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Saints shafted!

Football fans throughout Louisiana, at least most of them, are still steaming mad about the no-call which kept the Saints from Super Bowl LIII.

The outrage has extended well past the Saints players, coaches, front office and owner Gayle Benson. It’s reached the point where the New Orleans City Council drafted a resolution condemning the no-call, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is drafting a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to take a look into overturning the result, or at least ordering a replay.

Edwards and other politicians should be commended for their love of the Saints and their willingness to do anything to support one of two professional sports franchises to call Louisiana home.

Sadly, it isn’t going to do anything. The Rams are on their way to Atlanta to face the Patriots, and the Saints and their fans can only wonder what if.

The play in question occurred with less than two minutes remaining in the NFC championship game and the score tied 20-20. With it third and 10 and the Saints on the Rams’ 13-yard line, Drew Brees threw a short pass into the right flat intended for Tommylee Lewis.

Before Lewis could move to his right in order to catch the pass, Rams safety Nickell Robey-Coleman barreled full speed into Lewis with a helmet-to-helmet hit with left the ball to flutter incomplete.

The Saints had to settle for a Will Lutz field goal to give them the lead, but there was still 1:41 remaining when the Rams began their next possession, more than enough time for Jared Goff to drive his team to a game-tying field goal by Greg Zeurlein.

New Orleans won the overtime coin toss, but on the Saints’ third play of the extra period, Los Angeles’ Dante Fowler came in untouched on Brees, forcing a flutterball which was intercepted by the Rams’ John Johnson at the Los Angeles 46.

The Rams picked up one first down before stalling at the Saints’ 39. A 57-yard field goal is out of the range of many NFL kickers, but Zeurlein drove it home with plenty of room to spare, sending the Rams to their first Super Bowl since 2001, and the first for the Los Angeles Rams since 1979.

Back to the no-call.

I think Sean Payton should have ran the ball on first down and third down and forced the Rams to exhaust their timeouts. Los Angeles had two timeouts at the two-minute warning, and the Saints would have been able to bleed 40 more seconds off the clock after third down. Even if the Saints lost 10 yards on three plays and taken a 5-yard delay of game penalty, it still would have been well within Lutz’ range.

That said, Payton has a Super Bowl ring and more wins than any previous Saints coach, so I defer to his judgement. He is paid $9 million per year to call the shots.

While we will never know how the game would have turned out had Robey-Coleman been flagged–either for defensive pass interference (DPI) or a helmet-to-helmet hit.

It is indefensible, however, that a flag was not dropped.

One of the cardinal rules of playing pass defense is the defender must play the ball, not the receiver. At no level of football–Pop Warner, high school, college, professional–is a defender allowed to simply go after the receiver. I’m certain every elementary officiating training video shows a defender playing the man and not the ball is obvious DPI.

Robey-Coleman did not turn his head once he started flying towards Lewis. His eyes were pointed in one direction and one direction only, at the player wearing black jersey #11.

For a split second, it appeared Robey-Coleman might be called out for his misdeed.

Down judge (head linesman in other levels of football; it was changed by the NFL to down judge because Sarah Thomas now officiates that position) Patrick Turner had his hand on his penalty flag, which was in his belt on his right hip. However, he took his hand off the flag and signaled incomplete.

The question is, did Turner decide himself to keep his flag in his belt, or did he have help in making the no-call?

Two officials are stationed on each sideline. The head linesman/down judge and side judge work one side, and the line judge and field judge the other. The linesman and line judge are stationed at the line of scrimmage, and the field judge and side judge are 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

I am wondering if Turner caught the eye of side judge Gary Cavaletto as he had his hand on the flag and changed his mind because of something Cavaletto communicated to him, either by voice or eye contact.

Turner and Cavaletto blew it, as did back judge Todd Prukop, who had a clear angle of the play from the middle of the field 25 yards deep.

Turner had no guts. If he threw the flag, it probably would have prompted a conference between the seven-man crew led by Bill Vinovich. If Vinovich and his mates opted to overrule Turner, then so be it, but Turner would have showed courage to do the right thing and make a gutsy call when guts are in short supply. Instead, Turner swept it under the rug.

Cavaletto and Prukop have both officiated in Super Bowls. This was Cavaletto’s 13th postseason assignment. This was Turner’s first conference championship game, and sadly, it could be his last NFL game, period.

The first cardinal rule of officiating is you have to see it before you call it, so phantom calls are always a big no-no with the NFL. Yet missing something so obvious is just as bad.

How could Turner, Cavaletto and Prukop NOT see a foul? Robey-Coleman should have been called for either DPI or a personal foul. Either way, the Saints get a fresh set of downs, they can milk the clock, then call in Lutz to kick them to Atlanta the same way Garrett Hartley kicked New Orleans to Miami nine years ago.

Two former NFL Vice Presidents of Officiating, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, said the officials blew it. So did Terry McAulay, the referee for Super Bowls XXXIX, XLIII and XLVIII. Current NFL Vice President of Officiating Alberto Riveron told Payton the call was blown minutes after the game ended.

I do not like the direction of football in 2018. I do not like shootouts. I do not like pass defenders having so many restrictions placed upon them. I do not like defenders who are flagged for roughing the passer for ticky-tack things which would never have been called 20 years ago.

On the other hand, if it is egregious, it has to be called. The same way as a pitch which comes into a batter at his feet or his neck must be called a ball. The same way a hockey player who swings his stick at an opponent must be called for slashing. The same way Lionel Messi must be awarded a penalty kick if he is tackled in the penalty area when he is one-on-one with the goalkeeper.

Yes, officiating requires good judgement, the same way the men and women in black robes requires it. Yet there are some areas which are black and white. Nickell Robey-Coleman bulldozing Tommylee Lewis was black and white. And the men in the black and white stripes failed miserably.

Robey-Coleman is fortunate the NFL does not have the NCAA’s targeting rule. In college, the replay official may buzz the referee if he sees forcible contact to the head or neck area that the officials on the field did not call. The player can be ejected for targeting based upon the replay official’s recommendation., Certainly Robey-Coleman would have been banished had the college rule been in effect.

The Rams-Patriots Super Bowl does not interest me. I saw this crap 17 years ago. Only this time, Brady and Belichick are heavy favorites against a second year quarterback, not the other way around. If the Patriots win, they’ll piss everyone off except those living in New England, Colin Cowherd and those who think Brady is the greatest thing to hit football. If the Rams win, it’s tainted.

Double dose of Saintly pain

January 3 is a day fans of the New Orleans Saints would rather forget for two major reasons.

The first occurred in 1988, when the Saints lost 44-10 to the Vikings in New Orleans’ first playoff game in franchise history.

The Saints finished the 1987 regular season 12-3, the second best record in the entire NFL, but they had to settle for a wild card berth to the playoffs because the 13-2 49ers were in the same division, the NFC West.

Prior to 1987, the Saints suffered through 18 losing seasons. Their best record was 8-8, achieved in 1979 and 1983. New Orleans was the birthplace of fans wearing bags on their heads, introduced during the abysmal 1-15 season of 1980.

In 1987, fans could rip the bags off–at least over the last nine games. The Saints lost three of their first six games, two of them to mediocre teams (Eagles and Cardinals) and one to the 49ers in the Superdome, a game in which Morten Andersen made five field goals, but missed his seventh attempt on the game’s final play, allowing San Francisco to escape 24-22.

The Saints should have been given kudos for coming close against the mighty 49ers, right?

Nope.

Second-year Saints coach Jim Mora went nuclear. Three words sum it up best.

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

Mora stated he was tired of saying “coulda, woulda, shoulda”, and that the Saints weren’t good enough to beat the 49ers. Another famous line came when he said, “We’re close, and close don’t mean (bleep). And you can put that on TV for me.”

In 1987, there was SportsCenter, but the NFL Network was 16 years off. However, those of us in New Orleans got to see Mora’s tirade more than a few times, and nobody who grew up in New Orleans in the late 1980s will ever forget Mora’s postgame press conference of October 25, 1987.

Mora’s words must have had some effect on the Saints. New Orleans did not lose again in the regular season, ripping off nine consecutive victories, including a 26-24 decision at San Francisco three weeks later, a game which was won on a 52-yard field goal by Andersen, who last year became the second pure placekicker to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining former Kansas City legend Jan Stenerud, whose bust has been in Canton since 1991.

The Saints’ opponents in the NFC wild card game, the Vikings, were in the playoffs for the first time in five years. Jerry Burns, who was in his second year in charge in Minnesota, had one of the NFL’s best receivers, Anthony Carter, but an unsettled quarterback situation between the oft-injured Tommy Kramer and the inconsistent Wade Wilson. The Viking defense, although not up to the standards of the Purple Gang of the 1970s, was still formidable, thanks to Chris Doleman, Keith Millard, rookie Henry Thomas, Scott Studwell and Joey Browner.

Minnesota was put into a hole during the strike called by the NFL Players’ Association during the 1987 season. The owners called up replacement players to substitute for the regulars for three games in weeks 4-6 (week three was canceled), looking to avoid the repeat of the disastrous 1982 strike in which the season was reduced from 16 games to nine.

The Vikings’ replacement team laid a giant goose egg, losing to Green Bay, Chicago and Tampa Bay. New Orleans had better fortune, defeating the Rams and Bears while losing in St. Louis.

Minnesota got back on track when the strike ended, but in December, the Vikings lost to the Bears, Packers and Redskins, finishing 8-7. However, Minnesota snuck into the playoffs when Dallas defeated St. Louis in what turned out to be the Cardinals’ final game representing the Gateway City.

Most of the experts liked New Orleans to easily defeat Minnesota and move into a divisional playoff game in Chicago, where the Bears were hampered by bickering, inconsistency from quarterback Jim McMahon, and an aged Walter Payton, who ended up retiring after the 1987 season.

The Vikings had different ideas.

New Orleans grabbed an early 7-0 lead, but an 84-yard punt return touchdown by Carter turned the momentum permanently in the Vikings’ favor.

Minnesota rubbed salt in the wound on the final play of the first half when Wade Wilson connected with Hassan Jones on a 55-yard Hail Mary, a play which the Vikings received when the Saints were called for having 12 players on the field on what should have been the last play in the first half. A half cannot end on a defensive penalty, and the Vikings made the Saints pay the ultimate price.

It didn’t matter. The Vikings were up 24-10 before the Wilson-to-Jones heroics, and they added to the lead in the second half, ending up a 44-10 winner.

The next week, Carter torched the 49ers with 11 catches for 227 yards, a playoff record, in a 36-24 Viking victory at San Francisco. Minnesota came within an eyelash of its first Super Bowl since 1976, but Darrin Nelson dropped a potential game-tying touchdown at the goal line in the NFC championship game in Washington. The Redskins won 17-10, then obliterated John Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl XXII with the famous 35-point second quarter.

Exactly five years later after the debacle vs. the Vikings, the Saints were again hosting an NFC wild card playoff game. The Saints went 12-4 in 1992, but had to settle for second in the NFC West behind the 14-2 49ers, who swept the season series from New Orleans, negating San Francisco’s loss to the 4-12 Cardinals.

New Orleans was still in search of its first playoff victory when the Eagles invaded the Crescent City on January 3, 1993. The Saints made the playoffs as an 8-8 wild card in 1990 before losing to the Bears in Chicago, then lost to the Falcons at home after capturing the NFC West in 1991, the Saints’ first division title.

Philadelphia entered the 1992 playoffs riding a five-game postseason losing streak, a skid which started in New Orleans when the Eagles lost 27-10 to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV.

One factor working in the Eagles’ favor was Buddy Ryan was no longer coaching them. Ryan lost playoff games in three consecutive seasons between 1988-90, and combined with Ryan’s hatred of his offense despite the heroics of quarterback Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia owner Norman Braman had seen enough and showed Ryan the door.

Rich Kotite had the Eagles in the playoffs after missing out in 1991 despite a 10-6 record. Philadelphia defeated New Orleans 15-13 at Veterans Stadium in the season opener, and that led to the pundits splitting right down the middle as to whether the Eagles or Saints would advance to face the Cowboys in Dallas.

Through three quarters, the Saints led 20-7. It looked like the Saints would finally win a playoff game, and the Eagles would once again choke in the clutch.

Unfortunately for the Saints, football games are four periods.

In the fourth quarter, the Eagles stunned not only the 70,000 in the Superdome, but millions of football fans watching on television by ripping off 29 unanswered points to win 36-20.

Fortunately for the Saints, few outside Louisiana noticed their collapse.

Mora and his players had the Houston Oilers to thank.

Earlier that day, the Oilers built a 35-3 lead early in the third quarter in Buffalo, only to completely collapse and allow the Bills to rally and win 41-38 in overtime.

The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 and changed their name to the Titans in 1999. The franchise is still searching for its first Super Bowl title. So are the Bills, who lost Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII to the Cowboys after losing XXV to the Giants and XXVI to the Redskins.

Minnesota has lost three more NFC championship games since 1987 (1998, 2000 and 2017).

New Orleans finally shook the playoff monkey in 2000, and won Super Bowl XLIV nine years later. Philadelphia is the reigning Super Bowl champion, the first title for the Eagles since 1960.

Here’s hoping the Saints can live up to the pressure of the NFL’s best team during the regular season and bring home the Vince Lombardi trophy from Atlanta one month from tonight.

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.


Jim Garrett (1930-2018), football lifer

Jim Garrett, the father of Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, died yesterday at age 87. Jim Garrett was a scout for the Cowboys when Jason was a backup quarterback for the team during their glory years, when Dallas won three Super Bowls in four seasons, led by Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and a stout defense which featured Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland.

Prior to joining the Cowboys as a scout near the end of Tom Landry’s 29-year tenure as coach, Jim was an assistant coach for three NFL teams, including a two-season stint in 1976 and ’77 under Hank Stram with the Saints. Garrett was New Orleans’ secondary coach and de facto defensive coordinator, although the title was not yet in vogue.

Below is a link to a NFL Films documentary documenting the Saints’ preparations for a November 1976 game vs. the Packers in Milwaukee, as well as footage of the game itself. Green Bay won 32-27. Garrett is featured at 23:10 and 31:48.

1976 Saints prepare for Packers

Garrett was one of two assistants on Stram’s Saints teams to earn a Super Bowl ring later in their NFL careers.

Like Garrett, John Beake did not earn his coaching on the field.

Beake, the running backs coach for Stram’s Saints, and mentor to the talented but troubled duo of “Thunder” (Tony Galbreath) and “Lightning” (Chuck Muncie), later became an administrator, and was the general maanger of the Broncos when they won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII in 1997 and ’98. Undoubtedly John Elway learned much from Beake before becoming Denver’s current GM.

In 1978, Garrett moved to Cleveland when Sam Rutigliano, the Saints’ receivers coach under Stram, became head coach of the Browns. He ended his NFL coaching career under a rookie coach named Marty Schottenheimer for the second half of the 1984 season.

Rutigliano’s Browns became famous as the “Kardiac Kids” in 1979 and ’80, winning hte AFC Central divison in the latter season before losing infamously in the playoffs to the Raiders, who won in Clevleand despite it being 1 degree (minus-18) at kickoff with a wind chill of minus-36 (minus-38). Just say “Red Right 88” in northeast Ohio and most will know what you mean.

Schottenheimer was named head coach of the Browns after Art Modell fired Rutigliano eight games into that season. Schottenheimer’s first game as an NFL head coach was a 16-14 loss to the Saints in Clevleand’s former home, Municipal Stadium. The winning points came on a 53-yard field goal by future Hall of Famer Morten Andersen.

In 1985, Garrett was named head coach at Columbia University, the Ivy League school in Manhattan. Garrett took over a team which went 0-10 in 1984 and led it to another 0-10 finish, extending what would become a 44-game losing streak, the longest in NCAA Division I at the time.

The elder Garrett was fired a few days after the conclusion of the 1985 season when allegations of player abuse surfaced, both physical and verbal. According to the New York Times, Garrett slapped one player across the breast plate of his shoulder pads and another on the back of his helmet. It was rough, yes, but nowhere near as bad as Mark Mangino many years later saying a player would “become an alcoholic like his father” and telling another “to go back to the hood and get shot with your homies”.Nor was it anywhere near as bad as Woody Hayes slugging Clemson middle guard Charlie Baumann in the 1978 Gator Bowl, the incident which ended Hayes’ 28-year tenure at Ohio State.

However, the Ivy League is not the SEC, and Columbia wasn’t willing to take the risk, so Garrett was dismissed. After being out of football in 1986, he was hired by Tex Schramm as a scout in Dallas, and stayed through the coaching tenures of Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo, retiring in 2004, when Bill Parcells was in charge.

Columbia wasn’t Jim Garrett’s first coaching job in New York City. He was an assistant with the Giants under Alex Webester in the early 1970s.

Ironically, three of Garrett’s sons, Jason, Judd and Jim III, had all transferred from Princeton to Columbia to play for their dad. All three ended up going back to New Jersey, and Jason ended up becoming the Ivy League’s all-time most accurate passer, completing 66.5 percent of his throws.

However, Jason Garrett could not prevent the Tigers from losing 16-13 to Columbia in the Big Apple on October 8, 1988, allowing the Lions to snap their long losing streak. Colubmia is no longer associated with football futility; its 44-game losing streak was destroyed by Prairie View A&M, which lost 80 consecutive games from 1989 through September 1998.

Jim Garrett’s only professional head coaching gig came in the infamous World Football League, where he piloted the Houston Texans in 1974. These Texans wore green and gold, not the “battle red”, “liberty white” and “deep steel blue” of the NFL Texans, and played in the Astrodome, as bad a football stadium as one could find.

The Oilers and Astros both played to scores of empty seats in the Astrodome in those days, so you have to figure the Texans before family, friends and a few others who were totally clueless. Indeed they did, and before the season was over, the Texans moved to Shreveport and became the Shreveport Steamer. The Steamer became Louisiana’s second professional sports team at the time, only days before the Jazz began their maiden NBA season in the Big Easy.

Dallas hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 1995, when Switzer’s Cowboys defeated Bill Cowher’s Steelers. In fact, Dallas hasn’t even played for an NFC championship since winning Super Bowl XXX. Too bad Jim Garrett, by all accounts a good guy, didn’t get to see his son reach the big game with the 2016 Cowboys, who went 13-3 in the regular season but choked in the playoffs vs. Green Bay.

Will the passing of his father spur Jason Garrett on to bigger and better things in 2018? It will be difficult given the reigning Super Bowl champion resides in the same division.  Dallas should be better than the Giants and Redskins, but to say it will surpass the Eagles is a stretch no matter whom Philadelphia starts at quarterback. Even Ezekiel Elliott for 16 games isn’t going to make all the difference.

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Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs. I’m shocked…NOT. Like the Brewers or the Twins had a chance against the Evil Empire junior grade. That groan you just heard came from Milwaukee and St. Louis, and smaller ones emanating from Los Angeles and Washington.

Manchester City beat Leicester City 5-1 to keep its stranglehold atop the Premier League. It was 1-1 at halftime, but Pep Guardiola’s club is simply too good. It would be fascinating to see this year’s City team play some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best Manchester United clubs.

Elsewhere in the Prem, Tottenham beat Arsenal 1-0, Swansea continued its climb out of the drop zone by beating Burnley in Wales, Everton easily dispatched Crystal Palace, while Stoke and Brighton drew.

Tomorrow morning (noon in Britain) finds Bournemouth traveling to Huddersfield as the latter tries to battle its way out of the drop zone. The Cherries looked like they would have to battle the drop earlier in the year, but a 3-0 victory at Chelsea followed by a home decision over Stoke has pushed Eddie Howe’s club into the top half. It has to be troubling to Sunderland, Hull City, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Norwich City and the current stragglers in the Prem like West Bromwich Albion and Stoke that a club which plays in an 11,464-seat stadium can be in the top half of the league. Howe should be coaching an international team for those efforts.

Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium (Dean Court) is the Cameron Indoor Stadium of the Premier League. Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham may have the large, flashy stadiums, but Bournemouth has the atmosphere and the fans right on top, much the way Duke has it over North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Virginia in ACC basketball.

In fact, all three matches tomorrow favor the away side. After Bournemouth-Huddersfield, it’s Manchester United at Newcastle and Liverpool at Southampton.

The Olympics are on. My mother is glued to the TV set. YAWN.

At least 58 college basketball games, give or take a few, are on today. That’s 58 more, give or take a few, than I’m watching.

Kinda bored. But it beats being out at an event which might cause trouble.

Super sites: superbly competitive

Monday marked the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl XII, the first Super Bowl to be played indoors. The Cowboys defeated the Broncos 27-10 in the Louisiana Superdome (now Mercedes-Benz Superdome). I don’t remember watching simply because I was only 15 months old, while my mother was almost eight months pregnant with my brother, who arrived February 24.

Super Bowl IX, the previous Super Bowl held in New Orleans, was supposed to be played in the Superdome. The NFL awarded New Orleans Super Bowl IX in early 1973 with the intention of playing the game indoors. However, when it became obvious in the middle of 1974 the Superdome would not be completed in time for the game (January 12, 1975), the NFL allowed New Orleans and the Saints to move the game to Tulane Stadium.

The Superdome did not open until August 3, 1975, and the first regular season game there was September 28, a 21-0 Bengals victory over the Saints. It was scheduled to be open in 1972 when the voters of Louisiana approved the bonds to build the stadium in November 1966, but construction did not begin until August 1971. Typical Louisiana.

The above narrative shows just how different selecting Super Bowl sites is today than it was in the 1970s.

The first six Super Bowls were awarded with less than one year of lead time. In fact, the site for Super Bowl I, the Los Angeles Coliseum, was not selected until the last week of November 1966, a mere seven weeks before the game was played. To be fair, the NFL and AFL did not finalize plans for the World Championship Game, as it was called then, until early November.

The next five Super Bowls saw the sites awarded at the league meetings of March. Miami won Super Bowls II, III and V, while New Orleans got IV and VI at Tulane Stadium. New Orleans bid on the first three Super Bowls, and was seriously considered as the site for the first, even though the Saints did not begin play until 1967, the season of Super Bowl II.

Joe Robbie, who bought the Dolphins from Danny Kaye in 1969, lobbied Pete Rozelle hard to permanently place the Super Bowl in Miami. John Mecom, the original owner of the Saints, lobbied very hard against it, as did Dave Dixon, who was the driving force behind the NFL coming to New Orleans, then-Louisiana Governor John McKeithen, then-New Orleans mayor Victor Schiro, and many NFL owners, especially Clint Murchison in Dallas and George Halas in Chicago.

New Orleans’ pleas carried the day in March 1969 and again in March 1971. The first Super Bowl site to be awarded more than a year in advance was Super Bowl VII, which was awarded to Los Angeles at the same time as Super Bowl VI.

Many wanted Super Bowl IX to be yanked out of New Orleans. They believed New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu lied when he said the Superdome would be open in time for the game, and that New Orleans should be punished.

In today’s NFL, that would have happened for sure. The game probably would have gone to Miami, which was already scheduled to host Super Bowl X, or possibly to the Los Angeles area, either at the Coliseum, or the Rose Bowl, which would host Super Bowl XI and four more after that.

However, Rozelle allowed the game to remain in the Big Easy. Even in the mid-1970s, it would have been a logistical nightmare to move the game on such short notice.

Today, cities have at least three years of lead time, often more, to get ready for the game.

For instance, Minneapolis, which is hosting Super Bowl LII February 4, has known about it for almost four years. Knowing the game would be yanked if U.S. Bank Stadium was not open in 2016, the construction crews in the Twin Cities worked double time to make sure it was on schedule.

Under NFL rules currently in place, a stadium cannot host the Super Bowl in its first season of operation. This is why Minnesota had to wait until this year, and Atlanta has to wait until next year, although Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the College Football Playoff championship game less than six months after opening.

In May 2016, the NFL awarded the sites for Super Bowls LIII, LIV and LV. Super Bowl LV was originally scheduled for the new stadium in Los Angeles (Ingelwood) in February 2021, but an exceptionally rainy winter in early 2017 pushed back the timetable for construction of the stadium. Therefore, Tampa will host LV and Los Angeles will host LVI.

Sadly, New Orleans cannot host another Super Bowl until LVII in February 2023. And even that one is a very long shot, as Las Vegas’ Stadium will be open by then, and it will be the first opportunity to hold it there.

From 1969, the season of Super Bowl IV, through 1989, the season of Super Bowl XXIV, New Orleans never went more than five seasons without hosting. The drought will be nine seasons through 2021, and likely grow to ten.

There are some who want a four-year rotation for the Super Bowl between Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and a wild card. That will never happen. The owners in Dallas, Houston and Arizona would certainly raise holy hell, as would those in Tampa, Atlanta, Minnesota, Detroit and Indianapolis.

The owners in Tennessee and Carolina probably feel the worst. They believe their climates are far enough south to provide good weather in early February, but there is just too much risk. Look how badly Atlanta was paralyzed during an ice storm the week before Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000. It could very well happen again next year. The NFL is really rolling the dice.

One city which won’t host again is Jacksonville. There simply were not enough hotels in 2005, and many guests either had to stay in far-away locales (Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Ocala) or on cruise ships. The Jaguars have not bid since and probably won’t, unless Shahid Kahn changes his mind.

London? There would have to be another extra week between the conference championships and Super Bowl. And how would fans in the United States get to London? I can’t see that.

I”m of the mind the Super Bowl should be offered to all NFL cities, even those in colder climates with outdoor stadiums. Why not Chicago? New England, though, would never be on my list, because Foxborough is in the middle of nowhere and the traffic getting there from Boston and Providence would be so bad I can’t imagine it. Green Bay? Not enough hotels.

Kansas City? Stadium is kind of outdoor. Great for tailgating, not for events in the days prior to the game. And there isn’t a second facility comparable to what the Chiefs have. The only options I could see is letting one team use Kauffman Stadium and the Royals’ facilities or Sporting Kansas City’s stadium in Kansas. At least New Orleans has Tulane. Baton Rouge wouldn’t be bad, since it would be away from the temptations of the French Quarter, and LSU’s facilities are far superior to Tulane’s.

I’m resigned to the fact I won’t see a Super Bowl in Kansas City, Chicago, Green Bay or many other places in my lifetime, unless something changes drastically. It’s only sports.

Musings from your favorite hypocrite

I said I would post every day in 2018, and here I go three days without anything. What a hypocrite I am.

I am still in shock about the Saints. How can that happen? All Marcus Williams had to do was let Stefon Diggs catch the pass, wrap him up, then wait for help. As  long as Diggs did not get out of bounds, the clock would have expired before the Vikings could have snapped the ball for a field goal. This is not college or high school, where the clock stops to move the chains.

Bill Franques told me this was the most unbelievable loss he’s seen in all of his years of following the Saints, which is all but the team’s first two seasons. I thought about it, and he may be right.

Face it–in the first 16 seasons of the Saints’ existence (1967-1982), there really weren’t that many games which were important enough to be that heartbreaking. Losing to the Buccaneers after they lost 26 straight in 1977 was utterly embarrassing, but in the grand scheme of the NFL, who cares? Tampa Bay was going to win sooner or later, and one team would have to be the first victim. It just happened the Bucs took so long to win a game.

The only games from 1967-1982 which I could see qualifying as heartbreaking were three to Atlanta in 1978 and ’79, and losing to Oakland on Monday Night Football in 1979 after holding a 35-14 lead in the third quarter.

The 1983 season had two such games, both of which kept the Saints out of the playoffs at a time they had yet to even have a winning season. The first was against the Jets the Monday before Thanksgiving, when New Orleans squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost on a 76-yard punt return by Kirk Springs with four minutes to go. The second was the season finale vs. the Rams, where Los Angeles did not score an offensive touchdown, but used two pick-sixes and a punt return TD to win 26-24, with Mike Lansford nailing the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

Losing at Chicago in the 2006 NFC championship? The Saints weren’t expected to be there after going 3-13 during the Katrina season. It was a fine accomplishment.

I’ll put the loss at U.S. Bank Stadium up there with the egg the Saints laid in their first playoff game–also vs. the Vikings–in 1987, and the loss at Seattle to the 7-9 Seahawks in 2010 following the Super Bowl XLIV victory.

I finished watching Last Chance U over the weekend. I am re-watching episodes now, and it continues to reinforce my view that (a) East Mississippi’s coach, Buddy Stephens, is a complete douchebag, and (b) most of the players couldn’t give a crap about going to class.

In the episode I just watched again, Stephens physically assaults the alternate official along the EMCC sideline. The official punches back, which is a no-no, but Stephens instigated it.

No coach, no matter how angry he or she is with the officiating, has the right to physically assault the men and women making the calls. Why the hell do you think it is so hard to find officials these days?

Also in the episode, EMCC’s radio announcers were blasting the officials for throwing two EMCC players out of the game vs. Itawamba for throwing punches. It’s OKAY to throw a punch? This isn’t boxing.

The three FBS coaches in Mississippi–Matt Luke (Ole Miss), Joe Moorehead (Mississippi State) and Todd Monken (Southern Miss)–need to ban EMCC players on their rosters until Stephens cleans up his act and the kids show effort in going to class and making their grades. A message needs to be sent that winning at all costs is not acceptable. If other schools from outside Mississippi want to take these players in, fine. But the coaches in Mississippi need to show some backbone.

It’s getting late, and I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Time to sign off.

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.

 

One score and 13 years ago…

The 97th season of the National Football League kicks off tonight when Denver hosts Carolina in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.

I began following the NFL in 1983. That season kicked off a month before my seventh birthday. The Washington REDSKINS were the dominant team at that time, having won Super Bowl XVII following the strike-shortened 1982 season, and setting a then-NFL record by scoring 541 points in 1983 behind Joe Theismann and John Riggins, who set the NFL record with 24 touchdowns, since bettered by Emmit Smith in 1995 and LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006.

The 1983 season also saw the Saints, my hometown team at the time, make their biggest push for the playoffs in franchise history up until that point. New Orleans could have made the postseason if it defeated the Los Angeles Rams in the Louisiana Superdome in the final week of the regular season, but lost 26-24 on a last-second field goal by Mike Lansford. The Rams won that game despite not scoring an offensive touchdown, returning two Kenny Stabler interceptions for TDs, returning a punt for another TD, and adding a safety when Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood sacked Stabler, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month.

New Orleans embarrassed itself on national television, too. In their first Monday Night Football game in three years, the Saints led the Jets 28-14 going into the fourth quarter, only to watch in horror as New York scored 17 unanswered points in the final period. The crusher was a 76-yard punt return TD by Kirk Springs to complete the comeback as the Jets escaped, 31-28.

The Raiders, playing their second season in Los Angeles, won Super Bowl XVIII by routing the Redskins 38-9. The Silver and Black avenged a 37-35 loss at Washington in week five, and that was after the Raiders defeated the Seahawks in the AFC championship game. Strangely enough, Seattle won both regular season games.

The Raiders went 12-4 during the ’83 regular season. The team responsible for the fourth loss? The St. Louis FOOTBALL Cardinals. That’s right. A team which ended the year 8-7-1, having to win four of its final five to nose above .500. A team which played what was called the worst Monday Night Football game EVER, a 20-20 tie against the Giants in late October, a game in which Neil O’Donoghue missed THREE field goals in overtime, including a 19-yard chip shot. YEESH.

The more amazing thing about the Cardinals-Raiders game of 1983–only the second between the clubs all-time–was L.A. led 17-0 early in the second quarter, only to get steamrolled the rest of the way as St. Louis went on to a 34-24 triumph, easily one of the best games the Cardinals played during their 28 seasons (1960-87) in the Gateway City. The loss may have stoked the Raiders’ anger, because their last four games–the regular season finale vs. the Chargers, then three playoff games vs. Pittsburgh, Seattle and Washington–were all blowouts.

The Cardinals were in the chase for the NFC East championship in 1984, only to lose the finale at Washington 29-27 when O’Donoghue missed a long field goal. Three years later, St. Louis had a chance to make the playoffs, but again, it lost the final game of the regular season, this time 21-16 at Dallas. Three months later, the Cardinals officially moved to Arizona.

The ’83 Cardinals also beat the Seahawks, but lost 38-14 at Kansas City, which finished last in the AFC West. Had St. Louis been able to win that game, it would have made the playoffs at 9-6-1. Losing by wide margins twice each to the Cowboys and Redskins didn’t help.

This season, Arizona is attempting something the Cardinals franchise has never achieved–four consecutive winning seasons. In fact, the Cardinals have a chance for four consecutive 10-win seasons. WOW. Remember, this is a franchise which has lost over 700 games since the NFL began in 1920.

I can truly consider the 1983 NFL season the beginning of my obsession with sports. By the end of ’83, I was watching all four major sports leagues and college football.

Super 40th

Today is the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Superdome, the giant facility in New Orleans’ Central Buisness District. 

 The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as it has been known officially since October 23, 2011, is best known as the home of the NFL’s Saints and host to seven Super Bowls, although the monolith will host only one in a span of 16 seasons (2002-2017), XLVII following the 2012 season, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers. By contrast, New Orleans hosted five Super Bowls in 12 seasons between 1969 and 1980, three (IV, VI, IX) at Tulane Stadium and two more (XII, XV) at the Dome. 

The Sugar Bowl moved to the Superdome in December 1975, and the facility has hosted numerous games which have determined national championships, both in the Sugar Bowl and the stand-alone BCS national championship game. Last season, it hosted the second semifinal of the first annual College Football Playoff, with Ohio State toppling Alabama 42-35. 

Tulane made the huge mistake of moving its home games from Tulane Stadium to the Superdome. Yes, Tulane Stadium was crumbling and many of the original steel portions of the stadium were unsafe, but the Green Wave surrendered any and all home field advantage by leaving campus. Yes, there were times where the Greenies could fill the stadium–mostly when LSU or another big name school came to town–but far more often than not, empty seats were the rule, not the exception. 

Tulane might have been best served to play a couple of years in the Dome while the old Tulane Stadium was renovated. It would have been perfect with 40,000 seats. 

The Greenies finally got the message by 2011, and in 2014, they opened Yulman Stadium. 

As fine as the Superdome is for football, it may be the WORST basketball facility on earth. The Jazz of the NBA attracted scores of fans with $1 tickets, but those were so far away you might as well have been on another planet. Unless you had powerful binoculars, you could hardly see the action from those seats, and what’s worse, people tended imbibe far too much. 

The NCAA didn’t care how bad most of the seats were for basketball. They saw dollar signs, and thus held the Final Four there for the first time in 1982. It was there where Michael Jordan became a household name, canning the game-winning jumper vs. Georgetown to lift No Carolina to a 63-62 victory and Dean Smith’s first national champiponship. The Tar Heels won another in 1993 in the same building, taking advantage of a gigantic blunder by Michigan’s Chris Webber, who called a timeout the Wolverines didn’t have, costing his team two points and icing the victory for Carolina. 

The Final Four was also held in the Dome in 1987, 2003 and 2012. With the NCAA now allowing basketball specific facilities to host the Final Four again, the Superdome may be out of luck for a while. 

New Orleans hoped the Superdome woudl attract a Major League Baseball team. 

Fat chance.

First, New Orleans is far too poor to support an MLB team. How many people would honestly buy season tickets for 81 games? You have to have corporate dollars to support an MLB team, and New Orleans just does not have it. Period.

Second, the Superdome was constructed for football not baseball. The seats down the foul line were ridiculoulsy far away from the field, and the dimensions were cozy–318 feet down the lines (which I believe was generous; it was closer to 300) and 358 in the power alleys. I could have envisioned a lot of 15-13 games, which would have meant long, long nights. 

The Superdome has held so much more than sports. A 1981 Rolling Stones concert drew almost 88,000. Pope John Paul II held a youth rally in 1987. Indoor fairs and numerous expositions have come thorugh year after year after year. 

Originally, the Superdome was going to be built in the suburbs, either in Jefferson Parish or New Orleans East, which was largely undeveloped. The trend was in the 1960s, when the Superrdome was proposed by Dave Dixon and Louisiana Gov. John McKeithen, to build the stadiums on vacant land surrounded by lots and lots of parking. 

When the bonds for the Superdome were approved by Louisiana voters in November 1966, ti was envisioned the stadium would cost $46 million and would seat between 50 to 55,000, along the lines of what the Astrodome in Houston seated. 

However, McKeith wanted the New Orleans dome to be bigger and better than the one in Houston. He wanted more seating, luxury boxes, large screen televisions, whatever have you. 

It took five years after passage of the bonds for ground to be broken. By then, a site along Poydras Street and Claiborne Avenue at the northern end of the Central Business District had been chosen, and the cost of that land, plus all of the bells and whistles McKeithen wanted, skyrocketed the cost to  $163 million.

Turns out McKeithen was right to ask for all the extra stuff.

The luxury suites, tucked between the second and third levels of the Dome, were far, far ahead of its time. Today, you’d better not build a professional sports stadium without them. The Astrodome had luxury suites, too, but they were at the very top of the stadium. Heaven forbid if you were afraid of heights.

The Suuperdome has perservered while all of its contemporaries have failed. The Astrodome sits vacant. So does the Pontiac Silverdome. The Seattle Kingdome, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis are all gone. The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which opened in 1992, will be knocked down following the 2016 football season. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, opeend in 1995 for the Rams, may be without a tenant come January. 

I wish I had been old enough to visit Tulane Stadium, but the Superdome is absolutely necessary in New Orleans, given the city’s oppressive climate and the frequent thunderstorms.

I may never set foot inside the Superdome. That would be too bad. I would like to see the renovations which have taken place in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 

Stressing on Sunday (when I shouldn’t)

I have no clue why I’m out the Sunday before Christmas, especially in a shopping area in a big city, but here I am, back at Buffalo Wild Wings.

I was fortunate to find a parking space. B-Dubs was full because the Chiefs-Steelers game was on, and with the other restaurants around also packed, I thought I might have to park far, far away. Fortunately, it took less than 10 minutes.

The only reason I got to B-Dubs at 2:45 is because I had to go to Staples across Barry Road to pick up something. With ridiculous traffic all around, I figured it was better I went there early and wait instead of going back to the hotel and coming back at 5 when Lisa took over behind the bar.

Probably should have gone back to the hotel in hindsight. I couldn’t get at the bar because it was full, and I really didn’t want to take up a table by myself, even though Liz came on just after 3. I wanted to sit in her section, but there were three kids who wouldn’t budge.

I eventually went out to the patio even though it’s 45 degrees and cloudy. I didn’t have my parka on at first, so I had to go all the way through the restaurant and back to my car to retrieve it. Then a motherfucking asshole had to come outside and smoke a cancer stick.

I despise cigarette smoking. I really despise it. It’s a major reason my mother and I do not get along all that well. My father was a heavy smoker for 30 years until he quit in 1985, and I believe he would have been dead by 1994 if he had not. I cannot stand tobacco. Never used any form a day in my life and I never will.

I have a hard and fast rule: if you smoke in my car, I will stop the car immediately and that person will get out. What’s more, he or she will NEVER ride in my car again. For the rest of their life. And I will also make the offender pay to have the car fumigated. If it came to going on The People’s Court to collect, I would.

The fact I can’t stand smoking is a major reason I stay at Marriott hotels whenever I can. Marriott has banned smoking at all properties since October 2006. I will not stay at a hotel with smoking rooms if I can help it. Fortunately for me, two hotels in western Kansas I frequent, the Sleep Inn in Norton and the Holiday Inn Express in Goodland, are also smoke-free.

I’m now at the bar, one seat over from where I was yesterday when Brittany was here. I was starting to get anxious. First time I’ve felt that way in awhile.

THe NFL games right now don’t interest me. Two of them are really bad (Cowboys 28, Colts 0 and Giants 27, Rams 13) and one is irrelevant (Bills at Raiders).

The Saints laid an egg today by getting routed at home by the Falcons. Not only is New Orleans out of the playoff race, but one of my least favorite NFL players, SCAM Newton, can lead the Panthers back to the playoffs if they win in Atlanta next week.

Another piece of awful news: Jameis Winston got off scot-free in Florida State’s investigation into sexual assault allegations. Typical. I hope FSU gets destroyed by Oregon in the Rose Bowl.