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NFL – Throwback Thursday: “The Catch”

29 Sep

With the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys matching up on this week’s NFL schedule, picking the Throwback Thursday feature was a no-brainer. It’s one of the most memorable games in NFL lore, the 1981 NFC Championship game played between these two franchises. Played on January 10, 1982, it was a classic game whose outcome signified a “changing of the guard” in power in the NFC from the Cowboys, who dominated the 1970s, to the 49ers, who would go on to win multiple Super Bowls in the 1980s. It was a tough, close, exciting game, and the final drive by the Niners, led by Joe Montana in what was his introduction to pro football fans as “Joe Cool”, culminated in the play that would be forever known as “The Catch”. Trailing 27-21, Montana guided his club downfield and on a crucial third down play from Dallas’ 6 yard line, he took the snap, surveyed the field, and, unable to find an open receiver, sprinted out to the right with Cowboy defenders in hot pursuit. Just inches away from being pushed out of bounds, Montana launched a high pass into the corner of the end zone, which receiver Dwight Clark leaped up and snatched for the winning touchdown.

Some observers felt that Montana was actually throwing the ball away to try again on fourth down, but he and Clark claimed that they had practiced for just such a situation and that Montana knew exactly where his tall receiver would be. Niner coach Bill Walsh, when the pass was thrown, was supposedly already looking down at his play sheet for a play to call on fourth down. Regardless, the completion was made, San Francisco went on to win 28-27, and “The Catch” went into NFL history as one of it’s classic, unforgettable moments. There were some other classic moments in the ending of the game, actually. On the final play, there was an exchange between Montana and the Cowboys’ massive defensive end, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, that was an example of Joe Cool’s competitiveness. As he released the ball, Montana was crushed by Jones, and never saw Clark catch the ball. He only knew the result when he heard the home crowd cheering. Jones, lying on top of the 49er quarterback like a predator on his prey, told Montana “you just beat America’s Team”, to which Montana replied “well, now you can sit at home with the rest of America and watch the Super Bowl!” Another forgotten moment came after “The Catch”, when Dallas, with 51 seconds still left to play, started to drive downfield. Danny White hooked up with his star receiver, Drew Pearson, on a long pass and the Cowboy star appeared poised to break free to the end zone. Eric Wright, safety for San Fran, saved the day by running down Pearson and bringing him down with a horse-collar tackle, a move that is illegal in the NFL today. It’s certainly not a household play with NFL fans, but 49er faithful still refer to Wright’s game-saving tackle as “The Grab”.

 

 

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San Francisco’s Dwight Clark makes “The Catch”

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

29 Sep

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Logo of a football team that played in the now-defunct World League of American Football and the NFL Europe leagues, the Frankfurt Galaxy. They were the only franchise to remain intact in the same city for the 2 leagues’ existence. The Galaxy were a very successful entity, having appeared in the World Bowl championship 8 times, winning 4 titles. The team’s first 2 head coaches were Jack Elway, father of Hall of Fame QB John Elway, and Ernie Stautner, another NFL Hall of Fame legend.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

29 Sep

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1982 Topps football card of former Dallas Cowboy defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones, who played 15 seasons in the NFL, from 1974 to 1989, all with the Cowboys. His years in the NFL were interrupted by a brief “retirement” in ’79 as he attempted to pursue a professional boxing career. He was a three time Pro Bowler, and helped Dallas win the Super Bowl in 1978. He was a durable player, as he never missed a game in his 15 seasons.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Giant Mismatch

22 Sep

We’ve often featured games played between division rivals in our Throwback Thursday posts, and this week’s will go back to the 1961 season to take a look at a game played between two longtime Eastern Division/NFC East rivals, the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, who play on this week’s NFL schedule. In 2013, we remembered a game played between these 2 clubs in 1966 that was one of the wildest ever, as the Redskins throttled the Giants 72-41 in what still stands as the highest scoring game in league history. The Giants were a doormat in that ’66 season as they finished with only one win all year. However, five years earlier, in the 1961 season, the New York club was a powerhouse. They were in the midst of a stretch that saw them reach the NFL title game 5 times in 6 seasons. Unfortunately, they lost all five of those games (in 1958 and ’59 to the Baltimore Colts, in ’61 and ’62 to Green Bay and in ’63 to the Chicago Bears). On this day, November 5, 1961, the two franchises entered the game at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Giants were 5-2 and leading the division, while the lowly ‘Skins had dropped all 7 of their contests.

The game turned out to be as big a mismatch as the teams’ records indicated it would be, as the Giants pounded their Eastern Division rivals 53-0. Prior to the ’61 season, the Giants had acquired veteran quarterback Y.A. Tittle from the San Francisco 49ers, where he had led a potent 49er offense that was dubbed the “Million Dollar Backfield”. Tittle was considered to be washed up when the trade was made, but apparently the Giants knew what they were doing. Not only did Tittle win the starting job, displacing Giant legend Charley Conerly, but he went on to win three NFL Most Valuable Player Awards in New York and lead the team to the title game in three consecutive years from 1961 to ’63. On this day, the game started ominously for the Redskins as their QB, Norm Snead, was tackled in the end zone for a safety by Dick Modzelewski to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. Then Tittle went to work, torching the Washington secondary for three touchdown passes, two to split end Del Shofner, before giving way to backup Lee Grosscup, who threw another scoring pass to Shofner. The Giant defense chipped in with a 51 yard interception return by Jim Patton for a score, while the hard-luck Snead was caught in the end zone again for another safety, this time by Jim Katcavage. Snead never did much in Washington but did have a long career, mostly as a journeyman QB, after the ‘Skins made a petty good trade of their own a couple years later, swapping Snead to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sonny Jurgensen, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

This wasn’t the only game in which Tittle tortured Washington. The following season he set an NFL record for most TD passes in a single game, seven, in a Giant rout that we’ll likely feature in a future Throwback Thursday post.

 

tittlegiantsGiant quarterback Y.A. Tittle

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

22 Sep

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Logo of a now defunct college football team, the Wichita State Shockers, used from 1972 until the program was shut down in 1986. The team encountered a lot of bad luck over the years, losing all 3 bowl games they played in, and losing 31 team members in a plane crash in 1970. Former Shockers who had success in pro football include Ted Dean, Earl Edwards, Miller Farr, Jumpy Geathers and Bill Parcells.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

22 Sep

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1964 Philadelphia football card of former NFL split end Del Shofner, who had an underappreciated 11 year career in the league, split between the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants. He was a five time Pro Bowl selection and was named to the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1960s. Shofner had the good fortune of playing with 2 Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Norm Van Brocklin in L.A. and Y.A. Tittle with the Giants.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Snowplow Game

15 Sep

The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots square off this week on the NFL schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll harken back to a game played between these 2 franchises on December 12, 1982. It was one of the strangest games ever played, and it eventually was tagged with the nickname “The Snowplow Game” due to the weird and controversial way it was decided. It was played on a snowy Sunday afternoon and playing conditions were not good, leading to an absence of any real offense by either time. Statistically, Miami running back Andra Franklin had the most successful outing, rushing for 107 yards on 23 carries, but overall neither team could muster up much of an attack. There were a total of 11 passes completed in the game. Miami’s David Woodley had 9 of those completions, but he also threw 2 interceptions and was sacked twice. Patriot QB Steve Grogan completed only 2 passes, but he also threw only 5 times. There was a total of only 89 passing yards combined between the two struggling clubs.

The offensive doldrums continued until late in the fourth quarter. With the game scoreless and a little over 4 minutes remaining, New England managed to drive deep enough into Miami territory to set up a 33 yard field goal attempt by kicker John Smith.  This is when the game’s MVP, a snowplow operator named Mark Henderson, entered the fray. Because of the poor conditions, the league allowed teams to employ the snowplows to clear the yard markers occasionally so that the officials could better track first down yardage. Except now, with the Pats setting up for their field goal attempt, Henderson, a convicted felon out on a weekend work release program from prison, started to plow the yardline, then veered left to clear the spot where holder Matt Cavanaugh was to spot the ball. Smith made the attempt, and New England won the game 3-0.

 

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Mark Henderson clears the field for John Smith’s field goal attempt

Miami coach Don Shula, who basically owned the NFL officials in those days as a prominent member of the Competition Committee, vehemently protested allowing the field goal to stand but the officials let it go. Shula even protested later to commissioner Pete Rozelle, but to no avail. Skeptical current NFL fans might look back on this as an early example of a long history of Patriot cheating, but at the time it was unusual for Shula not to get his way with the refs so it was mostly looked on positively.  As for Henderson, he became a New England folk hero. Pats’ coach Ron Meyer awarded him a game ball, and the actual John Deere snowplow he used is now an exhibit in the team’s Hall of Fame. When he was questioned later about whether he thought he might be in trouble for pulling the stunt, Henderson replied, “What are they gonna do, throw me in jail?” He was released from prison a few years later and worked in the construction business.

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Game ball awarded to snowplow operator Mark Henderson

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

15 Sep

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This is an alternate logo of the Boston Patriots from their old American Football League days in the early 1960s. They eventually “regionalized” into the New England Patriots when they moved into a new stadium in Foxborough in 1971. The team has had amazing success in recent years but never won a championship in the AFL years, although some of the franchise’s most iconic players played during this era. They include Babe Parilli, Gino Cappelletti, Bob Dee, Jim Lee Hunt, Nick Buoniconti, Jim Nance and Houston Antwine.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

15 Sep

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1981 Topps football card of former NFL quarterback Steve Grogan, who played 16 seasons in the league, all with the New England Patriots. He didn’t have a stellar career, but is somewhat underappreciated for his longevity and toughness. He did lead the Pats to the playoffs 3 times, including in his second season, 1975, which was the team’s first playoff appearance since their AFL days in 1963. Grogan’s contributions grew to be more appreciated as the years went by after his playing days ended, and he was inducted into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame in 1995.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: “Hello, NFL, We’re The Cleveland Browns”

08 Sep

It’s that time of year again, the beginning of the NFL season, when we revive one of our favorite pastimes on Rayonsports.com , the weekly Throwback Thursday post. Each week during the season, we pick out a matchup on that week’s schedule and then feature a game from the past between those teams. To open the 2016 season, we’ll feature a matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, who play on opening day. The historical matchup we’ll remember was not only played on opening day, of the 1950 season, but was also the first game the Browns ever played in the NFL. They had been members of the All American Football Conference, a league formed to challenge the established NFL, and had dominated the AAFC for it’s entire four year existence, winning every championship from 1946 to 1949. The Browns, San Francisco 49ers and an early version of the Baltimore Colts were merged into the NFL when the fledgling league folded, and all began play in the established league in 1950. NFL Commissioner Bert Bell set up the schedule to match the Browns against the two-time defending NFL champion Eagles on opening day of the ’50 season purposely, with the intent of showing the public his league’s superiority over the champions of the AAFC. The game was even scheduled for Saturday, a day before the rest of the league’s scheduled games, to further feature the matchup.

 

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Game program from the Eagles-Browns 1950 opening game matchup

The Browns were considered by all the pro football experts at the time to be a good team, but only the best team in a “minor” league and certainly no match for the NFL champion Eagles. Of course, things didn’t go the way Bell and the so-called experts had expected.  The Eagles kicked an early field goal to go ahead 3-0, but the Browns’ passing attack, directed by quarterback Otto Graham, then proceeded to carve up the supposedly vaunted Philadelphia defense. Graham threw for 3 touchdowns, one apiece to Dub Jones, Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, and scored himself on a one yard keeper to stake his club to a 28-3 lead they never relinquished. The teams traded fourth quarter scores to put the final score at 35-10 in favor of the upstart Browns. The game is widely considered one of the greatest upsets in NFL history, but the contest itself was a little sloppy. The teams combined for 9 turnovers, and in what a skeptic might consider favoritism toward the Eagles, the Browns were penalized 12 times for 98 yards (compared to only 3 calls against Philly). But Cleveland’s dominance couldn’t be denied – they outgained the Eagles 487 yards to 266 in addition to the lopsided score. Eagle coach Greasy Neale reluctantly congratulated the Browns on the win, critiquing the team for relying heavily on the pass and comparing them to a basketball team. Neale certainly would not be a fan of today’s game.

Obviously all the experts underestimated the quality of play of the old AAFC, and also the powerful team Cleveland coach Paul Brown had assembled which dominated that league. The opening day dominance was no fluke. Paul Brown’s forces went on to win the NFL championship in that season, their first in NFL play. That was quite a remarkable achievement, and the franchise continued to be one of the league’s strongest well into the 1960s.

 

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Browns’ legends Otto Graham and Paul Brown