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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Falcons’ First Win

18 Oct

In past Throwback Thursday posts, we’ve featured a number of “firsts” that occurred over the years in pro football, including the first AFL game ever played, the New Orleans’ Saints first ever game, and this year, the Cardinals’ first game as the St. Louis Cards. This week, with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants meeting on the NFL schedule, we go back to November 20, 1966, when the Falcons’ franchise recorded the first victory in team history with a 27-16 win over New York. Welcomed into the National Football League as an expansion team in ’66, the Falcons had their top draft pick, linebacker Tommy Nobis, and not much else. They lost their first 9 games of the year, but this particular week they traveled to Yankee Stadium to battle an equally inept club in the Giants, who had a lone victory and a tie to show for their season so far.

Nobis had been a stalwart on defense for a bad team most of the year, and the team had another rookie first round draft pick leading the offense in quarterback Randy Johnson, who didn’t have much to work with on his side of the ball either. On this day, however, Atlanta had a secret weapon on their side – a highly motivated fullback named Ernie Wheelwright. He had been plucked by the Falcons off the Giants’ roster in the expansion draft held before the season to stock the new franchise. Wheelwright, a career journeyman with pedestrian statistics, was a key figure in beating his old team on this day, accounting for 86 yards from scrimmage and scoring 2 touchdowns on short throws from Johnson. The rookie QB threw 3 TD passes on the day and also ran for a touchdown in the final quarter to secure his team’s first win ever. Running back Joe Morrison was a lone bright spot in a dismal season for the Giants, and in this game scored a pair of touchdowns in a losing cause. Atlanta would ride the momentum from winning this contest to grab 2 more victories to finish the year at 3-11, escaping last place while the Giants continued their losing ways, finishing last behind the Falcons in the Eastern Division standings at 1-12-1. This era was not a very successful one for the proud Giants’ franchise, and finishing last behind an expansion team was a particular low point.

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Falcons’ linebacker Tommy Nobis

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

18 Oct

miamiseahawks46aafc

Logo of an old, defunct pro football team that played in the All America Conference, the Miami Seahawks. Although they lasted only a single season, in 1946, in the AAFC before folding, the Seahawks were the first professional sports franchise based in Miami. They played their home games at Burdine Stadium, which would later be renamed the Orange Bowl. The team was woefully underfunded and not very good on the field either, as they stumbled to a 3-11 last place finish in the AAFC Eastern Division. The Seahawks folded at the end of the ’46 season and the franchise was sold to a Washington, D.C. lawyer, who reformed the team in Baltimore as the Colts.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

18 Oct

66philawheelwright

1966 Philadelphia football card of former pro football fullback Ernie Wheelwright, who enjoyed a seven year career in the NFL for 3 different teams. This card shows him in his New York Giants’ uniform even though in ’66 he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons in their inaugural season in the NFL. In fact, Wheelwright has the distinction of playing on 2 different expansion teams in their first seasons, the Falcons in ’66 and the New Orleans Saints in 1967. He served in the 101st Airborne Division prior to his NFL career, and did some acting – including roles in The Longest Yard and Wildcats – after retiring as a player.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Catch II

11 Oct

With this week’s NFL schedule including a matchup of the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, our Throwback Thursday feature will go back to an NFC wild card game played between these 2 iconic franchises on January 3, 1999. The game featured a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Green Bay’s Brett Favre and San Francisco’s Steve Young, but the offensive production for both teams in this contest came mostly from their running games. The star running backs on this day weren’t necessarily household names. Dorsey Levens, for most of his career a backup, racked up 116 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries for Green Bay, while Garrison Hearst totaled 128 yards on 22 carries for the Niners.

Although the running games were featured by both teams, Favre and Young used short passes to complete drives as the game went on. Up until the last 2 minutes of the contest, Favre completed 2 short scoring passes to Antonio Freeman, while Young connected with Greg Clark on a pair of touchdown throws, with both scoring plays totaling a whopping 9 yards. The team’s field goal kickers, Ryan Longwell of the Packers and San Fran’s Wade Richey, traded field goals all game long, and with 2 minutes left to play, the Packers took a 27-23 lead when Favre hit Freeman for his second TD of the game. That left Young with the opportunity to match Favre with some late game magic of his own. Although their weren’t a lot of aerial fireworks in this game, the signal callers, who were both recent Super Bowl winning QBs, showed their excellence in putting together scoring drives when it mattered. Young proceeded to lead his club downfield and with 9 seconds left, he hit his young, brash wide receiver, Terrell Owens, with a pinpoint post pattern throw covering 25 yards for the winning score, sealing a 30-27 victory for the 49ers.

It was a bit of a coming out party for Owens with his dramatic touchdown. He had been playing second fiddle to Niner legend Jerry Rice since arriving on the scene, and became quite emotional on the sideline after his game-winning heroics. In some ways, it was the start of a symbolic passing of the torch with the 49ers, as Rice was nearing the end of his reign with the team while Owens’ career was just beginning. Some people labeled the winning play “The Catch II” after the original “The Catch” made by another 49er, Dwight Clark, in 1982 on a throw from Joe Montana. Owens’ play wasn’t quite as dramatic, however. It happened in a wild card game while the Montana to Clark play came in an NFC Conference championship game and propelled San Francisco to its’ first Super Bowl appearance.

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An emotional Terrell Owens after his game-winning catch

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

11 Oct

tenchatanooga

Logo of a small college football program that’s been in existence since 1904, the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga Mocs. They have been members of various conferences over the years and currently play in the Southern Conference and their legacy includes 7 conference titles. For a small school, the Mocs have an impressive list of former players who have gone on to play professionally, including Travis McNeal, Buster Skrine, Drayton Florence, Jack Gregory, Charley Long, Jim Bradshaw and recent Hall of Fame inductee Terrell Owens. He didn’t play pro football, but another famous former Moc player is Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver on the old Leave It To Beaver television series.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

11 Oct

94bowmanlevens

1994 Bowman football card of a former pro football running back, Dorsey Levens, who played 11 years in the NFL, most notably with the Green Bay Packers. Used mostly as a backup during his career, he had a Pro Bowl season in 1997, and was also the Packers’ leading rusher in their Super Bowl XXXI victory. Since retiring, Levens has dabbled in acting and in 2009 was elected to the Packers’ Hall of Fame.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Music City Miracle

04 Oct

The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans clash on the NFL schedule for the upcoming week five, and our Throwback Thursday feature travels back to a wild card playoff game between these 2 clubs contested on January 8, 2000. It was a hard -fought game that was decided in the final seconds by a controversial play that was a throwback in itself – the name of the play was  “The Home Run Throwback”. Although the 2 teams only qualified as wild cards, they were both imposing clubs. The Titans had finished at 13-3 while the Bills, with an 11-5 record, boasted the #1 defense in the NFL in yards allowed. It was a defensive struggle from the start, and after a scoreless first quarter, the Titans took command as they sacked Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson for a safety, then got a 42 yard return of the “free kick” following the safety by Derrick Mason to give themselves great field position. Tennessee QB Steve “Air” McNair finished off the short drive with a one yard touchdown run, and an Al Del Greco field goal later in the quarter sent the Titans into halftime with a 12-0 lead.

The Bills had gained only 64 yards in the opening half, and a controversial decision to change signal callers for this game was beginning to look bad. Doug Flutie had been the Bills’ QB all season, leading a low-scoring but efficient attack as the club rode the strength of their defense to most of their victories. In a meaningless regular season finale, Johnson was given a start against the Indianapolis Colts and was so impressive that the Bills’ brass decided to go with him in the playoff game instead of Flutie. Under enormous pressure to produce, Johnson came out in the second half and began to mount a comeback. The Bills took the opening kickoff of the half and used their running game, specifically star back Antowian Smith, to put together a 64 yard scoring drive. a 44 yard run by Smith highlighted the drive, and a 4 yard run for a touchdown by him finished it. Johnson led another touchdown drive, this time for 65 yards and highlighted by a 37 yard completion from him to Eric Moulds. The drive was capped off with another 4 yard TD run by Smith, and after failing on a two-point conversion try, the Bills found themselves with the lead at 13-12. McNair, who had only 76 yards passing for the day, pieced together a drive that netted the Titans another Del Greco field goal, putting Tennessee up 15-13 with a little under 2 minutes to play.  Johnson again led the Bills downfield, orchestrating a drive that led to a go-ahead field goal from Steve Christie that appeared to ice the game for the Bills, as only 16 seconds remained.

Then came the infamous play that would make this game one of the most memorable in NFL playoff history. Lorenzo Neal fielded Christie’s “pooch” kickoff, and handed it to Pro Bowler Frank Wycheck. Wycheck stopped, turned to his left and lofted a “lateral” across the field to speedster Kevin Dyson, who raced past the few Buffalo defenders who were on that side of the field to an improbable touchdown return to give his team a 22-16 victory. The play was extremely controversial in that it appeared that Wycheck had thrown an illegal forward pass. In fact, Bills’ coach Wade Phillips appeared to be very calm after the play, confident that it would be overturned on replay review. Replays showed Wycheck was clearly behind the yard line when he launched the pass, with Dyson clearly ahead of it when he caught the ball. However, referee Phil Luckett, after review, ruled that Wycheck’s arm was parallel to where Dyson was, so it was a legal lateral. Luckett’s role in the play was highlighted in the fact that he had been involved in a couple of controversies earlier in the season, botching the coin toss in one game and ruling a Vinny Testaverde QB sneak a touchdown even though replays clearly showed him being stopped a half yard short. Controversy aside, the touchdown stood and the “Music City Miracle” was born, although Bills’ coach Phillips always referred to it as “The Music City Mistake”.

 

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Kevin Dyson follows a convoy of blockers to “Music City Miracle” winning TD

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

04 Oct

southernmiss9002

Used from 1990 until 2002, this is the logo of a college football team that currently plays in Conference USA, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. Their program came into existence in 1912 and the school boasts 8 conference championships and 78 consensus All Americans among their former players. Southern Miss alumni who have enjoyed success in pro football include Sammy Winder, Hanford Dixon, Louis Lipps, Jerrel Wilson, Patrick Surtain and a couple of Hall of Famers, Brett Favre and Ray Guy.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

04 Oct

01scorewycheck

2001 Score football card of former pro football tight end Frank Wycheck, who enjoyed an 11 year career in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, and most notably, with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and one of only seven tight ends in NFL history to record 500 receptions. After his playing days were over, Wycheck dabbled in pro wrestling and broadcasting. He is currently color analyst on the Titans’ radio broadcasts and hosts his own sports talk radio show in Nashville.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: “I Love You, Brian!”

27 Sep

The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders match up on the NFL’s week four schedule this Sunday, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to January 4, 1981, a cold, snowy day in Cleveland when these 2 clubs met in an AFC divisional playoff game. The Raiders were a wild card entry in that year’s playoffs, while the Browns enjoyed an 11-5 season in which their quarterback, Brian Sipe, won the league’s MVP award in leading his team to the AFC Central Division title. Sipe and his Browns earned the nickname “Kardiac Kids” for their habit of winning close games with come-from-behind victories all year, and this game played out like many of their regular season contests, except for the ending.

Weather conditions would be a big factor in the game, as neither team could muster much offense. The Browns’ defense broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter when Ron Bolton returned one of his 2 interceptions of Raider QB Jim Plunkett 42 yards for a touchdown. Mark Van Eeghen tied the score before the first half ended with a one yard plunge for a Raider TD. The only third quarter scoring came on a pair of Don Cockroft field goals for Cleveland, leaving the Browns up 12-7 entering the final quarter. When Van Eeghen scored a second 1-yard TD to put the Raiders up 14-12, Sipe and the Browns were put in their familiar spot of needing a fourth quarter comeback to secure a win. Starting at his own 15 yard line, Sipe masterfully drove his team downfield, reaching the Oakland 13 yard line with 49 seconds to play. The Browns were already in position to kick a game-winning field goal, but because of the severe weather conditions, coach Sam Rutigliano opted to have Sipe throw a pass to All Pro tight end Ozzie Newsome in the end zone to get the win. The decision backfired when Raider safety Mike Davis intercepted the pass, ending Cleveland’s season. As a disheartened Sipe came off the field , Rutigliano hugged his signal caller and exclaimed “I love you, Brian!”

The play, which carried the name “Red Right 88”, would become the first of the city of Cleveland’s infamous gaffes regarding heartbreaking Browns’ defeats. “The Drive” starring John Elway and “The Fumble” featuring Earnest Byner would follow in later years. The Browns remain one of the few teams in the NFL to have never played in a Super Bowl (although they were a dominant force in the pre-Super Bowl era). The Raiders took advantage of their good fortune of Rutigliano’s decision to pass by going on to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl that season.

 

Oakland’s Mike Davis seals the win (Getty Images)