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State of the Union? No thanks

President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address. Article II, SEcti0n 3 of the United States Constitution requires the president to periodcally report to Congreses on the State of the Union.

The first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, delivered speeches to Congress in the early years of the republic following ratification of the Constitution. However, the next 24 presidents–Thomas Jefferson through William Howard Taft–did not deliver a single State of the Union speech to Congress, instead delivering it as a written report to the House and Senate.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson became the first president since John Adams in 1800 to address the Congress to deliver the State of the Union in person. Every president since has followed the tradition of personally delivering the State of the Union to Congress. Presidents in their first year in office do not officially issue a State of the Union, but every one since George H.W. Bush in 1989 has addressed a joint session of Congress early in their terms.

I did not watch the State of the Union. Trump probably talked a good game, but honestly ,will anything substantial get done? I doubt it. Nearly every member of Congress is only concerned about one thing, and that is saving his or her own ass. Getting re-elected is the only rule of politics which matters today, and most of the 535 members of Congress (435 in the House, 100 in the Senate) couldn’t care less about their constituents. They only care about getting back to Capitol Hill and collecting enough years to qualify for a full pension, which is more in one month than what the average Social Security recipient receives in a year.

I followed politics religiously throughout high school. My seventh grade social studies teacher, Lydia Gattuso, a very close friend of my mother, got me interested, and that interest piqued during my senior year at Brother Martin with my civics teacher, Eileen Depreo.

By time I got to LSU, I was still interested in politics, but that began to wane as I got more and more involved working with the athletic department. I just didn’t have time to follow what was going on on Capitol Hill or even at the state capitol, which is two miles north of the LSU campus.

Today, I’m so disillusioned I can’t take it anymore. I used to listen to the political talk channels on SiriusXM on my long drives across Kansas, but today, I’m either playing music from my iPod or listening to the sports talk radio stations out of Kansas City.

Robb and Dawn are progressives, and they have opened up my horizon. There was a time when I was very conservative and could not be persuaded to listen to the other side, but now, I’m willing to consider everything in play. I still consider myself more conservative than progressive, but I am much more pragmatic than I was 20 to 25 years ago.

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Today marked two historic events, both of which had serious repercussions.

The first was in 1948, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi by right-wing Hindi nationalists who believed Gandhi had capitulated to Muslims during India’s fight for independence, which was achieved in 1947.

Such a shame that a man committed to non-violence met a violent death. Sadly, history repeated itself 20 years later in Memphis.

The second anniversary was one many American would rather forget.

On January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army attacked South Vietnamese and American camps during Tet, the lunar new year. The United States believed there would be no fighting during Tet, but Hanoi, desperate to hang on after taking heavy losses throughout 1967, launched the surprise attack.

Although the anti-Communist forces were victorious eventually, it was reported throughout the United States that the Communist forces were successful. Near the end of the Tet offensive, CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite stated the Vietnam war was
“unwinnable” and the best the Americans could hope for was a “stalemate”.

When he watched Cronkite’s report on February 27, 1968, President Johnson stated “if I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America”. Thirty-three days later, LBJ announced he would not seek the Democratic nomination for president that year.

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The Washington Redskins have agreed to acquire Alex Smith in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Coincidentally, one of the Redskins’ greatest days was 35 years ago today.

On this date in 1983, John Riggins rushed for 166 yards as the Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII. It was Washington’s first NFL championship since 1942, and the Dolphins were denied their first title since they won Super Bowls VII and VIII in 1972-73.

That Miami got to the Super Bowl in the first place is a tribute to the late Bill Arnsparger, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator who constructed two outstanding units during his time with Shula.

The first was the No-Name Defense, the backbone of the team which went 17-0 in 1972. That unit featured future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti, safeties Dick Anderson and Jake Scott, the latter of whom was the MVP of Super Bowl VII, and a stout defensive line anchored by tackle Manny Fernandez, who was part of 17 tackles in the 14-7 victory over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

In 1982, Arnsparger’s latest creation, the Killer Bees, were the NFL’s best defense. That unit featured nose tackle Bob Baumhower, inside linebacker A.J. Duhe, and defensive backs Lyle and Glenn Blackwood, who were not related.

Duhe was an All-SEC performer at LSU as a defensive tackle. Arnsparger tried Duhe at tackle and end before successfully converting him into an inside linebacker in the Dolphins’ 3-4 defense.

Miami’s offense was great rushing the ball (3rd in the NFL), but putrid passing it (27th, as in next to last). The Dolphins were in a quarterback black hole following Bob Griese’s retirement, with Shula forced to alternate David Woodley and Don Strock (“Woodstrock”), because neither was good enough to win the job full-time.

Thanks to the Killer Bees and a strong running game led by Tony Nathan and Aundra Franklin, Miami went 7-2 in the strike-shortened regular season, then ousted the Patriots, Chargers and Jets in the expanded playoffs to reach the Super Bowl.

Woodley was named the starting quarterback on media day, making him the first–and to date, last–LSU alum to become a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl.

Few expected the Redskins to get to Super Bowl XVII, considering the turmoil the team suffered through only two years prior.

In 1980, Riggins held out for the entire season in a contract dispute with owner Jack Kent Cooke, who in 1979 was ordered by Judge Joseph Wapner, later the star of The People’s Court, to pay $42 million in a divorce settlement to his wife of 45 years, Barbara. The settlement forced Cooke to sell the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings to Dr. Jerry Buss, who developed the former into an NBA dynasty in the 1980s.

Washington went 6-10 in 1980 and fired coach Jack Pardee. His successor was Joe Gibbs, a 40-year old career assistant who gained fame as the architect of the “Air Coryell” offense in San Diego which featured Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson, and later Chuck Muncie and Wes Chandler.

Gibbs flew to Centralia, Kansas to meet Riggins on his farm, and convinced “The Diesel” to return to the NFL. However, Gibbs at first did not make Riggins the focal point of his offense, instead choosing to install the full Air Coryell package, with Art Monk filling the role Joiner did in San Diego.

Gibbs also did not believe Joe Theismann was the right man to run the offense. The Redskins tried backup Tom Owen in the preseason, but the experiment failed miserably. Theismann got his job back when the regular season began, but the Redskins lost their first five games under Gibbs, thanks to a leaky defense.

Gibbs saw the light and realized he had the plowhorse running back he didn’t have for most of his tenure in San Diego. The Redskins became more balanced, and won eight of their last 11 games of 1981.

In 1982, the Redskins’ offense was the most diversified in the NFL, with Riggins and Theismann protected by a massive offensive line known as “The Hogs”. In addition to Monk, Washington struck gold with tiny receivers Charlie Brown and Alvin Garrett, nicknamed “The Smurfs”.

Meanwhile, Washington’s defense was vastly improved under coordinator Richie Pettitbon, an All-Pro defensive back during his playing days with the Bears, Rams and Redskins. The Redskins had a fearsome front four, led by Dave Butz and Dexter Manley, a solid linebacking corps anchored by Neil Olkewicz, and a ball-hawking secondary featuring Mark Murphy, Tony Peters and Jeris White.

However, the Redskins’ Most Valuable Player was its straight-ahead kicker, Mark Moseley, who set an NFL record at the time by converting 23 consecutive field goals. The 1982 season was so strange that Moseley was named the league’s MVP by the Associated Press, the only time a specialist has won the honor.

The 1982 Redskins won all but one of their nine regular season games, losing in week five to the Cowboys. In the playoffs, Washington steamrolled the Lions and Vikings before ousting Dallas 31-17 in the NFC championship game, the third consecutive year the Cowboys fell one win short of the Super Bowl. Following its loss in ’82, Dallas did not get that far again until 1992, when Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII.

Washington was clearly the superior team throughout Super Bowl XVII, but somehow the Dolphins led 17-10 at halftime. Miami got both of its touchdowns on big plays, a 76-yard pass from Woodley to Jimmy Cefalo and a 98-yard kickoff return by Fulton Walker, the first kickoff return TD in Super Bowl history.

The Redskins used a 44-yard gain on a reverse by Garrett to set up a field goal in the third quarter. Theismann was intercepted twice in the period, and a third pass was almost picked off.

Late in the quarter, Theismann found himself under siege from Duhe, Baumhower and Kim Bokamper. Theismann attempted to pass, but Bokamper batted the ball high in the air. The Dolphin end caught the ball at the Redskins’ 1-yard line, but before he could secure the pigskin, Theismann knocked it away.

That play turned momentum permanently in favor of Washington.

With a little over 10 minutes to go, the Redskins had a fourth-and-inches at the Miami 43. Gibbs did not hesitate, keeping his offense on the field and sending in extra tight ends for the short-yardage play.

The call: 70 chip.

The Redskins lined up a tight I formation, with two tight ends, Rick “Doc” Walker and Don Warren, and a third, Clint Didier, in as a wingback. Didier motioned from left to right, stopped in front of Walker, then came back left.

Miami cornerback Don McNeal attempted to follow Didier in motion, but as Didier cut back, McNeal slipped. He quickly regained his feet, but the slip was enough to alter NFL history.

Theismann handed to Riggins, who followed massive left tackle Joe Jacoby. The Diesel broke through the line and was met by McNeal, who could only grab a hold of Riggins’ jersey.

Riggins easily busted through McNeal’s  attempted tackle and outran Glenn Blackwood to the end zone.

Touchdown, Redskins. Game, set and match.

Even though Miami was down only 20-17, it was finished. The defense had been on the field too long, and the offense was totally impotent. Shula pulled Woodley for Strock, but it did no good. The Dolphins could not move, and when the Redskins got the ball back, they bled seven minutes off the clock before scoring on a touchdown pass from Theismann to Brown.

Fortunately for Shula and Dolphins, most of the rest of the NFL–the Redskins excepted–did not believe Dan Marino could be a starter in the NFL. When he was still sitting there at the 27th overall selection, Shula pounced. That turned out well for the most part, although Marino only played in one Super Bowl, losing to Joe Montana’s 49ers in Super Bowl XIX after Marino’s second season.

The Redskins were even better in 1983, scoring 541 points, but they were destroyed 38-9 by the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. Theismann would never play in another Super Bowl, suffering a gruesome broken leg in a 1985 Monday Night Football game vs. the Giants which ended his career. Gibbs, however, would lead the Redskins to victories in Super Bowls XXII and XXVI with different quarterbacks, Doug Williams in the former and Mark Rypien in the latter.

Thank you for reading yet another novella. Have a good night and a better tomorrow.

Quasi-home field advantage: a split decision

I’m writing this at a semi-ungodly hour because I figured it was better to get it out there while it’s fresh in my mind. I don’t do that enough with this blog.

Much has been made about the Vikings’ quest to become the first time to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Minnesota is the first team to reach the conference championship game in the same season it is hosting the Super Bowl.

Seven teams previously reached the playoffs in the same season it hosted a Super Bowl, but none got past the conference semifinals. Those were the 1970 Dolphins (lost to Raiders in AFC divisional), 1978 Dolphins (lost in AFC wild card to Oilers), 1994 Dolphins (lost to Chargers in AFC divisional, blowing 21-6 lead), 1998 Dolphins (lost to Broncos in AFC divisional), 2000 Buccaneers (lost to Eagles in NFC wild card), 2014 Cardinals (lost to Panthers in NFC wild card) and 2016 Texans (lost to Patriots in AFC divisional).

If you’re keeping score, the Saints have NEVER made the playoffs in a year they have hosted the Super Bowl. In fact, only once have they even posted a winning record in a Super Bowl hosting year, going 9-7 in 1989, and it took a three-game winning streak in December over the Bills, Eagles and Colts with John Fourcade as the starting quarterback to do so. The Saints’ records in seasons hosting the Super Bowl: 5-9 (1969), 4-8-2 (1971), 5-9 (1974), 3-11 (1977), 1-15 (1980, the year of the “Aints” and the bag heads), 1985 (5-11), 1989 (9-7), 1996 (3-13), 2001 (7-9) and 2012 (7-9).

Even though no NFL team has yet to play a Super Bowl on home turf, two teams played in college stadiums in their metropolitan areas: the 1979 Rams in Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; and the 1984 49ers in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium.

Today is a perfect day to talk about this, since Super Bowls XIV and XIX were played on January 20 of their respective years. That will never happen again, unless the NFL moves up the start of its season to mid-August. Not happening.

Pasadena is 15 miles (24 kilometers) northeast of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Coincidentally, 1979 was the last year the Rams played in the Coliseum until 2016. The Rams moved to Anaheim Stadium in Orange County in 1980 under an agreement signed in 1978 by then-owner Carroll Rosenbloom, who died under mysterious circumstances in April 1979. The team passed to his widow, Georgia, who soon remarried for the seventh time and became Georgia Frontiere. Georgia was a vicious old hag who swiped the Rams for her birthplace, St. Louis, where they played from 1995 through 2015 before returning to where they belonged.

The 1979 Rams were a hot mess. Yes, they won their seventh consecutive NFC West division championship, but benefitted from a down year by the Falcons, who were a playoff team in 1978, and a Saints team which had a potent offense led by Archie Manning and Chuck Munice, but a porous defense which allowed the Seahawks to score 38 points two weeks after the Rams held Seattle to an NFL record low minus-7 yards total offense. That porous Saints defense also allowed the Raiders to score 28 points in the fourth quarter of a Monday Night Football game in New Orleans to turn a 35-14 lead into a 42-35 loss.

Los Angeles somehow went on the road and beat the Cowboys in what turned out to be Roger Staubach’s final football game, and then the Buccaneers to reach Super Bowl XIV.

Awaiting Ray Malavasi’s club were the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were aiming for their fourth Super Bowl championship in six seasons. The Steelers were aging, but still were the dominant force in the NFL in 1979, thanks to their explosive offense, which featured Terry Bradshaw throwing deep to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann more than ever. Pittsburgh still had Franco Harris in the backfield, but Chuck Noll took advantage of the 1978 rules changes which opened up the passing game (allowing blockers to use open arms and extended hands, and limiting the amount of contact against a receiver) better than any coach in the NFL.

Pittsburgh ousted Miami in the divisional playoffs, then outlasted AFC Central rival Houston to reach the Super Bowl. It would be the first time the Steelers would play a Super Bowl on the west coast, having won Super Bowl IX in New Orleans in Tulane Stadium’s last NFL game, then X and XIII in Miami. The latter game was the last Super Bowl at the Orange Bowl, and the last in Miami until the 1988 season, by which time Joe Robbie Stadium (now Hard Rock Stadium) had opened.

Nobody gave the Rams a prayer. Los Angeles was led by inexperienced quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who was ineffective after taking over for the injured Pat Haden. The Rams did have a stout defense, led by future Hall of Fame end Jack Youngblood, who was playing with a broken bone in his leg suffered during the win over Dallas, but the ineffective offense didn’t figure to be much of a challenge for the Steel Curtain, even though perennial All-Pro linebacker Jack Ham was out with an ankle injury.

Instead of the expected rout, the Rams gave the Steelers all they could handle and then some. Los Angeles led 13-10 at halftime, and after yielding a 47-yard Bradshaw to Swann touchdown pass early in the third quarter, the Rams struck back on a halfback option pass from Lawrence McCutcheon to Ron Smith to go back in front 19-17.

The Steelers finally remembered they were the three-time Super Bowl champions in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh took the lead for good on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw to Stallworth on a play where the Rams’ secondary became confused and cornerback Rod Perry had no safety help deep down the middle (sound familiar, Saints fans?), and extinguished the Rams’ last flicker of hope when Lambert intercepted Ferragamo in Steeler territory with under six minutes left. The Steelers added an insurance touchdown to make the final 31-19, but many agreed it was one of the best Super Bowls played up to that point.

Five years later, the 49ers played just 30 miles (48 kilometers) from their home at Candlestick Park to take on the Dolphins in what was expected to be the greatest quarterback battle in NFL history.

Miami, making its fifth trip to the Super Bowl under Don Shula, was powered by the rocket arm of Dan Marino, who rewrote the NFL record book in his second year in the league.

Marino, who somehow fell all the way to 27th in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft before Shula swiped him, threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in 1984, both NFL records at the time. It was a good thing Marino had a record-breaking year, because (a) Miami’s running attack was next to non-existent, and (b) the “Killer Bees” defense had lost its sting. The Dolphin defense was reeling following the departure of its architect, Bill Arnsparger, who took the head coaching job at LSU at the end of the 1983 season. Add in injuries to All-Pro linebacker A.J. Duhe and nose tackle Bob Baumhower, and Miami was a in a whole heap of trouble against Montana and the man who made the West Coast Offense as common as the off-tackle play in the NFL, San Francisco coach Bill Walsh.

Montana led the 49ers to a 15-1 regular season in 1984, with only a three-point loss to the Steelers marring their ledger. Jerry Rice had not yet arrived–he would the next season–but San Francisco still had plenty of weapons, with steady Dwight Clark, imposing tight end Russ Francis and versatile running back Roger Craig all catching loads of footballs from Montana. San Francisco also had a far more stable running game, thanks to Craig and Wendell Tyler.

The 49ers also had a very good, if underrated, defense, even though linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds was in his final NFL campaign, and future Hall of Fame end Fred Dean held out until late November. San Francisco’s strength was its secondary, where all four players made the Pro Bowl: cornerbacks Eric Wright and Dwight Hicks, and safeties Carlton Williamson and Ronnie Lott, another future Hall of Famer wearing the red and gold for Walsh and Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

The expected showdown turned into a rout.

Miami led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter, but 21 unanswered points by the 49ers in the second quarter turned the Super Bowl into a super blowout, something which would become quite common in the near future.

Other than Montana’s performance, Super Bowl XIX was most notable for President Reagan performing the coin toss via satellite from the White House (the former Governor of California had to stay in Washington because of presidential inauguration ceremonies; since January 20, 1985 was a Sunday, Reagan took the oath of office privately at the White House and publicly the next day in the rotunda of the Capitol).

San Francisco won 38-16 and would go on to win two more titles in 1988 and ’89 to become the team of the decade. Miami has yet to return to the Super Bowl. Marino played 17 seasons in the NFL and set numerous records, many of which have been broken, but only reached the AFC championship game twice more, losing to the Patriots in 1985 and the Bills in 1992, both times at home. Shula retired after the 1995 season with an NFL record 347 victories.

Strangely enough, Shula is one of three coaches to lose four Super Bowls, having been in charge of the Colts when Joe Namath delivered on his guarantee in Super Bowl III. The other four-time losers didn’t win one, Marv Levy of the Bills and Bud Grant of the Vikings.

Mentioning Grant is a great segue to the current Vikings, who have thrived under Mike Zimmer despite the quarterback conundrum facing this team the past two seasons.

In August 2016, Teddy Bridgewater, the first-round draft choice out of Louisville in 2014, suffered a horrific knee injuries, tearing all three ligaments (anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and lateral collateral) during a non-contact practice drill. The injury was so serious his career was in jeopardy. He missed all of 2016 and did not play in 2017 until near the end of the year.

Before the 2016 season, the Vikings traded a first-round draft choice to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, the oft-injured former #1 draft choice of the Rams and Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma.

This season, Bradford was injured early, but the Vikings got a career year from Case Keenum, a journeyman who had been mediocre at best in previous stops with the Texans and Rams. Minnesota has the league’s #1 defense, not surprising given Zimmer was an outstanding defensive coordinator in Dallas and Cincinnati before going to the Vikings.

I am not a Vikings fan, but it would be nice to see them in the Super Bowl at home (as the designated visiting team), especially if the opponent were the Patriots. The crowd noise of U.S. Bank Stadium would be the ultimate neutralizer to Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, if “all time” is limited to the 21st century.

By 9:30 Central time tomorrow night, we’ll know who’s going to be playing in Minneapolis February 4. Then crank up the hype machine!

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.

 

(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!