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Red Sunday assured

It will indeed be Red Sunday in Miami Gardens in two weeks.

The Chiefs defeated the Titans 35-24 for the AFC Championship, and the 49ers easily ousted the Packers 37-20 for the NFC Championship to set up Super Bowl LIV.

Kansas City is in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, when Hank Stram’s club, led by Hall of Famers Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas and Johnny Robinson, defeated Bud Grant’s Vikings, who were in their five-year period without Francis Asbury Tarkenton. The 23-7 final at Tulane Stadium was considered an upset since Minnesota was favored by 13 to 14 points, but the Chiefs (or Raiders, whom Kansas City defeated in the last AFL Championship game) were far superior to the Jets club which defeated the Colts in Super Bowl III. Joe Namath’s guarantee was an upset, because that Baltimore team, even without Johnny Unitas, was great. Looking back, the 1969 Vikings weren’t.

Minnesota went 12-2, yes, but lost to the Giants and Falcons, both of whom went 6-8, and Joe Kapp was the worst quarterback to start any of the first four Super Bowls, and probably one of the ten worst ever. The Vikings had no outside running threat, their receivers were nowhere near as good as the Chiefs’ Otis Taylor, and their offensive line, which featured future Hall of Famers Mick Tinglehoff and Ron Yary, had never faced a defensive line as large as Kansas City’s. Viking losses in divisional playoff games to the 49ers in 1970 and the Cowboys in 1971 proved the offense didn’t work without Tarkenton. Tarkenton came back from New York in 1972, and while the Vikings made three more Super Bowls, they were overwhelmed each time.

The Chiefs’ other Super Bowl appearance was in the first one, which was known at the time as the AFL-NFL World Championship game. The Chiefs hung with Lombardi’s Packers for a half, but self-destructed after the break, and Green Bay went on to win 35-10 in Los Angeles. Packer wideout Max McGee became the Super Bowl’s first unlikely hero with seven receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

San Francisco will be making its seventh Super Bowl appearance. The 49ers’ only Super Bowl loss was in their most recent trip, a 34-31 loss to the Ravens in New Orleans where John Harbaugh defeated younger brother Jim. The former is still in Baltimore; the latter is coaching his college alma mater in Ann Arbor. Few outside Maryland and the Bay Area remember much about the game itself, but instead the power outage at the Superdome during the third quarter.

The 49ers’ two previous trips to South Florida for the Super Bowl were quite possibly the best and worst Super Bowls ever.

The worst was in January 1995, when the 49ers mauled the Chargers 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX, the only Super Bowl to match two teams from the same state. The 49ers were favored by anywhere from 17 to 20 points, and it quickly became apparent they would cover that spread and then some. Two California teams playing in South Florida and a horrible match drove ticket prices way down. The Chargers’ starting quarterback, Stan Humphries, makes my list with Kapp for the Super Bowl’s worst.

Humprhies has a Super Bowl ring as the backup for the 1991 Redskins. Fortunately for Joe Gibbs, Mark Rypien stayed healthy throughout that season and he never needed Humphries in an important situation. Then again, the 1991 Redskins might have won Super Bowl XXVI if Gibbs played quarterback himself. That team was loaded.

The other 49ers Super Bowl in South Florida, Super Bowl XXIII vs. the Bengals, was one for the ages, and in my opinion, the best I’ve witnessed.

San Francisco fell to 6-5 in mid-November following back-to-back losses to the Cardinals and Raiders. Steve Young pulled out a game vs. the Vikings with a 49-yard touchdown run in the game’s final minute in one of the best plays I’ve seen live, but vs. the Cardinals (in their first season in Arizona), San Francisco blew a 23-0 lead and lost 24-23, while the 49ers were scuttled 9-3 at home by the Raiders in Mike Shanahan’s biggest victory as coach of the Silver and Black.

With a Monday Night Football game vs. defending Super Bowl champion Washington, Bill Walsh named a healthy Montana as his starter.

The 49ers were off and running. They routed the Redskins 37-21, then won their next three, including a 30-17 victory over the Saints at Candlestick to clinch the NFC West. In the playoffs, San Francisco earned revenge for a 1987 playoff loss to the Vikings with a 34-9 rout before going to Chicago and crushing the Bears 28-3 despite a wind chill of minus-10 Fahrenheit (minus-22 Celsius).

San Francisco was considered an underdog to the Cinderella team of 1988, the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals were 4-11 in 1987, and Sam Wyche (who passed away earlier this month; R.I.P,, Sam) had to win or else in 1988 to keep his job. Cincinnati needed a goal-line stand on opening day to outlast the Cardinals 21-14, but it spurred a 6-0 start and a 12-4 regular season to win the Bengals’ first AFC Central championship since 1981, the year they went to Super Bowl XVI and lost to the Bengals in Detroit.

Cincinnati was powered by 1988 MVP Boomer Esiason, and a powerful running back combination of James Brooks and Elbert “Ickey” Woods, who introduced the “Ickey Shuffle” to the football world. Woods was penalized when he did his dance in the end zone, so he was relegated to doing so on the sideline.

Super Bowl XXIII was the first in Miami in 10 years, and the first at Joe Robbie Stadium (now Hard Rock Stadium), which opened in August 1987. Billy Joel performed a fantastic rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner (he repeated it for Super Bowl XLI in the same stadium), but soon thereafter, the sunny skies over South Florida darkened.

Two serious injuries occurred in the first quarter, with 49ers offensive tackle Steve Wallace and Bengals nose tackle Tim Krumrie taken off the field on carts. Krumrie broke a bone in his left leg, an injury so serious an air cast had to be placed over the leg to stabilize it.

The first half produced little offense, with each team kicking a field goal. 49ers kicker Mike Cofer blew a 19-yard chip shot in the second quarter, and at halftime, it was 3-3, the first halftime tie in the Super Bowl.

The Bengals scored the game’s first touchdown late in the third quarter when Stanford Jennings returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, putting Cincinnati ahead 13-6. San Francisco answered on a Joe Montana to Jerry Rice touchdown 57 seconds into the fourth quarter to forge the game’s third tie.

Rice ended the night with 10 receptions for 215 yards, both Super Bowl records, and easily won the game’s MVP award.

Jim Breech’s 40-yard field goal with 3:20 to go put the Bengals up 16-13. When the 49ers were pinned at their own 8-yard line following a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, hearts across northern California sank, while those in southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana rose. It looked like Cinderella’s glass slipper would not shatter. It looked like the team with the pumpkin-colored helmets would not turn into pumpkins themselves.

Wyche knew all too well no game was over as long as #16 was in charge for the 49ers. After all, Wyche was the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach when they won Super Bowl XVI seven years prior.

How cool was Joe Montana? As the 49ers huddled in the east end zone of the stadium prior to the first play of the drive, Montana pointed out to his teammates that actor John Candy was being shown on the video board.

Montana Magic was never more apparent than the evening of 22 January 1989 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

San Francisco drove 872 yards on 10 plays, leaving it with third and goal from the Cincinnati 10. With the Bengals focused on Rice, and rightly so, Montana spotted his other top wideout, John Taylor, on a post pattern over the middle. Taylor caught the ball in stride in the end zone with 34 seconds left.

San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16. Bill Walsh announced his retirement in the locker room after the game, and his successor, George Seifert, led the 49ers to a most dominant 14-2 season in 1989 and a 55-10 destruction of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.

The Chiefs and 49ers are infrequent foes, seeing they play in opposite conferences. They don’t even play much in the exhibition season.

They first played in 1971, with Kansas City winning 26-17 at Candlestick on Monday Night Football. The Chiefs did not return to Candlestick until 1985, and they did not defeat the 49ers again until 1994, when the Montana-led Chiefs defeated the Young-led 49ers 24-17 at Arrowhead. In between, San Francisco won in 1975 and ’82 at Kansas City, and again in 1985 and ’91 at Candlestick.

Their last game was in 2018 at Arrowhead, the game where 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Kansas City won 38-28. San Francisco went 4-12, giving it the #2 overall pick in the draft, which it used to take Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who will win Rookie of the Year or be a close second.

This will not be the first time the championship of a North American professional sports league will be determined by teams from Kansas City and San Francisco.

In the 2014 World Series, the Giants defeated the Royals in seven games. The teams split the first two games in Kansas City, then the Royals won the third at San Francisco. The Giants rallied to win the next two at AT&T Park (now Oracle park), but Yordano Ventura pitched a gem in game six at Kauffman to take the series to the limit.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy called on ace Madison Bumgarner, the starter and winner in games one and five, to relieve former Royal Jeremy Affeldt to begin the fifth with San Francisco ahead 3-2.

Bumgarner totally shut down the Royals until there were two out in the ninth. Alex Gordon singled and went to third when left fielder Gregor Blanco overran the ball. It looked like Gordon would be able to score, but third base coach Mike Jirschele held up Gordon.

Salvador Perez then popped up to Pablo Sandoval in foul ground. Sandoval squeezed the final out, giving San Francisco its third World Series title in five seasons. Of course, the Royals redeemed themselves one year later, with a lot of help from the bumbling Mets.

Let the hype begin.

Partying like its 1969 (and January 1970)

Stupid mouse. Now I have to start over. Actually, I’m the stupid one for not saving my draft.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl IV, when the Chiefs, led by quarterback Len Dawson, running back Mike Garrett and receiver Otis Taylor, “matriculated the ball down the field” well enough to defeat the Vikings 23-7 in the last Super Bowl to match the NFL and AFL. The merger of the leagues was to take effect after this game, per the terms of the 1966 agreement brokered by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

It was fitting the final game involving an AFL team was played in New Orleans. The Big Easy was represented in the U.S. House by Thomas Hale Boggs, who helped the NFL and AFL secure an antitrust exemption to allow for the merger. Louisiana’s junior U.S. Senator, Russell B. Long, son of Huey and nephew of Earl, was the manager of the antitrust exemption in the Senate. The bill was signed by LBJ in October 1966. As a reward, New Orleans was awarded an expansion team, which began play as the Saints in 1967.

Ironically, Hunt nearly moved the Dallas Texans to New Orleans instead of Kansas City in early 1963. There was a slight problem with that idea: segregation.

Tulane Stadium did not allow black patrons to sit in prime seating areas for Green Wave games (nor did any other stadium in the Southeastern Conference at that time). No way that would be kosher for a professional league, especially one which had a large number of black players.

No state of the former confederacy other than Texas had a professional sports franchise until the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966, but Atlanta was fortunate to have a progressive mayor, Ivan Allen, who initiated desegregation in the ATL before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. New Orleans wasn’t as bad as Birmingham and Montgomery as far as treating blacks as a lower life form, but mayors Chep Morrison and Victor Schiro weren’t rolling out the red carpet, either.

The field at Tulane Stadium in Super Bowl IV was a mud pit. Anyone who has watched highlights of the game (there is an excellent video chronicling the game on YouTube) knows why the NFL required the Saints and Tulane to install artificial turf (Poly-Turf) in March 1971 when the Big Easy was awarded Super Bowl VI, which was played in January 1972.

Super Bowl IV was the first to be played without a week off between the league (later conference) championship games and the finale. This wouldn’t be the case again until January 1983, when the playoffs had to be expanded in the wake of the 1982 players’ strike which reduced the regular season from 16 games to 9. The next time there was only one week scheduled between the conference championships and Super Bowl was the 1990 season.

The off week is a necessity. Players need time to work out ticket arrangements, coaches need extra time to game plan, business managers need time to figure out flights and hotels, and fans need a week off from football, period (the Pro Bowl doesn’t count).

Strangely, there was a week off for the Chiefs and Raiders before the AFL championship game.

In 1969, the AFL held a semifinal playoff round, with the division champions (Jets in the East, Raiders in the West) hosting the runner-up from the opposite division (Chiefs in the West, Oilers in the East).

The AFL’s 1969 regular season ended one week earlier than the NFL’s. The weekend of Dec. 20-21 would have been used for tiebreaker games, but with no tiebreakers needed, the semifinals were held those days, with the Chiefs defeating the Jets 13-6 on Saturday and the Raiders mauling the Oilers 56-7 on Sunday.

While the AFL rested the final weekend of 1969, the NFL held its semifinals. The Vikings edged the Rams 23-20 to win the Western Conference, and the Browns crushed the Cowboys 38-14 to win the East.

The NFL championship game in Minnesota was a 27-7 rout for the Vikings, and it wasn’t that close. Cleveland was probably glad to be going to the AFC after losing 52-14 to the Cowboys in the 1967 semifinals and 34-0 to the Colts in the 1968 NFL championship.

The AFL championship provided much more drama.

Kansas City was seething its last four games to Oakland.

After the Chiefs won 24-10 in Kansas City in 1968 in a game where Hank Stram used the Straight-T formation and passed only three times, the Raiders rolled over the Chiefs twice in Oakland, 38-21 and 41-6, the latter being a playoff for the AFL Western Division title. The Raiders lost the AFL championship to the Jets, who went on to prove Joe Namath prophetic.

In 1969, the Raiders swept the Chiefs, 27-24 in Kansas City and 10-6 in Oakland.

The Raiders, coached by a 33-year old newbie named John Madden, had their suitcases loaded onto buses in the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. If Oakland won, it would immediately head to San Francisco International Airport and fly to New Orleans that night.

Oakland scored in the first quarter to go ahead 7-0, but that was all.

Kansas City’s “Redwood Forest” defense, led by five future Hall of Famers, hled the Raiders the rest of the way, and the Chiefs rallied to win 17-7 for their third AFL championship and second trip to the Super Bowl.

The Vikings were immediately installed as 14-point favorites. Many experts, especially those loyal to the NFL like Sports Illustrated’s Tex Maule and notorious gambler Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, thought the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III was a fluke. On the other hand, many of the Chiefs on the team in 1969 were on the field in Los Angeles three years prior, and Kansas City’s defense was superior to New York’s.

On the Tuesday prior to the Super Bowl, NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report broke news of several NFL players who had ties to a Detroit bookmaker, Donald “Dice Dawson”. The two most prominent names on the list were Namath (no surprise) and Len Dawson (shocking).

Six hours after the report aired, Stram addressed the media and had Len Dawson, no relation to Dice, read a statement. Stram and his quarterback vehemently denied the report. It turned out the reports were false. So much for there not being fake news in 1970.

Namath ran afoul of Rozelle in the summer of 1969 after it was discovered gamblers and mafia members were hanging out at Bachelor’s III, the Manhattan bar Namath owned. Rozelle ordered Namath to divest himself of holdings in Bachelor’s III. Namath initially refused and retired, but one month later, he reversed course and returned to the Jets. I’m guessing Bear Bryant had a lot to do with Namath coming back, much more so than Weeb Ewbank.

The Vikings featured the NFL’s best defense in 1969, led by the “Purple Gang”. Minnesota’s defense had three future Hall of Famers in end Carl Eller, tackle Alan Page and safety Paul Krause, as well as end Jim Marshall, an ironman who played in 282 consecutive games over 19 seasons. How Marshall isn’t in the Hall of Fame is a travesty.

Stram thought he could beat the Vikings with short, quick passes to the sideline with his speedy receivers, Taylor and Frank Pitts. The key was to make sure Eller and Marshall were blocked. To do this, Stram had a running back and/or tight end Fred Arbanas assist his tackles, Jim Tyrer (on Marshall) and Dave Hill (on Eller) chip the ends.

“King Henry” also ran reverses, traps and counters to take advantage of Page’s quickness and keep him off-balance.

On defense, Stram often shifted one of his tackles, Buck Buchanan or Curley Culp (both are in the Hall of Fame), directly over Minnesota’s All-Pro center, Mick Tinglehoff. All NFL teams were running the standard 4-3 defense in 1969, which meant centers could fire out and block a middle linebacker instead of having to deal with a man right on him.

By putting Culp or Buchanan on Tinglehoff, it freed middle linebacker Willie Lanier, another future Hall of Famer, to roam free where needed.

Minnesota’s offense, while effective, was primitive in 1969. With Fran Tarkenton in New York and Chuck Foreman and John Gilliam still years away, the Vikings relied mostly on two straight-ahead runners, Bill Brown and Dave Osborn, and reckless quarterback Joe Kapp, whose wobbly passes were similar to those thrown by Billy Kilmer, the Saints’ starting quarterback at that time.

Stram, at the request of NFL Films President/Executive Producer Ed Sabol and son Steve, agreed to wear a wireless microphone during the game. When the highlights of Super Bowl IV were released in the summer of 1970, it became the gold standard for all future NFL Films productions.

The Chiefs took a 9-0 lead on three Jan Stenerud field goals, then caught a huge break in the second quarter when Charlie West fumbled a kickoff. Kansas City lineman Remi Prudhomme, who played on the same field for LSU in its victory over Syracuse in the 1965 Sugar Bowl, recovered, setting up the Chiefs in the red zone.

With second and goal on the Vikings 6-yard line, Stram famously called for “65 Toss Power Trap”.

In what became one of the most iconic play calls in Super Bowl history, the Chiefs offensive line influenced Page and Eller to their left, and with Marshall sealed off by Tyrer, Garrett ran through a gaping hole to the game’s first touchdown. Kansas City led 16-0, and that was the score at halftime.

The halftime show at Super Bowl IV featured a recreation of the Battle of New Orleans. Bad idea. A couple of the actors portraying soldiers lost fingers, and what was left of the grass on the field was gone.

Minnesota drove to a touchdown by Osborn in the third quarter to make it 16-7, but Kansas City put the game away for good later in the period when Taylor took a short pass at the right sideline, broke an attempted tackle by Viking cornerback Earsell Mackbee, then outran Karl Kassulke the rest of the way to a 46-yard touchdown.

Chiefs 23, Vikings 7 would be the final. Dawson was named Most Valuable Player, and President Nixon called the winning coach and quarterback in the locker room.

Kansas City hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl. The closest the Chiefs have come were AFC championship game losses to the Bills in 1993 and Patriots in 2018. The most crushing playoff loss was on Christmas Day 1971, when a strong Chiefs team lost to the upstart Dolphins in the NFL’s longest game (82 minutes, 40 seconds of playing time) in what turned out to be the final football match at Municipal Stadium.

Minnesota got back to the Super Bowl three times over the next seven seasons, but each game wasn’t close. The Vikings lost 24-7 to the Dolphins in VIII, 16-6 to the Steelers in IX (the last NFL game at Tulane Stadium; my parents were there, if only for a half), and 32-14 to the Raiders in XI. Minnesota lost NFC championship games in 1977, 1987, 1998, 2000 and 2009.

The Vikings’ drought is guaranteed to last another year, thanks to their 27-10 loss to the 49ers yesterday in Santa Clara. Seattle or Green Bay will visit Levi’s Stadium next Sunday to determine the NFC championship.

I’m wondering if older Minnesota fans or players might have had a feeling their team was cursed since the Vikings played on the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl IV.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have a golden opportunity to end their Super Bowl drought.

If Kansas City defeats Houston this afternoon, it will host Tennessee in the AFC championship.

That’s because the Titans went to Baltimore last night and shocked the Ravens 28-12, ending Baltimore’s 12-game winning streak.

The Ravens had the NFL’s best record, 14-2, thanks in large part to Lamar Jackson’s record-setting season. The former Heisman Trophy winner from Louisville set a league record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season, while also throwing 32 touchdown passes.

Hardly anyone gave the Titans a chance, yet the last team to qualify for the playoffs is now one win away from its first Super Bowl since 1999, when Jeff Fisher’s club lost to the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf.

The Titans knocked out the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. After downing the Ravens, I’m not so certain the Chiefs or Texans might be looking forward to facing Tennessee. Then again, playing at home beats playing in Baltimore.

For Baltimore sports fans, I rate it as the biggest shocker since the Orioles lost to the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series.

In case you don’t know that story, the Orioles won 109 games in the regular season before sweeping the Twins in the first American League Championship Series. Baltimore had three of the American League’s most dominant pitchers in Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Cy Young Award winner Mike Cuellar, along with a powerful lineup featuring Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.

The Mets didn’t finish above eighth in the National League in any of their first seven seasons. Yet in 1969, Tom Seaver won the Cy Young, Jerry Koosman came of age, and a 22-year old flamethrower from Alvin, Texas named Lynn Nolan Ryan gave the club from Queens a staff just as good as Baltimore’s.

At the plate, the Mets couldn’t match the Orioles, but their outfield may have been the best defensive trio the game has seen: Cleon Jones in left, Tommie Agee in center and Ron Swoboda in right.

The Mets came from as far back as 11 games down in July to overtake the Cubs to win the National League East, then swept Hank Aaron’s Braves in the first National League Championship Game.

Baltimore won the first game of the World Series at home, but lost game two. Nobody in Charm City panicked…yet.

After the Mets blanked the Orioles 5-0 in game three, featuring two spectacular catches by Agee, Baltimore fans began to wonder if this was truly their year.

Swoboda made one of the most spectacular catches in World Series history in game four, robbing Brooks Robinson of an extra base hit which would have given the Orioles the lead. Instead, it was just a sacrifice fly which tied the game. The Mets won in the bottom of the 10th when Baltimore reliever Pete Richert’s throw hit Mets pinch hitter J.C. Martin in the arm, allowing Rod Gasper to score from second.

Baltimore led 3-0 through five innings of game five, but when Mets manager Gil Hodges proved to home plate umpire Lou DiMuro that Jones was hit by McNally by showing DiMuro a speck of shoe polish on the ball, the Orioles knew they were doomed.

Indeed they were.

Series MVP Donn Clendenon followed Jones with a two-run home run. Baltimore’s lead disappeared when Al Weis led off the seventh with a homer, and in the eighth, Swoboda doubled home Jones with what proved to be the Series-winning run. Swoboda later scored an insurance run when Powell booted a two-out grounder by Jerry Grote.

When future Mets manager Dave Johnson flied out to Jones, pandemonium erupted at Shea.

The Orioles got their World Series title in 1970 by defeating the Reds in five, and added another in ’83 with a five-game win over the Phillies. Baltimore lost to the Pirates in seven in both 1971 and ’79.

This habit of post-midnight posts is not a good one. I’ve got to cut this out.