Blog Archives

Day of memories

A lot of things happened on January 22 in the past.

Three of those came before I was born.

On January 22, 1973, the following occurred:

  • The Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in Roe v Wade. Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion, although much of it was crafted by William Brennan, the leading progressive on the court for over 30 years. Byron White and William Rehnquist dissented. If you’re looking for my opinion on this case, keep waiting. Not here. Not now.
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, died of a massive heart attack at his ranch in Johnson City, Texas. LBJ was in poor health throughout his post-presidential life, and it was only a matter of time before his bad habits caught up with him.
  • George Foreman battered Joe Frazier in Jamaica, winning by TKO in the second round to claim the World Heavyweight Championship. Referee Arthur Mercante, also in charge of Frazier’s epic 15-round unanimous decision over Muhammad Ali in 1971 in New York City, mercifully stopped the fight after Frazier was knocked down for the sixth time. Howard Cosell shouted “DOWN GOES FRAZIER” after the first knockdown, the most iconic line uttered by the man who always bragged he “Tells It Like It Is”.

January 22 just happened to be one busy day in one of the most hectic months of the last 50 years. To wit:

  • January 7–Mark James Robert Essex went full commando in downtown New Orleans, killing seven–including three members of the New Orleans Police Department–and wounding 19 others in a siege at the Downtown Howard Johnson’s Hotel. It was discovered later that Essex killed two other NOPD members on New Year’s Eve and also was the probable culprit for the Rault Center fire of November 29, 1972, which killed six.
  • January 14–The Dolphins defeated the Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete their 17-0 season. Also that day, Elvis Presley performed in Honolulu to a worldwide audience over over one billion (none in the United States and Canada; the concert was not aired until April in those countries).
  • January 27–The Paris Peace Accords were signed, ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Two events of January 22 in the 1980s I remember much better.

The first Super Bowl I recall watching from beginning to end was Super Bowl XVIII, January 22, 1984 in Tampa.

The Redskins were the defending champion, having beaten the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. Washington went 14-2 in 1983, scoring a then-NFL record behind a dynamic offense led by quarterabck Joe Theismann, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, and running back John (The Diesel) Riggins, who scored a then-NFL record 24 touchdowns. Theismann had one of the NFL’s best receivers in Art Monk, who would be healthy for Super Bowl XVIII after missing the 1982 playoffs with a leg injury. Washington’s defense was overshadowed by its offense, but the Redskins had a stout unit, led by tackle Dave Butz, end Dexter Manley, linebacker Neal Olkewicz, and safety Mark Murphy, as well as a rookie cornerback from Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville) named Darrell Green.

The Raiders were in their second season in Los Angeles. They had a superstar running back of their own in Marcus Allen, as well as speedy receiver Cliff Branch and sure-handed tight end Todd Christensen. Jim Plunkett did not have the big numbers Theismann had, but he was a fearless leader who had survived terrible stints in New England and San Francisco. Oakland’s defense was powered by a secondary led by cornerback Lester Hayes and safety Mike Haynes, acquired from the Patriots during the season. Up front, Oakland had a pair of studs at end, Lyle Alzado and Howie Long, while linebacker Ted Hendricks was still going strong in his 15th–and final–NFL season.

Washington defeated the Raiders 37-35 at RFK Stadium in week five, rallying from a 35-20 deficit in the fourth quarter to do so. The Redskins’ only losses were each by one point on Monday Night Football, at home vs. the Cowboys in the opener and at Green Bay two weeks after the game with the Raiders.Washington blew away the Rams 51-7 in the divisional playoffs, but barely beat the 49ers 24-21 in the NFC championship. San Francisco coach Bill Walsh (he will be mentioned later in this post, and with good reason) was incensed over two very marginal penalties called against the 49ers on the drive which led to the Redskins’ game-winning field goal, and he would use those calls as  a rallying point for 1984, when San Francisco tore apart the league by going 15-1 in the regular season and winning Super Bowl XIX.

Los Angeles lost twice to division rival Seattle and suffered an inexplicable December loss at home to the Cardinals, but came on strong in the playoffs, routing Pittsburgh 38-10 and Seattle 30-14.

Many of the scribes who considered themselves experts on professional football felt Super Bowl XVIII had the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls ever.

Instead, it was a super rout.

The Raiders scored following Washington’s first possession when Derrick Jensen blocked a Jeff Hayes punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. A touchdown pass from Plunkett to Branch early in the second quarter made it 14-0. The Redskins got a field goal later in the period, but one of the most disastrous plays in the history of championship football was about to occur.

The Redskins had the ball inside their own 20 with 12 seconds to go in the first half. The smart play would be for Theismann to take a knee and for Joe Gibbs and his players to regroup during the long halftime.

Instead, Gibbs sent in a play called Rocket Screen.

During the October game with the Raiders, Theismann and Joe Washington executed it to perfection. Theismann dumped off to Washington in the right flat, and the ex-Oklahoma speedster took it for 67 yards to set up a Redskin touchdown as part of the Redskins’ 17-point rally in the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner believed Gibbs might call the play even though very little time remained in the half, and made an important substitution.

Sumner sent in 6-foot-4 reserve linebacker Jack Squirek, a second-year player from Illinois, in for Matt Millen (yes, THAT Matt Millen). Millen was angry that Sumner removed him, but Squirek was a better pass defender than Millen, who was a defensive tackle at Penn State before becoming a linebacker when he was drafted by the Raiders in 1980.

Squirek was asked to play man-to-man coverage against Joe Washington. If Washington caught the screen pass and broke contain, he would have a chance to gain enough yardage to set up Moseley for a field goal attempt to end the first half.

Rocket Screen did lead to a score.

Theismann dropped back and looked left for Joe Washington. Instead, Squirek caught the ball in stride at the 5 and pranced into the north end zone of Tampa Stadium.

Game, set, match, Raiders. It was 21-3 at halftime, and the Redskins’ reign as champion had 30 minutes to run.

Washington scored a touchdown on its first drive of the second half, but it was far too little, too late.

Later in the third quarter, Allen gobbled up huge chunks of real estate on his way to a then-Super Bowl record 191 yards. He scored two touchdowns during the stanza, the second on a remarkable 74-yard run on the final play of the period.

On the play, 17 Bob Trey O, Allen started out as if he would sweep left end, but reversed his field when confronted by Redskins strong safety Ken Coffey. Allen found a crease up the middle and avoided a diving tackle attempt by Olkewicz near midfield. Green and Anthony Washington gave chase, but were hopelessly behind the 1981 Heisman Trophy winner from USC.

The 74-yard jaunt sewed up MVP honors for Allen and was the icing on the cake of the Raiders’ 38-9 victory.

However, to many who watched, Super Bowl XVIII is not remembered for Allen, Squirek or Theismann, but instead for a commercial which aired during the third quarter.

In honor of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949, Apple Computers aired a commercial where its new product, the Macintosh, would free the human race from the sinister grip of Big Brother and allow for the continued free will of man and the free exchange of ideas.

The commercial, created by famous movie director Ridley Scott, never aired again, but it is remembered by many not only as the greatest Super Bowl ad ever, but the greatest ad ever, period, regardless of air time or air date.

Five years later, the second–and last–Super Bowl played on January 22 produced one of the great championship games in NFL annals.

Super Bowl XXIII, played on January 22, 1989, marked the return of the big game to South Florida after a ten-year absence. This was the first Super Bowl played in the Dolphins’ palatial new facility, known then as Joe Robbie Stadium, in honor of the Miami owner, who built the $115 million stadium without a dime of taxpayer assistance.

The stadium now known as Hard Rock Stadium is a much better facility for football today than it was when it opened in 1987.

Robbie built the stadium with baseball in mind as well, thinking the area would receive a Major League Baseball expansion team in the near future, which it did when the Marlins joined the National League in 1993.

When the Marlins received their own stadium in 2012 (that’s another story for another post), the NFL required the Dolphins to make major renovations to the facility in order to host another Super Bowl. Current owner Stephen Ross complied, and the Super Bowl returns to South Florida in February 2020.

Super Bowl XXIII was a rematch of Super Bowl XVI, with the Bengals taking on the 49ers.

Some of the same players who were part of the 49ers’ first championship team in 1981 were still with the squad seven years later, most importantly Joe Montana. However, Montana had gone through a dip in his career following the victory over Miami in Super Bowl XIX after the 1984 season. He had a major back injury in 1986 which required surgery, and although he led the 49ers to an NFL-best 13-2 record in 1987, he struggled in a divisional playoff loss to the Vikings and was pulled from the game in favor of Steve Young, who had been acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay before the 1987 draft.

In 1988, Walsh could not make up his mind between Montana and Young through the first half of the season. San Francisco was wildly inconsistent, one week defeating Minnesota when Young scored the game-winning touchdown on a 49-yard scramble around left end on which Young somehow kept his balance, then losing the next week to the Cardinals by blowing a 23-0 lead and losing 24-23.

With the Niners 6-5 and two games behind the Saints in the NFC West, Walsh made Montana the full-time starter. The move paid off, as San Francisco won its next five games, including a 30-17 victory over New Orleans in week 15, to clinch the division championship.

In the playoffs, the 49ers blasted the Vikings 34-9, then went to Chicago and pummeled the Bears 28-3 despite a minus-18 wind chill factor.

This would be the first Super Bowl appearance for Jerry Rice, who had already established himself as one of the NFL’s all-time great receivers in just his fourth season. The Mississippi Valley State product set the league on fire in 1987 when he caught a record 22 touchdown passes in only 12 games. That record would stand for 20 years, when Randy Moss took advantage of the full 16-game slate to haul in 23 scoring passes from Tom Brady.

San Francisco’s underrated defense still featured Ronnie Lott in the secondary, but had a new star in pass rushing ace Charles Haley, who had the freedom to roam and line up at either end or linebacker. 0

The Bengals were a vastly different bunch from the 1981 team which lost to the 49ers in the Pontiac Silverdome, save for veterans Cris Collinsworth, Eddie Edwards and Reggie Williams.

In 1984, Boomer Esiason took over the quarterback duties from all-time Bengals passing leader Ken Anderson. By 1988, the left-hander from Maryland was the NFL’s leading passer, triggering a no-huddle attack which featured fleet receivers Eddie Brown and Tim McGee, plus bruising tight end Rodney Holman. Esiason was protected by an offensive line anchored by Anthony Munoz, one of the NFL’s all-time best offensive tackles.

The Bengals’ running game was led by the versatile James Brooks and a tough fullback from UNLV named Elbert Woods, who became famous as Ickey Woods. The Ickey Shuffle, Woods’ dance after touchdowns, became a national fad as the Bengals began the season 6-0 and went on to a 12-4 record, a far cry from the 4-11 mark of 1987.

Cincinnati defeated Seattle and Buffalo to win its second AFC championship and send coach Sam Wyche, a former Bengals quarterback, into a matchup against his mentor. Wyche was an assistant to Walsh in 1981. Walsh was also a longtime Bengals assistant under Paul Brown before becoming the coach at Stanford in 1977.

The expected offensive explosion didn’t happen in the first half. Each team could muster only a field goal, and each team saw a player suffer a horrific injury.

First to go was 49ers offensive tackle Steve Wallace, who suffered a broken ankle. A few plays later, Bengals nose tackle Tim Krumrie also broke an ankle, but his injury was even more gruesome than Wallace’s.

The first touchdown did not come until late in the third quarter, and it was on a kickoff  return by the Bengals’ Stanford Jennings. The 49ers went to the final period down 13-6.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Montana hit Roger Craig for 40 yards to the Bengal 14. Monata’s next pass was almost disastrous for San Francisco, for it hit Cincinnati defender Lewis Billups in the hands.

Had Billups hung on, it might have been curtains for the 49ers.

Instead, Montana made the Bengals pay dearly. He found Rice in the left flat, and #80 did the rest, battling his way past the Bengals secondary to the pylon for the touchdown which tied the game at 13.

With 3:20 to go, Jim Breech nailed a 40-yard field goal which put Cincinnati up 16-13. The 49ers could only return the ensuing kickoff to their own 15, but were further backed up by an illegal block in the back.

With 3:10 remaining, San Francisco was at its own 8-yard line. It would take at least 60 yards to get into field goal range, but that was no sure thing, as Mike Cofer shanked a 19-yard attempt in the second quarter.

Before the first play of the drive, Montana added some levity to the situation when he pointed to the big television screen in the west end of the stadium and said “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?”.

It worked.

Montana led the 49ers on a drive for the ages, as 10 plays moved the ball 82 yards to the Cincinnati 10 with 39 seconds to play. Now the Bengals had to stiffen and hope they could force the 49ers to try a field goal.

With everyone expecting Montana to look for Rice, who finished with 11 receptions for 215 yards, both Super Bowl records, Joe Cool instead found the other wideout, John Taylor, in the middle of the end zone.

Montana’s dart nestled snugly in Taylor’s hands as the clock showed 34 seconds to play.

San Francisco was Super Bowl champion for the third time, 20-16. Walsh announced his retirement in the locker room immediately after the game. Rice, of course, was named MVP.

It’s almost January 23, so that’s it for now.

Quasi-home field advantage: a split decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The expected showdown turned into a rout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghosts of Super Bowl routs past

Super Bowl LI kicks off in six hours and 20 minutes in Houston.

Why do I have the feeling this Super Bowl will be just like two involving the 49ers? 

Super Bowl XXIV was the fourth played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (then the Louisiana Superdome). The 49ers came in as the defending champions and had mauled most of their competition during the season. San Francisco lost only two games by a combined total of five points (13-12 to the Rams, 21-17 to the Packers, who had their best season in the 19-year period from 1973 through 1991, but did not qualify for the playoffs). The 49ers were 8-0 on the road. They won their playoff games vs. the Vikings and Rams by a combined score of 71-16. 

The Broncos were in the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons. They were embarrassed by the Giants in XXI and the Redskins in XXII. They recovered from an 8-8 campaign in ’88 to go 11-5 in ’89, which got them home field advantage in a weak AFC. Denver’s defense was much improved from what it had been in 1986 and ’87, but it was still all about John Elway. 

Unlike the 49ers, the Broncos had a tough time in the playoffs. They barely survived the wild card Steelers 24-23 in the divisional round, then pulled away to defeat the Browns 37-21 for the AFC championship, the third time in four seasons Denver and Cleveland met with a trip to 

In the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XXIV, there were only two players anyone cared about. One, Joe Montana, was going for his fourth Super Bowl ring in eight years. The other, John Elway, was on the verge of joining Fran Tarkenton as the only starting quarterbacks to go 0-3 in the Super Bowl. 

Nobody outside Colorado gave the Broncos a chance. I’m sure many in Colorado didn’t, either. 

Guess what? They were right. 

San Francisco 55, Denver 10.

The game got so bad I turned it off at halftime. Yes, I turned off a Super Bowl at halftime, something I had not done since I started watching football reglulary in 1983. 

Five years later, the 49ers were back in the Super Bowl. Steve Young, Montana’s backup for the 1988 and ’89 championships, was the NFL’s MVP, and he posted the highest quarterback rating in NFL history at that time. The 49ers went on a spending spree in the second year of free agency, and the first year of the salary cap, signing numerous high price veterans to rich contracts, including Deion Sanders, who played out his rookie contact with the Falcons and was looking desperately for a ring. 

The 49ers started the year 3-2, losing to the Chiefs–led by Joe Montana, who was traded to Kansas City in April 1993–and the Eagles. The latter was an embarrassment, as Young was pulled late with the 49ers hopelessly behind. Philadelphia left San Francisco with a 40-8 victory. 

After the loss to the Eagles, the 49ers won 10 straight before a meaningless loss in the regular season finale in Minnesota. In the playoffs, San Francisco destroyed Chicago 44-15, then took out two years of frustration against the Cowboys, spiking the Cowboys 38-28 for the NFC championship in a game which wasn’t that close.

San Francisco’s opponent in Super Bowl XXIX was another AFC West squad. 

Going into 1994, the San Diego Chargers had never been to the Super Bowl. The Chargers lost back-to-back AFC championship games in 1980 to the Raiders and 1981 to the Bengals, the latter in Cincinnati when the temperature was 9 below zero with a wind chill of 37 below (reported as 59 below under the wind chill chart in use at the time). 

The ’94 Chargers were a far cry of the Air Coryell days of the early 1980s, when Dan Fouts was throwing bombs all over the place to Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson (early) and Wes Chandler (later). These Chargers preferred the ground game, led by Natrone Means, a bruising 240-pounder. 

San Diego’s defense was good enough to win the AFC West, but it was shredded very badly by the 49ers in December. San Francisco won 38-15 at San Diego, and football experts proclaimed they did not want to see a rematch in Miami.

If the Dolphins and Steelers could have held playoff leads, then the Chargers-49ers rematch would never have materialized. 

Miami held a 21-6 halftime lead in San Diego in the divisional round, only to fall 22-21. Less than one calendar year later, Don Shula was no longer coaching the Dolphins.

The Chargers then shocked the Steelers in Pittsburgh 17-13 for the AFC championship. 

If nobody gave Denver a chance to beat San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIV, then absolutely nobody gave San Diego a shot. 

It would have been better if the NFL had canceled the game and just given the 49ers the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It would have saved a lot of time and money.

The 49ers won 49-26, and it should have been far, far worse. 

Even worse than the game was the way Frank Gifford drooled all over the public address microphone when he announced his wife would sing the national anthem. 

1995 was a horrible year for me. Really horrible. That Super Bowl fit perfectly. 

Man, I hope this Super Bowl isn’t a rout. But something tells me Thomas John Brady is a man on a mission, and he will destroy the Falcons, much the way John Elway did to Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII. 

Pigskinless Monday

Nobody who attended tonight’s Oklahoma-Kansas men’s basketball game in Lawrence cannot say they didn’t get their money’s worth.

Actually, KU should have emptied Allen Fieldhouse at the end of regulation and then charged everyone to get in to watch overtime.

Make that overtimes.

In one of the longest games in the 60-year history of the building named for Phog Allen, the Jayhawks outlasted the Sooners 109-106.Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield did all he could to carry his team, scoring 46 points, but he was outdone by a more balanced Kansas unit, led by the 27 points and 13 rebounds from senior Perry Ellis, who helped Wichita Heights win 62 consecutive games during his high school days before moving up the Kansas Turnpike.

This was not a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, as had been advertised since Saturday evening, following Kansas’ victory over Baylor and Oklahoma’s decision over Iowa State.

Rather, it was No. 1 vs. No. 1.

When the new polls were issued earlier this morning, Kansas had ascended to the top of the Associated Press survey, but Oklahoma held the top spot in the coaches’ poll. The Big 12 rivals held the No. 2 spots in the other polls, with Maryland, Virginia and Michigan State rounding out the top five.

It was a  great game, but it’s only January 4. Each team still has 16 games in Big 12 play to navigate, plus the Jayhawks have a home game Jan. 30 against Kentucky. A lot will change between now and Selection Sunday March 13.

Had Oklahoma won, it would not have been the most surprising sports story of the day.

That came from the city which the NCAA calls home.

Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Indianapolis Colts in 2016, something most pro football experts would not have seen coming as recently as Sunday morning.

The smart money had Pagano leaving after the expiration of his original four-year contract at the end of the 2015 season. The relationship between he and Colts general manager Ryan Grigson was nothing short of pure hatred, and most figured either Pagano would be let go, or owner Jim Irsay would not only let Pagano go, but also fire Grigson, who has made some absolutely pitiful personnel decisions during his tenure in Indianapolis, save for drafting Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in 2012, which anyone with half a brain could have done.

Pagano and Grigson will both return to the Colts following an 8-8 campaign in 2015, one in which Luck missed the final nine games with numerous injuries. Indianapolis started five different quarterbacks in 2015, something which hadn’t been done since the Frank Kush-Rod Dowhower days of the 1980s.

Tom Coughlin will not be back with the Giants. He resigned earlier today following 12 seasons, leading the team to victories in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. Coughlin, who was an assistant under Bill Parcells on the Giants’ Super Bowl XXV winning team, was known throughout the league as a real hard-ass who believed in extremely strict discipline and levied draconian fines for the slightest deviations when he was in Jacksonville and his first few years with the Giants.

Since 2007, Coughlin mellowed considerably, and the results were mostly positive until 2013, when the Giants suffered the first of three consecutive losing seasons. It’s the first for the club since seven straight sub-.500 years between 1973 and 1980, when the Giants were coached by Alex Webster, Bill Arnsparger, John McVay and Ray Perkins.

Late last night, the 49ers fired Jim Tomsula after a 5-11 season. Tomsula joins the likes of Monte Clark and Ken Meyer, who coached San Francisco for one season each in 1976 and 1977, respectively. At least Clark, Meyer and Tomsula lasted a full season; Pete McCulley and Fred O’Connor split the disastrous 2-14 campaign of 1978. At least Eddie DeBartolo Jr. got it right in 1979 by hiring Bill Walsh.

To nobody’s surprise, coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer were fired by Cleveland. Tennessee and Miami also are moving on from their interim coaches, Mike Mularkey and Dan Campbell.

Tonight was the first Monday without football since August 31. After Alabama and Clemson decide the college football national championship next Monday, we’ll have to get used to Mondays without football for quite a long time.

 

 

KC finale (for now)

Less than 24 hours from now, I will be back in Russell and resuming my life as a small-town sportswriter, which is very good news.

My father just got released from KU Medical Center, a day earlier than planned. He and my mother are relaxing at the hotel near the hospital. My father needs the rest, because as is usual when you’re in a hospital, he got awakened at all hours of the night. I’ll never forget that happening to me when I was in the hospital in 2004 for pneumonia.

The trip to Overland Park last night was much needed. I stopped at The Cheesecake Factory for two slices of Kahlua cheesecake. I ate one last night and I’ll eat the other tonight, or I’ll take it back to Russell and refrigerate it for when I get back to Oberlin. I don’t think it would keep long enough for the drive to Norton tomorrow evening.

I got lost this morning leaving KU Med. I went east on 39th Street and ended up in Westport, the historic district on the Missouri side south of downtown. I finally made my way to Main Street, then to Ward Parkway. I got lost trying to find Shawnee Mission Parkway to return to Kansas, but fortunately, I ran into State Line Road, which took me to SMP. From there, I found Metcalf and went south to Bed Bath and Beyond, where I picked up another Tervis glass (Arizona Cardinals), plus some New Orleans food and drink I haven’t found in ages. I got some more Abita beer at Lukas Liquor for Liz, since she enjoyed it so much when I boutht it for her birthday.

I had to take a nap this afternoon in my hotel room. I was dead tired. I’m now back at Buffalo Wild Wings in Zona Rosa with Tori at the bar. Brittany is supposed to work tonight, so I’m waiting for her.

Super Bowl factoid: Today is the 20th anniversary of the only Super Bowl to be contested on January 29. It may be the worst Super Bowl ever. If not, it is second or third worst.

It was bad. Beyond bad. The Chargers, the AFC champion, got damn lucky to make it. They rallied from 21-6 down to beat Miami in the divisional round, then going to Pittsburgh and defeating a Steelers team which looked totally disinterested. It seems as if the Steelers felt they had done all they needed to do by crushing Cleveland (coached by Bill Belichick) the previous week.

The 49ers were back to being a juggernaut after failing to make the Super Bowl for four consecutive seasons, an eternity for the franchise in those days. Joe Montana was gone, and Steve Young finally had the starting quarterback job all to himself. He responded by posting the highest passer rating ever for a quarterback in a single season and winning the Most Valuable Player awards unanimously. Jerry Rice was still catching everything in sight. The defense was vastly improved, thanks to the free agent addition of Deion Sanders, who had labored for five seasons only mostly pitiful teams in Atlanta.

The 49ers didn’t look like world beaters in the first five weeks. They lost in week two at Kansas City, where Joe Montana quarterbacked the Chiefs to victory, and three weeks later, were eviscerated 40-8 at home by the Eagles. It got so bad for the 49ers that coach George Seifert pulled Young.

Instead of the season going south, the 49ers zoomed straight to the top.

They would not lose again until the regular season’s final week, when Seifert rested the starters in a meaningless game at Minnesota. The 49ers were unstoppable in the playoffs, routing a grossly outclassed Bears unit in the divisional round before releasing two years of pent-up frustration on the Cowboys, winning the NFC championship 38-28 in a game nowhere near as close as the final score.

Just hours after the Super Bowl matchup was set, the Las Vegas sports books made the 49ers anywhere from 13- to 18-point favorites. It should have been more. Way more. In fact, the Chargers should have been a larger underdog than Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III.

I knew the game would be awful before kickoff. Kathie Lee Gifford sang the national anthem. She was introduced by her husband, ABC Sports announcer Frank Gifford, and you could practically hear him drooling on the microphone as he introduced “my wife”.

Come to think of it, Kathie Lee was nowhere near the worst singer of the anthem at a Super Bowl. Not in the bottom 10. Christina Aguilera, of course, holds the bottom spot for botching the words before Super Bowl XLV, but I thought Alicia Keys’ version two years ago in New Orleans was pretty pitiful, too. And don’t get me started on Whitney Houston before Super Bowl XXV. I know so many people say it’s the greatest rendition of the national anthem ever, but I hate it. Just hate it. Every time someone plays it, I run to the restroom or otherwise cover my ears.

My favorite national anthem at a Super Bowl (at least those I watched)? Herb Alpert, Super Bowl XXII. Just a trumpet, no words. As for singers, Neil Diamond’s before Super Bowl XXI was great. Short and to the point.

As for the game, the Chargers should have called in a forfeit. It was butt ugly. The 49ers scored on a long touchdown pass from Young to Rice on the game’s third play, and the massacre in Miami was in full gear. FINAL: 49ers 49, Chargers 26.

I watched Super Bowl XXIX from my dilapidated dorm room at LSU. Fitting.

If I never see any highlights from Super Bowl XXIX again, it will be too soon. I try not to remember that game, or anything from 1995, which may have been the single worst year of my life.