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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Mel Gray’s Phantom Catch

14 Dec

It’s another week of the National Football League schedule, and another Throwback Thursday feature. This week, the Washington Redskins face the Arizona Cardinals, and our TBT will highlight a game played on November 16, 1975 between these two teams. The Cardinals were based in St. Louis at the time and both clubs were members of the league’s NFC East division. They entered this contest fighting for the division lead with identical 6-2 records. A defensive struggle produced a scoreless first quarter, then St. Louis’ Jim Bakken hit a short field goal to give his team the lead. Redskin quarterback Randy Johnson, a journeyman veteran filling in for regular signal caller Bill Kilmer, hit on a pair of touchdown passes, to Charley Taylor and Mike Thomas, to give Washington a 14-3 lead. The Cardinals pulled to within 14-10 when Jim Hart hit J.V. Cain on an 8 yard scoring toss, but Mike Moseley extended the ‘Skins’ lead to 17-10 with a field goal. Later in the fourth quarter, Hart led his team down the field attempting to tie the game, and reached Washington’s 6 yard line. He then proceeded to toss 3 consecutive incompletions, setting up what would be one of the most controversial plays in Redskin history. He fired a pass to his favorite target, Mel Gray, who clutched the ball in the end zone as he was being hit simultaneously by Redskin cornerback Pat Fischer. The ball popped out and hit the ground, and while one official ruled it incomplete, another called it a touchdown. After a huddle among the zebras, the play was ruled a touchdown. Bakken’s extra point tied the game, and the Cardinal kicker won it in overtime, 20-17, with another field goal.

Fischer, a former Cardinal, protested the call and insisted the pass was never caught. Gray even put his hands on his helmet in frustration, thinking it was an incompletion. There was no replay review in those days, so the officials’ call on the field was gospel. One thing is certain – there is no way, under today’s rules, that the pass would be anything but an incompletion, as a receiver is required to hold onto the ball and make a “football move” to complete the catch. The game knocked coach George Allen’s Washington team out of first place, and they never recovered, falling to an 8-6 final record which kept them out of the playoffs. St. Louis used the victory as a springboard to their second consecutive NFC East title.

 

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Cardinals’ Mel Gray snags a Jim Hart pass in the end zone

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Gray “completes” the “catch” for the tying TD

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

14 Dec

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Logo of an old defunct football team that played one season (1974) in the old World Football League, the Houston Texans. They are in no way related to the current NFL franchise in Houston that is also named the Texans. Despite their one year existence, the team boasted a roster of well-known pro football veterans, including Don Maynard, Warren McVea, Sid Blanks, Jim Nance, Jim Kanicki, Joe Robb and Garland Boyette.

 

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

14 Dec

66philapatfischer

1966 Philadelphia football card of former NFL defensive back Pat Fischer, a 12 year veteran of the league who split his playing days between the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins. A three time Pro Bowler, he was a ballhawking cornerback, intercepting 56 passes in his career. He was also known for his tackling ability, despite his diminutive size (5’9). After retiring, Fischer was a stockbroker and owned a successful real estate business.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Golden Boy’s Final Golden Moment

07 Dec

Throwback Thursday for this week harkens back to the 1965 National Football League championship game, played on January 2, 1966. It was contested on a sloppy field between two teams that match up on this week’s NFL schedule – the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns. Both franchises were powerhouses at the time, with the Browns returning to the title game after being crowned champs in 1964, and the Packers heading to the championship after winning back-to-back titles in ’61 and ’62. The weather conditions were bad and it didn’t take long for the field to turn into a quagmire, which meant a strong rushing attack would be an advantage in the game. That figured to favor the Browns, who had pro football’s most dynamic back of all time, Jim Brown, lined up in their backfield. Coach Vince Lombardi’s proud Packers, however, were determined to reclaim their glory and had not one, but a pair of future Hall of Famers in their backfield in Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, not to mention another future HOF inductee in quarterback Bart Starr.

Early in the first quarter before the field deteriorated, both teams managed to score through the air, with Starr hitting Carroll Dale on a 47 yard strike and Cleveland’s Frank Ryan countering with a 17 yard scoring toss to the 1964 championship game’s MVP, Gary Collins. The Browns missed the extra point on their score, and with the weather worsening the defenses took over and the teams traded field goals, with Green Bay’s Don Chandler and Cleveland’s Lou Groza both connecting on a pair of three-pointers. The Packers took a slim 13-12 lead into the locker room at halftime, and then took over the game in the second half with a pounding, ball control run game featuring their vaunted power sweep. Hornung, the one-time “Golden Boy” from Notre Dame who was getting up in age, put in a dominant performance in what turned out to be his last shining moment in a Packer uniform. He wound up with 105 yards rushing on 18 carries and pretty much sealed a 23-12 victory for his team on a 13 yard sweep into the end zone in the third quarter. Taylor carried 27 times for another 96 yards as Green Bay amassed 204 yards on the ground in the game, dominating the time of possession. This kept Jim Brown off the field for most of the contest. He churned out 50 yards, but only got 12 carries as Lombardi’s troops kept the ball on long, time-consuming drives most of the day. It was the type of performance that Lombardi loved, and the Pack not only dethroned Cleveland as NFL champs, but went on to beat Dallas in the next 2 NFL championships, following up those wins with victories in the first 2 Super Bowls.

It was a fitting swan song for Hornung. He remained with the Packers for the 1966 season but played very little due to injuries, then was left unprotected in the expansion draft the next year and was picked by the fledgling New Orleans Saints in that draft. He never played for them due to all his injuries, but his backfield mate, Taylor, also wound up with the Saints, being traded there by Lombardi when he balked about his salary and threatened to hold out.

 

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Paul Hornung grinds out yardage in the muddy 1965 NFL title game

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 Dec

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This simple logo from the 1930s belonged to the Chicago Cardinals, who shared residence in the Windy City with the Bears until 1959, when they moved to St. Louis. The Cards won a pair of NFL titles while in Chicago, but had only 2 winning seasons in the ’30s. Nineteen members from the Cardinal franchise are enshrined in pro football’s Hall of Fame, including Ernie Nevers, Jim Thorpe, Charley Trippi, John Driscoll, Walt Kiesling and Guy Chamberlin from the early Chicago days.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Dec

68toppscarrolldale

1968 Topps football card of former pro football flanker Carroll Dale, who played 14 seasons in the NFL for 3 different teams. Drafted in 1960 by the Los Angeles Rams, he spent 5 years there before being traded to Green Bay, where he spent the bulk, and most successful, years of his career. He was a major contributor to 3 Packer championship teams, including the clubs that won the first 2 Super Bowls. The football stadium at his old high school in Wise, Virginia is named after him.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Cookie Sets The Tone

30 Nov

An AFC East matchup between old American Football League rivals, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, is on this week’s NFL schedule, and for our Throwback Thursday feature we’re going to throw it way back, to the 1964 AFL season, to a game played between these 2 teams on December 20, 1964. It was the regular season finale for both teams and the Patriots, defending AFL Eastern Division champions, were playing at home and favored. They had earned their way into the 1963 AFL title game by defeating the Bills 26-8 in a special playoff game since the teams were tied for the division lead, then sauntered into the Bills’ home field, old War Memorial Stadium, earlier in 1964 and handed Buffalo one of their two losses, 36-28, in the current season. The game would decide who was Eastern Division champ, and the Pats were confident and cocky going into it. Buffalo coach Lou Saban was being coy about which of his quarterbacks, Jack Kemp or Daryle Lamonica, was going to start the game. Kemp was the Bills’ starter but Lamonica had come in to relieve him in various games during the season and played well. Boston defensive end Larry Eisenhauer claimed “Saban isn’t saying who’ll start but it won’t make a difference, we’ll still beat ’em.” That only served to fire up the Bills, and on the first play of the game, their star fullback, Cookie Gilchrist, set the tone on a routine running play. He took a handoff from Kemp, turned the corner on the snow-covered field and proceeded to run over Patriot defensive back Chuck Shonta, knocking him unconscious. On his way back to the huddle, Gilchrist pointed at the Boston players gathered around their fallen teammate and said “which one of you motherf****rs is next?!”

That was a defining moment in the game. The Bills’ running game wasn’t particularly dominant the rest of the way. Gilchrist and fellow back Wray Carlton combined to rush for only 83 yards, but the team’s fired-up defense dominated and Kemp, determined to reward Saban for giving him the start, had a great game, throwing for one touchdown and scoring twice on one yard quarterback sneaks to lead Buffalo to a 24-14 win. Despite the miserable weather conditions and the sloppy Fenway Park field, both of Kemp’s wideouts, Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion and Glenn Bass, had over 100 yards receiving, with Dubenion scoring on a 57 yard bomb for the game’s first touchdown. Pete Gogolak, pro football’s first ever soccer style kicker, completed the scoring with a short field goal. With their Boston Patriot jinx conquered, the Bills would move on to the AFL championship game against the high-flying Western Division champion San Diego Chargers, an offensive juggernaut that had slaughtered the Pats 51-10 in the ’63 title contest. Buffalo upset the Chargers to win their first of back-to-back titles.

 

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Cookie Gilchrist in action in ’64 season finale

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

30 Nov

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This is an old logo, used from 1953 until 1967, of a Canadian Football League team, the Calgary Stampeders. Founded in 1945, the club has won a total of 7 Grey Cups, signifying the CFL championship. Their long run included the 1948 season when they went undefeated, capping the perfect year with a Grey Cup win over Ottawa. CFL Hall of Famer Doug Flutie once played for the team, along with a couple of players with colorful nicknames, Earl “The Earthquake” Lunsford and Ezzert “Sugarfoot” Anderson.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

30 Nov

65toppsgogolak

1965 Topps football card of pro football’s first soccer-style placekicker, Pete Gogolak. Born in Hungary, he came to the U.S. and developed his then unique style in college at Cornell. He was drafted by the American Football League’s Buffalo Bills, where he did the kicking for the team’s back-to-back AFL title teams in 1964 and ’65. Gogolak signed with the NFL’s New York Giants after that, sparking a bidding war for players between the 2 leagues. Gogolak spent 9 seasons with the Giants and is a member of their Ring of Honor. His younger brother Charlie was also a kicker in the league.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Purple People Eaters’ Thanksgiving Feast

23 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving week on the NFL’s schedule this week, with the traditional Turkey Day games played in Detroit and Dallas. The Lions, who have hosted one of the traditional games since 1936, take on the Minnesota Vikings in a key NFC Central matchup. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll go back to another Thanksgiving contest played between these 2 franchises on November 27, 1969. The Green Bay Packers were on the decline at this point and these 2 clubs were battling for dominance in the Central Division, so this game was an important one. The Lions’ home base at the time was still the old Tiger Stadium, so the game was played on a grass field in the snow and cold, something that makes this era of pro football very special to me, compared with today’s sanitized dome stadiums. Minnesota, under coach Bud Grant, came prepared to play on this day. Their vaunted “Purple People Eater” defense dominated the game, shutting out the Lions 27-0 to take control of the division on their way to winning the NFL title that year. They lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, but it was a pretty great year for them nonetheless.

The Viking defense harassed Lion quarterbacks Greg Landry and Bill Munson all afternoon, coming up with 2 interceptions and 7 sacks (unofficial since the sack was not an official recorded statistic back then).  Meanwhile, the Minnesota offense methodically put together scores in each of the first 3 quarters, with Dave Osborn pounding in from a yard out in the first quarter, Fred Cox hitting a second quarter field goal and Joe Kapp tossing a short 6 yard touchdown pass to Oscar Reed. The Purple People Eaters put the finishing touches on the victory in the final quarter when defensive end Jim Marshall, possibly pro football’s biggest Hall of Fame snub, intercepted a pass and then flipped the ball with a no-look lateral to teammate Alan Page, who finished the play by rumbling into the end zone for the TD.

The game was one-sided and the Vikings clearly established their dominance of the division with the win, and statistically there wasn’t a terrific amount of numbers put up by either team. That was typical of the era, however, so it was a standard NFL game at the time. Despite the lack of exciting big plays that fans demand in today’s game, it was still a fun game to watch. The weather conditions were part of the game’s charm at the time. Prior to sitting down to watch this game, fans may have taken part in a sandlot football game in similar conditions out in the yard or at a local playground, a tradition that some true diehard fans still uphold today.

 

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Vikings’ Jim Marshall led a dominant Thanksgiving performance