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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.

 

Pushes in the House of the Cards

If you don’t follow the NFL, or you’ve been away from your television, radio or computer since Sunday, the Cardinals and Seahawks played to a 6-6 draw (tie in American parlance) in the Sunday Night Football game at Glendale.

I didn’t watch any of it. I was too afraid the Cardinals would lose. I didn’t watch any of the Cardinals’ game vs. the Jets the previous Monday, either. I wasn’t about to get myself worked up after the egg Arizona laid in the season opener vs. the Patriots, who were without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

It was the first time the Seahawks have played to a draw in franchise history. Seattle came into the NFL in 1976, the third season there was sudden death overtime for regular season games.

Even though there has been overtime in the regular season since ’74, the Cardinals had drawn twice before Sunday since the rule was instituted: 20-20 vs. the Giants in 1983 on Monday Night Football (more on that later), and 10-10 at Philadelphia in 1986.

From 1974-2011, the overtime rules in the regular season were simple: first team to score wins. If the full 15-minute period went without a team scoring, the game ended drawn.

In 2012, the rule was changed–it had been changed for the playoffs in 2010–to where if the team receiving the overtime kickoff scored a field goal, the other team could  (a) match the field goal, at which time it became sudden death; (b) win the game with a touchdown; or (c) lose the game by failing to score or committing a turnover. If the team receiving the overtime kickoff did not score on its first possession, it automatically reverted to sudden death.

The Cards-Seahawks deadlock was the fourth under the new OT rules. It happened to the Rams and 49ers in 2012, Vikings and Packers in 2013, and Panthers and Bengals in 2014.

Prior to Sunday, the last NFL game to end drawn without either team scoring a touchdown occurred November 5, 1972, when the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles ended 6-6.

There have been three 6-6 draws in the NFL since 1939. All three have involved the Cardinals. The first was November 22, 1970, when St..Louis and the Chiefs deadlocked 6-6 at the old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City.

Jim Bakken was the kicker for the Cardinals from 1962-78. They could have used him Sunday. Chandler Catanzaro missed a 24-yard kick in overtime which would have won the game. Then again, Seattle’s Steven Hauschka missed from 27. OUCH.

Catanzaro and Hauschka reminded me of the 1983 Giants-Cards game which ended tied. It was at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis. Howard Cosell was NOT there, taking time off following the conclusion of the World Series, where he was a broadcaster for ABC, alongside Al Michaels and Earl Weaver. Instead, Orenthal James Simpson was in the booth with Frank Gifford and Don Meredith.

Seven days prior to Giants-Cards, the Redskins and Packers put on one of the most thrilling games in regular season history. Green Bay outlasted defending Super Bowl XVII champion Washington 48-47 when the Redskins’ Mark Moseley, the 1982 NFL Most Valuable Player, missed a field goal on the game’s final play. The Redskins didn’t lose again until Super Bowl XVIII, when they were humbled by the Raiders.

Giants-Cards was 180 degrees from Redskins-Packers.

It has been called the worst game ABC telecast on MNF, and I can see why. Cards kicker Neil O’Donoghue missed THREE field goals in overtime, including a 19-yard gimme, which is the equivalent of an extra point.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why Cards coach Jim Hanifan kept O’Donoghue. Had he cut him after his MNF fiasco, St. Louis might have won the NFC East the next season. An O’Donoghue miss on the final play of the 1984 finale at Washington which allowed the Redskins to win the division and keep the Cards home.

Why did Hanifan not try to score a TD when O’Donoghue missed the 19-yard field goal? He had a damn good running back in Ottis Anderson. He had two outstanding wideouts, Roy Green and Pat Tilley. What the hell? Was he that worried about a fumble? Come on, man. Even if the Cards fumbled that deep in their own territory, they might have won on a safety, given how putrid the Giants’ offense was that night.

Fortunately, the game lasted past midnight in the Central time zone, so most Americans were fast asleep by time it ended.

The New York Times described the game as “poorly played” with “an incredibly bad finish”. Sums it up.

The 1983 Giants were horrible, because the new coach, Duane Charles Parcells, better known as “Bill” or “The Big Tuna”, had the wonderful idea Scott Brunner and Jeff Rutledge were better quarterbacks than Phil Simms.

Smooth move, Ex-Lax.

If Ray Perkins had little or no confidence in Brunner being better than Simms, why should Parcells have? Parcells was on Perkins’ staff for three seasons. What, he didn’t see it in 7-on-7 drills? If Parcells was that enamored with Brunner, he should have just reacquired Joe Piscarcik. .

Parcells was very nearly fired after going 3-12-1. He survived, then thrived, with Big Blue, getting to the playoffs in 1984–the Giants’ first berth since losing the 1963 NFL championship game to the Bears–and winning Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990.

Strangely, the Cards and Seahawks played two overtime games in three seasons in the mid-1990s, long before they became division rivals. Arizona won in 1993 at the Kingdome on a late field goal by Greg Davis, and in 1995, won at Sun Devil Stadium on a 72-yard pick-six by Lorenzo Lynch.

The Cards’ history with Seattle dates to the Seahawks’ very first game, which St. Louis won 30-24 at the Kingdome on Sept. 12, 1976.

The odds the Cards (at Carolina) or Seahawks (at New Orleans) will play to a draw this week are very, very, very slim. Slimmer than Kate Moss. The last time a team played consecutive deadlocks was 1971, when the Raiders did vs. the Chiefs and Saints. Tom Brookshier, the late, great CBS broadcaster, described back-to-back deadlocks as “like kissing your sister when she’s got the mumps”.

New England hasn’t played a tie since October 8, 1967, when it was the BOSTON Patriots. Every other NFL team which was around in ’67 has played to a draw since the merger, as has Cincinnati, which came along in ’68. Expansion teams Tampa Bay, Carolina and the Baltimore Ravens all had prior to Sunday, and now Seattle joined that list.

No team has played more than one draw in a single season since 1973, the year before overtime in the regular season, when the Broncos, Browns, Chiefs and Packers all had two on their ledgers. The Broncos had two in three weeks in ’73; the first was against Oakland on MNF, the game where Don Meredith exclaimed, “We’re in the Mile High City, and so am I!”. One night after the Broncos’ second tie of the sequence, 17-17 at St. Louis, Meredith called President Nixon “Tricky Dick” while he was broadcasting the Redskins-Steelers game in Pittsburgh.

Now I’m droning on about history I’m sure three people might care about other than me. I’ll stop.

 

 

Redskins trounced in Tampa

Okay, I dropped the ball Thursday by not pontificating on a pair of Super Bowls played on January 22. However, since no Super Bowl has ever been played on January 23–and none will ever be played on that date unless the NFL pushes the start of its season into August, and that’s not happening–I still have some time to be relevant.

First up: Super Bowl XVIII. January 22, 1984 at Tampa Stadium (aka “The Big Sombrero”).

This was not only the first Super Bowl to be contested on January 22, it was the first to be played in Tampa. The city was awarded the Buccaneers in 1974, and they began play in 1976. The city was awarded Super Bowl XVIII by the owners in 1980, becoming the second city in Florida and sixth metropolitan area overall to host the game, joining Los Angeles, MIami, New Orleans, Houston and Detroit.

At the time Tampa was awarded Super Bowl XVII, there was legitimate hope the Bucs would be playing in the game. Under coach John McKay, who won four national championships coaching at the University of Southern California, Tampa Bay reached the 1979 NFC Championship game, won the NFC Central division again in 1981, and reached the playoffs in the strike-shortened season of 1982.

In early 1983, the Bucs unraveled.

Starting quarterback Doug Williams refused to sign a new contract, feeling owner Hugh Culverhouse was lowballing him.

In most cases, i would side with the owner, but in this case, Williams was 100 percent dead on. Culverhouse was a cheap bastard who never played his players truly what they were worth. As long as he owned the franchise, the Bucs would be a laughingstock, not only in the NFL, but among all the major professional sports. The Tampa Bay Bucs were synonymous with losing and gross mismanagement. In the 1980s, the Bucs were one of the sorriest teams in any sport. In fact, about the only parallel I can draw in any of the major sports is with the NBA’s Clippers under Donald Sterling.

Ironically, a former assistant under McKay had built the NFL’s most powerful team in 1983.

Joe Gibbs was a 40-year old unknown when he was tabbed by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to bring Washington the championship it had not won on the gridrion since 1942. Gibbs worked under some of football’s biggest names: Frank Broyles at Arkansas, Don Coryell with the Cardinals and Chargers, and McKay in Tampa Bay.

Gibbs convinced John Riggins to return to the Redskins after he sat out the 1980 season in a contract dispute. In fact, Gibbs flew to Centralia, the tiny Kansas town where Riggins and his brothers became high school legends. Gibbs also built a powerful offenisve line, led by massive tackle Joe Jacoby, guard Russ Grimm, and center Jeff Bostic, which became known as “The Hogs”.

At first, the Redskins implemented the Air Coryell offense Gibbs helped design in San Diego. Washington scored points in bunches, but they also gave up points in droves, and Washington began the 1981 season 0-5.

Gibbs adjusted his offensive focus, shifting from the pass-happy attack to a more balanced game plan, one which featured heavy doses of John Riggins.

Washington won 8 of its final 11 games in 1981, and then became the NFL’s powerhouse of 1982, winning 8 of 9 games in the strike-shortened campaign. Mark Moseley set an NFL record by making 23 consecutive field goals and earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Moseley would become the last straight-ahead kicker to play in a Super Bowl.

Behind Riggins, The Hogs, quarterback Joe Theismann, a fleet but tiny group of receivers known as “The Smurfs”, and a defense led by All-Pros Dave Butz, Dexter Manley, Mark Murphy and Jeris White, the Redskins steamrolled through the playoffs, routing Detroit, Minnesota and Dallas to reach Super Bowl XVII, where RIgigins ran for 166 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown with 10 minutes remaining to subdue the Dolphins, 27-17, and exact revenge for the 14-7 loss Washington suffered to MIami’s undefeated team in Super Bowl VII.

The Redskins’ offense was unstoppable in 1983. RIggins scored a then-NFL record 24 touchdowns. Theismann threw for over 3,700 yards and earned NFL Most Valuable Player honors. Rookie Darrell Green began what would become a 20-year career in the secondary. Butz was the league’s premier defensive tackle. Jacoby, Grimm and Bostic were road graders up front, blowing wide holes in opposing defenses.

Washington went 14-2, falling TWO points short of an undefeated regular season. The Redskins lost 31-30 in week one to the Cowboys at home on Monday Night Football, blowing a 23-3 lead. The other loss also came on Monday Night, a 48-47 shootout in Green Bay, when Lynn Dickey outdueling Theismann.

The Redskins routed the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the week 15 rematch, 31-10. They annihilated the Rams 51-7 in the divisional playoffs, but the NFC Championship vs. the 49ers was nowhere near as easy.

Washington led 21-0 early in the thrid quarter, but Joe Montana flashed his comeback magic, leading San Francisco to three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Just when it appeared Bill Walsh’s team would pull it out and head to Tampa, the 49ers were done in by the zebras.

The officials, led by referee Jerry Markbreit, called pass interference against 49er cornerback Eric Wright on a play where the ball was clearly uncatchable. The NFL Rule Book clearly states pass interference is not to be called on an uncatchable pass, and as Walsh said afterward, “The ball could not have been caught by a 10-foot Boston Celtic”.

Ronnie Lott, the Hall of Fame safety, was the next to feel the wrath of the zebras. He was flagged for holding receiver Charlie Brown far, far away from the ball.

The Redskins gleefully accepted the gifts, trading them in for a Moseley field goal to win the game 24-21.

Heading into the 1983 playoffs, the experts unanimously favored the Redskins to win the NFC. That wasn’t the case in the AFC.

The Raiders, playing their second season in Los Anglees following 22 seasons in Oakland, and Dolphins each finisehd 12-4. The Silver and Black, champions of Super Bowls XI and XV, had home field advantage thanks to a 27-14 victory in week three.

At the time of the regular season meeting, the Dolphins’ quarterback situation was highly unstable. Don Shula stuck with David Woodley at the beginning of the 1983 campaign, despite Woodley’s putrid performance in Super Bowl XVII, save for a 76-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Cefalo; and the presence of a rookie from the University of Pittsburgh who would change the Dolphins, and the NFL, forever.

Dan Marino enjoyed spectacular success during his first three seasons at Pitt under the leadership of coach Jacke Sherrill. However, Marino had a down year in 1982, when Sherrill left for Texas A&M and Foge Fazio succeeded to the top spot.

Marino was ranked second among quarterbacks available in the 1983 NFL Draft, trailing only John Elway. However, many teams were not enamored with Marino, believing ridiculous rumors that he was on drugs during the ’82 season.

Team after team passed on Marino. Shula didn’t, taking him 27th (next to last) in the first round.

In week five, the Dolphins’ offense was horrid in a loss at New Orleans. Woodley, a Shreveport native who played collegiately at LSU, was yanked in favor of Marino. Woodley would never play another down fro the Dolphins.

The Raiders had no such offensive worries. Their vertical passing game featured the aging but effective Jim Plunkett, throwing to the still speedy Cliff Branch and the tough Todd Christensen, the free agent tight end who surpassed Kellen Winslow as the game’s most dangerous target at that position. The Raider running game, usually an afterthought to the vertical passing game favored by Al Davis, had a stud in 1981 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen. The defense featured grizzled veterans Ted Hendricks and Lyle Alzado, complemented by young stars Howie Long and Matt Millen, plus a secondary featuring All-Pros Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, the latter acquired in an October trade with New England.

The Raiders suffered their first loss in week five, blowing a 35-20 lead with six minutes to go and falling 37-35 to the Redskins in Washington. Little did anyone know these two teams were destined to meet again.

The Seahawks, which never made the playoffs in its first seven seasons, swept the two-game season series from the Raiders. In the second meeting, a 34-21 victory at Los Angeles, Seattle coach Chuck Knox made the difficult decision to replace Jim Zorn, the only starting quarterback the franchise had known up until that point, with Dave Krieg, who had a goofy motion but an uncanny knack for finding the open man.

After the second loss to Seattle in week nine, the Raiders got rolling until they tripped up in week 15 at home to the Cardinals. Say what?

The Cardinals were 6-7-1 going into the L.A. Coliseum. They fell behind 17-0, but did the unthinkable and scored 34 unanswered points.

The Raiders bounced back from the loss to the Cards very well. After defeating the Chargers in the regular season finale, the Silver and Black destroyed Pittsburgh 38-10 in what would be the last NFL games for Mel Blount and Terry Bradshaw (the latter was injured and did not play), and the last game in a Steelers uniform for Franco Harris.

Seattle came to the Coliseum for the AFC Championship game and found out beating the Radiers in the playoffs is a far more difficult task than it is in the regular season. The Raiders won 30-14 in a game which wasn’t that close.

The majority of experts favored the Redskins going into Super Bowl XVIII, although a sizable minority liked the Raiders, sensing they were hungry for revenge after blowing the October game.

I expected Washington to win. I certainly didn’t expect what happened following the Redskins’ first possession.

Washington was forced to punt. The snap to Jeff Hayes was on the money, but Derrick Jensen was in his face before he kicked the ball.

Uh oh.

Jensen blocked the punt and ran it down int he end zone for a stunning touchdown. Just like that, the Raiders were up 7-0.

Gibbs and defensive coordinator Richie Pettitbon made the grave mistake of assigning Anthony Washington, and not Green, to cover Branch one-on-one. Plunkett picked apart Anthony Washington twice early in the second quarter, first for 50 yards to the Redskin 15, and then again for a 12-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

The Redskins could only muster a field goal in the first half. A 14-3 deficit would be the largest the Redskins had faced at halftime in over two years, but it was by no means insurmountable, thanks to a Redskin offense which set a then-NFL record by scoring 541 points in 1983.

Too bad the Redskins didn’t go to halftime trailing 14-3.

With 12 seconds left, Gibbs sent in “Rocket Screen”, Theismann would roll either right or left and throw a short pass to Joe Washington. The former Oklahoma All-American would hopefully use his speed to pick up enough yards to allow Moseley to attempt a field goal on the final play of the first half.

In the regular season game at Washington, Theismann and Joe Washington ran the play to perfection, gaining 67 yards to lead to a Redskin touchdown.

Raiders assistant coach Charlie Sumner felt the Redskins might break out Rocket Screen. To combat this, he sent in reserve linebacker Jack Squirek, a second-year man out of Illinois who excelled at pass coverage. Matt Millen was taken out of the game, fuming to Sumner.

In one stroke, Charlie Sumner became a genius.

Squirek shadowed Joe Washington. Theismann dropped back and lobbed the ball towards No. 25, only to see it stolen out of the air by No. 58 in the black jersey. Squirek sauntered into the end zone from five yards out.

Raiders 21, Redskins 3.

It was bad enough for Gibbs and company, but it would get worse. Much worse.

The Redskins scored on their first possession of the second half, but the Raiders came right back, with Allen scoring on a 5-yard run to make it 28-9.

Washington was stopped on downs at the Radier 26 with under 30 seconds remaining in the period.

Raider coach Tom Flores sent Plunkett into the huddle with 17 Bob Trey O.

Allen took the handoff and went left, but he was encountered by Redskins safety Ken Coffey. Allen cut back to his right and found a gaping hole up the middle.

Redskins middle linebacker Neil Olkewicz dove at Allen, but came up empty. Green and Anthony Washington gave futile chase.

Allen’s 74-yard touchdown removed any remaining doubt as to the game’s outcome.

Final: Raiders 38, Redskins 9.

Allen rushed for 191 yards, a Super Bowl record, and was the game’s MVP. Riggins gained only 64 yards on 26 attempts, and Theismann was sacked six times.

The most memorable feature of this Super Bowl was the highlight film produced by NFL Films.

It was the last NFL Films feature narrated by John Facenda. He passed away eight months after Super Bowl XVIII from lung cancer.