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.
Back to more of CBS Sports’ bad list of the most soul-crushing playoff defeat in each NFL team’s history.
The selection: Super Bowl XLIV, when Peyton Manning lost to his hometown club, the Saints, led by Drew Brees. New Orleans trailed 10-6 at halftime, but coach Sean Payton’s gamble to start the second half with an onside kick paid off, turning the tide permanently in the Saints’ favor. Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return in the fourth quarter sealed New Orleans’ 31-17 victory, the Saints’ first championship.
If that’s the most soul-crushing loss in INDIANAPOLIS Colts history, fine. Okay.
But the Colts played in Baltimore from 1953-83, and had a few decent players. Johnny Unitas? Remember him? What about Gino Marchetti? Art Donovan? Lenny Moore? Raymond Berry? Yeah, they’re all in the Hall of Fame. And there were some darn good players who didn’t make it to Canton during the Baltimore years, including Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, Bert Jones, Roger Carr, Lydell Mitchell and Joe Ehrmann, among others.
In 1968, the Colts came to training camp angry. Don Shula was entering his sixth season as the team’s coach, and while Baltimore had been a big winner throughout Shula’s tenure, the Colts had come up short when it counted.
Baltimore was waxed 27-0 by Cleveland in the 1964 NFL championship game. The next year, the Colts faced the Packers in an playoff to determine the Western Division champion. Baltimore led 10-0, only to see Green Bay come back, tying the game on a controversial Don Chandler field goal, one which Colts players, coaches and fans swore was no good, but ruled good. The Packers won in overtime, then defeated the Browns for the NFL title in Jim Brown’s last football game.
In 1967, Baltimore won 11 of its first 13 games. It did not lose in that span, tying the Rams and Colts in consecutive games in October. The Colts played the Rams in Los Angeles in the final game of the regular season, needing to win or tie to win the Coastal Division championship.
That season, the NFL expanded to 16 teams when the Saints came into existence. The NFL grouped teams into four four-team divisions, two in the Eastern Conference and two in the Western Conference. The Colts and Rams were in the same division with the Falcons and 49ers (don’t get me started on that–not this time anyway). Unlike previous seaosns, when teams who were tied atop a divsion at the end of the regular season would engage in a playoff to determine the champion, the NFL instituted a series of tiebreakers in 1967 so the playoffs were not delayed. There were now two rounds of playoffs, the conference championship games and the league championship game, prior to what was then the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, of course now the Super Bowl.
Guess what? The Colts were bitten in the butt by the new rules.
The Rams won 34-10, sending Baltimore home at 11-1-2, while 9-5 Cleveland and 9-4-1 Green Bay played on. The Packers beat the Rams to win the Western Conference, beat Dallas in the Ice Bowl for the NFL title, and then rolled over the Raiders in Super Bowl II, Vince Lombardi’s last game as Green Bay’s coach.
The Colts had one slight problem in 1968: the sore right elbow of John Constantine Unitas.
Shula did not believe Unitas was healthy enough to withstand the punishment of a 14-game season, and thus traded with the Giants for journeyman Earl Morrall, who had no chance of starting with some guy named Fran Tarkenton already there.
Morrall had the best year of his career and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. The defense, led by Smith and Curtis, was savage. Baltimore went 13-1, losing only to the Browns, now led by Leroy Kelly, in the regular season. Baltimore eased past Minnesota to win the Western Conference, then mauled the Browns 34-0 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (aka the Mistake By the Lake) to advance to Super Bowl III.
Waiting for the Colts were the New York Jets, led by their flamboyant quarterback, Joseph William Namath, aka Broadway Joe and Joe Willie. The Jets’ high-flying attack, led by glue-fingered receivers Don Maynard and George Sauer, avenged their loss in the Heidi Game by edging the Raiders 27-23 for the AFL title.
You know the rest of the story.
Oddsmakers establish Colts as favorites anywhere between 18 to 21 points. Namath guarantees a Jet victory the Thursday before the game. Namath delivers on his guarantee, 16-7.
Now how was that not soul-crushing? Lose a game you were expected to win and win easily? A loss so bad the Colts didn’t recover in ’69, going 8-5-1 and prompting Shula to leave Baltimore for the Dolphins?
Fortunately, the Colts only lost the game. Safety Rick Volk was knocked into orbit somewhere between Uranus and Neptune after colliding more than a few times with Jets running back Matt Snell. He had to be rushed to the emergency room of a Miami hospital after going into convulsions. Some feared he might die, but he recovered and made a key interception in Super Bowl V which helped the Colts defeat the Cowboys.
I don’t care if Indianapolis has had its fair share of heartache–the 1995 AFC championship game when Jim Harbaugh’s Hail Mary at PIttsburgh fell off the chest of Aaron Bailey and fell to the turf, Peyton Manning’s playoff struggles vs. the Patriots until the 2006 breakthrough, losing to the Chargers at home in 2007. Super Bowl III trumps all.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The selection: 1995 AFC divisional playoff at home vs. the Colts, when Lin Elliott missed three field goal attempts in a 10-7 loss.
Most Chiefs fans under 55 forget anything which happened before Marty Schottenheimer’s arrival in 1989. Yes, the Chiefs were pretty bad from 1972-88, playing in ONE playoff game (losing 35-15 to the Jets in 1986), but one game sent Kansas City into its deep, dark depression.
Christmas Day, 1971. Chiefs vs. Dolphins in an AFC divisional playoff, the first home game for a Kansas City team in a professional postseason.
The Chiefs were down to one, possibly two, home games at Municipal Stadium. Arrowhead Stadium would be open in August 1972, giving the Chiefs their own facility for the first time in franchise history after sharing Municipal with the Athletics and Royals from 1963-71 (except 1968, the interregnum between the Athletics moving to Oakland and the Royals coming into existence as an expansion team) and the Cotton Bowl with the Cowboys as the Dallas Texans from 1960-62.
Kansas City won three AFL championships (1962, ’66, ’69) in the league’s ten seasons, but all four playoff games to win those titles were on the road: Houston in ’62, Buffalo in ’66, then Shea Stadium and Oakland in ’69. Of course, both Super Bowls were away from Kansas City, too, with the Chiefs losing the first to Green Bay in Los Angeles, then beating Minnesota in the fourth at New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium.
Finally, playoff football was coming to Missouri (the Cardinals had yet to reach the playoffs since moving to St. Louis in 1960, and never played a home playoff game in 28 seasons in the Gateway City), and the Chiefs had a fine team which went 10-3-1. Many considered this to be Hank Stram’s strongest team, better than the one which won Super bowl IV.
Quarterback Len Dawson had a superb season at age 36. Receiver Otis Taylor was a consensus All-Pro who scared the bejesus out of cornerbacks and safeties. Ed Podolak was a solid running back who was excellent at catching the ball out of the backfield. The offensive line was punishing. The defense, anchored by Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan, Curley Culp, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier and Emmitt Thomas, was suffocating.
I’m sure Lamar Hunt had many a dream in the fall of 1971 about his Chiefs taking down the Cowboys in New Orleans at Super Bowl VI. Many thought the game would come to pass.
In their second season under Don Shula, the Dolphins unseated the Colts as AFC East champion. Bob Griese was the consensus choice as the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year, and Miami had a powerful one-two running attack of Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, better known as “Butch and Sundance”, a homage to the western which gave us the iconic song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. The Dolphin defense was one of the league’s best, anchored by middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti and featuring standouts such as Manny Fernandez, Bill Stanfill, Dick Anderson and Jake Scott.
Last weekend, Kansas City experienced bitter cold. But on December 25, 1971, it was 62 degrees when the Chiefs and Dolphins got underway.
With the Chiefs already ahead 3-0, Lanier intercepted Griese on Miami’s second drive, and it led to a touchdown on a screen pass from Dawson to Podolak. However, the Dolphins would come back from the 10-0 deficit with 10 points of their own in the second quarter, and this set up quite a slugfest in the second half.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. The Chiefs took the lead twice, but each time the Dolphins countered. Following Griese’s strike to Marv Fleming which tied at 24-24 with 1:36 to go, Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Miami 22. Three running plays lost three yards, but the Chiefs were in easy field goal range for Jan Stenerud, the man who would become the first pure kicker inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991. However, he missed an earlier attempt from nearly the same distance in the second quarter, and his accuracy was well down from his high standards of the previous four seasons.
Indeed, Stenerud missed the 32-yard attempt. The two misses prompted Hank Stram to decline the opportunity for Stenerud to attempt a 68-yard field goal on a free kick after Dennis Homan fair caught Larry Seiple’s punt on the final play of the fourth quarter.
In overtime, Buoniconti blocked Stenerud’s 42-yard attempt, and Miami’s Garo Yepremian was short on a 52-yard try. The game went into a second overtime, only the second game in professional football history to reach the sixth period.
The Chiefs were also involved in the other double overtime game to that point, winning the 1962 AFL championship as the Dallas Texans over the Houston OIlers. In that game, the Texans’ Abner Haynes erroneously chose to kick off to begin overtime instead of taking the wind as Stram had wanted. The Texans waited out the Oilers long enough to gain the wind in the second overtime, and Tommy Brooker connected on a 25-yard field goal for a 20-17 triumph at Houston’s Jeppesen Stadium, which is now the site of the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium.
Dawson was intercepted by Scott in the second overtime. Csonka, who had been bottled up by Lanier, Culp, Buchanan and the rest of the Chiefs’ defense, finally busted loose on a trap play. Yepremian nailed a 37-yard field goal, and after 22 minutes, 40 seconds of overtime, the Dolphins were a 27-24 winner.
Miami blanked Baltimore 21-0 at the Orange Bowl for the AFC championship, but were no match for Dallas in Super Bowl VI. The Dolphins were gashed by Duane Thomas and Walt Garrison for 252 yards rushing, and the Cowboys won 24-3. Through the first 51 Super Bowls, the ’71 Dolphins are the only team not to score a touchdown, although other teams (’72 Redskins, ’74 Vikings, 2000 Giants) did not score an offensive touchdown.
The next season, the Dolphins opened in Kansas City at Arrowhead. Miami won 20-10 in a game nowhere near as close as the score–the Chiefs’ only touchdown came with nine seconds left in the game–and the Dolphins did not lose again until September 23, 1973.
Kansas City spent the next 14 seasons in purgatory, failing to reach the playoffs until 1986. Stram was fired after going 5-9 in 1974. He would then coach the Saints in 1976 and ’77, going 7-21, and infamously becoming the first coach to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in December 1977.
And no, I did not give any consideration to today’s meltdown vs. the Titans.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The selection: Super Bowl XXXVI. The Rams entered as 14-point favorites following a 14-2 regular season which included a 24-17 win over the Patriots at Foxborough. Yet New England won 20-17 on a 48-yard field goal by Adam Viantieri on the game’s final play. The Patriots’ quarterback, some guy named Tom Brady, was named the game’s MVP. “The Greatest Show on Turf” was denied its second Super Bowl title in three seasons.
Okay, I will go along with that as the most soul-crushing playoff loss in ST. LOUIS Rams history.
There are plenty of candidates as far as the LOS ANGELES Rams go.
Super Bowl XIV? Not close. The Steelers, aiming for their fourth championship in six years, were heavy favorites to beat the 9-7 Rams. However, Los Angeles scrapped and clawed at Pittsburgh throughout before finally succumbing to two Terry Bradshaw-to-John Stallworth bombs in the final period. The 31-19 tally was no indication of how close the game was. It hurt the Rams, but I’m sure most fans were not grieving for long.
The 1967 NFL Western Conference championship? Yes, the Rams came in at 11-1-2 compared to 9-4-1 for the Packers, and Los Angeles beat Green Bay 27-24 at the L.A. Coliseum two weeks prior to this contest. However, the Packers had proven time and time again they were money in the playoffs under Vince Lombardi, the 1960 NFL championship game loss to the Eagles excepted, and this game was in cold, but not frigid, Milwaukee, not Los Angeles.
Losing 51-7 to the Redskins in the 1983 NFC divisional playoff? Nope. The Redskins were too powerful for a Rams team which had been carried to the playoffs by rookie Eric Dickerson, who rushed for 1,808 yards that season.
The award goes to FOUR games with one common denominator.
Chuck Knox was the Rams’ coach in all of them.
1974 NFC championship at Minnesota–this was the expected matchup for the right to go to Super Bowl IX.
The Vikings and Rams both finished the regular season 10-4. In the regular season, the Rams bested the Vikings 20-17 in Los Angeles, but due to the NFL’s method of predetermined playoff sites–one which would be scrapped in 1975 to give home field advantage to the team with the better record–the Rams were forced to venture to the Twin Cities after beating the Redskins 19-10 in the divisional playoffs. The Vikings, who routed the Cardinals 30-14 in the other NFC divisional playoff, were looking to get back to the Super Bowl after their humiliation by Miami in Super Bowl VIII.
The Rams caught a huge break with the weather. It was 31 degrees in Bloomington on December 29, 1974, which prompted some Viking fans to venture to Metropolitan Stadium in shorts. Vikings coach Bud Grant, who did not allow the use of heaters on his team’s sideline, was less than pleased. He was hoping for about 31 degrees colder.
In a defensive struggle, the Vikings led 7-3 at halftime, but in the third quarter, a 73-yard pass from James Harris to Harold Jackson moved the Rams to the Viking 1.
Los Angeles came away with nothing.
Tom Mack, a Rams All-Pro guard who would eventually be enshrined in Canton, was called for a false start, which apparently came after some pointing and screaming from Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page, a future Hall of Famer himself, and not from anything Mack did. Replays showed Mack did not move.
The drive ended when Harris was intercepted in the end zone by Wally Hilgenberg. The Vikings took over at the 20 and drove 80 yards to the touchdown which put the game on ice. The Rams scored a late TD, but it was not enough. Minnesota won 14-10.
1975 NFC championship game at home vs. Cowboys–the Rams went 12-2 in ’75, aided no doubt by a putrid NFC West which saw no other team win more than five games. However, one of Los Angeles’ two defeats was an 18-7 setback on opening day at Texas Stadium to a Cowboys team which went 10-4 and was the wild card to the NFC playoffs, finishing one game behind the division champion Cardinals.
The Rams blasted the Cards 35-23 in the divisional playoffs, which Jack Youngblood returning an intercepted screen pass 47 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys, meanwhile, shocked the 12-2 Vikings 17-14 in Bloomington on a 50-yard pass from Staubach to Drew Pearson, the pass which would give rise to the term “Hail Mary” in football.
The Rams, led by quarterback Ron Jaworski and running back Lawrence McCutcheon, acted as if they would rather be anywhere but the L.A. Coliseum on the fourth day of 1976. The Cowboys won 37-7.
1976 NFC championship game at Minnesota–the third time is the charm for Knox and the Rams, right?
With fourth-and-inches inside the Viking 1 in the first quarter, Knox eschewed going for it and instead sent in Tom Dempsey, he of the deformed right foot and 63-yard field goal in 1970, to convert an 18-yard try. Instead, the Vikings’ Nate Allen blocked the kick, and Bobby Bryant raced 90 yards the other way for a Minnesota touchdown.
The Rams cut a 17-0 halftime deficit to 17-13, but the Vikings put the game away in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard touchdown run by reserve Sammy Lee Johnson. Minnesota was on its way to its fourth Super Bowl loss in eight seasons, a position the Rams would gladly have begged for.
1977 NFC divisional playoff at home vs. Vikings–one year to the day after the 1976 NFC title game loss, the Rams met Minnesota again, this time at the Coliseum.
No bad weather. Sunny and 70, right?
Instead, Mother Nature unleashed her full fury on southern California, unleashing a torrential rainstorm the day after Christmas which turned the grass of the Coliseum into a sea of mud. And certainly a field in Los Angeles did not have the advanced draining of one in Miami, so the Vikings and Rams would be forced to slog through a quagmire to get to Dallas for the NFC championship game.
One advantage Los Angeles held was the Vikings would be without Fran Tarkenton, who was out with injuries which come with being a 37-year old quarterback. Instead, journeyman Bob Lee would start.
The Rams’ starting quarterback was Pat Haden, the ex-USC Trojan and Rhodes Scholar. One of his backups was none other than Joe Namath, the same Broadway Joe I mentioned earlier.
Given the conditions and Tarkenton’s absence, defenses ruled the roost. Through three quarters, the Vikings led 7-0.
The Rams had two chances to score early in the fourth quarter, only to be foiled by an interception and a missed field goal. The Vikings scored on a short field following a punt to make it 14-0, and Los Angeles would not score until the game’s final minute. The Rams recovered an onside kick, but the drive went nowhere and the Rams were done. Again.
Knox’s assistants were begging him to put Namath in the game throughout. They felt Joe Willie still had magic in his arm despite the rest of his body resembling that of a 70-year old with arthritis. Namath never got in the game, and less than three months later, he retired.
Knox was fired soon after this loss and went to Buffalo, where he coached the Bills to two playoff appearances in five seasons. In 1983, Knox went to Seattle, where his nine-year run included three playoff trips, the first in franchise history. He would go back to the Rams in 1992, but suffered through three woeful seasons before getting out of coaching for good.
The good news? The Rams saved themselves the embarrassment of a likely blowout in Dallas the next week. The Cowboys squashed the Vikings 23-6, then battered the Broncos 27-10 in Super Bowl XII.
I lied. I said there were four soul-crushing Rams losses. Turns out there’s a fifth.
1978 NFC championship game at home vs. Dallas–that the Rams went 12-4 after what happened in the offseason was a minor miracle.
The Rams originally hired George Allen, who coached the team from 1966-70, to replace Knox. Allen himself was fired after the 1968 season by the late Dan Reeves, who owned the team from the time it moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946 through his death in 1971, but a player revolt prompted Reeves to bring Allen back. George lasted two more seasons before going to Washington, where his Over the Hill Gang got the Redskins to Super Bowl VII.
By the end of 1977, Allen wore out his welcome in the nation’s capital, and the Rams, desperate to get over the hump and make the Super Bowl, brought Allen back. But after two exhibition games, Carroll Rosenbloom, who acquired the Rams in 1972 after swapping the Colts with Robert Irsay (talk about a disaster), had enough and sent Allen packing.
Into the breach stepped Ray Malavasi, a longtime Rams assistant. Los Angeles won its sixth consecutive NFC West title in ’78 and crushed the Vikings 34-10 at home in the divisional playoffs.
The defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys started slowly, losing four of their first ten games, including one to the Rams at the Coliseum. However, Dallas righted the ship when it counted, winning its final six regular season games, then overcoming the fiery Falcons 27-20 in the divisional playoffs behind backup quarterback Danny White, who came into the game when Staubach was knocked out on an illegal hit by Atlanta’s Robert Pennywell.
Had it been 2017, Staubach would have been in the NFL’s concussion protocol and might not have played vs. the Rams. However, it was 1978, and Tom Landry declared Staubach good to go in L.A.
It turned out the Rams’ offense was so pitiful, and Tony Dorsett was so wonderful (101 yards, 1 TD), that Landry would have gotten away with sitting Staubach.
Los Angeles turned the ball over five times in the second half. Pat Haden broke his hand with eight minutes remaining, forcing Malavasi to go with Vince Ferragamo. Not surprisingly, the final score came when Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson intercepted Ferragamo and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown to put the exclamation point on Dallas’ 28-0 victory.
Rosenbloom drowned off the coast of Florida in April 1979, leaving the team to his widow, Georgia. Oh boy. That would be a disaster for all except Georgia and the city of St. Louis.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The selection: 1997 NFC wild card playoff at home vs. Vikings, where the Giants blew a 19-3 halftime lead and lost 23-22.
Wow. That’s really stupid. Beyond stupid. Does anyone think the ’97 Giants would have beaten both the 49ers and Packers on the road to reach Super Bowl XXXII? Hell no.
If you want a soul-crushing playoff loss under Jim Fassel, all you have to do is look up Super Bowl XXXV, where New York didn’t score an offensive point in being destroyed by the Ravens, and the 2002 NFC wild card game where the Giants blew a 38-14 third quarter lead and lost 39-38 in San Francisco.
But let’s forget Jim Fassel. To find a soul-crushing Giants playoff loss, you have to go back. Way back. Way, way, way back.
December 28, 1958. Giants vs. Colts at Yankee Stadium for the NFL championship. An emerging Baltimore quarterback named Unitas, aided by stud runner Lenny Moore and wonderful wideout Raymond Berry, against a Giants defense led by Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff and Emlen Tunnell, all future Hall of Famers. New York’s superstar, Frank Gifford, against Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti and a tough Colts D. Weeb Ewbank coaching the Colts, matching wits with Giant assistants Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, both of whom won many, many games as head coaches. h
The Yankees may have ruled New York in the 1950s, winning the World Series six times in the decade, led by baseball’s most transcendent talent of the time, Mickey Mantle. Yet the Giants, led by the telegenic Gifford, had closed the gap to the point where the Yankees were 1 and the Giants were 1A.
In 1958, the Yankees and Giants had to massage the city’s wounded sports psyche. The Dodgers and baseball Giants left at the end of 1957 for California. The Knicks were terrible, and the NBA didn’t register a blip on the sports scene outside of New England to begin with. The Rangers were taking nightly beatings from the Canadiens, Red Wings, Black Hawks and Maple Leafs and battling the Bruins to stay out of the NHL’s cellar. The AFL was still more than a year away. The Islanders? Yeah right, they’ll really put a pro team on Long Island.
This game more than any propelled professional football into America’s sports pantheon. Prior to this contest, the professional game lagged far behind the college version, especially in places outside the northeast. There were no NFL teams south of Washington, thanks to Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, who steadfastly refused to allow teams in what he claimed was “his” territory. The only teams west of the Mississippi River were the 49ers and Rams. The Colts were in the WESTERN division despite being east of several teams in the Eastern division, including the Redskins, Steelers, Browns and Cardinals, who were in Chicago in 1958, but would move to St. Louis in 1960.
Texas, despite its rabid high school football fan bases and the presence of the Longhorns, Aggies and Horned Frogs, among others, still didn’t have a pro team. Atlanta could care less about the NFL. Georgia and Georgia Tech were more than enough football. Same in with New Orleans, where most fans were glued to what was happening in Baton Rouge, where LSU went 11-0 and won the national championship in 1958.
The Giants took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Pat Summerall. The Colts dominated the second quarter, scoring on a 2-yard run by Alan Ameche and a 15-yard pass from Unitas to Berry to make it 14-3.
With Baltimore ready to put the game out of reach, New York’s defnese held at its 1, then drove the length of the field the other way for a Mel Triplett touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Giants regained the lead on Gifford’s 15-yard touchdown reception from Charlie Conerly.
With it fourth and inches on their own 40 later in the game, the Giants opted to punt rather than go for it. Staring from their own 14, the Colts drove to the New York 13, and Steve Myhra kicked a 20-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
In 1958, NFL regular season games which were tied after 60 minutes stayed that way. The first 26 NFL championship games had a clear winner after 60 minutes. What now? Certainly college football did not have overtime in 1958, and many a bowl game had ended deadlocked.
There was a thought the Colts and Giants would have to come back the next Sunday and play it all over again, which was the rule at the time in the “other” football (soccer). Or would the Colts and Giants simply be declared co-champions?
Finally, referee Ron Gibbs ordered Ewbank and Giants coach Jim Lee Howell to send out their captains for another coin toss. It was time for the first sudden death overtime in the history of football at any level. The first team to score would win.
The Giants won the toss, but they went three-and-out. The Colts took over and drove 80 yards on 13 plays. Unitas completed four passes for 59 yards on the march, including receptions of 33 and 12 yards by Berry.
With the Colts on the Giant 8, NBC’s transmission from New York went dead. Television views saw static (except those within 75 miles of New York City, which was blacked out under NFL rules at the time). Someone ran on the field and was chased down by the NYPD, creating enough of a delay for NBC technicians to restore the feed.
Television viewers saw Ameche plunge over from the 1 to give the Colts a 23-17 victory. One month later, Lombardi was named head coach and general manager of the Packers. That turned out pretty well for the New Jersey native and former Block of Granite at Fordham.
The Giants would continue to take punches to the gut in the coming years, losing four more championship games over five seasons.
They lost the next year to the Colts in Baltimore, 31-16. Not long thereafter, Tom Landry was on his way to Dallas to take over the reins of the expansion Cowboys. He did okay, too.
In 1960, the Giants traded for a new quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, who had put up huge numbers in San Francisco. However, New York’s championship hopes died that season when Chuck Bednarik knocked out Frank Gifford on a vicious hit in the Eagles-Giants game at Yankee Stadium. Philadelphia went on to win the NFL championship.
Gifford sat out 1961 due to his injuries, but the Giants bounced back to go 10-3-1 and win the East, only to be destroyed 37-0 by Lomardi’s Packers in Green Bay. The two teams met again in 1962 at Yankee Stadium, with Green Bay winning 16-7 thanks to tough running by Jimmy Taylor and three field goals by Jerry Kramer.
In 1963, the Giants got back to the title game, only to be stymied by the Bears in Wrigley Field 14-10. Nobody knew it at the time, but both teams were in for very, very long dry spells.
The Giants crashed and burned in 1964, going 2-10-2, and they would not return to the playoffs until 1981. The Bears played in two playoff games between 1964 and 1983, losing both, despite having Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Walter Payton on the roster at various times.
Thank you for reading my novella. Part three coming tomorrow.