was on the downside of his coaching career, which ended after the 1997 season. Still, getting any team to four consecutive Super Bowls, especially one as downtrodden as the Bills were prior to his arrival during the 1986 season, is worthy of his bust in Canton.
How bad were the Bills before Levy?
Between 1966, the year after Buffalo won its second conseuctive AFL championship, and 1985, the Bills played in five playoff games, winning one, the 1981 AFC wild card vs. the Jets.
The Bills went 1-13 in 1968 and again in 1971, 2-12 in 1977, and 2-14 in 1984 and ‘85.
I’ll never forget the 1984 Bills started 0-11, then somehow beat the Cowboys 14-3 at home. I watched the game with my brother at my maternal grandmother’s shotgun home in the Algiers section of New Orleans, and couldn’t believe it when Greg Bell ran 85 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. By time we got home, the Bills sealed what likely was the Cowboys’ most embarrassing loss in franchise history at that time.

Miami’s coach the penultimate day of 1995? Donald Francis Shula.
Shula, who passed away last May at 90, coached his final game that day, ending a 33-year career which began with seven seasons in Baltimore and continued with 26 more in Miami. Shula coached Johnny Unitas at the beginning of his career and Dan Marino in the end, with Earl Morrall, Bob Griese, Don Strock and David Woodley in between.
The Dolphins needed to defeat the Rams in St. Louis on the final day of the regular season to qualify. It was Shula’s 347th and final win. Hopefully, his record for coaching is not broken by the jerk in New England.

Some of the rookies who debuted in 1995: Hall of Famers Curtis Martin, Terrell Davis, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks; Tony Boselli, who would have been in the Hall of Fame if not for injuries; servicable quarterback Kerry Collins; workout warrior Mike Mamula; and lesser lights Blake Brockermeier, Dave Wohlabaugh, Brendan Stai and Tyrone Poole.
Levy and Shula were not the only long-tenured coaches. Jim E. Mora was in his 10th season with the Saints. Marty Schottenheimer was in his seventh with the Chiefs. Ted Marchibroda was in the fourth season of his second tenure with the Colts. Bill Cowher (Steelers) and Mike Holmgren (Packers) were each in the fourth season. BIll Parcells was in his third with the Patriots, and Dan Reeves his third with the Giants.
Buddy Ryan was coaching his second, and last, season in Arizona. He was fired 12 hours after the Cardinals lost the last regular season to the Cowboys on Christmas night. The mastermind of the 1985 Bears’ 46 Defense never returned to football. Ryan passed away in 2018, but his legacy is far from dead, thanks to sons Rex and Rob.
The biggest news of the 1995 NFL season was the debut of the Panthers and Jaguars, the NFL’s first expansion teams since the Buccaneers and Seahawks of 1976.
The Rams played their first season in St. Louis under new coach Rich Brooks, fresh off leading Oregon to the Rose Bowl. Contiuining the tradition of losing football in the Gateway City established by the Cardinals from 1960-87, the Rams went 7-9, their sixth of nine consecutive losing seasons.
The Raiders played in Oakland for the first time since 1981 and collapsed down the stretch, losing their last six to finish 8-8.
The Browns were playing their 50th—and final—season at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (aka The Mistake by the Lake (Erie)). that November, Art Modell shocked the sports world by annoucning the Browns were moving to Baltimore for 1996. Eventually, Modell had to leave the Browns’ name, colors and history behind, and the franchise was renamed the Baltimore Ravens. The new Browns debuted in 1999 in what is now First Energy Stadium.

The Bills’ quest for their fifth Super Bowl berth died in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers prevailed 40-21 in the first AFC divisional playoff. The next day, the Steelers were gifted home field for the AFC championship when the Colts, led by Jim Harbaugh, downed the Chiefs 10-7 at frigid Arrowhead.
Pittsburgh survived Indianapolis 20-16, but only after Aaron Bailey lost possession of Harbaugh’s Hail Mary when he hit the ground in the back right corner of the end zone on the game’s final play.
The Steelers fought the Cowboys tooth-and-nail in Super Bowl XXX, but two pathetic throws by Neil O’Donnell resulted in two interceptions by Larry Brown, and Dallas won 27-17. No wonder Pittsburgh didn’t return to the Super Bowl until Cowher and the Rooneys drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

Buffalo needed something good to happen. The Sabres have been wretched for more than a decade. The Braves left when I was 18 months old, and the NBA will NEVER come back. The city has struggled economically for as long as I’ve lived. New York’s governors have favored the Big Apple for far, far, FAR too long at the expense of the rest of the state. And of course, there’s always the snow.
Maybe this will help the push for a downtown stadium, something Terry and Kim Pegula stress is vital for the Bills to survive. I can’t blame them, because the stadium in Orchard Park is older than me, opening with the double murderer’s 2,003-yard season of 1973.

I wouldn’t mind living in Buffalo. I’d trade the snowy winters for cooler summers, although the humidity would be more than Kansas.
I’d better enjoy these zero-degree days (Celsius, of course) while I can. The mercury will shoot above 20 soon enough and have me in shorts for seven months.