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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.

Tie it on boys!

The only gridiron football league in the United States were ties are permitted saw one occur today in Cincinnati.

The Bengals and Panthers played to a 37-37 sister-kisser. Both teams, first Cincinnati and then Carolina, kicked a field goal on their first possessions of the extra period. The two possessions ate up all but the last two and a half minutes of overtime. The Bengals drove to the Carolina 19 and had a chance to win, but Mike Nugent missed a 36-yard field goal wide right, and thus we had our third deadlock in as many years.

In the old days, the Bengals would have won the game because they took the ball and scored first. However, beginning with the 2010 postseason and 2013 regular season, if a team wins the toss and takes the ball, it must score a touchdown to end the game. If it does not, the other team can possess the ball. If that team scores a field goal, the game then goes into sudden death for the remainder of the period (regular season) or however long it takes (postseason). If the team who has the ball second gave up a field goal but scores a touchdown, the game is over.

Cincinnati is no stranger to ties in tis own stadium. The Bengals and Eagles played to a 13-13 stalemate in 2008. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia’s star quarterback at the time, didn’t think a game could end in a tie, and he did not show a sense of urgency on the Eagles’ final possession.

The team which has gone the longest without a tie is the Saints. Their last deadlock was in October 1972 vs. the 49ers, two years before the NFL Instituted overtime in the regular season. Three expansion teams who came into the league after 1974, the Seahawks, Jaguars and Texans, have never played to a tie. Today’s was the first for Carolina. The Ravens, who were officially an expansion team after Art Modell moved the original Cleveland Browns in 1996, tied the Eagles 10-10 in 1997.

Ironically, the first NFL regular season game to go to overtime, Steelers at Broncos in September 1974, ended in a 35-35 tie after Denver’s Jim Turner missed two field goal attempts in the fifth quarter.

The first NFL regular season overtime game to produce a winner came in November 1974 when the Jets beat the Giants 26-20 at the Yale Bowl, where the Giants were playing while (a) Giants Staidum in the New Jersey Meadowlands was under construction and (b) Yankee Stadium, Big Blue’s home from 1957 through 1973, was closed due to massive renovations by George Steinbrenner.

The Jets were 1-7 coming into the matchup with the Giants, and trailed 20-13 late in the fourth quarter before tying it up on a 5-yard touchdown run by this guy Joe Namath. Heard of him? Well, for Namath to RUN for a touchdown was nearly impossible, since by 1974, Namath’s knees were shot and he had no cartilage left. Broadway Joe was supposed to hand off to Emerson Boozer on a dive play, but Namath faked the dive and limped around left end. When Namath reached the end zone, numerous bottles came flying from the Yale Bowl stands.

The Giants won the overtime toss and moved into field goal range, but the normally reliable Pete Gogolak hooked a 42-yard attempt to the left. Namath and the Jets took over their own 25 and drove 75 yards to the game-winning touchdown, a 6-yard pass from Namath to Boozer where the Jets’ fullback got open behind Giants’ All-Pro linebacker Brad Van Pelt.

The NFL’s first sudden death overtime game was the epic 1958 championship game between the Colts and Giants. There were three other OT playoff games prior to 1974: 1962 AFL championship (Dallas Texans 20, Houston Oilers 17 in double OT); 1965 NFL Western Division playoff (Packers 13, Colts 10) and the longest NFL game ever played, the 1971 divisonal playoff which turned out to be the last football game at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium (Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24).

Major college football allowed ties until the 1995 bowl season, and one bowl game, Toledo vs. UNLV, required the extra session. The Rockets, coached at the time by current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, won 40-37. Overtime was introduced in the regular season for 1996, meaning the Kansas Jayhawks will forever hold the NCAA record for tie games, 57.

I don’t see where ties are the end of the world. It’s a symptom of American culture where every game MUST have a winner. Heck, ties in association football go on all the time. Is that a reason why the game hasn’t caught on in the United States? I hope the 20,000 who go to Sporting Park in KCK and watch Sporting KC know matches can end tied during the regular season. The NHL didn’t have overtime for 40 years and nobody thought less of the game. Ties also throw monkey wrenches into standings, and more often than not, a tie will prevent the use of tiebreakers.

I’m not crying over the tie. In fact, it’s a good day for NFL fans everywhere.