Okay, I dropped the ball Thursday by not pontificating on a pair of Super Bowls played on January 22. However, since no Super Bowl has ever been played on January 23–and none will ever be played on that date unless the NFL pushes the start of its season into August, and that’s not happening–I still have some time to be relevant.
First up: Super Bowl XVIII. January 22, 1984 at Tampa Stadium (aka “The Big Sombrero”).
This was not only the first Super Bowl to be contested on January 22, it was the first to be played in Tampa. The city was awarded the Buccaneers in 1974, and they began play in 1976. The city was awarded Super Bowl XVIII by the owners in 1980, becoming the second city in Florida and sixth metropolitan area overall to host the game, joining Los Angeles, MIami, New Orleans, Houston and Detroit.
At the time Tampa was awarded Super Bowl XVII, there was legitimate hope the Bucs would be playing in the game. Under coach John McKay, who won four national championships coaching at the University of Southern California, Tampa Bay reached the 1979 NFC Championship game, won the NFC Central division again in 1981, and reached the playoffs in the strike-shortened season of 1982.
In early 1983, the Bucs unraveled.
Starting quarterback Doug Williams refused to sign a new contract, feeling owner Hugh Culverhouse was lowballing him.
In most cases, i would side with the owner, but in this case, Williams was 100 percent dead on. Culverhouse was a cheap bastard who never played his players truly what they were worth. As long as he owned the franchise, the Bucs would be a laughingstock, not only in the NFL, but among all the major professional sports. The Tampa Bay Bucs were synonymous with losing and gross mismanagement. In the 1980s, the Bucs were one of the sorriest teams in any sport. In fact, about the only parallel I can draw in any of the major sports is with the NBA’s Clippers under Donald Sterling.
Ironically, a former assistant under McKay had built the NFL’s most powerful team in 1983.
Joe Gibbs was a 40-year old unknown when he was tabbed by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to bring Washington the championship it had not won on the gridrion since 1942. Gibbs worked under some of football’s biggest names: Frank Broyles at Arkansas, Don Coryell with the Cardinals and Chargers, and McKay in Tampa Bay.
Gibbs convinced John Riggins to return to the Redskins after he sat out the 1980 season in a contract dispute. In fact, Gibbs flew to Centralia, the tiny Kansas town where Riggins and his brothers became high school legends. Gibbs also built a powerful offenisve line, led by massive tackle Joe Jacoby, guard Russ Grimm, and center Jeff Bostic, which became known as “The Hogs”.
At first, the Redskins implemented the Air Coryell offense Gibbs helped design in San Diego. Washington scored points in bunches, but they also gave up points in droves, and Washington began the 1981 season 0-5.
Gibbs adjusted his offensive focus, shifting from the pass-happy attack to a more balanced game plan, one which featured heavy doses of John Riggins.
Washington won 8 of its final 11 games in 1981, and then became the NFL’s powerhouse of 1982, winning 8 of 9 games in the strike-shortened campaign. Mark Moseley set an NFL record by making 23 consecutive field goals and earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Moseley would become the last straight-ahead kicker to play in a Super Bowl.
Behind Riggins, The Hogs, quarterback Joe Theismann, a fleet but tiny group of receivers known as “The Smurfs”, and a defense led by All-Pros Dave Butz, Dexter Manley, Mark Murphy and Jeris White, the Redskins steamrolled through the playoffs, routing Detroit, Minnesota and Dallas to reach Super Bowl XVII, where RIgigins ran for 166 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown with 10 minutes remaining to subdue the Dolphins, 27-17, and exact revenge for the 14-7 loss Washington suffered to MIami’s undefeated team in Super Bowl VII.
The Redskins’ offense was unstoppable in 1983. RIggins scored a then-NFL record 24 touchdowns. Theismann threw for over 3,700 yards and earned NFL Most Valuable Player honors. Rookie Darrell Green began what would become a 20-year career in the secondary. Butz was the league’s premier defensive tackle. Jacoby, Grimm and Bostic were road graders up front, blowing wide holes in opposing defenses.
Washington went 14-2, falling TWO points short of an undefeated regular season. The Redskins lost 31-30 in week one to the Cowboys at home on Monday Night Football, blowing a 23-3 lead. The other loss also came on Monday Night, a 48-47 shootout in Green Bay, when Lynn Dickey outdueling Theismann.
The Redskins routed the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the week 15 rematch, 31-10. They annihilated the Rams 51-7 in the divisional playoffs, but the NFC Championship vs. the 49ers was nowhere near as easy.
Washington led 21-0 early in the thrid quarter, but Joe Montana flashed his comeback magic, leading San Francisco to three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
Just when it appeared Bill Walsh’s team would pull it out and head to Tampa, the 49ers were done in by the zebras.
The officials, led by referee Jerry Markbreit, called pass interference against 49er cornerback Eric Wright on a play where the ball was clearly uncatchable. The NFL Rule Book clearly states pass interference is not to be called on an uncatchable pass, and as Walsh said afterward, “The ball could not have been caught by a 10-foot Boston Celtic”.
Ronnie Lott, the Hall of Fame safety, was the next to feel the wrath of the zebras. He was flagged for holding receiver Charlie Brown far, far away from the ball.
The Redskins gleefully accepted the gifts, trading them in for a Moseley field goal to win the game 24-21.
Heading into the 1983 playoffs, the experts unanimously favored the Redskins to win the NFC. That wasn’t the case in the AFC.
The Raiders, playing their second season in Los Anglees following 22 seasons in Oakland, and Dolphins each finisehd 12-4. The Silver and Black, champions of Super Bowls XI and XV, had home field advantage thanks to a 27-14 victory in week three.
At the time of the regular season meeting, the Dolphins’ quarterback situation was highly unstable. Don Shula stuck with David Woodley at the beginning of the 1983 campaign, despite Woodley’s putrid performance in Super Bowl XVII, save for a 76-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Cefalo; and the presence of a rookie from the University of Pittsburgh who would change the Dolphins, and the NFL, forever.
Dan Marino enjoyed spectacular success during his first three seasons at Pitt under the leadership of coach Jacke Sherrill. However, Marino had a down year in 1982, when Sherrill left for Texas A&M and Foge Fazio succeeded to the top spot.
Marino was ranked second among quarterbacks available in the 1983 NFL Draft, trailing only John Elway. However, many teams were not enamored with Marino, believing ridiculous rumors that he was on drugs during the ’82 season.
Team after team passed on Marino. Shula didn’t, taking him 27th (next to last) in the first round.
In week five, the Dolphins’ offense was horrid in a loss at New Orleans. Woodley, a Shreveport native who played collegiately at LSU, was yanked in favor of Marino. Woodley would never play another down fro the Dolphins.
The Raiders had no such offensive worries. Their vertical passing game featured the aging but effective Jim Plunkett, throwing to the still speedy Cliff Branch and the tough Todd Christensen, the free agent tight end who surpassed Kellen Winslow as the game’s most dangerous target at that position. The Raider running game, usually an afterthought to the vertical passing game favored by Al Davis, had a stud in 1981 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen. The defense featured grizzled veterans Ted Hendricks and Lyle Alzado, complemented by young stars Howie Long and Matt Millen, plus a secondary featuring All-Pros Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, the latter acquired in an October trade with New England.
The Raiders suffered their first loss in week five, blowing a 35-20 lead with six minutes to go and falling 37-35 to the Redskins in Washington. Little did anyone know these two teams were destined to meet again.
The Seahawks, which never made the playoffs in its first seven seasons, swept the two-game season series from the Raiders. In the second meeting, a 34-21 victory at Los Angeles, Seattle coach Chuck Knox made the difficult decision to replace Jim Zorn, the only starting quarterback the franchise had known up until that point, with Dave Krieg, who had a goofy motion but an uncanny knack for finding the open man.
After the second loss to Seattle in week nine, the Raiders got rolling until they tripped up in week 15 at home to the Cardinals. Say what?
The Cardinals were 6-7-1 going into the L.A. Coliseum. They fell behind 17-0, but did the unthinkable and scored 34 unanswered points.
The Raiders bounced back from the loss to the Cards very well. After defeating the Chargers in the regular season finale, the Silver and Black destroyed Pittsburgh 38-10 in what would be the last NFL games for Mel Blount and Terry Bradshaw (the latter was injured and did not play), and the last game in a Steelers uniform for Franco Harris.
Seattle came to the Coliseum for the AFC Championship game and found out beating the Radiers in the playoffs is a far more difficult task than it is in the regular season. The Raiders won 30-14 in a game which wasn’t that close.
The majority of experts favored the Redskins going into Super Bowl XVIII, although a sizable minority liked the Raiders, sensing they were hungry for revenge after blowing the October game.
I expected Washington to win. I certainly didn’t expect what happened following the Redskins’ first possession.
Washington was forced to punt. The snap to Jeff Hayes was on the money, but Derrick Jensen was in his face before he kicked the ball.
Jensen blocked the punt and ran it down int he end zone for a stunning touchdown. Just like that, the Raiders were up 7-0.
Gibbs and defensive coordinator Richie Pettitbon made the grave mistake of assigning Anthony Washington, and not Green, to cover Branch one-on-one. Plunkett picked apart Anthony Washington twice early in the second quarter, first for 50 yards to the Redskin 15, and then again for a 12-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Redskins could only muster a field goal in the first half. A 14-3 deficit would be the largest the Redskins had faced at halftime in over two years, but it was by no means insurmountable, thanks to a Redskin offense which set a then-NFL record by scoring 541 points in 1983.
Too bad the Redskins didn’t go to halftime trailing 14-3.
With 12 seconds left, Gibbs sent in “Rocket Screen”, Theismann would roll either right or left and throw a short pass to Joe Washington. The former Oklahoma All-American would hopefully use his speed to pick up enough yards to allow Moseley to attempt a field goal on the final play of the first half.
In the regular season game at Washington, Theismann and Joe Washington ran the play to perfection, gaining 67 yards to lead to a Redskin touchdown.
Raiders assistant coach Charlie Sumner felt the Redskins might break out Rocket Screen. To combat this, he sent in reserve linebacker Jack Squirek, a second-year man out of Illinois who excelled at pass coverage. Matt Millen was taken out of the game, fuming to Sumner.
In one stroke, Charlie Sumner became a genius.
Squirek shadowed Joe Washington. Theismann dropped back and lobbed the ball towards No. 25, only to see it stolen out of the air by No. 58 in the black jersey. Squirek sauntered into the end zone from five yards out.
Raiders 21, Redskins 3.
It was bad enough for Gibbs and company, but it would get worse. Much worse.
The Redskins scored on their first possession of the second half, but the Raiders came right back, with Allen scoring on a 5-yard run to make it 28-9.
Washington was stopped on downs at the Radier 26 with under 30 seconds remaining in the period.
Raider coach Tom Flores sent Plunkett into the huddle with 17 Bob Trey O.
Allen took the handoff and went left, but he was encountered by Redskins safety Ken Coffey. Allen cut back to his right and found a gaping hole up the middle.
Redskins middle linebacker Neil Olkewicz dove at Allen, but came up empty. Green and Anthony Washington gave futile chase.
Allen’s 74-yard touchdown removed any remaining doubt as to the game’s outcome.
Final: Raiders 38, Redskins 9.
Allen rushed for 191 yards, a Super Bowl record, and was the game’s MVP. Riggins gained only 64 yards on 26 attempts, and Theismann was sacked six times.
The most memorable feature of this Super Bowl was the highlight film produced by NFL Films.
It was the last NFL Films feature narrated by John Facenda. He passed away eight months after Super Bowl XVIII from lung cancer.