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If it’s not the Chiefs, it doesn’t mean squat in KC

Kansas City (Mahomesland) is oblivious to the outside world today. The only thing which matters to most in the city of 460,000, and the metropolitan area of 2.5 million, is what will happen at Arrowhead Stadium starting at 1915 this evening.

For the uninitiated, the Kansas City Chiefs are having one of their best seasons of the 56 the team has played in the City of Fountains. The Chiefs are 11-2 heading into tonight’s game with the Los Angeles Chargers, and barring a collapse, will win the AFC West and have a first round bye in the playoffs.

Should the Chiefs win all three of their remaining games–Chargers tonight, at Seattle Dec. 23 and at home vs. Oakland Dec. 30–they will finish with their best regular season record in franchise history. Only once before have the Chiefs lost only two games in a regular season. That was 1968, when Kansas City and Oakland finished tied atop the American Football League’s West division at 12-2.

Tiebreakers were not in effect in the AFL in 1968. It wouldn’t have mattered, since the Raiders and Chiefs each beat the other in their home stadium during the regular season. Therefore, the Chiefs and Raiders had to play a third time for the West division championship, with the winner heading to New York to face Joe Namath’s Jets for the AFL berth in Super Bowl III.

As fate had it, the Chiefs lost the coin toss to determine the home team, so they had to jet to Oakland. Sure enough, the Raiders were lying in wait, and won 41-6. The Raiders lost 27-23 to the Jets in the AFL championship game, and…most football fans and those who aren’t football fans probably know the rest.

Due to the Chiefs not making the playoffs despite going 12-2 in 1968, the AFL allowed the second place teams in each division qualify for the playoffs in 1969, the last year before the merger with the NFL. Kansas City went 11-3 compared to Oakland’s 12-1-1 that season, and the Raiders won both meetings. However, with new life due to the expanded playoffs, the Chiefs took full advantage, winning in New York AND Oakland before rolling over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.

Back to the present. The Chiefs are on the verge of having the best record in the AFC for just the fourth time since the merger. Each time the Chiefs had that distinction, they lost in their first playoff game: 1971 to the Dolphins in the famous double overtime Christmas marathon, 1995 to the Colts, who had to win their last regular season game just to squeeze into the playoffs, and 1997 to the Broncos, who finally ended their Super Bowl hex when they defeated the Packers three weeks after.

Back to the present. The Chiefs NEED home field advantage in the playoffs (not counting the Super Bowl, which is in Atlanta), since Thomas Edward Brady and his New England Patriots are nearly invincible at Foxborough during the postseason. The Patriots won two AFC championship games in Pittsburgh in 2001 and ’04, but since then, they have failed to reach the Super Bowl when they have to travel in the postseason. Baltimore has won twice in Foxborough (2009 wild card, 2012 AFC Championship), but it is not worth pressing your luck if you’re Andy Reid.

If Kansas City wins tonight, it will need to only defeat Seattle or Oakland to clinch home field. The Seattle game is almost a throwaway, since it’s against an NFC team and has no bearing on tiebreakers. However, the Patriots have the won that counts the most, winning 43-40 over the Chiefs at Foxborough the night after my birthday.

Red is the color of the day. But instead of green, it’s complimented by gold.

I’m in my usual area of Kansas City near KCI. I want nothing to do with Interstate 70 today. Fans are being encouraged to arrive at Arrowhead by 1600 if at all possible, because after that, I-70 will be jammed with cars driving from downtown towards Interstate 435, and further east of the stadiums towards Independence and Blue Springs. Many downtown stadiums, such as the Superdome, don’t have as many traffic worries for weeknight games, since people are coming into downtown, but in Kansas City, it’s different, since the stadiums are 8 to 10 miles (14 to 22 km) east of downtown. Add in the fans who will be coming from Kansas, and it will add up to hell on the highways.

I’m tired. I might not make it to the end of the game. I don’t care who wins. I’m not a Chiefs fan. My loyalties lie with the team in my native city, and to a couple of others. The Chargers are due to win since losing nine straight to Kansas City, including a 38-28 setback on opening day at Carson, when Chiefs fans outnumbered Chargers fans 3 to 2. However, if Melvin Gordon, the Chargers’ top running back and one of the best in the game, doesn’t play, I just can’t see Phillip Rivers carrying the team by himself.

The Chiefs should win. But anything can happen in the NFL, especially in a division game between two teams which are a combined 21-5.

November ends with a flurry

I spent SIX HOURS at Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa yesterday, more time I’ve spent there in a single day in a long, long time. Finally, the restaurant has new tablets to play trivia after saying for over a year it was getting new ones. The first one I used locked up on me after 20 minutes, and I was logged off the second one a couple of times, but after 1415, I was good.

Robb and Theresa showed up for a couple of hours. I hadn’t seen Robb since the day before my birthday, which is a long time, although I’ve gone longer without seeing him.

Three big pieces of news happened yesterday. Well, two big pieces happened and one didn’t.

The one that didn’t involved Kansas State and its fossilized football coach.

Bill Snyder is still the football coach of the Wildcats, despite calls from most respected members of the media in Kansas and Kansas City and most Wildcat fans for Snyder to call it a career.

Snyder was expected to meet with K-State athletic director Gene Taylor Wednesday. No meeting. Then Thursday. No meeting. Then Friday. No meeting. Today, Snyder is acting like he will be the coach in 2019, hosting recruits at the Vanier Football Complex, the impressive facility at the north end of Bill Snyder Family Stadium which was considered nothing more than a pipe dream when he was hired 30 years ago Friday.

Kevin Kietzman, who hosts the 1400-1800 show on WHB 810 AM in Kansas City weekdays, has advocated for Jim Leavitt, the former South Florida coach who was once an assistant under Snyder, to be the new Wildcat leader. Leavitt, currently the defensive coordinator under Mario Cristobal at Oregon, had a brutality charge leveled against him in 2009 which led to his ouster at USF. The details are murky, and while he would not be my first choice, he is far more palatable than the option Bill Snyder wants.

Of course, Bill Snyder wants his pride and joy, son Sean, to be his successor. Sean Snyder was an All-American punter under his father during Bill’s first four seasons in Manhattan, and has been at K-State ever since. He has NEVER been an offensive or defensive coordinator. He has NEVER even been a regular position coach, instead coordinating the Wildcat special teams for the last 26 seasons (Sean was kept on by Ron Prince during his three seasons).

If Bill really wanted Sean to succeed him, he should have given him full responsibility over one side of the ball when he returned in 2009. Better yet, Bill should have encouraged Sean to branch out and become a head coach somewhere else. He could have done it at one of the four Division II schools in Kansas (Fort Hays State, Emporia State, Pittsburg State, Washburn), or a Division I school (FBS or FCS) outside the Power 5.

Instead, Sean has stayed inside the cocoon working for daddy, refusing to even INTERVIEW for another position. It smacks of pure nepotism. It’s as if Sean believes the head coaching position at K-State is his birthright. It isn’t.

This reminds me of the situation at Texas after Darrell Royal retired in 1976. I wasn’t born until the middle of the 1976 college football season, so it doesn’t remind me per se, but I read about this in the early 1990s.

Royal lobbied the Texas Board of Regents hard to name his defensive coordinator, Mike Campbell, as his successor, but the board rejected Royal’s suggestion and instead hired Fred Akers, who coached defensive backs on the Longhorns’ 1969 and 1970 championship teams. The reason: Akers left Austin to be the head coach at Wyoming in 1975 and ’76, leading the Cowboys to the Western Athletic Conference championship in the latter season. Campbell had no head coaching experience. Akers went 86-34-2 in 10 seasons at Texas, but was fired after going 5-6 in 1986.

I believe Snyder will coach the Wildcats through spring practice and fall camp. He’ll lead the team in the season opener against Nicholls State (the team which beat Kansas in this year’s season opener). He will announce his retirement to the team at halftime. When the game is over, Snyder will be carried off on his player’s shoulders. When the team reaches the locker room, Bill will find his wife, Sharon, and the two will walk straight out of the Vanier Complex into a waiting limousine. Sean will go to the press conference and announce he’s in charge.

It might be a little far-fetched this could happen without Taylor and K-State President General Richard Myers knowing, but stranger things have happened.

If you’ve read my blogs, you’re aware I don’t worship Snyder like many in Kansas do. In fact, I find him to be grossly overrated. But I won’t go into detail again.

The thing which DID happen to affect the sports scene in these parts involved Kareem Hunt, who went from NFL rushing champion to unemployed in the space of 11 months.

The Chiefs star was released at 1900, six hours after TMZ released video of a February incident in the lobby of a Cleveland hotel which saw Hunt push away, then strike, a 19-year old woman. Hunt lied to the Chiefs and told Clark Hunt, Brett Veach and Andy Reid the incident was nothing to worry about and it wasn’t serious.

Hunt obviously did not listen when his high school history teacher lectured on Watergate. Yes, what Hunt did was terrible and he should have been punished. But covering it up and openly lying about it got him in much more trouble than he could have dreamed of.

Had Hunt told the truth, he would have likely been suspended. That would have been the bad news. The good news would have been he probably would still be employed by the Chiefs, who undoubtedly would have paid to get Hunt the help he needed to prevent this from happening again. He might not have been able to use the team facilities to keep in shape, but I’m sure the Chiefs would have reimbursed the expenses of a private trainer and gym membership.

Hunt is a PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE. In the United States, professional athletes are under the microscope constantly, which says this country is screwed up, but they know once they put on an NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL uniform, they are immediately subject the same scrutiny as an amoeba under an electron microscope.

Kareem Hunt has nobody to blame but Kareem Hunt for his unemployment. He won’t be unemployed long, because undoubtedly some team will claim him on waivers. If the Browns have the chance to claim him, he’ll be playing behind Baker Mayfield beginning next season, since (a) Cleveland GM John Dorsey drafted Hunt in Kansas City, and (b) Hunt grew up in Willoughby, an eastern suburb of Cleveland.

The much more important news of Friday came at 2230, when it was announced George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States, passed away at 94.

Death is always sad, but in this case, nobody will be sad for too long. President Bush lived a wonderful life, and now he is joining his soulmate, Barbara, who passed away earlier this year.

What did President Bush not do? Fighter pilot in World War II. Oil tycoon. U.S. Representative. Chairman of the Republican National Committee. US Ambassador to the United Nations. CIA Director. Vice President. President. Father of a President, Grandfather. Great grandfather.

Of course, there will be a state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, the same way one was held for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford (Richard Nixon declined the state funeral, instead holding a simple service at his presidential library in. Yorba Linda, California). Then Bush will be buried next to Barbara at his library at Texas A&M, meaning the Bushes will be about the 13th and 14th most prominent figures buried on the A&M campus, trailing all the Revile mascots through the years. Just kidding.

I’m guessing George W. Bush will speak at the funeral. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama might. I don’t know about the current Commander in Chief. Given the elder Bush’s love of sports, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few sports figures speak in College Station. Among my guesses would be Nolan Ryan (George W owned the Texas Rangers before he was elected Governor of Texas, Ryan played for the Astros, and now he’s an executive in Houston), Justin Verlander (George HW and Barbara were often spotted in the very front row behind home plate at Minute Maid Park during Astros games) and Jimbo Fisher.

RIP, President Bush. You’ve earned that right and then some.

Midway through the second quarter of the Big 12 football championship game, Texas leads Oklahoma 14-6. SIX POINTS in 23 minutes? Did the Sooners leave their offense in Norman?

Oops, check that. Sooners just scored a touchdown. Now 14-13 Longhorns with five minutes left before halftime.

28 1/2 hours left of November…

My Thanksgiving wasn’t that bad. I’m not going to lie and say I was doing backflips, but no drama, no problems with social media, no hiding from the family for Thanksgiving lunch.

I highly recommend eating the large holiday meals (Thanksgiving and Christmas) for lunch instead of dinner. You can certainly sleep late and skip breakfast, and then you’re ready to roll. After, you have more time to digest the meal before going to bed. I’ve suffered enough indigestion and heartburn after large meals in the evening to keep Alka Seltzer in business.

I didn’t get out of the house from the time I got back from St. Peters last Wednesday through Tuesday. A blizzard hit Sunday, and we lost power in Russell from 0300 to 1200.

We had a very long power outage in the summer, and I thought I was going to die. It was 37 Celsius (98 F) that day and without any circulation, it was an oven.

I was just fine without heat, so no need to get out there. Besides, Interstate 70 was closed from WaKeeney to Junction City (280 km; 175 miles), and all the streets in Russell were snowpacked. I woke up in time to eat lunch with my parents; my mother cooked shrimp scampi, although my father and I said she didn’t have to, but I guess she was tired of turkey and the side dishes, so I don’t blame her for cooking.

I planned on going to Salina for 0900 to get my hair cut, but as I was on I-70 near Wilson, Frank texted me and told me he needed copy as soon as possible. Therefore, I pulled off at Chick-Fil-A on Ninth in front of the Mall, and worked for two hours. I had to buy breakfast and lunch there, simply because I felt I would have been squatting had I not at least bought something. I hadn’t had Chick-Fil-A for a while anyway, so it was a good change. I finally got my hair cut at 1130; Amber was training a new stylist, Morgan, and I tipped them both.

Snow is still all around Kansas City. North of the Missouri River, some areas got as much as 7 inches, and earlier this week,  the Kansas City Star ran an article saying Kansas City was having much trouble plowing the streets, while the streets in Kansas and other municipalities in Missouri (Independence, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Liberty, Gladstone) were plowed. KCMO Public Schools were closed for three days this week! I would not want to burn snow days immediately after Thanksgiving, but it is what it is.

The Saints are ready to kick off vs. the Cowboys in Arlington. There are a lot of Cowboy haters in Kansas City, but I don’t see why. After all, had the Cowboys not forced Lamar Hunt and the Texans out of Dallas, would Kansas City have professional football? New Orleans was going to get the Texans at first, but Tulane said no way to using Tulane Stadium. That wasn’t the only problem; the other was Tulane Stadium was segregated, and blacks had to sit in a small section of the south end zone. It took the Louisiana Legislature, Governor John McKeithen, U.S. Senator Russell Long and U.S. Representative Hale Boggs to get the stadium desegregated AND for Tulane to relent and let the Saints use its stadium.

FYI, three years before the Saints played their first game, Tulane was approached about holding a rock concert in their stadium. One which would have drawn at least 85,000 spectators. The university told The Beatles to get bent, leaving the Fab Four to play at the smaller City Park (now Tad Gormley) Stadium, which seats only 26,000.

Bill Snyder is still the football coach of the Kansas State Wildcats. He is being a stubborn and ornery old man, much the way he was during his first tenure in Manhattan.

I am sick and tired of hearing about how great a man he is and how much he has done for Manhattan and the state of Kansas. Okay, he’s won a lot of football games. But he is more paranoid than Nick Saban can ever dream of being.

More on Snyder in another post. The Saints are ready to kick butt yet again.


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, NFL style

If you’ve listened to Kansas City sports talk radio today, read the Kansas City Star, or looked at posts from Chiefs fans on Facebook and Twitter, you would believe Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has made the greatest deal in franchise history, better than anything Jack Steadman, Carl Peterson, Scott Pioli and John Dorsey could ever have hoped to accomplish.

The accomplishment is the end of Alex Smith’s tenure as the starting quarterback of the Chiefs.

Last night, a few minutes after I sat down in my hotel room to devour a large ribeye (rare, thank goodness) from Outback on Barry Road, I learned Alex Smith was heading to the Redskins, allowing the Chiefs to save $17 million against the salary cap for the 2018 season. The Redskins sent a third-round draft pick this season to the Chiefs, along with cornerback Kendall Fuller, Washington’s third-round pick in 2016 out of Virginia Tech.

Fuller was very angry to learn he was leaving Washington. Blacksburg is not that far from the nation’s capital, and his family is from Virginia, so I can understand why he would be reluctant to head to Kansas City. Many Redskins ripped the move on Twitter.

Meanwhile, one influential Chief was none too happy Smith was heading east.

All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce tweeted out that Smith was a “class act” and he would be sorely missed.

Chiefs fans are overjoyed Smith is out of Kansas City, even though all Smith, the #1 overall draft choice of the 49ers in 2005 (instead of some guy named Aaron Rodgers) did was lead the NFL in passer rating in 2017. Smith led the Chiefs to back-to-back division championships for the first time in franchise history and the team’s first playoff victory since 1993.

The fans have been clamoring for Patrick Mahomes II, who was selected 10th overall in the 2017 NFL draft after the Chiefs shipped their first round pick in this year’s draft to Buffalo to select the Texas Tech gunslinger, one selection before the Houston Texans took Clemson’s DeShaun Watson, who guided the Tigers to the 2016 national championship.

The Chiefs have one of the worst track records in the NFL of developing their own quarterbacks. Nobody will ever forgive the club for drafting Todd Blackledge seventh overall out of Penn State in 1983 instead of Jim Kelly or Dan Marino. Blackledge could not beat out Bill Kenney, who was plucked off the waiver wire after he couldn’t make it with the Dolphins, and by 1989, Blackledge was not with the Chiefs anymore, replaced by ancient veteran Steve DeBerg.

DeBerg began a trend of the Chiefs picking up the 49ers’ leftovers. Joe Montana, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac soon followed, and while Kansas City was a consistent winner in the regular season, it only reached the AFC championship game once, in 1993, when Montana’s team beat the Steelers and Oilers in the playoffs before losing in Buffalo, allowing the Bills to go to the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive year and lose.

The Chiefs drafted Steve Fuller, Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen in later rounds, but none made it big at Arrowhead.

Kansas City’s best quarterback of all-time, Len Dawson, was a Steelers reject. Few people under the age of 55 realize that, since Lenny the Cool has been a Kansas City institution since the Dallas Texans moved to the city in 1963.

The Cardinals have a pretty bad track record, too, but at least two of their best, Jim Hart and Neil Lomax, were home-grown. But since Lomax was forced to retire in the late 1980s with an arthritic hip, the only drafted quarterback to enjoy any success in Arizona was hometown hero Jake Plummer, and I don’t consider him to be that good.

The Redskins have struggled mightily at quarterback since Joe Theismann’s gruesome broken leg in 1985, although that was mitigated by Joe Gibbs coaching Washington to Super Bowl championships in 1987 with Doug Williams and Jay Schroeder, and again in 1991 with Mark Rypien.

Some of the Redskins’ quarterback busts since Theismann have included Heath Shuler, Jason Campbell and Robert Griffin III. Those are just three of the THIRTY-FOUR quarterbacks to start for the Redskins since November 18, 1985, Theismann’s last game.

Many people say the Redskins got fleeced. I say the Redskins got the better end of the deal. He will be a very serviceable signal caller for the next four to five seasons for Jay Gruden and whomever may succeed him until Washington can find a young quarterback it likes, whether it be Baker Mayfield in this year’s draft or someone else.

Kansas City’s hopes now rest on a quarterback who never took a snap from center in Lubbock, who played in a gimmick offense which has no idea how to run the football, and for a school whose track record of developing quarterbacks is awful.

Can you name an NFL quarterback from Texas Tech? If you can’t, join the party.

The most accomplished NFL quarterback to ever emerge from Lubbock may be Billy Joe Tolliver, who was a journeyman throughout the 1990s, gaining the most notoriety with the Chargers and Saints. Kliff Kingsbury, who is the Red Raiders’ current coach, played for Mike Leach and later won a Super Bowl ring serving as Tom Brady’s clipboard holder during the 2003 season.

If Mahomes does anything in the NFL, he will become the greatest Texas Tech QB in history.

But I’m not convinced Mahomes can succeed in a professional offense, where he has to take the snap from center and will have to make check downs and fast reads in order to succeed. He didn’t have to do that nearly as much at Texas Tech, and his mastery of Andy Reid’s complex offense will determine the Chiefs’ fate for the foreseeable future.

Kansas City sports fans got one of their wishes by getting Smith out of town. Now they’re hoping Eric Hosmer will come back to the Royals. If that happens, there may be a parade.

Soul-crushingly bad list, part III

MIAMI DOLPHINS

The selection: 1981 AFC divisional playoff, the “Epic in Miami” vs. the Chargers–yes, I can understand this selection somewhat, since the Dolphins lost 41-38 in overtime. However, Miami rallied from a 24-0 deficit despite having the woefully bad quarterback tandem of David Woodley and Don Strock (“WoodStrock”), scoring on the final play of the first half on a hook-and-ladder. Miami’s opportunity to win in regulation was foiled by Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow, who blocked Uwe von Schamman’s field goal attempt on the final play of the fourth quarter. San Diego won it late in overtime on Rolf Bernsichke’s three-pointer. Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards despite severe dehydration.

The Epic in Miami was heartbreaking, but not as soul-crushing as December 21, 1974.

The Dolphins were the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, looking to win their fourth consecutive AFC championship. Their first playoff opponent was the Raiders, who were steamrolled 27-10 in Miami in the previous year’s AFC championship game.

The general consensus among scribes who knew anything about professional football was the winner of Miami at Oakland would be awarded the Vince Lombardi Trophy the evening of January 12 in New Orleans. The Steelers were formidable thanks to the Steel Curtain and Franco Harris, but the press was still not convinced Terry Bradshaw was starting quarterback material. The NFC’s best, the Rams and Vikings, had their flaws. The Cowboys were not in the playoffs for the only time between 1966 and 1983. The Redskins were too old and offensively ineffective. The Bills had O.J. Simpson and no defense. The Cardinals were in the playoffs for the first time since 1948.

Miami took charge on the opening kickoff when rookie Nat Moore returned it 89 yards for a touchdown, silencing the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ first drive ended on a Kenny Stabler interception, but they got it in gear the next time they had the ball and scored on a pass from the Snake to Charlie Smith. Miami took a 10-7 lead at halftime on a Garo Yepremian field goal.

In the third quarter, Stabler found Fred Biletnikoff in the right corner of the end zone for another TD, and the scoring would go back and forth throughout the second half. Oakland took a 21-19 lead in the fourth on a 75-yard bomb from Stabler to Cliff Branch, only to have that lead erased on Benny Malone’s 23-yard run with 2:08 to go.

The Raiders, who lost a 1972 divisional playoff game on Harris’ Immaculate Reception, looked like they would suffer heartbreak again.

Instead, Stabler showed why he was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1974, completing passes of 18 and 20 yards to Biletnikoff to help Oakland reach the Miami 8 with 35 seconds left.

Stabler rolled left and appeared to be caught from behind by Dolphins defensive end Vern Den Herder, but the Snake got the pass away. It fell into a crowd where Clarence Davis had to battle three Dolphins for the ball, but somehow Davis snatched the pigskin away from linebacker Mike Kolen and fell to the turf in front of back judge Ben Tompkins, who immediately signaled touchdown.

Griese and Miami got the ball back one more time, needing a field goal to win, but an interception preserved Oakland’s 28-26 victory.

Had the NFL adopted rules which gave home field advantage to the teams with the best record and not a predetermined formula in 1974, not 1975, this game would not have happened. Miami would have hosted Pittsburgh and Oakland would have welcomed Buffalo in the divisional round.

As it turned out, the Raiders did not win the Super Bowl. They didn’t make it to New Orleans, falling 24-13 to Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game at Oakland. Two weeks later, the Steelers beat the Vikings 16-6 for the first of four championships in six seasons. The Raiders’ title had to wait until 1976.

Miami is still in search of its first championship since 1973. The Dolphins lost Super Bowl XVII to the Redskins and XIX to the 49ers.

Honestly, none of Miami’s Super Bowl losses were surprising.

–In Super Bowl VI, the Cowboys had the experience from losing the previous year’s game to the Colts, while the Dolphins were in their fourth playoff game all-time.

–In Super Bowl XVII, the Dolphins had the league’s top defense, but they were well overmatched by the Redskins’ Hogs and John Riggins. Also, David Woodley and Don Strock had no business playing quarterback in a Super Bowl. Don Shula figured it out and drafted Dan Marino three months later.

–In Super Bowl XIX, Marino was coming off his record-setting regular season, but Joe Montana had a more balanced offense. San Francisco also had a far superior defense.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The selection: 1998 NFC championship game at home vs. Atlanta. The Vikings went 15-1 in the ’98 regular season, scoring a then-NFL record 556 points. Minnesota, led by MVP quarterback Randall Cunningham and dynamic receivers Cris Carter and rookie Randy Moss, simply shelled opposing defenses all season, save for a 27-24 loss at Tampa Bay in week nine.

Atlanta came into the game 14-2, but were in the NFC championship game for the first time. Minnesota led 27-20 in the final five minutes, only to see Gary Anderson miss a 39-yard field goal, his first miss of a field goal or extra point all season. The Falcons drove to the tying touchdown, and Morten Andersen kicked Atlanta to Super Bowl XXXIII in overtime.

Another case of very short-term memory by the author of this list.

All of the Vikings’ Super Bowl losses occurred prior to the 1977 season, so few people under 50 can remember any of them. Of those four losses, three cannot be considered soul-crushing.

The Vikings were underdogs in Super Bowl VIII vs. Miami. The Dolphins of 1973 were, to many, better than the undefeated 1972 team, because that year’s Miami squad played a tougher schedule and was more dominant in the playoffs, including the 24-7 pasting of the Vikings at Rice Stadium. Minnesota, on the other hand, played in a putrid division (nobody else in the NFC Central finished above .500) and were defeated by two of the best three teams on its regular season schedule, the Falcons and Bengals. The better tam won.

In Super Bowl IX vs. Pittsburgh, the Vikings had the experience edge, but the Steelers were the more talented team, except at quarterback, where Fran Tarkenton was far ahead of Terry Bradshaw at that time. Both teams had Hall of Fame defensive tackles (Joe Greene for Pittsburgh, Alan Page for Minnesota), but the Steelers had the better linebackers, led by Hall of Famers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. Minnesota’s offense gained a mere 17 yards rushing and 119 total, and the Vikings’ only score came on a blocked punt. Better team won.

Oakland came into Super Bowl XI with very few players remaining from the Super Bowl II squad which lost to Vince Lombardi’s Packers but John Madden had much better offensive weapons, led by Stabler, Branch and Biletnikoff, plus tight end Dave Casper. By this time, many thought the Vikings were doomed to fail a fourth time, and sure enough, they were. Raiders win 32-14, and it wasn’t even that close, given Minnesota scored its second touchdown in the game’s final minute against Oakland’s scrubs. The Raiders proved they were the far superior team.

Super Bowl IV hurt for Minnesota. The Vikings came into Tulane Stadium as 14-point favorites over the Chiefs, the losers of Super Bowl I, and many felt the Jets’ victory over the Colts the previous year was a fluke, that the AFL was still the inferior league.

The lens of time, however, reveals this was not as big an “upset” as it was made out to be in 1970. The Chiefs had so many Hall of Famers on their defense–Bobby Bell, Curley Culp, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier (who wasn’t on the team in Super Bowl I) and Emmitt Thomas–and played enough “exotic” schemes (at least for 1969) that Minnesota was befuddled when Kansas City lined up. All Stram had to do was line up Culp or Buchanan over Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff (a future Hall of Famer) and Minnesota’s blocking schemes were blown up.

Offensively, Len Dawson was a much better quarterback than Joe Kapp. Stram devised plans to double team ends Carl Eller and Jim Marshall and throw outside to Otis Taylor, Frank Pitts and shifty halfback Mike Garrett, plus run traps and misdirection plays to fool Page, which happened often in the Chiefs’ 23-7 win.

Having studied the 1969 season statistics, Kansas City should have been favored, in my humble opinion.

However, the most soul-crushing playoff loss in Viking history occurred in Bloomington in the 1975 NFC divisional playoff vs. Dallas.

The Vikings came in 12-2, even though their schedule was pretty bad. Fran Tarkenton had the best year of his career and was the consensus choice as league MVP. Chuck Foreman scored 22 touchdowns, only one off the record set that season by O.J. The Purple People Eaters were at their suffocating best.

Dallas was the wild card team out of the NFC at 10-4, one game behind the Cardinals. The Cowboys missed the playoffs in 1974 by going 8-6, and many thought 1975 would be a “rebuilding” year. Bob Lilly, possibly the greatest defensive tackle who ever played the game, retired after ’74, while defensive teammates Lee Roy Jordan, Jethro Pugh, Larry Cole and Mel Renfro were aging. The offensive line was now without All-Pro guard John Niland and center Dave Manders. The running game was in flux, as Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison were gone, and Tony Dorsett was still two years away.

However, the Cowboys had Roger “The Dodger” Staubach, and that was enough to give Tom Landry’s team a fighting chance in any game.

Indeed, Staubach was never better than the afternoon of December 28, 1975 in Metropolitan Stadium.

With just over three minutes to play, Minnesota led 14-10 and had the ball. It looked like the Cowboys would once again come up short in their quest for their third NFC championship.

However, the Cowboys stopped the Vikings and got the ball back at their own 15 with just under two minutes left. Dallas survived a 4th-and-16 from its own 25 with a 25-yard pass from Staubach to Drew Pearson, a play where Minnesota believed Pearson was out of bounds when he caught the pass, but the officials ruled he was forced out by the Vikings’ Nate Wright.

One play later, Pearson and Wright jostled again as Staubach launched a high arching pass deep down the right sideline. The ball came down at the 4, where Pearson outfought Wright, made the catch and backed into the end zone.

The Vikings believed there was offensive pass interference. Page argued so much he was ejected. Tarkenton, whose father died watching the game back at his home in Georgia, came onto the field to berate an official, leading to Vikings fans throwing numerous objects onto the field. A whiskey bottle hit back judge Armen Terzian in the head, rendering him unconscious. (Terzian would become more infamous in 1978 when Chiefs coach Marv Levy called Terzian an “over-officious jerk” during a game in Buffalo.)

Dallas defeated Minnesota 17-14, then routed Los Angeles 37-7 in the NFC championship game, but fell 21-17 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X.

The Vikings are now two wins away from playing in Super Bowl LII in their own stadium. This list may need to be updated. But for now, Staubach’s Hail Mary trumps all else.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The selection: 2010 NFC wild card game at Seattle, where the defending Super Bowl champion Saints lost 41-36 to the Seahawks, who won the ridiculously weak NFC West with a 7-9 record. The game became famous (or infamous in Louisiana) for the “Beast Quake”, when Marshawn Lynch rumbled 67 yards for the game-clinching touchdown and prompted the crowd at CenturyLink Field to cheer so loud it registered on a seismograph at the University of Washington’s geology department.

Had to think about my hometown team long and hard with this one. Yes, losing to a 7-9 team in the playoffs was more annoying than soul-crushing. Saints fans, and many other football fans across the country, decried the fact a 12-4 team had to go on the road in the playoffs against a team with a losing record.

However, my choice for the Saints’ most soul-crushing playoff loss goes back to my youth. In fact, the 30-year anniversary of this game was just last Wednesday.

It was New Orleans’ very first NFL playoff game, the 1987 NFC wild card game at home vs. Minnesota.

From 1967 through 1986, the Saints posted exactly zero winning seasons. They went 8-8 in both 1979 and ’83 and were in position to make the playoffs going into December, but each time, New Orleans stumbled.

In 1979, the Saints were 7-6 and held a 35-14 lead in the third quarter against Oakland on Monday Night Football. Instead of clinching their first non-losing season in franchise history, the Saints imploded, giving up 28 unanswered points to the Raiders, who won 42-35. The next week, Dan Fouts came to the Superdome and carved up the Saints like a turkey in a 35-0 laugher, knocking New Orleans out of the playoffs. The Saints won their season finale in Los Angeles against the Rams in the Rams’ last home game at the Los Angeles Coliseum for almost 37 years.  The next season, New Orleans lost their first 14 games and finished 1-15, but more importantly, introduced the world to the practice of wearing paper bags at games to hide their shame of supporting terrible teams.

Four years later, the Saints only needed to beat the Rams in the regular season finale to go to the playoffs. The Saints did not allow an offensive touchdown, but the Rams scored a safety, two touchdowns on interception and another TD on a punt return. Los Angeles’ only offensive points were Mike Lansford’s 42-yard field goal with two seconds left to give the Rams a 26-24 victory and leave New Orleans in the cold again.

In 1985, Tom Benson bought the Saints from original owner John Mecom, who made overtures to Jacksonville about moving the franchise there. It took intervention from Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards to force Mecom to sell to an owner who would keep the team in Louisiana.

Saints coach Bum Phillips, hired by Mecom in 1981, resigned with four games to go in 1985. Soon thereafter, Benson hired Jim Finks, the architect of championship teams in Minnesota and Chicago, as general manager. Finks then hired Jim Mora, who coached the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars to two United States Football League championships and one runner-up finish, as Phillips’ successor.

The Saints went 7-9 in Mora’s first season of 1986. The next season, New Orleans split their first two games, winning at home vs. Cleveland and losing at Philadelphia before NFL players went on strike. One game was cancelled, and three more were played with replacement players. The Saints went 2-1 in the replacement games before the regulars came back for the sixth game vs. San Francisco.

Morten Andersen, the future Hall of Fame kicker, made five field goals for the Saints, but his game-winning attempt was no good, allowing San Francisco to get out of the Big Easy with a 24-22 win.

After the game, Mora went nuclear. Two of the most famous lines ever uttered by an NFL coach were spewed in the Saints’ locker room:

  • We’ve got a long way to go. We’re close, and close don’t mean shit (censored). And you can put that on TV for me.
  • Could of, would of, should of…the good teams don’t say coulda, woulda, shoulda. They get it done, okay? I’m tired of saying coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Those statements lit a fire under the Saints, who won their next nine games, clinching the franchise’s first winning season and playoff berth. New Orleans’ 12-3 record was the second best in the NFL, trailing only San Francisco’s 13-2.

Minnesota, meanwhile, scraped into the playoffs at 8-7. The Vikings were all but eliminated from the postseason when they lost their regular season finale at home to the Redskins, but the next day, they were revived by the Cowboys, who beat the Cardinals in what would be the Cards’ final game representing St. Louis.

Saints fans had already booked reservations in Chicago, where the Saints would face the Bears in the divisional round if they beat the Vikings.

New Orleans started very well, recovering a fumble deep in Minnesota territory on the Vikings’ first possession and converting it into a touchdown pass from Bobby Hebert to Eric Martin.

After forcing the Vikings to punt on their second drive, the tide turned sharply against the Black and Gold.

The Saints fumbled the punt, and Minnesota converted it into a field goal. When the Saints punted after their next possession, Anthony Carter, the Vikings’ All-Pro receiver, returned it 84 yards for a touchdown, and Minnesota was ahead to stay.

Any faint hope the Saints had of a comeback died on the final play of the first half when Wade Wilson completed a 44-yard Hail Mary to Hassan Jones, making it 31-10.

Final: Vikings 44, Saints 10.

New Orleans would not win its first playoff game until 2000, when it beat the defending champion Rams. And of course, 2009 was nirvana for the Saints and their long-suffering fans, thanks to Breesus and victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

The Saints and Vikings meet again next Sunday. Minnesota won in the regular season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium, the site of the rematch, as well as Super Bowl LII.

Okay enough for tonight. More later in the week.

 

Soul-crushingly bad list, part II

Back to more of CBS Sports’ bad list of the most soul-crushing playoff defeat in each NFL team’s history.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

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?

Nope.

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.

Happy New Year, Kansas City (at least so far)

Kansas City may have suffered from bitter cold the last few days of 2017 and the first few days of 2018, but most sports fans in the city are over the moon.

Yes, Kansas’ men’s basketball team lost last night to Texas Tech, the first time the Red Raiders have ever won in Lawrence, and that dates back to when the Big 12 was formed for the 1996-97 basketball season. Tech didn’t play every year in Lawrence until 2010-11 after Colorado and Nebraska left and reduced the conference to ten teams, but that is a long time to go without a win in a given facility.

However, Kansas City’s professional sports teams are on cloud nine.

The Chiefs have bounced back from their miserable 1-6 slide to win four consecutive games heading into the playoffs. What has Chiefs fans more excited than the AFC West championship–the first time Kansas City has won division titles in back-to-back seasons in franchise history–or the playoff game Saturday at Arrowhead vs. the Titans is the play of rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes II.

Mahomes, drafted 10th overall by Kansas City after the Chiefs traded with Buffalo to move up 17 spots in the first round of the 2017 draft, saw his first regular season action and performed well, passing for 284 yards and leading the Chiefs on a game-winning drive in the closing seconds at Denver last Sunday. Mahomes’ performance may prompt the Chiefs to trade Alex Smith prior to the 2018 draft, or at the latest, during training camp. Smith will be the starter in the playoffs, but if he doesn’t get the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game, he’s likely departing One Arrowhead Drive very soon.

The Royals don’t start their 2018 campaign for almost three months, but earlier today, their fans were sent into ecstasy when it was announced first baseman Eric Hosmer was offered a 7-year, $147 million contract by the club.

Hosmer, who was drafted second overall in 2008 behind Steven Strasburg, the All-Star pitcher for the Nationals, has become arguably the second most popular player in Royals franchise history behind George Brett. Hosmer came up to the Royals in 2011 and has been a mainstay in Ned Yost’s lineup ever since, leading Kansas City to the American League pennant in 2014 and the World Series championship in 2015.

It was widely expected Hosmer, along with third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, would leave Kansas City before the 2018 season. The thought was if the Royals fell out of the 2017 playoff chase early enough, they would trade any or all of the players in order to get something in return, but Kansas City hung around long enough to convince Dayton Moore to keep the players around. The Royals faded and finished 80-82, their second consecutive non-winning season since winning the World Series (they were 81-81 in 2016).

Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain all received one-year, $17 million qualifying offers from the Royals in November. The players all rejected them and tested the free agent market.

So far, no takers.

The only player who has received interest is Hosmer, who was offered 7 years and $140 million from the Padres, who are in the midst of a massive rebuild. Right now, it looks like Hosmer will be back in Kansas City.

Moustakas and Cain might be forced to take a one-year deal in Kansas City and retest the market next winter, or else take a bargain deal from another team.

Kansas City fans wanted Hosmer back. Looks like they’ll get their wish.

Now if only the NBA and/or NHL would return to Kansas City…keep dreaming.

Alive–but certainly not kicking

Reports of my demise, while not exaggerated, are premature–at least for now.

I am well aware I haven't posted for over a month. However, there hasn't been anything worth reporting in July, at least outside of the first 40 hours of the month.

I have barely left Russell the last three and a half weeks. I have no desire to fight the scorching heat which has gripped Kansas for much of the month. It's really bad when 95 is considered a decent day. It has been over 100 half the days of the month, and as high as 110 a couple of days. Next summer I'll plan a return to Louisiana so I can escape the heat.

Today is not supposed to get to 90, which calls for a parka. Seriously, I cannot wait for fall. This summer has been downright brutal.

Kansas City is in a lather over the Royals, who take an eight-game winning streak into this weekend's series with the Red Sox at Fenway. Royals fans are saying "bring on the Dodgers" and "Kershaw is no Bumgarner" already. Sorry to be the wet blanket, but the Royals have won all eight of those games against the Tigers and White Sox, who are putrid. The White Sox are easily the worst team in the American League, and while the Tigers don't have the second worst record in the Junior Circuit, they are paying just as badly as the White Sox.

When I lived in Louisiana, I took pity on the Royals after they fell into the abyss. Since Louisiana doesn't have an MLB team and it never will, the pipe dreams of some idiots in the 1970s notwithstanding, there really wasn't a team to root for, although the Astros were popular in many parts, and the Rangers had a few followers in the northwest corner of the state. I was, of course, rooting for the Brewers, and then the Royals, because I heard it from some people about how bad they were, knowing I had roots in Kansas.

Royals fans have become quite insufferable since going to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015, winning the latter. It's like 1986 through 2013 were an alternate universe, and the 2014 and 2015 teams have direct lineage to the 1985 World Series winning team, and the 1970s squads which won three consecutive AL West championships. Losing 100 games in four of five seasons between 2002 and 2006? Didn't happen. Trey Hillman as manager? Nope, not real. Emil Brown, Mark Grudzielanek, Mark Teahan, Yuniesky Betancourt? Who were they?

Nope, the Royals history goes straight from October 27, 1985, the night they won Game 7 vs. the Cardinals, to 2014. At least, that's what die-hard Royals fans will tell you. Ned Yost is the second coming of Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, if not John McGraw and Casey Stengel. Eric Hosmer is the best first baseman who ever lived. Danny Duffy is better than Sandy Koufax.

Keep drinking the Flavor-Aid, Royals fans. When your team is watching the postseason, don't say I didn't tell you so. And then get ready for what's to come in 2018 and beyond. You can party like it's 1999 (or 2002 or 2004 or 2005 or 2006).

As for the other team occupying the Truman Sports Complex, the Chiefs are starting training camp in St. Joseph. WHY St. Joseph?

This is something that should have ended when Todd Haley and Scott Pioli were fired. It was their brilliant idea to move training camp from Wisconsin, where a more temperate climate allowed for more work outdoors, to a Division II college only 50 miles from their training complex. WHY?

If the Chiefs are going to go away from home for camp, do it a long way from home. If there was a Division II school to use, it would have been Northwest Missouri in Maryville, the dominant Division II program of the 21st cenutry. I understand the idea of drawing fans from Kansas City, but if that's the idea, then hold practices at the high school fields in Lee's Summit, Blue Springs, Olathe and Overland Park.

Missouri Western State University got a sweet deal out of it, not only getting the publicity of having the Chiefs, but massive upgrades to its facilities. MWSU had fallen far behind Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) rivals Northwest Missouri and Pittsburg State as far as facilities. Now that the NFL and the state of Missouri have ponied up, the Griffins have palatial digs, at least for Divison II.

Last I checked, training camp is for the players and coaches to get ready for the season, not for the fans to mingle. The Chiefs would be better off holding practices at their complex and televising them instead of letting fans in. The fans would be able to watch from the comfort of their air-conditioned living room (or sports bar if they so desire).

The Cardinals used to hold training camp at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In the state, but far enough away from the training facility in Tempe. Also, the Cardinals trained at elevation (7,200 feet), so their stamina was built up. That's the perfect idea of going away for camp.

Holding camp at Division I colleges isn't going to work, now that the season starts before Labor Day. It wasn't that way until the 11th game was added by the NCAA in the early 1970s. Now it wouldn't work if the Chiefs went to Columbia to train at Mizzou. Same for the Saints going to LSU. Or the Cardinals using the University of Arizona.

It poured in Kansas City overnight. Two of the television stations are reporting two people are trapped in a restaurant in south KCMO near the state line.

(Relatively) Calm Sunday

I have never seen Buffalo Wild Wings–at least store #0296, the one I frequent in Kansas City–this dead at 5:30 pm on an NFL Sunday. There are plenty of open seats at the bar, plenty of open seats in tables surrounding the bar, and quite a few tables available in the dining room.

I atributed today’s small crowd to three factors:

  1. The Chiefs played Thursday. That took away a lot of the crowd. The noon games, especially Broncos-Titans, drew a decent crowd, but certainly nowhere near as stuffed as it would have been had the Chiefs played. I didn’t mind. 
  2. The weather was nasty. No snow, but a light drizzle made the roads slick. Combined with the cold, but not frigid, temperatures, definitely kept some away. 
  3. Christmas is in two weeks. Probably a lot of people shopping. 

There were a pair of Dolphins fans sitting to my right at the bar while their team hosted the Cardinals. I made sure to keep my love for the Cards quiet. Nonetheless, I was dismayed to see Arizona lose. 

The Cardinals lost 26-23, thanks in large part to one missed extra point by kicker Chandler Catanzaro, and a second which was not only blocked, but returned by Miami for two points. Had those plays not occurred, and assuming Catanzaro would have gone 3-for-3 on extra points, the field goal the Dolphins kicked on the last play of regulation would have only sent the game to overtime tied at 24-24. Just another bad day in a lost season for the Cardinals, who are now 5-7-1. The last time the Cardinals were 5-7-1 was 1983, when they were in St. Louis. That year, the Cards beat the Giants, Raiders and Eagles in their last three games to pull out a winning record. I don’t see it happening, even though the Saints and Rams are quite winnable games, and the Seahawks haven’t been world beaters against Arizona, especially in Seattle, where the Cards have won two of the last three meetings.      

Of course, nobody in Kansas City cares much about the Cardinals. All they care about is the Chiefs, and many I’m sure have already made reservations to be in Houston February 5 for Super Bowl LI. I can only imagine if the Super Bowl is the Chiefs, who began life as the Dallas Texans in 1960 before moving to Kansas City after three seasons, and the Cowboys, who forced the late Lamar Hunt’s team out of north Texas. Of course, the fans from Houston who attend will certainly root for the Chiefs, since Houston HATES anything and everything about Dallas. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Cowboys, the Rangers, the Mavericks, the Stars, FC Dallas, TCU, SMU…even Dallas high schools are scorned in Space City. 

I’m leaving Buffalo Wild Wings before 6:30. This is my sixth day here, and considering I’ve spent a ton of time on this barstool, I don’t feel guilty. I need to get some work done at the hotel. I’m coming back tomorrow to see Tori and play The Pulse, the weekly 30-question sports quiz, at 7:30. I have to leave at 8:30 to get more work done. 

Robb and Dawn weren’t able to come today because they were busy making Christmas candy, but hopefully they’ll show up Tuesday. I’m leaving Wednesday to go back to Russell, because I’ve got four appointments in Hays Thursday, then I go to Norton Friday. 

There’s a new Hallmark Channel movie at 7 tonight. Bonnie Somerville, whom I recall fondly from her five-episode stint as Rachel Hoffman on The O.C., is starring. I was able to purchase two of the three Christmas movies starring Alicia Witt on iTunes, but “I’m Not Ready For Christmas” is not available. And it isn’t on DVD, either. 

Right now, I am the only customer at the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings. Geez. Talk about dead!

Still here at kickoff

The Chiefs-Raiders game is about to kick off at Arrowhead. It’s cold outside. Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa is stuffed to the gills, and there are people waiting. 

I admit I lost it a little bit when someone beat me at trivia. I was upset the man had his wife and daughter helping him. Of course, I was flying solo. It was the first time I’ve lost this week, save for one game with Dawn and Robb, and the science fiction game last night, where I know next to nothing. 

Maybe it’s time to go home. Believe me, if Buzztime’s SIX weren’t up at 7:30, I would be long gone. But I want to play, considering I don’t get to do so often. 

Norton’s basketball teams won their games today in Goodland. Feel kind of bad about not being there, but Peggy and Caitlyn said it was okay. I promised I would go next Friday when the Bluejays are at home. 

I’m leaving no later than 9:25. I’m coming at 11 am for opening tomorrow to see Larry. Robb and Dawn will show up later in the afternoon, but whether I stay after they leave is up for debate.