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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Air Coryell

06 Dec

On this week’s NFL slate of games, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers meet, both trying to improve their playoff chances. This week’s Throwback Thursday feature harkens back to a game played between these 2 clubs on September 22, 1985 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Chargers, located in San Diego at the time, were in the midst of an offensive era known for explosive plays, drawn up by their coach Don Coryell. Engineered by future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and masterminded by the coach, the team’s offense was labeled as “Air Coryell”. Meanwhile, the Bengals were coached by a guy known to be a bit of a mad genius himself – Sam Wyche. This game was an early season matchup, and an important one for both clubs. The perennially contending Chargers had started off the year with a win and a loss, while Cinci had dropped both of their first games, so they were in desperation mode.

In the first half, the Chargers got a couple of short field goals from Bob Thomas and a couple of short touchdown passes from Fouts to one of his tight ends, Eric Sievers. The Bengals countered with a scoring toss from their southpaw signal caller, Boomer Esaison, to Cris Collinsworth and a one yard TD run by James Brooks, leaving San Diego with a 20-13 lead at the half. Knowing he had to match Fouts’ heroics on offense, Esaison put together a solid third quarter, guiding 3 touchdown drives that ended with a Larry Kinnebrew 4 yard TD and passes to paydirt to Collinsworth and Stanford Jennings. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, the Chargers picked up a pair of touchdowns themselves, on a Fouts to Pete Holohan pass and a backbreaking 58 yard Lionel James run, leaving the teams tied at 34-34 entering the final quarter. When Kinnebrew scored again, on an 8 yard run, to open the fourth quarter scoring, the Bengals took a 41-34 lead and were indeed accomplishing their goal of matching the vaunted “Air Coryell” attack score for score. The Charger defense stiffened after that, however, while the offense produced another electrifying touchdown, this time on a Fouts to James 60 yard pass, along with another Thomas field goal to eke out a 44-41 win in a thrilling barnburner of a game.

Collinsworth’s efforts in the game were gallant – he caught 10 passes for 161 yards and the 2 TDs, but it was no match for the heroics of the 5’6″ James. Nicknamed “Little Train”, he rushed for 127 yards on 12 carries and caught 5 passes from Fouts for another 118 yards, racking up the pair of touchdowns. Overall, the 1985 season wasn’t kind to either club. The Chargers went on to record a rare mediocre record of 8-8, while Cincinnati managed only a 7-9 mark. Despite the losing record, Wyche’s Bengals still finished second in the AFC Central Division, with Cleveland taking the division crown at 8-8.

 

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San Diego’s Lionel “Little Train” James

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

06 Dec

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Logo of a college football team that plays in the Mid-American Conference, the Northern Illinois University Huskies. The program came into existence in 1899 and has played as an independent and in various conferences over the years, winning 12 conference titles and a Division II national championship in 1963. Husky alumni who have gone on to play in the NFL include Doug Free, Randy Clark, Ryan Diem, Todd Peat, Hollis Thomas, Michael Turner and Kenny Golladay.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

06 Dec

86toppscollinsworth

1986 Topps football card of former Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, who played eight seasons in the NFL and was a three time Pro Bowler. He played on a pair of Bengal Super Bowl teams that both lost in the big game. Collinsworth has enjoyed a very successful career in broadcasting since retiring as a player, winning 15 sports Emmy Awards while working in various capacities for multiple networks. He is currently the analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecasts, working alongside Al Michaels.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Sneakers Game

29 Nov

For the second week in a row, our Throwback Thursday feature ventures way back into the NFL’s past, to December 9, 1934, when two teams who meet on this week’s slate of games, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, faced each other for the league championship. Whereas last week’s post remembered a Thanksgiving clash between the Bears and Detroit Lions from the ’34 season, this week’s covers the plight of the undefeated Chicago club in the title contest that went down in NFL lore as the “Sneakers Game”. The heavily favored Bears were defending league champions and their imposing “Monsters of The Midway” defense, combined with a frozen Polo Grounds field that made traction difficult, helped the Chicago club to build a 13-3 lead after three quarters of play. The Bears were limited on offense also, managing only 2 Jack Manders field goals and a one yard Bronko Nagurski touchdown run up to that point.

At halftime, one of the Giants’ players mentioned to coach Steve Owen that the players could get better footing if they were wearing sneakers, so Owen sent a friend who helped the team on the sideline during games, a tailor named Abe Cohen, to nearby Manhattan College, in search of the sneakers. The school’s athletic director, Brother Jasper, emptied the lockers of the basketball team and gave the players’ sneakers to Cohen, who rushed back to the stadium. He arrived midway through the third quarter with 9 pairs of sneakers, and key players from the New York team donned the footwear for the rest of the game. The result? Quarterback Ed Danowski supplied 2 touchdowns, on a 9 yard run and a 28 yard pass to Ike Frankian, while star halfback Ken Strong rushed for a pair of scores, from 11 and 42 yards out. The increased traction gained by Brother Jasper’s contribution led the Giants to outscore the Bears 27-0 in the final quarter to secure a rousing 30-13 upset of George Halas’ proud, previously unbeaten Bears.

Chicago players were upset but accepted the fact that they’d been had. In a post-game interview, Nagurski admitted, “We knew something was wrong because all of a sudden they had good footing and we didn’t. The sneakers were the difference…they just out-smarted us.” In the NFL’s strange but true department, this scenario repeated itself 22 years later when these same 2 clubs met again for the championship, this time at Yankee Stadium. The Giants wore sneakers again on a frozen field and the advantage in footing led to a 47-7 blowout win over the Bears to win the 1956 title.

 

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Sneaker-clad Giants’ players in the 1934 NFL title game

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

29 Nov

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This is a secondary logo of a college football team that plays in the Southern Conference, the Furman University Paladins. Founded in 1889 and located in Greenville, South Carolina, the program has won 14 conference titles and has many alumni who have gone on to play professional football, including Jerome Felton, David Whitehurst, Sam Wyche, Stanford Jennings and Orlando Ruff.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

29 Nov

55toppsAAkenstrong

1955 Topps All American football card of former pro football halfback Ken Strong, who was a player known for his extreme versatility while playing in the early years of the National Football League for the New York Giants. He played offense, defense and was a placekicker for the team, and helped them win the NFL title in 1934. Strong was a four-time All Pro, was named to the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1930s, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. After retiring as a player, he worked as a liquor salesman and served as the Giants’ kicking coach in the early 1960s.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Game In Detroit Is Born

22 Nov

The week 12 NFL schedule this week includes the annual Thanksgiving Day games played in Detroit and Dallas, plus the third contest, played at night. This year, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions meet in an NFC North showdown, which allows this week’s Throwback Thursday feature to travel back in time to the first Turkey Day game played in Detroit. It was played on November 29, 1934 at the University of Detroit Stadium, and both teams were strong contenders in the NFL. In fact coach George Halas’ Bears entered the game undefeated, while the Lions boasted a 9-2 record. Other pro football teams had played on Thanksgiving for years prior to the Motor City’s debut on this day, but the Lions’ owner at the time, George Richards, wanted to start the yearly tradition with his team as a promotion to boost attendance, and he had a major advantage which convinced other NFL owners to allow him to claim the Turkey Day game. He owned a local radio station, WJR, which was a major affiliate of the NBC Radio Network, and was able to secure a deal to get the game broadcast nationally live across the network. The annual game grew into a traditional staple on the NFL schedule. In conjunction, Detroit holds an annual Thanksgiving parade, originally started in 1924 by the J.L. Hudson Department Store, which has been dwarfed over the years by New York’s Macy’s Parade that is nationally televised.

As for the Motor City’s inaugural game, the two strong clubs provided an exciting contest. Passing yardage was at a premium in those old “ground and pound” days, and this game was indicative of the times. Chicago threw for 77 yards while the Bears’ “Monsters of The Midway” defense held the Lions to a meager 37 yards through the air. The hometown Lions kept pace with Halas’ Bears in the first half. In fact, a pair of short touchdown runs by fullback Ace Gutowsky gave Detroit a 16-7 halftime lead. Gutowsky isn’t exactly a household name in pro football history, but he did hold the Lions’ franchise records for single season and career rushing yardage into the 1960s.

The proud Bears battled back in the second half. A pair of third quarter field goals by Jack Manders cut the Lions’ lead to 16-13, and in the final quarter, another Bears’ and NFL legend, Bronko Nagurski, tossed a short scoring pass to Bill Hewitt to give the Bears a hard-fought 19-16 victory. The ’34 season was a bittersweet one for Halas’ Bears. They went on to finish undefeated in the regular season, only to lose 30-13 to the New York Giants in a championship game that became known as the “Sneakers Game”.  The story of that game will surely be the subject of a future TBT post.

 

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Bears and Lions battle on Thanksgiving Day 1934

 

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

22 Nov

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A logo for the annual Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game. The team began hosting the annual game in 1966, adding an additional contest for the day to complement the one played in Detroit. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, for the 1975 and 1977 seasons, tried an experiment and had the game scheduled for St. Louis, but low television ratings and the popularity of the Cowboys as “America’s Team” convinced Rozelle to return the game, permanently, to Dallas.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

22 Nov

52bowmanhalas

1952 Bowman football card of a pro football legend, former Chicago Bears’ founder, owner and long-time head coach George “Papa Bear” Halas. He was one of the original owners when the NFL was founded in 1920 (it was known as the American Professional Football Association at the time), as he served as owner, coach, ticket salesman and player on the Decatur Staleys, who eventually evolved into the Bears. Halas was part of the Chicago organization for an amazing 64 years and won 6 NFL championships as a coach, the first in 1921 and the last 42 years later in 1963. The National Conference Championship Trophy is named after him, and he was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class in 1963.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: San Diego’s Revenge

15 Nov

Last week’s TBT post featured a game in which the lowly 1968 Buffalo Bills managed a monumental upset victory over that season’s eventual Super Bowl champions, the New York Jets. This week’s story is similar in that it also involves 2 American Football League rivals of the 1960s, this time from the Western Division, the San Diego (now Los Angeles)Chargers and the Denver Broncos. The 2 clubs, both flagship franchises of the AFL, meet on this week’s NFL slate of games. The game we feature this week was played on December 22, 1963 at one of the AFL’s venerable old venues, Balboa Stadium in San Diego. Another similarity to last week’s feature is that the 2 teams were at opposite ends of the spectrum, with the Chargers a dominating force in the league and the Broncos a doormat. Earlier that year, the lowly Broncos had stunned the Chargers by a rousing 50-34 margin in a barn burner of a game that was typical of the AFL in that era. The similarity ends there, however, as, in this rematch, San Diego was able to extract revenge for the embarrassing defeat they suffered in Denver in October of that season.

San Diego’s coach, Sid Gillman, was known as a guru of the modern passing game, as he had orchestrated the offensive juggernaut that was the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s. Now the head man with the Chargers, Gillman’s club was also known for attacking opponents with the long pass, with quarterbacks Tobin Rote and John Hadl alternating at tossing bombs to prolific receivers like Lance “Bambi” Alworth and Don Norton. The Chargers used their rushing attack, which was also a major strength, to dominate this game, however, as Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln ran for a combined 249 yards and 3 touchdowns. As far as the passing game, Rote and Hadl each tossed a single touchdown throw to a tight end rather than a wide receiver, Rote hitting Dave Kocourek in the second quarter, and Hadl finding Jacque MacKinnon for the final touchdown in what turned out to be a 58-20 rout. The Chargers, perhaps exacting a final bit of revenge, went for and converted a two-point conversion on MacKinnon’s TD.

The game was the regular season finale for both clubs, with the Broncos finishing in the basement of the Western Division with a 2-11-1 record. The Chargers, finishing 11-3 and atop the division, rode the momentum of the big win to post another one-sided score in the league championship, routing the Boston Patriots 51-10.

 

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Broncos vs. Chargers game program from 12/22/1963