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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.

Done with the Dome

Little did I know it at the time, but ten years ago today marked the last time I have set foot in the Superdome, the giant saucer on Poydras Street in New Orleans’ Central Business District which has been home to the Saints of the National Football League since 1975.

On November 14, 2004, my dad and I went to the Saints’ game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at what was then known as the Louisiana Superdome. It was the Chiefs’ first visit to New Orleans since 1994, when Joe Montana was Kansas City’s starting quarterback. The matchup was not particularly appetizing. Both the Chiefs and Saints were also-rans in 2004, a battle of two 3-5 teams whose playoff hopes were slim to none.

My dad was a Chiefs and Saints fan dating way back to the 1960s. He attended the Saints’ first regular season game at Tulane Stadium in 1967. John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff vs. the Rams 94 yards for a touchdown, but my dad missed it. He was at a concession stand buying beer.

He attended a Chiefs game in 1968 at Municipal Stadium, driving over 24 hours round trip in the space of less than 36 hours. in that game, Hank Stram put Kansas City in the full house T-formation and ran the ball on nearly every play. The Chiefs beat the Raiders 24-10, Oakland’s only regular season loss that season.

My father’s company, Air Products and Chemicals, had two season ticket accounts. One of these accounts had four seats in one of the most prestigious sections of the building: section 312, row 8. Or in layman’s terms, club level, 50-yard line on the east (visitors’) side. At the time, those seats cost $135 per game. Today, they are $400 per game. That’s not only the price of admission, but the right to mingle in the giant club rooms behind the concourses. The clubs featured upscale food and giant televisions where patrons could watch all of the other games and take a break from the noisy seating areas.

Just as important, the season ticket account included reserved parking in the northwest parking garage under the Superdome. No walking long distances from a parking lot to the stadium.

I was able to use the tickets on more than one occasion to treat friends from LSU to the exclusive seats, including a 2000 game vs. the Broncos when I met Bill Franques, Todd Politz and Shelby Holmes. They were impressed.

My dad usually got the tickets for one game per year. I preferred to go to games when the Saints played an AFC team, since those teams came to New Orleans only once every eight years. The exception to that rule was when the Saints played the Cardinals, my favorite team. That didn’t work so well in 1997, when the Saints won 27-10.

The Chiefs should have beaten the Saints on November 14, 2004. Priest Holmes, the Chiefs’ All-Pro running back, did not play, but reserve Derrick Blaylock enjoyed the best game of his NFL career, rushing for 186 yards. Trent Green threw for 311, and the Chiefs ended the game with 497.

However, Green threw two interceptions, and Kansas City also lost two fumbles, contributing to its downfall. The Saints won the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Brooks to Joe Horn, a former Chief, with 5:35 to play. When Green was intercepted by Orlando Ruff with 1:16 to go, I told dad let’s get out of here. We beat the traffic. Final: Saints 27, Chiefs 20.

I thought I would be back in the Superdome the second weekend of December for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state football championships. Not only did I not attend those games, I almost wasn’t alive to see December 10 and 11. That story is coming later this week.

Still going at B-Dubs

It’s 7:30 p.m., I’m still at Buffalo Wild Wings, and so is Brittany Mathenia-Tucker, who has been serving me today. She now has a very large group on the opposite side of the bar area. I’ve been very patient today, knowing she’s been swamped.

I brought two slices of red velvet cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factor for Lisa Toebben, but she isn’t working today. And this time, I went to The Cheesecake Factory at the Country Club Plaza, where parking is nearly impossible. I could have gone to Overland Park since i had time, but I figured I would save a little gas and try the other one. Not again. I’ll stick to what I know next time. Besides, I can keep my tax money in Kansas.

I have not eaten much today; only a chicken sandwich and fries. I am not eating wings because I don’t know if I can handle them. I’ve still got to check in at the Courtyard Briarcliff, but that won’t be a big deal.

I wish Lisa would show up. Oh well. If not, Brittany gets one slice, and the other goes to whomever shows up tomorrow, whether it be Brittany Davidson or Liz.

The trivia trio of Athena, Tusken and Zesto showed up a few minutes ago, and we’re having a good one going now. I’ve fallen behind, but oh well. I’ve had enough success today, including a 3-0 sweep of Rondo and Dig Dug. If Buzztime brings back its Smartest Bar competition for 2015, I’m recruiting everyone I mentioned, plus Larry (MIZZOU) and a couple of others to form a team. Tusken beat me out by a 239 points. Nice work.

The Arizona Cardinals are 2-0 after a 25-14 victory at the Meadowlands vs. the Giants. The Cards were forced to play backup quarterback Drew Stanton in place of an injured Carson Palmer. Stanton wasn’t flashy, but he did not turn the ball over. Arizona’s winning score came on a 71-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr. in the fourth quarter. Arizona will probably end the night sharing first place in the NFC West with the 49ers, because I don’t expect Chicago to give San Francisco much of a game in the first regular season game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Chiefs were not as fortunate. They gave the Broncos a better game than most expected, but lost 24-17 to fall to 0-2. Kansas City has company at the bottom of the AFC West, as Oakland lost again, this time to Houston.

Also 0-2: the Saints. I am shocked. I thought New Orleans would dispatch Atlanta and Cleveland in the first two weeks and go into their home opener vs. Minnesota on their way to the NFC South title. Instead, Carolina is 2-0, and the Sainta are tied with Tampa Bay for the bottom of the “Dirty South”. Ouch.

I’m only going to be able to visit Buffalo Wild Wings tomorrow before going back to Russell. I have volleyball Tuesday and Thursday, and football Friday. I should be able to get back to KC later Saturday.

NFL almost back

The start of the 2014 NFL season is less than 24 hours away. By this time tomorrow night, the KIckoff Game between the Packers and Seahawks should be finished or very close to it.

I have not been to an NFL game since November 14, 2004. It was the Chiefs and the Saints in the Superdome. Kansas City rolled up 497 yards, including 186 rushing on 33 carries by backup running back Derrick Blaylock, but the Chiefs’ defense kept letting the Saints march down the field, and with 5;28 to go, ex-Chief Joe Horn caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Broks which put New Orleans up 27-20. The Chiefs drove deep into Saints territory in an attempt to tie the game, but they turned it over. Once that happened, my dad and I left and beat the traffic out of the Superdome parking garage.

Eight days after the game, I was in a hospital in Chalmette, fighting for my life due to pneumonia and a collapsed lung. That’s another story for another day.

My dad’s company, Air Products and Chemicals, had a great set of four tickets on the 50-yard line on the east visitor’s) side of the Superdome in the Club Level. The tickets at that time cost $130 to $!50 per game; today, they’re $400 an outing. Not only were the seats awesome, but they came with full access to a club lounge where there was an expanded food collection, and those who wished to imbibe could purchase just about any cocktail imaginable. The concession selections were also much more extensive than the other levels.

My dad and I had the four tickets for the Saints-Lions game scheduled for Christmas Eve 2005, but of course, Hurricane Katrina happened, and

We did go to a Saints-Lions game on September 3, 2000, the last time the NFL opened its regular season on Labor Day weekend. The game itself was not memorable, as the Lions won a 14-10 snoozer. The lone highlight was a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter by Detroit’s Desmond Howard. Howard was used to big games in the Superdome; he earned Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors in Super Bowl XXXI with the Packers, when Green Bay beat New England 35-21 in the BIg Easy.

It was my second consecutive day of watching football in the Superdome; the day before, I watched two high school games between four of Louisiana’s top programs. West Monroe easily beat John Curtis 25-7 in the first, but in the second, Archbishop Shaw defeated Evangel Christian of Shreveport 22-19, ending Evangel’s 60-game, four-year winning streak. Evangel’s players, coaches and fans were so stunned they didn’t know how to react to a loss. The Shaw player who blocked Evangel’s game winning field goal attempt as time expired, Cameron Vaughn, was a starting linebacker for LSU when it won the 2003 BCS national championship vs. Oklahoma in the same building.

I was bad luck to the Saints in 2000. I went to games later that season vs. the Raiders and Broncos some of my friends from Baton Rouge, and New Orleans lost both. In the Denver game, Mike Anderson rushed for a Broncos record 251 yards in a 38-23 victory.

My dad and brother got to go to the playoff game vs. the Rams, which the Saints won 31-28.