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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.

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.